The Cardinals fought their way to first place in April, although they had some staunch opposition in the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. If we include the May 1st game, the Cardinals handled the Reds much better, going 4-2 against them. Which is great since they are seen as the favorites in the division. Versus the Pirates, however, the Cards went 2-3. The only team they really had trouble with was the Diamondbacks. The highlight of the month was sweeping the tough Washington Nationals in a 3 game series.
The rotation was the principle strength of the team, so I give them an A. They truly dominated and kept the team in the game nearly every game. Lance Lynn went 5-0 and is not even the main highlight of the rotation! I would have to say that Adam Wainwright was the most exciting to watch of the 5. He was just about completely lights out most of the time, and when he was a little off in an outing, he was still effective. As a group, the Cardinals starters had easily the best ERA in all of baseball at nearly a run less than the Reds! It is interesting to note that even with the Reds pitching staff probably overachieving a bit, the Cardinals are that much better. Going by xFIP, the Cardinals are still the #1 rotation in the NL, and second in MLB to the Detroit Tigers strikeout machine.
Outside of the rotation leaders Wainwright and Lynn, things don’t go downhill very far. The only scary part is Jake Westbrook’s xFIP, but his ERA is truly amazing. Sure, he’ll give up a few more home runs than he has so far, but he is after all a groundball pitcher so I’m not too worried about it. Shelby Miller has arguably been nearly as good as Adam Wainwright, just going by results. And Jaime Garcia… I must admit, I am amazed by him at times. His xFIP is nearly identical to Miller’s, and his 2.50 ERA and .300 BABIP shows that he will probably continue to get the job done.
The rest of the pitching staff, however, has been a nightmare at times for the Cardinals. The bullpen was one of the worst in all of baseball, only the Padres having a larger problem. Rather than being an asset or just breaking even, the bullpen was a liability in April and was worth negative WAR. Showing that they cost the team some losses. It’s debatable just how many, but I would say it was at the least a few (3 or so, maybe more). This group had the worst ERA in the majors, and a 4.39 FIP which was third worst. However, the silver lining is that their 3.88 xFIP is exactly where we thought they’d be, a mediocre middle-of-the-pack relief squad. So perhaps it will not be the nightmare it has been. Mozeliak has already made a move to address the problems, and sent Rzepczynski down and promoted Seth Maness. Parsing out the bright spots: Rosenthal and Mujica are pretty damn good. I’ll chalk most of it up to the disorienting process of losing Jason Motte as closer and having the roles shuffled around a bit. So rather than an F, I’ll give them a D-.
Moving on to the position players, the offense was a little bit of a disappointment… but most of the time they were ok enough to get by. What was expected to be a dynamic offense only ended up in the bottom ten teams in hitting by wRC+. They suffered only a little bit of bad luck, and they will need to improve quite a bit to be highly competitive, as I don’t expect the rotation to be this good all season. While the offense was not as much of a blight as the bullpen, they had to rely greatly on clutch hitting for any effectiveness. Their on-base percentage and power numbers are not impressive in the slightest. On a positive note, Carlos Beltran was quite good, and showed why he was signed to offset the departure of Albert Pujols. Also, the offense’s main star so far, Matt Adams, got hurt. So I guess I’ll give them a C. A big reason for this is that Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and David Freese were terrible aside from Allen Craig’s RBI total.
In the fielding department, I give the Cardinals a C since they were not especially adept at preventing runs nor were they a big liability. Overall, I would give the team a C or C+, but since they were able to get through a tough schedule in first place, I give the Cardinals a B- for April.