Last night in San Diego, the San Francisco Giants did – and did rather handily – something that has been a challenge for the Cardinals all season. They beat the Padres – beating them pretty badly, by the way, 13-2. By contrast, St Louis scored just 19 runs against them in six games – four of which they lost.
The loss dropped the Padres back down to – but not below – the .500 mark at 42-42. As such, the Cardinals’ performance against San Diego last weekend (losing two of three) holds with the pattern established throughout the season: a noted inability to beat the better teams.
Going back to the previous road trip, the Cards got themselves swept by the Cubs (currently in second place in the division). They responded by winning 9 of their next 14 games – a streak that gave the team and its followers a shot of confidence. But all 14 of those games were against losing teams (Miami, the Mets, Miami again, and the Angels). When the schedule brought in two teams with at least as many wins as losses (the Athletics and Padres), the Cards resumed their losing ways – losing four of the five.
The arc of the season so far has followed precisely the trajectory of their success against the better teams. The March/April version of this team raced out to a 19-10 record. At the heart of that record was a 12-7 mark against these better teams. May saw them spin out to a 9-18 record. Underpinning that mark was a 7-14 record against winning teams (and, by the way, a 2-4 record against losing teams).
They closed June 13-13 overall, but only 3-7 against teams that currently are at least at .500.
Of all my statistical subsets that reveal a team’s character, wins against winning teams is my favorite. I’m not sure that any other measure will paint you as clear a picture of who your team is. That the Cards enter July having been matched against winning teams in 50 of their first 82 games speaks to how frequently this team has been tested. The fact that this team that expected to contend is only 22-28 in those contests is evidence that – at least to this point of the season – this team doesn’t match up to that competition.
In the ten June games, the offense struggled to 2.6 runs per game on the strength of a .215 batting average. For the season, there has been very little offensive success against these teams – a .239 batting average, leading to 4.18 runs per game.
The pitching hasn’t been any more capable. Their June ERA against winning teams was an unspectacular 4.34, which included serving up 18 home runs in the ten games. The season ERA against these teams is an identical 4.34 (4.48 by the starters and 4.13 from the pen).
While they haven’t always been effective against losing teams either, the schedule will at least award them that opportunity until the end of the month. Next up, they have Seattle (37-51), San Francisco (37-47), Arizona (43-43), Pittsburgh (40-43), Cincinnati (38-44), and Pittsburgh again, until the Houston Astros (53-32) finally make a visit to Busch on July 26. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are division foes. The Cardinals’ combined record against them is 7-6. Any expectation that this team will roll through those games is little more than wishful thinking.
Given the schedule, it is entirely possible (although not a certainty) that their fortunes could improve somewhat over the next few weeks. Until this team shows me, though, that they can stand toe-to-toe with some of the good teams, we’ll kind of have to take any success they experience with a grain of salt.
The loss of Marcell Ozuna, of course, hurts on many levels. Not the least of which was his ability to get hits against the better teams – especially in the month of June. In his last 8 games against teams with at least as many wins as losses, Marcell had gone 10 for 27 (.370). Of his 20 home runs this season, 13 came at the expense of these better teams.
Yairo Munoz’ 4-for-7 series against San Diego wasn’t really an anomaly. Munoz has been one of our better (if rarely used) bats against winning teams. Munoz is 13 for 37 (.351) in his opportunities against better teams.
With his combined 2 for 20 against Oakland and San Diego as the lowlight, Paul Goldschmidt finished June 7 for 37 (.189) against teams that are .500 or better. For the season, Goldschmidt has faded to .249 (46 for 185) against these guys.
June was also trying all the way around for Paul DeJong. In the ten games last month against winning teams, Paul hit a struggling .184 (7 for 38). He walked just once while striking out 10 times in those games.
June saw Jose Martinez work his way back into the starting lineup. Like most of the rest of the team, though, he was of little help against the better teams. Jose hit .179 against them last month (5 for 28). His 5 hits were 4 singles and 1 double – a .214 slugging percentage. He drove in no runs against the better teams he played in June.
The June struggles of Harrison Bader also reached to his ability to get hits against winning teams. Bader played in 8 of the 10 games (starting 7), hitting .148 (4 for 27). He had no walks in those games, against 7 strikeouts. Of his 4 hits, though, Harrison did come through with 3 extra-base hits – including 2 home runs. He was the only one on the team to hit multiple home runs against winning teams in June.
Bader is just a .214 hitter (25 for 117) against winning teams for the year.
Some of Adam Wainwright’s best moments of the month came in his three starts against the tough guys. He was impressive in a 2-0 loss against Oakland, and made two earlier June starts against Chicago – one here (a 2-1 win) and one there (a 5-1 loss).
Overall, Adam finished with two quality starts, and a 2.37 ERA in those games.
One of the surprising names that has bubbled to the top of the list against winning teams is Tyler Webb. Tyler is not noticed as often as some others, but he has been as effective as anyone on the staff against the best competition the Cards have played.
Webb has pitched in 20 of the 50 games, working 19 innings. He has given just 4 runs on only 7 hits – which include just 1 home run. It adds to a 1.89 ERA, a .115 batting average against, and a .197 slugging average against.
John Brebbia has had some rough moments lately, but few of them have come against the good teams the Cards have faced. In his 24.2 innings against the higher competition, John has fashioned a 2.19 ERA, with a .187 batting average. He has allowed only 5 extra-base hits in these games (just 2 of them home runs), while striking out 30. He averages 10.95 strikeouts every nine innings, while allowing a slugging percentage of just .286.
John Gant – a revelation overall in the bullpen this year – has also acquitted himself well against this level of competition. Over his 20 games and 23.2 innings, Gant holds a 2.28 ERA and a .173 batting average against.
With little fanfare, Giovanny Gallegos finds himself throwing the most innings of anyone in the bullpen against the stiffer opponents. With 25 innings against them, Giovanny has pitched to 95 of these hitters. He has struck out 37 of them. His 2.88 ERA and .191 batting average against in these games is highlighted by 13.32 strikeouts per nine innings.
More than any other Cardinal starter, Jack Flaherty has been taken advantage of by the best teams. Like Wainwright, Jack pitched twice against the Cubs and once against Oakland in June. He didn’t get out of the fifth in two of the three, finishing with no quality starts, giving 13 runs in 13.1 innings on 18 hits including 6 home runs. It all added up to an 8.78 ERA, a .310 batting average allowed and a .707 slugging percentage against.
For the season, Jack has made more starts (13) against .500+ teams than anyone else on the staff. Only 4 of them have been quality starts. He is 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA in those games. In his 66 innings against these guys, Jack has struck out 74 (10.09 per nine) and served up 15 home runs (2.05 per nine innings).
Michael Wacha pitched a very solid game against Oakland last week, but in general his games against the better opponents haven’t gone well. In 8 starts and 1 relief appearance, Michael has totaled 44.1 innings against teams who are at or over .500. In those innings, Wacha has unintentionally walked 27 batters (5.48 per nine innings) and served up 12 home runs (2.44 per nine innings). These are usually bad combinations. Not surprisingly, Wacha’s ERA against these guys sits at 5.48.
Also learning some tough lessons at the hands of the league’s better teams is first year closer and flame-thrower Jordan Hicks. With relatively few save opportunities, Hicks only appeared in 13.2 innings against these guys. Not a lot of hits given up, of course – just 11 in those innings. But these teams combined those hits with 9 walks they were able to draw to make Jordan’s innings stressful. Hicks has allowed 9 runs in those innings – leading to a 5.93 ERA.
The Cardinals’ injured closer will get no more opportunities this year, but there are certainly plenty of experiences that are worthy of review.
Most of our issues against the quality teams fall in one of two buckets. We have the veterans who are surprisingly under-performing. And we have the young players – and this team’s chances are strongly linked to quite a few key performers who have relatively little experience – working through their learning curve.
Both of these are issues that can improve. Actually, they are issues that should improve as the season wears on. The question is: will they?