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Backed By Memphis Muscle, the Cards’ Offense Is Among the NL’s Best Right Now

OK, so you probably noticed the headline and concluded that I’ve lost my mind … again.

But I’m not joking. The headline wasn’t click bait.

It’s the truth.

The Cardinals have one of the top offenses in the majors since the All-Star break.

A maligned St. Louis offense that’s competed in 138 games without the frightening presence of a BIG BAT in the middle of the lineup, is doing very well with their overall collection of sturdy bats.

Since the All-Star break the Cardinals had a 28-22 record through Tuesday’s late-night win at San Diego. That .560 winning percentage is tied for fourth in the National League, post-break.

Even without a bat-carrying wildebeest leading the assault on opposing pitchers, the Cardinals’ offense is the No. 1 reason for the team’s persistence in staying in the postseason hunt.

A thick percentage of this improvement can be attributed to Tommy Pham and prominent rookies  Paul DeJong and Jose Martinez. And, to a lesser extent, the rookie hitting of Luke Voit. And, more recently, to the recent call-up of rookie outfielder Harrison Bader.

This isn’t meant to exclude or diminish the hitting craft work of veterans such as Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong, or Jedd Gyorko.

But Pham and the the rookies have made the most difference for a logical reason: they’ve come to the rescue of an offense that needed help.

And they’re all part of the Memphis Muscle: a group of position players that began the season with the Cardinals’ Triple A affiliate.

Here are the “Before” and “After” National League rankings for the STL offense.

(“Before” the All-Star break … and “After” the All-Star break.)

RUNS PER GAME:   4.57 before, ranked 10th … after: 5.16,  ranked 2nd.

BATTING AVERAGE:    .255 before; ranked 8th … after: .270, ranked 3rd.

ONBASE PERCENTAGE:  .329 before; ranked 3rd …  after: .348, ranked 3rd.

SLUGGING PERCENTAGE:  .424 before; ranked 9th … after: .448, ranked third.

ONBASE+SLUGGING, OPS:   .753 before; ranked 9th … after:  .796, ranked 3rd.

* PARK-ADJUSTED RUNS CREATED (wRC+): 103 before; ranked 7th… after:  116, ranked 2nd.

OPS WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION:  .771 before; ranked 9th … after:  .818, ranked 4th

(* wRC+ offensive figure is for non-pitchers. A wRC+ of 100 is league average.)

What about the Cardinals’ inconsistency on offense? Good question. That was my impression too. But when I checked the numbers, using the Play Index at Baseball Reference , the consistency was better than I’d assumed.

This season the Cardinals have scored 3 runs or fewer in a game 54 times. That looks like too many low-scoring games, but it’s all relative. Consider: 21 MLB teams that have scored 3 or fewer runs in a game more times than St. Louis this season.

The same applies to the number of games scoring 4 or fewer runs; the Cardinals have done that 73 times this season. That sounds bad, but only nine teams have a scored 4 or less runs in a contest fewer times than STL.

Pham’s dynamic season is an essential component in the Cards’ energized offense. As good as Pham was between his call-up on May 5, and to the All-Star break — .895 OPS, and a 137 wRC+ — he’s turned up the numbers in the second half:  a .960 OPS, and 157 wRC+.

And what about the rookies? DeJong, Martinez and the others have boosted the offense. Keep in mind that DeJong wasn’t promoted until late May. And that the distribution of playing time for Martinez has been too light.

In the season’s first half, Cardinals rookies accounted for 16.8 percent of the team’s homers and 13 percent of the runs batted in.

In the second half, Cardinals rookies have accounted for 37 percent of the homers and 30.3 percent of the RBIs.

If you want to include Pham with the rookies as an honorary member, then Pham and the rooks have hit 50 percent of the Cards’ homers, delivered 41 percent of the RBIs, and scored 40 percent of the runs since the All-Star break.

Since his MLB debut on May 28, DeJong has slammed 21 homers — and the only rookies to hit more home runs over that time are Cody Bellinger (27) and Aaron Judge (21.)

Among MLB rookies that have have as many or more plate appearances than DeJong this season (352), DeJong is third with a  .538 slugging percentage.

With only 228 plate appearances, Jose Martinez has maximized his opportunities. Among MLB rookies with a minimum of 228 plate appearances, ranks No. 2 with a .374 OBP, is third with a .567 slug, and and is third with a .941 OPS. Only Aaron Judge has more park-adjusted runs created (157) than Martinez (144) this season (minimum 220 PA.)

The Cardinals may not have that BIG BAT … and presumably they will go on an offseason expedition to search for that BIG BAT.

Don’t stress over that right now. It’s been fun to watch terrific offensive talent emerge from Memphis — or in Pham’s case, from baseball purgatory — to spark the Cards offense.

An offense that is keeping the team’s postseason hopes afloat.

An offense that’s one of the best in the show since the All-Star break.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – Let’s Keep Reminding the Cardinals: Jose Martinez Is Good. Really, Really Good.

  • Rich Rauch

    Now, if only someone could figure out how to manage a (very large) bullpen, …

  • rightthinker4

    “Manager” is a misnomer for our beloved leader of men. For MM it’s more like guesswork.

  • What?

    Bernie you underestimate the value of Grichuk as well. Cards record is 59-46 with him on the club and not sentenced to the minors or on the DL. Best outfield during the winning streaks have been Pham/Fowler/Grichuk.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    So true Bernie. This is why I wanted the Cards to trade for a closer and a starter at the trade deadline. Didn’t happen unfortunately. However, another observation I’ve been making for some time is that the Cardinal team was underperforming. The sum of the part appeared greater than the whole. This suggested an upside and that upside is now being realized, as you say, without a big bat.

    Why this underperformance? Part of it is due to a failure of the DeWitt valuation algorithm. I believe it is too conservative. But another key reason is the failure of management to recognize talent in the farm system and to promote them effectively. Pham is exhibit 1. But Martinez, Voit, Bader, Sierra, Flaherty, Weaver, all examples of how the team could have improved if the shuttle between the farm system and the Cardinals had been more carefully managed. To some extent this can be explained by the Cardinals unwillingness to start the cloak early on some of their candidates. Heck, I think most of us were screaming for the Cardinals to bring up Reyes last year, but they dragged it out. Hopefully we will see the Cardinals revise their thinking at some point. Talent deserves to play.

  • Jim Parisi

    Why not utilize Martinez as your 3 hole hitter and get another starter or closer with some of the extra outfielders and Carpenter as trade bait?

    Martinez seems to have made some improvement at 1st defensively and with his height can get to errant throws better than Carpenter, he made a nice scoop to complete a DP last night and with some tutoring from Oquendo may give you a decent everyday player at first.

    Carp used to be my favorite player but he seems to have become a “me” player or a total head case. Nothing is his fault, not his horrid base running or inability to hit anywhere but leadoff and most of all his refusal to take advantage of the open left side of the infield when the opposing team shifts. The few times he has actually tried to go to left he drops his back shoulder and hits a can of corn to the left fielder.

    With the team only 2 out of the wild card who do you want playing first, Carpenter or Martinez?

  • David B

    It’s interesting how injuries have resulted in positive outcomes recently. With Carpenter and Gyorko out, there is more room for Garcia and Martinez to play, and with Martinez playing at first base, there is room for Piscotty and/or Fowler to play without benching Pham and/or Grichuk. Those of us who have criticized Matheny for playing Piscotty should acknowledge Wednesday night’s game in San Diego, which demonstrated why they haven’t given up on him, when many have been screaming at them to stop playing him.

    Carpenter has been a good player for this team, but I’ve come to the view that they are a stronger team without him in the starting lineup. If the front office decided to make their best newer players regulars next year, and move out some still-productive veterans in trade(s) to fill the obvious needs for a closer and power hitter, this could be a very different team next year. It would probably require a managerial change to break up the core of cherished veterans. But it seems we’ve reached a point where the franchise needs a new look.