Welcome to The Redbird Review
This is important.
You’re not going to fool around again, right?
The Cincinnati Reds are in town for three games. They come into Busch Stadium with the drag of losing five consecutive series. They went 5-10 against the Brewers, Marlins, Cardinals, Tigers and Cubs.
In the last 15 games they scored one run in a contest six times. They batted .227, reached base in only 29 of their plate appearances and slugged .387. The terrific hitter, Jesse Winker, remains on the IL.
The bullpen shenanigans have probably caused manager David Bell to lose sleep, lose hair, or lose his mind. Or maybe all three. This season the team’s 5.18 bullpen ERA is the third worst among the 30 MLB teams this season. In 26 innings this month, Reds relievers have combined for a 5.74 ERA.
You fellers know what you have to do: pounce on the Reds. A few weeks ago they were rolling smoothly, seemingly on the verge of taking control of the competition for the NL’s No. 2 wild card spot. But something went wrong. The Reds went wrong. They did the Reds thing. They’re flaky. When you play them, you never quite know who will show up.
With the Reds coming to St. Louis to reset, reengage and regenerate their swag and mojo, you can’t allow these dudes to get full of themselves again.
You have to win Friday night behind the snarly Jon Lester, who seems to be thriving as a member of the St. Louis Old Man Starter Club.
Saturday, you have to overcome Reds starter Luis Castillo on and score more runs than expected in support of Miles Mikolas. His return from the IL to the rotation hasn’t been smooth: seven earned runs in eight innings over his last two starts.
On Sunday afternoon, lefty J.A. Happ will be looking to rebound and clear his head after the horrific beatdown he took from the Reds in Cincinnati on Sept. 1. Busch will be a more comfortable setting for Happ. But can you put a whomping on Reds starter Sonny Gray?
The STL pitching staff must muzzle the Cincinnati bats. The Reds have scored exactly one run in nine of their last 13 losses. They’ve scored three runs or fewer in 15 of their last 30 games. They are batting .220 during their 5-10 tumble. But the STL pitching can’t afford false starts or bullpen crackups.
Give the Reds some hope, and they’re dangerous.
They can explode. They’re overdue. Be careful.
“We’re working at it,” Bell said. “We’re competing and we’re doing everything we can to battle to get that offensive flow back. But we’re not where we’ve been the majority of the year. We’ll continue to work to get back to that point.”
The No. 2 wild-card race is a baseball sitcom.
Thursday the Mets lost to the Marlins. The Phillies lost to the Rockies. The Padres and Reds were off. The Cardinals were the only team to upgrade their position, defeating the Dodgers for the second consecutive game, summoning an admirable response to dropping the first two games to LA.
So as the four wild card contenders line up for a wooly-bully weekend, the Padres lead the Reds by one game, the Cards by three games, the Phillies by 3 and ½ and the Mets by five.
MLB.com pointed out a telling statistic on the Reds: if they get the jump in a game, it emboldens them. It strengthens them. When the Reds score first in a game this season, their record is 48-15. During Cincinnati’s 5-10 rut, opponents plated the first run in 12 of the 15 games.
You gotta beat them to the punch, Cardinals.
And you must take advantage of their mistakes. And the Reds don’t play clean baseball. According to Fielding Bible, the Reds rank 24th in the majors with defensive runs saved, with a glaring deficit of minus 24 runs. According to Bill James, the Reds are a woeful minus 55 in net base running gain this season, and only one NL team has made more outs on the bases. The Cardinals are vastly better than the Reds in these two areas, and that should give them an advantage in any close contests this weekend.
As we’ve discussed many times, the Reds have a late-season scheduling advantage, giving them a chance to load up on the wins by pounding weak opponents. That sounds good — well, at least until the games start. During their 5-10 slump the Reds went 3-6 against three losing teams (Marlins, Tigers, Cubs.)
And the Reds lost two of three at home to you, Cardinals. But you had a chance to sweep the three-game series by knocking the Reds down for a third time. Instead, you let them get up to smash you for a 12-2 win. You couldn’t put them away.
This has been going on, in one form another, for much of the season. The Cardinals win a series at Milwaukee in May, then go to San Diego for an 0-3 lost weekend. The Cards break away from a funk by sweeping a three-game series from the Marlins in June, then promptly lose six out of seven to the Braves and Tigers.
There was the strangeness of losing three of four at home to the Pirates. And, come to think of it, one of the lowest points of the season came when the Reds marched into St. Louis and dunked on the Cardinals four times in four days. More recently the Cards were all proud and happy after winning six in a row — and eight out of nine — in matchups with the Pirates and Royals. But from that point the Redbirds are 10-12, and gave away several killer games through bullpen implosions.
The Cardinals (71-68) are fortunate to be so close in the wild-card scramble. But if they’re going to make their move, this is the time. There are 23 games left on the St. Louis schedule. The two straight wins over the Dodgers increased their FanGraphs playoff probability to 7.1 percent. That ain’t much, but the Cardinals were recently down to 2.8 percent in the playoff odds.
After the weekend series, the Cardinals will be down to 20 games. And if the Reds can get out of St. Louis with two wins, that’s trouble for the Cardinals. (Because time is a big enemy right now.) And should the Reds sweep the Cardinals, the impact would be destructive.
Play your best lineup, Mike Shildt.
This ain’t the time to give rest days to your best hitters.
Speaking of which …
Shildt gave Nolan Arenado a day off for the first game with the Dodgers. Arenado, who had been clubbing homers and driving in runs during a 10-game road trip, went 1 for 11 after his rest day vs. LA.
Paul Goldschmidt had three hits in the opening game against the Dodgers — then went 2 for 7 with two strikeouts after returning to the lineup.
So after being put on the bench by their manager, Arenado and Goldy went a combined 3 for 18 after plugging back into the lineup. Shildt managed to cool down two red-hot bats. Brilliant. I don’t think it’s a good idea for a manager to be a cooler.
I’ll say it again: urgency.
CHECKING THE PHILLIES: They’ve lost 5 of last 7 while playing the Marlins, Brewers and Rockies and now trail first-place Atlanta by 3 and ½ games in the East. And the Phils have lost ground in the wild-card slog. Problem: since coming over to Philadelphia from Texas at the trade deadline, closer Ian Kennedy has a 6.59 ERA in 14 appearances and has squandered two of his eight save opps. With the Rangers, Kennedy had a 2.51 ERA and went 16-for-17 in save chances.
CHECKING THE PADRES: The Friars would like to think they are turning things around, mostly because of a positive stretch of starting pitching. Yu Darvish was very good in his last start, allowing one run in six innings. Chris Paddack (3.38 ERA in two starts) has provided a boost since bouncing back from the IL. Blake Snell has a 2.84 in his last 12 starts, and a 1.85 ERA in his last seven outings. And the dependable Joe Musgrove has a 2.87 ERA in 27 starts this season. Here’s what it means: In their 11 total starts since Aug. 21, Darvish, Musgrove, Snell and Paddack) have combined for seven quality starts and a 2.67 ERA. And the Padres went 7-4 in those games.
Beginning Friday night, the Padres enter a 10-game, 10-day road trip with visits to Los Angeles, San Francisco and St. Louis. “They’re definitely playoff games,” Paddack said. “It’s not often you have 10 games like this. It’s make or break. We’ve got to win these series.”
Added Padres shortstop Jake Conenworth: “The teams we’re playing are all in the hunt. These are big games for them, too. Dodger Stadium, San Francisco and St. Louis — all those stadiums will have a ton of energy. It’s going to be fun.”
The Padres final 23 games will be played against opponents with winning records. That includes 20 games against teams that currently hold playoff spots in the National League. Oddly enough, San Diego has done better against winning teams this season (34-26) than opponents with losing records (40-39.)
Moving On …
THE CARDS MADE A NICE SAVE: That was a helluva effort by the locals in the series with the Dodgers. They scored three total runs in the first two games, both loses. With a huge assist from Adam Wainwright, who gave his teammates a chance to salvage the series, the Cardinals followed Waino’s win in Game 3 by holding off the Dodgers for a 2-1 close-call victory Thursday. Look, I can’t complain about a 2-2 split when the home team loses the first two games. The Cardinals could have lost all four games and were dangerously close to going 1-3 against Los Angeles. But after a poor start to the series they made the best of the situation and avoided a disaster. And St. Louis did so despite mustering little offense.
As Thursday’s starting pitcher Jake Woodford said: “Any win at this point is important. Overall, as a team, it was huge to work our way back and split that series.”
BULLISH BULLPEN: With the exception of Kwang Hyun Kim, who was smacked for two earned runs in 1.1 innings, the St. Louis bullpen was outstanding against the Dodgers.
Kodi Whitley, Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, T.J. McFarland, Luis Garcia, Andrew Miller and Daniel Ponce de Leon combined to pitch 12 and ⅓ innings in the series and was jabbed for only one run — a solo homer yielded by Reyes. That group of seven relievers had a 0.71 ERA, 26.1 percent strikeout rate and didn’t walk any of the 46 batters faced.
Overall in the LA series the STL bullpen had a 1.98 ERA and allowed a .111 batting average.
TYLER O’NEILL STRIKES AGAIN: For the consecutive day, O’Neill launched a solo homer that turned out to be the winning run for the Cardinals in their two straight victories over the Dodgers. In the series O’Neill batted .357; of his five hits two were doubles and two were home runs. In the four games O’Neill had two of the Cards’ three homers and four of their nine extra-base hits. The Cardinals scored only 10 runs on the Dodgers in 34 innings, and O’Neill was in the middle of it with three runs scored and two RBI.
THE CARDS NEEDED O’NEILL’S OFFENSE: The Cardinals were fortunate to split the four-game series. Here’s why: they lost the first two games, greatly reducing their odds of a 2-2 split against an opponent that has the second-best record in the majors. But on top of that the Cardinals were largely muffled by Los Angeles pitching. The Redbirds averaged 2.5 runs per game, batted .205, had a .250 OBP, slugged an anemic .323 — and hit .167 with a 39.4 percent strikeout rate in 33 plate appearances that came with men in scoring position.
GOOD GRIEF: Paul DeJong, Dylan Carlson, Tommy Edman, Matt Carpenter, Nolan Arenado, Harrison Bader and Lars Nootbar combined for 7 hits in 73 at-bats (.095) with 21 strikeours against Dodger pitching over the four games.
That will do it for me.
Thanks for reading, and have a superb weekend!
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 “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 available at 590thefan.com
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net 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.