THE REDBIRD REVIEW
In the first of three games at Cincinnati, the Cardinals cudgeled four homers and dropped 13 runs on Reds pitching.
In winning their third straight game, the Cardinals put a beating on the outfield seats beyond the walls at Great American Ballpark.
Tyler O’Neill flexed for two homers, Albert Pujols arrowed his 694th career homer, and Corey Dickerson had another blast.
Your favorite baseball team has won 14 of its last 18 games and has the second-best record in the majors (25-10) since the All-Star break.
This team is winning with power and might and a steady barrage of home runs. I don’t think this can be emphasized enough. But first I want to just get you caught up on other areas of the team.
The St. Louis defense continues to protect the pitchers by preventing runs and limiting damage. Choose your preferred metric: the Cardinals rank 4th in the majors in defensive runs saved, and are 2nd in Outs Above Average.
A more aggressive approach to running this has led to more outs made on the bases, which has led to some grumbling among the BFIB. But let’s not lose sight of the bottom line, OK? Please keep in mind that an aggressive approach also leads to more base-running advancement on batted balls in play, and the Cardinals are tied for 3rd in the majors with an extra-bases taken rate of 47 percent. If you need confirmation of that, here ya go: According to Sports Info Solutions, the Cardinals rank 5th in the majors and 3rd in the NL in net baserunning gain this season.
Let’s be honest here: The Cardinals pitching has been mostly average all season. No doubt the rotation was strengthened by the instant stability provided by trade acquisitions Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana.
But even with the enhancements the Cards rank 14th in the majors since the Aug. 2 trade deadline with a rotation ERA of 3.50.
Two other points: (1) The staff ERA+ for the season matches the MLB average. And (2) there is an increasing home-and-road disparity in the rotation performance.
The Cardinals consistently pitch very well at Busch Stadium, logging a 3.12 rotation ERA for the season (6th in MLB), a 2.81 ERA starting-pitching ERA since the All-Star break (7th), and a 3.05 starter ERA since the trade deadline (10th.)
The reliable isn’t nearly as strong on the road. For the season the Cardinals rank 24th in starting-pitching ERA (4.67) on the road, and that road earned-run average remains high since the All-Star break (4.46) and the trade deadline (4.43.) Let’s just connect the obvious dots and say that starting-pitching vulnerability on the road is a prime factor in the team’s mediocre 33-32 record away from Busch.
This isn’t a heavy strikeout staff, and the St. Louis pitching is repeatedly saved by the team’s outstanding defense. That’s the truth, so why continue to gloss over it?
This is humorous to me: the Cardinals’ charge into first place has been led by the offense – which is an absolute strength – but much of the town’s media continues to underplay this. Why?
The Cardinals have turned into a fearsome home-run hitting team, with homers responsible for a healthy percentage of the success. But don’t mind me and my statistics; y’all just keep on prattling about “small ball” and “the little things” and “manufacturing” runs.
(Just an FYI from a friend: the Cardinals have attempted only six sacrifice bunts this season, and their productive-out percentage, 26.3, ranks 16th among the 30 teams.)
The Cardinals are winning a lot of games by doing the BIG THINGS.
As the late Hall of Fame manager and native St. Louisan Earl Weaver said many times and in many ways when discussing his emphatic philosophy for a successful offense — and I’ll condense it:
“The easiest way around the bases is with one swing of the bat. Nothing can go wrong with them,” Earl said. “The easiest way around the bases is with one swing of the bat. I love home runs because nothing can go wrong with them. The minute you hit a home run, no questions asked. With anything else, you aren’t guaranteed a run.”
The Cardinals are playing their version of Earl Weaver Baseball, and it’s something to admire.
The Cardinals are drawing lots of walks. They’re getting hit by pitches more often. Anything to get on base. Indeed, they’ve inflated their onbase percentage – going from .320 before the All-Star break to .360 after the break. That’s an increase of 40 points! Enormous.
And they’re cashing more runners in for a few reasons, including the obvious: they have more runners to knock home. This team does a terrific job of hitting with runners in scoring position, batting .302 in the second half. But that fine average wouldn’t have as much impact without home runs being mixed in. Since the All-Star break the Cardinals are tied for first in the majors in homers (29) with men on base, and they’re tied for 3rd with 13 home runs with runners in scoring position.
In our chat one night at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Weaver told me this: “Everybody knows my favorite thing was home runs. But right up there with it was a high onbase percentage. Keep putting pressure on the pitchers, and they’re more likely to make a mistake that you can hit for a home run.”
And in an updated version of his book on strategy, Weaver wrote this: “A manager has to convince his hitters that they have to get on base for the next guy, and that no player can do it by himself. Sometimes that isn’t easy.”
That’s winning baseball.
And a swell summation of what we’ve been seeing from the Cardinals offense.
Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan bat first and second (respectively) and get on base at a high rate. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are next in the lineup and are driving in runs and doing extensive damage with their home runs. Albert Pujols is a fully restored home-run threat. Rookie Nolan Gorman has plenty of power, and the dynamite is back in O’Neill’s bat. I’ll have an informative breakdown a little later in this column.
Since the All-Star break the Cardinals lead the majors in onbase percentage (.360) and homers (62.) They averaged 1.05 home runs per game before the All-Star break, and they’re walloping 1.77 homers per game in the second half.
The OBP + HR formula has produced a St. Louis offense that’s averaging 5.9 runs per game since the All-Star break – just a smidge behind the Dodgers (6.0) for tops in the majors.
Is it any surprise to see Goldschmidt and Arenado tied for the MLB in August with 27 RBIs? The set-up guys (Nootbaar and Donovan) sure are setting it up,
Since the break the Cardinals lead the majors in batting average (.282), OBP, slugging (.505) and OPS (.865.) That second-half OPS is 30 points better than the No. 2 team, the Dodgers, in the MLB rankings.
And in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) the Cardinals are No. 1 since the break with a rate that makes them 44 percent above league average offensively. That’s 10 points higher than the Dodgers’ wRC+.
Let’s take a closer look at the home-run binging that’s powering the Cardinals:
— When the Cardinals bash two or more homers in a game this season, their record is an eye-opening 40-8.
— Since July 16, the final game before the All-Star break, the Cardinals have clubbed two-plus homers 23 of their 36 games. Record when it happens: 20-3.
— In August the Cardinals have banged two-plus home runs 16 times in their 27 games. Record when it happens: 15-1.
— Before the All-Star break the Cardinals hit two or more homers in 33 percent of their games and had a record of 50-44. Since the All-Star break the Cardinals have hit two or more homers in 62.8% of their games – a massive increase – and are 25-10.
— Seven Cardinals have 10+ homers this season: Goldschmidt (33), Arenado (27), Pujols (15), Gorman (13), O’Neill (12), Juan Yepez (11) and Tommy Edman (10.) Lars Nootbaar (9) and Dylan Carlson (8) are close to joining that list to make it nine Cards with 10 or more home runs.
— Since the All-Star game, the Cardinals have four players with eight or more homers: Goldschmidt, Arenado, Pujols and O’Neill. That’s notable because no NL team has more than two players with at least eight homers since the break. That team is Milwaukee; every other NL team has no more than one player with eight homers in the second half.
— Going back to July 16, the Cardinals have hit 19 two-run homers, nine three-run homers, two grand-slam homers, and 33 solo shots. They’ve taken the lead in a game 16 times by hitting a homerun, and three other home runs have tied the game.
Marmol is similar to Weaver in another way: maximizing his team’s capability on offense by relying on platoon-split advantages. The Cardinals have had the platoon-solt edge in 52.5 percent of their plate appearances; that would be their highest in a season since the 56% rate in 2012. And Marmol’s platoon-split edge continues to grow as his restructured lineup takes root.
That’s why the Cardinals, since the All-Star break, have the highest OPS in the majors against right-handed pitchers (.853) and left-handed pitchers (.897).
Let’s all say it again: smart managing makes a difference. But a high OBP combined with a high home-run count makes the biggest difference at all.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
Accounting Department: At 75-54 the Cardinals are 21 games over .500 for the first time since Game No. 159 back in 2019 … given how the teams began the season, it’s impressive to see the Cardinals have a record that’s only three games worse than the Yankees’ 78-51 mark … the second-place Brewers rallied late Monday to beat the Pirates in Milwaukee. But the Crew remained six games behind the Cardinals. And that’s a victory of sorts for St. Louis because another game is off the calendar. The Cards have only 33 games remaining in the regular season (35 left for Milwaukee) … FanGraphs projects a 94-win season for the Cardinals and gives the Redbirds a 91 percent chance of winning the NL Central.
Albert Pujols, Loved By All: After Monday’s magic moment, Pujols has only six home runs to go to 700, and the tributes are pouring in. Here’s a great quote from Milwaukee shortstop Willy Adames from an interview with the highly regarded Tim Brown of the Wall Street Journal:
“Even when we play against him and we’re competing to win the division, I’m rooting for him to hit 700. He deserves that. I one-hundred percent hope he does it.”
Adames, like Pujols, hails from the Dominican Republic. In the interview Adames said that Pujols was his father’s favorite player. In his conversation with Brown Pujols reaffirmed his plans to retire.
“I’m just done,” Pujols told Brown. “I just don’t feel it in me anymore. You know what I mean? I don’t want to stick around just for the paycheck, man. That love and passion that I have, that I’ve had since I was 5 years old for this game, I don’t wanna ruin it for one more year or one more month. So that’s why I decided it.”
Is he sure?
“That’s why I announced it in spring training,” Pujols said, “because I knew that I was going to probably have decent success and I didn’t want to have in the back of my mind, ‘Oh, I want to play one more year.’ I’m done. So, no matter what, if I hit .300, 700 home runs, 699 home runs, it doesn’t matter. I’m through with it, you know?”
Pujols Points: The Great Pujols has 15 home runs now, and that ranks 5th in MLB history among hitters in their age 42 season or older. Pujols is one homer behind Carl Yastrzemski, who homered 16 times in 1982 at age 42.
The in-season transformation by Pujols is stunning.
Here’s a “before” and “after” the All-Star break look at Pujols. Obviously his post-break stats are on the right side.
Average: .215 … .409
OBP: .301 … .462
Slugging: ..376 … .859
OPS: .676 … 1.321
At Bats Per HR: 24.8 … 11.8
Among hitters with at least 75 plate appearances since the All-Star break, Pujols ranks 1st in batting average, slugging and OPS and is 2nd in onbase percentage.
Pujols’ August Stats Are Crazy: eight homers and 16 RBI in only 54 at-bats. Plus a .907 slugging percentage. Related: this month Goldschmidt leads the majors with nine homers, Pujols and Arenado and tied for 2nd with eight HRs. And then there’s Tyler O’Neill who is tied for 7th with seven homers in August.
Bro Going Wild! In his last seven games O’Neill has five homers and 12 RBI in only 22 at-bats. And in his last four games O’Neill has four homers and nine RBI in 10 at-bats. He’s slugging .502 in August, and his season OPS+ (102) has gone above the league average (100) for the first time since the very early stages of 2022.
There’s No Stopping Corey Dickerson: When he limped to the IL with a strained calf on June 4, poor Dickerson was batting .194 with a sickly .531 OPS. Since returning on July 9, Dickerson’s smooth, left-side swing has produced a .384 batting average and 1.005 OPS. And he just keeps strumming out hits – three more on Monday night including a homer. Heading into Tuesday, Dickerson is 16 for his last 29 (.552) since Aug. 23 with five extra-base hits.
Pujols’ hitting revival is a huge baseball story in 2022, worthy of winning an Oscar – if this was a movie. Dickerson’s sweet turnaround is one of those largely overlooked but wonderful low-key performances, the kind that wins a jury prize at the annual Sundance Film Festival. Know what I mean?
Fun Fact On Brendan Donovan: As the Cardinals prepare to close August, the all-purpose rookie is still maintaining his high onbase percentage, which sits at .401 going into Tuesday’s tilt at Cincinnati.
If that holds up, Donovan would find himself grouped with some big-name Cardinals for the highest OBP in a rookie season. Here’s the top five; minimum 345 plate appearances:
George Watkins, .415 in 1930
Albert Pujols, .403 in 2001
Johnny Mize, .402 in 1936
Brendan Donovan, .401 in 2022
Stan Musial, .397 in 1942.
Donovan had a two-run single to give the Cardinals an early jump Monday. Since the All-Star break he’s batting .325 with a .416 OBP. In 136 plate appearances this season as a No. 2 hitter in the St. Louis lineup, Donovan has a .331 average, .415 OBP and .424 slug for a cracking .839 OPS.
This Offense Travels Well: Since the All-Star break the Cardinals have the highest road OPS (.888) in the majors. And the second-highest home OPS (.831.) The difference is smaller when using adjusted runs created; since the break the Cardinal offense is 45 percent above league average on the road and 41% above average at home.
Miles Mikolas And The Hard Road: The Cards starter got knocked around again in a road game, with the Reds attacking him for three homers and four earned runs in the fifth inning. Despite being gifted with a 4-0 lead, Mikolas lasted only 4.1 innings Monday. In his last seven road starts Mikolas has a 6.58 ERA and has been popped for eight homers and eight doubles in 39.2 innings. Mikolas has a 4.41 ERA in 15 road starts this season.
Tommy Edman, Bouncing Back: In his last seven games through Monday, Edman batted .333 with six extra-base hits (including two homers) and six RBI.
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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.