The Cardinals are having problems in the outfield. Injuries, humdrum hitting, disappointing players, and a depressing big picture.

As the Cardinals and Tigers get ready for Tuesday’s doubleheader in Detroit, the pack of St. Louis outfielders come in with a .168 batting average, .273 onbase percentage, .295 slugging percentage, three homers, and 25 RBIs. In every category, they rank last (or next to last) in the majors. Per wRC+, the Cardinal outfield is 35 percent below league average offensively. The defense is fine, but that’s about the only real positive. Offensively, the current collection of outfielders is absolutely dreadful.

Perhaps this pitiful outfield cluster will liven up Dylan Carlson and Tommy Edman return from the IL, Jordan Walker fixes his swing in the minors, and Lars Nootbaar turns all of his hard contact into hardcore offensive numbers. Maybe Alec Burleson will do more at the plate.

Maybe, if, maybe, if … sheesh.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course not. The Cardinals have deployed some outstanding outfields in their 29 seasons since Bill DeWitt Jr. became owner in 1996.

Just to warm your hearts with memories of better days, here are my top 10 outfields during the DeWitt Era:

1. THE 2001 SEASON 

WAR: 21.8, No. 1 in MLB
wRC+: 35% above average, No. 1 in MLB.
Defense: +9.5, 4th in MLB

This was the top overall during the DeWitt Years. The defense, a bonus, was above league average in quality. The 21.8 Wins Above Replacement were the most by a St. Louis outfield during the previous 28 seasons.

* Jim Edmonds was the leading man, stroking 30 homers, driving in 110 runs and winning the Gold Glove for his exquisite fielding in center field.

* Ray Lankford (76 starts), rookie Albert Pujols (38 starts) and UT Craig Paquette combined for 140 starts in left. Kerry Robinson came off the bench to make starts at all three outfield positions.

* Right field was manned by J.D. Drew (91 starts), Pujols (33 starts) and Paquette (21 starts.) Pujols also played first base.

* The outfield hit men batted .295 with a .382 onbase percentage, .540 slug, and .959 OPS. They clubbed 100 homers, 13 triples and 109 doubles. This outfield drove in 333 runs. My goodness.

2. THE 2002 SEASON

WAR: 18.1, No. 1 in MLB
Offense: 21% above average, 6th in MLB
Defense: +3.1, 6th in MLB

* The 2002 outfield ran it back, but this time Pujols started 101 games in left field, Edmonds started 132 in center, and Drew was in the starting lineup 107 times as the right fielder. The bench guys – Eli Marrero and Kerry Robinson – filled in as needed.

* The 2002 outfield collectively batted .286 with a .376 OBP and .503 slug. They cudgeled 92 homers, 100 doubles, nine triples and knocked in 298 runs.

* By his standards, Drew had a bit of a down year offensively but still produced at an above-average level. Edmonds slashed .311 / .420 / .561 and hit 28 homers. Jimmy won another Gold Glove and received down-ballot MVP votes. Pujols cranked 34 homers with 127 RBIs and finished second to Barry Bonds in the league MVP balloting. These outfielders also did an exceptional job of running the bases.

Those were the days, my friends.

3. THE 1996 SEASON 

WAR: 14.8, No. 4 in MLB
Offense: 16% above average, No. 6 in MLB.
Defense: +31.3, 4th in MLB

This was Tony La Russa’s first team in St. Louis. And this outfield stood out because of the strong combination of offense, defense and baserunning. The outfield was also a significant reason for a division title in TLR’s first campaign.

* Ron Gant, signed as a free agent by DeWitt’s group, started 116 games in left field and immediately paid off with 30 homers and a .504 slugging percentage.

* Ray Lankford started 122 games in center, sprayed 65 extra-base hits, stole 35 bases and performed 25 percent above league average offensively.

* Brian Jordan started 122 games in right field and slammed 17 homers, knocked in 104 runs, and swiped 22 bases.

* Willie McGee backed up all three outfield positions and hit .307 at age 37.

* As a group this set of outfielders hit .283 with a .356 OBP and .466 slug. They put up 107 extra-base hits and stole 79 bases. This was the muscle of a 1996 STL offense that finished 18th in slugging and 23rd in homers.

4. THE 1998 SEASON

WAR: 14.5, No. 4 in MLB
wRC+: 13% above average, No. 6 in MLB
Defense: +19.1, 4th in MLB

Mark McGwire set the major-league record (at the time) with a 70-homer season but the ‘98 outfield was very good in all areas.

* Lankford started 137 games in center and had the best season of his career. He was 43 percent above league average offensively. He batted .293 with a .391 onbase percentage and .540 slug. He had 31 homers, 38 other extra base hits and 26 steals. Just a marvelous season for the overlooked Lankford, the Cardinals Hall of Famer.

* Gant was back in left and hit 26 homers. Jordan started 110 games in right field and had an exceptional year, highlighted by a .316 average, .534 slug, 25 homers, 91 RBIs, 17 steals and a .902 OPS. And BJ started in center when Lankford didn’t play.

* Overall, the 1998 outfield produced 218 extra base hits, 328 RBIs and swiped 58 bases in 71 attempts. And the defense was superb.

5. THE 2011 SEASON 

WAR: 14.4, No. 3 in MLB
wRC+: 29% above average, No. 1 in MLB
Defense: minus 34.9, 27th in MLB

* Given the outfield’s poor overall defense I’m probably being generous by rating it fourth on the list. But even with the defensive flaws, this was still MLB’s third-best outfield group overall in 2011. They were the No. 1 major-league outfield offensively, and bonus points are awarded for the 2011 World Series title.

* You may be wondering about the 2006 World Series champs. Their outfielders were 21st in WAR and only slightly above average offensively.

* The stars of the 2011 outfield were Matt Holliday in left field, and Lance Berkman in right. Collectively they produced a .299 average, .400 OBP and .536 slug and were 57 percent above league average offensively.

* Colby Rasmus was the starter in center before being traded in a three-way deal that bolstered the bullpen and rotation and gave the Cardinals a chance to make up ground and prevail in the NL wild-card race on the final day of the regular season.

* The underrated Jon Jay took over after the trade, and his presence was good for the clubhouse morale and defense. And there was nothing wrong with Jay’s .344 OBP and .424 slug. Jay actually had a better OPS (.768) than the uninspired Rasmus (.753) for the Cardinals in 2011. That was another reason why this registers among the most impactful trades in franchise history.

* The emergence of second-year corner outfielder Allen Craig was a key to the comeback. Craig also played some games at second base and center field. But his bat was a boomer. In 200 at-bats Craig hit .315 with a .555 slug and an OPS+ that put him 51 percent above league average offensively. In his final 50 games of the season – when the Cardinals were making their move in the wild card race – Craig batted .323 with a mighty .609 slug. And in 37 postseason at-bats Craig belted four homers, drove in eight runs, batted .391 and slugged .622.

6. THE 2000 SEASON

WAR: 13.3 No. 4 in MLB
wRC+: 20% above average, No. 4.
Defense: minus 5.1, No. 12.

* While slightly below average defense, the 2000 outfield was imposing offensively, ranking third in homers, fourth in OBP, and fifth in OPS.

* This was the St. Louis debut season for Jim Edmonds, who came over in a spring-training deal with Anaheim. It was one of the greatest trades in franchise history. Edmonds was an instant sensation, upstaging the Reds’ acquisition of Ken Griffey Jr. In 2000 Edmonds won a Gold Glove, was named to the All-Star team and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote. He bombed 32 homers, drove in 108 runs, and walked 103 times. That produced a hitting line of .295 / .411 / .583. Jimmy was 47 percent above league average offensively. It was a phenomenal season.

* Lankford started 105 games in left field and blasted 26 homers with a .508 slug. The primary backup in left was Shawon Dunston. J.D. Drew started 98 games in right field; the primary backup was Eric Davis. But Drew also made 30 starts in left or center, and overall he generated a .401 onbase percentage 18 homers and an .880 OPS.

* You may have noticed that three of the top five outfields during the DeWitt Era featured Edmonds in center. That’s among the reasons why he was voted into the team’s Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

7. THE 2015 SEASON 

WAR: 12.5 No. 3 in MLB
wRC+: 13% above average, No. 7 in MLB
Defense: +5.8, 3rd in MLB

* The 2015 Cardinals won 100 games. In a season of deflated offense in the majors, the STL outfield numbers may not seem great. But it’s all relative in the overall context of a season played with deadened baseballs. The 2015 Cardinal outfield was terrific defensively, ranked No. 3 in the majors in OBP, and finished 6th in OPS.

* The Cardinals benefited from the all-around presence of right fielder Jason Heyward who was acquired in an offseason trade with Atlanta. In 154 games, Heyward led MLB right fielders with 24 defensive runs saved, batted .293 and posted a .359 OBP and .439 slug. He ranked 8th among MLB right fielders with 121 wRC+, and his 5.6 WAR was second to Washington’s Bryce Harper. Heyward won the Gold Glove in RF and received MVP votes. The 2015 season was a one-and-done for Heyward, who left as a free agent and signed with the Cubs before the 2016 season.

* Injuries limited Holliday to 64 starts in left field, but Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk were quality replacements when Holly couldn’t go.

* The center field area was crowded. No one really had the true starting job; it was shared between Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Grichuk, Tommy Pham. Heyward started some games in CF as well.

8. THE 2004 SEASON 

WAR: 12.0, No. 7 in MLB
wRC+: 17% above average, No. 7 in MLB
Defense: minus 22.3, 15th in MLB

OK, I have a soft spot for this group despite the trouble on defense. They were a big part of a team that won the franchise’s first NL pennant since 1987. And the ‘04 outfielders delivered a high-impact year offensively – ranking 4th in homers, 4th in slugging, 5th in RBI and 5th in OPS.

Edmonds was a marvel in center, winning another Gold Glove plus a Silver Slugger and finishing 5th in the MVP voting. That team, of course, had two other worthy MVP candidates in Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. Edmonds had his best season as a Cardinal, pounding 42 homers and 38 doubles. He drove in 111 runs and scored 102. He walked 101 times. He had a .418 OBP and .643 slug. Overall he was 71 percent above league average offensively. Edmonds lifted the Cardinals into the World Series with an epic two-game run in Games 6 and 7 of the 2004 NLCS. What a player.

The 2004 outfield was a Tony La Russa special. What do I mean by that? TLR sought platoon-split advantages and did a significant amount of mixing in matching. Eight different outfielders started at least 25 games. Ray Lankford had the most starts in left field (43) and Reggie Sanders had the most starts (76) in right. But future Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker started 40 games in right field after being acquired from the Rockies.

* TLR started six different left fielders: Lankford, Sanders, John Mabry, So Taguchi, Marlon Anderson, Roger Cedeno and Hector Luna.

* In addition to Edmonds, La Russa gave a combined 23 starts in center to Taguchi, Lankford and Luna.

* La Russa started seven guys in right field: Sanders, Walker, Cedeno, Mabry, Taguchi, Marlon Anderson and Colin Porter.

* I suppose it’s fair to say that all of this outfield shuffling cost the Cardinals some outs on defense and wasn’t beneficial to the pitchers. But the boys made up for that in robust support.  The 2004 Cardinals won 105 games and led the NL in runs per game (5.3), batting average, slugging, and OPS. And socked 319 doubles, 214 homers and finished second in the NL with 111 steals. What an amazing offense.

9. THE 2003 SEASON 

WAR: 18.6, No. 1 in MLB
wRC+: 26% above average, No. 3 in MLB
Defense: minus 13.2, 15th in MLB

* Pitching problems cost the Cardinals (85-77) a chance to make the playoffs but don’t blame the outfield. While the delegation was below average defensively, they still ranked 15th. But the outfielders delivered abundant production offensively, ranking third among NL teams in overall outfield offense and leading the league in outfield home runs. Overall, the STL offense was second in the NL with 5.4 runs per game.

* Pujols started 113 games in left field and was backed by Orlando Palmeiro and Miguel Cariro. Pujols led the NL with a .359 batting average, clobbered 46 homers, knocked in 123 runs and whipped up a 1.072 OPS. For the fourth year in a row he finished in the top four of MVP voting and collected more individual awards.

* Edmonds patrolled center for 118 starts and was his usual dynamic self: 39 homers, .617 slug, 1.002 OPS, Gold Glove, All-Star and MVP votes.

* TLR used a large committee of right fielders that included J.D. Drew, Eduardo Perez, Palmeiro and Kerry Robinson.

10. THE 2005 SEASON 

WAR: 12.0, No. 7 in MLB
wRC+: 17% above average, No. 7 in MLB
Defense: minus 22.3, 15th in MLB

* The 2005 Cardinals won 100 games and averaged 4.9 runs per game. TLR was at it again, starting eight different guys in left field and eight different dudes in left. Reggie Sanders started in left field but La Russa also used John Rodriguez (32 starts), So Taguchi (27 starts) and others including John Gall and Scott Seabol.

* Edmonds (of course) was the man in center in a season that earned him another Gold Glove, an All-Star nod, and more MVP votes. He clouted 29 homers, slugged .533, and was 37 percent above league average offensively.

* Walker started the most games in right (78), but TLR kept Taguchi and Mabry busy. Walker retired after the season. In 465 at-bats in his 1 and ½ seasons with the Cardinals Walker hit 26 homers, drove in 79 runs, slugged .520 and reached base in nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances. And he did all of that while playing with a chronic neck injury that caused intense pain.

11. THE 2021 SEASON

WAR: 10.3, No. 4 in MLB and No. 1 in NL
wRC+: 10% above average, No. 5 in MLB
Defense: +5.4, No. 5 in MLB

* The starting outfield of Tyler O’Neill (LF), Harrison Bader (CF) and Dylan Carlson (RF) was disrupted by injuries. But once they healed up and stayed intact, the outfielders propelled the Cardinals to a strong second half. From the start of July until the end of the season, St. Louis outfielders ranked in the top five in the majors at the position in wRC+, batting average, onbase percentage, and slugging (.502.) The performance translated into 27 percent above league average.

* For the season Tyler O’Neill had a bust-loose year, launching 26 doubles and 34 homers and slugging .560. He rated 48 percent above league average offensively. Regrettably, this was his only standout year as a Cardinal.

* Dylan Carlson took some time to get going in 2021. But after the All-Star break he batted .277 with a .343 OBP and .505 slug – with 15 doubles and 11 homers. The 2024 Cardinals sure could use that from DC when he makes it back from his shoulder injury.

* Bader had his finest season as a Cardinal. He won the Gold Glove, slugged a career-best .460, and attained his single-season high in home runs (16), doubles (21), and RBI. If only he could have done that again.

* The STL outfield ranked fifth overall and second in the NL with 29 defensive runs saved.

* The O’Neill-Bader-Carlson alignment did it all, and did it very well. At that point you couldn’t blame the Cardinals front office for believing they were set in the outfield. But things changed because of injuries, and offensive downturns by all three guys. Bader was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Jordan Montgomey at the deadline in 2022.

12. THE 2013 SEASON 

The 2013 outfield was led by Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. The ‘13 outfield was brutal defensively, ranking 26th with minus 30 defensive runs saved. But offensively the St. Louis outfield ranked second in the majors at 20 percent above league average, led the majors in RBIs, and was sixth with 10.3 WAR.

I hope you enjoyed my special project here on a Tuesday.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis 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 via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac 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.