Posted on 08 July 2014.
The Cardinals are now well past the technical halfway point of the season, but the ceremonial one that is the All-Star Break is still ahead. With that coming, it is a fair time to assess where the individual parts of the team stand thus far, via the time tested and approved method: the good old grade card.
It has been a frustrating season for lofty expectations, but a deceivingly successful one other ways. The team is far from out of the divisional race and in the heart of the wild card race. It is a team that has not been prone to long runs of success (season high win streak: 5 games), but it does not stay down for long either (a three game losing streak is its worst). The ebb and flow of the year is what has been confusing for fans, team and management alike. Answers are not easy to come by it seems why they have not been better, more often.
However a look at the lineup explains that in easy detail. Coming out of Monday night’s walk off victory, the team is still a perplexing mix. They have scored the third fewest runs in the NL and have hit the least home runs by a difference of eight. Simply put, it is an offense that simply has not gotten the job done to the level it is capable of. And while the picture is constantly shifting, it is a team that simply has to play better as it is, because it is all in on its reasonably ready assets on the big league roster right now.
There are several crucial players that the club is vested in that simply have to snap out of it for this team, that is still very much in midst of the NL hunt this year, to move to the front of the pack.
Here is how the everyday options are scoring out halfway through. We will take a look at the pitching staff tomorrow.
Grade A: Yadier Molina, Matt Adams
It has not been Molina’s greatest half of his career, but all things considered that is a pretty high standard to meet regardless. Yet he still approaches the All-Star Break within earshot of a .300 average, leads the Majors in caught stealing percentage at 50% of would be base thieves and has once again guided the pitching staff through more than a few valleys this year. In addition to gutting through what seems to be some health issues or perhaps just the side effects of innings beginning to catch up to him, he has maintained an above average presence and has been rewarded with his sixth All-Star nod as a result.
Adams has more than adjusted well to the full-time role at first base. Despite not putting up the raw power only numbers that would have been guessed for him headed into the year, he was become a much more effective all-around hitter than could be expected as well. He is leading all NL first basemen in batting average (.331) and top three in doubles (21) and slugging percentage (.536).
Grade B: Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay, Jhonny Peralta, Tony Cruz
The perception of it is mostly held back by the simply off the charts season he posted a year ago, but regardless Carpenter is having an impressive campaign. He has been a mainstay at the top of the lineup, posted an impressive .379 on-base percentage across an NL-high 398 plate appearances. He has continued to swing what could be considered a ‘clutch’ bat as well, carrying a .328 average with runners in scoring position. Most importantly, he has provided a major defensive upgrade at third base, which has bettered the team’s complete defensive potential as well. He’s the grit of the club on a daily basis.
Jay has continued to refuse to be written off and has been a much needed steading presence in a centerfield picture that was hazy at best through the first two months of the season. Despite any opinion that looks to take away from his value to the team, it has been his versatility and resilience that has truly helped eliminate what could have been a huge and lingering issue up the middle.
The easy way to score out Peralta is to point out what he has not done well, which would be mainly reach base consistently. However, when taking a step back and remembering what he was brought here to do—namely upgrade the non-existent everyday production from the shortstop spot a year ago and be a solid option towards the bottom half of the order—he has exceeded splendidly. He leads the club in home runs and doubles, and has played better than anticipated in the field as well.
Cruz has the tough job of being the rarely used fill in that has to step in for the club’s most valuable (and regularly active) property. His appearances, as usual, have mostly come after long inactive stints, but he has made the most of those opportunities so far. Cruz has posted a (…..) as a starter. Add in the work he did in steadying out Lance Lynn early in the year and he has been very dependable—when needed.
Grade C: Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong
He is annually a slow starter, but at some point Holliday always has ‘that month’ where he does nothing but tear the cover off of the ball and then settles into his usual level of above average production. He is yet to embark on that run this year, and actually, his average has been in a steep decline all year: .294 in April, .266 in May then a season low .244 in June. Holliday’s greatest asset in his time in St. Louis has been a steadily productive presence to be a catalyst for the rest of the team to build off of. Yet in a lineup in desperate need of that axis, his downswing has been particularly crippling. He is on pace for just nine home runs and 74 RBI coming into Monday night.
Wong’s season has been one that has come in flashes of both brilliance and frustration. There was the slow start that saw him demoted briefly, but then followed by being NL Rookie of the Month in May. Then there was the shoulder injury that cost him half of June after a rapid decline in production has he tried to play through it. However, the talent is clear and he simply having the type of rollercoaster campaign that rookies (albeit a slightly unlucky one) go through.
Grade D: Allen Craig, Mark Ellis
Craig’s season has been one that has been a near complete loss. Gone is full field, line drive power that saw him be the team’s run producing engine a year ago. Replacing it has been a hitter that has struggled with timing and balance at the plate, and has seen his average drop over 60 points. He has not been aided by the bullheaded positioning that has kept him in the midst of a lineup where he would be best placed much lower, for the greater good of himself and the club. There have been runs where he has resembled his former self, but right now, he is quickly becoming the third option in the three way Adams-Tavares-Craig disco for positional playing time.
Ellis has been as solid as advertised on defense, but has not offered anything offensive. And it is not that he was being counted on to do much in that regard as is, but he was expected to at the very least provide an equal alternative to Wong as a starter. It is at the point now where is more of a Kozma-like offensive liability in the lineup and is close to double-switch or forced into action due to injury status now.
Grade F: Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso, Peter Bourjos
Robinson has developed a reputation has being a serviceable sub, but between trips up and down Highway 55 between St. Louis and Memphis he hasn’t quite delivered on the time he’s kept a default fill-in role on the roster. His average is pushing at .140 and his defense isn’t strong enough to support that.
Speaking of one sided contribution, that is the story of Descalso as well, only to a slightly lesser degree. He does fill a necessary role as backup on the left side of the infield, but fielding a below .200 average and playing a marginal at-best shortstop, he’s not made a tremendous case for himself in a year where he’s gotten plenty of looks.
What Bourjos had to offer offensively was always more about tools than it was about them relaying into production; he has always struggled with that. And while he has added a much needed speed dynamic when he reaches base, he has only achieved that at .276% clip. That is not enough to warrant everyday consideration, thus the early demotion to rotational defensive replacement/twice a week starter already.
Incomplete: Pete Kozma, Greg Garcia, Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk
Kozma and Garcia both made brief appearances with the club, but were not able to crack in front of the Descalso backup preference. It would be good to see Garcia get a more extended look at some point, as he showed some promise in his seven games up, but he will probably need to make a more overwhelming point at Memphis than he currently is (.248/.339/.376) to push the issue.
The second half will tell more of the story for both Taveras and Grichuk. It’s unfair to grade the two rookies yet, just due to the fact they have not had much in the way of extended and consistent time as of yet to showcase what they can do. But second half will certainly provide a suitable proving ground, especially for Oscar. The push to find at-bats for the organization’s prized prospect will take priority, especially if the incumbents continue to stumble through at-bats. However, he will need to eventually turn the at-bats into production to help put the team over, but getting him experience is of the utmost importance.
Grichuk managed only a .136 mark over 46 at-bats, showing that he needed more seasoning on the farm, specifically versus the breaking ball. Staying at Memphis into September is the smartest possible course of action for him right now.