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Reality Check: We Keep Expecting the Cardinals to Get Better, But Why?

The Cardinals just completed a rather depressing stretch of nine games against Miami, Cincinnati and San Diego, the three last-place teams in the National League.

Your favorite baseball team went 4-5 overall. Worse, the Cardinals lost four of six at home to the Marlins and Padres. At least the Cardinals salvaged a little something-something by going 2-1 at Cincinnati last weekend. The Reds have been good for the Cardinals in 2018.

Let’s review some of the absurdities from the last nine games:

* In dropping two of three to the Padres, the Cardinals scored only nine runs in 27 innings, and failed to draw a walk in their 101 plate appearances in the series. Seven of their nine runs were produced by five homers. Otherwise: poof.

* The Cardinals didn’t whack a double during the three-game set against the Padres. In keeping in line with their cockeyed offensive profile, the Cardinals had 25 hits in the series and all were singles (21) or homers (4.) The Cardinals’ streak of failing to hit a double or triple has extended to 112 at-bats — starting with the sixth inning at Cincinnati on Saturday.

* While cat-napping through this nine-game stretch of lethargic baseball, the Cardinals hit .210 with runners in scoring position, and stranded 56 runners overall. NL teams are averaging 4.32 runs per game this season, and the Cardinals scored four runs or fewer in six of their nine tussles with the Marlins, Reds and Padres.

* Jose Martinez, Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter were notable exceptions to the team’s dull offensive performance. In the nine games Martinez, Ozuna and Carpenter combined to bat .396 with a .445 onbase percentage, .653 slugging percentage, nine homers, 22 RBIs, and 13 extra-base hits in 101 at-bats. The trio had a 1.098 OPS.

* Meanwhile their teammates combined to hit .203 with a .243 OBP, .299 slug, .542 OPS, three homers, 12 RBIs, and only eight extra-base hits in 207 at-bats. The other Cardinals had a strikeout rate of 26% and only 10 walks in 222 plate appearances (4.5%).

* With runners in scoring position, Ozuna, Martinez and Yadier Molina combined for 10 hits in 23 at-bats (.435) and knocked in 14 runs during the nine games. The other Cardinals? UGLY. They  combined to go 3 for 39 with runners in scoring position (.077) with four RBIs.

* Dexter Fowler went 2 for 19 with 8 strikeouts. Kolten Wong was 3 for 16. Rookie Yairo Munoz went 5 for 32 (.156) with a .426 OPS and stranded 16 runners.

* Harrison Bader leveled off, batting .250 with a .300 slug, one extra-base hit and no runs batted in. Tommy Pham did have 10 hits and batted .263 over the nine games, but with no extra-base hits and only one RBI.

* This run of games began June 5. Through June 4, here’s where Miami, Cincinnati, and San Diego ranked in the 15-team NL in ERA: Padres 10th with a 4.17 ERA; Reds 14th with a 5.00 ERA; Marlins 15th with a 5.06 ERA. The three pitching staffs combined for a 3.93 ERA against the Cardinals. Miami and San Diego were especially tough, with a 3.46 ERA in their six games against the Cardinals. So the Cards were muffled by unimposing pitching staffs.

* The Cardinals have 541 hits this season; 83.7% have been singles or homers. They’re last in the majors in doubles (85) and triples (3.) In the National League, 10 teams have 100+ doubles this season. In the NL Central, every Cardinal rival has at least 108 doubles, and Pittsburgh and Chicago have the most in the division with 120.

* The Cardinals’ average of 1.28 doubles per game would be their lowest in a season since Bill DeWitt bought the team before the 1996 season. From ‘96 through 2017, the Cardinals averaged 1.79 doubles per game. During that time, they never averaged less than 1.59 doubles per game in a season (that was 2000.)

* The 1968 season was called “The Year of the Pitcher.” And for good reason. Teams averaged only 3.42 runs per game and slugged .340 that season — with both figures being the lowest in any of the 58 seasons of the post-expansion era, which began in 1961. The 1968 Cardinals averaged 1.40 doubles per game … higher than the 2018 Cardinals.

* Cardinals’ pitching wasn’t great against the Marlins, Reds and Padres. The overall ERA was 4.56. The rotation’s 4.69 ERA over the nine games included a combined 7.50 ERA in four starts made by Carlos Martinez and Luke Weaver.

I don’t think we should be startled by any of this.

Here’s why:

Through Wednesday the Cardinals already had played 45 games against teams that currently have a losing record. Let’s stop right there to note that no MLB team has played as many games against losing teams than the Cardinals so far in 2018. In the NL, the Dodgers are second with 40 such games.

In other words, if the Cardinals were truly a superior team they would have taken full advantage of one of the softest schedules in MLB over the first two-plus months.

They failed to do that. Sure, the Cardinals have a 25-20 record in the 45 games, but against losing opponents the Cards’   .556 winning percentage ranks only 18th in the majors and 9th in the NL.

Cincinnati’s futility (25-43) has made the 25-20 look better than it probably is.

The Cardinals have the benefit of going against the Reds more times (10) than any team in the majors so far.  And the Redbirds are 9-1 in the 10.

That means the Cards are 27-29 against all other opponents.

And minus the Reds, the Cardinals are 16-19 in games against losing teams, and have been outscored by an embarrassing margin of 148 to 124.

The Cardinals have gone 16-18 and averaged only 3.9 runs per game since completing their three-game sweep of the Cubs on May 6. Over the last 34 the Cardinals have batted .218 with runners in scoring position, and are a staggering 1-11 when failing to homer in a game.

The sweep of the Cubs was a high point of the campaign so far — and definitely the most entertaining weekend of baseball at Busch Stadium in a long time. But since staging the uprising that knocked the two-time defending NL Central champions down, the Cardinals are 8-11 at Busch Stadium. They’ve averaged 3.8 runs in the 11 games, put up a mediocre .679 OPS, and were outscored 84-73.

It wasn’t an upset for the Marlins, Reds and Padres to go 5-4 against St. Louis.

Sadly it was the new reality.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: The 2018 Cardinals Hit Homers, But Shoot Too Many Blanks