With a three-day break from regular season action across MLB, I thought it a good time to review the stats of the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals, as a team and individuals.
I don't know about you, but I am tired of these words being used to label the Cards. Yet there is something to be said about their accuracy. The team has lost just seven series and split six this season, yet has won 18 series, despite their only sweep having been in the first week of the season. To top it off, they've had double-digit numbers of players on the disabled list pretty much the entire first half.
They've been on an even keel, with only one win streak as long as five games – yes, during the first week of the schedule. We have seen three runs of three losses each, including two in June, yet this club has avoided getting too high or too low.
With a 53-43 (.552) record overall, the team is in second place in the National League Central, 4.5 games behind the only club in the league with a better record, the Chicago Cubs. The Cards only spent a total of four days in third place prior to the break.
The facts show the Cardinals are slowly losing ground to the Cubbies. At the end of April, they were tied for first and made it back to the same point during Memorial Day weekend. As May ended, the Cards were 2.5 games out, the same place they would be one month later.
The initial time the 2008 Cardinals hit the magic ten games over .500 milestone was on May 30, when their record climbed to 33-23. They first reached 13 games over, their high-water mark, on June 11, at 40-27.
It is likely not a coincidence that their subsequent slip downward was concurrent with both interleague play and the stay of Albert Pujols (right) on the 15-day disabled list.
Another way to look at it is that since May 30, the Cardinals have been treading water at 20-20.
In the second half, the Cardinals can improve their record in one important and seemingly less-challenging manner by taking more victories at Busch Stadium. After winning 57.1% of their home contests in the first two years of the newest Busch (III), this season, they are five games over .500 at home (26-21, .553), same as on the road (27-22, .551).
Yet, can one be too concerned with a club that is on pace to win 86 games this season? As a point of reference, it has taken just 88 to 90 wins to capture the NL Wild Card berth in each of the last three seasons and the average since 2000 is 91 victories. It is also worth noting that three consecutive World Champions this decade (2002-2004) entered the post-season via the Wild Card.
With a .275 batting average, the Cardinals trail only the Cubs in the National League. These players have shown a fine batting eye, with the second-most walks in the league (372) and an on-base percentage (.350) that is also #2.
The Cardinals hitters have the fewest strikeouts in the circuit by a considerable margin. Their K total of 573 compares to the NL-average 657. They have only been shut out once all season. The next closest teams have been blanked three times.
With the emergence of Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel (right), the team's first pair of 20 home run hitters at the break since the 2004 "MV3" season, the Cards rank sixth of 16 teams with 102 long balls. Their slugging mark of .429 is fifth-best.
Yet all is
not rosy. The Cardinals continue to bring too few of their many baserunners
home. Their total of 755 stranded is second-highest in the NL. They also ground
into double plays at a higher rate than any other NL club except
Against good teams like the
Phillies, the Cardinals offense often seems to misfire. Over three games in the
Yet as most
The Cardinals' aggregate ERA has steadily risen, to the point it is only eighth-best (4.18) in the NL. Looking at the next set of numbers is telling. Only three clubs have allowed more hits and just four more have yielded a higher opposing batting average than the Cards' .269.
The organization's "pitch to
contact" philosophy is never more visible than in the Cards' NL-worst strikeout
total of 545. This compares to the league average of 651 and a best of 721
The pitchers' control is evident in the low walk total of 297, which is third-least in a league that averages 331.
As many know, the starting pitching has been the strength of the club in the first half. Their record of 40-23 (.635) is the tops in the NL, though their ERA is only 4.13, seventh-best in the league. Nine different pitchers have started, with Kyle Lohse (right), Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer, Joel Pineiro and Adam Wainwright having taken 85 of the 96 starts.
Even more fans are aware of the bullpen struggles. The 20 losses taken by the members of the Cards pen is the second-highest total in the league. They lead the entire major leagues in blown saves with 22. (This is possible since there can be more than one blown save opportunity per game, such as Saturday, when both Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez failed in their respective chances to lock down a save.)
To make matters worse, the Cardinals have let eight games get away in extra innings this year, while winning only four (.333). None of the other 29 clubs in MLB have lost more extra inning contests.
Just this past week, there was a very interesting discussion on our Message Board as to the value of advanced defensive metrics. I must admit I have yet to be convinced of their broad use, yet in a most traditional measurement, fielding percentage, the Cards lead the National League at .987.
Defensively-solid shortstop Cesar Izturis leads the team with errors, but has only eight.
With Chris Duncan's first start of the season in right field on Sunday, manager Tony La Russa made out his 85th different lineup combination in those first 96 games. Yet despite the churn, more often than not, the great tinkerer seems to have selected the right group of players to maximize his team's chance of winning.
Who could ever have predicted that outfielder Ryan Ludwick would be an All-Star, let alone leading a team with Albert Pujols on it in the following areas: runs (60), total bases (78), home runs (21) and RBI (65). His slugging mark of .597 barely trails Pujols' team-best .608.
Before you cut Albert too much slack due to his DL stint, it should be noted that Ludwick has done his damage in just 13 more at-bats than Albert to date. Of course, Pujols is no slouch, hitting a robust .350, second-best in the NL, and is certainly well-positioned to compete for the league batting crown. Due to a whopping 61 free passes issued by opposing hurlers, Albert has an on-base mark of .466, second-highest in all of MLB.
Showing less concern for the men hitting behind Pujols has proven to be a bit more risky for the Cardinals opponents as the season has progressed. Two batters next in the line-up are emerging.
Ex-pitcher Ankiel has 20 long balls and 50 RBI and is one of the hottest hitters in baseball since late June. If he can maintain his average at .270, that would be a bonus. Off-season addition Troy Glaus has chipped in 15 home runs and 59 RBI and very good defense at the hot corner.
Two of the best stories on offense are the club's second and third-leading hitters. Switch-hitting second baseman Aaron Miles (right) is batting .327 from the left and .299 from the right. His .317 mark overall is just ahead of catcher Yadier Molina, quietly reaching his offensive promise, batting a solid .312. Perhaps equally impressive are the strikeout totals for these two. Miles has whiffed just 19 times in 224 at-bats and Molina is even tougher with 14 Ks in 276 ABs.
Improving of late is Chris Duncan, with his .255 batting average and nine RBI in his last 12 games. Second baseman Adam Kennedy is hitting .280, but being overshadowed by Miles. Infielder Brendan Ryan is in a deep batting slump (4-for-46, .087) and has only one walk in the last three weeks. Izturis is hitting just .236 but leads the club with eight stolen bases. Reserve catcher Jason LaRue has contributed when called upon (.242).
The starters were called out above, but it worth noting Wainwright's 3.14 ERA prior to his finger injury and Lohse's 11 wins and 3.39 ERA. Where would the Cardinals be had they not signed the then-unwanted Lohse in mid-March to a cut-rate one-year deal?
Rookie lefty Jaime Garcia will receive his first major league start this coming Sunday, trying to temporarily fill the gap left by Wainwright. Past nominees included Mitchell Boggs, Mike Parisi, Mark Mulder and Brad Thompson.
The bullpen. Ah, the bullpen. The relief corps in aggregate has an ERA of 4.29, which ranks 13th among the 16 NL teams. Opposing hitters are teeing off against them at a .267 clip, tied for dead last in the league with the lowly Pirates.
The implosion of then-closer Jason Isringhausen (inset right) was well-chronicled earlier this season. Much if not
all of the progress made since his return may have been sent over the
The interim closer, Ryan Franklin,
continues to concern me. Overall, nothing looks particularly amiss as he is
12-of-16 in save opportunities with a 3.43 ERA. Yet,
Rookies McClellan and recent arrival Perez have been contributors, with McClellan especially standing out (2.94 ERA), though the two may become overexposed in the second half. With a team-high 45 appearances, McClellan's ERA has grown each month, from April's 1.72 to 2.92 in May to 3.38 in June and finally to 4.50 in July so far. Neither seems ready to become a big-league closer.
39-year-old Russ Springer has already pitched in one game for every year he has been on earth. The most dependable reliever in the pen this season with a 2.17 ERA is on pace for 66 appearances, the third highest in a career that runs all the way back to 1992.
The left side of the pen, even more important with no left-handed starter sticking in the rotation to date, has been held down by a pair of inconsistent veterans - Randy Flores (5.12 ERA), currently on a rehab assignment in Triple-A, and journeyman Ron Villone (4.98 ERA). This continues to be an area needing major improvement.
The Cardinals had better get
rested during the break, because they are scheduled to play 18 straight days
before another open date, on August 4. They begin the second half with a pair of
four-game home series against
Following the homestand, they hit
the road for seven leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, with
three against the Mets and four vs.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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