THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals have spent much of their 2022 season in a maze. They have short winning streaks, and short losing streaks. They get hot, warming their hopes, and suddenly turn cold. Right direction, wrong direction. Still wandering around in the maze.

If you track their season by segments, this is what you’d find, in sequence, since the start of the season.

+ 3-1   homestand
+ 6-4   road trip
+ 4-4   homestand
+ 3-3   road trip
+ 3-3   homestand
+ 4-3   road trip
+ 6-3   homestand
+ 3-5   road trip

In their last six segments, the Cardinals have won two segments, lost one segment and played to a draw in three segments. Not bad. Not that good. Somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in the maze.

Most recently, the Cards’ promising 6-2 stretch was followed by a disappointing 0-3 visit to Tampa Bay. The Cards have a 12-8 record in their last 20 games, and an 8-8 mark in their last 16 games, and a 23-22 ledger since April 24.

The longest winning streak? Four games.

The longest losing streak? Three games.

The Cardinals are 14-16 against winning teams. Their record is .500 (18-18) in games played outside the NL Central. They are 16-15 away from Busch Stadium, but only 6-10 in non-division road games. What does all of this tell us? Still in the middle. Still in the maze. Unable, so far, to find their way out of mediocrity.

The series at Tampa Bay – a test against a smart and resourceful opponent – was a downer for several reasons.

The three straight losses flattened their recent stimulus of success. They frittered away a splendid, wide-open chance to overtake the slumping Brewers and move into first place.

Their inconsistent offense scored six runs in three games and batted .190 with four extra-base hits and a .491 OPS. They defaulted on too many run-scoring opportunities, going 4 for 19 (.210) with runners in scoring position.

They wasted impeccable starts by Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas, who were nicked for three earned runs, five hits and only one walk in 15 combined innings. Such a shame.

The defense lapsed into sloppiness and carelessness.

The rookie manager Oli Marmol dished out unwarranted and at times nonsensical praise after losses. Hopefully this was an aberration. Marmol is under pressure these days as he scrambles to make the most of a pitching staff that’s short on quality starters and low on reliable relievers. In that context, Marmol’s positivity is understandable.

The Cardinals are home now, back at Busch for three games against the Reds (20-37) then four vs. the Pirates (24-31.) This is an opportunity to make up for some of their egregious losses. This is a chance to make a move in the attempt to escape the maze.

The Cardinals are 32-26, and it could be worse.

The Cardinals are 32-26, and it could be better.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Juan Yepez, The Downturn: The rookie’s last home run was discharged on May 23. In 48 plate appearances since then he’s batting .186.

Yepez slugged .522 and put up a .898 OPS in his first 18 big-league games, striking out only 18 percent of the time. But in his last 15 games he’s slugging only .256 with a .485 OPS and 27 percent strikeout rate.

Yepez hit four homers in his first 68 MLB at-bats but hasn’t gone deep in his last 44 at-bats.

Tracking Nolan Gorman: During the Cardinals’ 3-5 road trip the rookie slugger went 3 for 21 (.143) with a three-run homer and accounting for his RBI total against the Cubs and Rays. He had a 45.4 strikeout rate in his 22 plate appearances and chased pitches out of the strike zone on 44.2 percent of his swings.

But even with his recent struggles Gorman is batting .288 and slugging .519 in 58 plate appearances this season, and his adjusted OPS is 53 percent above league average.

That said, Gorman’s 67.7 contact rate is nearly 10 points below the MLB average. On the road trip Gorman had a 20% swing-and-miss rate and contract rate was a low 64.5%. Gorman hits the ball about as hard as any hitters in the majors, but as expected, making contact is an issue. This is a sliver of a sample size but Gorman has struck out at a rate of 66.7 percent in at-bats that end on a slider.

Checking Gorman’s Defense: Manager Marmol has praised the rookie’s work at second base – which is exactly what we’d expect. In reality, Gorman is about average in defensive runs saved at second base. His Ultimate Zone Rating, prorated over 150 games, is minus 14.1. That’s the poorest among St. Louis infielders. But they’ll give Gorman the necessary time to improve.

The Bullpen Watch: Excluding emergency pitcher Yadier Molina, who worked a scoreless inning on Wednesday at Tampa Bay, Cards relievers were bopped for 19 earned runs in 30 innings during the eight-game roadie. The bullpen had a 4.15 ERA in the five-game Chicago series, which wasn’t bad considering the heavy-duty schedule and pitching-availability issues. But the STL relievers (not Molina) had a 9.72 ERA at Tampa Bay.

Home-Run Derby: The Cardinals have been out-homered 59-56 so far this season. That minor deficit could change now that Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson are back from the IL. But the Cardinals haven’t been out-homered in a full season since 2014. And before that, it hadn’t happened in a full season since 2007.

St. Louis hitters have homered in 2.5 percent of their plate appearances which ranks 19th in MLB. Last season the Cards offense was tied for 13th in the majors with a home-run percentage of 3.3%. In 2021 the Cardinals slugged 198 homers and allowed 152.

Somewhat ironically the Cardinals are 12-10 this season when they fail to homer in a game. Their record is 9-14 when they hit exactly one homer. And they’re 11-2 when swatting two or more home runs in a game.

A LOOK AT THE CINCINNATI REDS

— After a horrendous 3-22 start to the season, the Reds quietly have gone 17-15 but come to St. Louis with a 3-6 record in their last nine games ….

— Injuries have been a terrible problem all season. According to Spotrac the Reds have had 20 players on the IL or Covid IL this season; the 20 have missed a combined 834 days while being paid $12.5 million … 15 Reds were on the IL as of Friday morning including starting catcher Tyler Stephenson and second baseman Jonathan India, the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year.

— Stephenson broke his right thumb in Thursday’s loss to Arizona. He was having an All-Star caliber season, ranking first in batting average (.302) and second in onbase percentage (.364), slugging (.468) and OPS (.833) among NL catchers that have at least 100 plate appearances while in the lineup as the catcher. (Not DH.)

— Others presently housed on the IL are infielder Mike Moustakas; outfielder Tyler Naquin; starting pitchers Justin Dunn, Vladimir Gutierrez, Nick Lodolo and Connor Overton; and relievers Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims and Justin Wilson … 11 different pitchers have started at least one game for the Reds this season … the 15 Reds on the IL as of Friday morning have missed a combined 569 days, according to Spotrac.

— No. 1 Reds starter Luis Castillo has made six starts since returning from a shoulder strain that put him on the IL. Castillo had a 4.60 ERA in his first three starts and has pitched to a 2.12 ERA in his last three starts. The Cardinals will see Castillo Friday night as he starts against STL rookie Andre Pallante. On Saturday afternoon hard-throwing Reds Rookie Hunter Greene (5.40 ERA) will oppose Adam Wainwright. And on Sunday afternoon, it’s Graham Ashcraft (1.14 ERA) vs. Dakota Hudson.

— Tommy Pham: After batting .039 in his first eight games as a Red, the former Cardinal is hitting .276 with a .369 OBP, .461 slug, and .829 OPS in his last 42 games.

— Joey Votto: Through May 1, the 38-year-old Votto was batting .122 with no home runs and a .413 OPS – and then he went on the Covid IL and missed nearly three weeks. But since returning on May 20, Votto is batting .308 with nine doubles, five homers, 19 RBI and a 1.123 OPS.

One factor in Votto’s slow start: He was using a new bat with the hockey puck-style knob, but it didn’t feel right to him and he switched back to his usual bat. He also stopped trying to pull so many pitches.

“I haven’t even gotten hot yet,” Votto told reporters in Cincinnati on Thursday. “I’m close. I’m confident I can have as hot of a stretch as I’ve ever had in my career. That’s the plan. Once my swing feels peak, peak, peak, I will.”

The Cincinnati Offense Has Crazy Home-Road Splits This Season.

— They’ve scored 173 runs in 29 home games for an average of 5.9 runs.

— On the road the Reds have scored 79 times in 28 games for an average of 2.8 runs.

— When hitting at home the Reds rank third in MLB in batting average (.268), first in onbase percentage (.348), third in slugging percentage (.448), and first in OPS (.796.)

— On the road the Reds hitters rank last (30th) in batting average (.203), 29th in OBP (.262), 29th in slugging (.309), and 29th in OPS (.571.)

— There isn’t much difference in the Reds’ home-road pitching splits. At least not on the bottom line, ERA. The Reds have a 5.53 ERA at home compared to 5.29 on the road.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE BREWERS?

Mostly it’s the offense.

On Thursday the visiting Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Brewers. The Crew has lost six straight and went 1-6 on a homestand against the Padres and Phils. Milwaukee has lost eight out of its last nine to slip to 33-26 on the year.

During the six-game losing streak the Brewers scored nine total runs and batted .165 with a .522 OPS. Until now the Brewers hadn’t lost six in a row at home since falling to the Pirates and Cardinals in late August, 2016.

The Brewers haven’t had a multiple-run lead since May 31 – a span of 76 innings.

“We’ve got a lineup full of guys not feeling great at the plate and not swinging it well,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We scored runs at a pretty good clip for a large chunk of the season, so we just have to weather the storm, stay in the fight and keep at it. It will change. We know that. We will get hitters producing. We have hitters who are very capable of doing that, hitters who have done it less than a week ago. It’s not happening right now, but you just have to stay in the fight and get after it.”

The Brewers have averaged 3.4 runs and batted .210 while going 4-10 in their last 14. During the 14-game stretch Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen, Keston Hiura, Tyrone Taylor and Luis Urias have combined for 39 hits in 249 at-bats (.156) with 79 strikeouts.

Yelich, who has moved to the leadoff spot, has two extra-base hits (no homers) in his past 25 games. He’s hitting .196 with a .227 slug and 28 percent strikeout rate over that time.

“I feel like the energy is still good,” said McCutchen, who is hitting .204 with a .566 OPS in his last 35 games. “We’re still a team that likes to have a lot of fun. I’m still dancing in the dugout before the game. I don’t think anybody’s hitting the panic button. I don’t see anybody here stressing out over it, just a matter of us stringing together offense, stringing together a couple hits and having a good inning.”

The good news for Milwaukee? Power hitter Hunter Renfroe and all-around energy source Willy Adames (shortstop) have returned from the IL. The starting pitching has remained solid despite the injury losses of Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta.

The Cardinals have screwed up enough times to stay tucked into second place in the NL Central, just a half-game behind the Crew.

This weekend the Brewers open a three-city road trip with visits to Washington, New York (Mets) and Cincinnati.

Milwaukee is averaging only 3.7 runs while going 14-18 since May 7.

“Look, when you’re in a streak like this … we’re not doing enough things well to win games,” Counsell said. “But we know this is a good team, and we were sitting in a pretty good position. It’s a good baseball team. We did not play good this week. You’ve got to look in the mirror with that. That’s a fact. Don’t try to duck that. But it’s a baseball season. That’s what a baseball season does to you. And how we recover from that, respond to that, that’s part of the season.”

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful weekend …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

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.