The Cardinals have a game to go on their April schedule, a Friday-night series opener in Pittsburgh. Minus that game, I wanted to take the time to review their first-month performance before we spring into May.
LET THE RECORD SHOW: 13 wins and 12 losses, second in the NL Central, two games behind Milwaukee.
SOFT SCHEDULE: As I type this on Friday morning the Cardinals had played only three April games against teams that possessed a winning record through Thursday. Their division rivals have faced tougher schedules based on the number of games vs. opponents with winning records: Cincinnati 21, Chicago 15, Milwaukee 10, Pittsburgh 9.
Did the Cardinals take advantage of the easier rollout? No. The team has been no better than a game over .500 during an 17-game stretch that began April 11. And they’ve been under .500 on four of the days. Moreover, the Cardinals won only two of seven series in April — losing four series and splitting one.
That said, the St. Louis baseball team just completed a 5-2 homestand.
Perhaps that will lead to improved traction.
THE OFFENSE: I’ll go with the NL rankings, and list where the Cardinals sit among the 15 teams: they’re 6th in runs per game (4.4), 13th in batting average (.221), 14th in onbase percentage (.296), 9th in slugging (.379), 9th in OPS (.675.) And with NL teams averaging 4.3 runs per game, the Cardinals have come in below that 15 times, going 5-10 when scoring four runs or fewer in a game.
THE PITCHING: They rank 7th in overall ERA (4.01), rotation ERA (4.07), and bullpen ERA (3.91.) But recent trends are positive; over their last 12 games the Cards have an overall ERA of 2.46, with a starting-pitching ERA of 2.25.
THE DEFENSE: Certainly not bad … but could be better. According to Fielding Bible, the Cardinals have 6 defensive runs saved (DRS) which ranks 7th in the NL and 11th overall.
THE BASERUNNING: The Cards rank 3rd in the NL with a bases-taken rate of 47 percent.
HITTERS OF THE MONTH: Outfielder Dylan Carlson and catcher Yadier Molina. One is age 22, the other 38. Molina is on the IL now with a foot injury, but he carried the offense during his 19 games, putting up a team-leading .997 OPS. Carlson (25 games) has the second-best OPS at .871. Molina and Carlson have combined for 45 hits, 20 extra-base hits, 27 RBIs and 29 runs.
HONORABLE MENTION, BUT … let’s talk about leadoff man Tommy Edman. He’s heading the wrong way in his onbase percentage. In his last 11 games Edman has a .233 batting average with only one walk for a .267 OBP. And over that time his OBP has dropped 30 points, down to .327. Edman brings added value to the proceedings by providing quality defense at two positions, second base and right field.
EXPECTING MORE. NEED MORE: Combined, Molina and Carslon have scored more runs, driven in more runs, and walloped more extra-base hits than Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado — and keep in mind that Goldy-Nado have 46 more at-bats than Molina-Carlson so far. Goldschmidt’s .626 OPS would be his worst for an opening month since his first full season, 2012. Arenado’s ballpark-adjusted OPS is seven points above average, but 14 points under his career mark before this season. He’s batting .247 with a .305 OBP and .433 slug. But when we look at the month, that’s all we’re doing here. Looking at April. It’s just a snapshot. The numbers will improve for both Goldschmidt and Arenado.
PITCHERS OF THE MONTH: Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty is 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA and has given up only four earned runs in 24 innings over his last four starts. Alex Reyes is 6 for 6 in save opps and hasn’t allowed a run in 12.1 innings covering 12 appearances. Honorable mention: John Gant has a 2.25 ERA in his four starts and went deeper into the game (6 IP) in his last start.
A PITCHING STAFF CONCERN: We’ll have to monitor the lefthanded relief coming out of the bullpen. In 15 combined innings Tyler Webb and Andrew Miller have an 8.40 ERA with 10 walks, and Miller (foot) was placed on the IL Thursday. The young Genesis Cabrera was having a terrific season until coming undone and smacking Bryce Harper in the face and Didi Gregorious in the ribs on consecutive pitches Wednesday. The wildness was unintentional, but Cabrera was left shaken and distraught by his dangerous loss of control.
THE GREAT OUTFIELD ADVENTURE: It’s going a little better than I thought, but that’s mostly because of Carlson. In a comparison to other NL outfield groups the St. Louis crew is fourth in slugging (.407) and homers (11) and sixth with 35 RBIs. And their .712 OPS (7th) could be worse. But there’s also the 29 percent strikeout rate, .228 average and a too-low .305 OBP. Going forward, much will depend on Tyler O’Neill and returning center fielder Harrison Bader.
THE AWKWARD APRIL OF MATT CARPENTER: He’ll be on the roster because management won’t eat the big salary to make a potentially uncomfortable situation disappear. And he’ll get at-bats because (1) he’s on the team, and (2) manager Mike Shildt loves him. But a week ago president of baseball ops John Mozeliak went public with his impatience, and basically said it’s time for Carpenter to produce. Carpenter has gotten a couple of things done over the last few days: a pinch-hit walk and run scored on Monday; a pinch-hit three-run homer Thursday for a huge blow in the Cardinals’ 4-3 win over Philadelphia.
If Carpenter can be an asset in a pinch-hit role, that will help the team. And reasonable people will be happy with it. But being a good pinch-hitter doesn’t mean you should play a lot. This is about finding an effective role and sticking with it. A few successful at-bats shouldn’t lead to playing a lot.
The batting average is .095, the OPS is .473, and the strikeout rate is 36%. Folks are weary of the attempts to explain the bad numbers away by citing a few strands of statcast info that aren’t as relevant for a hitter with a collapsing contact rate.
It was an awkward April, and we’re probably in for more of that in May … and June … and July … and, well, you know. I like Carpenter personally, and it isn’t fun to write unpleasant things about his performance. But that’s why we should separate the personal from the professional. I have no problem doing that, but I don’t make the decisions on playing time and lineup spots. Those in charge of such delicate matters will be tested all season. Are they capable of separating the personal from the professional? That’s the crux of this business. And there’s no way to get around an uncomfortable situation.
AN APRIL MYSTERY: WHAT TO MAKE OF PAULY DEJONG? I was going to do another riff on his difficult start to the season. DeJ’s five home runs get your attention, but four were solo shots. And not counting the times he drove in himself on homers, DeJong has driven home a teammate only five times. That’s a paltry total considering that he has 68 plate appearances batting 4th or 5th, and 40 PA with runners on base.
And then there’s DeJong’s .173 batting average and 28% strikeout rate. He’s walking more than we’ve seen from him in the past; his 12.8% rate would be a career high for a season. But even with all of the walks, DeJong’s OBP is a tepid .287. And his .358 slugging percentage is short for a guy with five home runs this month. But that’s because DeJong doesn’t hit doubles. No, really … he has no doubles this season in 81 plate appearances.
But then I studied how DeJong rates offensively with other shortstops. And even though it’s early in the season, I was surprised by the number of shortstops who are frosty at the plate. DeJong’s undistinguished .645 OPS ain’t much to look at, but it’s actually higher than the OPS turned in by Francisco Lindor, Eugenio Suarez, Gleyber Torres, Danby Swanson, Didi Gregorious and others. Huh.
DeJong is not alone in his labors. Will he grow his slugging percentage and batting average and get on base more often? I suppose we should give it some time. It’s not like the Cardinals are planning to turn things over to Edmundo Sosa. Remember that “We need to get Pauly more rest this season” thing? Me too. DeJong ranks 9th among MLB shortstops for most plate appearances. Looks like he’ll be playing as much as always.
WORDS ON MIKE SHILDT: The manager is strong in pitching-staff machinations, morale building, sharpening of fundamentals, and making appropriate use of analytics. He does a sincere, positive job of representing the franchise But the lineup construction — oh, man. Dylan Carlson batting seventh made absolutely no sense … forcing the issue with DeJong as a middle-lineup guy was (and is?) unfortunate … the blinders with Matt Carpenter. Look, Shildt eventually gets around to adjusting. It just takes a while. A more proactive approach might be the way to go.
Good luck to the Cardinals in May and beyond.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.