Will The Cardinals Improve After The All-Star Break?

To say the first 88 games did not play out as the St Louis Cardinals (or their fans) expected would be a gross understatement. When the club started out 18-9 and quickly built a five game lead in the division, most expected they would run away with it. Alas, it was not to be. After struggling through the rest of the first-half at 29-32, they find themselves one game back of Cincinnati.

Frankly, given what happened between May 4 and today they are lucky to be that close to the lead.

What Went Right:

  • Albert Pujols. He sits second in the league in OPS+ (behind Joey Votto), fifth in WAR, and started the All-Star Game.
  • Matt Holliday. He’s come on to post a .902 OPS up to the All-Star Game (ASG), and despite his propensity to lose fly balls in the SoCal smog, he’s played as we expected he would.
  • Adam Wainwright. Tim McCarver said it during the ASG broadcast – he’s been the best pitcher in the NL over the past two seasons. Wainwright is undefeated at home and ranks third in the league in ERA+.
  • Jaime Garcia. The rookie has been as good as advertised, winning the #3 spot in the rotation. His 187 ERA+ is fifth in the league, and the men ahead of him all made the ASG. His contribution has been essential, as we will see in a moment.
  • Colby Rasmus. So much for the sophomore jinx. Rasmus ranks ninth in the league in OPS+ and has played a stellar CF. The power outage Cardinal outfielders experienced in 2009 has been fixed thanks to Holliday and Rasmus.

What Went Wrong:

  • Injuries. Rather than list them out individually, the long list of guys who have missed significant time reads like a who’s who list. David Freese. Ryan Ludwick. Felipe Lopez. Adam Ottavino. Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny. Lohse and Penny’s loss have been especially damaging, forcing pitchers who were not quite ready (Blake Hawksworth, PJ Walters, and Ottavino) or who’s skills have atrophied (Jeff Suppan) to throw significant innings this season, with predictable results (3-7 in 15 starts).
  • Offensive Up the Middle. Brendan Ryan has a 48 OPS+,and Skip Schumaker hasn’t been much better (74). The Cardinals need better from their middle infielders. This team’s offense has sputtered, relying heavily on Pujols, Rasmus, Holliday, and Ludwick.
  • Cincinnati. I mention the Reds out of respect. They have played better than anticipated and will be in the race for the balance of the 2010 season. Although I could include the rest of the NL Central in the ‘What Went Right’ section, since everyone else is at least 9 games under .500.

So What Should We Expect in August/September?

  1. Another Starting Pitcher. Penny is shut down with recurring pain in his throwing shoulder, and Lohse is on the 60-day DL. The team might be able to struggle through and claim a playoff berth with either Suppan or one of the rookies holding down the #5 spot in the rotation, but not Suppan AND one of the rookies pitching out of the #4 and #5 slots. Cardinal GM John Mozeliak will need another starter.
  2. Offensive Improvement. Freese went on the DL 29 June and should be back by August. That will help (Freese’s OPS+: 106). Tyler Greene (112) is making a real case for lots of playing time, starting 8 of the last 9 Cardinal games at one position or the other. Look for him to get consistent playing time moving forward. Ludwick might be back during the Dodger series, although John Jay has been a revelation in his absence. Ludwick has been a consistently good hitter with runners in scoring position over the past two years.

This team still has the talent to win the division. With Carpenter, Wainwright, and Garcia anchoring the rotation they could go deep into the post-season if they get there. The Cardinals don’t need a major overhaul, and with a minor tune-up there should be October baseball in St Louis for the fifth time in 7 years.

All statistics derived from Baseball Reference.

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