The Cardinals won six of 10 games on their three-town, 10-game road trip. Now, going 6-4 makes for a good winning percentage (.600.) I know and appreciate this. But that said, I’m a little greedy and I can’t shake this opinion: the Cardinals should have come away with seven or eight wins.
They had a chance to take three wins out of Milwaukee, but lost the series finale and settled for a 2-2 split.
Next stop, Miami. The Cardinals were in position for a three-game sweep of the Marlins, only to get blanked 5-0 in a dull and unfocused display of baseball.
In Cincinnati the Cardinals won the first two games of the series but flopped on Sunday, losing 4-1 to a team that came into the proceedings with an 11-game losing streak. The Cardinals put up little resistance against Reds rookie lefty Nick Lodolo, who had pitched to an 8.00 ERA and allowed a 1.001 OPS in his first two starts of the season.
The Cardinals had a 2-0 series lead on Pittsburgh in the first series of the season … and then blew a 3-0 lead in a 9-4 loss to the Pirates. The opportunity was there for a 3-0 series lead. And with the fourth scheduled game rained out, the Cardinals would have moved on from the Pittsburgh set with a 3-0 record.
In the four defeats Cardinal hitters batted .186 and averaged 2.5 runs per game. St. Louis pitchers yielded an average of six runs in the four losses.
The series-ending losses to the Marlins and Reds were especially frustrating, with the Cardinals batting .181 and getting outscored 9-1. They failed badly with a sweep on the line in both instances.
It probably means little, but early on the Cardinals have flunked the test of closing out a series with a show of strength. And they’ve clearly left wins on the table.
But if we’re looking for more positive takeaways, that’s easy.
+ Won two of three against Pittsburgh
+ Played one game against Kansas City and won.
+ Went on the road and fought the Brewers to a draw.
+ Won two of three at Miami.
+ Won two of three at Cincinnati.
The Cardinals have played four opponents and haven’t come out on the losing side in any of the matchups. If the Cardinals can go 3-0-1 during four-opponent stretches of schedule all season, they’ll have a helluva year. As is, their 9-5 record translates to a .643 winning percentage that’s fifth-best in the majors. Yeah, but it should be better. There I go again. In what should be a very tight NL Central race, every win counts and the Cardinals have to pounce on opportunities. Especially when facing the lesser teams. When you have them down, you can’t let the Pirates, Marlins and Reds get back up.
THE REDBIRD REVIEW
NO. 1 REASON FOR SUCCESS: Pitching prowess, backed by a superb defense. The Cardinals begin as the fifth-ranked MLB team in preventing runs, allowing 2.93 per game. Only the Dodgers (2.53), Giants (2.62), Yankees (2.75) and Mets (2.88) have been stingier.
The Cardinals’ overall ERA (2.88) ranks 6th in the majors through their first 14 games.
During the 6-4 road trip the Cardinals had a team ERA of 2.41.
That included a 2.70 starting-pitching ERA and a 2.00 bullpen ERA.
For the season the Cardinals have moved up to 13th overall with their 3.65 rotation ERA. But that’s even better, No. 3 overall, in fielding independent ERA (3.19)
The bullpen has the second-best ERA in the majors at 1.95. And the Cardinal relievers have permitted only 16 percent of their inherited runners to score. That’s tied with the Giants for the lowest percentage by MLB bullpen this season.
Given this team’s weakening offense, it’s scary to think about where the Cardinals would be drifting to without the support of sturdy pitching.
OFFENSE REMAINS STALLED: Since their 10-1 win at Milwaukee on April 15, the Cardinals are hitting .216 with a .297 OBP, .290 slug, .587 OPS. (Ugh.) Over this time they’ve hit only two homers in 269 at-bats, have batted only .197 with runners in scoring position and have averaged 3.0 runs per game. The Cardinals managed to win six of the nine games because pitching saved them.
The slippage has dropped the Cardinals to 11th overall on the season in runs per game (4.29), 12th in batting average (.239), 11th in onbase percentage (.317), 15th in slugging (.376) and 15th in OPS (.693.)
WHERE DID THE HOME RUNS GO? Since Nolan Arenado hit the two-run homer to give the Cardinals a 2-0 victory on April 20, the Cardinals have gone 152 consecutive plate appearances without homering. The fellers had 120 plate appearances in the three-game set at Great American Small Park but couldn’t muscle a homer against a pitching staff that had the worst ERA in the majors heading into the weekend.
LET’S ADD A DASH OF PERSPECTIVE: As lousy as this offense has been over the last 10 days or so, St. Louis is still outperforming the overall MLB average for the season. One stat covers all: through Sunday the overall major-league OPS was .676, and the Cardinals are 17 points higher at .693.
CARDS NEED MORE FROM THEIR OUTFIELDERS: The 2021 Cardinals were mediocre offensively until having a resurgence led by their outfielders. That began on July 1, when the Cardinals finally got through a sequence of injuries and could start playing their starting outfield – O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson – on a regular basis.
From that point on – exactly 81 games – the St. Louis outfield ranked among the top five outfields in the game in batting average (.283), onbase percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.502), OPS (.849), home runs (47), runs (148), Isolated Power (.219) and park-and-league adjusted runs created (29% above league average.)
The group is off to a terrible start in 2022. The STL outfield ranks 22nd in batting average (.215), 27th in slugging (.285), 26th in OPS (.574) and last in Isolated Power (.070).
The outfield has only one homer and 13 RBIs through the first 14 games. Their outfielders currently have a streak of 149 consecutive at–bats without homering; the drought began after O’Neill banged a three-run homer in the second inning of the 9-0 win over Pittsburgh on opening day. Incredibly that still remains the only bomb by a STL outfielder in 2022. Plus: the outfielders had six RBIs (five by O’Neill) in the opener; they’ve combined for only seven RBI in the last 13 games.
MONITORING THE DESIGNATED HITTERS: As a DH, Albert Pujols is 6 for 12 vs. lefties (.500) with two homers, a double, four runs batted in and a 1.765 OPS. But when DHing against right-handed pitchers, Pujols is 1 for 14 (.071) with two walks and three strikeouts.
An update on something I wrote about Friday here on Scoops: the Cardinals are wallowing at DH against righthanders, with Pujols, Corey Dickerson and Lars Nootbaar producing a combined 5 for 39 (all singles) for a .128 batting average and .373 OPS. Based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) the St. Louis DHs are 74 percent below league average offensively vs. RHP.
When batting as a designated hitter, Dickerson and Nootbaar are a combined 4 for 25 (.160) with no extra-base hits, three RBI, five strikeouts and four walks. The Cardinals’ .373 OPS vs. RH pitching at the DH spot puts them 29th among the 30 teams. Gotta do better than this.
If Dickerson and Nootbaar aren’t getting much done at the plate, manager Oli Marmol will succumb to his inner-fan desire to give Pujols more swings against RH pitching. Marmol did it again over the weekend in Cincinnati. He can try to spin it as much as he wants to in order to justify his decisions, but Marmol can’t make these numbers go away:
Since the start of last season 342 MLB hitters have at least 165 plate appearances against righthanded pitchers.
Among the 342 Pujols ranks 335th in batting average (.170), 335th in OBP (.229), 341st in slugging (.248), and .342nd in OPS (.477.)
ROSTER MOVES: Nootbaar was optioned to Memphis on Monday. Good idea, because he needs at-bats. To take Noot’s roster spot the Cardinals promoted utility dude Brendan Donovan from Triple A Memphis. He can play multiple infield positions and did a smooth job playing corner-outfield spots during exhibition games this spring. He could get swings at DH. In 65 plate appearances for Memphis, Donovan was batting .298 with a .788 OPS. He had a nice OBP of .385. Corey Dickerson becomes the fourth outfielder, and he should be fine out there. He won a Gold Glove in 2018.
NOLAN GORMAN UPDATE: After going 0 for 9 with five strikeouts in his first three games of the season at Triple A Memphis, the left-swinging power hitter has arched eight home runs in 48 at-bats – an average of one homer every six ABs. That’s part of a 12-game hitting streak that’s generated a .375 average, .423 onbase percentage, .875 slugging percentage and 1.298 OPS.
In 33 at–bats vs. RH pitching this season Gorman has six homers, a .364 average, .909 slugging percentage and 1.292 OPS.
Last season, hitting at Double A Springfield and Triple A Memphis Gorman had 303 at-bats against RHP … and batted .305, clouted 23 homers and hammered out a .543 slugging percentage. A home run every 5.5 at-bats vs. righties?
Gee, I wonder where the Cardinals could find a left-handed batter who crushes right-handed pitching to strengthen themselves at DH? Are there any guys like that out there? Maybe in their minor-league system? I’ll have to do some extra research on that.
THANKS, PAULIE: Last week I defended shortstop Paul DeJong in this space, insisting that he was hitting better than his statistics indicated. Which was true at the time. But the column infuriated the DeJong Despisers, and they let me have it on social media. Which is fine; bring it on. I appreciate your responses no matter how critical they may be. In this instance, I gave the increasingly large anti-DeJong faction plenty to work with – especially after he went 0 for 9 with six strikeouts in his first three games after pointing out his positives.
And it appears that DeJong is getting into his own head again by overthinking everything. Bally Sports Midwest analyst Jim Edmonds described DeJong as “jumpy” over the weekend.
DeJong was benched for Sunday’s game at Cincinnati and manager Oli Marmol said he plans to sit PDJ again Monday night against Max Scherzer and the Mets. DeJong is batting .139 for the season with a .540 OPS and a 35.7 percent strikeout rate.
IN A RELATED NOTE: in 25 career games against the Mets (104 plate appearances) DeJong has batted .347 with a .765 slugging percentage and 1.140 OPS with 11 doubles, 10 homers and 17 RBI. Go figure.
CHECK-IN ON EDMUNDO SOSA: He’s started three games at shortstop, batting .250 with a .558 OPS and a 30.7 strikeout rate. Cards shortstops have struck out in 34.5 percent of their plate appearances; that’s the third-worst rate at the position in MLB. In fairness to Sosa, he’s made 79 starts since the beginning of 2021. And when Sosa is in the starting lineup he’s batted .292 with a .785 OPS and 18 extra-base hits in 267 at-bats. Among his 78 hits as a starter, 23% have gone for extra bases. And he’s a plus 8 fielder in defensive runs saved at shortstop over the last two seasons.
RUNNIN’ REDBIRDS: The Cardinals have stolen 13 bases in 14 attempts for a 93% success rate that’s tied with the Dodgers for second in the majors … their 13 steals are tied with the Dodgers for first in MLB … and the Cards’ extra-bases taken percentage on batted balls in play (54%) is tied for second in MLB… the Cardinals have made only three outs on the basepaths during their first 14 games.
– Ryan Helsley: In five appearances and 5.1 scoreless innings this season Helsley has allowed only one of 17 batters faced to reach base. And he’s punched out 11 of the 17 hitters faced for a strikeout rate of 64.7 that ranks No. 1 in MLB among relievers with at least five innings. And it isn’t particularly close; Seattle’s Andres Munoz, second to Helsley on the list, has a strikeout rate of 50%.
– Paul Goldschmidt went 7 for 14 in the Cincinnati series with two doubles and four RBI. He’s batting .346 with a .832 OPS in his last six games.
– In their last four starts (combined) Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz have allowed two earned runs in 22.1 innings (0.80 ERA) with 24 strikeouts and three walks.
– During the 10-game road trip rookie reliever Andre Pallante didn’t give up a run in three appearances covering 5.1 innings, allowing only three hits and a walk while striking out five. This righthander continues to impress.
– Tommy Edman reached base five times in 14 plate appearances at Cincinnati. For the season he’s second among MLB second baseman in WAR (0.9), onbase percentage (.400), slugging (.563), OPS (963) and park-and-league adjusted runs created. (He’s 83% above league average offensively.)
– Backup catcher Andrew Knizner went 6 for 19 on the roadie (.316) with a .771 OPS, two doubles and three RBI.
ARCTIC COLD SPELL:
– Yadier Molina is 4 for 29 this season (.138 average) with no extra-base hits, no walks and an extremely low hard-hit rate of 19.2 percent.
– Adam Wainwright has a poor relationship with Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. He has a career 5.43 ERA in 109.1 career innings there. In four starts at Cincinnati since the start of 2019 Waino has a 10.19 ERA and has been pummeled by the Reds for a .392 batting average and 1.006 OPS.
– After enjoying a confident spring and backing that up with a .914 OPS in his first four regular-season games, DeJong is 2 for 23 with 10 strikeouts.
– Tyler O’Neill has only three extra-base hits in 56 plate appearances. Here are some of his issues so far (1) a ground-ball rate of 44.7 percent, up from last year’s 36.2 percent; (2) he’s two for 22 with eight strikeouts on breaking balls and offspeed pitches including a .143 average against sliders; (3) a glaringly low 31.6 percent hard-hit rate, which is well below his career mark of 45.9 percent.
(On the encouraging side: O’Neill has a healthy 12.5 percent walk rate and has kept his strikeout rate down at 19.6%. And his early chase rate (19.8%) is down significantly from his career standard of 28.6 percent.)
– Since going upper deck on Aaron Ashby for a three-run homer at Milwaukee on Easter Sunday, Pujols is 2 for 12 with a walk … and 0-7 with a walk against RH pitchers.
MATCHUPS FOR THE METS:
The Cardinals are about to begin their most challenging test of the young season.
The New York Mets are in town for three games.
The visiting Mets lead the NL East with a 12-5 record, and their .706 winning percentage is second in MLB behind the Dodgers’ .733. The Mets are 7th in the majors in runs scored per game, rank fourth in batting average, and have the seventh-best OPS. On the pitching side the Mets are 4th overall with a 2.78 ERA.
Monday at 6:45 pm: Max Scherzer (3-0, 2.50 ERA) vs. Miles Mikolas (1-0, 1.76.)
Tuesday at 6:45 pm: Chris Bassitt (2-1, 3.00) vs. Jordan Hicks (1-1, 1.29.)
Wednesday at 12:15 pm Carlos Carrasco (1-0, 1.47) vs. Steven Matz (2-1, 5.27.)
Notes on a Scorecard: the three pitchers that will start against the Cardinals in this series have a 2.31 in 54.1 combined innings … the Mets are 3-1 so far against teams with a winning record … Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor has a .350 average, 1.038 OPS, three homers, two doubles and eight RBI over his last 10 games … the Mets are without starting pitchers Jacob DeGrom (strained scapula) and Taijuan Walker (shoulder bursitis.) … seven of the Mets’ lineup regulars come into St. Louis with an above-average OPS+. The best hitters (by OPS+) so far are Lindor, Brandon Nimmo, Eduardo Escobar, Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Mark Canha and Starling Marte … and four Mets regulars – Lindor, Nimmo, Escobar and McNeil – are at least 42 percent above league average offensively based on OPS+ … Mets closer Seth Lugo has a 4.70 ERA.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 were 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.