The Cardinals are sitting in an interesting position. They’re only 1 game back of division-leading Pittsburgh, but also just 1.5 games ahead of the 2nd Wild Card team (Cincinnati). By season’s end, they could end up anywhere from having home-field advantage in the NLDS, to having to go on the road to play the Wild Card play-in game. St. Louis has been in the playoffs 3 of the last 4 seasons, winning it all in 2011. They started off this season playing the best baseball in the game, but have cooled considerably. Is this another championship team?
3 Reasons Why
- Run Production – there are only 3 teams in the NL that are producing runs, collectively, at a rate higher than league average. And, the Cardinals sit at the top of that list. A 107 wRC+ has led them to lead the league with 614 runs scored. They have the best OBP (.334) and 3rd best SLG (.408) in the NL, leading to the best OPS (.742). But, it’s not that they’re hitting a bunch of home runs (just 101 – good for 12th in the NL) – they’re simply producing runs every way they can. And, that can lead to big things in October.
- Starting Rotation – only the Dodgers, Reds & Pirates have a better ERA in their starting rotation than St. Louis (3.46). And, no one in the NL has a better FIP (fielding-independant pitching) rating than the Cardinals’ starting staff (3.38). We all know the saying – pitching wins championships. And, St. Louis’ starters look to have what it takes.
- Pitch Selection – only the Reds and Mets swing at fewer pitches outside the strike zone than the Cardinals (30.1%), and only the Giants make more frequent contact with pitches inside the strike zone (89.1%). Patient batters who make good contact can carry a team deep into the playoffs.
3 Why Not
- Competition – the Cardinals have spent nearly 2/3 of their season playing teams below .500. Sometimes that’s just the way the schedule breaks, and it doesn’t really tell us anything. But, in St. Louis’ case, what we see is a massive difference between their record against teams below .500, and against teams with winning records. In the 48 games they’ve played against teams with winning records, the Cardinals are just 20-28. If you throw out division-rival Cincinnati (who St. Louis has owned this year), that record drops to just 12-24. Not a good sign for the playoffs – which is going to be against some of this same competition.
- No Glove – St. Louis is one of the worst fielding teams in the NL. Their -41.7 UZR (ultimate zone rating) and -35 DRS (defensive runs saved) are next-to-last in the league (only the Phillies are worse at both). They may not have committed an exorbitant amount of errors, but they aren’t doing their pitching staff any favors with the number of balls they get to.
- Bullpen – while the starting rotation has been dominant, the bullpen has struggled in St. Louis. Of all the potential NL playoff teams, the Cardinals’ bullpen has the worst ERA (3.64) and the worst WHIP (1.30). This in spite of having pitched the 3rd fewest innings of any bullpen in the NL.
How do you think St. Louis will finish the season? Vote now!