The Cardinals are set to open a three-game weekend series at Philadelphia. I’m set to have an ice-cold Zwickel from Urban Chestnut and remain safely ensconced in my air-conditioned lair where I write, talk, ponder the meaning of life, lounge in a spectacularly comfortable recliner and watch sports. I think I’ll have an easier challenge than the Cardinals.
Let’s go …
1. Back on June 2, the defending National League champion Phillies were wobbling with a 25-32 record and ranked 12th in the NL in winning percentage. The Phils were only a half-game above the Cardinals, who were 25-33.
At the time the Cardinals, Phillies, Mets and Padres were grouped together as the NL’s most disappointing teams. But among the four underachievers, only the Phillies straightened up and turned their season around. Since June 3, Philadelphia is 44-26 for a .629 winning percentage that’s fourth in the majors behind the Braves, Dodgers and Orioles.
The Phillies (69-58) go into the weekend as the No. 1 wild-card holder in the NL and are being chased by the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Giants, Reds and Marlins. Since being perched a half-game behind Philadelphia on June 2, the Cardinals are 31-39. They’re 14 and ½ games behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central. They’re 11 games out of the third wild-card spot. They’re done. They’ve been done.
2. The STL Redbirds will be going against lefty starter Christopher Lopez on Friday night before testing their skill against veteran co-aces Zack Wheeler (Saturday) and Aaron Nola (Sunday.) The Cardinals counter with (in order) Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and rookie Drew Ron.
3. Aaron Nola will be a free agent after the season and the Cardinals are looking to hire three starting pitchers to assist Project Redemption in 2024 … so … there will be no shortage of oxygen or typewritten words about a potential Nola-Cardinals connection.
4. I don’t know why the big-spending Phillies would say bye to Nola, a career employee who is still relatively young at age 30. And i don’t know why people think Cards chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. would outbid the more aggressive, free-wheeling, uninhibited, borderline-cuckoo owners in a signing scrum for Nola.
5. And I don’t know if you’ve looked at Nola’s particulars that point to some concerns including a 4.49 ERA, an increased hard-hit rate by opponents, a higher average exit velocity, the largest sweet-spot contact he’s ever permitted, the worst expected slugging percentage (allowed) in his career, a decrease in fastball velocity, and a drop in effectiveness when throwing his four-seam fastball and curve. Those pitches were money for Nola in 2022, but a decrease in their quality for 2023 has led to considerable inflation in his ERA and home-runs allowed rate.
6. Warning signs? I guess it depends on how you want to see Nola. If you believe Nola would be an ideal fit for the Cardinals, you will casually toss the term “underlying factors” in your metaphorical trash receptacle and mutter something unkind about those damn stat nerds and their snotty, fancy-pants numbers. If you are a pragmatist, you can note the Nola-profile concerns and go with the “it’s not my money so just sign him!” attitude.
7. Yes, absolutely, for sure … DeWitt and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak will have to awaken from their dormancy and upgrade the starting rotation in a way that rises above redundancy. But I’ll ask it again: why would the most coveted free-agent starting pitchers choose St. Louis to work for an organization that (a) is complacent and stuck in an outdated model; (b) isn’t aggressive about improving the club, (c) allowed the team defense to collapse, (d) has one of the lesser managers in the game, (e) has an unproven pitching coach that people commonly refer to as “Dusty Baker” in a first-reference mention?
8. Other than the money, I think the first three questions a good free-agent starting pitcher should ask the Cardinals are:
“Why should I come here? I’m on fire to win a championship and the Cardinals are living in the past instead of going all-in on the present and the near future.”
“You’ve wasted the valuable presence and performance of Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt – so will you do the same with me?”
“Why do you have a manager and a coaching staff that did nothing to maintain an above-average defense and excellent baserunning ability and let those areas slide? How can that be allowed to happen?”
“Can I please meet with your pitching coach, Dusty Baker?”
9. This note from New York Post baseball columnist Jon Heyman: “The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Cardinals were among at least 10 teams to scout Orix Buffaloes right-handed star Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s start Wednesday, and he impressed over seven scoreless innings with poise, focus and athleticism, and also with several solid-to-plus pitches — including a four-seamer up to 97 mph, cutter, curveball and splitter. Also there to see the two-time MVP who’s expected to be posted were the Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rangers and Tigers.”
Yamamoto is an exciting talent. There are some big shooters on that list of potential recruiters, and this should be one helluva an auction. Go get ‘em, Mo.
Perhaps Lars Nootbaar can be deployed as a special envoy in the courting of the star Japanese pitcher.
10. Why have the Phillies turned into one of the top five teams in the majors since early June?
+ In going 44-26 since June 3, their pitchers have the best ERA (3.40) in the majors. The starting pitchers are ranked second with a 3.43 ERA and the bullpen (3.35) is No. 4 in ERA.
+ Since June 3 the Philadelphians are averaging 5.2 runs and rank in the MLB top 10 in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging percentage, wRC+ and performance with runners in scoring position. Bryce Harper is thriving, Kyle Schwarber is launching, Trea Turner is improving, and catcher J.T. Realmuto is getting back to being J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies have also done a better job of hitting with runners in scoring position. They’re winning despite having a below-average defense. But that’s offset by a pitching staff that has plenty of strikeout punch.
+ The front office acquired starting pitcher Michael Lorenzen at the trade deadline … and the Phillies are among the best baserunning teams in the majors. They’ve swiped 98 bases this season and have an 82 percent success rate on steal attempts.
11. In 110 games since being traded to Philly, former Cardinals infielder Edmundo Sosa has hit .267, slugged .465 and has a .771 OPS. He’s been around seven percent above league average offensively (per wRC+). This season Sosa has been used at shortstop, second base, third base and center field.
12. The Cardinals rank fourth in the majors with a .332 team onbase percentage. Problem is, only 28 percent of those runners have scored. That’s the second-lowest rate in MLB; Oakland is last at 26%.
13. Another nugget about the disappointing STL baserunning in 2023: the Cardinals have attempted to advance on the bases at a rate of 32 percent. That’s the lowest percentage in the majors. And their number of advancements ranks 26th.
14. Miles Mikolas has done pretty well on the road this season with a 3.72 ERA in 13 starts away from Busch Stadium. Since the start of 2022, Dakota Hudson has a 3.20 ERA at home and a 5.56 ERA on the road. On Sunday afternoon, Drew Rom will try to rebound from an unfortunate major-league debut; he allowed eight hits, four walks and six earned runs in 3 and ⅔ innings on Monday at Pittsburgh.
15. Welcome back Nolan Gorman.
Thanks for reading …
Pardon my typos …
Do something fun this weekend …
College football! Should I take underdog Navy and the 20.5 points against Notre Dame?
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.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
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.