THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Corbin Burnes is a super starting pitcher, capable of reducing any hitter or any team to a docile, lamblike level at the plate. Your St. Louis Cardinals figured to be in for a troublesome assignment against the uncooperative 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner.

By now you know how it went down on Monday night at American Family Field. Burnes disposed of the visitors from St. Louis while encountering only minor bleats of resistance. Burnsie cuttered the Cardinals into submission, pitching seven forceful shutout innings. He struck out 10 Cardinals and charitably permitted two hits and two walks.

The Cardinals went quietly and meekly into the Milwaukee night, getting goose-egged by Burnes and relievers Devin Williams and Josh Hader in a 2-0 loss that kicked ‘em out of first place in the NL Comedy Central.

Look, we know that Burnes is very, very good. But he can be human, and other teams have slapped him around on occasion. And yes, it’s true: you can match up against Burnes and still win a ballgame. Though this has more to do with the inadequacy of his teammates, the Brewers have a rather modest 8-6 record in games started by Burnes this season. Last year, in Burnes’ Cy Young campaign, the Crew lost nine of his starts.

The Cardinals, however, are Burnsie’s favorite victims. They all but tremble in his presence. In two shutdown, push-around victories over St. Louis this season, Burnes has ceded no runs and four hits in 14 innings, striking out 42 percent of his 50 batters faced. In the two outings Burnes has a strikeout-walk ratio of 7.0, and the Cardinals have managed only five total plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

How much does the big dude love pitching against the Cardinals? Since the beginning of last season here are his earned-run averages against NL Central rivals:

Pirates, 2.95
Reds, 2.51
Cubs, 2.25
Cardinals, 1.00

Or to relay the info another way: Over the last two seasons Burnes has a 1.00 ERA vs. St. Louis, and a 2.62 ERA over all other opponents faced during this time.

So, yeah … of course it was Burnes who stood his ground and stared the Cardinals down to give the Brewers a first-night triumph in the four-series.

“There’s a little sense of the moment to deliver something big,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters after Monday’s dubya. “He knows that we’re starting off a big series. You’ve got our best guy on the mound, and he delivered a great start. That’s what you rely on from your ace, and Corbin delivers that quite frequently.”

From Burnes: “For me, every start’s the same, just sticking to my process and going throughout my routine and being as prepared as I can be so when I’m out there, it’s executing pitches and having fun.”

C’mon man. Give us more than that.

“I don’t know if it’s because we’re playing the Cardinals, I’ve been able to do it a little more efficiently than I have with other teams.”

You could say that.

In a tight NL Central race between the only decent teams in the NL’s litterbox division, the Burnes dominance gives the Brewers an edge. At least the Cardinals get to go against other Brewers starters; Burnes can’t pitch every game. So it’s not all bad. But the Cardinals haven’t been remotely competitive against Burnes, and that’s disappointing … and embarrassing.

Jun 20, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Juan Yepez (36) flips his bat after striking out during the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Accounting Department: After sweeping the Pirates in both parts of a doubleheader on June 14, the first-place Cardinals were 37-27 and 2 and ½ games ahead of the Brewers in the standings. But since reaching that high point, the Cards have gone 1-4 against the Pirates, Red Sox and Brewers and are 38-31 … The Cards moved into sole possession of first place with a win over the Reds on June 10 but are 5-5 since then. And now they’re back in second place after falling in on Monday. Obviously the Cards can reclaim at least a tie for first place if they win two of the remaining three games in the series at American Family Field.

The Cardinals are a tease. Remember the three-game sweep of the Padres at Busch Stadium? Since the series ended on June 1, the Cardinals are a blah 9-10. With Monday’s predictable setback, the Cardinals have lost six of their last seven road games and are 17-18 on the road this season. The slide includes a 4-8 record in their last 12 away from Busch Stadium …

Monday’s loss left the Cardinals with a 15-19 record against winning teams. And that includes an 8-13 record in their last 21 games against opponents over .500 … The Cardinals are a horrendous 2-11 in their last 13 roadies against opponents with winning records. And the front office wonders why we all fuss about this team’s chances of making a deep postseason run? Good grief.

With their recent downturn the Cardinals have the seventh-best winning percentage (.551) among the 15 NL teams … St. Louis is 4-5 against Milwaukee this season with 10 games remaining between the rivals … Monday night the Brewers began a stretch of playing 54 of their final 94 games at home. One down, 53 home games to go for the Crew.

Cardinals Against Winning Teams: This season the Cards have played 34 total games against seven teams with winning records: Brewers, Giants, Padres, Mets, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays.

In the 34 games they’ve averaged 4.38 runs per game, and batted .247 with a .705 OPS. Against winning teams they’re three percent above league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created. And in the 34 games STL pitchers have a 4.39 ERA that includes a 4.11 ERA by the starters and a 4.76 ERA from the bullpen.

Cardinals Against Losing Teams: The Cards have gone 23-12 against the Pirates, Reds, Cubs, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Royals and Orioles. In the 35 games the Cardinals have averaged 5.2 runs and batted .260 with a .742 OPS. The St. Louis pitchers have a 3.28 ERA including a 3.50 ERA by starters and a 2.97 ERA from the bullpen.

Individual St. Louis Hitters Against The Best Pitchers: Good question and it’s especially relevant after the fellers were stoned by Corbin Burnes. And I can answer the inquiry thanks to the assistance of Bill James Online.

Here’s the player-by-player OPS mark posted against opposing pitchers that have a 3.50 ERA or lower this season:

Juan Yepez: 59 at-bats … .791 OPS
Brendan Donovan: 69 AB … .755
Paul Goldschmidt: 108 AB … .754
Nolan Arenado: 96 AB … .708
Albert Pujols: 39 AB … .685
Dylan Carlson: 69 AB … .642
Paul DeJong: 23 AB … .612
Tommy Edman: 109 AB … .547
Harrison Bader: 90 AB … .524
Tyler O’Neill: 78 AB … .489
Andrew Knizner: 48 AB … .442
Yadier Molina: 48 AB … .417
Lars Nootbaar: 22 AB … .382
Edmundo Sosa: 37 AB … .320
Nolan Gorman: 35 AB … .197

Note: Gorman is 3 for 35 this season against pitchers that have a 3.50 ERA or lower.

Miles Mikolas And The Power Of Run Support: Mikolas had the misfortune of matching up against Corbin Burnes in Monday’s loss at Milwaukee. But Miles pitched well, giving up two runs (both on Tyrone Taylor’s homer) in his 6 and ⅓ innings.

The Cards are 8-6 in games started by Mikolas this season, and run support has been a huge factor in the 14 assignments.

The Cardinals have scored only six total runs for Mikolas in the six losses. That’s an average of one run per game. But his ERA in the six starts is 3.57, with only two below-average performances included in the six-start mix. Mikolas had a 1.84 ERA in the other four starts lost by the team.

So if you’re looking to spit blame for the six games lost by the team when Mikolas is the starter, well, look elsewhere. On the other hand, in the eight games won by the Cards with Mikolas as the starter, they’ve scored 65 runs. An average of 8.1 per game. But the winning eight-start collection includes only two below–average performances. Otherwise, Mikolas has a superb 1.36 ERA in the other four games won by the team.

You can say that his run support has been extreme.

The old feast or famine cliche thing.

This is certain: After missing nearly two full seasons because of a forearm injury, Mikolas can be proud of the season he’s having in 2022. His 2.64 ERA ranks 5th among qualifying starters. His 88 and ⅔ innings are also 5th in the NL, and his average Game Score (59.4) ranks 6th.

Brendan Donovan’s Mini-Slump, Explained: Since his fantastic series against the Pirates last week that closed the homestand, Donovan is 2 for 18 with eight strikeouts in his four games against Boston and Milwaukee.

There’s no mystery here. Donovan hasn’t been as patient and has chased more pitches (30%) during the four games. And his swing-miss rate (11.3%) is way up over the last four games. So for the first time all season, Donovan has lost his plate discipline. His 40 percent strikeout rate over the last four games tells us all we need to know.

There’s another problem: Donovan has gone pull crazy over his last four games with a pull rate of 70%. For perspective, his pull rate was only 33.3% in 129 at–bats through June 15. He had an equal distribution of the batted balls in play to left, center and right. That’s why Donovan has 17 hits to left, 16 hits to center, and 13 hits to right this season. He needs to get back to doing that.

After having a 53% ground-ball rate through his first 44 games, Donovan has a 70% GB rate in his last four. And he’s pulled 100 percent of the ground balls that he’s put in play over the last four games. When you hit that many ground balls, your batting average will suffer. Even with a 53% GB rate, Donovan was pushing his luck on batted balls in play. A drop was inevitable.

These problems can be identified and fixed, and Donovan seems like a smart hitter … so it’s just a matter of calming down a bit and returning to the plate approach that made him an instant success in the majors.

Tyler O’Neill’s Uncomfortable Season: There was the salary-arbitration dispute with team management, the hiring of aggressive super agent Scott Boras, his awful start to the season, a sore shoulder and first trip to the IL, then a strained hamstring and another trip to the IL. There’s been a lot going on. Too much.

Before his shoulder issue, O’Neill was batting .195 with a .552 OPS through May 17. The rest and rehab was good for him; when O’Neill returned he had a .354 average and .905 OPS in 52 plate appearances. But Sunday in Boston, his hamstring yelped as O’Neill rounded first base on his way to a double. And he’s down and out on the IL again.

Since being promoted to the majors by the Cardinals during the 2018 season, O’Neill has gone on the injured list eight times. He’s missed a total of 108 days, with the previous absences ranging from nine to 30 days. Hopefully Bro’Neill can heal up the hamstring and return to the lineup in short time. His teammates need him. But once O’Neill returns, how long can he stay healthy? In 2021 O’Neill was able to play in 138 games and take 537 plate appearances. He smacked 34 homers and a combined 28 doubles and triples, slugged .560, was 48 percent above league average offensively in OPS+, won his second Gold Glove, and finished eighth in the league MVP voting. The Cardinals need that guy in the lineup.

Juan Yepez Rebounds: He had another fine game Monday with two hits including a double. That followed his three-run pinch homer Sunday in Boston, The production gave Yepez a June batting average of .300 with a .525 slugging percentage and .866 OPS. He’s such a fine hitter and needs to get more ABs.

Next On The Sked: The four-game series resumes Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. Will Jack Flaherty pitch better and last longer in his second start since bouncing off the IL? After losing Monday, the Cardinals want to see a stronger and better Flaherty.

And the St. Louis hitters have no excuses in game two. They’ll go up against righthander Chi Chi Gonzalez, an emergency pickup by the Brewers to fill a vacancy in their injury-torn rotation. Gonzalez, 30, had a 7.71 ERA in two appearances and seven innings for the Twins this season. He’s made 63 appearances for three different MLB teams; 49 have been as a starter.

As a starter Gonzalez has a 6-20 record with a 5.90 ERA. After looking at these numbers, I’m surprised the STL front office let Gonzalez slip away before signing him to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.

Even though he throws right, Gonzalez has been smacked around by RH batters during his career for a .503 slugging percentage and .838 OPS. I wonder if manager Oli Marmol is excited by the thought of giving Albert Pujols another start against a righthander.

Enjoy the game.

Thanks for reading …

–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.