Then they dropped both games against the Oakland Athletics. A 9-7 recent record doesn’t have the same ring to it.
But they have the benefit of playing in the closest and most competitive division in the MLB. At 40-39, in third place, they’re still just 2.5 games back from the first-place Cubs.
The Reds (36-42) are only six games back in last place. There are only two second-place clubs in the rest of the majors who are closer to the division leaders than Cincinnati is to Chicago.
The Cardinals will play 44 of their remaining 83 games against opponents inside the NL Central. That’s going to be the true make-or-break point, since St. Louis is 15-17 in games inside the division and 25-22 outside of it.
Those games will all come after the All-Star Break. For now, the Cardinals need to continue their success against non-divisional opponents to keep treading water and remain in the race. They have an opportunity to prey on some teams who have struggled a bit more than they have this season with the last road trip before the break.
The Cardinals will play nine games against teams along the West Coast, including an interleague series in Seattle against the Mariners (37-47). The other two opponents, the Giants (34-45) and the Padres (40-40), are a bit of a mixed bag. The Giants present a chance to feast, while the Friars will be a bit harder to conquer.
The reason for optimism is that, though the Cardinals have floundered a bit on the mound and in the box headed into the summer, their upcoming opponents have been in the same boat.
Tomorrow’s series against the Padres presents the greatest threat of the three. By fWAR, San Diego has been better than the Cardinals in terms of both pitching and hitting. But it isn’t as clear as those single numbers.
The Padres rank 17th on offense for the season, the Cardinals 18th. The Padres’ success has come from a higher slugging percentage, with 26 more home runs than the Cardinals, but St. Louis has been better in terms of on-base ability. That could prove to be more beneficial in a “pitcher’s park” like Petco.
The Padres have also been much worse at home than on the road, with 84 wRC+ in San Diego versus 102 in away games. The Cards have been pretty balanced, with a 90/91 home/road wRC+ split.
Though the Friars have a higher fWAR, their ERA has been lower than the Cardinals’, 4.58 to 4.16, respectively. They do have a lead in terms of FIP (4.27 to 4.46). The Cardinals also have posted a lower HR/9 than the Padres have, 1.33 to 1.41. That could prove beneficial, given the differences in the teams’ games.
The Mariners and Giants
The last two teams the Cardinals will face before the break have pitching staffs in the bottom four in the league. Their pitching fWAR combined (2.4 and 2.5) doesn’t match the Cardinals’ total on the year (5.4), even with the struggles St. Louis has faced.
The difference between the two comes with the home/road splits and the offense.
The Mariners have been pretty stout compared to the Cards. Their team wRC+ of 111 is the fourth-highest in the majors. Even though they’re better on the road, their home wRC+ is still 108. Their home run total of 80 at their home park is the second-highest, behind the slugging Twins.
Their crux at home has been pitching, as they’re tied for the fourth-highest ERA at home (5.32) and the fifth-highest FIP (5.04). If the Cardinal offense gets back to form, it could feast on Mariners pitchers.
The Giants are the opposite. Their offense has been abysmal, with 75 wRC+ on the season, but it’s been even worse at Oracle, with 72. The team OPS in San Francisco is .635.
San Francisco pitching ranks 29th in the league by fWAR and touts an ERA and FIP both at 4.63. They’ve been much better at home, though, with an ERA of 4.05 and FIP of 3.98. Their K-BB% isn’t excellent in home games, but it’s in the upper half of the league at 15.7%, which could be trouble for the Cards’ OBP approach.
Setting the tone for the second half
There are tons of ways to slice the data, but the Cardinals are facing three teams with records worse than theirs, with each featuring weaknesses that could be as great or greater than the ones we’ve seen from St. Louis.
If the Cardinals can at least win these three series, they put themselves in a pretty decent position headed into the break. If not, re-evaluations may need to pick up speed.