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Here’s Why the Cardinals Have the NL’s Worst Record Since Their 8-Game Win Streak

The Cubs have all but sent engraved invitations to St. Louis, requesting the Cardinals’ presence in a duel for first place in the NL Central.

The Cardinals showed up for a while. After defeating Atlanta to win their eighth consecutive game on Aug. 12, the Cards went to five games over .500 and moved into a virtual first-place tie with the Cubs.

After that?

Stick a pin in the party balloons.

Since the end of their entertaining, hope-inspiring, optimism-inflating eight-game winning streak the Cardinals have lost nine of 13 games. Only two of the 13 competitions were played against a team (Boston) with a winning record. The Cardinals dragged home following a disappointing four-game split with Pittsburgh (63-68) and fell down again — going 2-4 in losing consecutive three-game series to San Diego (57-73) and Tampa Bay (65-67.)

The Cards’ 4-9 record since Aug. 13 is the worst in the National League and second-worst in the majors. (Detroit is 3-10.) How did this happen?  Not that an eight-game winning streak transformed the Cardinals into an unstoppable force. Not at all. This team has problems.

That said, the slide back to mediocrity (65-65 record) is disappointing.  Especially since the Cubs have allowed the Cardinals to loiter in the division — and the Cards can’t take advantage of it.

Since vaulting into that first-place tie on Aug. 12, the Cardinals have lost 4.5 games in the standings to the Cubs. And after being two games ahead of Milwaukee on Aug. 12, the slumping Cardinals find themselves 2.5 games behind the Brewers … another 4.5-game swing, Wild card? No need to talk about that right now; the Cardinals are suddenly six games out of the second spot after creeping close for a while.

There are obvious reasons for the latest wrong turn in a long and strange season:

1. The worst thing that could happen to this team was a collapse of the pitching staff. Over the last 13 games, the Cardinals have an overall 6.20 ERA that ranks 13th among the 15 NL teams.

2. That includes a 6.20 starting-pitching ERA.  It’s been a rough month for the rotation, with Cards’ starters getting smacked for a 5.03 ERA during August. Despite the Cardinals’ pitchers receiving much healthier run support, the team is only 13-12 this month.

3. And, a 6.20 bullpen ERA. When you’re getting blasted for a 6.20 ERA across the board, it ain’t good.

4. The bullpen has basically imploded since Trevor Rosenthal left the game at Boston on Aug. 16 with  a season-ending elbow injury. Including that game, the Cardinals bullpen has been popped for a 6.51 ERA over 11 games. The pen’s collective walk rate (5.54 per 9 innings) and escalating home-run rate (1.69 per 9 innings) since the Rosenthal injury has led to more late-inning disasters. During their 4-9 stretch the Cardinals have a 7.38 ERA from the 7th inning on.

5. With so much trouble swirling with this pitching staff, especially in late innings, we’re seeing a continuation of a season trend: A terrible record in close games. The Cardinals are 19-25 in one-run games for a .432 winning percentage that ranks 26th in the majors. One area that doesn’t receive much scrutiny is the Cards’ record game that are tied late. Games such as Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay in 10 innings.  When the Cardinals are tied going into the 7th inning, their record is 5-14. When tied going into the 8th inning the record is 2-11. It’s 5-10 when tied heading into the 9th, and 4-7 with a tie leading into the 10th. And so on.

6. Organizational complacency: since 2011, when he made the biggie July trade to reinforce a thin pitching staff, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak could always be counted on to secure some relief help late in the season. The ’11 deal (the Colby Rasmus trade) put Octavio Dotel and and Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen. Mozeliak later signed Arthur Rhodes for the ’11 stretch run. And rather than keep starting-pitching prospect Lance Lynn in the minors, the Cardinals broght him to the big club to take on a relief role. In 2012, Mozeliak made a superb deal for reliever Edward Mujica. John Axford was acquired late in 2013. In 2014, Pat Neshek was signed on a make-good spring training contract. In 2015, Mozeliak traded for relievers Jonathan Broxton and Steve Cishek. Last year, it was Zach Duke.

This year? …. not one move … even as the bullpen burns and smolders. The Cardinals haven’t added a major-league reliever to their supply since trading starting pitcher Jaime Garcia to Atlanta in a deal that included John Gant coming to St. Louis. (And Gant wasn’t all that established; after all the Cardinals have declined to promote him from Class AAA Memphis.) That trade was announced on Dec. 1, 2016 … meaning that Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch have gone 271 days (through Monday) without adding an MLB reliever to their bullpen.

This bruised bullpen is vulnerable. Tired arms are the norm. Sunday, three relievers were unavailable to pitch against the Rays because they needed a day off to rest. (Tyler Lyons, Matthew Bowman and Ryan Sherriff.) Manager Mike Matheny’s plan to mix-and-match his way to protecting late leads may work to a point, but only if enough arms are fresh. With Matheny mixing and matching, it sets up a real possibility of the Cardinals using more relievers each game. And if you use more relievers in a game that means less rest — and more arm weariness — for those relievers.

It’s almost as if Mozeliak is sending a message to Matheny: “You want an eight-man bullpen? Then learn how to manage an eight-man bullpen. Because we aren’t trading for a reliever.”  Well, that probably isn’t the case. But..

7. Manager Mike Matheny still doesn’t use his best hitters as often as he should. After doing well for his first two games following a brief trip to the minors to regroup, right fielder Stephen Piscotty has gone 2 for 15 with seven strikeouts. Meanwhile, Jose Martinez is sitting … and sitting … and sitting.

Unlike Piscotty, Martinez has been a consistently good hitter for the 2017 Cardinals. In 205 plate appearances Martinez is batting .286 with a .353 onbase percentage and .505 slug for an OPS of 858.

In 317 plate appearances Piscotty has a .235 average, .344 onbase percentage and .366 slug for a .710 OPS. Martinez is the superior hitter in every category. His OPS is 148 points higher than Piscotty’s. In park-adjusted runs created (wRC+), Martinez is 22 percent above the league average; Piscotty is eight percent below league average. That’s a huge gap.

In 56 plate appearances this month, Martinez has an excellent .393 OBP and is slugging .511. Around the time of Piscotty’s demotion, Matheny committed to Martinez by starting Martinez in six consecutive games. The Cardinals won all six games as part of their eight-game winning streak. And Martinez contributed to the Cardinals’ offensive surge, slugging .583 with a .929 OPS and a double, two homers, four runs and five RBIs.

In other words: Martinez passed the test. He helped the Cardinals’ attack come to life and had impact during an eight-game winning streak. The Martinez run of six consecutive starts ended on Aug 10. Since then, Martinez has started only THREE games. The last start came on Aug. 19, and Martinez went 2 for 4 with a double and a homer. That’s it. No more starts as Matheny turned to Piscotty and/or Randal Grichuk. And it’s not as if Grichuk is tearing it up lately; he has one homer in his last 42 plate appearances over 13 games.

So why would Martinez be excluded from the lineup, especially to give starts and at-bats to Piscotty? Martinez isn’t good defensively. Piscotty has saved six runs defensively according to the Fielding Bible metrics. But Piscotty is one of the team’s worst base runners, thrown out on unforced errors 11 times this season — running his total to 28 times lost on the bases via unforced error since joining the Cardinals in late July 2015.

Using the Base Running Runs metric, Piscotty has ranked no better than 23rd on the team in BRR over the last two seasons. He’s had a negative BRR as a Cardinal. Martinez’s BRR is below average, but he’s still rated higher than Piscotty.

When Piscotty starts a game this season, the Cardinals are 31-41. His one asset, defense, has minimal impact. Martinez is easily the more prolific producer — it’s not even close — and is a slightly better base runner than Piscotty. The Cardinals are 22-18 when Martinez starts a game.

Question: doesn’t a manager have a minimal obligation to utilize his best players? If a team is really trying to win, the answer is an emphatic Yes. But Martinez is buried on the bench, moved aside in favor of Piscotty, who is among the Cardinals’ worst offensive performers this season. It’s just crazy … unless the priority is trying to get Piscotty straightened out, at the expense of winning, because the team gave him a $33.5 million contract before the season.

Given the front-office inactivity and the bizarre lineup choices, you just have to wonder what the true objectives are here.

Thanks for reading …

-Bernie

More: Miklasz – Cardinals Give Back Much of What They Gained During Eight-Game Winning Streak

  • SW

    Man, I wonder why piscotty and grichuk get to keep starting and starting and starting while performing at below average levels, while superior ball players ride the bench. I just can’t figure out why this would be the case. I wonder if it has something to do with fitting in culturally. Nah, that wouldn’t be it. I’m sure there’s a good baseball reason to bench better performing ball players in favor of two below average players. Mathenys probably just a step or two ahead of the rest of us.

    • Prior to Grichuk’s “demotion” in order to provide playing time for Piscotty on August 21, he was hitting 267/306/553 since his recall in June. The OBP isn’t great, but it’s an improvement, and I’ll take the 553 SLG.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Very disappointing turn of the season – but very predictable as well.

    As the trading deadline approached I suggested a front-line pitcher and a closer be acquired. It was clear to my untrained eye, that the Cardinal pitching staff was ragged and that Oh was not the closer of last year. In addition, I was never wholly sold on Rosenthal, in spite of what he did in 2014 and 2015. Why? He exhibited wildness that put men on base. This is why he lost the closer role in 2016. What I want from a closer is a shutdown guy that closes the door to any opportunity by the opposition to score in the final inning.

    I even argued during the off-season that the Cards needed to acquire a closer and a cleanup hitter. My choice was Chapman for closer (and Turner for cleanup). But if Chapman doesn’t float your boat, choose your own fav. My reasoning was that Oh and Rosie would make better set-up men and the entire bullpen would be able to shut the door earlier in games. Bernie demonstrates in his columns that the Cardinals have failed to preserve leads all season long. And today he demonstrates that the Cardinals have failed to win tie games as well.

    Now if an untrained casual observer like me could see this, why couldn’t the likes of MO and DeWitt? Or maybe they did see it and suffered from what Bernie says is “organizational complacency.” Of course I feel the answer centers on how the Cardinals value players. The Cardinals, as I’ve posted before, are extremely risk averse. Safe bets may produce winning teams, but they may not produce playoff teams. The GM moves of 2011 are far removed from the non-moves of 2016-17. I think the Cardinals made their trades and acquisitions in 2011 because they knew that they would not resign Pujols and that this was their last chance to have a team with his type of production get a shot at post-season – therefore their risk tolerance was higher. There is no Pujols on this team. Nor was there one on last season’s team. So the value a trade or acquisition might produce must be weighed against who they have on the field at present.

    Management has chosen to value players that offer a projected superior return at relatively low risk. Unfortunately this rigid adherence to that kind of value equation has resulted in a mediocre team that likely will not make the playoffs for a second year in a row.

    • Christopher Toth

      He never would have signed here but I like the Dodger’s Jensen a lot.

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  • Rich Rauch

    C’mon, we should give The Beloved Leader of Men a break. He’s only been a manager (at any level) for less than six seasons. These things take time. Hopefully in 2018 he’ll show ANY improvement in his ability to manage a bullpen or (and?) a lineup.

    And, given the all-around performance of this team in the season and a half leading up to Mo and Girsch getting their apparently well-deserved promotions, they’d be fools to mess with a good thing, right?

    • Cranky Observer

      IMHO Matheny should be replaced, but he’s not the problem post-All Star Break. The problem is (a) Mozeliak’s increasing inability to build a competitive roster at a price DeWitt will accept (b) the players’ failing to deliver on their salaries.

  • plato2

    Been following these Birds since the early 60’s. Seen some very “thin” seasons. Watching this year’s team is one of the most painful exercises I go through, night after night (like watching a slow motion car wreck – can’t take my eyes off them). It is inexplicable that Moze sits and does absolutely nothing when our weaknesses are so obvious and we are still so close to contention.

  • Christopher Toth

    Don’t disagree. My take for what it is worth is the Cards ownership and front office very well could be looking at this team as a very worn used car that needs to be replaced and simply are trying to keep it running until the end of the season.

    Why throw good money at a team that has tons of holes and a manager who is incapable of getting creative and too stubborn to admit he’s a big reason for this team’s all too often lackluster and sloppy play.

    I could be wrong but hope it is a sign wholesale changes are coming and who knows, maybe a Stanton or Stanton like player. Or not.

    • LawrenceKScardsfan

      If so, Cards ownership and management is responsible for a team that resembles “a very worn used car.” Their notion for the last several years is drafting pitchers under the theory that pitching wins championships and pitching is the most expensive type of talent. But if this is true, where are the pitchers to help us now? I still believe that the loss of Luhnow was a serious blow to the team. The Astros are 79-51 and have been in the hunt in recent seasons under Luhnow.

      • Christopher Toth

        Agree Ludnow is sorely missed. To be fair though, he had high picks from a tanking team to work with – and to his credit hit home runs with those picks – whereas the Cards did not. Given the way drafts work in MLB, it is hard for any long winning team to avoid slipping into mediocrity.

        The Cards made a bet and lost it in terms of in-house development. My view is it is partly drafting related and partly Matheny’s inability to develop young talent which was the number one stated reason by the organization for his hiring.

        More than just the win-loss record, what I can’t understand is how ownership and the front office can’t see the significant health damage Matheny has inflicted on his pitching staff. Usually if you trash a company’s assets, you get fired and not rewarded with an extension.

        But if Bernie is right – and I suspect he is – that Matheny isn’t going anywhere, then I fear we are headed into Jeff Fisher years as the talent no longer exists to continually bail out Matheny’s mistakes and trashing of his pitcher’s arms by overusing them.

        Yes, people talk of signing high value free agents, but I have to wonder why any top of the line free agent would want to play here and under Matheny.

        Moreover, if I am a pitcher’s agent, why would I want to risk my bread and butter by letting Matheny have at it in terms of damaging my client’s arm.

        Thanks for your comment. Man this is a mess and everyone but ownership and the front office can see just how dysfunctional the Cards have become as an organization.

  • Tarzan

    I smell a rat…. Could it be that MO is instructing Matheny to play Piscotty and Grichuk over more worthy players? Matheny is the perfect “lapdog” for DeWitt and MO. They claim he is a “Cardinals’ Way” choice, but he may have been picked because he tows the company line?
    I certainly have no evidence that this is the case (MO ‘instructing” Matheny who to play), but damn if it wouldn’t surprise me if that IS the case.

  • Mark Allen

    “Here’s Why the Cardinals Have the NL’s Worst Record Since Their 8-Game Win Streak”

    I thought it was just cuz they suck. Like, early ’90s suck.

    • Taylor

      The Cardinals had one losing record in the early 90s and it came in 1990.

      • Mark Allen

        I just remember the hopeless malaise, the Bryn Smiths and Bob Horners. The fundamentals were better though.

      • W Mahan

        I’m not sure what your definition of “early 90s” is, but the Cards had losing records 5 of the 10 years of the 90s. However you call it, it was not a good decade for Cardinal baseball. They lost more games than they won in the 90s.
        1990: 70-92
        1994: 53-61 (strike shortened year)
        1995: 62-80
        1997: 73-89
        1999: 75-86

        • Taylor

          The early 90s would indicate the first few years of the decade.

  • James R. Norvell

    DeWitt has evidently declared a new normal. He has put the team on an exit ramp from competitive capability. He has told Cardinal Nation, “I know you want to go to Los Angeles, but not on my dime.”
    I heard a lot of talk about responsibility and accountability three months ago. Now? Crickets.
    I see a lot of great speculation about moves with the current roster that would improve performance and acquisitions that would transform the team. I won’t quibble with any of them because I have come to the conclusion that the only answer is to blow up this organization.
    I say organization, not team, because I don’t want Mozeliak’s hand anywhere near the plunger. he has done his damage through far more insidious ways than an explosion. His undying need for Matheny to remain is exhibit one. The dominos need to fall from the top.
    I am at the point that I don’t care who stays and who goes, I just want a competent baseball mind making those decisions. Someone with a vision, Someone with a strategy. Someone with a brain.

    • JohnS

      They tried to talk their problems to death, Moe even implied his and Girsch’s jobs were in jeopardy, knowing full well they were both about to be promoted and extended. What a farce!

    • geoff

      Everything I have read has said that Mtheny is Mr. DeWitt’s choice.

      • James R. Norvell

        I have no idea whose bad decision it was.

  • Aaron

    Payroll politics + Mike’s Guys = Same old story. The only way this changes is if attendance goes down significantly.

    • W Mahan

      Nope, DeWitt won’t care about attendance. That’s chump change compared to the new TV contract they got. If attendance goes to zero, the DimWitts still make money. I just hope the advertisers stop buying TV ad time. Then maybe the TV contract won’t be so lucrative next time around. Until then, Cardinal fans better get used to looking up at 3 or 4 teams every year.

  • JohnS

    They have really gotten significantly worse since Piscotty has been recalled and undeservedly placed into the lineup, often in critical spots ruining blossoming rallies with his so called hitting. I like him as a person, but he should not have been recalled at all, should have been kept in Memphis, then when their season was over, sent home to spend time with his mother…..I mean that sincerely too….

  • rightthinker4

    Like most fans, the Cardinals management has given up on 2017. They will turn the team around in the off season (LOL)!

  • badgerboy23

    Why are we still talking about the 8 game winning streak? The winning streaks are the outliers, not the losing. The only time(s) this team has NOT played, boring, passionless, fundamentally flawed baseball over the course of the last two interminable seasons has been when there has been an injection of hungry youth from below. Mo put together a bad roster, MM is a relentlessly boring, stubborn manager who shows little sign of being able to learn, lead, teach or inspire. Mo and the DeWitt’s tout our farm system and the players there, but they are blocked by very average talent in StL, and they seem to consistently regress when they get here without the proper coaching at this level to help them adjust. This franchise seems to be deep into “dog chasing tail” mode.

  • Scott Warren

    It’s a very bad team being compounded by even worse managing. Shame on the owner and front office for allowing it to get to this point. With no end in sight by the way. Anyone who thinks some magic wand will be waived in the offseason are just kidding themselves. Sad but that is the truth.

  • What?

    Bernie, you failed to mention that the consistent outfield of Pham/Fowler/Grichuk was helping to carry the club on the hot streak was disrupted when Piscotty got promoted. It ruined the flow of those three. Cards are 2-5 with Piscotty back. Cardinals are 53-44 with Grichuk on the club this year and not in minors or DL.

    • Exactly. Matheny manages better when the right players are injured or traded and his options are limited to playing his best players. Meanwhile Goold over at the P-D is writing about the difficulties in managing a major league club when you have seventeen qualified outfielders. Absurd. If anybody deserves to be in a four-man outfield rotation it is Martinez (as Bernie writes), not Piscotty.

      The X-factor here is what happens to team morale when the players see the manager playing the wrong players. Pham’s “outside the box” thinking is refreshing. I feel like at least some of the players are beat down by MM’s managing. Right now Pham is the team’s MVP and it isn’t close.

  • Concerning #7–change “hitters” to “players.” Mike Matheny does not use his best players as often as he should.

  • If_My_People

    Matheny needs top-shelf talent to compete, but even then gets rolled out rather easily of whatever final playoff level they make it too. But now without abundant talent, you see what he brings to the team. His BP management and lineup cards bring him league-wide scrutiny from pundits and metric guys and he’s ranked among the bottom. Why keep a manager around that you have to trade guys away (Craig) or see them injured to keep him from rolling them out there night after night when in many cases it simply isn’t giving the team the best chance to win? Oh I forgot, Mo extended him so he’s obviously OK with it. He also overpaid a few of these guys and that’s a factor in playing them as well. Putting Piscotty back in the mix was just another example of the incompetent atmoshpere that seems to dog this franchise these days.

  • JeremyR

    The thing is, I don’t think Matheny is an independent thinker. He was hired to be Mo’s man and he has been.

    Mo puts Piscotty on the roster (after giving him an unwarranted contract), so Matheny feels like he has to play Piscotty.

    Same thing with continuing to play Fowler in CF vs corner. He’s being paid big money to play CF so he’s going to play CF, no matter how much it hurts the team.

  • Craig Martin

    I really like Piscoitty but the $ million dollar question is will he turn it around? or is that why the Cardinals are playing him! ….. To see if they need to Dump his contract as well. I would hope with the season he had last year he is a good trade piece?