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The State of The Offense

The Cardinals looked like the best team in the National League coming in to the 2014 campaign. So why do they feel so mediocre at the All-Star break?

Watching Pat Neshek in slow-motion is the baseball equivalent of a snuff film. You'll never, ever unsee it.
Watching Pat Neshek in slow-motion is the baseball equivalent of a snuff film. You'll never, ever unsee it.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I didn't watch any of the All-Star Game last night, because I hate the All-Star Game. I hate the All-Star Game just because I think it's fucking stupid, and pretty much the whole of All-Star week pisses me off to no end. First off, you have nearly an entire week with no baseball, and as a wise man once (nearly) said, No Beer and No Baseball Make Aaron Something Something. Second, there is nothing in the whole sphere of sports discussion I find more tiresome than listening to people's asinine opinions on how to improve the All-Star Game.

Buster Olney thinks the game should be more competitive, by which he means the guys who start the game should play six or seven innings, and really compete to win it. Because, somehow, World Series home field advantage isn't enough to make it competitive; what we really need are players playing for longer. Oh, but he also thinks Derek Jeter should have been one of those guys playing most of the game last night, since that's what the fans want. So, on one hand you should play your best players for nearly the whole game, and on the other you should play the guy who was voted in despite being absolutely wretched this season (but wholly deservedly beloved), because it's the right thing to do. I don't mean to single out Mr. Olney, whose opinions on things I generally respect and often agree with; it's the divided nature of this abomination we call the All-Star Game that leads to such moronic dichotomies, and it tends to put me in a really rotten mood whenever it comes up. (Obviously.)

I also did not watch the Home Run Derby (which I actually find marginally less stupid than the All-Star Game itself), featuring the Cardinals' future right fielder, though I did go back and watch some highlights, most prominently the ball said future Redbird right fielder hit nearly out of the park, which was pretty awesome. I didn't watch the Future Game, either, because I totally forgot it was on Sunday night and so did not set the DVR to record it when I went out for the evening. Of the three events I missed, the Futures Game is really the only one I somewhat regret missing, although watching the Cubs' division-winning club of 2018 sock dingers doesn't sound like all that much fun anyway, and it's tough to get super excited about James Ramsey, no offense to the Tim Tebow of minor league outfielders I assure you.

Unfortunately, not watching the All-Star Game did not prevent me from noticing that the Cardinals didn't have a particularly good night out there. Still, that just means they'll have no one to blame but themselves when they're playing the first game of the World Series in Oakland instead of right here. Oh, well.

So I'm kind of grumpy today, since we're still two days away from this shitty run of no real baseball being over, and it's making it remarkably difficult to come up with a good idea to write about. But I'm powering through, because I'm a professional, damn it! (Actually, I suppose I'm not really a professional, since nobody is willing to pay me to write anything anymore, so perhaps I should be willing to really relax my standards. Hmm...)


One thing the All-Star break is good for is taking stock of things. Roughly two weeks out from the trade deadline, plenty far into the season that teams have fully revealed what they truly are by this point...while it may be irritating in the same way hearing someone say the word 'supposably' is to hear people talk about the upcoming portion of the season as 'the second half', given that most teams have played somewhere in the neighbourhood of 96-97 games, I can't deny the break lends itself as a good signpost on the road to October baseball.

So where do we find ourselves at this moment in time with our boys in red? Well, to be frank, the season has kind of sucked. The Cardinals came into the year prohibitive favourites to win the division by most measures, and they have played like anything but to this point. They currently sit in second place in the NL Central, on pace for roughly 88 wins, and with the third-best run differential in the division, a rather sad +14. Both Milwaukee, at +17, and Cincinnati, at +28, are better than the Cardinals. You know who else has a better run differential than El Birdos? The New York Mets. Don't believe me? Go ahead, look it up. I don't mind. I probably wouldn't believe me either. Kind of embarrassing, isn't it?

The culprit, of course, has been an offense that's somewhere between wretched and anemic; only the lowly Padres have scored fewer runs than the Cardinals have this season, and they're barely a major league club right now. I think most of us knew the offense the Redbirds put together last season based on hitting with runners in scoring position wasn't likely to succeed two years in a row, but I have to admit, I didn't think the gods of baseball would see fit to levy what can only be seen as divine punishment on account of hubris all at once this season.

The good news is this: the Cardinals actually rank right around middle of the pack in on-base percentage, coming in 15th at .318, tied with Baltimore and Texas. Somewhat oddly, that .318 mark is two points better than the Brewers, which I say is somewhat odd because Milwaukee has scored 63 more runs than the Cardinals despite putting men on base at a slightly worse clip.

The reason for the discrepancy in runs, of course, is the fact the Cardinals are collectively slugging 40 points lower than the Brew Crew, .412 to .372. That .372 mark is fifth-worst in baseball, just better than the Red Sox, who have pulled their own fairly remarkable World Series hangover tank job.

You want more ugly offensive numbers? Okay, how about this: the Cardinals also have the fifth-highest ground ball to fly ball ratio in the majors, tied with the Miami Marlins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the Cardinals' relative ability to put runners on base and affinity for putting the ball on the ground, they're also tied for the league "lead" in double plays grounded into with 91. (They're tied with Boston, in fact.)

Or how about the fact only the Kansas City Royals have a worse ratio of home runs hit to at-bats? Or the fact only those selfsame Royals have hit fewer homers overall than the Redbirds? That's right; even the Padres have 65 home runs in 2014, five more than the Cardinals have hit. The hypothetical average National League club has hit 81 home runs this year; the Cards are a full 25% below that mark.

Over the past few seasons, we've seen the Cardinals' front office seemingly prioritize a specific type of hitter, trying to move away from reliance on the long ball as a means of generating offense. We've also seen the club as a whole hit for less and less power -- with some players more dramatically falling off than others -- the longer the current on-field management team has been in place. You can argue, if you like, that the hitting coach doesn't matter, or that the Matheny-Mabry combination has very little to do with the way this Cardinal club is hitting this season. Regardless, I would posit this: there is a systemic issue with the Cardinal offense. There are far, far too many ground balls on this club, too little power, and specifically too little in the way of elevated, hard hit balls. Interestingly, those results would seem to jibe remarkably well with the fairly limited amount we know about the approach that this coaching staff preaches to the hitters. Mike Matheny snark about telling players not to hit home runs aside, this is a club not built to hit for power, and what power there is seems to be evaporating before our very eyes. Draw your own conclusions.

Bottom line: this offense isn't good enough. And, by extension, this team really isn't good enough either. Can it be fixed? Maybe. Maybe not. But at some point, someone is going to have to ask some very uncomfortable questions of the guys in charge down at Busch Stadium, instead of just being stonewalled by an increasingly La Russa-esque glare from a manager who, I have to say, would shock me if he had any real, worthwhile answers.