At .500, the Cardinals are categorically average -- and just look that way out there, too.
But here are some potential sparks for the rest of the season:
Historically, Fowler bats better in the second half of seasons, and his recent July jolt could serve as a harbinger for that at the plate.
In his career, Fowler's second-half slash stats are a .273 batting average, a .373 on-base percentage and a .424 slugging percentage. That makes his second-half OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) essentially .800 (.797 to be exact).
Meanwhile, in first halves, Fowler slashes .254/.352/.417 with a not-as-nice .769 OPS.
Even last year, the lost year, Fowler showed some oomph in the second half under then-interim manager Mike Shildt … until an injury put Fowler out for the rest of the season. From July 22 until his last game of August 3, he had a .386 OBP.
The Cardinals' bullpen is bullish. John Gant and Giovanny Gallegos are studs. Carlos Martinez can sure make a splash. And John Brebbia with new “dad strength” is basically a pitching Paul Bunyan. But here's looking at a guy that was supposed to be a bullpen anchor – and is showing signs that he could be in the second half.
Consider this about Miller, who started off awful. Since May 22, he's allowed just three runs in 18 appearances (2.31 ERA). And even in that respectable period, opponents' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was an unsustainable .368.
And in those 18 final games before the break, Miller had 21 strikeouts and only three walks. In his first 21 games, he had 22 strikeouts and nine walks.
Last season, Miles was a maestro, seldom walking guys (or even getting behind in counts). His walk rate was a National League-best 1.30 – and best by quite a margin. This year, his walk rate is fifth in the league, 1.54 walks per nine innings, still pretty great. But it's the homers that get him. He allowed 16 all last year … and 16 in the first half this year.
Last season, his 0.72 homers per nine innings was fourth-best in the NL. This year, he's No. 36 in the NL with at 1.45 homers per nine innings (Cards teammate Jack Flaherty is dubiously tied with Chicago's Yu Darvish with 1.86 homers per nine, worst among NL starters who statistically qualify).
But for Miles, three of his past four starts heading into the break were impressive. And in only one of the four did he walk a batter (actually two Angels on June 23).
And Mikolas has a 2.48 ERA this season at Busch Stadium, where he pitched exemplary last year. Here's thinking his home outing on Sunday against Arizona will be a strong start – and a strong start to his second half.
If you look at the baseball season in four quarters, DeJong's first quarter was like Paul Goldschmidt over previous years … and DeJong's second quarter was like Paul Goldschmidt of this year. But DeJong still made the All-Star team, and there's something to be said for the psychological aspect of that. DeJong had made that a personal goal, and he accomplished it. He got to play in the game – and made an impact with his glove and legs. He felt like he belonged in that company – and was part of it. A feeling of calm and confidence could carry him into the Cards' second half.
The Cardinals play the Pirates in seven of their next 13 games. This season, DeJong has a .379 on-base percentage against Pittsburgh (five walks). Small sample size of six games, but encouraging.
The 24-year-old outfielder is the ultimate Cards' “wild card” since he isn't even on the team. Or even the 40-man roster. But his play at both Class AA Springfield and Class AAA Memphis has popped off the page. With Harrison Bader flailing at sliders and failing at the plate, giving Arozarena a chance in center could pay dividends.
On June 12, Arozarena was promoted to Memphis. In 110 plate appearances with the Class AAA club, his OPS was 1.007, thanks in part to three homers and eight doubles.
His Memphis slash line is .388/.445/.561, following 116 plate appearances for Class-AA Springfield – and for that club he slashed .309/.422/.515 (.938 OPS).
He also has 10 total stolen bases, which could fit into manager Mike Shildt's version of the Runnin' Redbirds, though Arozarena has also been caught stealing seven times.
JOHN GANT, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON GANT: Subtract his one awful outing this season — those four runs he allowed the Los Angeles Angels on June 23 — and his record is nearly spotless. Gant (7-0 with 11 holds, three saves, 2.22 ERA) transitioned beautifully from fill-in starter and long reliever to his set-up role in the bullpen. He has limited opponents to a .172 batting average and held them scoreless in 33 of his 39 appearances.
JORDAN HICKS, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON HICKS: He performed very well as closer before blowing out his elbow and joining this franchise's long list of bullpen casualties. Hicks went 2-2 with a 3.14 ERA, three holds and 14 saves in 15 tries. He struck out 31 batters in 28 2/3 innings and held batters to a .163 batting average. Alas, throwing a fastball 100 miles per hour takes a toll on the arm. Now he faces an uncertain future after Tommy John surgery and months and months of rehab.
GIOVANNY GALLEGOS, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON GALLEGOS: He suffered a rocky start this season by allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings in his first six relief appearances back in April. But in his last 18 appearances, Gallegos (1-1, six holds, 2.66 ERA) has allowed just two earned runs on 11 hits in 20 innings. He has built a sturdy bridge from the starting pitchers to the late-inning specialists.
DAKOTA HUDSON, Starting Pitcher
GORDO ON HUDSON: Not much has gone according to plan for the Cardinals pitching staff this season. But Hudson (7-4, one save, 3.51 ERA) has emerged just as management hoped. He met the quality-start standard in eight consecutive outings during May and June. Hudson must cut down on his walks (41 in 92 1/3 innings) so he can keep his pitch count down and work deeper into games. He has retired more than 18 batters in just four starts this season.
CARLOS MARTINEZ, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON C. MARTINEZ: He was hoping to work his way back into the starting rotation after rebuilding his shoulder strength this spring, but the loss of Hicks forced him into the closer's role for the foreseeable future. Martinez (2-0, three saves, 2.37 ERA) posted a 4.15 ERA in his first nine appearances. But he has allowed just one run in 10 1/3 innings in his last seven outings, striking out 11 batters and walking only two.
DANIEL PONCE DE LEON, Starter/Reliever
GORDO ON PONCE DE LEON: He has walked 11 batters and allowed three homers in his 25 innings as a fill-in this season. But overall, Ponce de Leon (1-0, 2.16 ERA) has shown great promise during his three starts and his three relief appearances hopping off the Memphis shuttle. Opponents are hitting just .145 against him. If he keeps this up, Ponce de Leon could earn a rotation slot on a more permanent basis.
RYAN HELSLEY, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON HELSLEY: He brought the heat earlier this season before joining several pitching colleagues on the injured list. In seven relief appearances, Helsley (3.48 ERA) struck out 12 batters in 10 1/3 innings. He walked five batters and allowed two homers, but he could give the Cardinals another power reliever if he can stay healthy.
JOHN BREBBIA, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON BREBBIA: He excelled during his first 25 appearances, posting a 1.53 ERA over 29 1/3 innings. He picked up where he left off last September after recovering from a forearm injury. Then Brebbia (2-3, seven holds, 3.12 ERA overall) lost his way in June while allowing 12 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits and five walks in nine innings during a stretch of 10 appearances.
ANDREW MILLER, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON MILLER: Back on April 24, he carried a bloated 6.75 ERA and looked like still another free-agent bust for this team. Miller allowed nine runs (six earned) on 11 hits and eight walks in 9 1/2 innings during his first 13 appearances as a Cardinal. Then he settled in. During his next 26 appearances, Miller (3-3, 12 holds, one save, 3.81 ERA overall) allowed just five earned runs.
ADAM WAINWRIGHT, Starting Pitcher
GORDO ON WAINWRIGHT: After making just eight starts last season, he got healthy enough to take one more spin with an incentives-laden contract. So far Wainwright, 37, has held up. After a difficult May (1-3, 6.33 ERA in five starts), he has allowed three runs or fewer during his last five starts. His bottom line (5-7, 4.31 ERA in 16 starts) is about the best that could be reasonably expected at this very late career stage.
JACK FLAHERTY, Starting Pitcher
GORDO ON FLAHERTY: He met expectations during his first 12 starts, going 4-3 with a 3.76 ERA. Flaherty, 23, was allowing too many homers (11) and walking too many batters (20) to that point of the season, but he was powering through. Then he allowed 22 runs in 25 1/3 innings his next five starts before heading into the break on Sunday's high note — holding the Giants to one run on two hits in seven innings. Imagine the difference Flaherty (4-6, 4.64 ERA) could make if he pitches like that during the second half.
TYLER WEBB, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON WEBB: He had a nice run going until the Giants beat him up Saturday. Webb (0-1, one save, 4.45 ERA) strung together seven consecutive scoreless outings prior to that. Overall, Webb has held lefthanded batters to a .194 batting average and on-base plus slugging percentage of .582.
DOMINIC LEONE, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON LEONE: He earned his demotion to Memphis by allowing 19 runs during an 18 1/3-inning span in April and May. Leone (one save, 6.83 ERA) has been better since returning from the Triple-A level, allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings over five appearances. With Hicks gone and Martinez forced to close, the Cardinals need Leone to handle some high-leverage work.
MILES MIKOLAS, Starting Pitcher
GORDO ON MIKOLAS: His isn't commanding his fastball as well as he did a year ago. His slider has lost some bite. Lefthanded hitters have raked him for an .882 OPS, up from last season's .722. So after going 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA last season to earn a $68 million contract extension, Mikolas is just 5-9 with a 4.53 ERA. He has allowed as many homers (16) in 18 starts this season as he did in 32 starts last season. Last season he allowed three or more earned runs in just nine starts. He has already done that 11 times this season.
MICHAEL WACHA, Starting Pitcher
GORDO ON WACHA: He has looked like his old self at times this season. Wacha allowed two runs or fewer in seven starts during the first half. He posted a 2.84 ERA in June during four starts and one relief appearance. But Wacha (5-4, 5.54 ERA) has been more bad than good in the walk year of his contract. He has allowed 18 homers and walked 30 batters in 72 1/3 innings. Righthanded batters are hitting .324 against him with a 1.006 OPS.
LUKE GREGERSON, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON GREGERSON: He kept the training staff busy during his mostly unsuccessful return to the Cardinals organization. Gregerson finally got healthy enough to give it one more try this season . . . and it didn't go well. In six relief outings, he posted a 7.94 ERA — while allowing 11 hits in 5 1/3 — before hitting the waiver wire.
GENESIS CABRERA, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON CABRERA: Well, we know that he has a lively arm. And we know he needs lots more polish before he can stick in the big leagues. The Cardinals rushed him out of necessity. Cabrera (0-2, 6.17 ERA) lasted just 11 2/3 innings during his two starts and three relief appearances. He allowed 15 hits (including two homers), walked seven batters and hit a guy.
MIKA MAYERS, Relief Pitcher
GORDO ON MAYERS: In a potential pivotal season in his career, Mayers struggled early before shutting down with shoulder trouble. He allowed five earned runs on 10 hits and five walks in 8 1/3 innings. Mayers is currently on a rehabilitation assignment at Memphis, working to get one more shot.
ALEX REYES, Starter/Reliever
GORDO ON REYES: He was going to blossom into a top-of-the-rotation starter. Or he was going to become a shutdown reliever. Those were the hopes, anyway, until one injury after another derailed his career. Reyes appeared in four games back in April, walking six batters and allowing five earned runs in three innings.