Which St. Louis Cardinals players’ stock is up/down after first month of the MLB season



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Based on their scheduled opponents and travel schedule, April was always going to be a grind for the St. Louis Cardinals. Still, finishing the first month of the season with a 14-16 record was disappointing.

The Cardinals have been held afloat by solid pitching and sturdy defense, but a floundering offense has cost them. That theme carried into the first day of May, as St. Louis fell 4-1 in its rubber match with the Detroit Tigers, marking the 19th time the Cardinals scored three runs or fewer this season. It’s been a frustrating development for a team with far more concern over its pitching entering the season.

As baseball wraps up its first month, let’s look at some individual performances.

Stock up

Sonny Gray

The Cardinals wanted a top-of-the-rotation arm to headline their pitching staff, and they sure seem to have gotten that with Gray. Late start to the season aside, Gray has been everything St. Louis could have dreamed of. He’s 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA and a 12.3 strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio — good for a strikeout percentage of 36 percent. He’s walked just four batters in 23 1/3 innings and surrendered one home run. Gray has been a key element in upgrading a lacking rotation. Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn (the other offseason starting pitching additions) registered a combined 2.74 ERA in April and posted eight quality starts.

Nearly everything about Gray has been exciting, ranging from how he commands his arsenal on the mound to how he commands the clubhouse off of it. The most encouraging element of his April, however, is that he’s shown no indications of the hamstring strain he suffered in spring training. He looks every bit the part of the Cardinals ace. Last year, Gray finished as runner-up in American League Cy Young voting and was an All-Star for the Minnesota Twins. If he keeps this up, he’ll notch back-to-back All-Star honors for the first time in his career.

Kyle Gibson

John Mozeliak caught considerable flack when he signed Gibson and Lynn in early November, citing the desire for durability and leadership in the rotation as the two main factors for the deals. Turns out, the longtime executive might have been on to something. Gibson recorded at least six innings in all six of his starts in April, including four quality starts. He’s allowed one earned run in each of his last three starts, including his best outing yet — a seven-inning dandy against the Detroit Tigers in which he struck out nine and walked two.

 

Gibson finished April with a 3.79 ERA over 38 innings. He’s been a formidable starter behind Gray and looks to be a strong signing for a rotation that desperately needed to cover innings this year.

Ryan Helsley

How important has Helsley been to the Cardinals? Let’s look at it this way: The Cardinals have won 14 games and Helsley has finished all of them. His 10 saves are tied for the most in the majors. His ERA (1.69) and WHIP (0.938) resemble his All-Star form in 2022. His advanced metrics page looks straight out of a video game.

The decision to deploy Helsley as a traditional closer this year (as opposed to using him during the game’s most pivotal late-inning moment) has paid dividends for St. Louis. He’s been one of the most dominant closers in baseball and once again looks to be an All-Star candidate. Monitoring his health will be critical as he missed three months with a forearm strain last year, but it sure looks like the Cardinals have their closer back.

Stock down

Steven Matz

After a strategically slow spring designed to help prolong his health, the Cardinals hoped an oft-injured Matz would replicate the success he saw last summer before landing on the injured list with a lat strain. Instead, Matz ends April with a 6.18 ERA and 1.735 WHIP over 27 2/3 innings and concern over a stiff lower back. Matz’s most recent start Tuesday was cut short after 3 1/3 innings. His velocity, which sat at 95 mph, had dipped to the low 90s and he wasn’t finishing any of his pitches — a tell that he wasn’t at full health.

Sure enough, after the outing, Marmol revealed that Matz had been dealing with lower back pain for four days prior. Matz will undergo an MRI on Thursday in St. Louis, and the team will decide if an IL stint is necessary.

The Cardinals will hope for a clean MRI and minimal time missed for Matz. Their options in Triple A are lacking, as sixth-starter Zack Thompson is not fully stretched out after being used in relief in the latter half of April.

Giovanny Gallegos

As effective as the bullpen has been, it’s been a rough go for Gallegos. Arguably the team’s most reliable arm dating to 2021, Gallegos’ ERA ballooned to 9.00 in April and his fastball/slider combination hasn’t been effective.

Gallegos lives in the zone and has seen ample success when he can command his slider out of it while still spotting his fastball. Feel for both pitches diminished in April, leading to a reduced role. Gallegos entered the season expecting to factor in as a late-inning option, similar to how he’s been used over the last three seasons. Instead, he’s been regulated to middle innings or pitching when the team is behind. He’ll remain there until he can regain his feel for his two-pitch mix and his trust in himself to use it.

Paul Goldschmidt

It’s tempting to put the entire Cardinals offense on this list. The Cardinals’ bats severely underperformed in April (with a .219/.299/.337 line), and especially the heart of the order. Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado hit a combined three (!) home runs in the team’s first 30 games. Now, it’s unfair to peg all of the team’s struggles at the plate on Goldschmidt, but if the Cardinals could pick one player they would benefit the most from getting going, it’d be him.

Goldschmidt registered a .236/.323/.328 clip with just five extra-base hits and 37 strikeouts. He was dropped from hitting second in the lineup to hitting fifth, the lowest he’s batted as a Cardinal. Nearly all of his batted ball metrics rank under the 60th percentile. That’s a far cry from the production the Cardinals need from him, and he’d be the first to say it.

If the Cardinals want to compete in a tight National League Central, they must start driving the ball. Willson Contreras is the only regular starting position player with a slugging percentage over .400. Goldschmidt (and Arenado, too) need to find their patented power swings, as the offense doesn’t look sustainable without them.

(Photo of Sonny Gray: Jeff Curry / USA Today)





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