If I could wrap up the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2019 season so far into just one game, the perfect example would be the first half finale Sunday against the lowly San Francisco Giants.
Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty pitched his guts out, throwing a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The first hit he surrendered was a solo home run, and that was all it took for the Redbirds to fall 1-0 to a team that’s getting ready to sell off its few remaining valuable parts to start a rebuilding project in earnest.
When they score, the Cardinals can’t pitch. And when they pitch, they can’t score. It’s far too late in the season to blame this on needing time to gel or on waiting for cold starters to get hot. This team is just playing bad baseball and it needs to find a way to get over it.
As I said last winter, and the winter before that, the problem with the Cardinals is that they aren’t especially good at any aspect of the game. If you have the best rotation in baseball, the offense doesn’t have to be THAT good. If you score runs like nobody’s business, you don’t have to shut the other team down every day of the week. But the Cardinals are below average offensively and, while it shows flashes of brilliance, their starting rotation is definitely sub par when it comes to consistency. It’s unlikely this team can solve all its problems in the three weeks before the trade deadline, and this year it can’t play the games of making an after the deadline deal because the cutoff date is now firm. But it might be able to add one big piece to the offense or a legitimate top of the rotation starter to make one of those aspects of the game something for the team to hang its hat on. Maybe that move would be enough to give St. Louis the edge in a National League Central Division no one seems to want to win.
Here’s where the Cardinals stand at the official half-way point of the season:
St. Louis starting pitching rotation
▪ C-: If someone would have told you that Adam Wainwright was the Cardinals’ most consistent starter in 2019, would you have thought that was a good thing? Based on the way he’s struggled the past couple of years, plus the high hopes for some of the other guys in the starting mix, I’d guess not. But Wainwright is second only to Dakota Hudson in ERA and he and Jack Flaherty are the only starters who have given up fewer hits than innings pitched.
Wainwright has given up the least home runs of St. Louis starters and he’s second in strikeouts to Hudson. Wainwright has definitely earned the right to keep pitching in the big leagues when some thought he needed to hang up his spikes. But Miles Mikolas has been a considerable disappointment after inking a lucrative contract extension, Michael Wacha is terribly inconsistent, and the youngsters Hudson and Flaherty are still learning to be major league pitchers. They look great in one outing and just don’t have it the next. I think you have to live with growing pains when you’re trying to develop pitchers. But the Cardinals have an obvious area where they can improve in Wacha’s rotations spot.
▪ B: If the Cardinals had a part of this team to call a bright spot it would be the relief corps. But it’s a devastating blow to lose flame-throwing closer Jordan Hicks, who will likely miss a year to Tommy John surgery. John Gant and John Brebbia have been good, but it’s a question of how long they’ll be able to hold up if the starters can’t start to go deeper into games on a more consistent basis. Carlos Martinez looks like he could be a suitable alternative as the team’s closer. However, if he’s pitching the ninth inning, he can’t move to the starting rotation and pitch in there.
Areas of concern include Andrew Miller who was supposed to set the bullpen apart from the others in the NL Central. But he’s been inconsistent and mediocre. Alex Reyes was supposed to finally be a major league contributor and, so far, that has been a total bust. I just hope Giovanny Gallegos can keep pitching well to soothe the “I Can’t Believe the Cardinals Traded Voit and All We Got was a Couple of Relief Pitchers” gang.
St. Louis Cardinals starting lineup
▪ D: It’s safe to say that there is no one in this group who hasn’t left something to be desired in 2019. Let’s start at the top. The front office inexplicably rewarded Matt Carpenter with a contract extension even though he had a team option for next year. Carpenter then set about proving that his terrible first-half last year was no fluke and currently is sitting on the injured list with a .216 batting average and a .325 on-base percentage. The Birds traded for Paul Goldschmidt to be the middle of the order bat that this offense lacked last year. So, naturally, manager Mike Shidlt hasn’t batted him in the middle of the order, penciling him in almost every game in the second slot where chances to drive in runs are slim. He hasn’t been terrible. To make matters worse, Goldschmidt hasn’t been the superstar St. Louis needed.
It seems an awful lot to ask young shortstop Paul DeJong to hit third. But that’s what Shildt does most days. DeJong is an All-Star by default. But he’s only hitting .257 this season. Marcell Ozuna was the closest thing to not being a disappointment this offense had. Then he broke his fingers diving into a base and it’s unknown how long he’ll be out or how well he’ll be able to hit when he’s back.
Yadier Molina has struggled to stay healthy this season with a lingering thumb problem. That’s the kind of injury that could linger for the rest of the season. Dexter Fowler is playing much better than last year. I guess we should be thankful for his .258 average and 10 homers. But his running game is a thing of the past. He’s really just another guy these days, not the leadoff hitter the team hoped he could be. Kolten Wong has shown flashes of the player he could be, hitting the ball the other way, dropping down an occasional bunt and flying around the bases. But showing occasional flashes is what he does. A .244 average and a .327 on-base percentage seem light for his skill set.
The STL Bench
▪ B-: Jose Martinez is hitting .290 as a semi-regular and is making a case to be the team’s offensive most valuable player. Jedd Gyorko can’t stay healthy and seems as if his time on the team is reaching its end. The real story of the bench is about Yairo Munoz and Tommy Edman who provide versatility both in the positions they’re capable of playing and the offensive skill sets they feature. Hopefully, they’ll push the starters in front of them to play better or face losing playing time.
Matt Wieters was a great pickup for the Cardinals, given Molina’s health issues. The veteran receiver is basically playing like a starter in a back-up role. Tyler O’Neill didn’t get to play much at all in his first stint with the team. In his second, he’s showing some signs of improvement with hits in five of his last six games. Yeah, the strikeouts are a problem. But strikeouts are a problem across the board for this team. The only way O’Neill is going to get better is if he gets a chance to see major league pitching.