Hey, how about some Happy Talk?

As the Cardinals open a six-game homestand on Tuesday night, they’re 10-19 and have played dreadful, across-the-board baseball. They’re dwelling in last place in the NL Central, 10 games behind the first-place Pirates. This division has turned upside down, and with the Cardinals going to the bottom. You’d have to go back to 1907 to find a Cardinals team that was 10 games or more out of first place at the end of April.

In the early-season “race” to grab the NL’s second wild-card ticket, the Cardinals are six games out. That seems doable, but many teams are in front of them. And among NL teams only the Rockies have a more rotten record than the Cardinals.

But I’m telling ya, this thing ain’t over. As much as I’ve justifiably ripped the early-version of the 2023 Cardinals – and they deserved every snarl – it’s ludicrous to shoo the Birds away as non-factors. Not with 133 games to go.

This doesn’t mean I’m predicting some sort of outrageous comeback that will carry the Cardinals to first place by summer’s end. They’ve put themselves in a harsh deficit position and must overtake the Reds, Cubs, Brewers and Pirates to reach the top of the NL Central standings. It isn’t just that the Cardinals are 10 behind the Pirates, they’re also two behind the Reds, 5 and ½ behind the Cubs, and trail the second-place Brewers by 8 and ½.

Last season the Cardinals were in second place in May and had to chase the Brewers for a while, but at no point in the season did they fall back by more than 4 and ½ games. And the teams behind them – Cubs, Reds, Pirates – weren’t close to being a threat.

Compared to the climb they faced in 2022, the Cardinals are looking up at Mount Denali right now – the highest mountain in North America.

A potential comeback is improbable at this point, but STL’s bleak situation isn’t entirely hopeless. That’s a lousy rah-rah speech, eh?

As of Tuesday morning, the FanGraphs projections gave the Cardinals a 16.5 percent shot at winning the division, and a 29.3% shot at making the playoffs.

Baseball Prospectus gives St. Louis a 12.2 percent crack at taking the division, and a 20.8% chance to reach the postseason.

The Baseball Reference outlook is inexplicably confident about the Cardinals, giving the Redbirds a 41.8% likelihood of making the NL tournament.

The legendary Clay Davenport, who founded Baseball Prospectus, has some interesting record-related metrics on the Cardinals:

According to Davenport adjusted standings, which are built on run differential, the Cardinals should have a record of 13-16. That’s obviously better than 10-19.

In Davenport’s “Third Order” projections – a more complex calculation that I won’t try to explain here – the Cardinals should be sitting at 15-14.

In Davenport’s Postseason Odds, the forecast version, he plays the rest of the season one million times. He has the Cardinals winning 82 games, with a 15.17 percent chance of winning the division, a nearly 19% chance of winning a wild-card, and a nearly 34% shot at making the playoffs.

That’s encouraging … but only to a point. The climb is steep. For the Cardinals to reach 90 wins and postseason-fertile ground – they’d have to post a 80-53 record over the remaining five months. That’s .602 baseball. Through Sunday, they’ve played .345 baseball. So for the Redbirds to make the playoffs, they’ll have to pull off a radical transformation.

Can it be done? Well, we’ve seen it done five times during the Wild-Card Era. I’m using the Wild-Car Era because it was easier to make the playoffs. And it’s even easier now, with an extra wild-card team added to the postseason in 2022.

None of the six teams I’ll show you were 10-19 through the first 29 games. But at 11-18, they were close enough to warrant a comparison. A couple of the teams actually got worse after losing 18 of their first 29 games.

The 2001 Oakland A’s were 11-18, dropped to 21 games out of first place on July 3, and rallied to finish 102-60 and snatch a wild-card spot.

The 2005 Astros were 11-18, sank to 15 games under .500 (16-31) on May 27. But they finished 89-73, beat the Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS, and lost to the White Sox in the World Series.

The 2006 Twins were 11-18, trailed the first-place Tigers by 12 games on July 14, went on a 48-26 run, zoomed to a 96-win season, and pushed past the Tigers to win the AL Central by a game.

The 2009 Rockies were 11-18, fell to 20-32 on June 3, but recovered for a 92-70 record and a wild-card spot.

The 2014 Pirates were 11-18, but earned a wild-card spot with an 88-74 record.

Back to the Cardinals …

They’ve played one of the tougher MLB schedules so far, but it won’t be easy to find quick relief The Cards’ remaining sked doesn’t really get easier. According to Tankathon, the Cardinals currently have the eighth-most difficult set of opponents in the majors for the remainder of the season. That’s subject to change.

At least the Cardinals have plenty of time to reinvent themselves – and there’s a lot of reinventing to do for a team that’s won only two of their first nine series of the season, with one split mixed in.

And that’s where it starts: winning a series. And build on that by winning another series. That was a big thing with manager Tony La Russa back in the day.

When the Cardinals fell behind in the standings, he always told the players to focus on the next game, focus on winning the next series, and don’t look too far ahead. Stack up those series victories, and the outlook will improve. Don’t overthink it. Don’t try to get everything back in order in one day, because baseball doesn’t work that way.

I always thought that made sense. Why fret about the standings and worry about how things will look two or three months from now? Just take care of business today, move onto the next one, and make it a goal to win the next series you play. If you can do this, the numbers will straighten out and clear a path to a comeback. And then you hope that the Pirates, Brewers and Cubs will cool down and go through their own version of the Cardinals’ April. But you can’t count on other teams losing. So just win yourselves.

The Cardinals need to make progress in many areas: starting pitching, relief pitching, managing, driving in a higher percentage of runners, cleaning up the baserunning and defense. Disappointing pitchers and players have to improve and become leaders of a turnaround.

We’ve noted STL’s higher average exit velocity and hard-hit rate. That should lead to enhanced results. The rotation has, at least for a little while, made a slight turn to a more encouraging form. But should we trust this? And will Steven Matz ever deliver?

The key reliever Jordan Hicks has figured some stuff out, and has looked great in recent appearances … but we’ve been through this cycle before.

Given clarity and ample playing time, the team’s set of enigmatic outfielders have to step up offensively instead of poking around. It’s their time. Ready, set, go. Offensively, Nolan Arenado must become Nolan Arenado again.

I could go on. This team has had its share of bad luck. But that doesn’t matter now. It all comes down to playing winning baseball. We don’t have to define this; we know it when we see it. This homestand should be the impetus for a new beginning to a new beginning. A reset. A second opening day.

If the Cardinals fail to do this, they’ll knock themselves out of postseason contention and we won’t have to bother looking at the standings.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.


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.