Opening Remarks: All Hail St. Louis City SC.
Perfect. St. Louis City SC is perfect. I’m not talking about their record (15-10-5) on the pitch. But in the much larger view, I can’t think of a way that their inaugural season could have gone better.
The 2023 season has been a perfect rollout. This first-year team had clinched a playoff spot – unexpectedly and beautifully – and is closing in on the Western Conference title.
From the construction of the gorgeous City Park, to the street-festival vibe around the venue. To the gloriously passionate, singing, chanting fans at home matches. There’s the marketing and branding and messaging and community connection. There are the colors and the team kits, and the entertaining, in-game experience.
A professional sports franchise can’t have a more ideal owner-leader than the visionary Carolyn Kindle. The roster construction was an architectural work of art, sculpted by sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel and coach Bradley Carnell. They assembled a team that was perfect for the planned high-pressure style of play. There are more talented squads in the MLS, but none have the collective spirit, synchronicity and chemistry of the St. Louis side. The unselfishness of the players makes this team even more endearing.
City is a dream of an expansion team. The club has brightened the city and fostered camaraderie through a shared love. Perfect. We’ve waited a long time for the MLS to put a franchise in the greatest U.S. soccer town there ever was. We had the soccer heritage that no U.S. market can match, and all we needed was a team that could honor the old history by creating a new history.
Metaphorically speaking, St. Louis has always been a soccer museum. But now it’s a living museum. If you want to feel alive and proud and energized, just go down to City Park. Now that the MLS is here and even more magnificent than we imagined it would be, all of the longing and agonizing was worth it.
Bill DeWitt Jr.
I’ll say this: I think he’s highly motivated to give Cardinals fans a better product in 2024. He hasn’t enjoyed this season any more than you have. DeWitt has had a tremendous amount of winning, successful seasons in his 28 years as owner. I do not believe he wants to damage his legacy with a downturn of multiple losing seasons. Does he care? Yes, I know he does. And now he’s in a position to make that clear.
Tracking Brady Cook’s Progress
Let’s start off with a qualifier: it’s still early. But through Missouri’s first three games Cook has displayed significant improvement on passes that travel at least 20 yards downfield.
– Last season Pro Football Focus ranked Cook 44th among Power 5 quarterbacks in their deep-ball quarterback ratings, issuing him a grade of 82.0. And Cook was 55th among Power 5 quarterbacks with a 32.2% completion rate on throws of 20+ yards.
– So far this season PFF ranks Cook 22nd among Power 5 quarterbacks with a 90.9 grade on passing attempts of 20+ yards. And his completion percentage on those throws (54.5) ranks 17th among Power 5 quarterbacks. Again, it’s early. But Cook’s deep-ball passer rating is higher than that of many notable QBs including Quinn Ewers (Texas), Jordan Travis (Florida State), Will Howard (Kansas State), Connor Weigman (Texas A&M), J.J. McCarthy (Michigan), Kyle McCord (Ohio State), Devin Leary (Kentucky), Joe Milton III (Tennessee), Tualia Tagovaila (Maryland), Carson Beck (Georgia), Will Rogers (Mississippi State), Kedon Slovis (BYU), Jack Plummer (Louisville), Jalon Daniels (Kansas), and Cade Kubnik (Clemson.) And Bo Nix (Oregon) is just a smidge ahead of Cook in the deep-pass ratings.
Missouri can’t stunt its own momentum and spoil the latest dose of hope by losing to Memphis on Saturday night at the Dome in downtown St. Louis. The goal, of course, is to take a 4-0 record into next weekend, when LSU ventures into CoMo.
The investment line is Mizzou by 6.5 points. The over/under is 51.5 points. I’ll take the over. I believe Mizzou will win, but as investments go, I’m not sure about the wisdom of laying 6.5 points.
I’ll reach back into history for a St. Louis football reference: Luther Burden III has an opportunity to make it extra fun by doing the Isaac Bruce thing, circa 1999. Or maybe he’ll give us some Terry Metcalf or Marshall Faulk.
An Appreciation Of Waino
On Monday, Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright stowed his 200th career victory with a 1-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. It was Waino’s 22nd career win (as a starter) against the Brewers. And 10 of those wins were attained during Craig Counsell’s eight-plus seasons as the Crew’s manager. Wainwright had a 2.26 ERA in those 10 successes. Counsell has immense respect for Wainwright.
“He’s been one of the best pitchers in this generation,” Counsell told reporters on Monday. “There’s no question about it. I admire how he pitches and what he’s accomplished.”
Jack Flaherty Update
Hoping to fortify their rotation to hold off Tampa Bay for first place in the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles acquired Jack Flaherty from the Cardinals at the trading deadline. Flaherty had a strong first start for the O’s, giving up just one run in six innings to get credit for a win at Toronto on Aug. 3. But Flaherty’s performance deteriorated; he had an 8.42 ERA over his next six starts. Dealing with an exhausted bullpen, manager Brandon Hyde moved Flaherty into a relief slot earlier this week. And Flaherty responded with two scoreless innings in his first appearance, pitching the 7th and 8th innings on Tuesday to help seal a 9-5 win at Houston. The Orioles took two out of three from the Astros.
“He’s been such a pro about it,” Hyde told reporters who cover the O’s. “I’ve been talking to him about it the last few days as a possibility. He’s a total team guy. Really, really impressed with his professionalism. Truly, he really just wants to help this team win somehow, and if he can do it in that way, we’ll see.”
Flaherty is resetting his preparation and mindset. “I know what I need to get hot,” he told reporters. “If that’s the role, the more times I do it, the more times I’ll figure out how to maintain some of that velo as the innings go on, kind of the way I do when I start.”
– Willson Contreras: he’ll be on the IL for the remaining nine games (hand tendonitis.) So now that his first season as a Cardinal is in the books, let’s take a look at his hitting impact. Contreras made 73.3% of his plate appearances while in the lineup as the catcher. So excluding his work at DH, here’s where Contreras ranked among the 24 catchers who had at least 300 plate appearances at the position:
* 2nd by a narrow margin to Sean Murphy in park and league adjusted runs created (wRC+). Contreras was 39 percent above league average offensively.
* Contreras led all MLB catchers with a .516 slugging percentage when used exclusively at catcher. He ranked second in OPS (.878), third in batting average (.280), fifth in onbase percentage (.280) and tied for fifth in home runs (19.)
* When in the lineup at catcher, Contreras batted .356 with runners in scoring position and had a 1.101 OPS that was topped by only two catchers, Jonah Heim and Sean Murphy.
– The New Team Captain: I’m more ambivalent than most about the sacred NHL tradition of selecting a team captain. But the Blues got it right in bestowing the leadership “C” on Brayden Schenn. I didn’t understand some of the media campaigning on this because the choice was obvious. When necessary, Schenn has to hold teammates accountable for a lack of effort. That was a huge problem for the Blues last season, and former captain Ryan O’Reilly couldn’t get the boys going.
– The Binner Factor: If Jordan Binnington doesn’t play consistently well in goal, the captainship won’t matter much. If Binnington’s effectiveness decreases again this season, the Blues could make the outstanding Athletic hockey writer Jeremy Rutherford their team captain for all it’s worth. Binnington’s save percentage, quality-start percentage and goals saved above average metric has gone steadily down on a virtual season-by-season basis.
— Will The Defense Rest Again? Of course, it’s more than just the goaltending. The Blues’ defensive group was collectively horrendous last season. If the returning defensemen have any pride at all, we should see notable improvement in that area this season. The Blues will benefit from the presence of new assistant coach Mike Weber. He’ll coordinate this defense and comes to St. Louis with a good reputation.
– An Outside View: Here’s what ESPN.com had to say about Weber’s hiring: “He spent three seasons in the AHL, and his team went from giving up 270 goals in his second season to 233 last season, as the Americans advanced to the Eastern Conference finals … there was little change, personnel-wise, on a much-questioned blue line, so maybe a new voice can bring new results.”
CHECKING IN ON …
– Vladimir Tarasenko. Before agreeing to a one-year, $5 million deal with Ottawa, the longtime Blues winger Tarasenko reached out to team captain Brady Tkachuk, the native St. Louisan. Tarasenko also spoke with Ottawa veteran Claude Giroux. “They basically told me what’s going on in the team, which makes us think this is the best fit for us and it’s very exciting,” Tarasenko said.
– Jordan Hicks. The former Cardinals reliever is coming through for Toronto. Since being dealt to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, the impending free agent has a 2.25 ERA and four saves in 20 innings over 20 games. Hicks has an 0.69 ERA in his last 14 relief appearances and is working on a stretch of 11 consecutive appearances without allowing a run. Since joining the Blue Jays, Hicks has pounded the strike zone with more frequency. With the Cardinals this season Hicks had a first-strike rate of 58 percent; with his new team he’s landed the first strike 73 percent of the time. But there’s been a trade-off. Hicks isn’t striking out as many hitters but has dramatically lowered his walk rate. Hicks had a 12.6% walk rate this season for the Cardinals and that’s dropped to 6.5% since he switched teams.
– Jordan Montgomery. The lefty starter has been doing his part to help the Texas Rangers reach the AL playoffs. Since being obtained from St. Louis “Monty” has a 3.29 ERA in 54 and ⅔ innings. And six of his nine starts have been Quality Starts. Problem is, the Rangers haven’t scored many runs for Monty; because of that they are only 3-3 in his quality starts.
– Thomas Saggese. He’s the infielder who came to the Cardinals as part of the trade that sent Montgomery and reliever Chris Strattton to Texas, has struggled at Triple A Memphis. After blasting his way through the Double A level, Saggese batted .213 with a .628 OPS in his first 10 games for Memphis. The Cardinals are excited by what they’ve seen from right-handed pitcher Tekoah Roby, the key piece in the deal with Texas.
– Prospects: According to MLB Pipeline, the following Cardinals prospects have been chosen to compete in the upcoming Arizona Fall League: Roby, outfielder Victor Scott II, LH pitcher Cooper Hjerpe, catcher Jimmy Crooks, (No. 7); RH pitcher Edwin Nunez, RH pitcher Andre Granillo, RH pitcher Inohan Paniagua, and shortstop Jeremy Rivas.
Back on Sept. 6, the Brewers led the second-place Cubs by only 1 and ½ games in a battle for the NL Central division title. But here we are on Sept. 22, and the Brewers have opened an enormous eight-game lead on Chicago with 10 days remaining in the regular season.
How did that happen?
1. The Cubs are 3-10 since Sept. 7. During this sequence they’ve lost four series to the Diamondbacks (2), Rockies (1) and Pirates (1.) The Cubs are still in good position to claim a wild-card spot. But during their current slide their chances of making the postseason went from 92.4 percent to 33 percent.
2. Rotation ace Justin Steele has a 7.31 ERA in his last three starts, closer Adbert Alzolay has been out since Sept. 10 with a forearm strain, and the bullpen has a 5.07 ERA during the swoon.
3. Cubs third baseman Jeimer Candelairo provided an immediate boost to the offense when acquired from Washington, but an injury has kept him sidelined since Sept. 10. And Cody Bellinger is slumping.
4. At the same time the Cubs were losing 10 out of 13 games, the Brewers were winning 10 of 14 games. And in that 10-4 stretch Brewers pitchers (starters and relievers) have allowed only 24 earned runs in 130 and ⅓ innings for a preposterous 1.66 ERA.
5. Since Brandon Woodruff returned to the rotation on Aug. 6, the Brewers have the best starting-pitching ERA (3.18) in the majors and have gone 27-14.
6. The Brewers are 22-9 since Aug. 18. Over that time they’ve batted .305 with runners in scoring position and have the best OPS (.896) in the majors with RISP. Milwaukee’s fantastic clutch hitting has generated an average of 5.5 runs per game over the last 31 games.
7. Pitching is everything. Or just about everything. During their 22-9 run the Brewers have the best bullpen ERA (1.91) and the best starting-pitching ERA (3.04) in the ERA.
8. The Brewers defense is superb. They lead the majors in defensive efficiency and are second in defensive runs saved.
9. The Brewers added to their pool of hitters by trading for Mark Canha and Carlos Santana and picking up Josh Donaldson after the Yankees released him. In the team’s 22-9 stretch those three dudes have combined for 10 homers, 12 doubles, and 39 RBI.
10. Craig Counsell manages Milwaukee.
Our friend Ben Clemens (FanGraphs) offered his perspective after watching Wainwright compete, and secure, career win No. 200.
“As a Cardinals fan, I have a lot of memories of Wainwright,’” Clemens wrote. “Nothing will displace his 2006 playoff run at the front of my mental catalog. I can still picture sitting in my dad’s house in disbelief as we saw him tear his Achilles in 2015. His late-career comeback in 2021 and ’22 was heartwarming. But I’ll save a spot in my head for Monday’s last stand, Wainwright laboring to keep the Brewers off balance just one last time. For most of the year, it looked like his career was headed for an ignominious conclusion, but what a last-second save.”
Pardon my typos, please.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.