As you undoubtedly know by now, the Cardinals have lost nine of their last 10 postseason games and have faded into also-ran status in October.
My job would be much easier if I simply blamed all of this on the batting coach or some other convenient fall guy. I sincerely believe there’s more to it than that … and yet … in the end, it’s not really mystifying.
1. Despite what the locals seem to think, the Cardinals aren’t alone in their postseason ineptitude offensively. I looked at the 161 losses, combined, by the 22 teams that have participated in the postseason since the start of the 2019 tournament. As we know, there’s generally a higher quality of pitching in the postseason, and that makes a difference. This should surprise no one: teams that lose postseason games have terrible numbers offensively. The Cardinals are hardly alone in this regard, but yes, the Redbirds have done worse than most. More on that later.
In the 161 losses the defeated sides averaged 2.3 runs per game and batted .189. Sixteen of the 22 batted under .200. All but four of the 22 slugged under .350. All but one of the 22 had an onbase percentage lower than .200. Awful. But those numbers are pretty much what we’d expect to see when teams lose games.
Again, home runs are hugely important in the postseason. With strikeouts up and batting averages down the best way to score is to slug baseballs over the outfield wall. In 161 games since the start of the 2019 playoffs, the winning teams have out-homered the losing teams 290 to 137.
2. For sure, the Cardinals have been dreadful in their postseason losses. To recap, the Cardinals have lost nine out of their last 10 postseason games, and their overall postseason record since the start of the ‘19 playoffs is 4-11. But let’s focus on the 11 belly-up defeats. Team batting average, .163. Onbase percentage, .235. Slugging percentage, .226. OPS, .461. Strikeout rate, 28 percent. Only four home runs in 350 at-bats – or one homer 87.5 ABs. And in their losses they’ve had an extra-base hit in only 3.6 percent of their plate appearances. I doubt that you can do much worse than that in terms of no-shows on offense. And we can spread the blame around.
3. The Cardinals’ best hitters have repeatedly failed in recent postseasons. And that’s on them. I continue to be absolutely perplexed by the absence of fan-media accountability directed at Cardinal stars who are being paid big money to deliver results. They get it done in the regular season – but not in the postseason. And their impact is significant.
— The best example is Paul Goldschmidt and the massive impact of his hitting performance on the team’s success and failure.
In the Cardinals’ four postseason wins since the start of 2019, Goldschmidt batted .444 with a .500 OBP, 1.111 slug and 1.611 OPS. He smashed Atlanta and San Diego pitching for three doubles, three homers and four RBI.
In the 11 postseason losses, Goldy batted .143 with a .479 OPS, one homer, one RBI and a horrendous 37 percent strikeout rate.
Goldschmidt is one of the finest players of his generation. But since the beginning of the 2019 NLCS he’s 5 for 39 (.128) with 16 strikeouts in 43 plate appearances (37.2%.) Why should anyone else be held responsible for this? Players slump and go cold. It can happen in May or July or in the postseason. I hate to break it to some of y’all, but the team’s batting coaches don’t control levers on Goldschmidt in every at-bat that he takes. He’s a big boy. And totally professional. The man doesn’t make excuses. Whether he’s streaking and unstoppable, or going through a downturn at the plate, Goldy owns his performance.
— As I’ve already mentioned in a couple of postseason-related columns, in the three playoff games that had Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the same lineup, they’ve combined to go 2 for 22 with no RBI or extra-base hits and seven strikeouts. The Cardinals scored only three total runs while losing all three games.
— Goldschmidt and Arenado were a combined 1 for 15 against the Phils and didn’t drive home a run. I don’t want to slam Albert Pujols, but he was essential to this offense. And he went 2 for 8 against the Phillies, didn’t knock in a run and hit into a calamitous double play in Game 1.
— Goldschmidt, Arenado and Pujols – the Big Three in the postseason lineup – collectively had 3 hits in 23 at-bats (.130) with no RBI and a 29 percent strikeout rate vs. Philadelphia. We’re talking about three of the best and most dangerous hitters in baseball for 2022, and all three will likely be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame one day. Given how the Big Three struggled against the Phillies, what would lead us to surmise that the Cardinals should have clicked and gone crazy scoring runs? Good grief. When the guys that carry you stop hitting, you are in deep, deep doo-do.
— In the 11 postseason defeats over the last four seasons, here are some basic stats turned in by STL lineup regulars and other more prominent names. I’ve already cited Pujols going 2 for 8 against the Phillies, which isn’t flat-out awful, so I won’t include him on this list.
– Goldschmidt: .143 average, no homers, one RBI.
– Arenado: 1 for 12, no RBI.
– Yadier Molina: .200 average, a homer, two RBI.
– Tommy Edman, .150 average, .359 OPS, one RBI.
– Paul DeJong: 3 for 28 (.107) with a 40% strikeout rate.
– Dexter Fowler: 2 for 28 (.071) with a 40% strikeout rate.
– Matt Carpenter: 1 for 15 (.066) with a 35% strikeout rate.
– Kolten Wong: 4 for 30 (.133) with a .415 OPS.
– Harrison Bader: 1 for 10 (.100).
– Dylan Carlson: 2 for 12, .167 average.
– Brendan Donovan, 0 for 7.
– Tyler O’Neill, 0 for 4, with three strikeouts.
O’Neill has played in only four postseason games over the last four seasons. And he’s only appeared in one postseason game as a hitter. Not exactly a reliable source of offense.
The only guys that have stepped up to do their part in postseason losses over the last four years were Jose Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman. The Cardinals still lost the games, but these dudes weren’t to blame.
4. The front office keeps taking faulty rosters into the postseason. And that makes the front office a big part of the problem. (And for now, I’m only referring to the offense.)
— Did you catch some of the names of hitters on my postseason-losses list? DeJong, Carpenter and Fowler were given 80 plate appearances in postseason losses over the last four seasons. They had six hits in 71 at-bats (.084) with no homers, two RBI and a horrific 38.7% strikeout rate. Gee, I wonder why the Cardinals were so barren offensively while getting cast out of four straight postseasons?
— And then there’s the grand-prize outfield of O’Neill, Bader and Carlson. They were outstanding after the All-Star break in 2021, leading the charge in the team’s offensive revival. But injuries sidetracked all three in 2022, and Bader was traded to the Yankees for a much-needed starting pitcher (Jordan Montgomery.) Bader had a smashing 2022 postseason for New York but we’ll see what transpires in 2023. But when these three competed in postseason games that resulted in losses by the Cardinals over the last four seasons, they combined to go 3 for 26 (.115) with no homers or RBI and a 31 percent strikeout rate.
The Big Outfield Plan was a postseason bust, and a regular-season disappointment. And president of baseball operations John Mozeliak will try – again – to get it right when he spruces up the outfield this coming offseason. Last season he chose Corey Dickerson over Kyle Schwarber on the free-agent market, and we all know how that turned out. Let’s just say I’m running low on optimism when Mozeliak and crew enter the trade and free-agent market over the next several months.
And when your postseason rosters (offensively) include so much dead wood, it decreases your team’s team’s ability to score runs. No good offense would have so many automatic outs and strikeout chronics – DeJong, Carpenter and Fowler – on the postseason roster. I’m still shaking my head over the organization’s arrogant decision to include defensive specialists (and non-hitters) DeJong and Ben DeLuzio on this year’s wild-card series roster. Those moves also lowered the probability of run-scoring success vs. Philadelphia.
5. Mozeliak said the Cardinals went flat in the final month and carried that over into the postseason. That’s true, and I wrote about this repeatedly as they snoozed through September. But why did they go flat? What if anything was done to raise the urgency and intensity? I’ll say it again: the ease and comfort of the NL Central made this team soft. I issued that warning in real time. (I was just being a loon, right?) How could the Cardinals go flat when the franchise has won nothing of any real significance since capturing the NL pennant in 2013?
6. Will the front office learn from the misjudgments, mistakes and the damaging tendency to overrate its own talent? If not, the Cardinals will likely be headed for more postseason flunk-outs. I’m hoping for a reversal of the Cardinal No-Way, but that starts with a dramatic change in attitude … and recognizing that it’s no longer 2004, or whatever.
Kudos to Post-Dispatch columnist Ben Hochman, who quizzed Mozeliak during Wednesday’s media briefing. Ben wrote a fantastic column about this, thankfully rising above the predictable, dumbed-down “Blame The Batting Coach” pap. You should read Hochman’s column.
Hochman asked – these are his words from the column – “if there could be a simultaneous pride in that but also an anger or frustration that the Cards haven’t won a game in the National League Championship Series since 2014.”
Hochman was wondering if it made sense to build a better roster for the postseason. There are never any guarantees, of course. But the Cardinals have hardly maximized their probability for postseason success offensively. Hochman’s questions were on point.
Mozeliak was polite but defensive.
“So to say there were fundamental mistakes on how we built the roster, I just don’t think that’s fair,” Mozeliak said.
Mozeliak also said, “We win baseball games. We get a chance to play in October. A lot of teams can’t say that. We’ll continue to try to put together a roster that gets us there. We hope to have more success in the future.”
And: “I don’t think I’d characterize it as — because we haven’t been in the World Series in a while that we’re going to rethink our strategy. I think we always go into the offseason understanding what our urgency should be. It might not be the same as yours or maybe public perception. But we know that we had a successful season. We know we did not have a successful October. I think we all as fans realize — no matter how well you play in a season, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a successful October. So we’ll certainly try to address the club, try to improve it wherever we can. And hopefully over the next three or four months, we can call that a success.”
Mozeliak still doesn’t get it. Not all the way. Not as he should. The Cardinals remain proudly entrenched in the “We’re Proud Of How We Do In Regular Season” mode … and I assume he’s been informed of the scheduling-format changes for 2023. The Cardinals will play fewer games against the Reds and Pirates and Cubs. And they’ll have more encounters with better teams.
In a stronger division the Cardinals would get slapped out of the way and reduced to non-factor status by the end of July. But they’re fortunate to have a chance to cruise into the postseason by beating up on bad NL Central teams. Somehow they’ve convinced themselves they’re kingpins, and about to rule the world. They have little motivation to construct a more complete offense because they think they’ve already proven themselves by winning the NL Central.
What’s the old saying?
“Born on third base, and they think they hit a triple.”
And that goes a long way in explaining why the Cardinals are 4-11 in the last four postseasons and have been repeatedly punched in the mouth for nine losses in the last 10 playoff games. Because when they encounter opponents that are above the usual NL Central floor mats, the Cardinals get shoved into the offseason. They can’t keep up with the big boys. But rather than being humbled and becoming more determined to move up and beat the best, they’re content to make their little half-measure offseason improvements that will lead to another dismal postseason.
Part of this is rarely admitting you’re wrong or realizing that you must adapt to industry changes to improve your chances for postseason happiness. And you have to stop striking a pose as a front office that is actually doing all that it can to pile up postseason wins instead of living on past accomplishments.
Mozeliak vows to increase the payroll. OK, but how much more? The gap is growing and every other NL postseason team spent more than the Cardinals in 2022.
Does St. Louis ownership-management think the Mets, Braves, Dodgers, Padres and Phillies plan to stand down and slash payroll?
Mozeliak vows to go get a catcher and an outfielder. OK, but will it be bargain-bin or a proven name brand?
The Cardinals have repeatedly sputtered in the postseason because their regular-season stars have vanished in October. The Cardinals have repeatedly flunked in the postseason because they’ve taken too many dead bats into October. They’ve sputtered because they have too many hitters that can’t handle pressure. And they’ve repeatedly sputtered because of a front office that remains comfortably sheltered in its own bubble.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.