After the St. Louis Cardinals’ victory against the Cubs on Saturday, the team has 44 wins and 46 losses. Regardless of the result against Chicago on Sunday, the Cardinals will go into the All-Star break with a losing record. This is not exactly a sign of the team being playoff contenders as St. Louis is currently 8 1⁄2 games back from the first placed Brewers. While this is not ideal, I will keep it positive and highlight some signs of hope for the Cardinals as the first half of the season ends.
The Cardinals have a history of strong second halves in recent history, especially under Mike Shildt. For instance, in 2018 the Cardinals were 48-46 in the first half of the season before improving and recording a 40-28 record in the second half. This was the season in which Mike Matheny was replaced in the second half of the season by Mike Shildt, who saw the Cardinals post a 41-28 record under his leadership.
In 2019, the Cardinals went 44-44 in the first half before improving to 47-27 in the second half. At least for the Cardinals there is some recent precedent of first half struggles and second half improvement. Additionally, the Cardinals are 7-5 in their last 12 games and seem to have put an awful stretch of play in June behind them.
The offense has struggled recently, but Paul Goldschmidt seems to finally be breaking out. The first baseman has hit the ball hard all year, but has not had the results to show for it. Through nine games in the month of July, Goldy has recorded an OPS of 1.035. This is after he had an .839 OPS for the month of June. The 33-year-old has gotten better as the season has progressed and it seems likely that he will remain a dangerous hitter in the second half of the season.
Tyler O’Neill should also continue to hit the ball well. The outfielder has tallied an OPS above .800 every month this season and has been a consistent force in the middle of the lineup. Hitting behind Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado should provide him with plenty of RBI opportunities, especially with his power. If the Cardinals offense is going to have a second half resurgence, then it will likely be led by this trio in the heart of the order.
On the pitching side of things, the team has stabilized. Losing Carlos Martinez hurts, especially since he was coming off a pair of good outings. However, Adam Wainwright and Kwang-Hyun Kim have anchored the rotation and have been reliable in nearly every start this season. Two pitchers is not a rotation, but it gives the Cardinals something to build a rotation around, if they choose to do so.
These pitchers need to continue their strong play and hope that Johan Oviedo can develop and Wade LeBlanc can become a consistently solid back-end starter. It is the back half of the rotation that may determine how well the Cardinals do in the second half, but with Kim and Waino, the team will at least have two chances to win every five games.
Health is the final reason for hope in the second half of the season. Harrison Bader is finally healthy, meaning that Carlson can slide over to his more natural position of right field and Tommy Edman can return to second base. Not only does this greatly improve the team’s defense, but it also improves the offense. Bader may only have a 95 wRC+ through his first 130 plate appearances, but that is still better than Tommy Edman (87 wRC+), Edmundo Sosa (88 wRC+) and Paul DeJong (89 wRC+).
Bader has also hit the ball well since returning from injury. Since the injury, he has tallied an OPS of .824 through his first nine games. If he could continue producing at a similar level, or at least an above average level (wRC+ > 100), then it would be a huge boost to an offense that could really use another productive hitter.
On the pitching front, it was reported by Derrick Goold that Miles Mikolas expects to advance to bullpen sessions by the All-Star break. Additionally, Kodi Whitley is nearing completion of his rehab assignment. It would be a huge boost to the pitching staff to get Miles Mikolas, while the team needs anyone who can pitch effectively in middle relief. Also, Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson are planning on pitching by the end of the season, so if the Cardinals can keep themselves within range of the playoffs, this might be a needed last-minute boost.
Finally, the upcoming trade deadline may offer hope as well. It is possible that the front office will not add to this team, but any kind of acquisition, especially a productive pitcher, could go a long way towards shoring up some weaknesses.
The improving health of the team, as well as consistent performers in both the pitching staff and the lineup may help the Cardinals follow their recent trend of disappointing first halves and strong second halves.