We’ll get the “motherfuck” possibilities out of the way at the top, and perhaps immediately speaking to them will hold them off for a little while longer. But they will happen. 1. The NL Central is complete clown-shoes, and no matter how bad the St. Louis Cardinals play they’ll never be out of it. 2. We know they’re going to go on some ridiculous streak where they win 24 games in two weeks somehow and charge up the lifeless standings of the division. These are givens. Which is why it’s good to laugh at the Cards when you can, and we’re coming back for a second helping!
St. Louis got caught up in the recent upward momentum of the Cincinnati Reds this weekend after the call-up of Elly De La Cruz and his ability to turn a baseball into putty, losing two of three at home. That’s after they lost two of three to the Rangers, and got swept in Pittsburgh, All that left them 12 games under .500, their worst mark in a month, and now eight games behind the somehow first-place Pirates (that “somehow” is that the Brewers got swept AT HOME by the A’s, which gives you some sense of the state of the Central).
A month ago, the Cardinals tried to blame Willson Contreras for their problems, stripping him of his catching duties on May 5th and moving him permanently to DH, alluding to some form of dark magic that catching for the Cardinals must be, and that Willson couldn’t possibly hope to understand. They stuck with that for two weeks, and reinstalled Contreras as their main catcher on the 22nd. During his two week vacation from the tools of ignorance, the Cardinals starters’ ERA was 3.99. It’s 3.79 since.
What all this attention and meddling has done, or at least has accompanied, or partially contributed to in between, is to totally crater Contreras’s offense, the main point of his signing in the first place. He hit .158 in May and is hitting .128 in June so far and striking out a ton.
Contreras isn’t alone in tanking the Cards offense the past month. They’re 23rd in average and 17th in on-base the past month. While Nolan Arenado has straightened himself out after spending the first month going up to the plate with a novelty sub sandwich, very few are coming with him. Paul DeJong is doing his usual trick of having a couple big home runs in certain games paper over the fact that overall he’s finished as an offensive player. Paul Goldschmidt’s power has cratered the past month, and Tommy Edman’s season-long struggles have continued.
The Cards have also been beat up, pretty much losing their entire outfield to the IL, forcing a call-up of a still not-ready Jordan Walker (one day we’ll all learn that tearing up spring training and $3 gets you on the bus) and pushing Edman into centerfield. That has led to the Cards having one of the worst outfield defenses in MLB (-5 Outs Above Average), something we don’t normally associate with them.
The rotation has partially ironed out whether Contreras has been catching or not, with Miles Mikolas, and Jack Flaherty pitching well the past 30 days. The problem is that there’s four other guys starting games. Turns out Adam Wainwright eventually got around to pitching like he’s 70-12 years old, and he’s getting crushed. Steven Matz can’t get any luck on batted balls, but he’s also giving up a ton of loud contact and is undeserving of a total market correction (average exit velocity against: 90.2 MPH). Matthew Liberatore is back up for the second straight year being treated as the savior, and he’s walking too many guys, striking out no one, and giving up more audible contact than Matz.
And the pen still only has about two trustworthy arms, and no arms they can trust to not hand out walks like condoms at a key party (Cards fans will love that comparison on multiple levels).
Most of the Cardinals problems will be answered with health. Dylan Carlson returned this week, Lars Nootbar shouldn’t be too far behind. Tyler O’Neill needed injections in his back which isn’t encouraging, but could be cleared for baseball activities this weekend we’ll see how much he can cram in before his eventual backiotomy.
Part of the Cardinals problem is that manager Oliver Marmol hasn’t figured out how all these pieces fit. When the outfielders return and Edman gets back to second base, it pushes either Nolan Gorman, or Brendan Donovan out of the lineup altogether. They can move Edman over to short to keep Donovan at second, but they lose something defensively, and this is not a good defensive team. Marmol has attempted to juggle all of it to try and get everyone ABs, but it’s thrown a lot of players out of rhythm.
Again, this won’t last. This division is still awful beyond belief, and it’s going to stay that way. The Pirates should be adding at the deadline to take advantage, but they won’t as they’ll guise it as part of their plan instead of just being cheap, which it is. If the Cubs weren’t managed by an overmatched mule, they could probably trade for one more starter and one more bat at either of the infield corners and might actually have a chance. They won’t for the same reasons as the Pirates (think about that sentence for a minute). The Brewers are more likely to sell than buy. The Reds just aren’t there.The Cardinals just need health, a set lineup, and to stop lighting their own face on fire to surge past these jamokes without really going much higher than 3rd gear.
But they can’t find that gear so far. They tried blaming the new guy. What’s next?
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate to watch him get bombarded with tweets that contain the phrase, “Your gay.”