The St. Louis Cardinals were walloped back under .500 last night by the last place Chicago Cubs. The Cubs scored multiple runs in five different innings, resulting in a 17-5 beat-down.
Contrary to what they showed last night, the Cardinals are not meddling in mediocrity due to a lack of pitching. Even after last night, the Cardinals are still in the top third of Major League Baseball in team ERA and their starters have the second most strikeouts in baseball.
The biggest problem for the Cardinals, a team just six months removed from playing in the World Series, is the offense. The Cardinals have scored just 3.72 runs per game in the first quarter of the season. This is down over a run from last season’s 4.83 runs per game. This problem is multi-faceted and comes from offseason moves, slowed player development and a ridiculous early season schedule. Let’s take a look at numbers that go into the early slump for the defending NL Champions.
Over the past few years, the Cardinals have looked almost exactly the same from one year to the next, but the 2014 Cardinals look much different from the team that appeared in the World Series in 2013. The Cardinals traded 2011 World Series hero David Freese, and let 2004 playoff star Carlos Beltran go to free agency. Both spots were filled with proven offensive players — Freese by Matt Carpenter and Beltran by Allen Craig — but they are offensive players of a different kind, and in 2013, a different position.
With the departure of these postseason heroes, the Cardinals have been without some regular season offensive firepower. Beltran homered 24 times, which was down significantly from the 32 he hit in 2012. The Cardinals figured they could fill this production with Craig’s RBI production, but Craig (predictably) could not sustain his .380 career batting average with runners in scoring position. Craig is hitting just .226 with runners in scoring position this season, and just .222 overall.
Freese offered some pop when he was fully healthy, hitting 20 homers in 2012. Carpenter offers some power, but the lineup looks much different without the third basemen hitting closer to the middle of the order. Carpenter offers extremely high value as a leadoff hitter, but conventional wisdom says a third baseman should not be atop the order. Carpenter has more at-bats in the leadoff spot than every other third baseman in baseball combined.
Although the loss of power from the offseason is one of the main problems ailing the Cardinals, the lack of production by young players filling in Craig’s and Carpenter’s positional holes compounded the issue.
The right side of the infield was emptied to fill holes left by Beltran and Freese. The Cardinals filled these spots with unproven commodities from their system. Kolten Wong was the opening day second baseman and Matt Adams has been at first all year.
You really don’t need much proof that Wong under-performed in his time in the big leagues. He currently starts for the Triple-A Redbirds in Memphis, and hit .225 in his 20 games with the team.
On the other hand, Adams’ numbers look much better. Adams has the most hits on the Cardinals and is hitting .301 on the season. However, his issue is a lack of run production.
Adams has played 26 games in the cleanup spot, but he has just eight RBI in those games. He has been heavily shifted all season long, and he has sprayed the ball to left field to beat it. He has 20 hits to left field, but none of them have come close to reaching he warning track, showing that he has sacrificed nearly all of his power. Adams homered 17 times in 108 games in 2013, but he has just two in 38 games this year. When you pair that with his near non-existent RBI production, Adams has really been a disappointment this year as well.
Early Season Schedule
In the first 39 games of the season, the Cardinals have played in front of their home fans just 13 times with just one day off in between. This means the Cardinals have slept in their own beds 14 times. They have sat down at their own tables for 14 dinners. They have tucked their children into bed just 14 times since April 1.
Last year the Cardinals scored fewer runs at home than they did on the road, but there is no telling what affect this strange schedule is having of their everyday players. Eighteen of their next 21 games are at home, and their schedule balances out as the season goes on, so the Cardinals may be ready to make a run.
The Cardinals are still the class of the NL Central, but with Milwaukee off to such a hot start they are really going to have to prove it over the next month and the offense is going to have to pull its own weight.
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