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Bird Bytes: Cards Rotation Will Be Tested By Brewers; Bad Early Trend For Outfield Defense; Sizzle Is Back for Trevor Rosenthal

Bird Bytes …

1. After securing a three-game series sweep of the visiting Pirates, the resurgent Cardinals’ rotation will take their performance on the road, with a four-game stop in Milwaukee beginning Thursday night. After Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha aced and iced the Pirates — combining to give up only two earned runs in 20 innings — Cardinals’ starting pitchers rank fourth in MLB with a 3.15 ERA. With eight quality starts the Cards have as many the Red Sox and Astros and more than the Cubs, Dodgers and Indians. The Pirates series reaffirmed the value of exceptional starting pitching. Sweep a three-game series despite scoring six total runs and playing shaky defense? That’s crazy. But that also showed what starting pitching can do to elevate a flawed team.

2. Adam Wainwright has a 7.24 in three starts, but rotation mates Lynn, Leake, Wacha and Carlos Martinez have combined for a 2.40 ERA ERA in their 12 starts …

3. By the way: over his last four Aprils, Wacha is 10-4 with a 2.61 ERA. The problems usually surface later, after the innings accumulate to stress Wacha’s right shoulder blade. Since the start of the 2014 season Wacha has a 5.11 ERA after the All-Star break. It’s good to see Wacha averaging just under 95 mph with his four-seam fastball.

4. Milwaukee’s lineup can do some serious damage. The Brewers, 8-8, have muscled their way to 4.75 runs per game (6th in the majors). They lead MLB in homers (29) and extra-base hits and are second with a .471 slugging percentage. But Brewer hitters also have the second-worst strikeout rate in the majors at 26.7 percent. Eric Thames, Ryan Braun, and Travis Shaw lead an Old Milwaukee style power-ball show that has five hitters with at least three homers. The Brewers have 66 extra-base hits so far; the Cardinals have a mere 31. But the Crew isn’t one dimensional; Milwaukee has 14 stolen bases in 18 attempts and is 12th in MLB in Base Running Runs (BRR.)

5. On the flip side Milwaukee’s starting rotation ranks 24th with a 4.36 ERA. The Cardinals will see four RH starters in this series. In order:  Zach Davies (0-2, 8.79 ERA), Wily Peralta (3-0, 2.65), Chase Anderson (2-0, 1.50), and Jimmy Nelson (1-0, 4.62) Neftali Perez — remember him, pitching for Texas in the 2011 World Series? — is the Brewers’ closer. He was doing great until the Cubs bombed him for four runs in the ninth Wednesday to rally from one run down to win 7-4.

6. It was swell to see Dexter Fowler’s warming trend during the Pirates’ series, but the Cardinals are still trying to enliven too many dead zones in the lineup. It’s April, and the offense is especially cold. The Cardinals rank 27th in runs per game (3.2) and are 27th in onbase percentage (.284) and 29th in batting average (.209!) and slugging (.334.) Miller Park is an action-packed yard for hitters, so …

Rosenthal has struck out seven of his first 14 batters faced in 2017.

7. Trevor Rosenthal has faced only 14 batters so far this season. But he’s struck out seven for a 50% K rate … and with no walks. With designated closer Seung-Hwan Oh lacking bite on his slider, Rosenthal’s encouraging comeback is especially timely. Rosey is averaging 98.7 mph on his four-seam fastball; he’s used that heater on 43 of his 50 pitches thrown so far.

8. Matt Carpenter to third base? Sure, but if that happens how much long-term production and pop can the Cardinals realistically expect from a first-base platoon of Matt Adams and Jose Martinez? The potential is there. But Martinez has to show he can sustain his positive start, and I don’t know what to make of Adams who has been overmatched in limited at-bats this season.

I’m thinking it’s probably better for Adams’ mental health and all-around confidence to have him play first base, where he’s an above-average defender, without having to stress over the possibility of fly balls being hit to him in left field.

As for Martinez: as always, the only way to find out what’s really there is to give a guy plenty of swings to see if the pitchers can find a weakness. And if the hitter can adjust after pitchers find a vulnerability.

9. Going into the Milwaukee series the Cardinals are at the bottom of the majors in defense with a minus 14 Defensive Runs Saved. The fielding failures could have cost them a win or two against Pittsburgh, but the Cards’ pitchers, especially the relievers, did a strong job of avoiding the potential consequences. Without looking at the pitchers or catchers — I’ll do that at another time — where are the problem spots?

10. You may be surprised by some of the very early DRS trends.

Here are the pertinent Defensive Runs Saved figures From Bill James Online:

— Second baseman Kolten Wong, viewed as a good fielder, is minus 5 in DRS, which ranks 36th at his position.

— Shortstop Aledmys Diaz is still fighting it, with minus 4 DRS to rank 35th at his position.

— The outfield defense was supposed to be in better shape after GM John Mozeliak’s remodeling. His moves included signing Fowler to play center field, not picking up Matt Holliday’s 2017 contract option, and moving the more athletic Randal Grichuk to the starting gig in left field. But to this stage of the season the Cardinals are deep on the minus side on outfield DRS.

— A few specifics: Stephen Piscotty is minus 3 DRS in right field; Fowler is minus 2 DRS in center; Grichuk is minus 3 DRS in left and minus 2 DRS in right; Adams is minus 2 DRS in left.

When looking at Defensive Runs Saved, it’s preferable to have a more expansive body of work to make the metric more meaningful. These numbers could (and probably will) change as the innings pile up.

Thanks for reading …

Bernie 

More: Early in 2017, Seung Hwan Oh Isn’t the Same Pitcher. Blame It On a Malfunctioning Slider