Bird Bytes: In The New World Order, The NL Central Is Chewing Up the Cardinals.

How about some Bird Bytes? I’m clearing out the notebook in time to begin the weekend …

The National League Central is beating up on the Cardinals

The good ol’  NLC used to be relatively easy terrain for the Cardinals. But with St. Louis baseball in a state of decline over the last two seasons, the Cardinals have lost control of the division. And this paradigm shift goes beyond the Cubs’ emergence as a baseball superpower. (Granted, the Cubs are a slumping superpower at the moment, but I digress. )

Excluding the 2012 division games played against the Houston Astros, who moved to the AL West in 2013, the Cardinals went 171-119 against division rivals during Mike Matheny’s first four seasons as manager. That’s an outstanding .590 winning percentage. The Cards were 48-24 against Milwaukee, 43-31 vs. Chicago, 43-29 against Cincinnati, and 37-35 vs. Pittsburgh.

And as recently as 2015 — and remember the Pirates and Cubs won 98 and 97 games, respectively, that season — the Cardinals finished 46-30 in matchups against their division brethren.

The STL dominance wasn’t quite as strong in 2016, but the Cardinals still went 42-34 vs. the division. This year, at least so far, the NL Central has been a hazard zone for the Cardinals. They’ve won only 13 of their first 32 games played against division mates. And that includes a 3-0 record against the Pirates. But in contests against the Cubs, Reds and Brewers the Cardinals are an ugly 10-19.

The Brewers and the Reds have improved even as they continue to rebuild and replenish their farm systems. The Cardinals are 5-6 vs. Milwaukee this season — and have been embarrassed by the Reds, who have pounded out a 7-2 record against St. Louis. But if you include the later stages of the 2016 season the Cardinals have are 7-9 against the Brewers and 5-11 against the Reds.

Including the 2015 NLDS, the Cardinals are 17-25 against the Cubs since July 6 of the ’15 season. Moreover, the Cards have won only two of their last 13 series against the Chicago (with two splits.)

Even with this year’s difficulties the Cubs still have MLB’s best overall winning percentage (.598) since the start of the ’15 season.

It’s one thing to get slapped around by the Cubs.

It’s another thing to get slapped around by the Reds and Brewers.

At least the Cardinals are still winning battles against the Pirates since the start of last season, going 13-9 against the Bucs. But the Pirates and Cardinals have a lot of games left against each other the rest of the season, so we’ll update the win count later on.

The Cardinals’ .590 winning percentage against the Cubs, Pirates, Reds and Brewers in the four-year stretch between 2012 and 2015 was impressive.

But if you’re a Cardinals fan, your team’s record in direct NL Central competition over the last two seasons — 55-53, .509 — is the sign of the times. It represents an ongoing rearrangement of the NL Central power structure. And it’s a little depressing.

Bird Bytes, Reading Time 5 Minutes: 

Update: In the last 22 games the Cardinals’ rotation has a 5.09 ERA and only six quality starts. Their starters have lasted fewer than six innings in 12 of the 22 … during this stretch, which began May 25, only Carlos Martinez has stepped up with plenty of innings and quality. He’s averaged 7.5 innings in his last four starts, compared to an average of 6.0 innings from Mike Leake (four starts), 4.2 innings from Michael Wacha (five starts), 5.0 innings from Lance Lynn (four starts) and 5.3 innings from Adam Wainwright (four starts.)

Or to put it another way: In the last 22 games since May 25, Martinez has a 2.35 ERA and has averaged 7.5 innings per start, and the other four members of the rotation have combined for a 5.72 ERA and 5.1 innings per start… Luke Weaver has to be on this team soon, right? Use him in the rotation, or deploy him in the bullpen. The rotation has turned weaker and the bullpen has been lousy all year. It’s silly to leave a potential asset, Weaver, at Triple A Memphis …

Speaking of the bullpen: Last season Seung-Hwan Oh had a strikeout rate of 33 percent, a swinging-strike rate of 18 percent, a contact rate against him of 65.6%, and a home-run allowed rate of 0.56 homers per 9 innings. This year so far: 21.6% strikeout rate, 12.6% swinging-strike rate, 73.7% contact rate and 1.16 HRs per 9 IP. His walks-hits per inning (WHIP) has gone from 0.92 last year ro 1.42 this season. And needless to say, Oh’s 1.92 ERA looks mighty swell compared to his 3.48 ERA so far this season … another difference: Oh’s slider is no longer a wipeout pitch. Batters hit .164 against it last season, and he used it to strike out 47 in the 110 at-bats that ended with an Oh slider. This season batters are strafing the Oh slider for a .333 average, and 622 slug, and he has 10 strikeouts in the 45-at bats that ended with a slider. When you go from having a nearly 43 percent K rate to a 22.7 K rate with the slider, the pitch has lost its jagged-edge nastiness.

The RH John Brebbia has done a good job in relief during his limited time with the Cardinals; they were smart to take a chance on him. To freshen the bullpen the Cardinals need to try giving an expanded role to RH Sam Tuivailala … in his last 10 relief appearances Cards’ lefty Brett Cecil has been more effective against LH batters; in 18 plate appearances against Cecil they’ve hit .235 with a .278 OBP and .294 slug. (With only one extra-base hit, a double) Cecil still isn’t showing much of a strikeout punch, but his recent work against the LH bats is still a helluva lot better than we saw from him earlier. In his first 20 appearances this season, Cecil was smashed by LH batters for a .464 average, .528 OBP, .929 slug, four doubles and three homers.

Update on the Cardinals’ late-inning performance this season: from the 7th inning on, they’ve scored 63 runs, fewest in the majors. And they’ve given up 112 runs, the second-highest amount in the bigs. That’s a minus 49 run differential from the 7th inning on … in high-leverage situations from the 7th inning on, the Cardinals have scored only 15 runs, tied for last in the majors. And they’ve allowed 43 high-leverage runs from the 7th inning on, tied for worst in the majors. When you are a minus 28 in run differential late in games and the outcome on the line, that’s trouble, trouble, trouble … Cardinals’ pitchers (mostly relievers) have a 5.33 ERA from the 7th inning on this year; that’s the worst in MLB … and their hitters are batting .224 with a .298 OBP and .382 slug from the 7th on … in late high-leverage situations (7th inning and beyond) Cards’ pitchers have been dynamited for a 9.33 ERA.

In their games against teams that have a winning record in Friday morning’s standings, the Cardinals are 10-19,  .345 win percentage, and a minus 33 run differential  … in games vs. opponents that have a losing record going into the weekend, the Cardinals are 20-16,  .556 win percentage, and a +19 in run differential. … hey it might have been nice to see Carson Kelly or Luke Voit called up from Memphis to take some ABs as a DH this weekend in Baltimore … speaking of the Orioles, they are 10-23 in their last 33 games, and during that beatdown phase their battered starting pitchers have a 6.90 ERA and only 11 quality starts … the Cardinals are 9-20 since May 16 (.310 winning percentage) and the only MLB team worse over that time is Philadelphia, 8-22 (.267) … never mind Tommy Pham’s outstanding numbers and his park-adjusted runs created that’s 47 percent better the league average since his May 5 promotion; the dude went 1 for 8 in Tuesday’s doubleheader and was on the bench for the next two games. That’s how Catch 22 rolls as manager. No one should be even remotely surprised by this.

Tracking Jedd Gyorko: here are his monthly slugging, OPS and park adjusted runs created for 2017:

April: .650 slug, 1.053 OPS … wRC+ that was 74% above league average.

May:  .484 slug, .818 OPS … wRC+ that was 13 percent above league average.

June:  .289 slug, . 575 OPS … wRC+ that’s 47 percent   below  league average.

Pardon my typos.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend…


More: I’m Sorry To Have To Say This, But The Cardinals Have To Move Michael Wacha To The Bullpen