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Vaca SOC: The Low Point

The Cardinals are in a funk. But they’re fine. Really.

MLB: JUL 04 Cardinals at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Morning Viva El Birdos!

I’m on vacation. That means some of my normal Saturday fare is going to leak out into the middle of the week. No deep analysis today. No graphs and charts. No well-considered witticisms that I’ve worked on for three days.

Instead, just some off-the-cuff, “Stream of Consciousness (SOC)” ramblings about whatever I feel like rambling about.

Today that’s “the low point”.

I’m not a big … uh… fan of telling fans how to fan.

We all have our own personalities, traits, and tendencies. Sports get us riled up, emotional, and that’s when all that “you” comes out.

When it comes to sports, you can be you.

So, I’m not trying to tell you how to fan today. Fan away.

But if you’re in the mood for some reasonableness and rationality, you can continue with me in this article. If not, Twitter and Facebook will surely provide the kind of content you are looking for!

Today, I am going to try to tell you that the “low point” of a team does not define a team.

The Cardinals dropped 2-3 to the Phillies. Then, as I write this on Tuesday morning, the club lost what must have been a very frustrating game to the Braves. I wasn’t watching. Dakota Hudson was pretty terrible, if the internet is to be believed.

That was after Adam Wainwright was merely human on national TV, which is always a little hard to stomach.

The club is now just 6 games over .500. They are 3 games back of the Brewers. They are halfway through the season and never really showed what they needed to show for fans to believe they were a great team.

Am I disappointed? Concerned? Frustrated?

Certainly frustrated. But I haven’t even reached the level of “concerned” yet. And this club is a ways from disappointing me.


Because the roster has cycled through its “low point” – which probably happened about a month ago even if we’re feeling it in the standings this past weekend. But now it’s on its way back up again.

What’s about to happen?

First, Tyler O’Neill is set to return. I know it’s been easy to forget about him this season, but TON was an MVP candidate last year. Before he went out again with his latest injury, he was starting to get hot. From his return on June 7th through the 19th, O’Neill hit .354/.385/.521 with a 155 wRC+.

Will that kind of hot-hitting continue through his stint on the IL? Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s easy in the “low point” to believe that 2021 was a total fluke and O’Neill’s a washout. It’s over. Trade for Paul DeJong for Mike Trout now, Mo!

But hitters hit. O’Neill is a hitter. Sooner (sooner) or later he’s going to get going again. Even if he doesn’t return to his previous career-year highs, he’s going to be a very productive player and a world-class defender.

Second, Steven Matz is going to return, too. I’ll admit that I get a little frustrated with the way people talk about Matz on the internet. Most of the frustration surrounding Matz stems from disappointment that he isn’t Marcus Stroman. (Who, coincidentally, is also on the IL and starting his rehab appearances.) And his early-season ERA troubles.

Fans should be more excited about his return and they should have fairly high expectations for him. He has just 37 innings so far and a chunk of those came early when pitchers were still in Spring Training but the games counted. Still, Matz’s peripherals were superb. He had a 10.6 K/9 and a 1.93 BB/9.

His ERA troubles stemmed from an HR/FB rate over 21%, which just isn’t going to hold up as a ground ball-oriented pitcher playing primarily in Busch Stadium.

His expected xFIP was just 2.99 and that speaks more to what he was pre-injury than his ERA.

I don’t expect Matz to continue those kinds of numbers when he returns. I do expect him to be a good performer and a very reliable starter for the club over the second half of the season.

Third, I don’t think he’s going to be with the rotation for very long, but I also don’t think that Matthew Liberatore is going to be terrible. I think he’s a very young pitcher learning to adjust to the challenges of Major League hitters. It’s not helping fan perception of him that his outings have been so sporadic and Oli’s had a quick hook on him. It’s hard to get in any kind of a groove when you are up and down for random, short-outing starts spread apart by 2-3 weeks.

But, hey, that’s the role he’s in this season. In two of his starts, he’s been excellent. In another two he’s been bad. And in the latest one, I’m giving him a (n/a) rating because Thompson was brought in to give up those runs when Liberatore had already gotten two outs and the defense fell apart around him. You can say “kid has to learn to get himself out of those situations”. Yes, I agree. But Marmol didn’t give him the chance.

(Aside: It illustrates what I said in my last article. The club assumed Thompson would be better, so they brought him in. He gave up Liberatore’s runs. Then, instead of letting Thompson settle in and eat some innings, they pulled him quick the next inning and went to Hicks for the long outing. Using either pitcher in that situation for a long outing is a fine plan. Using both of them to get 2.1 innings just isn’t. Neither is pulling Liberatore so early when he was getting results that could have/should have been outs. Those decisions put Packy and Fernandez into mid-game action for the combined blown save before the club got the lead and Marmol made the right decision with Helsley for 2.

Would the runs allowed have been different if they had just stuck with Liberatore (4-5 IPs), then Hicks (2-3), then Helsley (2)? Maybe you need one more arm as a bridge if they didn’t want Hicks to go 3, but that’s a better use of Thompson or Fernandez. We won’t know if that would have played out differently – i.e. worse – but I doubt it. Instead, Marmol and Maddux defaulted to the “parade of relievers” believing Wainwright would give them a long, quality outing the next day. Another assumption that didn’t prove true. In the end, it’s a win and a loss either way, but the usage tendencies are worth examining.)

Long-winded breakdown aside, Liberatore doesn’t have to be brilliant. With the kind of offense this club has, he can be Jason Marquis kinds of acceptable and the club will win some games when he’s on the mound. If he gets the chance. He needs to because the Cardinals will need him in the rotation next season. He has to get through these growing pains to settle in as what he’ll become as a major leaguer.

The same thing goes for Andre Pallante and the Cardinals will probably only need one of those two in the rotation for most of the next month and a half.

Yes, there are problems. Dakota Hudson has been terrible of late. Will that continue? I’m honestly not sure. His K rate has dipped this season and his BB rate hasn’t made the kind of progress it needs to make. I think he’ll settle into “not-awful” but that’s less than what the club needs him to be.

The bullpen, meanwhile, really isn’t much of a problem. I know fans are still complaining and concerned about it but I honestly think that’s just residual angst from early in the season and leftover trauma from mid-season 2021.

The point is that this “low point” won’t define the Cardinals for the entire season. The problems that exist right now might not be the ones we complain about in three weeks.

But even counting from this “low point” they are still on an 88-win pace. Go back just a few games and count and it’s 92+.

That pretty much lands them where we thought they would be. They have the upside of a mid-90s team, an 88-win 50th percentile, and a really high floor.

That kind of team losses a lot while winning even more. That can feel frustrating, especially for fans that are a little too overly conditioned by football to expect good teams to win a lot of games.

As I’ve said since January: this is a good team. One of the best we’ve seen in St. Louis since 2015. I’m sticking with that. I’m also sticking with my 92-win projection.

Don’t let this stretch of play get you too far down. It’s not going to last long and, most of the time, this is a really enjoyable club to watch.

Happy Saturday… or Wednesday. Or whatever day it is! I’m on vacation.