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The Cardinals won their 11th straight game on Wednesday night, thumping the Milwaukee Brewers 12-2. That made it 13 wins in their last 14 games. To state the obvious, this team is in peak form.
It hits. It hits for power. It excels at delivering with runners in scoring position. It has a superb touch in situational hitting. It puts on a baserunning clinic every day.
The defense is truly special; the ‘21 Cardinals already have saved more runs than any Cards team since the defensive runs saved metric was introduced in 2003. And they still have 11 games to go in the season.
The starting pitching has exceeded expectations and is steady and reliable in cranking out above-average starts. The bullpen still walks too many hitters, but things have calmed down. Manager Mike Shildt has streamlined his lineup, locked a regular gallery of hitters into place, and cleaned up the bullpen by changing roles.
The turnaround is high on the list among those I’ve seen by a Cardinals team since I began writing columns on St. Louis baseball in 1989.
The Cardinals accomplished another notable and elite achievement on Wednesday night, clinching their 14th consecutive winning season. They haven’t finished below .500 since 2007, and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. made a surprising move after the season, sacking Walt Jocketty and promoting John Mozeliak to the GM office.
Despite coming up short in the postseason on several occasions, the Cardinals have continued to win. And this streak of 14 consecutive winning seasons is nothing to sneer at. Not if you’re a reasonable person.
I was curious about a few things, so I worked the numbers on Thursday morning to see how the Cardinals have done since Mozeliak moved into the big chair as the head of baseball operations. He’s certainly had his share of mistakes and mishaps. We can sit here and review every damn personnel move since 2008 if you’d like, but that would be redundant.
Anyone who pays attention to this franchise knows about the hits and the misses in player evaluations. We Anyone who keeps track of the good and the base is aware of the foolish contracts, as well as the high-value, low-cost contracts.
So if you want to sit there and turn crimson in the face because you’ll never forgive the decision to trade Randy Arozarena … and you have gone into an endless sequence of tantrums over Matt Carpenter’s presence on the 2021 roster — well, have a ball. Knock yourself out. Go crazy. Light up Twitter. Invite your friends over to the house for a Faux Outrage Party.
— Over the last 14 seasons the Cardinals (.552) have the NL’s second-best winning percentage and rank third overall behind the Dodgers (.574) and Yankees (.571.)
— The Cardinals’ 14th consecutive winning season is matched only by the NY Yankees since 2008. The Dodgers are third with 13. The goal is to win pennants and championships. I know. I know. I know. But good luck trying to win a championship when you have a losing record and fail to qualify for the postseason. And I think praise is warranted for a franchise that has the most winning seasons in the National League since 2008.
— In addition to the Cards, Yanks and Dodgers, the only other teams with double-digit winning seasons since 2008 are the Red Sox and Rays. Both have 10.
— On the flip side, 12 MLB franchises, eight in the NL, have had five or fewer winning seasons over the last 14 campaigns.
— Assuming that the Cardinals finish well and win the second NL wild-card ticket, they’ll be making their ninth postseason appearance. The only MLB team with more since 2008 are the Dodgers, with 10. Asterisk: the Yankees have nine, but would make it 10 if they snatch an AL wild-card spot this year.
— I know. I know. I know. The goal is winning the pennant and then the World Series. Yes, indeed. Gotcha. Absolutely. But best of luck to ya’ in this quest to seize the biggie postseason prizes if you don’t, well, you know, actually make it to the postseason.
— From 2008 through 2020, the Cardinals were tied for third in the majors with 36 postseason wins — same as the Giants and Astros. The top two October victors since ‘08 are the Dodgers (54) and Yankees (39.)
— The Cardinals one of six NL teams to win a World Series from 2008 through 2020. The Giants have done it three times. The Cardinals, Dodgers, Nationals, Phillies and Cubs each have one World Series triumph.
— The Cardinals have advanced to the NLCS five times under Mozeliak’s watch. That’s second to the Dodgers, who have competed in seven NLCS since ‘08.
I’m disappointed by the count of two NL pennants under Mozeliak. I’m not throwing this into the trash; that’s not the point. But when you get to the NLCS more often than any NL team except the Dodgers over 13 seasons, I think you should have three or more pennants. I guess I’m a little greedy.
The Cardinals lost to the Giants twice in the NLCS, in 2012 and 2014. It’s fair to say that the Cards should have taken at least one of those NLCS duels. Shorthand: losing to the fading Barry Zito in Game 5 at home with a chance to clinch the pennant in 2012. A HUGE miss. And in 2014, manager Mike Matheny lost three consecutive narrow games without using his 45-save closer even once in the final three contests. Getting shoved out of the NLCS by using a rusty Michael Wacha instead of Rosenthal? Wacha, who had an injury-truncated 2014 season and hadn’t pitched since Sept. 26 before serving up the series-winning, walk-off homer to Travis Ishikawa in the bottom of the 9th? Good grief.
My biggest and most frequent beef is Mozeliak’s failure to significantly upgrade his contending teams to make the Cardinals a more potent and viable threat to win a World Series. I’m still ticked that the front office didn’t secure meaningful starting pitching help until the latter part of June. But Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch did make it possible to salvage a wild-card run by acquiring starters Jon Lester and J.A. Happ and relievers T.J. McFarland and Luis Garcia.
The Cardinals have been very good during Mozeliak’s time in the GM seat. But they could have been better and more dangerous. They went into a few postseasons with too many vulnerable spots on the roster. The standards are high for this franchise — as they should be.
Let’s move on …
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE STARTERS: During the Cardinals’ 13-1 finishing kick, most of the buzz emanates from the team’s performances in offense, defense and baserunning. That’s understandable, of course. But the five St. Louis starters have done a terrific job of shutting down opponents and doing their part to stake the Cards to the early leads that have propelled the club to 11 straight wins and 13 victories in 14 games.
— The Cardinals have a 2.72 ERA over the last 14 games, with the starters holding opponents to a .201 average and .586 OPS. They’ve walked only 17 of 309 batters faced, a superb rate of 5.5 percent. The starters have allowed an average of just 0.95 walks-hits per inning over the course of 79 and ⅓ innings during the last 14 games through Wednesday.
— In the first inning of the past 14 games, Cards starters have an ERA of 1.93, allowing only three earned runs, a .200 average, and four walks.
— During their 13-1 zoom, the Cardinals have outscored opponents 23-3 in the first inning. Moreover, the Cards have outhomered the other side 5-0 in the first inning, outhit them 25-10, outwalked them 7-3, and have nine more extra-base hits (11-2.) Easy to see why the Cardinals have grabbed the early lead in 10 of their 13 wins.
— Here are the individual earned-run averages since the 13-1 run launched on Sept. 8. All have made three starts except for J.A. Happ, who has two:
Jake Woodford, 2.08
Adam Wainwright, 2.66
Jon Lester, 2.84
J.A. Happ, 2.89
Miles Mikolas, 3.06
1) In going 13-1 since Sept. 8 the Cardinals are winning a key part of the competition: performance with runners in scoring position. STL hitters lead the majors with a .325 average with RISP. And STL pitchers have limited opponents to a .205 average with RISP over the last 14 games through Wednesday.
2) In situations that present runners in scoring position, the Cardinals have outscored opponents 54-26 over their last 14 games before Thursday.
3) Since Sept. 8, the Cards have scored 23 runs in the first inning. (Through Wednesday.) The other wild-card contenders — Reds, Phillies, Padres — have scored 11 first-inning runs … combined.
4) I just mentioned that the Cardinals are hitting .325 with runners in scoring position since Sept 8. The Reds, Phillies and Padres had a combined .216 batting average with RISP since Sept. 8 and through Wednesday’s game.
5) From the start of the season through the end of July, St. Louis pitchers had the highest walk rate in the majors at 11.2 percent. But since Aug. 1, the Cards have the sixth-lowest walk rate in the majors at 7.4 percent.
6) Through Wednesday the Cardinals’ overall ERA since Sept. 8 was the best in the majors at 2.53.
7) Over their last 25 games through Wednesday the Cardinals had the best record in the NL and second-best in the majors at 18-7.
8) During the team’s 13-1 streak through Wednesday, Tyler O’Neil is tied for the NL lead with six homers, leads the league with 13 RBI, is second to teammate Paul Goldschmidt in runs scored with 18, and is seventh in the NL with a .692 slugging percentage.
9) More big-boy numbers from BroNeill: In the month of September, O’Neill leads the Cardinals in hits, doubles, homers, runs, RBI, batting average, slugging, OPS — and park-and-league adjusted runs created at 87 percent above average. He’s also second in onbase percentage, walks, and stolen bases. And of course there’s his excellent defense in left field. I don’t know; team MVP maybe?
10) Heading into Thursday’s game, the Cardinals have the NL’s fourth-best record at 44-28 since June 28. The primary reason: pitching. They rank fifth in the majors with a 3.63 ERA over that time, and that includes the third-best rotation ERA (3.43.)
THE WAINO-BUENO FILE
Adam Wainwright is prospering in one of the most extensive in-season runs of success in his wonderful career. As he enters Thursday’s day-game start at Milwaukee, here’s where Waino stands among NL starting pitchers since June 1:
⇒ 1st in wins, 13.
⇒ 1st in ERA, 2.30.
⇒ 1st in innings pitched, 136.2
⇒ 1st in WHIP, 0.94.
⇒ 1st in Win Probability Added.
⇒ 1st in called-strike percentage, 21.1.
⇒ 2nd in lowest HR rate, 0.53 per 9 IP.
⇒ 3rd (tied) in WAR, 3.6.
⇒ 3rd in opponent wOBA, .250
⇒ The Cards are 16-4 in his 20 starts.
⇒ And 36-41 when he doesn’t start.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net 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.