THE REDBIRD REVIEW

With Sunday’s rainout, the Cardinals decelerated into the All-Star break with a 50-44 record, and parked only one-half game behind the first–place Brewers in the NL Central standings.

It could be better, but the Cardinals slouched to a 13-17 record after reaching 10 games over .500 and opening a 2 and ½ game lead over the Brewers on July 14.

It could be worse, but the Brewers couldn’t maintain their hold on the division. After beating the Cardinals on May 26, the Crew was 13 games over .500 at 29-16 and led STL by 4 and ½ games. But since that point Milwaukee is 21-27 and just careened into the All-Star break with a 3-8 record in the last 11 games.

So it appears that the St. Louis and Milwaukee records – and the NL Central picture – is just about right … just about what it should be. The Cardinals and the Brewers have strengths that give them plenty of muscle when taking on lesser challengers; MIL and STL are a combined 54-30 in games against losing teams. The two rivals also have too many flaws to stack wins on a consistent basis; their combined record when competing against winning teams is 46-57.

In addition to the close NL Central race, the Cardinals go into the break as part of a three-way jam with the Phillies and Giants for the second and third NL wild-card spots.

Compared to their outlook at last season’s All-Star break, the 2022 Cardinals are in much better shape this year. The 2021 Cards were 44-46 and in third place at the break trailing the first-place Brewers by 8 and ½ games, and lagging behind the second-place Reds by 3 and ½.

For now we’ll move the Brewers to the side and review the 2022 Cardinals through their first 94 games. With 58 percent of their schedule consumed, here’s my look at the state of the 2022 Cardinals.

Jul 15, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Nolan Gorman (16) is congratulated by bench coach Skip Schumaker (55) after hitting a solo home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

 

THE OFFENSE

Runs Per Game: 4.59, 9th overall.

OPS-plus: 108, 6th overall.

Run Differential: +65, 6th overall.

WAR, Position Players: 16.6, 4th overall.

Strengths: (1) Fantastic performances by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado; they’ve combined for 9.1 fWAR, 49 doubles, 38 home runs, 129 RBI and 105 runs scored. (2) significant contributions by rookies Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman; in 587 combined at-bats they’ve delivered 22 homers, 79 RBI, 30 doubles, 154 hits, and 62 walks. (3) excellent baserunning that features 62 stolen bases – 5th most in the majors – and an extra-bases taken percentage of 48% that ranks 4th overall. And there’s (4) good timely hitting; the Cardinals rank 7th in MLB with a .775 OPS with runners in scoring position. We’ll get to Tommy Edmond later.

Problems/Concerns: (1) Limited production by the outfielders, primarily because of the 44 days missed by Tyler O’Neill. At the break STL outfielders are collectively 9th in the NL with a .696 OPS. And they are exactly at league average in park-and-league adjusted runs created. (2) Sparse offense from the catcher position including a .198 batting average and only 28 RBI; (3) the overall inconsistency including 11 times being shutout – the most by a NL team. (4) Arenado has a stiff back that’s been giving him problems since early June. Will he be OK, or will this get worse?

Better Than Anticipated: After a slow start manager Oli Marmol has cobbled together a productive assortment of designated hitters. The St. Louis DHs rank top 10 in MLB in homers, slugging percentage and OPS. Their park-and-league adjusted runs created are 17 percent above the MLB average. The Cardinal designated hitters rank second in MLB with 56 RBI. Only the Yankees have more.

Worse Than Anticipated: Catcher Yadier Molina’s final season in the majors is not what everyone hoped for. At least so far. Molina reported late to spring training, was overweight, and has played in only 38 games because of persistent knee trouble that put him on the IL back on June 7. Molina, who will likely return to the big club in early August, is batting .213 and has an OPS+ that puts him 51 percent below the league average offensively.

Heartwarming Homecoming: It’s just a pleasure to have Albert Pujols back in the place where it all began. In his final season Pujols has taken an active and enthusiastic leadership-mentoring role, and has thrilled fans with his mere presence in the batter’s box. He’s playing the game with joy, and is so happy to be a Cardinal again, and this is a feel-good experience for Pujols, his teammates, and the fans here and elsewhere. As a bonus, Pujols is helping the team with his bat. He’s batting .310 with a .343 onbase percentage and .535 slug for a .878 OPS vs. lefties. And while he isn’t nearly as effective vs. RH pitching, Pujols has done a better job against them lately. In his last 10 games Pujols is batting .333 with a 1.017 OPS.

THE PITCHING

Run Prevention: 3.89 runs allowed per game, 5th in MLB.

Overall ERA: 3.75, 9th in MLB.

Adjusted ERA: 104, 13th in MLB.

Rotation ERA: 3.93, 15th in MLB.

Bullpen ERA: 3.51, 10th in MLB.

Pitcher WAR: 5.9, tied for 21st in MLB.

Starting-Pitcher WAR: 3.7, 25th in MLB.

Bullpen WAR: 2.2, 12th in MLB.

Strengths: (1) Two “plus” starting pitchers in All-Star Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright; (2) the dominance of All-Star closer Ryan Helsley; (3) the work of rookies Andre Pallante and Zack Thompson; (4) the underrated work by the St. Louis bullpen, which ranks 3rd in MLB in Win Probability.

Problems/Concerns: (1) The front office failed to assemble enough depth, and that’s left the rotation and the bullpen in a vulnerable state; (2) the injuries to Steven Matz and Jack Flaherty; (3) the flaky up-and-down season of starter Dakota Hudson; (4) the too-hittable fastballs being thrown by reliever Giovanny Gallegos; (5) the front office continuing to carry bullpen liabilities T.J. McFarland and Drew VerHagen instead of giving opportunities to superior talents.

Better Than Anticipated: (1) Rookie Andre Pallante has made 18 relief appearances and started eight games, crafting a 3.34 ERA over 70 innings; (2) rookie lefty Packy Naughton, who has a 0.63 ERA in 15 innings of relief; (3) the quality relief work supplied by Johan Oviedo and Junior Fernandez; (4) rookie lefty Zack Thompson who has given up one earned run in 15 innings of bullpen duty. Fernandez, Oviedo, Thompson and Naughton collectively have a 1.16 ERA in 62 innings of relief excellence.

Worst Than Anticipated: Naughton was a dandy find by the front office. But the other front-office signings of pitchers — VerHagen, McFarland, Nick Wittgren and Aaron Brooks — was a disaster. That frightening foursome has a group ERA of 6.59.

The Biggest Screw-Up: Flaherty, Marmol and the front office mishandled his comeback from multiple rounds of shoulder issues by rushing him back into big-league games instead of having him continue to make progress in his rehab-assignment pitching. Flaherty pushed for this, the adults let him do what he wanted, and he’s back on the IL for another extensive period of lost time.

THE DEFENSE

Still golden. And the defense is the No.1 reason why the Cardinals are among the best teams in the majors at preventing runs … at the All-Star break the Cards have been tighter in preventing runs than the Rays, Brewers, Braves, Padres, Phillies, Twins, Marlins, Giants, Orioles, Guardians, Blue Jays and Red Sox.

According to Fielding Bible the Cardinals went into the All–Star break with 43 defensive runs saved, which ranks 3rd in the NL and 5th overall.

The strength is the infield, which continues to make play after play to save runs for pitchers who don’t strike out many hitters. The Cards have 13 defensive runs saved at second base, 12 at third base, and 20 at third base.

Tommy Edman leads all major-league players with 18 defensive runs saved this season. He leads all second basemen with 12 DRS, and is tied for fifth with six DRS at shortstop. That’s truly exceptional considering that Edman ranks 22nd among all second basemen in innings played, and 28th among shortstops for most innings played. It isn’t a stretch to say that Edman is the No. 1 player defensively in all of MLB.

According to Fielding Bible the defense hasn’t been great in the outfield corners, but the Cardinals have three defensive runs saved in center field thanks to the recent play there by Dylan Carlson. The return of O’Neill will clean up the defense in left.

ON THE SPOT IN THE 2ND HALF

The Front Office: Need pitching … need pitching … starting pitching … another reliever with a good track record as a closer … need pitching … need pitching.

Marmol: The 2021 Cardinals kicked in over the final three months last season, and romped to a late 17-game winning streak to finish with 90 wins. The 2021 Cardinals were 46-26 after the All-Star break for the third-best record in the NL over that time. The expectations are high, and the Mike Shildt loyalists will look forward to dumping on Marmol if the Cardinals fail to go on a sustained run of winning baseball over the final 68 regular-season games and the soft schedule that comes with it. The 2021 Cardinals had to compete against a better Milwaukee team than this year’s version. And they had only two wild-card tickets available to go for; this year it’s three wild cards.

Steven Matz: four years, $44 million, and a 6.03 ERA this season. Now that he’s healthy again after a sore-shoulder down period, it’s time to get going.

Dakota Hudson: He has a 6.16 ERA in his last seven starts, and unless that improves, the Cardinals will have to plug in someone better. If, in fact, the Redbirds have someone better to plug in. Need pitching. Need options.

Tyler O’Neill: This offense needs the full flex from O’Neill for the remainder of the season. And, hopefully, there will be no more injuries. After a terrible start to the season, and since coming off the IL for the first time on June 7, Bro is batting .328 with a .385 OBP and .466 slug for a .850 OPS. Those numbers, generated over O’Neill’s last 65 plate appearances, came during a stretch interrupted by a second stint on the IL.

Dylan Carlson: Why is he so inconsistent offensively? Carlson seems to go from one extreme (red hot!) to another (ice cold!). I like him a lot, and I’m not expecting this switch-hitter to be Mickey Mantle. But he’s capable of doing more … and doing it more often.

Harrison Bader: He’ll be back early in the second half after wisely taking time to undergo therapy for his plantar fasciitis. Bader was a minus 1 in defensive runs saved in center field when he went on the IL. Carlson has proven his defensive capability in center. Not that Bader will be buried on the bench, but if he doesn’t hit the Cardinals can go with O’Neill in left, Carlson in center and have more options to choose from in right field.

Giovanny Gallegos: He has a 6.75 ERA in his last nine appearances; that includes a 9.00 ERA in his last five appearances. He’s been clubbed for three homers, two doubles, a .306 batting average and .611 slug in his last 9.1 innings.

— The Overall St. Louis Offense: The Cardinals have struggled offensively against winning teams, averaging just over four runs per game, batting .242, and posting a .311 onbase percentage plus a .389 slug. They’ve bruised losing teams for a 5.3 runs per game, a .263 average, .332 OBP plus a .421 slug. Their OPS vs. winning teams is .700. Against losing teams: .753. They’ll be playing a lot of teams with losing records in the second half, so there are no excuses to justify a quiet offense.

THE SCHEDULE

The Cardinals will play 47 of their remaining 68 regular-season games against teams that went into the All-Star break with losing records. That means the Redbirds will be facing losing teams in 69.1 percent of their games to go. According to the Tankathon site, the Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedule in the majors, competing against opponents that currently have a combined winning percentage of .453. The Brewers will play the ninth-easiest schedule the rest of the way; their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .490.

To this point of the season the Brewers have played the second-easiest schedule in the majors with a combined .482 opponent winning percentage. The Cardinals had the 11th easiest schedule with a .497 combined opponent winning percentage. If strength of schedule means anything – and it should – the Cardinals will have an advantage over Milwaukee after the All-Star break.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.