So this is bad, everyone. The Cardinals - a team I picked to win 90 games, which was pretty much in line with a lot of other preseason predictions - have been the worst team in the NL Central since Dexter Fowler walked off the Chicago Cubs to complete a thrilling three-game sweep in early May. That feels like ages ago.
The bullpen has been a disaster. They don't strike a lot of batters out (14th K% in the National League), they've been BABIP'd to hell (third worst), and therefore by ERA, FIP, or xFIP, they rank near the bottom of the NL. A lot of games have been lost in innings 6-9 but there's still plenty of blame to go around.
The offense has been equally frustrating. Maybe more. The times they've handed the game over to the beleaguered pen with a safe lead have been very few and far between. On Wednesday the offense squandered a gazillion opportunities by leaving a ton of runners on base and going 1-for-[insert whatever high number here] with runners in scoring position to lose the rubber match to the last-place Reds. That wasn't an anomaly. As of this morning, the Cardinals have the worst wRC+ in the NL (85) with runners in scoring position. 2013 was a loooong time ago.
And you really have to delude yourself into thinking things will change. Just look at the A's. Look how much fun they're having. They've won 26 of their last 33 games to drag themselves right back into the thick of things. Can you envision this roster even attempting to pull off a run like that? Me neither. But that's almost what it will take for this team to get into the postseason. To win 90 games they're going to have to play at a 105-win pace, basically be the 2004 Cardinals for about two months and that's not happening (FanGraphs currently has their playoff odds at a lowly 13.1 percent).
So we're looking at three straight seasons without extra baseball, and that could be the least of this team's worries. Or mine, I guess. The Cardinals haven't finished with a losing record since 2007. Haven't finished in last place in the division since 1990 (and 1918 before that). Both are on the table right now and that drives me up the wall.
And that's why I would be an awful GM: I care about this stuff. I'd rather watch a Cardinals team win 83 games and be stuck in no-man's land than flail away at the bottom of the division and be rewarded with a good draft pick while trading their marquee players for future assets. I like that the Cardinals don't finish in last. I like that I can reasonably expect to watch meaningful baseball to some degree in September. I also understand why this is sometimes backwards thinking when it comes to building a successful club.
Here's how bad things are. Matt Carpenter put on one of the greatest shows at Wrigley Field last weekend and the Cardinals couldn't even escape with the series win. I now sort of know how Astros fans felt after watching Carlos Beltran in the 2004 NLCS (still the greatest performance I have ever seen against a team I cheer for). In the event you missed it, during the five game series, Carpenter batted .529/.619/1.706, with six home runs, eight runs scored, and ten driven in. That included a game in which he went 5-for-5 with three home runs and two doubles, a feat that had only previously been pulled off by Kris Bryant. Oh, and he did all of that by the 6th inning before being mercifully pulled from the game.
It's been very satisfying to watch Carpenter on this terror since basically mid-May because he got off to such a dreadful start and so many fans do not appreciate him even in the aftermath of this turnaround. I thought Bernie Miklasz nailed it on the latest Seeing Red Podcast when he compared his production to Matt Holliday and noted that no matter what Carpenter does, there will always remain a sub-section of fans who don't appreciate him for whatever odd reason.
To wit, our friend C70 conducted a poll on Twitter in which he asked whether Carpenter will make the Cardinals (key word: CARDINALS) Hall of Fame. Here were the results.
Guys. Come on.
There's a very convincing case that Carpenter has been the Cardinals' most valuable player since Albert Pujols went west, and there's also a convincing case that Carpenter is one of the most productive Cardinals ever. In their history, 31 players have accumulated at least 4,000 plate appearances with the franchise. A pretty good feat in and of itself. Carpenter is last on this list with 4,052 plate appearances, so he's at a disadvantage because he hasn't been able to compile all those hits, doubles, and home runs that might look good on a plaque, but in a way he's also at an advantage with this company because he hasn't gotten old yet. Age-32 is getting up there but it's still prime baseball-hittin' shape.
Be that as it may, here's where he ranks in that crowd in the following stats:
OPS (.850): 8th
OPS+ (131): 8th
wRC+ (134): 8th
fWAR (28.0): 20th (remember, he has the fewest amount of plate appearances on a list of 31)
As for the first three stats, the names in front of him are familiar: Musial, Hornsby, Pujols, Edmonds, Medwick, Holliday, Bottomley. All players who are in, will be in, or should be in the Cardinals Hall of Fame. And so should Carpenter. Let's appreciate him while we have him.
Recent words written about baseball that are worth reading
Rubbing Mud: The Boricua Bonanza by Matt Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus. This is a great look at the surplus of young Puerto Rican stars currently in baseball - as evidenced by last week's All-Star Game - and why it matters not only to the sport itself but also Puerto Rico.
All-Star Molina 'stands now with the legends' by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. If we're all being honest, we have no idea how much actual value Yadier Molina has brought to the Cardinals with his talents that are not so easy to quantify. That's why I love pieces like this on Molina. It speaks to how revered he is not only with young players, particularly young Puerto Rican players, but also established stars and Hall of Famers, like Joey Votto and Johnny Bench. Most likely, Molina is going to make the Hall of Fame. And I know that statement on July 27, 2018, is controversial, I have a feeling by the time his induction actually comes to fruition it won't be.
With the end of the Cardinals’ “evaluation period” approaching, major shakeups appear imminent by Mark Saxon of The Athletic ($). Another piece that highlights the Cardinals' current state of purgatory but this part caught my eye.
That's it. Have a great weekend, everyone.