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 …


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

  • John in Flyover Country

    Wouldn’t it be nice to have David Freeze as 3B right now? Hits and fields, a perfect fit:)

  • geoff

    So for all of the whining and gnashing of teeth caused by Adams playing a few games in left field, he is doing as well as the major defensive upgrade brought in to play center field? This can’t possibly be true…or maybe it’s just a bit early to make that call. I am not certain that Adams is enough of an upgrade at first to compensate for the downgrade Carpenter would be at third if he were replacing Garcia or Gyorko there. Peralta just looks a bit stiff at third and more than a bit off at the plate thus far. I thought the Cards were committing to Carpenter at first base, in hopes that he would become at least average there. Yesterday he made an error because his feet got reversed, then he made a great play to his left. My bet is that if they leave him at first he will get better. I don’t know if he would ever improve at second or third.

  • Terry Ryno

    Bernie, Luis Roberts is now available. Is he the player the Cards should go out on a limb for? Is he the one to offer $50 mill + or whatever it will take? In fact, what do you think it might take to sign him? Maybe a good time for a Luis Roberts article? Thanks

  • JeremyR

    Grichuk is athletic enough to play great defense, but he doesn’t have the mental aspect to do that. He doesn’t read the ball well off the bat, he doesn’t understand where to throw the ball.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    As Bernie says, defensive metrics are not reliable at this stage of the season. But good pitching certainly never goes out of fashion.

  • rightthinker4

    I suspect this will be Grichuk’s last year with the Cardinals, unless he becomes a better offensive player. He hits an occasional HR, but continues to strikeout a lot, and is only slightly better than Holliday defensively. One of the young outfielders in the minor league system will be the LF next year.

    • Tom Ryan

      Martinez is better currently for LF than any OF we have in the upper minors, I agree this is Grichuk’s chance. Bader hasn’t stepped up in AAA, Pham is hitting well, but he Ks too much in the majors. Another negative thing to me is no imposing lefty bats in our minor league system at power positions-LF, RF, 1B, 3B. It may take free agency or some trades to solve the LF situation and correct the minor league imbalace, where we are loaded in AA and A ball with power SPs, some may have to go in trade.

      • Big T

        Not enough defensive metrics available here to base any rational decision on. However to be fair to Grichuk MM has been moving him into different positions and batting spots regularly (along with several other position players.) This environment has to effect your mental make up…Different approach for an 8th place hitter Vs. 4th place hitter..Get an order together and fielding spots with regularity and let them play. That would help all. Go cards!

        Martinez is not as good as Grichuk defensively.

        • Tom Ryan

          I didn’t clarify, I meant Martinez is our best all around backup OF available! No doubt Grichuk is better defensively, but when we weren’t scoring a lick, Inwas very happy MM perked up the offense by starting Martinez and Garcia a few games.

          • Big T

            Both Martinez and Garcia deserve to play. Martinez hits everywhere although he looks awkward/unconventional. Garcia should be playing the “Zobrist” role for us.

    • Mark Lee Arbogast

      You forgot one thing the Cardinals value most….he is cheap