In theory, replacing Yadier Molina should have been easy for the St. Louis Cardinals.
He had not been above average offensively since 2018, posting a .251/.290/.364 batting line in his 1351 plate appearances over his four years. That had translated to a 79 OPS+. As Molina had just 30 homers and 53 doubles in that time, his production would be easy to replace. Willson Contreras certainly appeared to be an upgrade in that department.
St. Louis Cardinals pitching problems start behind the plate
But there was one problem with the Cardinals’ plans. Molina made a tremendous difference behind the plate, helping guide their pitching staff no matter who was on the mound. He was a major reason as to why the Cardinals were able to develop so many arms over the years, an excellent defensive option who knew how to call a game and had the complete trust of the organization.
That is where the Cardinals have gone wrong this season. They are hitting the ball, their .772 OPS entering Thursday ranking sixth in the majors. The problem is that the Cardinals have a 4.41 ERA, a number that they rarely saw over the course of the season with Molina behind the plate. That number came down with their shutout of the Giants on Thursday, where Miles Mikolas through just their third quality start of the season and the first that came from someone other the Jordan Montgomery.
Just give it time
It makes sense that the Cardinals pitching staff would struggle out of the gates. Molina was a presence behind the plate for 19 years; even when he was not in the lineup or was injured, he was still able to help guide the staff. At the same time, six of their pitchers participated in the World Baseball Classic. There is still a learning curve with the pitching staff.
That is going to take some time. It is difficult to believe that virtually the same pitching staff that led the Cardinals to 93 wins in 2022 has fallen apart in just one year. The only real difference is that the Cardinals need to get used to a different presence behind the plate.
The St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff has not performed as anticipated. Yadier Molina’s shadow still looms over the organization.