The St. Louis Cardinals have turned things around as a team in the second half of the season as they now lead the race for the second Wild Card by two games. A lot of this has to do with a pitching staff that has stabilized and begun to pitch well, but an equal amount has to do with a lineup that improved and deepened.
In the first half of the season, the Cardinals posted a wRC+ above 100 at just two positions - first base and third base. Both positions were only slightly above 100, as well. In terms of players, the offense was carried by Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill, and Paul Goldschmidt to an extent, but he had yet to truly break out. Other players had strong stretches, like Yadier Molina at the beginning of the season, but no one was able to consistently hit the ball well except for Arenado and O’Neill.
That has changed in the second half, though. In the second half, the Cardinals have tallied a wRC+ above 100 at every position except for catcher and second base. Additionally, the Cardinals outfield (115 wRC+) has tallied the second most fWAR in the second half of the season (6.2) The same is also true at first base, where the Cardinals have accumulated the second highest wRC+ (163) and are tied for the second most fWAR (2.7).
While this is impressive, it is the overall depth of the lineup that has improved and made this a dangerous Cardinals lineup in the second half of the season. Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill have clearly been the two best Cardinals hitters in the second half of the season, and they have done plenty of damage. In fact, Goldschmidt has been the sixth best hitter in baseball in the second half and O’Neill has been the 27th best. Both of them have also been among the fifteen most valuable players in the league in the second half of the season (Goldschmidt - 5th, O’Neill - 14th). The only other team with two or more players in the top fifteen is the Blue Jays, and they have gone atomic at the plate. Thus, it is clear that Goldschmidt and O’Neill have played huge roles in this team’s change in fortunes.
Besides that, it is also the fact that Edmundo Sosa (130 wRC+), Dylan Carlson (112 wRC+), and Tommy Edman (110 wRC+) have been above average hitters that has helped a lineup that has begun to consistently score runs. Edman is especially important as the team’s lead off man, but Carlson and Sosa have helped the lineup become dangerous at the bottom. Even Yadier Molina (122 wRC+ in September) and Harrison Bader (124 wRC+ in September) have begun to heat up. It is dangerous to have a lineup with players such as Paul Golschmidt and Tyler O’Neill, but it is also dangerous to have a lineup without any holes. Currently, with Molina and Bader heating up, this is what the Cardinals have. As a result, the team has averaged over six runs a game in its current seven game winning streak.
Nolan Arenado has been ‘just’ a 106 wRC+ hitter in the second half of the season, and yet the Cardinals have been better than when he has a 117 wRC+ in the first half of the season. One of the knocks on this team earlier in the year was its lack of depth. Now, the lineup depth of the Cardinals is showing and it is helping the offense put up runs even though one of its best players is not hitting up to usual level. The fact that the Cardinals have won more when Nolan Arenado has been a 106 wRC+ hitter (as opposed to when he was a 117 wRC+ hitter) shows the promise of this lineup when everyone is clicking at the same time.
Even the bench is contributing. Lars Nootbaar had a great stretch as a starter and has a 105 second half wRC+. Jose Rondon has almost exclusively been used a pinch hitter and has accumulated just 32 plate appearances, but he has a 153 wRC+.
This team has become dangerous from top to bottom, and they have done it at the right time. If the Cardinals hold onto their Wild Card spot, then they will have a tough matchup with one of the Giants or the Dodgers. This is certainly not ideal, but the team has the lineup depth to stay in the game and take competitive at-bats from top to bottom. With Adam Wainwright likely taking the ball, that should be enough to give them a chance to win. They need to get into the playoffs first, but with half of their remaining games (after today) against the Cubs, things are looking promising. There is still baseball left to play, but this improved lineup, both in terms of depth and firepower at the top, has allowed the Cardinals to rally and take control of the Wild Card race.