The St. Louis Cardinals currently hold the second Wild Card in the National League. Despite sweeping the Chicago Cubs in Chicago this week, and lessening their NL Central deficit to 9.5 games, it will take an astronomical effort by the Cards and even greater collapse by the Cubs for St. Louis to win the division. Still, the Cardinals are showing enough offensive prowess and pitching ability to qualify for the postseason.
The Cardinals have had great depth over the last decade, and this season is no different. Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta, Jedd Gyorko, Ruben Tejada, and Kolten Wong give St. Louis, arguably, the best infield depth in the majors with plenty of postseason experience. Their outfield has seen contributions from unexpected sources in Jeremy Hazelbaker. Veterans like Matt Adams, Matt Holiday, and Brandon Moss have combined for 19 home runs and 47 RBI over the last 30 days. Stephen Piscotty continues to dominate opposing pitchers with runners in scoring position (RISP), batting .483. He’s even better with RISP and 2 outs, batting .500. Though he’s struggled so far, Randall Grichuk has shown plenty of intangible skills to bounce back in the second half.
Matt Carpenter is the engine for the Cardinals potent lineup. He’s collected 30 hits over the last 30 days. He’s walking at the fourth highest rate in MLB at 16.2%, setting the table for the meat of the St. Louis batting order. His wRC+ of 162 is good for second-best in MLB, trailing only David Ortiz (191).
Adam Wainwright has improved after getting off on the wrong foot to start the season. The Cardinals’ long time ace has thrown at least six innings and surrendered three earned runs or less in eight of his last 10 starts.
Likewise, Michael Wacha has been a shell of himself in 2016. He’s just 3-7 thus far and sports a 4.41 ERA, but has shown signs of improvement after lasting at least six innings and holding opponents to two earned runs or fewer in each of his last three starts. That includes his domination of the Cubs on Wednesday, completing the sweep in Chicago.
Mike Leake and Jaime Garcia have been serviceable thus far, totaling five wins each. Carlos Martinez is 7-5 with a 3.31 ERA. He battled through a rough patch in which he gave up four earned runs or more over five starts between May 1st and May 25th, but appears back on track with four consecutive starts allowing three earned runs or less. Leake, Garcia, and Wainwright have shown the ability to work deep into games by commanding their pitches. They are in the top seven in the NL in pitches per plate appearance, all at 3.63 P/PA or less.
Lance Lynn continues to progress through rehab and may be available to boost the staff toward the end of year.
Closer Trevor Rosenthal has been hit or miss this season. Among qualified relievers, Rosenthal has the second highest walk rate at 17.2%. This is partially due to his inability to consistently get ahead of hitters with a first pitch strike (just 58.6% so far). Issuing free passes in high leverage situations only adds to the pressure of closing out games. Hitters also have a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .429 – worst in MLB – against Rosie. We can also understand Rosenthal’s struggles by looking at opposing hitters’ plate discipline. On pitches outside the zone, Rosenthal is inducing swings at just O-Swing% of 21.3%, second-worst in MLB.
Kevin Siegrist, and Seung Hwan Oh present a formidable lefty-righty tandem out of the bullpen, capable of closing games themselves should the team decide to move away from Rosenthal. While it’s a virtually meaningless statistic, Oh has amassed 13 holds thus far, showing his acumen for handling high-leverage situations. He also leads the league in Z-Contact% at 73.0%, which means batters are making contact with his pitches in the zone just 73% of the time.
One glaring issue for the Cardinals has been their uncharacteristically awful team defense. They currently have the third-worst fielding percentage in all of MLB at .981, ahead of just the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds. Despite strong offensive years, Carpenter and Diaz are struggling to make plays in the field. This may have something to do with the mental aspect associated with Carpenter splitting time at third base and second base after the return of Jhonny Peralta. As a team, the Cards have a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of -17.6. UZR is a statistic that uses play-by-play data to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution to theoretical runs at a given position in a given year. Games usually are not won with stellar defense, but they certainly can be lost if mental or physical mistakes are made.
The Cardinals have a favorable remaining schedule, with just 11 of their final 28 series coming against opponents with winning records. Of those 11 series, three are against the Cubs (10 games), two against the Marlins (seven games), one against the Royals and Giants (four games each), two against the Mets (six games), one against the Dodgers (three games), and one two-game set against the Astros. The Marlins and Mets are currently engaged in a three-way tie with the Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot. The Dodgers lead this trio by 1.5 games. St. Louis will have plenty of opportunities to push the teams near them in the standings farther down the totem pole and make a postseason run.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com and ESPN.com