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Cardinals President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, declared “maybe we can shake things up a little bit,” during his weekly Sunday visit on KMOX. Brace yourselves, people.
But what can Mozeliak do, exactly?
1) Trade for a starting pitcher only days after he said it was “premature” to expect a trade. And in the KMOX interview, Mozeliak also said this, and it doesn’t exactly convey a feeling of intense urgency.
“Our minor league system is fairly unique in the sense that we have some really top level of elite talent, and then we might have a little bit more of a gap between that next level. And so we just want to be very careful,” Mozeliak said. “We certainly want to win this year, but I don’t think we’re going to do it at the expense of our future when you’re trying to think about how to solve this problem.
“Even if for example we want to do something, that doesn’t mean we can. Right now I would imagine if you’re trying to chase starting pitching, you’re going to find that the price really high. We just have to decide … what’s our stomach for those price points? And it might not just be, like, purely cash. It could be a player transaction, player talent.”
(Translation: Lower your expectations.)
2) Promote young LH starting pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore to the majors. I’d be surprised to see that happen anytime soon. Is he even ready for the majors? Highly questionable.
3) Acquire a top reliever and move Alex Reyes to the rotation. Very doubtful at this time. But I suppose it isn’t impossible. But be careful about solving one problem by creating another. Reyes is excellent at closing games.
4) Change the subject from the poor and tattered pitching and gift-wrap every Cardinal fan’s favorite present for shipment to St. Louis: promote slugger Nolan Gorman from Double A Springfield. It’s fun to think about, but on the list of team needs, pitching goes above hitting.
5) Fire pitching coach Mike Maddux, or fire someone just to make it look like you really are trying to shake it up. I’d be surprised, but not floored.
To say the least, the options are limited.
I understand management’s reluctance to part with an elite prospect or two for a short-term boost.
Injuries are a big part of the problem, but it’s bogus to make this June swoon all about injuries. The flaws already existed; they’re just worse now. As I’ve said and written about 5,000 times now, the Cardinals had a chance to upgrade their roster and reinforce their depth last offseason by picking up solid-value players at low prices. And they passed.
The Cardinals created this mess — management obviously included. But it’s up to management to clean it up, and revive the product.
The Cardinals have a losing record, have spiraled into fourth place in the NL Central, are 2-9 in June, and are 9-18 since May 14. The situation is serious. The solutions are few — at least from a realistic standpoint. What will they do? Only Mo knows.
THE CASE OF THE DISAPPEARING ST. LOUIS OFFENSE: On Friday the Cardinals scored five runs in the first five innings to take a 5-1 lead. From that point on, here’s what the STL hitters did over the final 22 innings of the series: scored two runs, had 8 hits in 72 at-bats (.111) and struck out 18 times.
After going 4 for 7 with runners in scoring position and 8 for 15 with men on base through the first five innings of Friday’s game, the Cardinals went 0 for 12 with RISP and 1 for 21 with runners over the final 22 innings of their woeful weekend at Wrigley.
After taking the 5-1 lead Friday, the Cardinals were outscored 16-2 over the next 22 innings.
RECENT LINEUP TRENDS: The Cardinals have averaged 3.3 runs during their current 2-9 skid, batting .219 with a low .648 OPS. They’ve scored 3 runs or less in eight of the 11 games. That’s on the extreme side, but the problem has been festering for quite a while now.
The Cardinals have averaged 3.7 runs over their last 38 games, a span that goes back to May 2. Their 141 runs scored rank 26th since then, and their .221 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks 25th since May 2.
Through 65 games, the Cardinals rank 10th in the NL for average runs per game (4.15), are 13th in the NL in batting average (.229), and 13th in the NL with a .302 onbase percentage. The team slugging percentage is a little better (.387, 10th) but still remains under the league average.
This season the Cardinals have been held to 4 or fewer runs in 41 of their 65 games; the 41 is the fifth highest total in the majors. And the Cards have scraped for no more than 3 runs in 33 games this year — that’s just over 50 percent of their total games.
EXAMINING THE TOP SPOTS IN THE LINEUP: Before the team’s game on April 23, manager Mike Shildt moved Dylan Carlson into the No. 2 slot, and shifted Paul Goldschmidt from the second lineup spot to the third. And Nolan Arenado went from third to cleanup in Shildt’s realignment.
That gave the Cardinals a first-three hitting procession of Tommy Edman, Carlson and Goldschmidt leading to Arenado.
It worked fine for a while, but multiple slumps have cooled the top three spots. And that’s had an impact on the overall offense. It’s always healthy for a lineup to have a high onbase percentage on the front end of the lineup.
Since April 23rd the Cardinals rank 26th among the 30 teams with a .304 onbase percentage at the No. 1 spot, are tied for 18th with a .322 OBP in the second spot, and are 21st with a .318 OBP from the No. 3 line on Shildt’s card.
But when you combine the top three STL lineup spots and compare it to the performance of the other teams, the Cards’ .315 OBP at 1-2-3 ranks 26th. And the 70 runs scored by the 1-2-3 spots ranks 29th.
FOLLOW-UP: WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THAT? Frankly, a lot of it has to do with Edman. His onbase percentage has been on the decline for an extensive stretch. Edman peaked at a .369 OBP on April 17. In his ensuing 51 games, Edman’s OBP is a substandard .294. (The overall MLB onbase percentage for leadoff hitters is .337.)
Because he doesn’t draw many walks, Edman depends on batting average to keep the OBP inflated. But that’s been a problem; he’s hitting only .247 since May 2. And accordingly Edman’s OBP over that time is only .281.
For the season, among leadoff hitters that have at least 150 plate appearances in the No. 1 spot, Edman’s .312 OBP ranks 15th on a list of 20.
But this issue entails a lot more than Tommy Edman.
After posting a .374 OBP in his first 22 games and 91 plate appearances as the No. 2 hitter, Carlson has struggled with a .297 OBP in his last 101 PA batting second.
And Goldschmidt’s current OBP (.313) would be his lowest in a season. Goldy had a .389 OBP in his 10+ seasons with Arizona. That said, Goldschmidt does have a .350 OBP since May 13, so he’s trending in a positive direction.
TOMMY EDMAN: TROUBLE WITH RIGHT-HANDERS: I’m not picking on the guy. My only purpose here is to follow the numbers to see what a player is doing, or where a player is heading. Good, bad, or something in between. That isn’t up to me. That’s up to the player and his performance.
As a rookie, the switch-hitting Edman did well against RH pitching, batting .298 with a .339 OBP and .471 slug. It added up to a .801 OPS. Based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Edman was 13 percent above league average with his work against RH pitchers.
Edman’s numbers vs. RHP dropped significantly in 2020: a .233 average, .317 OBP, .325 slug, .642 OPS. That rated 18 percent below league average in wRC+. Hey, maybe this was about the disruption of the 2020 season and the short-schedule chaos.
In 242 plate appearances against RHP this season Tommy is hitting .250 with a .289 OBP and .338 slug. He has a .627 OPS against them and his wRC+ (77) is 23 percent below league average.
The Cardinals have made 83 percent of their total plate appearances against RH pitching this season. With Edman, 82.5% of his PA have come against RH pitchers this year, and it’s close to that for his career. And because he’s batting leadoff, this is kind of a big deal. Over the last two seasons, in 428 plate appearances vs. RH pitchers, Edman has a .243 average, .301 OBP and .634 OPS. And based on wRC+, he’s 29% below league average vs. the RH.
QUICK NOTE ON THE ROTATION: Since Jack Flaherty left his May 31 start with a torn oblique muscle, the Cardinals have tried to survive the wounds to their starting rotation. Adam Wainwright has pitched well in his two June starts, allowing five earned runs in 14 innings for a 3.21 ERA. In the nine other non-Waino games this month, the starting pitchers have been rocked for 36 earned runs in 34.2 innings for an ERA of 9.34.
Carlos Martinez did enough to win a game for the Cardinals on Sunday night, throwing 7 innings without allowing an earned run. The Cardinals scored no runs and lost 2-0.
The Cardinals have a 5.64 rotation ERA since May 14. That ranks 25th in the majors over that time. Here are the individual starter ERAs since May 14: Flaherty, 4.30, Wainwright 4.35, Martinez 6.71, Kwang Hyun Kim (5.82), John Gant 5.73, Johan Oviedo (6.75.)
COUPLE OF THINGS ON GOLDY: Only 3 RBI in June, and only 5 RBI in his last 21 games in which he’s batted .222 with a .375 slug and two homers. (And a .337 OBP, which is decent.) His last multi-hit game was May 19. Since May 23, he’s gone 1 for 19 (.053) with runners in scoring position, walking four times with six strikeouts, a sac fly and three RBIs.
TRACKING YADIER MOLINA: His early season barrage of offense has tapered off. (As expected.) Molina is batting .232 in his last 27 games with a .627 OPS, two homers and 14 RBIs. He’ll get some big hits, though.
OH, THAT’S WHAT A BULLPEN IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE: In the first six games against the Cardinals this season the Cubs bullpen has worked 18.2 scoreless innings. STL hitters have batted .152 with a .407 OPS. The Chicago relievers had no problem shutting down STL at Wrigley, pitching 10.1 scoreless innings and allowing a .139 batting average.
The Cardinals have discovered the depth and domination of a revamped Cubs’ bullpen. Closer Craig Kimbrel has a strikeout rate of 46% against Cards hitters this season. But Kimbrel isn’t alone; setup relievers Dan Winkler, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera have handled the Cardinals without encountering much resistance. In 31 combined plate appearances against Tepera, Chafin and Winkler the Cardinals have squeaked for only three hits and two walks.
Chicago has the second-best bullpen ERA (2.59) in MLB this season and ranks first with a 1.37 ERA and 30% strikeout rate since May 5.
NEXT ON THE SKED: Wainwright opens a three-game series against the Marlins at Busch Stadium on Monday night. Miami starts lefty Braxton Garrett, age 23, who has a 6.14 ERA in 14 and ⅔ MLB innings. For the Cardinals, this begins a stretch of 20 consecutive games against opponents that have have losing records in the current standings.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 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. 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.