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The Cardinals are down. Don't let them up.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the baseball season to date is just how bad the Cardinals are. At 10-19 they are off to their worst start since 1973.
If you’re wondering, those feisty ‘73 Redbirds finished 81-81, five games ahead of the Cubs and just 1.5 behind the Mets who won the NL East and the pennant and lost to the A’s in the World Series.
The good teams were all in the NL West where three of them, the Reds, Dodgers and Giants won between 99 and 88 games. What does that mean? Nothing really. But how about this? The Cubs had four starters start at lest 29 games and they all pitched pretty well and they all had losing records, and they all lost at least 12 games. Fergie Jenkins was 14-16, Burt Hooton was 14-17, Rick Reuschel was 14-15 and Milt Pappas…the only one with an ERA over 4.00 was 7-12.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the Cardinals sucking.
There is a chance, of course that even with this lousy start, the Cardinals could still make the playoffs, now that there are way too many teams that qualify, and they could probably still win the NL Central because there’s a pretty good chance the division doesn’t have a good team in it.
The Pirates not only lead the division they have the best record in the National League at 20-9, which is the second best record in all of baseball (the Rays are 23-6). On paper, Pissburgh looks like a good team.
They lead the NL in runs scored, run differential, triples, stolen bases, slugging, and second in OPS. They lead the league in saves, are third in ERA allowed, second in fewest homers allowed, and fourth in strikeouts.
Taft High School’s Jack Suwinski is slugging .618 with six homers in just 68 at bats, they’re getting an .830 OPS out of 36 year old Andrew McCutchen and they are doing all of this without their best player, Oneil Cruz who broke his ankle sliding into Seby Zavala. It’s the most impactful thing a Sox player has done all year.
They have solid pitching. Starter Mitch Keller is off to a good start with 40 strikeouts in 35.2 innings, Ian Happ’s old little league teammate David Bednar already has nine saves with a 0.69 ERA. 74 year old Rich Hill is still around for some reason.
But…you knew there’d be a but…they haven’t faced the most challenging schedule so far. Of their 29 games played only nine of them have been against teams with a winning record. That’s tied for the fewest in baseball. The Guardians have also played nine. Most teams have played a lot more than that. The Reds have played 28 games and 25 of them have been against teams with a winning record. The Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals have all played 19.
And here’s how tenuous the Pirates number is. Last week Pissburgh sports journalist Dejan (Mustard Boy) Kovacevic Tweeted to brag that the Pirates had the best winning percentage in either league against teams over .500. They were then, as they are now, 6-3 (.667). A couple of hours later two of those teams, the Dodgers and Red Sox, lost, both dropping to .500 and giving the Pirates the second-worst winning percentage against teams with a winning record at 1-2 (.333). I mean, the A’s are still a thing that exist.
One thing Pissburgh has going for them is that when you look around the National League there might only be one good team, the Barves. So maybe their schedule will never toughen up? It won’t matter though, they’re just not very good.
The Brewers have the best pitching in the division and are probably the closest thing the division has to a good team, but they refuse to improve their offense. They got off to a good start, but they’re averaging just over three runs scored a game the last 15 games.
The Reds are bad.
The Cardinals are a wondrous assemblage of blah. Their pitching is so bad that they’re actually looking at the return of 41 year old Adam Wainwright later this week as something that will boost them back to relevance. True, he’s better than what they’ve been running out there so far, but come on. If the key to your season is the return of an old guy who can’t throw 85 miles an hour anymore, your season’s already in the shitter.
Three fifths of the current rotation has ERAs of 5.72 or higher. Their bullpen has been just as bad. One of the most Cardinals things ever is that they make a huge deal out of the fact that reliever Jordan Hicks can throw 105 miles per hour. That’s impressive, because it must be going out at 125, considering he’s given up 15 hits in 11 innings to go with ten walks.
Their offense is a confusing mess, too. They can’t figure out how to play all of their outfielders. They sent rookie Jordan Walker down to open up more room for whatever the hell Alec Burleson is, and on any given day their outfield includes three of Burleson, Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill and until recently Walker.
They act like it’s an embarrassment of riches, but it’s mostly just an embarrassment. Of those five players only Nootbaar has a league average OPS+.
They seem truly confounded at O’Neill’s struggles. After all, in 2021 he hit .286/.352/.560 with 34 homers. He also won his second straight Gold Glove in left field.
The old Cardinals would have known what to do with this. They would have traded Tyler O’Neill for pitching before Christmas. But these Cardinals thought they’d found something. So they kept a guy who had hit .173 the year before his breakout season and .228 the year after. His Gold Gloves were nearly as well earned as Ian Happ’s.
I joked on our baseball podcast during the offseason that Nolan Arenado deciding not to opt out of his contract was a sign of somebody who didn’t want to take the kind of physical you have to when you sign a big deal. Because even if he wanted to stay in St. Louis, he should have at least threatened to opt out to get them to add a few bucks to his deal. It might not have been a joke. Because wow, he’s been bad.
Arenado hit .239/.281/.319 in April with two homers and three doubles. His OPS+ is 67. Nick Madrigal’s is 95. Quick, Jed, make them an offer!
Doesn’t Madrigal seem like he was born to be a Cardinal anyway? Actually it seems like he was born in a mouse hospital and spent his first few years sleeping in a matchbox, but never mind that.
The pitching struggles are, you’ll be shocked to know, being blamed on new catcher Willson Contreras. We knew this would happen. Saint Yadi is gone and despite the fact that the Cardinals pitchers mostly suck, they’ll blame this on Willson.
After all, last year the Cardinals team ERA was fourth in the NL at 3.79. So far this year it’s 4.45 which is ninth. It’s got to be the lack of Yadi.
This despite the fact that due to injury and previous commitments to his Puerto Rican League basketball team, Yadi only started 71 games at catcher last year. Andrew Knizner started more games.
Well, it’s still Willson’s fault!
Just one month into the season, the Cardinals are already 10 games out of first. But the disappointing thing is that they are only 5.5 games behind the Cubs.
The Cubs, believe it or not, probably have the best all-around team in the division. They have a better offense than Milwaukee, better pitching than the Cardinals and they play the best defense. Their baserunning is still a little shaky, as evidenced by the wild ride that Eric Hosmer and Patrick Wisdom went on when they just wandered around the field as Trey Mancini the third scored on a sac fly on Saturday and Hosmer was tagged out to end the threat in one of three one run losses in Miami.
The division, such that it is, is there for the taking, but the Cubs don’t have a big margin for error. Losing close games because your manager needs his bullpen paint-by-numbered for him and because of his obsession with DHing guys who can’t hit and then pinch hitting for them halfway through games isn’t helping.
It’s why you’d really like to see them get aggressive with their call ups. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear Ross tell the Fox national announcers that Eric Hosmer’s clubhouse leadership is so valuable.
You know what they call old guys in a clubhouse who can’t play?
Ross knows that the backup catcher gets to be the folksy leadership guy who can’t hit. The Cubs have Tucker Barnhart and he’s playing that role to perfection. Hosmer’s even redundant at that.
It’s not just that fans want to see Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel come up because they’ll be more fun to watch than what they’ll be replacing. I mean, of course that’s true. But they’ll also be more useful. You’d think a manager would be pushing for this. They might help you win an extra game or two, and that might be the difference between going to the playoffs or not.
Even more importantly, it might be the difference between the Cardinals going to the playoffs or not.
We can’t trust the Brewers to handle this, and we sure as hell can’t expect the Pirates to.
This is bigger than just getting the Cubs back to the playoffs for the sixth time in nine years. This is about being equipped to help kick the Cardinals while they’re down.
Jed Hoyer and Carter Mayonnaise built this team to be just good enough to keep us interested until the first Bears’ game. There’s no sense of urgency with the roster because it wasn’t supposed to really matter.
Calling up Matt Mervis was supposed to be a mid-summer move that grabs some attention just as it was starting to wane.
Bringing Christopher Morel back wasn’t supposed to happen until Nico’s regularly scheduled hamstring rupture in July.
But here we are in May with nobody in the division looking like they’re all that good and the Cubs playing almost well enough to overcome the unaddressed roster deficiencies.
You lose a game here or there because you were relying on Hosmer or Luis Torrens or Miles Mastrobuoni or Nick Madrigal or Edwin Rios in a big spot and those start to add up.
Suddenly your easily duped fans are asking questions you don’t want to answer.
“Why is Matt Mervis still at Iowa with an OPS that’s more than THREE HUNDRED points higher than Eric Hosmer?”
“Why is Christopher Morel still at Iowa with an OPS that’s SIX HUNDRED1 points higher than Nick Madrigal?”
I get that the International League is a hitter’s league, but Mervis and Morel aren’t just playing well. They are destroying that league. I’m all for letting a developing player enjoy success and get used to the feeling, but at this point they are basically playing a video game with the difficulty setting way too low. What the hell do you think they are learning there now?
And, what’s the worst that could happen if they come up and struggle? They have to go back? You lose Eric Hosmer on waivers and have to replace him with…pretty much any tall person in the world?
“Hey Rossy, we’re going to have to send Mervis back to Iowa for a little bit. Hosmer’s gone but our analytics say that if you just tie a bat to a mop handle and prop that up in the box it will approximate his production.”
If you’re going to risk being wrong, be wrong early. It’s more fun.
I’m not one for directly comparing a guy’s production in the International League to the big leagues, but when one guy is literally OPSing 1.298, you kind of have to sit back and take notice. His OPS is .643 MORE than Madrigal’s.