A little more than one-third of the way into the season and just under 100 games to go, there are a few culprits for the St. Louis Cardinals' less than inspiring 33-31 record. At times, the bullpen has been frustrating. Mike Matheny has left something to be desired in his handling of newcomers and in-game management, but the biggest difference from last season to this one has been the drop in offense. The Cardinals offensive drop is not solely related to the expected drop in performance with runners in scoring position. Some hitters have yet to live up to their expectations, but even with those struggles there are reasons to think the offense will pick up moving forward.
Last season the Cardinals finished first in the National League in wRC+ with 106 and wOBA of .322. This season they are ninth with a wRC+ of 93 and a wOBA of .304. Unlike last season, they have not been as successful with runners on base.
The Cardinals' poor performance with runners on this season should improve over the course of the season as luck should change in the Cardinals' favor, but as we saw last season, sometimes the performance lasts all year. While the drop in performance with runners on plays a role in keeping scoring down, the biggest problem is the overall drop in hitting. Here are the wOBA totals of the Cardinals with at least 100 plate appearances as well as their projected statistics from ZiPS at the beginning of the year.
On average, the ten biggest contributors are down about 17 points in wOBA from their projections. Even without Ellis, the Cardinals are down ten points per player. Allen Craig has actually performed well since the middle of April, hitting .275/.333/.426 for a wOBA of .337 and a wRC+ of 116. After two full months of games, we have more information about the Cardinals than we did to start the season. Using the rest of the season ZiPS numbers we can compare the projections from the beginning of the season to the current projections to get a better estimate of performance going forward.
Despite some poor performances to begin the season, the rest of the season projections have not changed very much, just an average drop of two points with more than half of the drop coming from Mark Ellis who should receive limited playing time going forward. Taking these numbers a step further and comparing them to current numbers shows reason for optimism.
Most of the Cardinals' contributors are expected to improve on the performance received thus far. the above players are expected to increase, on average, by 15 points. Even without Ellis, there is still a nine point gain going forward, and the expected drops from Peralta, Carpenter and Adams still leave them as positive contributors.
The Cardinals' offense has been frustrating at times this season, but the team is very talented offensively and should be expected to produce better moving forward. Combining the offense with an excellent defense (3rd in the NL at 32 runs above average), a very good rotation (2nd in ERA, 4th in FIP), and a bullpen with solid peripherals (3.09 FIP, 3rd in the NL), the Cardinals are poised to make a move on the Brewers and challenge for the division crown.