THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals are home.

But will Busch Stadium be home sweet home?

Will the Cardinals be safe at home after a depressing 2-5 road trip to Philadelphia and Atlanta?

We’ll find out. Over the next week the calendar presents seven games against the Phillies and Dodgers.

First up, four games against the Phils. They have the NL’s second-best record (23-10) since June 1 and come into Busch with five wins in their last seven games. The Dodgers have the NL’s No. 1 record (53-29) on the season and have won 13 of their last 17 games including eight of nine.

Since the end of May Philadelphia and Los Angeles rank 2nd and 3rd in the NL (respectively) in slugging percentage and OPS. On the pitching side the Dodgers (3.13) and the Phillies (3.45) are No. 2 and No. 3 in the NL for lowest ERA.

Now that I’ve sounded the appropriate warnings, there are some things to like from a Cardinal standpoint as the Redbirds move closer to the All-Star break.

1) This may mean something – or not – but the Cardinals fought their way to a 3-2 victory over the Braves in 11 innings Thursday. After getting beaten down during a four-game losing streak the Cards easily could have capitulated to a superior team on getaway day. Instead the Cardinals made a stand to prevent a four-game Atlanta sweep. The win wasn’t a display of artistry – St. Louis hitters struck out 19 times! – but in a grim situation it was important to go home on a positive note. It should help stabilize their confidence.

2) Center fielder Dylan Carlson was the baseball hero of the day. His first of three hits set up his team’s 1-0 lead, delivered via sac fly by Albert Puols. With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th, Carlson made a spectacular catch and double-play throw to save the Cardinals from a certain defeat. And his RBI single in the 11th turned out to be the winning stroke. During the seven-game trek Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado did everything they could to lift a drooping offense, but required assistance from their friends. Coming off the bench, Carlson stepped up Thursday to give the Cardinals instant impact in a dramatic way. The Cards had an urgent need for a third source that could win a game on offense and defense – and Carlson came through.

3) Despite playing their sorriest sequence of baseball this season, the Cardinals are only 2.5 games behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central. The Cards don’t really deserve to be so close to first place, but if the Brewers wanted to gift their rivals by losing four of seven to the Pirates and Cubs … well, Milwaukee’s kind generosity was appreciated in St. Louis. The road trip was bad, but at least the Cardinals lost five of the seven games to the teams that had the two-best records in the NL since June 1. That’s more respectable than the Crew going 3-4 against the Cubs and Pirates – two opponents that are tied for 12th in the NL with a .410 winning percentage.

4) The Cardinals are a more comfortable, confident team at Busch Stadium. It is their happy place. It is their security blanket. The Cardinals haven’t dominated at Busch; their home record (24-16) is good but hardly prodigious. But that 24-16 looks more attractive when it’s placed next to the Cards’ 21-24 road record. And in 13 home series this season the Cardinals are 7-3-3. That includes a 2-1-2 report card in five home series against winning opponents. Since dropping two of three to the visiting Mets in late April, the Cardinals have gone 8-4 against the Giants (2-1), Blue Jays (1-1), Brewers (2-2) and Padres (3-0.)

5) Icing the Philly and Dodger hitters won’t be easy, but the Cardinals pitch with more self-assurance at home. This season St. Louis starting pitchers have a 4.78 road ERA and a 3.44 ERA at home. The overall ERA is 4.12 on the road and 3.52 at Busch.

6) Welcome back, Tyler O’Neill. (Update: forget this one. O’Neill suffered a tear in his wrist when struck by a pitch in Wednesday’s game while completing his rehab assignment for Triple A Memphis. Looks like it’s going to be a while before O’Neill reappears in a Cardinal regular-game again. And so it goes … AGAIN.) 

7) I’ve been over this a bunch of times already, but let’s do it again. After this seven-game homestand the Cardinals will be down to 70 games remaining on their regular-season schedule … and they’ll play 49 of the final 70 against teams that currently have a losing record. That matters because St. Louis is 26-15 vs. losing sides this season, and their .634 against losing teams ranks 8th in the majors.

8) As we sit here today the Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedule in the majors, with an opponent winning percentage of .464. Milwaukee’s remaining schedule isn’t brutal, but they’ll face a more difficult test than St. Louis. The Crew’s rest-of-season opponents have a combined .487 winning percentage – making it the ninth-softest remaining schedule in the majors.

9) The MLB trade deadline is Aug. 2, and the Cardinals have more financial firepower than the Brewers. According to Baseball America and other neutral entities, the Cardinals’ farm system is rated above the Brewer farm system. So if the Cardinals are inclined to make an impact move to upgrade their team, they hold a clear advantage over the Brewers. But that goes away if the STL front office does little or nothing.

10) Lefty starter Steven Matz is nearing his return from the IL. I’m not suggesting that he’s Steve Carlton circa 1972. But Matz will give the Cardinals an established starter after a period of substantial unrest, so I see no reason to belittle his reinstallation into the rotation. Going forward Matz must pitch with more consistent effectiveness.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Accounting Department: The Cardinals (45-40) are still chasing the Brewers (47-37) but the Cardinals are the favorite to win the division according to the playoff odds report at Baseball Reference. BR gives St. Louis a 67.2% percent chance to win the NL Central with Milwaukee listed at 32.8% … Baseball Reference has a best-case scenario 96-66 record for the Cardinals, a worst-case scenario of 83 wins for the Cardinals, and an average projected wins total of 89.7 wins … Going into the weekend series against the Phillies the Cardinals have 41 home games left on the schedule – with 36 to play on the road … after the trips to Philadelphia and Atlanta the Cardinals are 0-4-1 in their last five road series. STL’s record in the last five road series is 5-12 …headed into the weekend the Top 3 National League players in WAR are Paul Goldschmidt (4.8), Nolan Arenado (4.3) and Tommy Edman (4.1.) And this team is in second place?

Scouting Madison Bumgarner: My friend Ben Fredrickson of STLtoday advocates a trade for Arizona lefty starter Madison Bumgarner. I’m not opposed to the idea; I’m not in charge of the St. Louis payroll or farm system so the cost of acquiring Bumgarner has no impact on me whatsoever. In that context, it would be entertaining to see Mad Bum pitching for the Cardinals.

Are the Cardinals capable of making such a move? Yes. They have the revenue and the prospects. Do I think the Cardinals would go for such a move? I doubt it … but of course it depends on the cost of the transaction.

What kind of prospects would the Cardinals have to part with to make it happen? Are the Cardinals willing to absorb all of the money that remains on Bumgarner’s contract? Would Arizona be willing to eat some of the contract to expedite a deal with St. Louis? And if so, how much? Given what’s left to be paid of his 2022 salary ($11.5 million) and his salaries in 2023 ($23 million) and 2024 ($14 million), Bumgarner is owed $48.5 million guaranteed.

Bumgarner has appeal for his big-game performances in the postseason back in the Giants’ glory days. He’s also a tough cuss of a guy, and the oh-so-polite Cardinals could use a mean-hearted competitor on their side. The intangibles are alluring.

The Reality Check: But what about Bumgarner’s aging factor? Because the Cardinals would be taking on a multi-year commitment, this is something to think about. This season Bumgarner has a career-low 16.5 percent strikeout rate, and a career-high 8% walk rate. His swing-miss rate (7.9%) is the second-lowest of his career. His contact-rate measurables indicate increased vulnerability. He’s an OK ground-ball pitcher, but his GB rate (39.7%) is nothing special.

The Cardinals could use a starting pitcher with punch-out power, and Bumgarner isn’t that guy. And that makes his fielding independent ERA more important.

Here’s Bumgarner’s Fielding Independent Pitching trend (fielding independent ERA):

2015: 2.87
2016: 3.24
2017: 3.95
2018: 3.99
2019: 3.90
2020: 7.18
2021: 4.63
2022: 4.68

2023 projection: 5.02 (age 33)
2024 projection: 5.08 (age 34)

Consider This: Bumgarner’s FIP this season is higher than Dakota Hudson’s 4.47, the same as Andre Pallante’s (4.68) and higher than Steven Matz’s 4.26.

So far in 2022 Bumgarner is performing below the replacement level at minus 0.5 WAR. Based on the Deserved Runs Against average at Baseball Prospectus, Bumgarner’s performance in DRA is 31 percent below average.

Bumgarner has been popped for high slugging percentages by RH batters in recent seasons – .456 since 2017 – and 73% of the plate appearances against him this season have been taken by hitters who bat from the right side.

Busch Stadium would be a nice fit for Bumgarner – provided that he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause. The perception is Arizona’s home yard is a nasty place for pitchers, but Bumgarner’s road ERA is worse than his home ERA this year.

The St. Louis defense would likely help Bumgarner – but let’s also recognize that Arizona has a “plus” defense this season according to Fielding Bible. But no question, the STL infield defense is superior. (The outfield, not so much. Not yet, anyway.)

Final Thoughts (For Now) On Mad Bum: If the Cardinals want to make a spirited play for Bumgarner, then they should go for it. Only ownership and the front office can determine if the price is right in terms of prospects sent to Arizona and the guaranteed money taken in by St. Louis. I remain skeptical.

The Cardinals did well last summer by taking a low-risk chance on aged, walk-year lefties Jon Lester and J.A. Happ. By comparison the Bumgarner transaction carries more money, more risk, and a greater chance of experiencing loss-of-prospect pain and regret. If Bumgarner was in his walk year, about to become a free agent, the risk would be lessened. But he has two more seasons of guaranteed money ($37 million) after this one. And given the signs of decline at age 32, how effectively will Bumgarner pitch in 2023 and 2024?

But yeah, it would be a helluva good time to watch Bumgarner snarling at everybody while wearing a Cardinal uniform.

Moving On …

Can Adam Wainwright Catch? Kidding, of course … but the Cardinals need his bat there. On the just completed road trip, STL catchers went 1 for 25 (.040) and struck out seven times.

Paul Goldschmidt, Still The NL’s Best: As the Cardinals are loosening up to play Friday’s game against the Phillies, let’s take a peek at where Goldy ranks among NL hitters in the categories that matter. This always makes me smile …

1st in batting average, .342
1st in onbase percentage, .427
1st in slugging percentage, .619
1st in OPS, 1.045
1st in adjusted OPS at 97% above league average.
1st in hits, 105
1st in runs, 61
1st in total bases, 190
1st in extra-base hits, 47
1st in times on base, 151
1st in bWAR, 4.8

Oh, and he’s 2nd in doubles (28), tied for 2nd in RBI (61), and 6th in homers (19.)

C’mon Goldy … pick up the pace. Quit slacking.

A Strange Trip For Goldy And Nolan Arenado: Goldschmidt didn’t have an RBI in seven games …but as I mentioned yesterday, that’s because he didn’t have much of a chance at driving in teammates. Now that the seven games are in the books, here’s a nugget: Goldschmidt had only one plate appearance with runners in scoring position. One PA with runners in scoring position in seven games. And he walked. Which means he didn’t have an official at-bat with runners in scoring position in all of those games against the Phils and Braves. And the teammate who bats behind Goldy – Arenado – had only six at-bats with RISP over the seven games. When your No. 3-4 hitters have only six ABs with RISP in seven games, it ain’t easy to score runs. But the No. 1-2 hitters got on base only 11 times combined in 49 plate appearances during the seven games, so … there were few RISP cash-in opportunities for Goldy and Nado.

Goldschmidt batted .346 with a .952 OPS in the seven games. And he led the team with four doubles – but did not earn an RBI on any of the doubles. No one was there to score! Arenado batted .444 with a 1.405 OPS in the seven games. And despite having five extra-base hits – including three homers – Arenado drove in only six runs. Not his fault; there weren’t enough baserunners there for him.

Awesome Trip For The STL Bullpen: For this one, I’m focusing on the guys who pitch before the Cardinals go to their late-game closers. That’s been a shaky area until recently. But we must offer big praise for the way the middle men performed during the seven-game trip.

Packy Naughton, James Naile, Junior Fernandez, Zack Thompson, Johan Oviedo and the returning-to-the-pen Jordan Hicks combined to pitch 23 innings against the Phillies and Braves. They faced 89 batters and only 19 reached base. They were scratched for only three runs and finished the road trip with a collective 0.94 ERA.

Well done, gentlemen. Outstanding work.

Final Words And Stats On Dylan Carlson: Let’s take a look at how the 23-year–old is doing:

– Since May 1st he’s batting .292 with a. 361 OBO and .494 slug for a .854 OPS. Included in the numbers over that time are 14 doubles, a triple, five homers, 16 walks, 19 runs and 20 RBI.

– The switch hitter is still stronger when swinging from the right side. In 59 plate appearances vs. lefties this season Carlson is batting .364 with a .407 OBP and .582 for a .989 OPS. He’s 83 percent above league average offensively when facing LH pitchers.

– For the season Carlson is batting only .223 with a .654 OPS in 197 plate appearances against right-handed pitching. But … he’s getting better. Since the start of May, Carlson has a .728 OPS vs. RH. But even with the improvement it would be nice to see Carlson put up more robust numbers against righthanders.

– Carlson is a +1 center fielder (130 innings) according to Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved metric. Fielding Bible grades Carlson much higher in center field than right field. He’s a minus 6 (not good) in right field this season.

Have a great weekend!

And thanks for reading …

–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 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.