THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals had an eventful road trip, winning six of eight games from the Diamondbacks and Cubs.

These were a few of my favorite things that happened during the two-city tour, starting with the state of the team. And then we’ll give attaboys to the players …

⮞ The Cardinals went 6-2 with closer Ryan Helsley absent for the duration while on leave to be with his wife Alex for the birth of their first child. Catcher Yadier Molina played the first game at Arizona, then traveled to Puerto Rico to be there when the pro basketball team that he owns won the season championship. The Cardinals won the final two games of the series without Molina to sweep the Diamondbacks. And before the final day of the trip, third baseman Nolan Arenado left the club to be with his wife Laura for the birth of their first baby. The Cardinals took care of business by winning 8-3 on Thursday to clinch a 3-2 series triumph over the Cubs. Does this team have terrific depth? Yes.

⮞ As the Cardinals opened their series at Arizona, they led second-place Milwaukee by 3 games in the NL Central. When the Cardinals left Chicago after Thursday’s win, the size of their lead over the Brewers had doubled to six games.

⮞ At the beginning of the trip the Cardinals had a 71.6 percent probability of winning the NL Central based on the Playoff Odds at FanGraphs. Eight games later, as the Cards were homeward bound, their division-title probability had increased to 88.2%.

⮞ The Cardinals have now won seven of their last eight series, going 20-6 in that stretch. They’re 8-2-1 in their last 11 series, with a 24-9 mark over that time.

⮞ St. Louis is 22-9 since the All-Star break for a .710 winning percentage that ranks 2nd in the majors to the Dodgers (26-7, .788.) The Cards are No. 2 in the majors with a 18-5 record in August. Only the Dodgers have done better (18-4) this month.

⮞ The St. Louis pitchers had a 2.96 ERA in the eight games and held the D-backs and Cubs to a combined .197 average and .527 OPS. Cardinal arms faced 281 batters on the trip and were dinged for only two home runs. The Cards outhomered Arizona and Chicago 13-2, and had a 33-14 margin in extra-base hits.

As for the players …

⮞ Albert Pujols hit .450 and slugged 1.000 on the trip, had a two-homer game against Madison Bumgarner on Saturday, socked his 30th lifetime homer Monday night at Wrigley Field, and came home to St. Louis with 693 career homers. Pujols needs four more to overtake Alex Rodriguez for fourth place on the list of most home runs in MLB history. And Pujols is seven HRs away from becoming the fourth player in MLB history to put up 700 career home runs.

How do you hit a home run on a pitch thrown well off the plate and at a chin-high level? Pujols did this Monday, drawing more gasps, and there’s no reason to ask how any of this is possible. Because at age 42, Pujols can pretty much do whatever the heck he wants – including loading up for a .426 average, 1.379 OPS, five doubles eight homers and 18 RBI on only 61 at-bats since the All-Star break. Pujols has homered every 7.62 at-bats since the All-Star game.

⮞ Paul Goldschmidt continued his drive for the National League MVP award and the quest to become the first NL player to achieve the Triple Crown since Joe Medwick in 1937. Goldy batted .387 with a 1.231 OPS on the trip, jacked four homers, and drove home 11 RBI on the trip.

In the competition for the batting title, Goldschmidt (.339 average) leads LA’s Freddie Freeman by 13 points. Goldy (105) has a one-RBI edge over NY Met Pete Alonso. And Goldschmidt (33) is two homers behind Philly’s Kyle Schwarber.

Goldschmidt also leads the NL in WAR (6.8) onbase percentage (.420), slugging (.637), OPS (1.057), wRC+ (195) wOBA (.448) and Isolated Power (.298).

“It’s pretty awesome what he’s doing. It’s so special,” Pujols said after Thursday’s victory, in comments relayed by the outstanding John Denton of MLB.com. “He’s having an MVP year and it’s exciting because he’s been carrying the ballclub most of the year. He’s always been a heck of a player while watching him from the other side, and to see him do it as a teammate, it’s even more special.”

⮞ The revival of Corey Dickerson is something to behold: He was 12 for 18 on the trip, including a ridiculous streak of 10 hits in 10 at-bats. What a turnaround for Dickerson, who should play against RHP from here on out. Since July 11 Dickerson is hitting .431 with a 1.110 OPS.

⮞ Before departing for Puerto Rico, Molina flicked three hits in in Friday’s 5-1 win at Arizona. With that, Molina moved past St. Louisan Yogi Berra for fifth place all-time in most career hits by a major-league catcher. Molina goes into the weekend with 2,152 hits. That puts him 3rd in Cardinals franchise history behind Stan Musial and Lou Brock – and fourth among active MLB players behind Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano.

⮞ The ebullient Lars Nootbaar was fab over the eight games. He had a 20.6 percent walk rate, reached base in 16 of his 34 plate appearances (47%), batted .333, scored eight runs, and lacerated pitchers for two doubles, a triple, two homers and seven RBI. In 22 plate appearances batting No. 1 in the lineup during the trip, Noot had a .455 onbase percentage and .778 slug with two doubles, two homers, two RBI and four runs. This season the Cardinals are 47-25 when Nootbaar plays, and 36-17 when he’s in the starting lineup.

⮞ Nolan Arenado batted .407 with a 1.118 OPS, four doubles and seven RBI and made one of the short-list greatest plays made by a third baseman that any of us have seen. It happened Saturday night in Phoenix, and I’m still having pleasant Brooks Robinson flashbacks.

⮞ Brendan Donovan can handle any assignment he’s given. He was in the lineup in five of the eight games, starting twice at third base, and making one start at first base, left field and right field. He went 7 for 18 with three walks, good for a .389 average and .476 onbase percentage. Donovan has been outstanding when plugged into the No. 2 lineup spot this season, batting .340 with a .436 OBP and .440 slug for a .876 OPS in 117 plate appearances. According to the Baseball Reference version of Wins Above Replacement, Donovan ranks 2nd in the NL and 6th overall among MLB rookies with his 3.0 WAR this year.

⮞ Monday at Wrigley Field, Jordan Montgomery delivered the best start of his career, the best start by a Cardinal this season, and the second-best start in MLB this season in his 1-0 shutout of the Cubs. Montgomery allowed one hit, no walks, retired 27 of 28 Cubs faced, and recorded a Bill James Game Score of 92.

Until then, the highest Game Score by a Cardinal starter in 2022 was 85, turned in by Miles Mikolas in a 9-1 rout of the Pirates at Busch Stadium on June 14. The top MLB Game Score (93) this season belongs to Tyler Mahle. Pitching for the Reds on June 14 at Arizona, Mahle pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing only three hits and no walks and striking out 12.

Montgomery is 4-0 with a 0.35 ERA in four starts as a Cardinal after being traded here by the Yankees.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

A Shift Of The Tectonic Plates: Since spiraling to four games behind the Brewers on July 30, the Cardinals are 19-5, second to the Dodgers (19-4) for the best record in MLB over that time. While St. Louis was rolling up all of those wins, the Crew went 8-14 (.364) and for the 11th best winning percentage in the NL since July 31. That’s how the Cardinals went from four games behind the Brewers to six games ahead of the Brewers in the division standings. That’s a stunning 10-game shift in the NL Central only 26 days.

Accounting Department: The Cardinals have spent 55 days in first place this season … after facing their largest deficit of the season – trailing Milwaukee by 4.5 games on May 26 – the Cardinals have gone 48-33 … by going 6-2 on their trip, the Cards leveled their season road record to 32-32 and are 10-6 in their last 16 away from St. Louis … the Cards are now 48-25 against teams with losing records season – comfortably above the league-average record of 37-26 in such games … The Cardinals have won 27 of their last 38 games including 11 of their previous 14.

The Offense Since The All-Star Break: Though they sputtered in trying to score runs in three of their five games at Chicago, the Cardinals are 2nd in the NL in runs per game (5.7) since the ASB and lead the majors in batting average (.283), OBP (.360), slugging (.500), OPS (.860), homers (52) and wRC+ (143.) STL’s .860 OPS in the second half is 21 points better than the second–ranked team (Dodgers.)

The Starting Rotation: The five starters had a couple of clunkers but finished with a 2.76 ERA over 49 innings during the eight-game trip. The St. Louis rotation has a 3.18 ERA in August, ranking 6th overall and 3rd in the NL. Moreover, the starters  conceded no more than three earned runs in 17 of the 23 games – and allowed two earned runs or less in 20 of the 23. Other than Montgomery’s near-masterpiece at Wrigley, the most impressive starts came from Jake Woodford and Dakota Hudson at Wrigley Field. In the two starts, both wins, Woodford and Hudson combined to give up three earned runs in 12.1 innings for a 2.18 ERA.

Tip Of The Cap To Andrew Knizner: He went 6 for 14 on the road trip (.429) with two doubles and seven runs scored. Knizner also walked three times, giving him a fantastic .556 OBP. Knizner has raised his game offensively in recent times; in 43 plate plate appearances since July 27 he is batting .361 with a .910 OPS. Kiz has six walks and a .465 onbase rate over that time.

Here Come The Atlanta Braves: The defending World Series champs struggled early, winning 23 of their first 50 games. But since June 1 Atlanta has been the best team in baseball with a 55-21 record and .727 winning percentage … and after a mini 1-5 downturn in early August the Braves come into Busch Stadium with a 14-2 record since Aug. 9. During that 16-game Hotlanta streak, the Braves have scored 6.2 runs per game and their pitchers have allowed only 2.6 earned runs per contest … The Braves (78-48) trail the first-place Mets (80-46) by two games in the rugged NL East.

This weekend will be an interesting test for both teams. That’s because the Cardinals are stout (40-21) at home, and the Braves have a strong 36-24 record on the road. Both have losing records against winning opponents this year: 26-28 for the Braves, and 24-28 for the Cards. That said, only six of the 30 MLB teams have a “plus” record in games against winning opponents this season, and the MLB average record in games vs. winning sides is 28-37.

The Braves are 3rd in the majors with an average of 4.94 runs scored per game, and they’re 7th with an average of 3.87 runs allowed per game. The Cardinals are right there with them, ranking 4th in the majors in runs per game (4.87) and 8th in runs allowed per contest (3.91.)

Pitching Matchups: Spencer Strider vs. Jose Quintana on Friday evening at 7:15 pm; Charlie Morton vs. Jordan Montgomery at 6:15 pm on Saturday; Jake Odorizzi vs. Adam Wainwright on ESPN’s Sunday night baseball (6:08 pm)

Thanks for reading …

Enjoy your weekend …

–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, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

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.