.500 At The Break

For just the third time since 1933, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves with a .500 record (44-44) at the All-Star break. The good news is, the rest of the National League Central hasn’t done much better. Both Chicago and Milwaukee head into the break on a losing note and the Cardinals are only 2.0 games behind the Cubs in the division. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are also still in the mix with just 4.5 games separating first and worst in the division.

Clearly, all the teams will look to improve in the second half. How the Cardinals could, should, and will go about improving can be debated. But here’s a quick breakdown of the team as you prepare your arguments for what needs to be done moving forward.

CATCHER

–Behind the plate, Yadier Molina ranks fourth in the National League with a .261 batting average and his 572.2 innings caught. Yadi has thrown out 7 of 13 stolen base attempts. Matt Wieters has also done a nice job in that department, throwing out 3 of 5, as the Cardinal pitchers have been very deliberate with runners on base to help their catchers in the run game.

The only thing that has disrupted Molina this season has been a tendon sprain in his right thumb, but Wieters has done everything one could expect as a back up and delivered some big hits.

FIRST BASE

–Paul Goldschmidt has logged 749.1 innings at first base, fifth most in the National League. Ask any of the other infielders and they will quickly share that his glove has been a difference maker. Goldschmidt has been part of a league best 83 double plays. His baserunning has also been exceptional.

Offensively, Paul is the first to admit the numbers are down. And hearing about his resume or that he rallied from a slow start last year may not reassure you. But it does provide confidence for the Cardinals and Goldschmidt, who heads into the break with a 7-game hitting streak (9-26, .346, 2 HR, 9 RBIs).

SECOND BASE

–It seems like every night Kolten Wong has provided another highlight to use as an argument for winning the Gold Glove this season. He leads all NL second basemen with 248 assists, which is 42 more than Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies. Wong has also turned the most double plays (62), fielded the most chances (407), putouts (152), and has the greatest range factor at 4.71.

Last season through 87 games, Wong was hitting .213. He’s at .244 this season and six of his 68 hits have come by dropping down a bunt. He has also stolen 14 bases, just six shy of his career high of 20 from 2014.

THIRD BASE

–The numbers haven’t been there for Matt Carpenter in the first half as his .216 batting average ranks last among NL third basemen. Like Goldschmidt, the Cardinals are voicing confidence that his track record will result in a strong comeback. A couple of interesting numbers on Carpenter:

In 322 plate appearances in 2018, Carpenter had 45 walks and 80 strikeouts. This year through 326 plate appearances, he had 44 walks and 80 strikeouts. What was notably different was his batting average on balls in play, which dropped from .309 to .263.

Whether or not that is the result of more effective defensive shifting, bad luck, or other issues remains to be seen but the next few months will certainly be big for both Carpenter and the Cardinals.

SHORTSTOP

–One of the big reasons Paul DeJong was selected for the All-Star team? His defense. DeJong leads NL shortstops with a .992 fielding percentage, range factor of 4.19, and 66 double plays. His 363 total chances was second by one to Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson.

Though still on pace to hit at least 24 home runs this year, DeJong has hit .193 over the last 36 games after hitting .305 through his first 50 games.

OUTFIELD

–On the injured list, Marcell Ozuna put up 76 hits in 78 games before being sidelined by the fractured fingers. His 20 home runs rank third among NL left fielders and he leads the position with 62 RBIs.

As a combination, Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez have put up some decent numbers–combined they have hit .270 (130-482) with 18 homers and 63 RBIs. Obviously, not all of Fowler’s numbers have come while playing right field and Martinez served as the DH in a few games. But overall, their substitution has worked.

Defensively, Harrison Bader continues to impress and his six assists lead all NL centerfielders. He is tied for first with three double plays, a .967 zone rating, 7.4 ultimate zone rating, and three 5-star catches. Bader’s seven defensive runs saved ranks second, as does his outs above average (9).

However, his .205 (40-195) batting average could make it tough for Bader to continue starting, even with his elite defense, if the Cardinals continue to struggle offensively.

Some will argue that Tyler O’Neill deserves more playing time and they may be right, but his 30 strikeouts in 66 at-bats are a factor to be considered.

OUTLOOK

Being tied for 22nd with 393 runs isn’t enough. The St. Louis Cardinals know that. Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz have made the most of their recent opportunities and coming out of the All-Star break, Mike Shildt may need to substitute his infield similar to how he’s done so in the outfield if the offense continues to be lacking. And if internal options aren’t the answer, John Mozeliak will need to decide if the Cardinals are still “all in” for 2019.

PITCHING

–The Cardinals announced they will open the second half of the season with a starting rotation of Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty and Michael Wacha.

Like with the team, the won-loss record isn’t what many expected for the rotation this season. However, the starters posted a 4.31 in the first 88 games of the season, which is the sixth best in baseball. Not one of the starters above averaged six innings per start, but there was consistency as all five of the above checked in at 5.1 innings per outing.

Ideally, the starters would like to go deeper into games but a strength for the Cardinals this season has been the bullpen, which posted a 3.87 ERA in the first half.

John Brebbia and John Gant have provided some big innings this season and Andrew Miller has been dealing swing and miss stuff of late. The loss of Jordan Hicks is a big one, but most teams don’t have the likes of Carlos Martinez to step in as closer.

“It always seems like your looking to add pitching,” said John Mozeliak, but he also acknowledged the recent injuries didn’t necessarily change the team’s outlook heading into the trade deadline.

Make a blockbuster deal, stay pat, or something in between?

Eighteen games, with twelve of them against NL Central opponents, that’s all the Cardinals have left to make their decisions before July 31st.

photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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