THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Nobody asked for my approval, but the legend that is Adam Wainwright made the right call in his decision to retire his right arm without throwing another pitch during the waning days of the 2023 season. Given the agonizing pain that No. 50 has endured this season, I’m sure that his shoulder, back, ribs, legs and every other pitching part are pleased with his wise choice.
The evening of Sept. 18 at Busch Stadium was a thrilling and magical experience for Wainwright, his teammates, and his multitude of fans. In what turned out to be the final start of his acclaimed 18-year MLB career, Wainwright put it all out there: His will, his intelligence, his instincts. His creativity and concentration. The layers of physical toughness that got him through an assortment of persistent afflictions. There was his big-game persona and the joy of pitching. Waino hoodooed the Brewers for seven scoreless innings, getting poked for only four hits.
This farewell pitching performance encompassed all of the attributes – and that attitude – that made Adam Wainwright the second-best starting pitcher in franchise history. Waino’s competitiveness was hardwired on that enchanted evening. He was more determined than anyone on the field. Nothing could distract him. He stubbornly refused to weaken during the fight, and the Brewers couldn’t knock him down.
Wainwright did all of this at age 42, after grinding his teeth through so many draining, vulnerable, miserable starts that made him feel so down at times in 2023. But with time running out on his career and his desperate mission to secure career victory No. 200, Waino overcame all of the factors working against him and prevailed. He blocked out the never-ending soreness, the low-velocity pitches, the inevitable erosion of young-athlete skills caused by time … none of that could stop him. He pulled it all together, made his last stand, and went out on top, just as a towering figure should do. He earned No. 200, adoration from his teammates, the admiration of the Brewers, and wiped away 200 teardrops as the lovefest surrounded him from every part of the stadium.
His work was done. After such an extraordinary liberation in his final competitive hours, there was no reason to throw another pitch. Wainwright delivered the happiest, most inspiring moment of an otherwise dispiriting season of baseball in The Lou.
Under the circumstances, there could be no finer start than that. It was the perfect ending. The ideal way to complete his journey. Somewhere up above, from that mound in the sky, Bob Gibson was tipping his cap. He wasn’t glaring. Gibby was smiling, just like Waino.
BROOKS ROBINSON: MY HERO.
He died Tuesday at 86 and I was jolted by his passing. Deeply saddened.
Brooks Robinson: First-ballot Hall of Famer. Sixteen Gold Gloves at third base, winning his first one in 1960 and winning them consecutively through 1975. He was selected for 18 All-Star games. He was the MVP of the 1966 All-Star Game in St. Louis in the first game at the then-new Busch Stadium.
Brooks was the 1964 AL MVP and received MVP votes in 11 other seasons. From 1966 through 1971, he competed in four World Series and played a huge role in the Orioles winning two of them. Brooks was voted MVP of the 1970 World Series, crushing the Reds with his incredible defense and lethal offense. (You need to go find the highlights on YouTube. The defense was absolutely spectacular.)
Brooks retired in 1977, but all of these years later he still holds the major-league record for most career games by a third baseman, the most put-outs by a third baseman, and the most assists by a third baseman. Brooks still has 926 more assists than any third baseman in MLB history. He still has 1,195 more put-outs than any third baseman in MLB history. No one has gotten close to him.
Brooks was also the nicest person you’d ever want to know. I was blessed to get to know him.
How gracious was Brooks Robinson? I’ve been privileged to see, and write about, three of the greatest third basemen in MLB history. Brooks, Scott Rolen and Nolan Arenado.
I was asked – quite often – if Brooks was the best defensive third baseman of all time. So I called him to get his own opinion on that.
Who was the best?
“Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman I’ve ever seen,” Robinson told me. “Among other things, I didn’t throw as well as he does. He has a great arm. I was more about having a quick release but in my time I couldn’t throw as hard as he does now.”
That settled the debate for me.
Is it OK if I still think Brooks is the best? It’s probably OK for me to do that. But I defer to Brooks, and he chose Arenado.
For kids who grew up in Baltimore, Brooks was our Stan Musial. Brooks Calbert Robinson grew up in Little Rock, Ark. He loved the Cardinals. At night he’d listen to the games, with his dad Brooks Sr., on KMOX.
“My favorite ballplayer ever was Stan Musial,” Brooks told me one day at the ballpark in Baltimore when I told him I was moving to St. Louis to write sports. “You’ll love it there because you love baseball,” Brooks told me.
I asked him why he adored Stan Musial.
“I knew I couldn’t be Stan the Man,” he said. “No one could be Stan. And besides, I was a right-handed hitter. I couldn’t be the kind of player that he was. But I wanted to be like him. He was so warm and friendly to anyone who met him and asked for an autograph. I wanted to be just like that. I never wanted to disappoint a fan. I wanted to emulate Stan.”
You did, Brooksie.
You most certainly did.
MILES MIKOLAS: He pitched very well Tuesday, deservedly getting the win in STL’s 4-1 victory over the division-champion Brewers. Mikolas didn’t break when trapped in early trouble. He escaped, retired 15 of the final 16 hitters faced, and held the Brewers to one run and five hits in seven innings. Based on the Game Score system devised by Bill James to grade starting-pitching performances, this was Mikolas’ best start since July 8 and his fifth-finest start of the season.
Mikolas will be one of the most important Cardinals in 2024. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak is preparing to make offseason additions to refurbish an insolvent rotation, but a 2024 turnaround also depends on pitchers that already are in place. The Cardinals need an upturn in performance from Mikolas.
Using ERA+ – 100 is league average – here is how Mikolas has fared in each of his full seasons as a Cardinal:
2018: 137 ERA+
2019: 101 ERA+
2022: 118 ERA+
2023: 89 ERA+
After making a strong comeback from the forearm surgery that caused him to miss most of 2021, Mikolas made a strong comeback in 2022. With one more start to go, Miles has slipped in 2023. He hasn’t lost velocity. His stuff has good movement. He’s physically strong.
Mikolas ranked eighth in the majors for innings pitched by a starter in 2022, and he’s fourth for most innings this season. With 194 and ⅓ innings, he has a good chance to reach 200 IP in his start against the Reds this weekend.
Mikolas is 35, but there’s nothing to prevent him from returning to his earlier form. He just needs to rework his slider and make better pitches. He’s fired up by his frustrating season and is highly motivated to bounce back in 2024. And if Mozeliak comes through with a reordering of the rotation, the better version of Mikolas will make the St. Louis starting pitching all that much stronger in ‘24.
POWERED BY PALACIOS: The surprising late-season outbreak continues for outfielder Richie Palacios. Tuesday in Milwaukee, his two-out, two-run double in the fourth inning was the biggest blow of the game for the Cardinals. The instant impact changed the course of the game. Before Palacios came through, the Cards trailed 1-0 and had a win expectancy of 37 percent. After the timely double, the Redbirds led 2-1 and their expectancy jumped all the way to 60 percent.
It was another big hit from Palacios. Since his promotion from Triple A Memphis, Palacios is 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position, slashing three doubles and knocking home nine RBI.
In 73 plate appearances since Aug. 21, Palacios is batting .273 with five homers, 11 RBI, a .561 slugging percentage and .880 OPS. Per wRC+, his offensive performance over that time is 34 percent above league average. Among Cardinals that have at least 50 plate appearances since Aug. 21, Palacios is second in slugging, tied for second with five homers and is third in batting average, OPS and wRC+. Has Palacios played his way into a spot with the big club in 2024? Not sure, but he’s sure doing all that he can to make it happen.
HELLS BELLS: In his 10 appearances since returning from the IL, Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley has an 0.84 ERA in 10 and ⅔ innings. In the 10 appearances Helsley has allowed an .063 batting average and he’s struck out 17 of 38 batters faced for a fantastic 44.7 percent strikeout rate. Helsley notched his 13th save of the season Tuesday by striking out Sal Frelich, Willy Adames and Josh Donaldson on 14 pitches.
JORDAN WALKER IN THE STRETCH DRIVE: The rookie right fielder had two singles in Tuesday’s win, pushing his hitting streak to 11 games. He’s having a terrific September, batting .313 with a .385 OBP and .513 slug for a robust .897 OPS. Per wRC+, Walker is 45 percent above the league average offensively for the month. He’s also clubbed four home runs, which matches his four HR in June.
Walker struggled in July but has surged over the final two months. In 186 plate appearances since Aug. 1, he’s batting .288 with a .366 OBP, .479 slug and .844 OPS. He’s 31 percent above league average offensively since completing July. Walker is the only MLB rookie to click for three different hitting streaks of at least 10 games.
1. In NL Central play, the Cardinals are 10-11 against the Brewers and Reds this season but much worse (9-17) against the Pirates and Cubs.
2. Despite averaging only 2.6 runs per game, batting .205 and slugging .322, the Cardinals are 6-7 in their last 13 contests. Except for getting pounded for 12 runs by the Padres on Sunday, the St. Louis pitching has been pretty solid over this stretch. Excluding that bad day in San Diego, Cards pitchers have a 3.71 ERA in the other 12 games. The 6-7 stretch has included a 3-1 record in games decided by a run.
3. Praise for Drew VerHagen. And why not? Since the beginning of August the righty reliever had a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings and opponents have batted only .133 against him.
4. Lefty reliever John King has a 1.62 ERA in 16 and ⅔ innings since coming over from Texas at the trade deadline. That includes a 1.23 ERA in eight September appearances. One quirky thing: left-handed hitters have a higher batting average (.292) against King than right-handed hitters (.270). Another positive from King is his work when inheriting runners. Only 1 of 7 have scored (14%). King’s dandy 68.6 percent ground-ball rate gets him out of trouble.
5. Zack Thompson starts for the Cardinals against the Brewers on Wednesday. After delivering some encouraging starts, Thompson has a 5.73 in his four September assignments. And in the four starts right-swinging batters have hit .306 against him with a .342 OBP and .528 slug.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus 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.