“We have to be perfect to win right now,” manager Oli Marmol said. “It feels like we can’t make a mistake because the other team has found a way to capitalize on it every time. We can’t give up extra outs or a leadoff walk — we have to execute better than that.”
That’s a pretty good quote from Cards manager Oli Marmol.
But I think what he meant to say was something like this:
Let’s face it. We’re a bad team and the avoidable mistakes really hurt us more than a lot of teams. Our fundamentals have gone to hell, and we need to stop making so many excuses, play with more energy and urgency and compete like a team that’s hungry to win. We need to end the carelessness of walking opposing hitters. We can’t continue to freeze under pressure when up at the plate with runners in scoring position. We need to take smarter at-bats based on the situation at the time. And as the manager of the Cardinals it’s up to me and the coaches to clean up this clutter and get this team going. This season has been beneath our standards and we should all be embarrassed. And I’m the manager so you can point the finger at me.
Oli could have added this: Listen, I didn’t put this roster together.
Now that I’ve edited that for Oli, let’s elaborate.
1. Yes, the Cardinals are a bad team. It’s as simple as that. We continue to expect more quality and consistency from them, and I’m not sure why. They’re 27-39 for a .409 winning percentage that ranks 26th in the majors. They’re 13-18 at home, a sickening record that ranks 27th in the majors.
They’re the last-place outfit in the NL Central junkyard, trailing the first-place Pirates by eight games and the second-place Brewers by seven. They are 10-13 in games against NL Central opponents and have lost five of their last six division games.
They mangle too many close games and are 7-15 in one-run outcomes. The 15 losses are the most by an NL team.
They haven’t won a series since taking three of four from the Dodgers (May 18-21). Their record in the last six series is 0-4 with two splits.
And so on.
2. It’s a team that constantly makes excuses, which makes the losing even more difficult for fans to handle. When you’re 12 games under .500, you have to own the record and all that goes into it instead of whining about being tired, or getting beaten on bloop singles, ground-ball singles, hitting line drives that become outs, or suffering bad breaks. That’s baseball. Every team deals with these things, and the Cardinals aren’t immune.
3. Excuse: the Cardinals played 19 games in 19 days … oh, the misery. So tired. Just drained. They really needed a break. Remember all of that? OK, so after two consecutive days off before entering June, why have the Cardinals lost seven of nine games since their rest stop?
4. Excuse: we’ve been told – again – how the WBC interrupted their routine.
The WBC? Really? President of baseball operations As recently as last week, in an interview with The Athletic, John Mozeliak was still citing the World Baseball Classic as a factor in his team’s poor start. It’s June, man. You can’t play the WBC card in June. It was lame to use it in May. Stop it. The Cardinals weren’t great early on, going 5-7 in their first 12 games. But they’ve been worse (22-32) in their ensuing 54 games. Enough with this ridiculous WBC twaddle.
5. Excuse: They’re adjusting to the pitch clock.
Good grief. This usually comes up whenever the team’s mediocre pitching is discussed. Mozeliak mentioned it again last week. Look, the pitch-clock wasn’t a surprise. It was not an ambush. MLB announced the clock and other changes last September. Every single team, manager, pitching coach, pitcher and catcher knew about it. The Cardinals had ample time to prepare. And all 30 teams are playing under the same rules and must abide by them. So what makes the Cardinals so special? What, were the Redbirds expecting a waiver from the commissioner’s office, allowing their pitchers to work without a clock?
Marmol, the coaches and the pitching staff weren’t prepared. They’re all responsible for the failure to make a quick adaptation. St. Louis pitchers have 17 pitch-clock violations this season, tied for sixth most in the majors.
6. New catcher Willson Contreras and the pitchers didn’t have enough time to become familiar with each other.
Hey, Contreras, was in training camp the entire time so he was there to do his part. And though a few St. Louis pitchers competed in the WBC, there was at least some time to work on this. I agree; it wasn’t ideal.
But as we know, the STL pitchers were complaining about the catcher’s pitch selection, and Marmol scapegoated Contreras. If pitch selection was a problem, then why don’t the Cardinals make more extensive use of PITCH.COM? Pitchers can take charge and call their own games, and don’t have to blame the catcher for their failures. But the Cardinals’ tardiness in implementing PITCH.COM is another example of how St. Louis has fallen behind the smarter organizations as the game continues to evolve.
7. Excuse: the pitchers are victims of bloop hits, ground-ball singles, bad hops, tough breaks, etc.
Every big-league pitching staff can say the same. So what’s the point?
8. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.
Marmol was correct in pointing out how the miscues and misplays and mental errors are sabotaging the Cardinals. Of course he left out a crucial part of this: this isn’t a new development that began, say, two weeks ago. The defense has been horrible for most of the season. As of Monday morning, the Cardinals were 27th in the majors in defensive runs saved, and last in the MLB for defensive efficiency.
The defensive collapse is ongoing and has been getting worse. The inadequate baserunning is another problem area. Isn’t it ultimately up to the managers and coaches to fix this? Or at least improve the flaws. Four active Cardinals have won Gold Gloves — and the injured Tyler O’Neill makes it five — so there’s no excuse for this ineptitude on defense.
When Mike Shildt took over for Mike Matheny before the All-Star break in 2018, the Cardinals quickly improved defensively and on the bases. Shildt – rightfully so – was praised for making the cleanup-job an immediate priority.
So if we’re going to give Shildt credit for upgrading the defense and baserunning, then it’s fair to hold Marmol responsible for the ongoing disorders that have surfaced under his watch. Marmol has used 49 different defensive lineups in 66 games – or 74 percent of the time. Injuries are a factor, especially in the outfield. Marmol does a good job of moving players around to gain a platoon–split advantage offensively, but this probably works against his team defensively. The shoddy defense has really hurt the Cardinals in their one-run games.
9. The Joy of Playing Baseball. Where is it?
Will Leitch and this Bernie guy discussed this in our latest Seeing Red podcast. It’s just my opinion, but the Cardinals seemingly lack focus, don’t pay enough attention to detail, and lack confidence. The team’s fundamentals have eroded, and the defense has declined accordingly. The energy isn’t where it should be; just look at the recent games against the Pirates and Reds. The division rivals were crackling with energy, flying around, and loving the chance to compete. By comparison the subdued Cardinals played with little joy. This was exemplified last week when a quiet dugout barely reacted (instantaneously) after rookie Jordan Walker clobbered a 430-foot homer at Texas.
10. Don’t forget about the players’ role in this.
This doesn’t get enough attention, and I’ll provide a few examples.
— St. Louis pitchers have allowed 28 two-strike home-runs this season, the sixth-most in the majors. And with two strikes on a hitter, the Cardinals have allowed the highest batting average, the most doubles, and the second-highest slugging percentage. They have to make better pitches in two-strike scenarios, and no one can do that but the guy on the mound. So please: no more chatter about being unlucky.
— The Cardinals have walked 227 batters this season, and 23 percent of the time the hitter that draws the walk has come around to score. That percentage, 28%, is even more alarming with the St. Louis relievers. The hurlers are giving away too many freebies, and the consequences are costly.
— During their current 6-12 skid, the Cardinals are 28th in the majors in runs, 26th in batting average (.215), 25th in onbase percentage, 22nd in slugging and 24th in OPS. And it’s flat-out awful with runners in scoring position. Over the last 18 games the Cardinals have a .164 average (30th) and .506 OPS (30th) when runners are on second base, third base, or both. And in the last 18 games Cardinal hitters are 0 for 10 with the bases loaded. They can’t pass this off on anyone else; getting the job done is the sole responsibility of the hitter.
— What about situational hitting? Coming up with more productive outs can make a difference for a team that’s losing so many one-run games. Productive outs include advancing a runner with no outs, hitting a grounder to the right side to advance the runner to third base. Two-out RBI singles are in this category – even though no out was made. Anyway … the Cardinals have a productive-out percentage of 22.7% – and that’s the second-lowest in the majors. This team does a poor job of altering its hitting approach based on the situation.
Raise the standards. And that applies to everyone wearing a Cardinals uniform of has a key spot in the front-office baseball operations.
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.
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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.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.