The coolest thing that happened Monday night was Adam Wainwright securing his 200th win with a 1-0 victory over the Brewers at Busch Stadium.
The second coolest thing was Willson Contreras catching Wainwright and delivering the game’s only run on a scorching line-drive home run in the bottom of the fourth.
Contreras was behind the plate for Wainwright in Waino’s two consecutive triumphs that cleared him for entry into Club 200. In the two starts Wainwright was touched for only two runs in 12 innings for a 1.50 ERA. This pitcher and catcher combination clearly got in sync at the right time – just as Waino was straining to go from 198 career wins to 200.
As Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt told Lynn Worthy of the Post-Dispatch in speaking about Contreras:
“He came in as the new guy this year from our rival for six, seven years, and there have been a lot of ups and downs for him and for this team. For Willson to call a shutout and get the home run, you could see he was emotional out there. I was happy for him because that came full circle for him especially (because) he didn’t start out the way he wanted to and our team didn’t. He’s been playing so good this second half and has done such a good job. We all wanted it really bad for Adam. I was so happy for him, for Willson — this is really cool for both of those guys to share this.”
Absolutely. That’s an on-point summation from Goldy. Contreras had to endure a lot of craziness when manager Oli Marmol pulled him from the starting catcher’s job in the second week of May for perceived shortcomings defensively and in pitch calling.
Let the record show that Wainwright played a substantial role in diffusing a volatile and uncomfortable situation by meeting with reporters before the team’s May 8 game at Wrigley Field to let it be known that he wanted Contreras to catch him. Jack Flaherty also expressed his support for Contreras.
“What we did was we sat him down and just poured into him,” Wainwright said that night. “We love this guy. We’re glad he’s here. No one’s given up hope on Willy. That was the main message that we wanted to share with him. Honestly? I don’t know if anyone has ever told him that. But he’s appreciated.”
Wainwright came to his catcher’s side when Contreras desperately needed support after a difficult transition from the Cubs to the Cardinals. Last offseason the Cardinals signed Contreras to a five-year free agent contract worth $87.5 million, only to have the new partnership unravel. But with encouragement from Marmol, Wainwright and Flaherty calmed everything down. And Contreras had the character to get through the storms. He may have been confused and demoralized to an extent, but not for long.
It took Contreras a while to rebound from the intense and unexpected turbulence. With his emotions were roiling in May, he had his worst month of the season offensively, posting a .158 batting average and .555 OPS.
When the calendar flipped to June, Contreras reset and was ready to rock.
Since the beginning of June, Contreras leads the Cardinals (minimum 200 plate appearances) with a .308 batting average, .405 onbase percentage, .564 slugging percentage and .969 OPS. Per wRC+, he’s performed 65 percent above the league average offensively since the end of May. And over that time he’s tied for second among Cardinals in homers (15), is second in doubles (19) and third in RBI (42.)
For the season, Contreras has arguably been STL’s best hitter with runners in scoring position, batting .314 with a .424 OBP, .559 slug and .983 OPS.
Monday’s crucial home run was his 20th overall this season. And since that difficult May, Contreras has been rising up the offensive leaderboard among MLB catchers.
Through Monday, he ranked No. 1 in the majors at the position this season in OPS (.828) and wRC+ (128) and average exit velocity (91.3 mph.) He’s second among catchers in slugging (.469), doubles and hard-hit rate. He’s third in homers (20) and fourth in batting average (.265) and onbase percentage (.358.)
Since the start of June Contreras is batting .308 with 15 homers but that’s not all. Over the last three-plus months he ranks 6th among all MLB hitters in onbase percentage (.405), 7th in OPS (.969), 7th in wRC+ (165) and 9th in slugging. That wRC+ means that Contreras has been 65 percent above league average offensively since June 1.
Contreras was very emotional after playing such a huge role in Wainwright’s coveted 200th win. Willson smiled and cried. Or maybe he cried and smiled. It was a powerful moment because he feels that he belongs. He feels like a true Cardinal. No one on this team competes harder or cares more. It was a historic night for Wainwright, and an exhilarating feeling of acceptance for Contreras.
Thanks for reading …
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.
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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.
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.