We don’t talk enough about the St. Louis Cardinals. No, the Cardinals probably didn’t belong in the playoffs last season, but they won 17 games in a row from Sept. 11 to Sep. 28 to head back to the postseason for the third straight year. In fact, St. Louis has one losing season (2007) since the Y2K scare. In that span, they’ve won two World Series and made the playoffs 15 times.
“The Cardinal Way” has worked. Consistent contention in baseball is not easy and the Cardinals have managed to go through a lot of roster turnover and all of the different changes and phases of the game to regularly be part of the playoff discussion. Every year I write a Cardinals preview and every year I marvel at how they continuously win more games than they lose.
At some point, a downturn is coming. At some point, the Cardinals can’t keep doing what they’ve been doing. I felt like last season could be the one and they were 44-46 at the All-Star break and then 71-69 before ripping off 17 wins in a row. Let’s see what 2022 has in store.
Busch Stadium isn’t often mentioned among the best pitcher’s parks in the league, but it absolutely is. The Cardinals finished 17th in wOBA at .312 and posted a 97 wRC + , but I think they got a little bit of a raw deal in the wRC + department. St. Louis’s road wRC + was only 99, even though the Cardinals were fifth in batting average and fifth in wOBA away from home. The Cardinals only scored 307 runs at home compared to 399 runs on the road.
What’s odd is that, despite scoring 4.93 runs per game on the road compared to 3.79 runs per game at home, the Cardinals had an identical 45-36 record home and away. For whatever reason, the ball just doesn’t carry at Busch Stadium. Teams generally perform better at home than on the road for a lot of reasons, such as park factor, umpire bias and the attention paid to building a roster when half of the games are in the same place. The Cardinals, though, are at a disadvantage at home. After all, the Astros, Blue Jays, Giants and Rays were the only road teams to post higher wOBAs.
I think one reason why the Cardinals end up getting unappreciated, especially by me, is because they’re simply average or slightly above in a lot of ways. Tyler O’Neill posted a 145 wRC + and Paul Goldschmidt was second with a 138 wRC + . Nobody else was higher than 113, or 13% better than league average. We talk about “average” as if it’s a negative in baseball, other sports and other walks of life, but it really isn’t. It’s simply average. The Cardinals are, and have been for a long time, full of average or slightly better players aside from the stars.
O’Neill, Goldy and Nolan Arenado combined to hit 99 home runs. The Cardinals only hit 198 as a team, so those three accounted for half of the dingers. It sort of underscores the point I just made in that the Cardinals just have a bunch of regular dudes outside of their headline-grabbing players and that’s more than most teams can say beyond their stars.
Arenado only posted a 113 wRC + in his first season away from Colorado, which is to be expected, as there is an opposite Coors Field Effect to always playing at sea level. He fell victim to a .249 BABIP, which I have to think improves this season. There were no big drops in contact quality to point to as the reason why he had such a low BABIP.
Guys like Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson and Tommy Edman all contributed in their own ways. Edman stole 30 bases and was a below-average hitter, but an exceptional base runner and a solid defender. Carlson posted a 113 wRC + with some strong contact quality and 18 homers. Bader was a great defender and hit 16 homers. Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina were below-average hitters, but good defenders that provided a bit of pop.