Cardinals Return to Action: Debuts, Dominance, and Disappointment

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    The Redbirds are back into the swing of playing, having played 17 games in 13 days since returning from a COVID-induced break to begin August. In the past two weeks, we have seen some outstanding streaks from Cardinal players, as well as the opposite. So, what has contributed to the successes and failures of the Cardinals up to this point in the season?

    Highlights: St. Louis Cardinals 6 – Chicago White Sox 3 – 8/15/20 (Game 2)  | WGN Radio 720 - Chicago's Very Own

    The Cards currently sit at 11-11 on the season after dropping both games of a double-header to the Pirates on Thursday. They certainly aren’t playing their best brand of baseball at the moment, as our weak schedule should warrant much better than a .500 record. This comes as a result of many things, predominantly inconsistent offense and lackluster defense. Now, that first factor is to be expected. Coming into the season, the Cards’ offensive capabilities were a huge question mark, what with the loss of Marcell Ozuna and no significant counteraction. What’s surprising is the Cardinals’ mediocre to below average defense so far. Not only have guys like Tommy Edman and Brad Miller (who should be the everyday DH) not been pulling their weight in the field, but defensive staples in the Cardinal lineup like Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader haven’t looked their sharpest, either. Bader practically single handedly cost the Cardinals a W against Cincinnati last Friday, botching a routine flyball that would’ve been the third out of the inning, which led to the Reds loading the bases and Matt Davidson crushing a game-winning grand slam into left. It’s not fair to blame Bader entirely for that loss, but he seems to be the easiest scapegoat.

    Speaking of Harrison Bader, where did this offense come from? Bader carries a .398 wOBA, 155 wRC+, and team best .568 SLG into Friday, giving him the third highest fWAR among all Cardinals. He has worked deep into counts, fought off stuff around the corners, and jumped on pitches in his wheelhouse, both heat and offspeed. I haven’t seen this approach from Bader since 2018, and I love it.

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    The rest of the Cardinal offense has been carried by Paul Goldschmidt, who has returned to Arizona form, and Brad Miller, who is tearing the cover off the ball nearly every time he makes contact. Goldy has been on an absolute surge, getting on base at a ridiculous clip in the past week and finding holes in the outfield quite often. He has looked like the best first basemen in the National League since the Cardinals return. Brad Miller has come out of nowhere to be the Cardinals’ second best bat, posting a .430 wOBA, 176 wRC+, and 1.013 OPS. On top of that, Miller seems to even be getting unlucky, with his hard hits and barrels resulting in a .669 xSLG and .501 xwOBA, both ranking in the top 3% of baseball. He has proven himself to be a huge pickup for this team, a great look for Mo, Girsch, and company. Paul DeJong’s expected stats suggest that he has gotten a tad unlucky, as well, giving at least some hope that his offensive production will come around.

    On the contrary to the offense, Cardinal pitching has, for the most part, been off-the-charts good to start 2020. Starters are going deep into games, and the bullpen has done a phenomenal job of closing them out. Kwang-Hyun Kim, Adam Wainwright, and even Dakota Hudson have been stellar innings eaters for the Redbirds so far, pitching well into the 6th and even 7th innings of ballgames. Obviously, with lots of 7 inning double headers, the Cards have had to mix things up, using plenty of spot starters or going with full-fledged bullpen games, and those young arms have been quite impressive. Kodi Whitley, Nabil Crismatt, Johan Oviedo, Rob Kaminsky, Jake Woodford, among others have really shown glimpses of greatness in their limited appearances. On the other hand, Roel Ramirez had quite possibly the worst MLB debut of all time, with the exception possibly being Mike Mayers, another Cardinal, but we won’t get into that. John Gant and Giovanny Gallegos have been absolutely disgusting this season. Really the only bullpen usuals who have faltered up to this point in the season are Tyler Webb and Alex Reyes. Luckily, Ryan Helsley returns soon, so hopefully he picks up right where he left off before the break. It’s truly comforting to see that the Cardinals’ biggest strength from last year has carried over into 2020.

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    I don’t know what to expect from the Cardinals the rest of the season. I stand by my claim that they are one of the most inconsistent and bipolar teams in Major League Baseball, giving me no clear roadmap for what the remainder of this shortened campaign may look like. Hopefully the Cards can play well enough to get themselves into October, and we can go from there. In order to do so, we need to see more offense from Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Tyler O’Neill, and we really need to tighten up the defense. I believe we can play winning baseball on a consistent basis. At our best, we are easily the most talented team in the Central and possibly even a top 5 team in the NL. This may sound obvious and foolish, but we need more highs and less lows. If we put all the pieces together and start to win some games, the division is ours to lose.

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