Since this week is the All-Star break across Major League Baseball, we figured it would be the perfect time to assess the Cardinals on their progress thus far this season. As a team, St. Louis comes into the break with a disappointing 44-44 record.
Where does the blame lie? We'll evaluate the players to figure out what went right, what went wrong and what needs to happen going forward for the Cardinals to have some success down the stretch.
Jack Flaherty: C-
The Cardinals are a .500 team at the break, and no one element of the club is to blame. But if I were to narrow it down to a Mount Rushmore of reasons, the top of the St. Louis starting rotation would be etched on it. Of course, the Cardinals lost Carlos Martinez from the head of that group before the season began. Still, there was reason for optimism as Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas (more on him in a minute) both established themselves last season as top-of-the-rotation-type arms. Unfortunately, this season hasn’t gone as smoothly for either pitcher.
Though Flaherty finished the first half on a high note, his overall numbers in the first half left much to be desired. Flaherty currently holds a 4-6 record with a 4.64 ERA, which is well-beyond a full run higher than the 3.34 mark he posted last season. Of particular concern are the league-leading 20 home runs he’s already surrendered, matching his total from 2018 in 54 fewer innings pitched.
To expect Flaherty to have barged into the Cy Young conversation this season in what is technically his first full year in the majors would have been an unreasonable ask, but nobody anticipated such a stark regression for the talented young hurler. On the bright side, Flaherty is still striking out well above a batter per inning and his walk rate is down from a year ago. It’s certainly possible he’ll build off his last outing, and will come out guns blazing after the break. The Cardinals’ playoff hopes would sure appreciate that scenario.
Dakota Hudson: A
The strikeout numbers aren’t great for Dakota Hudson. The WHIP isn’t either, as he’s allowed more than his fair share of base runners. But one way or another, Hudson has managed to be the Cardinals best starter in the first half. Never mind that attrition or underachieving has disqualified every other contender for that title; Hudson deserves some credit!
His 3.53 ERA leads the St. Louis rotation, as do his seven wins. No, it’s not ‘ace’ numbers he’s putting up, but it’s not his fault the Cardinals don’t have one right now. Hudson has parlayed his ability to induce ground ball outs by the bushel into becoming a pretty solid starter for St. Louis. What more could you want from the last guy named to the rotation out of spring camp?
Miles Mikolas: C-
There wasn’t much grumbling about a four-year contract extension for Miles Mikolas when he inked the deal with the Cardinals back in February. Just a few short months later, before the first year of that contract has even gone into effect, it seems a few more breaths are being held about the idea of it. After a sensational debut season in St. Louis last year, the Jupiter, FL native hasn’t been the same pitcher so far in 2019.
Last season, Mikolas thrived by limiting free passes and by keeping the ball in the ballpark. Well, his walk rate has only risen from 1.3 per nine innings to 1.5, but his home run rate has doubled. Like Flaherty, Mikolas has already given up as many home runs in 2019 (16) as he did in 2018. Though he’s never been the type of pitcher to blow batters away by piling up strikeouts, his hard contact percentage against has risen 4.4% from last year, making it more difficult to thrive with his pitch-to-contact style. Mikolas has stayed healthy and taken the ball when it’s his turn, but apart from that, it’s been an underwhelming year for a starter in whom the Cardinals have invested a lot.
Daniel Ponce de Leon: A-
Ponce de Leon has made just three starts for the Cardinals this season, tossing 15 total innings across them. So, the longevity of those outings was nothing to rave about, but Ponce was effective in keeping the Cardinals in the games; he's allowed just two total runs for a 1.20 ERA as a starter. He’s also pitched in with 10 innings across three relief appearances, for an ERA of 3.60 in those outings. That puts his cumulative ERA in the majors this season at 2.16.
And it’s not like Ponce has been pitching around much trouble, either. He boasts a .145 batting average against and a 0.92 WHIP in his MLB appearances this season, leading to the idea that Ponce deserves some more opportunity in the season’s second half.
Michael Wacha: F
This is certainly not the way Michael Wacha wanted his contract year to go. Although his ERA since the beginning of June is fine (3.77), Wacha’s still been getting hit hard to the tune of a .505 SLG. And that’s an improvement from his season total.
Remarkably, and not in a good way, Wacha has allowed opposing batters to log a .910 OPS against him this season. There were four starters in the All-Star Game that don’t have an OPS that high. So yeah, Wacha’s having a rough go.
His 5.54 ERA on the year would be the worst of his career, a statement that applies to virtually every statistical category for the 28-year-old. Fans have clamored for his removal from the rotation on several occasions throughout the year, and though it happened briefly, Wacha found his way back into the fold.
With free agency coming up at the end of the season, there’s nowhere to go but up for Wacha for the stretch run.
Adam Wainwright: B
This might seem like an overly favorably grade for a pitcher who's had a largely unremarkable stat line this season, but it’s important to consider what the expectations were for Adam Wainwright by many of us going into the season. Though I wrote in October about how Wainwright could provide a quality effort this season, there was a portion of the fan base that didn’t even like that the Cardinals brought him back at all, even with the significant reduction to his contract.
But outside of a brief stint on the IL this season, Waino’s stayed healthy. He has been able to tune out the noise and just pitch. His 4.31 ERA this season is better than both Flaherty and Mikolas, and it’s just about everything you could have reasonably hoped for. Confidence in the veteran’s reliability had waned in recent years given his downgraded performance and inconsistent health, but Wainwright seems to have put those issues behind him so far in 2019.
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