THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Believe it or not, I like to write nice things about the Cardinals. But as I’ve said more than a few times over the years, I can only work with the material I’ve been given.
With the Cardinals bumbling through the first half of their 2023 schedule with a record that could lead to only their second losing season since 2000, I’m low on Happy Talk. That’s just the reality.
The Birds (31-43) have taken a positive turn, winning four games in a row as part of a 4-1 trip to New York and Washington. If the Cards can shove the Nationals out of the way on Wednesday afternoon, the Redbirds would end their roadie with five straight wins and a 5-1 record. And then it’s onto London for two rugby matches with the Cubs.
The Cardinals already have won both series against the Mets and Nationals. That may not be a big deal, but it’s no small thing. Before beginning their current journey, the Cardinals were on a seven-series skid, going 0-5-2. And now they’ve won consecutive series for the first time since wrangling the Cubs, Red Sox, Brewers and Dodgers in order during a successful 10-3 sequence that ended May 21.
I’m writing this before Wednesday’s 3:05 p.m. first pitch in The District, but here’s what I’ve liked during the Cardinals’ reanimation in this 4-1 run of pleasant baseball.
The goodness is listed in no particular order:
1. Brendan Donovan: He’s 10 for 23 (.435) with a homer, five RBI, and .609 slug. His seven homers are two more than he hit in 2022, and his OPS+ has returned him to an above-average performance offensively.
2. Jordan Hicks: Three saves in three opportunities with no runs, no walks, no hassle and a lights-out strikeout rate of 36.3 percent. It seems that he’s taken to the Closer Role. And the STL bullpen has a 2.92 ERA through the first five games of the current tour.
3. Jordan Walker: He takes a 13-game hitting streak into today’s competition. The jaunt includes a .400 average, four homers, three doubles, eight RBI and an outstanding 1.204 OPS. Rumble young man rumble.
4. Tommy Edman: in the last five games he’s walked six times, sprayed four hits, generated a .476 onbase percentage, scored seven runs and patrolled center field with speed and skill. He could gallop with the horses at Laurel Race Track in suburban D.C.
5. Willson Contreras: He’s escaped the hellfire of extreme-slump darkness by going 6 for 16 (.375), hitting two doubles plus a homer, slugging .688 and driving in four runs. Contreras had his first three-hit game as a Cardinal on Tuesday, and two hits were doubles.
6. Paul Goldschmidt: But of course. Entering today he has two homers and 7 RBI over five games.
7. Helluva start by Jordan Montgomery on Tuesday night. The Nationals bothered him for only four hits, a walk and only one run in seven innings. In his last five starts Monty has a 2.10 ERA and held opponents to a .227 average and one home run in 117 plate appearances. His sinker subdued the Nationals.
8. Dylan Carlson: let the outfield competition begin anew. In 39 plate appearances since returning from the IL on June 9, Carlson is batting .300 with a .462 onbase percentage and .633 slug. During his reentry Carlson has three homers and seven RBI. Tuesday his two homers busted the Nats and led the way in a 9-3 win for the Cardinals.
9. Paul DeJong: He’s 6 for 19 in the first five games of this excursion. Tuesday he extended his hitting streak to six games, a warmup that includes a .304 average, two homers, a .609 slug and a .942 OPS. His defense at shortstop remains superb. The hopelessly unhinged DeJong haters will tell me that I’m 100 percent wrong about this because Pauly is actually 1 for 23 over his last six games with 20 strikeouts and eight errors. Bless their hearts.
10. Timely hitting: During their current 4-0 uprising, the Cardinals have batted .353 with a .465 onbase percentage and .588 slug in their 40 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. In 20 games before that, the Cardinals had only 23 RBI on 141 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. In the last four games they have 17 RBI in only 40 plate appearances with RISP. An improvement, yes?
As always, the Cardinals have to sustain all of this instead of fading out.
They’re 8 games out of first place and need to start reducing the deficit.
– Among 84 MLB hitters that have at least 140 plate appearances in the lineup as an outfielder, Jordan Walker has a wRC+ of 135. That’s 35 percent above league average offensively. Not only that, Walker’s 135 wRC+ is better than a long list of notable outfielders including Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, George Springer. Adolis Garcia, Luis Robert Jr., Brandon Nimmo, Kyle Schwarber, Julio Rodriguez, Christian Yelich, Kyle Tucker, Riley Greene, Ian Happ, Bryan Reynolds, Cody Bellinger and Cedric Mullins.
– Nolan Arenado had the big, two-homer day to beat the Mets on Sunday, but otherwise was 1 for 20 on the trip through Tuesday.
– The Cardinals are averaging 1.42 home runs per game this year, up from their average (1.21) in both 2021 and 2022. That’s impressive considering that Albert Pujols smoked 24 home runs last season, and Tyler O’Neill smashed 34 homers in 2021.
– Paul DeJong ranks in the 91st percentile in Outs Above Average this season. That’s outstanding defense.
– This observation from Dan Gartland of SI.com: “So what’s the issue? It might just come down to luck. The Cardinals have the fifth-worst record in the majors but only the 14th-worst run differential. They have a better run differential than the Marlins, which currently hold the top wild-card spot in the NL at 42–32. St. Louis’s Pythagorean win-loss record (which uses run differential to attempt to account for luck) is 36–38, suggesting that the team isn’t as bad as its actual record indicates. Its five-win difference between its actual record and Pythagorean record is tied for the biggest in the majors.”
– I’ve discussed the Cardinals’ mostly poor baserunning this season. They rank last in the majors in the extra-bases-taken metric, but let’s put that in a way that’s easier to understand.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
The Cardinals have scored only 11 times from first base on a double, tied for the lowest amount in the NL.
They’ve scored 37 times from second base on a single, which ranks 14th among 15 NL teams.
They’ve gone from first to third on a single 37 times, which ranks 12th in the NL.
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.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Sports Info Solutions, Fielding Bible 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.