It has been nine games. Nine games does not tell you much. Pete Kozma was a 152 wRC+ hitter for an entire month, Bo Hart had a 180 wRC+ in his first 11 games, and I’m sure Mike Trout has sucked for nine games. Good god Mike Trout has 1 WAR already, maybe not that example. Starting pitchers have had at most two starts and forget about bullpens, which are extremely random over a full season, much less nine games.
But... sometimes nine games can work in conjunction with what we previously thought. It’s not completely useless. It’s still more data. And I’ve developed some first impressions from the club. Some first impressions that are mostly... not positive. Let’s get started.
The rotation is bad... for now
And I mean bad. I don’t mean they’re average. They are bad. It’s been a long, long time since the Cardinals had a bad rotation. And honestly, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. This is not a hopelessly bad rotation. When Kwang-Hyun Kim returns, it will go from bad to below average. Jack Flaherty is a middle of the pack ace, and Kim is kind of a weak #2, and then you have Adam Wainwright, ideally your 5th starter, and Carlos Martinez, ideally your fifth starter, and either John Gant/Daniel Poncedeleon, ideally in the bullpen.
Honestly, the Cardinals just need to survive until about... July or so. They can’t suffer any injuries whatsoever until that point. They need Miles Mikolas and Kim to return and be what we expect them to be. Then Wainwright, if he’s working, is a decent #4, and Martinez is the #5 guy we hope can be more. I say July because by that point, we’ll have two months of AAA play, we’ll have a good idea which Memphis player can probably step in and be a starter. We might get lucky and have Johan Oviedo be ready earlier than expected - yesterday’s performance was very promising! - but I’d rather have AAA play to look at.
Cardinals middle relief is bad... for now
This is not an unusual place for a bullpen to be, but the Cardinals have a really top heavy bullpen. Like absurdly top heavy. Alex Reyes has worse advanced stats than you’d think through 4.1 IP, but he looks good and I’m not worried about him. Same goes for Jordan Hicks. No such disclaimer needed for Giovanny Gallegos, who looks absurdly good and has absurdly good stats.
The rest of the relievers are theoretically good and haven’t actually shown anything in the majors at least. Ryan Helsley has more walks than strikeouts this year. Genesis Cabrera, despite the 2.42 ERA last year, hasn’t really earned the mantle of a good reliever because nobody is successful if they walk as many as he does (he has walked 3 in 5.2 IP this year... and it’s a vast improvement from last year!). Tyler Webb isn’t very good. Andrew Miller isn’t very good.
Like I said, this is not unusual for a bullpen. The problem is you can’t pair a bad rotation with bad middle relief and expect to win many games, especially when you don’t have a particularly strong offense. And like the rotation, there is some hope. The bullpen has a lot of potential. They need one of the not big three to emerge as actually good. They need Ponce and Gant in the bullpen. Just for starters, imagine how much stronger the bullpen is with them two in it. It’s a domino effect.
It’s Rough... but you got to give the outfield a chance
I’ll remain consistent with my offseason opinions. I thought the Cardinals needed a starter and everything I’ve seen this season has supported that point. I was, on the other hand, completely fine with the Cardinals plan for the outfield, and almost nothing has been shown to make that look like a good idea. But I can’t change my opinion after nine games!
It is entirely possible everyone but Dylan Carlson in fact sucks, but it feels like every hitter is coming to the plate hoping to make a strong impression - to separate themselves from the pack - and in doing so, trying to force a crushed ball on a pitch that can’t be crushed. They aren’t taking good PAs. They are swinging at nearly everything. This is true of Tyler O’Neill and of Justin Williams specifically.
The IL break for O’Neill could be a blessing in disguise. Maybe when he comes back, he’ll be a little less eager to swing - not a tremendously high bar to beat! - and start taking better PAs. His speed and defense combo is insane and his bat really doesn’t need to be that great to be worth starting. And Justin Williams seemed pretty close to losing a starting spot, but with one obvious starter out of the way, he might get a few more PAs than he otherwise would have with O’Neill. Like I said, nine games shouldn’t cause you to change course. This could be ugly and if things are still bad near the trading deadline, trade for somebody.
Also if you’re a believer in Carlson, you really only need one of these guys to be a thing. Bader is already a thing. They probably have two average to good starters in the outfield already with Bader. Just need one more.
Nolan Arenado really should bat 4th
It’s a small thing, lineup construction, but the perfect example of why the #3 spot is considered less important than the #1, #2, #4, and #5 spots happened in both of the last two games of the Brewers series. On Saturday, with two outs, Nolan Arenado doubled. He did not score. On Sunday, with two outs, Arenado singled. He did not score. This is the exact reason why you don’t put great hitters 3rd. They come to the plate with nobody on and two outs way too often.
And yes, Paul DeJong being behind him is a problem. Yadier Molina really isn’t any better. Yes, he had a good first nine games, but this is at best a short term solution. Long term, Molina isn’t a good hitter anymore. He hasn’t been since 2018. And he was a below average hitter the year before that. He has an 83 wRC+ projection for a reason - and that’s taking into account his hot start. The Cardinals don’t have three great hitters, which is why you can’t put one of the two at the 3rd spot in the lineup. Either Arenado bats leadoff in the 2nd, or he bats with at least one runner on when he first comes to the plate if you put him 4th.
Edman is a fine replacement for Wong
Wong is a better defender than Edman, but I’m not sure it’s by that much. I know this is sacrilege to some around here. Edman has looked GREAT defensively. And the offensive difference isn’t much at all. I realize Edman on the bench is better, because more depth, but he wouldn’t actually be on the bench, he’d be in the outfield. Which granted looks a lot better right now! And he’s sometimes in the OF anyway. But I try to remove my emotional attachment to Wong and I recognize Edman is nearly equal to Wong. It hurts me to say this because I wanted him back.
Also as a purely aesthetic thing, Edman has just 4 strikeouts in 42 PAs. Now Wong didn’t strike out that much either and that pace will not last, but wouldn’t it be great if Edman just became a guy who rarely struck out? Please give me the 10% K rate Edman. And the great thing is, so far anyway, that it’s not affecting any other part of his game! He still has a 7.1 BB%, a .128 ISO, and a .294 BABIP.
Nolan outside of Coors will be fine
Remember when Nolan Arenado took forever to hit his first spring training home run and had essentially no power throughout most of spring training? Well, there’s a reason people ignore spring training. Arenado has a 159 wRC+ with a .222 ISO. That 159 wRC+ is considerably better than even his best mark at Coors for the record. Which means this won’t continue. But still. We don’t have to worry about Arenado’s offense and that’s nice.
Where art thou, Andrew Knizner?
He was supposed to play right? How did he not even play yesterday?! He has three plate appearances through nine games. Which is a pace of about 54 PAs for a whole season. At somoe point, Yadi will sit. These built-in off-days for the home openers have certainly contributed to Knizner sitting on the bench, but wasn’t the plan to actually start Andrew Knizner ocassionally? I realize Yadi is raking right now, but it seems absurd to me that he played five straight day already. Like just give Knizner one of those starts.
This is a thing that would annoy me way more if Yadi wasn’t hitting well, but any hope that Andrew Knizner will play more than one start every 15 days is pretty much out the window with how the season has started. Until Yadi gets hurt, and then he’ll split time equally with Ali Sanchez or someone instead of being the full-time starter.
So there you go. Critique away.