The Cardinals returned to The Lou after a rousing road trip. The Redbirds went a vigorous 5-2 in their two-city itinerary that had stops in Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

By the time the fellers came home, they were 4 and ½ games within reach of first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central. The Cardinals were a season-worst nine games in arrears to the Brewers on May 11 but have won 33 of their last 51 games to reduce the deficit by 50 percent. Milwaukee’s 4 and ½ game lead is the smallest among the three first-place teams in the National League. The Dodgers lead the Padres by 7 and ½ in the West, and the Phillies are up 7 and ½ on the Braves in the East.

The trends are running hot. The Cardinals are 10 games over .500 (38-38) since April 24 for a .576 winning percentage that ranks third in the NL and seventh overall. Their 33-18 logbook since May 12 is the finest in the NL and No. 2 overall. And St. Louis has won 17 of the last 25 games for a .680 winning percentage that’s tops in the NL since June 12.

Tuesday’s scheduled game with the visiting Royals at Busch Stadium has been postponed. It’s supposed to be a stormy day, so this was a smart move. The St. Louis bullpen can get some rest, and that’s a positive. KC and STL will play two games on Wednesday.

Here’s my rundown of the best performances and developments during STL’s successful 5-2 excursion.

1. The St. Louis bullpen built a fortress. There were a couple of minor breaches in security but that’s inevitable. Overall the Cardinals’ bullpen had a pretty amazing trip overall. In the seven games St. Louis relievers worked 44 percent of the innings, faced 42 percent of the Pittsburgh-Washington hitters, and clamped down for a 1.59 ERA. The key was reducing potential harm by holding the two home teams to a .119 batting average with runners in scoring position.

From the start of the seventh inning until the end of the game – including extra innings – the Cardinals outscored the Pirates and Nats 12-2 and outhomered them 4-1. The St. Louis bullpen had a 0.90 ERA after the sixth inning over the seven games.

In the five games won by the visitors from the Gateway City, the St. Louis relievers kept the gate closed and locked. Cardinal relievers didn’t allow an earned run in 19 and ⅔ innings of deployment. (Two unearned runs crossed the plate.) In losing five games to the Cardinals, the Pirates and Nationals hit only .206 against the STL relievers.

John King, Ryan Fernandez and JoJo Romero pitched in three of the five wins. Ryan Helsley, Andrew Kittredge and Chris Roycroft worked in two of the victories. Matthew Liberatore helped out in one win.

Have bullpen, will travel … during the Cardinals’ 33-18 elevation in the NL standings, their relievers have the best road ERA (2.55) in the majors. These guys are especially ornery inside the enemy ballparks. We saw plenty of that during the lodging in Iron City and The District.

The exquisite work lowered the bullpen’s season ERA to 3.40 – fifth best in the majors. Cardinals relievers rank an impressive third in Win Probability. Let’s say it again: the bullpen is the heart of the team. The Cardinals are 39-2 when leading through seven innings and 42-0 when holding the lead into the ninth inning.

And think about this for a moment: On the manager-coaches-players balloting for the All-Star roster choices, these brilliant minds did not deem Ryan “31 Saves” Helsley worthy of selection. How stupid is that? I guess Helsley’s 94 percent save percentage didn’t pass muster with the voting blockheads. Helsley was added to the NL roster by the MLB commissioner’s office, as if he’s some immaterial piece to satisfy a quota. Helsley is the one St. Louis representative. But he should have been automatic, put on the NL team without intervention from MLB headquarters.

2. The offense crackled and popped. The beleaguered batsmen averaged a brawny 5.85 runs per game. The Cardinals scored 6+ runs in five of the seven bouts. The batting average was a spicy .298. The Cards put up a billowy .352 onbase percentage. The slugging percentage was a husky .432. Their batting average with runners in scoring position (.259) was respectable.

3. The St. Louis hitters passed the test against five left-handed starting pitchers. The Cardinals faced five consecutive lefty starters in their final five games of the roadie: Pittsburgh’s Martin Perez, followed by Washington’s left-wing procession of Patrick Corbin, MacKenzie Gore, DJ Herz, and Mitchell Parker.

Over the first three months of the season, LH starters fashioned a 3.67 ERA against St. Louis and held Cardinal hitters to a .229 average and .639 OPS. Moreover, the Cards batted a sad .184 with runners in scoring position against the lefts.

This faint showing was the primary reason for STL’s trouble with lefties. From the start of the season through the end of June, the Cardinals ranked 29th among the 30 MLB teams in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging percentage and OPS against left-handed pitching.

It was only seven games, but the Cardinals began the attempt to strengthen the most lackluster part of their offense. Against the Pirate and National left-throwing starters, the Cardinals batted .279 and scored 14 runs in 27 innings. They broke through against those LH starters with a .320 average and .400 OPB with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals hit only one homer – total – against the five left-handed starters but made up for that by hitting for average, taking a good number of walks, lowering their strikeout rate and stinging with their timely hitting. I don’t know if this will lead to sustained improvement against lefties, but this was a fine way to start.

4. Welcome back, Willson Contreras: I think we can say that he’s sharpened his swing after a long layoff with a fractured forearm. Contreras had eight hits and four walks in the seven games to amass a .444 onbase percentage. Five of his eight hits went for extra bases: two doubles and three homers. He slugged .679 and tied for the team lead with eight RBIs.

5. The return of The Whammer. Big trip for Nolan Gorman. It’s been a hot July, and Gorman’s temperature is rising. After an interminable famine at the plate, Gorman slammed his way into July with a power-iffic road trip. He went 11 for 23 (.478), ripped three doubles and a homer, and did considerable damage with eight runs batted in. On top of that, Gorman batted .500 with runners in scoring position and hit .333 vs. lefties.

6. Alec Burleson is still doing the hurly burly. He’s causing commotion, that’s for sure. Burleson batted .333 on the road trip, smacking two homers and knocking home seven runs. Burleson leads National League hitters with 20 RBIs since June 22 and has three doubles and four homers in 62 at-bats over that time. Burleson’s 27 RBIs since June 2 tie him for third in the NL with Shohei Ohtani and Greg Walker.

Burleson is up to 14 homers, 45 RBIs and a .465 slugging percentage on the campaign. All of that offense and the NL’s seventh-lowest strikeout rate (13.9%).

7. Brendan Donovan done did it again. He’s reached base in 21 consecutive games in a streak that began June 16. Per Baseball Reference, in the 21 games Donovan has hit .349 with a .407 OBP and .518 slugging percentage. (FanGraphs has him with a .337 batting average over that time; perhaps an official scorer’s ruling was changed or something.) Anyway, Donovan’s barrage includes five doubles, three homers and 15 RBIs. And he’s struck out only 12 percent of the time.

8. The Defense didn’t rest. In the seven-game journey, the Cardinals gave the pitchers tremendous support by turning 12 double plays. Shortstop Masyn Winn had a hand in nine of the 12. The Cardinals are tied for second in the majors with 92 double plays in the field. And then there was the stellar defense by center fielder Michael Siani. In my view, Siani is the best center fielder the Cardinals have had defensively since Jim Edmonds. Apologies to Harrison Bader. If any of you dear readers want to insist that Bader was better than Siani, I won’t push back. It’s close. But Siani has better range. And he comes in on balls and gets back on balls with equal equanimity. Cardinal pitchers had a ground-ball rate of just under 50 percent over the seven games and kept the infielders busy.

9. Certainly worth a mention: Miles Mikolas had a 1.46 ERA and two quality starts in his two assignments, one at Pittsburgh and the second at Washington … Andre Pallante gave up one run in seven innings in his quality start at Pittsburgh … Nolan Arenado went 8 for 17 (.444) with three RBIs against the Nationals – the highlight being his four-hit evening to help the Cardinals to erase a 5-0 deficit to triumph 7-6 win at Washington … Masyn Winn did a nice job batting leadoff during the trip, posting a .313 batting average and .389 onbase percentage. And he made some sensational plays at shortstop … rookie reliever Chris Roycroft has an 0.69 ERA in his last 10 appearances … the only real negatives for me on the trip were the bad starts by Lance Lynn and Sonny Gray. They were charged with 15 of the 25 earned runs allowed by Cards starters during the trip … that said, the Pirates and Nationals hung a 6.08 ERA on St. Louis starting pitchers. But Mikolas and Pallante were outstanding, and Kyle Gibson pitched better than his pitching line would indicate when he allowed three earned runs in five innings at Washington.

I’ll try to come back later today with another column. For now I must leave my writing desk to attend to some appointments that cannot be ducked or otherwise avoided. I’d rather spend the time writing for you, so hopefully I’ll return to resume my typing and word wrangling. If not … then Wednesday morning!

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has provided informed opinions and perspective on St. Louis sports through his columns, radio shows and podcasts since 1985.

Please follow Bernie on X @b_miklasz and Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on Apple, Spotify, or where you get your podcasts. Follow @seeingredpod on X for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball Net, and Sports Info Solutions and Cots Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.