Well, that was quite a stretch. Thirteen games of Cardinals baseball, played over 15 days.
Fifteen days of madness.
Madness as in wild, crazy, volatile games packed with high drama and daring comebacks that made this team so likable. Madness as in the Cardinals and their fans rolling on a wave of happiness and delirium.
Madness as in dreaming a little dream of making Joe Maddon sad, and reclaiming the NL Central from the Cubs, and seeing if that old red hoodie still fits, because you might need to get the gear ready for some October postseason baseball.
Madness as in wanting to damage inanimate objects after watching this team squander momentum, good feelings and optimism because of poor play, competitive ambivalence and incomprehensible managing.
Madness as in reaching the breaking point on frustration, and ripping the TV from the wall, savagely attacking the ottoman with a corkscrew, or using your tickets to an upcoming Cards home game as a firestarter for the Big Green Egg as you prepare to smoke some brisket.
Thirteen games, 15 days.
What does it all mean?
Who the hell is this team?
I have the answer: the Cardinals are pretty much like every other team in the National League. There’s only one truly distinguished team in the league at the moment. And that would be the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are 24-11. The D-backs have actually dominated other good teams, winning 14 of 21 games against opponents with winning records. And Arizona hasn’t lost a series this season, winning 10 and splitting another.
The Cardinals are scratching and clawing in a large crab pot with all of the other teams that are trying to get up, and get out, and prove that they’re real contenders. All of these teams have attributes and strengths. All of these teams can claim a certain number of successes. All of these teams are flawed, and inconsistent, and incomplete. And if we look at all of these teams, you’ll see quirky aspects to their records — things that undoubtedly drive all of their fan bases goofy with confusion and frustration.
The Cardinals (20-14) have the worst batting average in the majors this month (.194), and are down near the bottom for May with an average of 3.14 runs per month. But they’re also tied with Atlanta for the the league’s second-best winning percentage. Not only that, the Cardinals are tied for the fifth-best winning percentage in the majors.
It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
Not with three substantial lineup pieces hitting so poorly, you can spot them among the worst hitters in the majors here on May 9.
Ozuna, the coveted cleanup hitter, ranks 150th among 171 qualifying MLB hitters with a .328 slugging percentage. Fowler (.303) is No. 162. And Carpenter (.295 slug) is No. 163.
What about OPS? Ozuna ranks 156th with a combined onbase-slugging percentage of .605. Carpenter’s .601 OPS is No. 157. And Fowler’s .567 OPS is 164th; only seven hitters are below him.
Ozuna was supposed to serve as the cleanup hitter the Cardinals have been yearning for. And I believe he’ll certainly produce more than he has to this point. But through 34 games, here’s where the Cardinals rank in several key categories at the No. 4 spot in the lineup in comparison to the other 29 teams:
There’s more to this than Ozuna. of course.
Using the park-adjusted runs created metric (wRC+) from FanGraphs — 100 is average — the Cardinals have too many primary starters drifting well below the league-average standard offensively.
Kolten Wong, 14% below.
Carpenter, 27% below.
Ozuna, 23% below.
Fowler, 39% below.
Or to put this another way: The Cardinals’ eight primary position-player starters have 1,030 plate appearances so far. And 513 of the 1,030 PA — or just under 49 percent — have been taken by Carpenter, Fowler, Ozuna and Wong.
That’s a severe drain on your offense. And the condition will only get worse with Molina out of the lineup. Even though he’s a league-average player offensively — his wRC+ is exactly 100 — Molina had six homers, 17 RBIs and a good .456 slugging percentage. He also was batting .350 with a .550 slug in “close and late” situation. Backup catchers Carson Kelly and Francisco Pena won’t be able to match Molina’s offense.
But do not fret…
Other NL contenders are dealing with their own issues, and searching for solutions. Their fans are just as baffled and ticked off as Cardinals fans. This is a league filled with crabs in a pot. And to make the playoffs, they’re just going to have to fight it out, claws snapping, to survive and make their way at the top.
If the Cardinals can keep team MVP Tommy Pham healthy and get their four underachieving hitters cranking at even an average level, their postseason chances will improve.
Thanks for reading …