The St. Louis Cardinals are now five games behind the Cincinatti Reds after losing to the Washington Nationals on Sunday 4-2. Since they swept the Reds in that big series to take the lead in the division, the Cardinals have gone 5-9 which included series against the Pirates, the Astros and the Cubs. They are 17-22 in one run games. They are a hard team to figure out.
Tony LaRussa is one of the greatest managers ever. And you have no idea how hard it is for the Fan to type that. No, he's never been a favorite. He is the Don Shula of baseball, the head guy you love to hate but have to respect. His team this year has outscored its opponents by 97 runs. According to their Pythagorean win-loss expectations, they should have 74 wins this year. They have 69. It's very un-LaRussa-like to have his team five games under the wins they should have at this point.
The big news today was that Wainwright failed to win his 18th game for the third straight time. The Fan loves the hyperbole. It's not like Wainwright has pitched poorly. He's been great. He just hasn't been perfect and in order to win those three starts, he had to be because his team barely scored. And that seems to be a trend. Or is it? Before the Fan makes a fool of himself, it would be smart to look at the numbers.
The Cardinals have been shut out ten times this year or 7.8% of the time. They were shut out ten times all of last year so that was 6.1% last year. The Cardinals have scored one run 13 times this year or 10.1% of their games. They scored only one run 11 times all last year or 6.8%. Yes, that looks like a factor. The fact is that the Cardinals have scored three runs or less 44 times this year or close to 35% of the time. Last year was worse though because the Cardinals only scored two runs an amazing 25 times last year and only three runs another 21 times. Last year, the Cardinals scored three runs or less 41% of their games.
The Fan wanted to see if the numbers in the last paragraph mean anything. So let's look at a .500 team like the Marlins to see what the comparison is. The Marlins have been shut out seven times or 5.4% of the time. The Marlins have scored only one run in 10.8% of their games. That's pretty comparable. But the Cardinals are supposed to be a lot better offense than the Marlins. Right? We have to dig deeper to see what the problems could be.
The Cardinals fare equally well against right-handers and left-handers, so that isn't a problem. They also don't have a serious deficiency on the road compared to home. It's a little lower, but not that bad. So that's not a problem. As you can probably suspect, the Cardinals are a great hitting team in wins with a .300 team batting average and an .856 OPS. In losses, they bat .229 with a .626 OPS. That's sort of a smoking gun, but in checking some other teams this year, that's pretty consistent. There are a couple of things that do pop out though.
The first is that they have a real weakness at shortstop. Their shortstops have a combined line of .223/.294/.328. So that really means that the Cardinals have to get all their work done with seven guys in the line up (the pitchers aren't going to hit well). The other glaring weakness is their lead off batters. Persons batting first in their batting order have a combined line of .251/.318/.362. The lead off guy is the guy who gets the most at bats in a game. He's the guy that is supposed to set the table for Pujols and Holliday. But whoever that guy has been, he has only gotten on base 31.8% of the time and that is not enough.
Another stat that popped out at the Fan was the second inning. The second inning would be the inning after Pujols gets up, right? In the second inning, the Cardinals combined line this year is .213/.281/.313. That's not good. The Fan hates to keep comparing the Cardinals to the Marlins, but the Marlins second inning has a line of .246/.315/.387. Still not great, but much better than the Cardinals. Okay, one last thing that pops out to this Fan.
One of the old saws in the game is that the longer a team bats against a starting pitcher. the better the chances of hitting that pitcher. The Cardinals don't seem to do that. Here are their stats against a starting pitcher the first, second and third time through the batting order:
1st time: .251/.314/..385
2nd time: .271/.334/.417
3rd time: .260/..332/.456
The OBP and slugging goes up, but not that batting average. Let's look at the Marlins:
1st time: ..251/.314/.385 Uhhh...that is exactly the same. Weird.
2nd time: .249/.316/.386
3rd time: .289/.384/..512
The Marlins don't fare any better the second time through the batting order, but the third time, they do a much better job than the Cardinals.
The Fan really hasn't proved anything. But a couple of conclusions are that the Cardinals, despite being in the top five in the National League in Batting Average (2), On Base Percentage (3) and Slugging (5), they have an awful lot of games where they don't score many runs. They have terrible production from the shortstop position and from the lead off batter. After the pitcher gets by Pujols, they fare terribly in the second inning. The sneaking suspicion here is that the Cardinals rely far too heavily on one or two guys in their line up and when those two guys aren't having a good game, neither do the Cardinals. The Fan didn't think the Reds had any chance to unseat the Cardinals as Central Division Champs, but five games is a lot of games to make up.