Who needs superstars? The St. Louis Cardinals are getting by with contributions from everyone even without the star power of other teams.
This year’s St. Louis Cardinals are the Cool Hand Luke of baseball clubs, aping the 1967 Paul Newman character who won a poker game “with nothin’” before telling Dragline, “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”
The Cardinals daily lineup is heaving with .250 hitters. Their leading RBI man ranks 27th in the National League. Jack Flaherty is their only well-above-average starting pitcher, and his record is just 7-6. Yet they’re neck and neck with the star-studded Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Which should delight every Redbirds fan.
While St. Louis doesn’t lack for effective players, there are no clear stars on this year’s team. Paul Goldschmidt has the most impressive recent resume but he’s having his worst-ever season. Former All-Stars Yadier Molina (.637) and Matt Carpenter (.685) have horrible OPSs.
Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong have been great with the glove but just OK at the plate. DeJong has hit for power (23 homers) but has just a .247 batting average, while Wong was floating in the .250 range before a recent surge pushed him up to .274, tops among St. Louis regulars but nothing to frighten opposing pitchers.
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Since major league baseball went to three divisions in both leagues in 1994, no team has won the NL Central without at least one player making the top-12 in MVP voting, but what Cardinal would get that many votes this year? Not one player ranks in the top-45 in major league WAR.
That’s not a knock — that’s a salute to phenomenal team baseball. The Cardinals MVP seems to change every day. There’s not a mountain of difference between their best player, which is Wong, according to WAR, and their 13th-best player, which is John Brebbia (3.08 ERA, 1.076 WHIP), according to WAR.
The top-to-bottom balance is what has carried the Cardinals. The top four Dodgers (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Justin Turner) have a combined WAR of 22.4. The top four Cubs (Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks) have a combined WAR of 15. But the top four Cardinals (Wong, DeJong, Flaherty, Goldschmidt) have a WAR of just 12.3
The difference is the back-of-the-bench players and, especially, the mostly no-name relievers. The Cardinals have the National League’s best bullpen, according to FanGraphs, despite some hiccups from closer Carlos Martinez.
CMart (3.74 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and two-time All-Star Andrew Miller (3.53 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) are the biggest names and, arguably, the least impressive of the bullpen core. According to FanGraphs, Giovanny Gallegos (1.99 ERA, 0.75 WHIP), John Brebbia (3.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) and John Gant (2.83 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) rank third, seventh and 13th among NL relievers.
Lefty Tyler Webb (3.43 ERA, 1.048 WHIP) has also been effective, giving the Cardinals rare relief-pitching depth. Their overall ERA bullpen ERA is 3.72 to the Cubs 4.06. The Brewers relievers are averaging a run-plus — 4.75 ERA — more than the Cards.
As for position players, where would the team be without the contributions of Tommy Edman, Matt Wieters, and Tyler O’Neill? Even those who haven’t hit (that’s you, Harrison Bader) have used their gloves or their baserunning to help this team succeed.
While we all like to cheer the charismatic superstar, it’s been a pleasure watching the Redbirds win with a total team approach.