After having a day off following their stretch of 17 games without a break, the Cardinals are set to resume play Tuesday night in Milwaukee, opening a three-game series against the Brewers. It should be fun to see the teams with the best records in the NL Central get after it again. And after flying out of Wisconsin the Cards head to Southern California for three weekend games vs. the San Diego Padres. This roadie figures to be a tough and revealing test for the Cardinals.
THE RESET: The Cardinals did very well in their 17-game traipse that began April 23. They had three-game sweeps in their series against the Reds, Pirates and Rockies. They split four-game affairs with the Phillies and Mets. The Redbirds (21-14) buzzed their way to a tie with the Giants for the best winning percentage (.600) in the NL.
If you want to nitpick, you can point to the quality of competition. The Reds are a .500 team, the Phillies are a game over .500, the Pirates are 14-20 and the Rockies are 12-22 overall, 2-14 on the road. But here’s my philosophy on that: the team receives a schedule, plays the games, and wins or loses. The Cardinals aren’t in charge of schedule sequencing or choosing opponents based on their records. Win. Or lose. They won 13 of 17. If the Cardinals had gone 8-9 in the 17 games, everybody would be snarling. So enjoy the success.
WHY DID THE CARDS GO 13-4? You mean, other than the schedule? (Just kidding.) Well, starting pitching was clearly the most positive factor, with the rotation whirling for a 2.53 ERA that ranks second in the majors since April 23. Moreover the STL rotation churned 102.1 innings over that time, most in the majors. That’s a big change from the first 18 games of the season when Cards starters had a 5.27 ERA (25th) and managed only 81.1 innings (22nd.)
There were a couple of single-game hiccups with the starters, but that’s baseball. Here are the ERAs for the five primary starters, all of whom have made three starters since April 23: John Gant 1.17, Jack Flaherty 1.80, Kwang Hyun Kim 1.84, Carlos Martinez 2.66, Adam Wainwright 2.74.
Nicely done. But the Cardinals placed Martinez (right ankle) on the IL Tuesday, and rookie Johan Oviedo will take his next start.
There are other reasons for the 13-4 springboard into 1st place.
Let’s get to them right now!
In no particular order:
NOLAN ARENADO: Other than firmly established team leaders Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, no player has had more influence on the Cardinals than Nado.
The new third baseman is slugging .511 and leads the team in WAR (1.3), extra-base hits (18), total bases 69), runs batted in (23) and two-out RBIs (9. He’s batting .313 with a .937 OPS with runners in scoring position. With runners on base, he’s batting .317 with a 1.071 OPS. And Arendo has saved two runs with his defense; many more to come.
In his last 13 games, Arenado is batting .347 with a .407 OBP and .653 slug with 10 extra-base hits, nine runs and 11 RBI. The Cardinals won 10 of those 13 games.
More than the numbers, you can see something special going on. Arenado is an intense competitor. Completely locked in, 100 percent of the time. He approaches everything with energy, alertness and wisdom. And Arenado’s combination of ability, attitude and aptitude is infusing this team. You can’t quantify it, but you see it. This dude was meant to play baseball for this team. It’s a fit.
HARRISON BADER + THE OUTFIELD: This is a small-sample slice of key-lime pie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. When Harry returned from the IL on April 30, manager Mike Shildt could finally introduce the planned outfield for 2021: Tyler O’Neill in left, Bader in center, Dylan Carlson in right — with Justin Williams as the fourth outfielder and a little dash of Tommy Edman in RF during this time.
In the 10 games since the realignment the STL outfield ranks second among the 30 team outfield groups in batting average (.290), 10th in onbase percentage (.347), eighth in slugging (.449) and eighth in OPS (.796.) Collectively the outfielders have performed 15 percent above league average offensively in park-adjusted runs created.
It’s only 121 plate appearances. But it’s a good look so far. And a reason why the Cardinals are 8-2 and averaging 5.1 runs over the last 10 games. The fellas can track baseballs out there. The St. Louis outfield has been credited with 10 defensive runs saved since Bader rejoined the ensemble.
BONUS BADER NOTE: Check this out … Bader has played only 86 innings since jumping off the I but already ranks second among MLB center fielders with three defensive runs saved. The only CF with more runs saved defensively is Minnesota’s Byron Buxton, with six. But Buxton has played 197 innings — 111 more than Harry.
TOMMY EDMAN & DYLAN CARLSON: Shildt came up with an enhanced formula in moving Carlson into the No. 2 spot behind Edman. Since April 23 the Cardinals’ top two lineup spots have generated a .316 batting average, .366 OBP and .756 OPS. With a few more walks from Edman, and a little power by Carlson, this combo should only get better.
In 68 plate appearances since moving to the No. 2 slot, Carlson has a slash line of .355 /.397 /.419. And Edman has a .299 average with a .366 OBP. They’ve combined 41 hits, nine walks and 20 runs scored.
IN A RELATED NOTE: Paul Goldschmidt had a .624 OPS as the No. 2 bat before the lineup change. As the No. 3 hitter, Goldy’s OPS is .755. It’s the same dynamic with Arenado, who had an .818 OPS as the No. 3 hitter. As the cleanup man, Arenado has an .888 OPS.
ALEX REYES: Closers are judged on the final result, and Reyes is 10 for 10 in save opps and he can’t do better than that. The Reyes 0.53 ERA is tied for fourth best among qualifying MLB relievers. His 1.25 WPA (Win Probability) ranks eighth. Reyes has limited the opposition to a .123 batting average and one extra-base hit.
We know that the Reyes 18.8% walk rate is ignitible, but there’s been some progress, with Reyes having an 11% walk rate in his last six games. At least that’s heading in a safer direction. And give Reyes credit for limiting the damage when he walks his way into hazardous situations; opponents are 1 for 23 against him with runners in scoring position and 2 for 30 with men on base.
WINNING THE HOME-RUN DERBY: The Cardinals have out-homered opponents by a wide margin this season, 44-24. (Only the Mets have allowed fewer homers, 18.) And that strength has held up during the 13-4 stretch, with the Cardinals banging out a 19-8 edge on homers.
But here’s what I really like about the last 17 games: the Cardinals do significantly more harm with their home runs. During this stretch the Cardinals have 10 homers with men on base; the other side has three. The timing has been a plus, with swatting 10 two-out homers compared to two such homers by opponents.
During the 13-4 run Cards hitters have a .416 slugging percentage.
Cards pitchers have allowed a .283 slug.
That’s quite an advantage.
MORE HAPPY-TALK POSITIVES: Goldschmidt is batting .355 with a .581 slugging percentage and .975 OPS in his last eight games. This includes two homers, six RBI and nine runs scored … Matt Carpenter started only three games during the 13-4 streak but he clubbed two homers and drove in six runs as a pinch hitter. In his 21 plate appearances since April 23, Carpenter has a .333 OBP and .529 slugging percentage … shortstop Paul DeJong is warming up. After hitting .165 with a .617 OPS in his first 24 games, he’s batting .242 with an .821 OPS in his last nine … after taking over when Yadier Molina went on the IL with a foot injury, young catcher Andrew Knizner lowered his catcher ERA to 2.61 on the season. Nice work … Molina returned Saturday and went 3 for 8 with two doubles and four RBIs in two games.
BIGGEST IMMEDIATE CONCERN: Bullpen. First of all, the Cardinals and Reds have the worst bullpen walk rate in the majors (14.1%) this season. Even while winning 13 of 17 the Cardinals relievers walked 14.4 percent of hitters faced and had the worst K-BB ratio of any bullpen … Jordan Hicks (elbow) will be out of action for a long time, lefty Andrew Miller remains sidelined with a blister issue … lefty Tyler Webb has a 13.00 ERA for the season including a 23.63 ERA in his last four appearances.
HOWEVER, ON THE PLUS SIDE: The Cards do have depth. And they have improving relievers such as Ryan Helsley. Snce April 23 Ryan Helsley, Kodi Whitley, Seth Elledge and Jake Woodford have combined for 15 relief appearances covering 17.1 innings without allowing a run. But cut down on those walks, boys.
And then there’s the young lefty Genesis Cabrera. Since the traumatic episode against Philadelphia — when he hit Bryce Harper on the face and Didi Gregorious in the ribs — Cabrera has made five appearances without any stress. In 5.1 innings he gave up one earned run (1.69 ERA) with three walks and six strikeouts.
NEXT ON THE SKED: Three at Milwaukee, followed by three at San Diego. The Brewers and Padres each have 19-16 records.
Thanks for reading …
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