Late in the evening of April 16, the visiting Cardinals defeated Oakland to win the first two games of the series. This was no time to rejoice, but the Redbirds were looking pretty solid. They had a 9-9 record and were two games out of first place in the NL Central.

At that moment the FanGraphs playoff odds gave St. Louis the second-best chance of winning the division. The Cardinals were right there with Chicago in the projections. The situation was fine. Under control. The Cards offense hardly put fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers, but it was still early in the season. There was no reason to panic.

Well …

If it isn’t quite time to go into a total panic mode right now, then just hang on for a few days. The Cardinals could be ready for psychotherapy after a four-game series that begins Thursday night at Milwaukee.

Since winning the April 16 game at Oakland, the Cardinals are 6-12. In the last 18 games they’ve averaged 3.2 runs, batted .208 and slugged .321.

A lot has happened over the last three weeks. Mostly bad things. Strange things. Annoying things. The frustration level is boiling.

Starting with an uninspiring performance in a loss at Oakland on April 17, the Cardinals have a winning percentage of .333. They have lost four of their last six series. They have slipped to six games out of first in the NL Central.

During the last 18 games …

* Starting pitcher Steven Matz got hurt. This is what he does. He goes to the IL the way some folks go on frequent excursions to a resort in Mexico.

* Starting pitcher Miles Mikolas has a 7.08 ERA in four starts. Earlier this week Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez – the Cardinals Hall of Famer – said Mikolas was tipping pitches. The curve ball, to be exact. (Did anyone in the St. Louis dugout see that?)

* Jordan Walker was demoted to Triple A Memphis, sent there to rehab his .155 batting average and see if he can locate his lost power.

* Since April 17, Nolan Gorman is batting .140, slugging .240 and has no hits in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

* During the team’s 6-12 skid, 26 of Paul Goldschmidt’s 70 at bats have ended in strikeouts.

* Since April 17, Michael Siani has a higher batting average (.250) than Gorman (.140), Masyn Winn (.176), Lars Nootbaar (.179), Goldschmidt (.200) and Brendan Donovan.

* Since flying home from Oakland the Cardinals got swept by Milwaukee and have won only three of 11 games at Busch Stadium. They even were embarrassed by the White Sox, who came into downtown St. Louis with a 6-25 record and won two out of three. Plenty of good seats were available but remained empty.

* Worst of all, the Cardinals lost their top player and fiercest competitor, energy-source catcher Willson Contreras. He’s out indefinitely with a broken left forearm. Take his strength out of this lineup and the word that comes to mind is “meek.”

The Cardinals need to make a stand in Milwaukee. They can’t quit this early. They can’t pout and cry and feel sorry for themselves after losing Contreras. This is an opportunity to make a statement about who they are and what they’re capable of doing. The Cardinals have to put up a fight and show they can overcome adversity and failure. It sounds corny, but it’s true.

If the Cardinals go into American Family Field looking as lifeless as a pile of  Wisconsin cheese curds, the Brewers will be happy to pound away for three or four wins.

After the four-game set in Milwaukee the Cardinals fly to Anaheim. Then it’s home to Busch Stadium for nine games against the Red Sox, Orioles and Cubs. The only potential soft spot in the next 16 games are the three against the Angels. But after the pathetic White Sox debacle, the Cardinals can’t be trusted to take care of business against a weakening Angels’ team that has lost 14 of the last 19 games – and is competing without Mike Trout (knee surgery.)

The Brewers (21-15) are obviously a better team than the Cardinals, but let’s not overdo it. This ain’t the 1927 Yankees against the 1962 Mets. You want to turn your sad season around? Then beat a team that everyone expects you to lose to.

The Brewers are 7-7 at home. They are 7-9 in their last 16 games and have lost four of their last five. Over the last 16-game downturn the Crew has averaged 3.9 runs and batted .224 and their pitchers have a 4.76 ERA. In their last 13 games, Milwaukee’s starting pitchers have a 5.05 ERA.

The Cardinals shouldn’t cower. They should – metaphorically speaking – hit the Brewers in the mouth. The return of Christian Yelich from a back strain should give the Brewers a boost, but the Cardinals will have their best starter (Sonny Gray) handling the assignment in the first game.

The 16-game stretch that opens Thursday night will come to a close on May 26. If the Cardinals can’t get something going, and the situation deteriorates even more, then the front office needs to make some calls. The Cardinals don’t have many attractive trade pieces, but closer Ryan Helsley would likely draw intense interest. He could be an early trade candidate.

The more likely course is to wait until closer to the trade deadline when teams are more desperate for a starting pitcher or bullpen help. The Cardinals would have more to present, and they could use the extra time to give their starting-pitching prospects a chance to gain more experience in the minors.

The “Trade Goldy Now!” people need to sit down. Take a look at his age, his offensive collapse, and the remainder of his 2024 salary … then chew on a mild sedative. What kind of trade value does the aging and declining Goldschmidt have right now? Are you expecting premium prospects or something? And with Nolan Arenado (age 33) losing power, how many teams want to take on his contract? On top of that, Goldschmidt and Arenado have no-trade protection.

If this St. Louis season turns into an even bigger calamity, Cardinals ownership and management will have to consider a massive teardown-to-rebuild project. But not with this front office. No way. A total rebuild requires new leadership. Period. Too many things have been going wrong for too long around here.

Cardinals management likes to say the team’s fans would never accept a draconian rebuild. It would be too painful, or something like that. The fans wouldn’t have the patience to put up with it.

Umm … does management notice the diminishing crowds at home games? Does management have a sense of how angry their fans are – and that their fans are hungry for monumental changes?

And why would Cardinal fans have enthusiasm for watching the kind of baseball that’s been on display over the last two seasons? I don’t see the logic of making more incremental roster moves after the 2024 season in an attempt to scrounge up a few more wins in 2025. The Cardinals have been doing this calibration routine for years now, and don’t have much to show for it. They are 1-9 in the last 10 postseason games. They are 6-18 in the postseason and have won just a single playoff round since defeating the Dodgers in the 2014 NLDS.

Since the start of last season STL’s winning percentage (.434) ranks 26th overall and is 14th among the 15 NL teams. Only the Rockies (.338) are worse.

This is just my opinion, but I’d rather watch a rebuilding and growing team that loses instead of a boring and mediocre team that loses. I reserve the right to change my mind on that. It depends on a lot of factors – with ownership’s willingness to make drastic changes being at the top of the list. The success of the rebuild depends on the effectiveness of the people that are in charge of the plan.

But if you’re going to be a bad team when you are spending enough money to have a top-12 payroll, then what’s the point? The Cardinals have a rebuilding-team kind of record over the last two seasons — with all the frustration that comes with it — without actually doing a rebuild. So why not go into a real rebuild? If you’re putting a team on the field that gives you a rebuilding-caliber record, and you are alienating your fans … then why would you want to continue down this road?

For now, I’m intrigued by this series in Milwaukee. The Cardinals have been better on the road (9-10) than at home (6-11) this year. I don’t expect much from the Cardinals, but I want to see if they care enough to compete like mad – as if their season depended on it.

It’s overly dramatic to say their season is on the line over the next 16 games … but it probably is. And if nothing else the next 16 tests will likely determine the direction of the franchise. I’m up for some drama.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. 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 and on Threads @miklaszb

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.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.