The Cardinals played the Pittsburgh Pirates at the right time. The Redbirds needed a boost after an 11-14 stretch of patchiness. The visitors didn’t solve their problems during three days in Pittsburgh, but they stacked three wins and felt better about themselves as they flew home to St. Louis.
The Cardinals are 23-18 – the fifth-best record in the NL – and trail first-place Milwaukee by three games as they set up at Busch Stadium for a nine-game homestand against the Blue Jays (2), Brewers (4) and Padres (3.) All three teams have winning records, and the Cardinals can prove themselves in a number of ways by getting the best of the visitors.
Let’s get to the Redbird Review. The Cardinals are one-quarter into their 2022 schedule, and that’s always an appropriate time for a progress report.
In no particular order …
1) Paul Goldschmidt: Goldy enters the new week with a gaudy set of statistics. The classy first baseman ranks 4th in the majors in batting average (.342), third in onbase percentage (.409), 11th in slugging percentage (.566), and fifth in OPS (.975.) Goldy is also tied for the MLB lead in doubles (16) and ranks eighth with 29 RBI.
2) Run Prevention: Even with the recent turbulence that is challenging the pitching staff, the Cardinals’ average of allowing 3.78 runs per game ranks eighth in the majors.
3) A flexible, versatile position-player roster. Manager OIi Marmol wanted this for 2022, and he has a lot more to work with. Consider the non-catcher positions and the number of players that have started at each spot:
First base: Started four players, and used a fifth.
2nd base: Started three players; used a fourth.
3rd base: Started three.
Shortstop: Started four; used a fifth.
Left field: started four players.
Center field: started three; used a fourth.
Right field: have started five players.
Designated hitter: Nine different Cards have been utilized at the DH spot.
The most significant and effective multi-position tool is rookie Brendan Donovan. He’s started six games at shortstop, three at third base, two at second base, and one game each at first base, right field, and DH. Fellow rookie Juan Yepez has started games in left field, right field, first base and DH.
Marmol has many ways to get Donovan’s bat in the lineup by using him in so many positions. And Yepez is showing versatility — left field, right field, first base, DH — that we didn’t know he had.
4) Tommy Edman: Don’t look now, but Edman has the most WAR of any Cardinal (2.2), and that’s tied for sixth-best among MLB position players. Edman has a swell onbase percentage (.374) is slugging .474, and is among the big-league leaders in runs and stolen bases. He’s the best defensive second basemen in the majors, is in the process of moving over to shortstop, and gave the Cardinals five innings in center field Saturday in Pittsburgh as a remedy to injuries.
5) Youth On Parade: We’re talking about rookie position players: Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman.(But certainly a tip of the cap goes to RH rookie reliever Andre Pallante.)
Donovan and Yepez got things rolling from the start. In a combined 133 plate appearances through Sunday they had four homers, 13 RBI, six doubles, 18 walks, 35 hits and 22 runs.
Among MLB rookies that have at least 50 plate appearances to this point, Donovan ranks first and second respectively in OPS+. The MLB average OPS+ is 100, and Donovan (183) and Yepez (157) are well above that.
Among MLB rookies with 50 or more PA, Donovan is second in batting average (.319), first in onbase percentage (.467), first in walk rate (18.3%), fifth in slugging (.489) and first in standard OPS (.956.)
Yepez is third in batting average (.308), second in onbase percentage (.384), fourth in slugging (.492) and third in standard OPS (.876.)
Donovan played his first game on April 25. Yepez made his MLB debut on May 4. Since the Cardinals put both players in the lineup, the team has averaged 6.1 runs per game, batted .282, slugged .460 and generated a .806 OPS.
And Gorman jumped right in with total poise and a lovely swing to go 5 for 10 against the Pirates in his first three games as a Cardinal.
6) Miles Mikolas: He’s been the rotation’s best performer pitching to a 1.68 ERA in eight starts and 48.1 innings. He hasn’t yielded more than two earned runs in any of his starts. His 1.68 ERA ranks sixth among MLB starting pitchers.
7) Ryan Helsley: The dominant righthander stands among the very best relievers of 2022 so far. In 12 games covering 14.2 innings Helsley has allowed only four of 48 batters to reach base, has not been charged with an earned run, and has struck out 52 percent of opposing hitters. Helsley ranks second among MLB relievers with 1.0 WAR.
8) Nolan Arenado: a recent slump has pulled his numbers down, but for the season he ranks fourth in the majors with 32 RBIs, and is tied for eighth with 2.0 WAR. He’s still near the top of the leaderboard at third base with six defensive runs saved. And among MLB third baseman he ranks in the top five in homers, RBI, average, slugging and OPS.
9) Defense and baserunning. The defense isn’t as sharp as we saw in 2021, but there’s been a few changes made, and a minor downturn isn’t surprising. And this defense is plenty good, ranking tied for 8th in the majors with 13 defensive runs saved. And the St. Louis baserunning continues to be a team strength; the Cards rank 3rd in MLB in the FanGraphs baserunning metric. The Cardinals lead the majors with 36 steals and are a close 2nd in stolen-base success rate (90%.) The team is fifth in the percentage of extra-bases (49.5%) taken on a batted ball in play. And no team has gone from second base to home (42 times) more often than St. Louis. The Cardinals are second in the majors in the number of times going from first base to third (28.)
10) We’re enjoying the feel-good reunion of Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. Waino is pitching well, going 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA. Pujols has a .446 slugging percentage, .779 OPS, four homers and 12 RBI. After a slow start Molina is having a solid May (.273 average, .455 slug) and hitting the ball with authority. And the legends are having fun. They’re loving this. And their joy only adds to our entertainment.
1) Chaos, serious chaos, on the pitching staff. Starters Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz are on the IL with shoulder issues. Two other starters, Jordan Hicks and Dakota Hudson, are high on pitch counts and low on innings pitched. The injuries and inefficiencies have stressed the bullpen. Cardinals relievers ranked 25th in the majors for most innings pitched in April but are 7th for most IP in May. And the monthly bullpen ERA reflects the increasing strain: 2.92 in April (sixth in MLB), 4.35 in May (21st.) As a whole the pitching staff ranks 14th in the majors with a 3.45 ERA. But in May the overall staff ERA (4.16) ranks 21st among the 30 teams.
2) Here we go again: The front office is scrambling for starting-pitching solutions after another laid-back postseason that brought in Matz on a four-year, $44 million contract. In recent times the baseball operation has always been confident in their starting-pitching depth going into the season – only to repeatedly get burned by not having nearly enough. It’s truly remarkable – but in an undesirable, regrettable, and baffling kind of way. Perhaps the rotation commotion will be settled by rookie lefty Matthew Liberatore, who made a bumpy (to be kind) MLB debut on Saturday in Pittsburgh. But he’s going to have to be a lot better against RH batters going forward, or he won’t be the answer.
3) Tyler O’Neill: It’s been a season of torment for a left fielder that moved into a star-power role in 2021. This year? Hope it gets better for him. As 2022 clicked in, O’Neill was distracted by a salary-arbitration beef with team management and lost his case. In 32 games and 132 plate appearances he’s batting .195 with a .256 OBP and .297 slug. His strikeout rate is 31.5 percent, and he’s homered twice in 118 at-bats. Now he’s on the IL with a sore shoulder. On the bright side, maybe this will give him some time to clear his head, get at-bats in a minor-league injury assignment, and reset before returning to the STL lineup.
4) The DH situation: It’s improved since (A) Yepez arrived, and (B) Oli Marmol began rotating plus hitters into the role for a few easier work days. I’m referring to guys like Goldschmidt and Arenado. Perhaps I’m being unrealistic, but I expected more than a .242 average .319 OBP and .363 slug from the St. Louis designated hitters when going against right-handed pitching.
5) The offensive collapse of Paul DeJong. I don’t have to say much more than that. But I know he works really hard, and is consumed by the goal of fixing what’s wrong. And I wish him well.
6) The inconsistent overall offense. I’ll leave it at that for now, because this offense is perplexing and I’m still trying to figure it all out. Or better yet, read on …
The “maybe” is the offense. The Cardinals have scored 10 or more runs in six games this season, which ties them with the Yankees for the most 10+ runs in a game.
With the help of these outbursts the Cardinals – believe it or not – go into the new week ranked third in MLB with an average of 4.88 runs per game. They are – believe it or not – also second in batting average (.256), fifth in onbase percentage (.325), eighth in slugging (.401) and sixth in OPS (.725.) Cards hitters also have the lowest (as in best) strikeout rate (19%) in the majors. And they’re third with a .287 batting average with runners in scoring position.
And what about May? The numbers are even crazier: an average of 5.6 runs per game, No. 1 in batting average (.273), No. 3 in OPS (,784) No. 4 in slugging (.448), and No. 5 in OBP (.336.) They’ve also clubbed their way to a .311 average and .863 OPS with runners in scoring position this month.
Is this just a mirage that appears and distorts the statistics every time the Cardinals go nuts and drop 10+ runs on an unsuspecting opponent? To a degree, yes. Obviously.
But here’s the thing … I’ve pushed the “inconsistent” narrative as frequently as anybody. And as I take a look around the majors that word inconsistent can apply to a whole bunch of teams. The Cardinals have plenty of company in the Inconsistency Club.
For example the Cards have scored three or fewer runs 17 times in 41 games. In the context of offense being down in the majors, that isn’t as bad as it looks. Twenty two MLB teams have scored three or fewer runs more often than the Cardinals … and only six teams have scored three runs or fewer less often than the Cardinals.
Then again … what about two scoring runs or fewer? The Cardinals have been guilty of that 14 times this season, and that puts them in the middle of the pack. Thirteen teams have scored two or less runs more times than St. Louis, and 12 have scored two or fewer runs less frequently than the Cardinals.
So the Cardinals are probably better offensively than we generally give them credit for. But those six games of 10+ runs do tend to make the big picture look better than it really is. And while the Cardinals need to do a better job of reducing their number of games in which they score no more than two or three runs, they aren’t nearly as awful in this area as many assume.
If May is a sign of the runs, batting average and the slugging to come, then the Cardinals will be in fine shape offensively. But honestly, I don’t know what to believe.
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.