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The Cardinals’ Second-Half Success Isn’t a Fluke

After winning the first three games of the four-game series at San Diego, the Cardinals lunged past Milwaukee and into second place in the NL Central. Your fave team sliced another game from their wild-card deficit, and are crouched only two games in back of Colorado for the No. 2 WC spot.

With a victory Thursday night in San Diego, the Cardinals would return home with an 8-2 record on their important 10-game roadie.

This isn’t a fluke.

The Cardinals have won consecutive series from a couple of inferior opponents (San Francisco, San Diego) but that’s what they’re supposed to do. The Cardinals are better now. They are better than they were earlier this season. And there’s nothing quirky about that, either.

And before you start in with the mindless “bandwagon” nonsense, you might want to pause and think about how much the Cardinals have evolved in personnel. If anyone out there was ticked off at this team, yelled at this team, complained about this team, had cuckoo tantrums over this team, or threw the remote at the TV because of this team … that’s completely understandable.

Because THAT Cardinals’ team — the one that had us cursing — simply isn’t the same as the team that’s barged into postseason contention to slip by Milwaukee (for now) and crowd Colorado in the charge for a wild-card spot.

(Side note: I’m focusing on the wild-card race because it’s more realistic. I’m not erasing the Cardinals from the NL Central picture. It’s just that the Cards, down to 23 regular-season games, trail the first-place Chicago Cubs by four games. The Playoff Odds Report at Baseball Prospectus lists St. Louis with a 13.1 percent chance to win the division … with an estimated 27.7 percent shot to annex a wild-card berth.  Sure, the Cardinals and Cubs still have seven games left against each other. The Cardinals are angling for an opportunity. But for now, I’m concentrating on the goal — the WC — that’s within short reach.)

There was no bandwagon for the lesser, sloppier, older, sleeper Cardinals team.

Some parts of that team remain, of course.  Mostly good parts. But as I’ve discussed approximately 1,057 times here or on my radio show, the Cardinals have been in transition all season. And even now, here on Sept. 7, they continue to adjust and modify and make more changes … with the latest addition being sturdy RH reliever Juan Nicasio, who was acquired in a deal with Philadelphia.

The Cardinals’ rotation has two new arms in rookies Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. Weaver began the season at Triple A Memphis; Flaherty started the year in Double A Springfield.

A tired bullpen has been freshened up — more than many  assume — and I’ll be writing a more specific piece on this later. But the Memphis infusion is making a positive difference in the pen.

Changes in the rotation and bullpen help explain why the Cardinals’ pitching staff is ranked fifth in the majors and third in the NL over the last two weeks in adjusted ERA. The reconfigured staff is rebounding after struggling through much of August.

I’ve repeatedly quantified the Memphis-factor impact on the Cardinals’ lineup and player-position strength, but here’s a different way to look at the same thing:

Since the All-Star break, 11 Cardinals hitters are above the league average offensively based on park-adjusted runs created, or wRC+.  There are obviously some differences in the number of plate appearances. Some are starters. Some are banged up a bit with injuries. Some are reserves.  One, Harrison Bader, was recalled from Memphis on Sept. 1.

Putting the various sample sizes aside, fact is the Cardinals still have 11 above-average hitters in the season’s second half:  Jose Martinez, Tommy Pham, Bader, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Yadier Molina, Greg Garcia, Kolten Wong,  Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong.

Six of the 11 players on that list either (1) began the season at Memphis, or (2) were recalled after being demoted to Memphis to repair their swings.

The roster remix has led to enhanced results. That hardly qualifies as a random swirl. After all, what’s the point of making roster revisions? In this case, here’s the answer: to boost your team’s probability of success. And it’s true …. the new blood has enlivened the Cardinals.

It isn’t a fluke when your team is 29-22 since the All-Star break, a .569 winning percentage that’s tied for fifth-best in MLB, and fourth-best in the NL.

It isn’t a fluke considering that the Cardinals are ranked second in the NL in runs per game (5.16) since the All-Star break. And the favorable trend isn’t a fluke when your pitchers are ranked third in run prevention during the second half.

Who knows if this will last?

There have been too many plot twists and dips to assume anything. And performance by young players tend to be volatile. Up and down. Hot and cold. Confident then deflated.

But when your team has benefited significantly from internal roster reinforcements, is No. 2 in the league in scoring runs, and is No. 3 in preventing runs — all during a 51-game stretch since the All-Star break — the progress isn’t a matter of dumb luck. It’s authentic.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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

  • HIreader

    Who is Stephen Wong?!

    • Jim Lahey

      The hybrid PisWong.

    • RolandHeadlessThompsonGunner

      Kolten Piscotty’s brother.

  • Christopher Toth

    Again, can’t just look at the whys behind post All-Star games. Must also analyze whys behind losses in assessing post season potential. Cards have solved the former but not the latter.

  • Kwick

    Winning at home, or not, will be the difference. Cards have been pretty good on the road, but very mediocre to bad at home last two years. If they fix that starting immediately they’ll make it to the playoffs.

    • Taylor

      They were bad at home last year, but are 37-31 right now and 35-36 on the road this year.

  • John M. Newhouse

    This team as frustrating as it has been is still within reach of the post season which is amazing. There are only two things that worry me. 1. No true closer. 2. Matheny’s inability to manage a bullpen with any compentency.

  • geoff

    Boy oh Boy …how in the world did they do this with the “worst manager in baseball” still at the helm. HMMMM…maybe he isn’t the worst manager in baseball after all. Maybe, he is the best manager in baseball because his team stayed afloat. I don’t think he is either the best or the worst. Some people just obsessed over the man and developed this hate narrative and gained and maintained a following. This “arrogant” manager had the gall to say that his team was not that bad and that some people were going to be unable to enjoy what was going on. Maybe he was right, not arrogant. Hey Bernie, isn’t hindsight wonderful????? The team has stayed afloat and made September pretty fun to watch so far. Whether or not they make it to the post-season tournament they have started this month being relevant and playing pretty well and that is entertaining as heck.

    • Mary Ann Cicciarelli Mulvey

      Good response!

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    • Taylor

      He’s still pretty bad.

      • I agree. But you have to realize people are getting excited about the Cardinals sneaking in on the wildcard, and questions about the quality of the managing are temporarily tabled because, you know, we’ve played .569 ball since the Break. I don’t say that is Bernie’s logic; it’s the logic of the pro-Matheny contingent, and Bernie’s new narrative is playing to them.

    • cryscomo

      I’ve had similar thoughts — and have shared with Mr. Miklasz. I was beginning to think he wasn’t capable of positive commentary re the team. But, even with an obvious slight to Piscotty’s performance last night, I am surprised by this as “feel good” piece as BM can write. Maybe some of us pushing back have his attention? It’s easy to chirp from the cheap seats — second-guess in hindsight. Unlike Bernie and others that seem to get off slamming the team, the owners/managers/team believe (as do I) in the Cardinals — that’s why they are where they are — contenders — win, lose or draw. Go Cards!

      • geoff

        Yeah, Bernie has taken his hate for Matheny to a personal level. He openly mocks MM’s Christ based philosophy, he is openly critical of every move the man makes. His disdain for Mike Matheny has no bounds. Even when things go well and Bernie feels obligated to acknowledge that MM did something right, he always makes sure to qualify that acknowledgement with some sort of negativity, or most often he simply give MM a back-handed compliment. I think at this point Bernie might be, and if he isn’t he should be, a bit embarrassed about his diatribe over MM’s comment about certain fans or writers being so embittered that they would not be able to enjoy the way the team has been playing since the break. Bernie was so outraged that Matheny would have the gall to call out some fans and sports writer/talkers. As it turns out Matheny was right about that, and those bitter people with Bernie at the front of the line, missing what was going on . Hell, it took Bernie a week into September to realize that the Cards have been playing pretty well since the all-star break because he has been too busy vilifying Matheny to pay attention to what was happening on the field. Bernie brushes over the fact that Matheny was given a below average team coming out of spring training, but that would mean he would have to say something negative about his idol Mo. All that said, I still like the way the man writes, except for the constant edicts about what Matheny MUST do….it makes Bernie too similar to kevin slaten, and who in their right mind would want to emulate that cowardly jerk-off?

        • cryscomo

          Bernie stirs the pot — in this age of negativity I guess that is what sells. It’s weird, I think he has writing skill — it’s the lazy, pessimist-pleaser word arrangements he uses that irks me. He goes down the path of least resistance — harder to take the high road, do a little deep-thinking and write something of substance — something that makes you stop reading for a minute to absorb his idea.

          There are several good writers on MLB.com’s site — they don’t (can’t) have a vendetta against players, coaches, team — they write about the sport of baseball. They are able to provide analysis, projections without the spiteful spin of the likes of BM, et al.

          The thing that makes the Cardinals such a great organization, that bring fans back year after year is being played out before our very eyes right now. Someone, lets call him Matheny, is using all the tools in the box for a post-season chance.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Exactly Bernie – the wild card is possible with the kids pushing the team upward. I think they believe they can win – something that was missing from the earlier part of the season.

    • geoff

      Some of things missing from the start are Broxton, Perralta, Leake… Mo gave MM a pretty below average roster coming out of Jupiter. It has been modified greatly as the season has evolved. Matheny has taken a lot of heat for Mo trying to keep some of the egg off his face for mis-evaluating a lot of talent.

  • September is a time when people who have been grousing about their team’s mediocrity start getting excited about the wild card. This team IS mediocre or slightly better, which means mediocre compared to the best baseball teams in the world. The Cardinals are not bad; they’re just not good compared with LA, Houston, Cleveland, Boston, the Yankees, the Nats, and the Cubs. Their record since the Break is not a good enough 162-game percentage to win a single division in MLB, except for the NL Central. But since it’s September Bernie’s glass is half full rather than half empty. I’m okay with us not making the playoffs every year. I do not have the entitlement mentality, I am not outraged at DeWitt or Moze, and Matheny is still not a good manager.