The Cardinals have problems: injuries, disappointing starting pitching, an offense that isn’t clicking, and a power shortage by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and a team home-run disparity that puts them at a disadvantage.

The Cardinals also have positives: an above-average bullpen, the collective performance of their younger hitters, improved defense and baserunning, the ability to play small ball to create runs, and an upbeat vibe.

Given that combination of good and the bad, I suppose their 5-5 record makes sense. And to use 2023 as a reference point, the Cardinals were 3-7 through 10 games.

Along those lines, the Cardinals have won their last two series, something I don’t take for granted. Last season the 2023 Cardinals won only two of their first 11 series. This year, they’ve won two of their first three series.

Sneer if you must, but I see that as a plus.

Let’s go deeper …

INJURIES: Through Sunday the Cardinals had eight players on the IL that have missed a combined 88 days so far. The list includes No. 1 starting pitcher Sonny Gray, and key bullpen pieces Keynan Middleton and Riley O’Brien. On the offensive side, the Cardinals have played without outfielders Lars Nootbaar, Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson. And catcher Willson Contreras (hand) was out of the lineup for the entire series against Miami after being pelted by a pitch last Wednesday in San Diego. Add Contreras to the days-missed count because of player injuries and the Cardinals are up to 91. Is this an excuse? You can make your own decision on that. But the injuries were certainly a factor in the 5-5 start.

GOLDSCHMIDT + ARENADO: In their 86 combined plate appearances early on they’ve put up only one homer (Goldy) and three extra-base hits. They’ve slugged .302 collectively, and made 63 outs. Their combined OPS+ (69) is 31 percent below the MLB average.

A closer look at both players:

– Since his strong opening-day game at Dodger Stadium, Goldschmidt is 4 for 31 (.129) with no extra-base hits and a .256 OPS. In 151 plate appearances since Aug. 30 of last season Goldschmidt is batting .200 with a lowly .336 slugging percentage and 28.5 percent strikeout rate. He’s homered every 31.25 at-bats over that time, and 16 of his 25 hits have been singles. Goldschmidt has a 15.2 percent walk rate over this 35-game stretch, and that’s the only real positive. Since last Aug. 30 Goldy is batting .179 with runners in scoring position. He turns 37 in September.

– Arenado leads the Cardinals with 11 hits this season, and is batting .268. But nine of the 11 hits have been singles. Arenado hasn’t homered in a regular-season game since Aug. 19 of last season. In 36 games and 154 plate appearances since then, Arenado is batting .213 with a .261 OBP and .255 slug for a .517 OPS. He’s performed 57 percent below the MLB average offensively over that time (per WRC+). Since last Aug. 20, Arenado has 30 hits but 24 were singles. Arenado turns 33 on April 16.

MORE ON ARENADO: His .255 slugging percentage since last Aug. 20 is the worst among the Cardinals who have at least 50 plate appearances over that time. This means Arenado has a lower slugging percentage than Masyn Winn since last Aug. 20. Let’s expand this … since Aug. 20 of last season, 265 MLB hitters have made at least 100 plate appearances. And of the 265, Arenado ranks No. 260 on slugging percentage. The Statcast data isn’t reassuring. Arenado’s 25 percent hard-hit rate is down from last year’s 38.1%, he hasn’t barreled a single pitch so far this season, and his average exit velocity is down 3.6 mph. Small sample size, but still.

MORE ON GOLDSCHMIDT: Since last Aug. 30, his batting average (.200) ranks 184th among 207 hitters that have at least 100 plate appearances. And his slugging percentage (.336) ranks 172nd out of 207. Goldschmidt isn’t striking the ball with authority. His hard-hit rate is an alarming 21.7 percent. His average exit velocity (84.8 mph) is down from last year’s 91.3 mph. And his barrel rate – 12 percent last season – is just over 4 percent this year. The small sample size is inadequate but should be monitored. On the plus side, Goldy is batting .300 with a .600 slug against four-seam fastballs. He’s had early trouble against offspeed and breaking pitches, going 2 for 18 with five strikeouts.

I don’t see how the St. Louis offense can ignite in a significant way unless Goldschmidt and Arenado return to form. And as they age, their decline in offense becomes increasingly glaring.

STARTING PITCHING: They’re going longer into games, ranking seventh in total rotation innings and tied for 10th in average innings (5.3) per start. But the quality doesn’t match the quantity, and that was a concern going into the season. Through 10 games Cardinal starters rank 23rd in ERA (5.13), 29th in fielding independent ERA (5.71), and 22nd in strikeout rate (20%). They’ve been blasted for an average of 2.22 home runs per nine innings, the worst in the National League and 29th overall.

This is mostly about inconsistency.

Miles Mikolas: bad start, then a good start. I’m still sticking with my theory that he’ll have more success this season with a better defense behind him.

Lance Lynn: good start, then a bad start. But his 113 ERA+ is 13 percent above the MLB average. Why is that? His strikeout rate is an excellent 30 percent. And he’s had only one awful inning in his two starts. That was the fifth inning against the Marlins when Lynn was pounded for two homers and four runs. In his other eight innings of pitching he’s allowed just one run. And the first start (at LA) lasted only four innings but that’s because of a rain delay that ended his assignment.

Kyle Gibson: good start, then a bad one. Look, Gibson had a terrible start Sunday, getting walloped for two three-run homers in the first inning of a 10-3 loss. Gibson settled down after that, giving up one run in his remaining five innings. The game was lost early, and his poor start was the No. 1 reason for that. But by going six innings, Gibson protected the bullpen from overuse, and that’s important with the Phillies coming to town. Too many folks fail to grasp this, but there’s plenty of value in innings – even in a lost cause, as was the case on Sunday. A manager doesn’t want to burn out the bullpen with another tough week on the docket. Winning is the goal, but Gibson helped his team. This was an atypical start for Gibson. Since 2014, he’s allowed six earned runs or more in only 11 percent of his starts. But that has happened more frequently (13.5%) since the start of 2021.

Zack Thompson: as the fill-in for injured starter Sonny Gray, the lefty was smashed for a 6.97 ERA and four home runs in two starts 10 and ⅓ innings. He didn’t impress, but at least Thompson limited the damage in last week’s assignment at San Diego and gave the Cardinals a chance to win. But the offense didn’t take advantage in a 3-2 loss.

Steven Matz: Promising. Two starts, 10 and ⅓ innings, and a 1.74 ERA without yielding a home run. Going back to last season, Matz has a 2.08 ERA in 65 innings over 17 games. That includes a 1.84 ERA in nine starts. He’s an effective pitcher but must stay healthy. The Cardinals’ decision to build Matz up slowly in preparation of the 2024 regular season looks like a smart call. Matz has the best ERA+ in the rotation.

Sonny Gray: The No. 2 vote-getter in last year’s American League Cy Young voting is set to make his first start of the season on Tuesday against the Philadelphians. The Cardinals need him. Gray will be on a pitch count in his first start of 2024, but once he settles in we’ll begin to get a sense of his impact on the shape of this rotation.

THE BULLPEN: No complaints here. Through the first 10 games, the St. Louis relievers are ninth in the majors with a 3.53 fielding independent ERA, fourth in strikeout-walk ratio (3.35), fifth in ground-ball rate (49.5%) and ninth in strikeout rate (26%). The work includes a 1.86 ERA in 19 and ⅓ innings against the Padres and Marlins. Through the first 10 games, four STL relievers are way above the MLB average rate in ERA+ – Giovanny Gallegos, JoJo Romero, Andrew Kittredge and Ryan Helsley.

FIRE UP THE OFFENSE: With the Goldschmidt-Arenado drag being a part of this, the early team numbers are discouraging. The Cardinals head into the new week with an average of 4.10 runs per game that ranks 19th in the majors. They’re 20th in batting average (.222), 21st in onbase percentage (.299), 22nd in slugging (.343), 22nd in OPS (.643) and 27th in OPS+. Their 77 OPS+ translates into an offensive showing that’s 23 percent below the major-league average.

That’s not all. The accounting also includes a 25.3 percent strikeout rate (24th) and only seven home runs. The Cardinals are tied for 27th in home runs per game (0.70) and at-bats per homer (47).

ALL THE YOUNG DUDES: Through 10 games, the Cardinals had eight hitters with less than three full years of MLB experience make at least 10 plate appearances: Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Masyn Winn, Jordan Walker, Ivan Herrera, Victor Scott II, Alec Burleson and Michael Siani.

The eight have combined for 64 percent of the team’s hits, 62 percent of the RBIs, 68 percent of the runs scored, 57 percent of the home runs, 80 percent of the doubles, and 75 percent of the extra-base hits.

Not all of the younger players are crushing it. Scott is batting .083. Walker has one RBI and is hitting .194. Gorman has struck out in 42.5 percent of his plate appearances. Siani has one hit in seven at-bats. Burleson (5 for 29) is hitting .172.

That said, Winn is hitting .308. Gorman has two homers and seven RBI. Herrera has been fun to watch, batting .300 with a homer, five RBIs and a .450 slug. Manager Oli Marmol entrusted the rookie catcher to bat cleanup. Quite the compliment.

BRENDAN DONOVAN: The leadoff man is off to a superb start: .313 average, .450 OBP, .531 slug, .981 OPS and a wRC+ that puts him 75 percent above MLB average offensively. Using the wRC+ metric, Donovan ranks third among leadoff men behind Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve. And Donovan’s .450 leadoff OBP is second to Betts’ .518. Donovan leads all St. Louis hitters in doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, most times on base and runs scored and is tied for second in RBIs.

JORDAN WALKER: His .194 average and .290 slug have a lot to do with a familiar issue for the second-year right fielder: too many ground balls. Walker has a 59.1 percent ground-ball rate in his first nine games, up from 47 percent in 2023. Last season Walker had a 25.2 percent line-drive rate that’s only 18.2% so far this season.

BEAT THE BEATABLE: Last season the Cardinals were a dismal 26-35 (.426) in games against losing teams; that winning percentage ranked 29th in the majors. The 2024 Cardinals are 4-2 against losing opponents so far.

EARLY-SEASON SNAPSHOT: The Cardinals’ .500 winning percentage looks a little better when we see that 14 MLB teams had losing records going into Monday. That list includes six teams that made the playoffs last season: Astros, Phillies, Twins, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and Marlins. Another 2023 playoff team, the Rays, are .500. The Cardinals need to hang in there, because the NL Central appears to be stronger. This is the only division in the majors that has all five teams playing .500 or better.

STUFF: The Cardinals go into the new week ranked sixth in the majors in the FanGraphs defensive rating, and still lead the majors in extra bases taken while advancing … the scheduled starters for the Philadelphia series are (in order) Mikolas, Gray and Lynn. The Cardinals will likely see Phillies ace Zack Wheeler on Tuesday in a matchup with Gray.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We recorded a new Seeing Red on Monday, April 8.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.