Welcome To The Redbird Review…

I have no problem with Happy Talk as long as there’s a fact-based reason for putting on the smiley face. 

I have no use for fantasy-based, wish-based Happy Talk. Example: Hey, Milwaukee’s starting pitchers are GONNA GET TIRED! 

I have no patience with reality-avoiding, Happy Talk. Example: a ballclub loses a game 7-2 to a lesser opponent, and the manager appears to speak to the medias and describes his squad’s effort as something you’d expect to read in the historical accounts of, say, The Siege of Vicksburg. 

I am less than thrilled with post-game, post-loss Happy Talk on my television featuring breathless excitement over Lars Nootbaar getting a single on a night when St. Louis pitchers walk eight and hit three. 

OK, what about the legitimate reasons for Happy Talk? Sure. I’m up for it. I enjoy yapping about the positives when there are, well, you know, positives. But as I like to say, I can only work with the performance-based content provided by the Cardinals. 

I’m pleased to tell you that I am here today to present several Happy Talk points of interest that have materialized in recent times. 

A POSITIVE TREND: Monday night’s 8-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium was the third straight win for the Cardinals. They have won four of their last five and six of their last nine. But I prefer to view this through a wider lens: the Cardinals are 10-6 since June 28, and they’ve leveled their record to 47-47 on the season. Is this traction? Looks like it. But traction must last beyond 16 games. This could be the start of a true turnaround. Or it could be a flicker, a flutter, a flash. But it sure beats losing. 

By prevailing on the first evening of the four-game home series with the Cubs, the Cards picked up a half-game on the idle first-place Brewers and trail the Crew by 8.5 games. And the third-place Cardinals have moved within a game of second-place Cincinnati, a team that opened the second half by losing a three-game weekend set to Milwaukee and suffering a 15-11 loss to the NY Mets on Monday. And all four losses have been at home. During their four-game losing streak Reds pitchers have been annihilated for 41 runs at the Great American Small Park. 

HAPPY TALK! THE STARTING ROTATION IS ROLLING: Really, it’s true. I would not lie to you. During the team’s 10-6 upturn the Cardinals have a starting pitching ERA of 2.41. That’s pretty good. Wait, no … it’s very good. In fact, it’s the best rotation ERA in the majors since June 28. Over the last 16 games Cards starting pitchers have allowed a .225 average, .299 onbase percentage and a .336 slug. They’ve also walked fewer batters (8.6%) during the resurgence. 

Now they’ll have to keep it up over a more extensive period of time. But barring setbacks, the Cardinals will have reinforcements coming when/if Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas come off the Injured List. Here’s the thing: it’s still a fragile situation. If a couple (or more) of the current five starters go on tilt … red alert! The rotation’s rebound would end. 

Here’s a look at each starter’s earned run average over the last 16 games:

  • Kwang Hyung Kim: 0.38 ERA, four starts.
  • Wade LeBlanc: 2.50 ERA, four starts.
  • Adam Wainwright: 4.26 ERA, three starts.
  • Carlos Martinez: 1.93 ERA, two starts.
  • Johan Oviedo: 4.50 ERA,  two starts.
  • Jake Woodford, 1.59 ERA, one start.

The average Game Score by the starters over the last 16 games is 55, or five points above the MLB average. And the Cardinals received an above-average start in 12 of the 16 games. 

I’ll update my new go-to stat for measuring the impact of starting pitching: The Cardinals are 38-17 when their starter posts an average or above-average Game Score. And they’re 9-30 when a starter turns in a below-average Game Score. This statistic is quite revealing. 

HAPPY TALK! HOW ABOUT JAKE WOODFORD? Carlos Martinez, of course, is lost for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his right thumb. But Woodford entered the rotation on Monday night and did a fantastic job, limiting the Cubs to one earned run, in pitching 5.2 innings. 

Best part? Woodford did not walk a batter and struck out six. He faced six batters with runners in scoring position, maintained poise, and suppressed threats by allowing one hit with two strikeouts. Woodford helped set up the Cards’ 1-0 lead in the third with a wunnerful sac bunt that advanced Harrison Bader into position to score on a Dylan Carlson single. 

A QUICK BREAK FROM HAPPY TALK!  Growl! My only regret — and this was a first-guess for me, not a second-guess — is the Cardinals’ lack of foresight in their handling of Woodford. When the team began to lose multiple starting pitchers, Woodford was serving the big-league staff as a long reliever. He did a solid job in a non-essential role. Why didn’t management relocate Woodford at Triple A Memphis earlier to repurpose him as a starter? I raised that question multiple times. Woodford was drafted as a starting pitcher (1st round), developed as a starting pitcher, and made the Pacific Coast League All-Star team as a starting pitcher in 2019. But with their rotation falling apart, the Cardinals wasted Woodford in a bullpen role. 

That decision made no sense then. It makes even less sense now. That said, Woodford’s next start will come this weekend in Cincinnati. Woodford had a splendid showing vs. the Cubs — but to state the obvious, he still has much to prove. But he should have been given an opportunity to succeed — or fail — as a starter much sooner than July 19. 

HAPPY TALK! TRACKING DYLAN CARLSON: Carlson drove in four runs from the leadoff spot in Monday’s win; before that the Cardinals hadn’t gotten an RBI from a leadoff hitter in 13 games. And Carlson had gone 14 consecutive games without knocking in a run. Before Monday’s eruption, which included a homer and two runs scored, Carlson had batted .204 with a .587 OPS and 27.4 percent strikeout rate over his previous 35 games. 

Carlson was a strong candidate to bounce back after the All-Star break, and we’ll see if he can get hot and stay hot. The Cardinals really need Carlson to be the ignitor at the top of the lineup. Since June 1 the Cardinals rank 14th among the 15 NL teams with a leadoff OBP of .274 and are last with a .627 OPS. 

HAPPY TALK! GOLDEN DAYS FOR GOLDY: Paul Goldschmidt has been cranking since May turned into June. Among 41 NL hitters that have at least 150 plate appearances since June 1, Goldschmidt ranks 8th in batting average (.320), 9th in slugging (.565), 9th in OPS (.959) and is 11th in onbase percentage (.394.) 

Since June 1 Goldy is tied for fourth in the NL with 10 homers and is batting .389 with runners in scoring position. Goldschmidt has homered in four of his last five games. During his current 14-game hitting streak he’s batting .411 with a 1.217 OPS. 

HAPPY TALK! THE OFFENSE IS IMPROVING: According to manager Mike Shildt, the Cardinals implemented changes in their hitting approach in late June. Points of emphasis included hitting in two-strike counts, hitting to the opposite field, and doing better at situational hitting. Over the last 16 games, since June 28, the Cardinals have made some advances: 

➜ Two-strike batting average: .144 in first 78 games; .215 in last 16 games. The .215 is the best two-strike batting average among NL teams since June 28. 

➜ Percentage of batted fair balls hit to the opposite field: 23.8% in first 78 games; 28.9% in the last 16 games. The 28.9% oppo rate is the highest among NL teams since June 28. 

➜ Hitting against shifts: .252 batting average in first 78 games, the worst in the NL. The batting average against shifts is .339 over the last 16 games; that ranks fifth in the NL. Hitting to the opposite field is a good way to reduce the effectiveness of defensive shifts. 

➜ Over the last 16 games the Cards have improved their overall contact rate to 81.4 percent, best in the majors since June 28. And their contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (86.4%) is second in the NL since June 28. 

➜ In their first 78 games the Cards batted .227 with a .717 OPS when batting with runners in scoring position. Over the last 16 games: .344 average, .944 OPS. We commend the improvement, but the recent numbers are unsustainable. 

In their first 78 games the Cardinals averaged 3.9 runs, batted .224, and had a .671 OPS. 

➜ In their last 16 games the Cards have averaged 4.4 runs and batted .259 with a .731 OPS. 

Improvement indeed.

Viva Jeff Albert!

A few things worthy of mentioning. Some are happy. Some are sort of unhappy. But nothing too sour: 

— Sixteen games is an awfully small sample. But yes, the improvement in the numbers is there. 

— It helps to have a scorching-hot Paul Goldschmidt, a more consistent Tyler O’Neill, a stirring by Paul DeJong, and the return of Harrison Bader. But they’re part of the program, part of the adjusted hitting approach.

— The Cardinals (as predicted) have benefited from batted-ball luck over the last 16 games, hitting .300 on BIP. In the first 78 games they had a .265 average on balls in play, the lowest in the majors. Part of this is an inevitable change of luck. Their bad luck has become better luck. When you hit .265 on balls in play for nearly three months, the average will rise at some point. 

— Even though the Cardinals are hitting more balls to the opposite field, the rewards are limited. This season MLB teams are batting .340 when going oppo; since June 28 the Cards have an oppo batting average of .306. That’s well below league average. 

— The Cardinals need to improve some areas. They still aren’t walking enough. Not even close — only 6.5% since June 28 and only 7.9% for the season. Both figures are way down on the list in the 30-team rankings. 

— At least their strikeout rate continues to decrease. The Cardinals are tied for the third lowest strikeout rate in the majors (21.9%) this season. That’s surprising because their hitters let too many strikes go by. For the season the STL called-strike rate of 17.4% is tied for the sixth-highest in MLB. 

FINALLY …

JIM BOWDEN TALK! This excerpt from Katie Woo’s piece at The Athletic in which the former MLB general manager and current baseball analyst gives his opinion on what the Cardinals should do before the July 30 trade deadline.

“If I’m St. Louis, Minnesota’s José Berríos is my top trade target, and I would part with top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore to make it happen,” Bowden said. “Berríos is a top-of-the-rotation starter just entering his prime years. He’s controllable for one more season, but the Cardinals have a long track record of extending contracts they acquire via trade (Matt Holliday, Paul Goldschmidt, etc.)  Berríos, 27, is a two-time All-Star who is 7-4 with a 3.69 ERA and 3.65 FIP with 122 strikeouts in 114.2 innings this season. The Cardinals would take a huge step forward for next year if they knew they had Jack Flaherty and Berríos at the top of their starting rotation.”

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Thank you for reading …

–Bernie 

Check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is also available at 590thefan.com.

 Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

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.