Greetings. It’s been too long. My apologies. But without further delay, let’s get to a choice selection from the “Ask Bernie” email box.

What is your opinion on Oli Marmol in his first season as manager? Up front let me say that I was upset by Mike Shildt’s firing. I didn’t think it was fair but I don’t want to hold that against Marmol because he didn’t fire Shildt, and anyone in his position would have accepted the job to replace Shildt. But as for Marmol’s work as manager I’m not sold. I still have an open mind, and I’m no ‘hater’ but I can’t say Marmol has won me over.

–Charles from St. Louis.

Thanks for the question … a good question and a fair question. And I appreciate your honesty. You seem like a reasonable person. And though I could be wrong about this, I think your “I have an open mind but he hasn’t won me over,” comment is shared by a lot of fans. Reasonable people aren’t rooting for him to fail – quite the opposite. And reasonable people don’t look at one bad bullpen decision in a game and go off on “he isn’t a big-league manager” tirade.

All managers – including Hall of Famers – screw up at times, and you don’t define managers by an isolated decision that doesn’t work. They should be evaluated for their body of work. And needless to say, managers that have talented rosters have a huge advantage over managers that have skimpy, rebuilding rosters.

For example, I think Pittsburgh’s Derek Shelton is a really good manager – but he also has a .378 winning percentage because the Pirates have a cheapskate owner that prefers to keep the franchise in a perpetual rebuild. The Cardinals have MLB’s third best regular-season winning percentage since 2000, and have competed in 15 postseasons over that time.

There’s a rich tradition of success in St. Louis, and Marmol inherited a winning culture. It’s a sweet place to begin a big-league managing career, especially at the young age of 36.

Since Tony La Russa retired after capturing the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals have sustained their winning ways. From the start of 2012 through this season’s All-Star break, only the Dodgers and Yankees have won more regular-season games than the Cardinals. And they’ve done it with three first-time MLB managers in Mike Matheny, Shildt, and Marmol.

For taking as much flack as they do, chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak have established a thriving and lasting model for success – and Matheny, Shildt and Marmol have benefited from it. How many managers get to walk in and take over a market leader and all of the advantages that come with it?

And while the franchise’s postseason performance is stuck in a downward trajectory – the Cardinals haven’t won a NLCS game since 2014 – the Redbirds have made it to the playoffs in seven of the past 10 seasons, and that makes Marmol a very fortunate rookie manager. He could be managing the Rockies or Reds.

OK, now that I’ve presented the proper context for rating Marmol’s effectiveness in his first 94 games as St. Louis manager.

I think he’s doing a good job.

I think using a report-card grading system for sports teams is silly, but if you demand that I do so in this instance, I’d give Marmol no worse than a B.

Wait a minute … hold on … didn’t I just call the Cardinals first-half underachievers in Wednesday’s column? Yes, absolutely. I used the words “underachiever” or “underachieved” multiple times.

Going into the All-Star break the Cards should have had a record better than 50-44. And without question the Cardinals should be in first place, ahead of the Brewers by several games.

I know what you’re thinking: if the Cardinals are underachievers and in second place when they should be in front, then isn’t this a direct reflection on the manager?

In this case, no.

Failing to learn from last season’s jarring starting-rotation crisis, the front office gave the rookie manager a flimsy rotation that lacks depth. Beyond Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas, the other Cardinal pitchers that have started games collectively have a 4.99 ERA. Marmol wasn’t responsible for the rotation mess.

That wasn’t the end of the headaches, because the front office burdened the rookie manager by signing four awful free-agent relievers in Drew VerHagen, Nick Wittgren, T.J. McFarland and Aaron Brooks. In 88.2 combined innings the four combustible relievers were collectively pounded for a first-half 6.60 ERA.

When your rotation comes up short on innings and puts more of the load on a bullpen that’s carrying several useless relievers, the manager can only do so much. If anything Marmol and pitching coach Mike Maddux deserve praise for guiding this pitching staff to a 3.75 ERA that ranked No. 9 among the 30 teams before the All-Star break. That said, there’s no question in my mind that the Cardinals lost at least a few games because of the pitching shortfalls caused by the front office. And let’s hope that free-agent starter Steven Matz (4 years, $44 million) doesn’t turn into another Mike Leake.

And while inconsistency on offense is a problem, the Cardinals still rank 9th in the majors in runs scored per game and are 6th in OPS+. I don’t like to make injury excuses, but it didn’t help to have Tyler O’Neill for only 48 games; he missed 44 days during two stays on the IL. At the time of his first injury (shoulder), O’Neill had a .195 average and .552 slug in his first 30 games. But since returning from his first stop on the IL, O’Neill is batting .328 with a .850 OPS in 16 games … and that stretch was interrupted by his second injury (hamstring.)

For the most part Marmol has worked his way through awkward situations with catcher Yadier Molina and DH Albert Pujols. It can’t be easy to manage two Cardinal icons during their farewell seasons; too much is going on. A rookie manager has been in the position of making decisions based on nostalgia and what fans want to see – measured against doing what’s best for the team in the pursuit of winning.

With Molina, the challenge has been the catcher’s multiple absences – the first in spring training, the second on June 17. Whether it’s a knee problem, or another issue, or both … Molina has spent more time in Puerto Rico than St. Louis in 2022. Other than citing a sore knee, Cardinals’ management has remained mum on the circumstances of Molina’s withdrawals. That has led to considerable speculation.

Molina wasn’t hitting, but the team misses his work behind the plate – from the game-planning, to his pitch selection, to his pitch framing to his caught-stealing rate to his 3.44 catcher ERA. Yadi is significantly better defensively than No. 2 catcher Andrew Knizner. But Marmol has handled the situation with grace, doing as well as he could.

With Pujols, Marmol faced the challenge of having to find at-bats for the second-greatest hitter in franchise history. For a while Marmol gave too many at-bats to Pujols against right-handed pitching, but Marmol adjusted and found a happy medium. And as the Cardinals headed into the break, Pujols was rolling offensively.

Here are a few other aspects of Marmol’s managing that I’ve come to respect:

He’s done a beautiful job of adding rookies Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman to the mix in a prominent way – defining their roles, increasing their playing time, and not overreacting when any of the three show signs of slumping. Marmol has put all three in a position to succeed, and his confidence in them has reinforced each player’s own confidence.

Marmol has correctly stayed with his plan to be careful and responsible in how he utilizes All-Star closer Ryan Helsley. Instead of caving in to fan pressure and increasing the risk of Helsley suffering an injury, Marmol has made sure to keep Helsley fresh and less vulnerable physically. Helsley underwent two surgeries late last season – so what the hell would be the point of breaking Helsley in 2022 and losing him for the second–half push? It would be easy for Marmol to lean too hard on Helsley, but the rookie skipper has shown admirable discipline in his smart decision to handle Helsley with care.

Marmol is a strong communicator. His candor is impressive and adds to his credibility. He backs off at times, which is OK. You can’t constantly rip your own players in public; that’s a breach of trust and would cost him support in the clubhouse. But Marmol explains his thinking, and is straightforward in his public evaluations of his players. Marmol made a mistake in letting Jack Flaherty talk his way back into the rotation before he was ready to pitch in the majors, and Flaherty had another shoulder setback. That was regrettable and avoidable, but rookie managers have things to learn too.

It’s never done in a disrespectful manner, but Marmol has limits on what he’ll tolerate and is plenty tough. We’ve seen Marmol remove Harrison Bader from a game for failing to hustle. We’ve seen Marmol physically stop Genesis Cabrera on the mound after the young reliever tried to stomp off (unprofessionally) after being removed from a game.

Despite the many personnel issues, the bullpen has come around and emerged as an asset, ranking 10th overall and 4th in the NL with a 3.51 ERA. And in July the bullpen ERA (2.57) ranks 6th overall and 3rd in the NL. Marmol has played a lead in the improvement by repurposing multiple pitchers: Zack Thompson, Packy Naughton and Johan Oviedo. And Marmol showed confidence in Junior Fernandez, giving him a higher-leverage role after Junior had stalled at Triple A Memphis. And Marmol immediately put faith in rookie Andre Pallante, who seized the opportunity to give the Cardinals a 3.34 ERA in 70 innings of starting and relieving. I still don’t understand Marmol’s attitude on Jake Woodford (3.05 ERA) but I never said Oli was perfect.

Marmol is modernizing the team’s approach to lineup construction. Last season the Cardinals had the platoon-split advantage in 44 percent of their plate appearances. This season Marmol has cultivated the platoon advantage in 50 percent of the plate appearances. And that percentage continues to rise.

Marmol has maintained the team’s high standards on defense and pulled it off by having more players handle multiple positions – which usually leads to chaos on the defensive end. And the Cardinals have actually improved their astute baserunning under Marmol.

So other than the failings of the front office, why are the Cardinals in second place under this hot-shot manager? During the recent Dodgers series, I think Nolan Arenado hit the target when asked to characterize the Cardinals’ frustrating ways.

“Pitch well, we don’t score runs. We score runs, we don’t pitch,” Arenado said. “We’re not putting it together. That’s just what it is. The good teams put it together.”

In the second half the Cardinals will have to establish more consistency in synchronizing pitching and offense. It can be done, especially if the roster gets an upgrade through a trade or two.

In defense of Marmol, his first-half winning percentage (.532) is the best by a Cardinal team at the All-Star break since the 2015 season. I didn’t realize that until I looked it up on Thursday morning. That’s a start.

But as I wrote Wednesday, Shildt’s teams were outstanding closers who played their best ball after the All-Star break. And now it’s up to Marmol and his team to do it again and win the NL Central.

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.