With two proven starting pitchers and their cornerstone catcher on the disabled list, and three of their most-established hitters on pace for career-worst seasons, the Cardinals enter the second quarter . . . one game out of first?
This season’s theme, so far, has been amazing. As in, it’s amazing that everything the Cardinals hoped to accomplish is still within reach.
Here are 25 observations after a frustrating yet totally surmountable first quarter:
1. Dear offense, swing!
Wednesday’s 7-5 win against the Twins improved the Cardinals’ record to 16-2 when they outhit their opponents. They are 5-15 when their opponents outhit them. Problem: The Cardinals rank last in hits.
This club talks a lot about loving the grind of hitting. Perhaps the emphasis should switch to a love of hitting.
The Cardinals rank 27th in average (.230) and 26th in slugging percentage (.383). All that grinding has produced a a .315 on-base percentage that ranks 20th. Swell.
Their current approach scores high in pitches faced per plate appearance (sixth) and plate appearances per walk (fourth), but it doesn’t do much for scoring runs (23rd).
Entering Wednesday, the Cardinals had taken fewer cuts than any other team. Hitting is hard. Especially when you don’t swing.
2. It was beautiful to see Matt Carpenter rip a single into left field Wednesday. Defenses have shifted against the pull hitter more than 80 percent of the time this season. He must take advantage, or sit.
3. Between 2009 and 2017, Dexter Fowler has averaged — averaged! — a .339 batting average on balls in play. This season? He’s down to .149. This has to creep back towards Fowler’s favor. Right?
4. Marcell Ozuna has not been the fear factor the Cardinals sought at cleanup. His supporters, myself included, can no longer blame the cold weather. Time for results.
5. We wondered if Tommy Pham could come close to repeating what he did last season. In typical Pham fashion, he’s been better. He’s an All-Star.
6. Jose Martinez has to get hot again at the plate to justify his defensive growing pains at first base. His six errors lead all first basemen. His slugging percentage has dipped to .370 in May.
7. Per Fielding Bible’s Defensive Runs Saved, Kolten Wong has been the best defensive second baseman this season. His glove changes the game, even when his offense lags.
8. Jedd Gyorko should start against lefthanded pitching until he cools off against the southpaws. His batting line against them reads .444/.542/1.000.
9. The Cardinals might want to discuss their base-stealing approach. They rank 17th in successful steals (19th) while leading all teams in times caught stealing (15).
10. The rotation has covered for a sputtering offense, and it could get even better — if Carlos Martinez returns soon. Jack Flaherty is locked in and Alex Reyes has looked razor sharp during his rehab tour. The young guns won’t go deep into games, but who does these days?
11. The notion that Carlos Martinez was going to miss just one start with a lat issue always seemed rather optimistic. The more time he misses, the more reason for concern.
12. Everyone who yawned at the Bud Norris signing (like me) was wrong. After becoming one of three relievers this season to secure an eighth save without blowing one, he made it nine for nine Wednesday. Greg Holland is not getting that gig back any time soon.
13. The Cardinals should not start Adam Wainwright again unless he strings together a lengthy and successful rehab tour. One wonders if he could find a role in the bullpen. His curveball and cutter have worked.
14. Luke Weaver has to be feeling some pressure as Reyes cruises through his rehab tour. Weaver needs to get back to attacking the strike zone.
15. Considering the trips to the DL for Luke Gregerson, Tyler Lyons, Dominic Leone, Ryan Sheriff, Sam Tuivailala and Brett Cecil, it’s incredible the bullpen has not been a complete disaster.
16. The absence of Yadier Molina has highlighted the importance of his bat. Carson Kelly and Francisco Pena are a combined five for 35 since Molina hit the DL.
17. So much for Paul DeJong experiencing an Aledmys Diaz-like drop-off. He’s made impressive strides at shortstop and has quietly improved his plate discipline.
18. The Cardinals appear to be better suited for in-division competition. They’re 14-7 against the NL Central, with a 4-1 start in meetings against the Cubs. Compare that to a 34-42 mark last season.
19. Matt Bowman (5.82 ERA) has been one of baseball’s most-used relievers since 2016. It’s showing. He’s eligible for the Memphis shuttle. Time to take a turn.
20. The panic surrounding Jordan Hicks’ lack of strikeouts is overblown. He has a 0.92 ERA and 15 scoreless appearances. Let the rookie be.
21. Harrison Bader’s unique blend of speed, plus-defense and OBP is making a case that he can be more than a fourth outfielder.
22. Class AAA outfielder Tyler O’Neill is becoming hard to ignore as the Cardinals’ offense labors. He now has 13 home runs and a whopping .741 slugging percentage. He’s striking out less often, too.
23. When does Preston Guilmet get a shot? After spending last season in Japan trying to jump-start his career, the reliever is cruising in Memphis. He has a 1.40 ERA in 13 appearances. He’s converted seven of eight saves. One problem: He’s not on the 40-man roster.
24. The division is wide open. It’s hard to imagine the Pirates maintaining momentum. The Brewers’ pitching is dangerously thin. The Cubs can be had.
25. If you are Manny Machado, why would you agree to an extension that robs you of free agency? And if you are the Cardinals, why would you trade what it would take to get Machado if you weren’t certain he would sign an extension?
One more thing. Game 41 means it’s no longer a long season.