Frustrated Cards see breakout coming soon

April 17th, 2021

There are two truisms about the Cardinals’ offense 13 games into the 2021 regular season.

They are hitting the ball harder than almost everyone, leading the Majors in hard-hit percentage at 44.6 percent and averaging 90.1 mph exit velocity, which ranks tied for fourth with the Dodgers in the Major Leagues, second in the NL.

But they are not scoring nearly at the clip they feel they can, or they feel they need to. Though St. Louis’ 4.77 runs per game is a respectable number -- ninth in the Majors, third in the NL -- take out two of their highest-scoring games (11- and 14-run outputs), that number falls to 3.36, which would rank third-worst across baseball.

The Cardinals have scored five or fewer runs nine times this season.

Manager Mike Shildt acknowledged frustration. The offense was the biggest question heading into this past offseason, and though the acquisition of has provided an extra punch, still to come is the consistent output the front office and coaching staff feels is set to arrive in due time.

Taking questions from reporters before Saturday’s tilt with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, Shildt turned the interview session around on an unprompted, minutes-long monologue.

“The challenge of this wonderful game that we play, and that we enjoy, is that it can also be maddening at times,” Shildt said. “It's a sport that you can do a lot of things right and not get rewarded.

“Rightfully so we've been questioned about our offense in the past. We answer the questions, work our tail off to improve it,” Shildt continued. “Now we get to a point where we [have to] show consistency, because that was one of the questions about, you know, ‘Hey, your lineup’s been inconsistent? What do you want to do about it?’ And I look and go, ‘Gosh, we're leading baseball in hard-hit percentage and fourth in exit velocity, and we've improved and moved our needle.’ So I'm not sure how, and I don't want to blindly defend anything, because I owe an honest explanation, but that’s an honest explanation.

“I propose how you suggest I answer it, based on [the] data,” Shildt laughed.

There’s more data. Based on expected statistics, the Cardinals are one of the most snakebitten teams in baseball. The difference between their wOBA (.300) and xwOBA (.342) is the second-highest in MLB behind the Giants, while their difference between true slugging percentage (.370) and xSLG (.499) is the highest. (Batting average and xBA differences also fall within the top six.) A player like is chief among those bumps of bad luck.

But just as true as the expected success is the lack of raw success on paper. The Cardinals acknowledge that, and they are frustrated by it.

“I won't alibi, anything,” Shildt said, defensive miscues included.

It’s not that they are aiming to lead the league in expected categories, but they -- and plenty of teams around baseball these days -- sense positive numbers there lead to positive numbers in box scores. Take, for instance, last series against the Nationals: two runs in the series opener, 14 runs in Game 2, shutout in the finale.

“You look at it, and you take away the 14 runs on the other two days, and you take away the result of it, the processes of all three days were eerily similar,” Shildt said.

Under hitting coach Jeff Albert, the Cardinals are wary of deviating from their original approach. They’ll make adjustments, sure, but until the positive numbers they value start to tick down, they’re confident the current plan is the right one.

“If we’re consistently doing something well, then we can know we're on the right track,” Shildt said. “And we're always looking for continual improvement for what that looks like. If you're seeing no plan, soft contact, a lot of swing and miss, then that's a different story, then we have to alter what goes on. …

“Mr. [Ted] Williams said, ‘The number one thing about hitting is getting a good pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it, and hit it hard.’”

By the time his more casual 19-minute pregame back-and-forth with reporters had expired -- less common in the Zoom world of today -- Shildt was out the door, plan in place, to see the positive signs come to fruition in Philadelphia.

“I thought that was a good conversation for the group,” Shildt said. “A healthy one.”