Saturday, August 19, 2017

Reaching The Three-Quarter Mark

By virtue of an 8-game winning streak, the Cardinals dragged themselves back over .500 for the first time in two months, and have managed to stay there so far, sitting at 63-59. AS the Brewers have fallen back to Earth, and the Cubs have still not taken off, the Cards sit 1.5 games back in the division. The D'Backs and Rockies have also fallen off their earlier paces, so the Cardinals are only ~4 games out of a wild card.

The team did nothing at the trade deadline. The offense is doing much of the heavy lifting lately, while the rotation struggles and the bullpen tries its damnedest to blow every single lead. Three nights ago, they took a 2-run lead into the 9th in Boston, and despite Matheny trying three relievers, blew it. Last night, they were up 11-3 after 7 innings, and won 11-10.

The rotations hasn't been spectacular lately. Wacha still has the best FIP on the team at 3.52, and Martinez is the only other starter below 4.00. Martinez has made 9 starts since the beginning of July, and worked into the 7th just three times. He has two starts with a Game Score above 60 in that time, after 8 such starts in his first 16. Leake's ERA has backslid to 3.88, close to his FIP of 4.02. He's not walking guys, or allowing many homers, he just has to rely on balls in play finding glove too much. It's always going to limit him. Lynn has the best ERA in the rotation, 3.05, but his FIP is 4.78. he and Martinez are equal in HRs, and Lynn has walked one more batter, despite throwing 17 fewer innings. Still, he's been doing this all season, and for the previous two years he pitched before this, so maybe it's something he can maintain. Seems like a precarious tightrope to walk.

As stated, Wacha has the lowest FIP in the rotation, but with roughly the same ERA as Leake. He's also thrown 22 fewer innings than Leake or Lynn. Wacha has gone past 6 innings twice all season, and his complete game against the Mets is the only time he finished the 7th. He's had some damn good 6 inning starts - one each against the Nationals and D'Backs in July - but it'd be nice if he could go further into games occasionally. Some of that is undoubtedly the team being cautious with his shoulder, but there are also several of those starts where his pitch count is in the mid-90s or higher by the end of the 6th. He's not as efficient as you'd hope. Then there's Wainwright, with an ERA over 5, but a FIP far below it. It's hard to buy that he's having bad luck, though. He went on the DL briefly, came back, and made a few starts where he can't throw harder than 85. Now he's back on the DL, thankfully. Luke Weaver got to make the starts in Adam's place, and did OK. Presumably he'll resume that role now.

The bullpen is garbage, absolute garbage. There's no telling who can be relied on at any given time. Oh seems to be transitioning to becoming a ROOGY, but still can't consistently use his slider and inspires zero confidence. Cecil is entirely untrustworthy in any situation where the team isn't already losing. Bowman leads the league in appearances, but is averaging less than an inning per appearance. Rosenthal's ERA is over a run above his FIP, probably because he groups his walks and homers by melting down entirely. Now he's on the DL, along with Siegrist who has blessedly been there most of the month. Zach Duke's thrown 7 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery, and is walking too many guys. He came in with the bases loaded last night, and promptly walked a run home. Which I'm positive I saw him do last year, too.

Matheny's been desperate enough to throw John Brebbia into the 9th innings of close games. It didn't work. Brebbia's ERA is as far below his FIP, as Rosenthal's is above. He doesn't walk anyone, but the home runs are starting to crop up. Tyler Lyons is probably the best option they have right now, based on both ERA and FIP. Seems able to handle most any situation. Tuivailala is back up, he's been fairly useful this year. They called Mike Mayers up a few days ago, and he shit the bed - again! - last night against the Pirates. At this point, he's firmly in the Ryan Lindley category for me, a player so awful and useless that upon seeing him in a game, the only reasonable conclusion is the team hates its fans and wants them to be miserable. But I guess the team doesn't hate us that much because they sent him back to AAA half an hour after the game ended and brought us Josh Lucas, the AAA closer.

It's a little frustrating they won't bring up some of the other useful relievers from Memphis and jettison the dead weight in the 'pen, but we can always hope for that.

On the position player side of things, the team is up to 7th in runs scored, 4th in doubles, just 11th in home runs and 9th in stolen bases. They're third in OBP, but just 9th in slugging. They have no one with 20 HRs, but 7 guys between 14 and 19.

Molina got angry at the one-two punch of Matheny suggesting he might be tired, and the team DFAing Eric Fryer and calling up Carson Kelly. Unfortunately, Mozeliak forgot Molina decides when he does and doesn't play, and so Kelly is sitting on the bench. In the month he's been up, Kelly has collected 25 PAs. Molina's OBP is almost .310, but his ISO is over 150, which is the best he's managed outside those peak years of 2011-2013. He's also second in stolen bases on the team, with 8.

Among the infielders, Carpenter still can't keep his batting average above .250, but he has a .384 OBP, good for third on the team, and his ISO is about 200. That's down from the last couple of years, as he seems to be reverting to Doubles Machine Matt Carpenter (he has 28 of those this year, against 16 HRs). I don't really mind that, he's still being productive. Wong is still trying to get on track with all these brief stops on the DL, but he has an .845 OPS at the moment, in 300 PAs. I'm surprised he's not stealing more bases, given his .398 OBP and lack of extra-base hits, the opportunities are clearly there.

Aledmys Diaz is still in AAA, with most of the SS playing time going to Paul DeJong. DeJong leads the team in HRs, and has an ISO of 278. His K rate has even dropped, from 30.8% to 30.4%! And his walk rate is over 3.5%, my goodness. I'm not sure how long he can keep hitting .300 like this; using Grichuk as a guide suggests possibly for as long as a season, but probably not over the long haul Still, it's nice to have while it's there, and DeJong has played a close to average SS, which is a pleasant surprise. Over at third, Gyorko's quieted down considerably the last couple months. His OPS is down under .800, barely, but combined with his solid defense at third, he's still the Cardinals' second most valuable player this year.

In the outfield, Piscotty continued to struggle, has been part of a lot of trade rumors, and is currently on the DL. Fowler might finally be healthy, has his OBP over .360, and his ISO around 230. His defense in CF still isn't very good, and it should probably be one of a couple other players starting in that spot, but he's the veteran guy on the big contract, so that ain't happenin'. Tommy Pham is the most valuable player on the team this year, with an OBP over .400, and an ISO of about 200. He has 15 doubles, 16 HRs (and an ongoing beef with Statcast, which is outstanding), and 16 SBs. And he gives great, angry, post-game interviews. I hope he's at least enjoying himself, it's hard to tell sometimes.

As for the remaining bench guys, Grichuk is back up and hitting fairly well. His OPS is almost league average now. But he's the other side of the coin for DeJong. DeJong has a .333 OBP because he's hitting .305. Grichuk is hitting .244, and that's why his OBP is .292, despite having a marginally better walk rate than DeJong. Or contrast to Greg Garcia, who has his average all the way up to .240, and has an OBP of .364. He's walked 30 times in 214 PAs; Grichuk and DeJong have combined for 31 BBs in 622 PAs. Different approaches, and DeJong certainly is having success. But it cuts down the margin for error quite a bit. Jose Martinez is continuing to be a productive hitter, although his defense has been a nightmare pretty much wherever he's placed. Luke Voit has predictably dropped off after a hot start, but is still being productive. Harrison Bader had a brief call-up, and Magneuris Sierra is apparently coming back up.

Going forward, I don't know what to expect. The pitching has to get its act together, starters and relievers. They can't keep expecting the offense to score 7+ runs every night. I don't know if they need to hope for the guys they've got to turn it around, or start bringing some new faces into the 'pen, but something's got to change there.



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