Welcome to this edition of the 10.5. It's a good day. The weather outside is nice. The Blues have a 1-0 lead in their second round matchup with Dallas (if that's your thing). And the Cardinals are rolling. Winners of five in a row, they now have sole possession of first place with a 15-9 record. Take a look (playoff odds per FanGraphs).
Admiring the standings in April is usually not a worthwhile endeavor, but entering this season the Cardinals had spent only 22 days atop the NL Central since the beginning of 2016 (only the Reds had fewer with 21) so we might as well enjoy it when we can.
Holy crap, this offense
The Cardinals arrived at this spot mostly by out-mashing the competition. In their three-game sweep of Milwaukee, Cardinals pitchers surrendered eight home runs yet the team still outscored the Brewers by 12. Last weekend the Cardinals had scored the 11th most runs in the National League, as of this moment they're in second. This has the makings of a great offense - possibly the best since...the 2004 team? Does that sound crazy? Maybe. The Cardinals have won two World Series titles, three pennants, and at least 100 games twice in a season since the 2004 team, but I really don't think it's that indefensible of a statement. Even this early. We shall see.
But to get an idea of how this Cardinals lineup ranks with the rest of the league, here's the wRC+ for each spot in the lineup and pinch hitters as compared to the NL average. (Perhaps this early in season with the schedules are so imbalanced it would be better to use a metric like DRC+ given that it factors in the strength of starting pitchers, but FanGraphs Leaderboards is easier to navigate for this sort of thing so we're sticking with wRC+ for now.)
wRC+ by lineup spots and pinch hitters
(Stats as of Thursday.)
The leadoff spot for the Cardinals - with all but six of the plate appearances being from Matt Carpenter - is right in line with league average, and then spots 2 through 4 have at least a 149 wRC+ or better. And the team doesn't really slow down. Curiously, they're getting their best production from the 7th spot (178 wRC+) where Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler have combined for 83 plate appearances with a near 200 wRC+ in that spot.
Cardinals pitchers can't hit anything but I don't think we need to care too much about that. I am surprised to see the pinch hitting production so low given that this is probably the Cardinals' best bench in quite some time but we're talking a mere 44 pinch hitting opportunities so far.
Overall, the Cardinals have a team wRC+ of 116, which is second to only the Dodgers and which outpaces the NL average (95) by quite a bit. Now, about that pitching...
Winning at home
The Cardinals have a 10-3 record in St. Louis, their best start at home after their first 13 games since going 11-2 at home to start 2015. I don't think this is trivial. During their playoff-less stretch from 2016 through 2018, the Cardinals only won 125 games at home, seven fewer than they won on the road, and good for only a .514 winning percentage. That came after a stretch from 2012 through 2015 when they averaged 52.5 wins a season in St. Louis.
2016 through 2018 is their worst three-year stretch at home in the Wild Card era. To find a worse stretch, you have to go back to 1988 through 1990, when they only won 121 games at home, a .498 winning percentage. Most of that can be blamed on the dreadful 1990 season (34-47 at home) when the Cardinals suffered their only last place finish since 1918.
Returning to 50 or so wins at home, returning to that dominance, fear factor, whatever you want to call it, would be a good step toward their first postseason since 2015.
IL vs the DL
I saw some chatter earlier this week that some people are either slow or refusing to adapt to the term Injured List and would prefer to stick with Disabled List. That's a mistake. For one, Injured List is obviously the more illustrative term. And second, and more important, the change was made at the request of advocacy groups for the disabled and the league wisely and happily obliged. These are two very good reasons.
Most people still using Disabled List probably aren't doing so in bad faith. Habits can be hard to break and that's a term that's been used in baseball for over 100 years. But I'm going to do my best to say and write Injured List, as we all should because before too long that will be the ubiquitous term, and that's a good thing.
Plus, when I see Mayers, IL, or Wacha, IL, I like to pretend that these are small towns in Illinois pronounced very much in a way they should absolutely not be pronounced. To wit: I grew up not too far from San Jose, Illinois, and Versailles, Illinois, and I'll let you go ahead and take your best guess on how to say the name of these respective towns. And then get to work on Cairo and Vienna.
Recent words written about baseball that are worth reading
Will John Gant's Excellent ERA Adventure Turn Into a Bogus Journey? by bgh of On the Cardinals. The former site manager at Viva El Birdos has started a blog which I highly recommend. The inaugural post looked at John Gant's unsustainable production to date. At the time of this article, which was ten days ago, Gant had a 100 percent strand rate and four appearances later, that remains the case. Although he did give up another home run on Tuesday.
Kolten Wong, Unheralded Master of Place Discipline by Ben Clemens of Fangraphs. Tara Wellman approves.
Re(introducing a New Stat: Runs Matted In by Audrey Stark of FanGraphs. Most of us are familiar with the RMI metric but new FanGraphs writer Audrey Stark did the noble thing and took it to a national audience.
To give a quick peak behind the curtain here at Birds on the Black, often when cover art is needed, we hit up Cardinals Gifs or Nicholas Childress and within minutes they have something. Yesterday when I came calling, Gifs let me know that it was the 30th anniversary of Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, and delivered with the above cover photo of José Martínez as an homage to the album art. I love it.
Next time we touch base the Cardinals will have completed a series with the Nationals, Cubs, and Phillies, so we'll possibly know a lot more about this team. Until then, have a great weekend, everyone.