As a proud Stat Geek, I was surprised that I missed this until doing some research on Wednesday morning.
Top three records in MLB since June 25:
Los Angeles Dodgers, 29-7, .806
St. Louis Cardinals, 24-16, .600
Boston Red Sox, 23-16, .590
The Cardinals’ 5-3 record on a road trip that ended Tuesday trip was a pleasant surprise. As was the four-game win streak that the team rode home to St. Louis. But the Cardinals are 14-11 since the All-Star break, which is better than being 11-14. But 14-11 doesn’t really jump out and shout excellence. And their season record (57-56) isn’t platinum … or gold, for that matter.
So how could the Birds on the Bat have the second-best winning percentage in the majors over their last 40 games? And how did we miss that?
I think there are several factors:
1. Until winning two games in Kansas City, the Cardinals hadn’t been at .500 since June 2. And they hadn’t been over .500 since June 1.
2. We sort of forgot that the Cardinals went 10-5 in their final 15 before the All-Star break.
3. President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and team GM Michael Girsch didn’t make a move at the July 31 trade deadline. That only reinforced a general view of the Cardinals as a mediocre team, and maybe a failed team. A team that wasn’t worthy of a trade investment.
4. Yadier Molina … Instagram … Mike Matheny … Scandal! Controversy! Collapsing Morale! … Molina back on Instagram, offering a tribute to Jose Oquendo. THIS TEAM IS FALLING APART!
5. The Cubs opened the second half of the season by winning 14 of their first 17 games. Bye-bye, NL Central. Cubs are on the way. It’s over. Their division rivals are mediocre, and no one will catch the defending World Series champs. It’s kind of difficult to notice the Cardinals’ stirring a little when we’re busy performing an autopsy on the season.
6. Matheny ripped into critical fans, called them “bitter,” questioned their loyalty, suggested they’ll be excluded from sharing in the joy once the Cardinals started winning.
7. Cardinals hadn’t won a division road series since late April, hadn’t won much on the road at all. Can’t be a good team if you can’t take care of business on the road.
8. Some national baseball pundits began nominating Matheny as “Worst Manager” for 2017, following up on his “Worst Manager” designation for 2016.
9. The bullpen sucks, the middle-lineup stinks, defense is a mess, base-running is dumb, the owner is cheap, the front-office is timid, the manager has to go. Carlos Martinez has blue hair, Matt Adams was traded to Atlanta for a crate of peaches, Matt Carpenter had a LOW BATTING AVERAGE, and we all know that batting average is ALL THAT MATTERS. Aledmys Diaz flunked, Dexter Fowler is a BUST, Brett Cecil was a WASTE OF MONEY, Stephen Piscotty was OVERRATED, Mags Sierra was in the DAMN MINOR LEAGUES instead of St. Louis and that’s CRAZY. Yeah, the rotation was solid, except for Martinez and the hair colors. And yep, Tommy Pham was doing great, and hometown big boy Luke Voit coming up was cool, and Paul DeJong’s home-run pop provided a pleasant diversion.
10. Other than that … everything and everybody sucks, the Cardinals keep bringing up all of these kids from the minors instead of DeWitt showing he is committed to winning by SPENDING BIG MONEY on a BIG BAT … the Cardinals are a disgrace, and the fans should start boycotting the franchise.
Or something like that.
With all of the hollering, the second-guessing, the on-field bumbling, the incessant blame game, and the barking about the manager, it was difficult to pick up on the subtle improvement and take note of a changing trend.
Had the Cardinals sloughed their way to a 3-5 road trip, no one would be talking about the positives. The yelling would have continued without finesse or interruption. But with that 5-3 road trip — and the Cardinals delivering the worst beatdown in the Kansas City area since Patrick Swayze the bouncer in the 1989 movie Road House … well, this got our attention.
Wait … what?
The Cardinals have the second-best record in the bigs over the last 40 games?
They’re only 2.5 out of first place in the NL Central?
How the hell did that happen?
The rotation kept propping this team up, preventing the Cardinals from being covered in dirt by the end of July. The bullpen has been terrific, with an exceptional 2.34 ERA over this 40-game stretch. And the often sleepy-time offense still stalls in a frustrating way. But with the Cardinals piling on runs Sunday in Cincinnati, and going to KC to continue the bombardment … believe it or not the Cards are averaging 5.08 runs per game while compiling that second-best 24-16 record since June 25.
Here’s another reason, and it’s an extra-large one.
This is a transition season. More than that; I’ve called it a transition within a transition.
Of the 11 position players that had the most plate appearances for the 2016 Cardinals, six are no longer here. Four are with new teams, and Piscotty and Diaz are trying to revive their games at Triple A Memphis.
Of the nine hitters that had the most homers for the Cardinals in 2016, only three are on the 25-man roster today: Jedd Gyroko, Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk.
As for the Cards’ top 11 RBI leaders in 2016 — only four can be found on the current 25-man roster.
Rookies have arrived to fill voids. Tommy Pham — all but written off by the organization — got another shot with the big club when outfield injuries necessitated his promotion from Memphis on May 5.
Follow this progression with me…
Here is a look at the number of plate appearances taken by rookies (eight in all) and Pham on a monthly basis. The rookies are led by Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez and Luke Voit with cameos from Harrison Bader, Carson Kelly, Mags Sierra, Alex Mejia and Chad Huffman.
April … 42 plate appearances, all by Jose Martinez, over 24 games that month.
May … 150 plate appearances by Pham and the rookies over 26 games.
June … 292 plate appearances by Pham and the rookies over 29 games …
July 1 through Aug. 9 … 486 plate appearances by Pham and the rookies in 34 games.
And during the 24-16 stretch, when I looked at the position players, Pham and the rookies accounted for 38 percent of the plate appearances, 40 percent of the extra-base hits, 43 percent of the total bases, 51 percent of the home runs, 43 percent of the RBIs, and 42 percent of the runs scored.
Now, this may not last. Again, do we really trust the Cardinals to play consistently good baseball over an extensive stretch? I’m not there yet. But it’s also true that a tired offense was pumped by the decisions to (A) give Pham lineup-core status; and (B) turn loose the rookies such as DeJong, Martinez and Voit.
And the transfusion.
Thanks for reading, and pardon my typos because I’m running late to a doctor’s appointment and have to scram…