Charles Dickens infamously started with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in A Tale of Two Cities – little did he know that those words would also be all about the 2017 Cardinals in the first half of the season. The St. Louis Cardinals finished the first half (actually more than half of the season) at 43-45, tied with Chicago for second place, while being 5.5 games behind the 50-41 Brewers. The Cardinals are 7.5 games behind Colorado for the 2nd wildcard spot, but winning the division still seems to be their best chance to make the playoffs.
The first half was something that didn’t answer many questions – only seeming to bring up more issues as the season crept along. The Cardinals are 10-5 over their last 15 games – however it seems like every good stretch follows a bad stretch. After the All Star break I think the Cardinals will really have a chance to show if this recent stretch of good baseball is something they continue with or if they continue to hover around .500. They go on a 10 game 3 city road trip to Pittsburgh, New York, & Chicago to start the 2nd half. They then come home for 7 games against Colorado & Arizona (the two current wild card leaders). The July 31st trade deadline should truly let new GM Girsch & Mozeliak know which direction the Cardinals are trending. If the Cardinals go out and make moves around the deadline, their new acquisitions will be available for their first series in August when the Cardinals head north to play first place Milwaukee.
I was asking my Magic 8 Ball some questions regarding the Cardinals over the next 74 games and all I kept getting was “reply hazy, try again later”. So I’ll do my best at what should be expected out of them without my automated answer generator.
- Will Mike Matheny play his statistically best outfielders? Restated – Will Tommy Pham still be in the lineup 6 out of every 7 days? Tommy has arguably been the best offensive weapon on the team since he joined the team in early May. Dexter Fowler is a guy, when healthy, will be an everyday starter. Pham should be in that same conversation (at least for this season). That leaves Piscotty & Grichuk to fight for playing time. Neither one of these guys should be guaranteed at bats the rest of the way. I’d lean toward Piscotty getting the bulk of at bats as the 3rd outfielder but he hasn’t been much better than Grichuk. Mike can’t continue playing Stephen (been dealing with family issues) or Randall (all the tools available) over Tommy Pham.
- With Kolten Wong back – how will the playing time be distributed at 1B/2B? Wong is batting .301 in just 47 games. Wong is a guy who shouldn’t lose his playing time because of an injury. If Wong can come back and be the type of player he was before he got hurt – Carpenter will have to go back to first and Voit will go to the bench. If Wong doesn’t produce than maybe Wong/Carpenter share 2B duties and Voit/Carpenter split time at 1B. If Matt Carpenter heats up in the second half he obviously has to be in the lineup everyday over either Voit or Wong. I don’t see Greg Garcia having much of a role on this team with the emergence of Paul Dejong.
- Speaking of Paul Dejong – what a breath of life Dejong & Luke Voit (4th highest exit velocity in MLB behind Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, & Ryan Braun) have been to the offensive side of the Cardinals lately. Without these young guys from Memphis how far would the Cardinals be back in the standings? As 2017 goes on it’s time to see what the young guys can bring to the Cardinals. Tommy Pham has been doing it since May but these other young guys can really help the Cardinals in the second half. If a guy like Grichuk or Piscotty get hurt/continue to struggle maybe we even see Harrison Bader (possibly even Mags Sierra). It might be more likely that the Cardinals recall Jose Martinez first, but there comes a time where the Cardinals need to see what these young guys can do. So far almost every young player they’ve called up has done pretty well.
- What will the makeup of the bullpen look like when Zach Duke is ready? The Cardinals just called up Siegrist and optioned Luke Weaver. Their bullpen currently has 8 guys consisting of 5 righties Oh, Rosenthal, Brebbia, Bowman, & Tuivailala, and 3 lefties with Cecil, Lyons, & Siegrist. When Duke is ready I would guess Tuivailala gets optioned out. I can’t remember a time where the Cardinals had 4 lefties in their bullpen.
- Which version of the starting rotation shows up? The Cardinals go as their rotation goes. If the starting 5 pitches like they did the last 15 games (minus Martinez struggling a bit) the Cardinals will be in contention. However if we see the version of the starters where they get whiplash from watching balls fly over the fence it won’t matter what the offense does.
- Can the bullpen continue their strong pitching (as of late)? John Brebbia has pitched in 17 games this season, while having a great ERA of 1.89. Matt Bowman is unscored upon since June 28th (6 outings). Since being recalled in mid June, Sam Tuivailala has only given up 1 earned run in 9 innings pitched. Brett Cecil – who almost every Cardinal fan was hunting for with pitchforks in April – has only given up 4 runs (all came in one bad outing) since May 17th, that’s nearing 2 months. Cecil has lowered his ERA by almost 2.5 runs, and has the 2nd longest active scoreless streak of 14 ⅔ innings in the National League. Seung Hwan Oh has pitched to a 1.93 ERA in 5 July outings. And finally, Trevor Rosenthal has only given up runs in 1 of 4 July appearances. If these guys can continue to stay locked in the Cardinals will be able to get a lead and feel confident that it will hold up. So far this season the Cardinals ERA in the 7th inning or later is 4.40 which is 11th in the NL. The Cardinals should continue to lower this number if they keep getting the outings they have been getting lately.
A few random offensive stats that stick out to me
- The Cardinals have the worst batting average in the NL when the score is tied, at .239. This shows how important it is for the Cardinals to jump out to a lead. For reference the Cards are batting .276 when up (4th in NL) and .244 when behind (10th in the NL).
- The Cardinals 3 hitters are worst in the NL batting .221 with 12 homers and 45 RBI’s. This is 15 points lower than any other team, and tied for 2nd to last with 12 homers (Miami 3 hitters have only 10 bombs). Cards leadoff hitters are 12 and 2nd place hitters are 13th in the National League in batting average. If the top 3 spots in the lineup aren’t producing its hard for the team to win.
- The Cardinals have hit into the 2nd most double plays in the NL at 53 (only behind Atlanta’s 59).
The next 2 ½ weeks could really be the defining stretch of the Cardinals season. If they follow this good run of baseball with a big losing streak than the Cardinals will start looking ahead towards 2018. If the Cardinals strengthen their chances at a wildcard berth or the division than management might go out and make a trade to bolster the team. My bet would be the Cardinals will continue to slog along going somewhere between 7-10 & 10-7. It’s going to be a tough decision for management to decide what direction to go, if any direction at all.