Why St. Louis Cardinals will top toughest division in MLB

Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt against the Brewers
Mar 29, 2019; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter (13) greets teammate Paul Goldschmidt (46) at home plate after he hit a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

With the NL Central still considered the most competitive division in MLB, the St. Louis Cardinals have their work cut out in order to top the division.

The big picture: After making major moves in the offseason and a strong start, are the Cardinals actual contenders or pretenders?

The Redbirds are flying high: In recent years, the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers have been enjoying the spoils of being at the top of the NL Central while the Cardinals looked on in disappointment.

Now, it’s time for the Redbirds to soar as the arrival of Paul Goldschmidt has injected new life into the batting order:

  • Even though Goldschmidt is only slashing .245/.321/.455, he does have nine home runs and 19 RBI.
  • The Cardinals are tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for second in MLB in batting average at .261.
  • Shortstop Paul DeJong has seen his numbers increase mightily as he is hitting .336/.408/.600 (top-15 in the MLB) with seven home runs and 17 RBI.

By Goldschmidt’s standards, he is hitting well below his average in his first year in St. Louis. If recent history is any indicator, the law of averages should even out and he should provide even more power and pop to a lineup that is already boasting Marcell Ozuna and the aforementioned DeJong.

What can ground the Cardinals? As it stands, the two ways that the Cardinals can get grounded in their attempt to soar to the top of the NL Central is if Matt Carpenter’s slump lasts the entire year and if the pitching, as a whole, doesn’t get better.

What’s wrong with Carpenter? He has long been the Cardinals’ most reliable hitter. After exploding for 36 home runs in 2018, slashing .257/.374/.523, he has regressed a bit in 2019.

  • He’s hitting .212/.327/.364 with four home runs and eight RBI.
  • The exit velocity on balls hit is 88.7 mph, the second-lowest in his career. He is hitting balls at a 22.1 degree launch angle, the highest of his career.
  • More often than not, this leads to balls being lofted into the air, leading to easy outs.

Cardinals fans shouldn’t be worried with Carpenter’s inability to get good wood on the ball as he started the 2018 season in a similar slump.

Pitching issues: The overall pitching staff could use some work.

  • The starting rotation has an ERA of 4.54. Collectively, the Cardinals have an ERA of 4.26.
  • The only team worse in the NL Central is the Brewers with a collective 4.62 ERA. The league average is 4.33.
  • The Cardinals have given up the second-most home runs at 60. Only the Baltimore Orioles (13-23) have given up more with 78.
  • Opposing players have a .259 batting average against the Cardinals. Again, only the Brewers have a higher average at .274.

Despite this, the bullpen has carried the Cardinals so far. It has sported a 3.99 ERA (ninth in the league), thanks to John Gant’s sparkling .082 ERA and closer Jordan Hick’s 2.03 ERA. Once Andrew Miller gets back on track (5.11 ERA in 12.1 innings pitched), the Cardinal bullpen is a multi-headed monster.

The bottom line: The Cubs and Brewers continue to find their groove and the Pittsburg Pirates and Cincinnati Reds always provide a challenge. The NL Central is going to be tough. It is perhaps the toughest division in the MLB.

However, as long as the Cardinals can continue on the pace that they have been on, they should be able to take the NL Central crown once again. Especially considering how long St. Louis has been out of the postseason, that should provide more fuel to the fire to be a contender.