Death, taxes and a strong Cardinals team. Those are the three things we have been able to rely on consistently in the last decade or so. We're still less than 20 percent of the way into the baseball season, so it's too early to draw any meaningful conclusions, but so far the pride of St. Louis isn't having the success that we are used to seeing. A team that has averaged 96 wins the last three years, and which faced an aggressive 87.5 season win total before the season began, is out of the gate at just 14-14.
Things are far from dire - it's still so early. The Cubs have practically clinched the division already with the way they are playing and their massive lead, though, and the wild-card race promises to be crowded. This team can be better than they have been, and they need to start doing so in a hurry.
So, what is happening? Can it change? And what does it mean for bettors? Here are five points to ponder when considering this team going forward:
Offense: You certainly can't blame the offense for anything that has gone wrong so far. Only the Cubs have scored more runs on the season in all of baseball than the Cardinals have - 159-158. They are scoring 5.6 runs per game - more than enough to win games. Last year they won 100 games while scoring four runs per game. The offense has not been an issue.
But is it sustainable? Probably not. There are a lot of guys overachieving - or at least seeming to. Aledmys Diaz is hitting .381 with a 1.101 OPS. He's a rookie with a big wall looming at some point as the season wears on him. Jeremy Hazelbaker, another rookie, is hitting above expectations at .308 with an OPS of 1.009. Stephen Piscotty is probably overproducing so far in just his second year in the league - and last year wasn't a full season for him. Yadier Molina is hitting 40 points above his career average. Those have been the four biggest factors in the offense to date, and all four are likely to see things slide somewhat as the season progresses. They aren't winning enough with things as they are, so this is an area of concern going forward.
Pitching: It has been a mixed bag here. Carlos Martinez has been really good this year, and Michael Wacha has been solid after a very good year last year. They are doing their jobs. Jaime Garcia has pitched fairly well but hasn't yet been rewarded for his performance - he's just 1-2 in five starts.
That's all fine. Mike Leake and Adam Wainwright, though, have been real disappointments. Both have an ERA over six, and they just aren't getting the job done. They can be better - Leake had a solid year with the Reds and Giants last year, and Wainwright has been great for a decade for the Cardinals. They should get better, Garcia is due for a bit more luck, and Martinez and Wacha are both very capable and proven.
This is a solid pitching staff that should perform better overall than they have going forward. There is room for improvement, too - they are allowing a full run per game more than they did last season. With the offense overachieving, it obviously falls to the pitching to explain the disappointing start.
The schedule: When you look closer at the schedule you realize that things are even more concerning than a .500 record suggests. The team opened the season by being swept in Pittsburgh. They dropped two of three at home against the Cubs. They were just swept at home by the Nationals. That puts them at 1-8 against the three best teams they have faced.
Many of the wins have come against the weaker opponents they have faced - three against Atlanta and two against Milwaukee, Cincinnati and San Diego. I guess you can give them credit for taking care of business in those games, but the fact is that they have been flattered by their schedule, and it hasn't exactly started out tough.
The rest of May is mostly tougher than what they have faced so far - capped by a brutal stretch starting May 23 of three at home against the Cubs followed immediately by four at Washington. If the team can't get their issues under control and start performing better when it matters then the season could very easily be all but lost by the end of May.
The "over": If there is a silver lining to this start it's that the combination of a potent offense and a defense that has left things to be desired at times has made it very easy for them to go over totals. They have managed to exceed the total in 17 of their 26 games - a wildly-profitable rate. It's not a trend that is slowing, either - the over is 8-2 in their last 10 decisions.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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