THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals did it again, doing enough things poorly to give the Brewers a 6-4 win on Thursday in Milwaukee. And we know what that means: another failure by the Redbirds to put their opponent away when having the opportunity to sweep a three-game series, or prevail in a four-game set.

This has happened eight times this season.

And the Cardinals’ annoying inability to close is impacting the NL Central drag race.

The Cardinals and Brewers have played each other in three series this season, with all being a four-game format. The Cardinals went into the final day of each set with a chance to defeat the Brewers and win the series 3-1. In each instance the Cardinals sagged, lost the final game and settled for a split. In the three losses the Cardinals were outscored 20-9.

And this is why the rivals are tied atop the NL Central with 40-32 records. They are all even in the standings even though the Cardinals score more runs per game than the Brewers, give up fewer runs per game than the Brewers, play better defense than the Brewers and run the bases better than the Brewers. The Cardinals also are a plus 65 in run differential this season compared to Milwaukee’s plus 15.

The Cardinals have three of the NL’s top six position players – Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman and Nolan Arenado – based on the FanGraphs version of WAR. The Cardinals also have three impactful rookie hitters in Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan.

The Brewers can’t match the Cards’ strong mix of young and veteran position players, and the WAR metric validates that: St. Louis position players rank 5th in the majors with 12.3 WAR; the Brewers are 17th with 8.3 WAR.

Both teams have been hit hard by injuries to starting pitchers. And while the Brewers have the more famous relievers in Josh Hader and Devin Williams, the Cardinals have lost 10 times after leading in a game this season – or five fewer times than the Brewers.

Despite having so many advantages, the Cardinals are only 6-6 against Milwaukee, and they know it should be better. In the context of the race for first in the NL Central, the Cardinals are underachieving. Based on the season run differential St. Louis should have a 42-30 record and a four-game lead over Milwaukee.

The Cardinals’ shortage of urgency continues to suppress their win total. As John Denton of MLB.com noted, the Cardinals are 9-14 in the final game of a series this season and have lost the series finale five times in a row. (Rays, Reds, Pirates, Red Sox, Brewers.) In their 10 opportunities to complete a three-game sweep or capture a four-game series, the Cardinals are 2-8 in the final game.

This is how a team needlessly puts itself at risk in the skirmish for first place. This is how a team puts itself in danger of missing the playoffs all together. I don’t know why the Cardinals go flat when they should be dialed up, but they’d better knock it off.

Maybe it would help if starting pitcher Dakota Hudson showed some life on the mound instead of putting himself and everyone else to sleep. (Almost.) He’s been absolutely awful in his last two starts and symbolizes his team’s lack of urgency as he dawdles and takes too much time to throw his next pitch. Hudson was the No. 1 wrongdoer in Thursday’s loss at Milwaukee. And in STL’s 3-4 road trip, Hudson allowed 11 hits, eight walks, two homers and seven earned runs in 9 and ⅓ innings.

At the plate we’ve seen too many good or capable hitters turn tight and take bad at-bats instead of coming through with a big hit. In their last 11 losses the Cardinals are a combined 15 for 88 (.170) with runners in scoring position.

Struggles on the road, a losing record (17-20) against winning teams, poor offseason decisions by the front office, injuries, unfocused starting pitchers, unreliable middle-innings relief, pitiful at-bats at key moments, mistakes by the manager, and a defense that isn’t as sharp as the team’s 2021 defense … just some of the reasons why the Cardinals are only 11-11 since sweeping the Padres and have lost five of their last eight since reaching their high-point record of 37-27 on June 14.

“It’s strange, a little bit,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said about the STL-MIL parity. “I think it’s reflected in the 12 games that we’ve played that we’re pretty evenly matched. It’s gonna be tight all the way.”

Probably so – especially if the Cardinals continue to underachieve and fail to take advantage of valuable opportunities to win games. That season-long St. Louis trend is keeping the Brewers close.

As The Schedule Turns: The Cardinals open a six-game homestand Friday, and they’ll have three games against the Cubs and another three vs. the Marlins. The Cubs have lost 15 of their past 19 games to collapse to 26-44 (.371) on the season. After a 12-8 start in April, the Marlins are 20-28 since May 1. This bodes well for the Cardinals who are 23-12 against teams with losing records.

With both the Brewers and Cardinals having losing records against teams above .500, the NL Central could come down to this: beating up on lesser teams. The Cardinals and Brewers each will have many chances to fatten their records by bullying inferior opponents.

Notes on the schedule:

– The Brewers and Cardinals each have 90 games remaining in the regular season. They’ll play each other seven more times, with five of the games in St. Louis.

– The Cardinals will play 55 games against teams that currently have a losing record, and 29 of the 55 will be at home.

– The Brewers have fewer games, 50, against teams that currently own losing records. And 29 of the 50 will be at American Family Field.

– NL Central weaklings can influence this race by being spoilers if possible. The Cardinals have 14 remaining games against the Cubs, 13 left with the Reds, and nine to go with the Pirates. That’s a total of 36 games against the three losing teams in the division; 19 of the 36 will be played in St. Louis. The Cardinals are 15-6 against the Pirates, Reds and Cubs so far.

– The Brewers will have 32 games against the Pirates (13), Reds (10) and Cubs (9), with 18 of the 32 in Milwaukee. The Crew is 18-7 against the three also-rans so far.

– The Cardinals have an easier remaining schedule than the Brewers. STL’s remaining opponents have won 47 percent of their games. Milwaukee’s remaining opponents have won 49 percent of their games. To this stage the Cardinals have played the tougher schedule, with an opponent winning percentage of 50% compared to 48% for Milwaukee.

– The Cardinals have 47 home games left on the sked – three fewer than the Brewers.

– The Brewers will play 11 of their final 13 games against teams that currently have losing records. And they’ll close the regular-season schedule with nine consecutive home games.

— The Cardinals will play 11 of their final 14 on the road. And it will be an All-Pittsburgh final week, with the Cards wrapping up the regular with a three-game series between the teams in St. Louis, followed by a three–game series at Pittsburgh.

The Daily Accounting: The Cardinals had a winning record in April (11-9) and then again in May (17-12.) But after posting a .571 winning percentage over the season’s first two months the Cards are only a game over .500 (12-11) so far in June … after losing Thursday the Cardinals fell back to .500 on the road (19-19) this season. They’re only 8-14 on the road this season against teams with a winning record.

Notes On The Bullpen Wall: After pitching to a 6.75 ERA in the three games at Boston, Cards relievers were nicked for only one earned run in 15 and ⅔ innings at Milwaukee. The bullpen held Milwaukee hitters to a .083 batting average and .336 OPS. No question, the most positive development for the bullpen on the road trip was the emergence of Johan Oviedo and Zack Thompson as middle-inning maestros. And the Cardinals were desperate for reliever-assets to keep games under control until the closing-time crew – Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley – take over. These quickie stats reveal the problem: when tied going into the 5th inning the Cardinals are 4-8, when tied going into the 6th inning they’re 4-5, and are 6-5 when tied heading into the 7th.

Rotation Worries? The St. Louis rotation ranked 12th in the majors with a 3.45 ERA in April. The starting-pitching ERA went up to 3.97 in May, and is at 4.35 in June. On the team’s seven-game road trip to Boston and Milwaukee the starters had a 5.35 ERA overall, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Miles Mikolas and Andre Pallante did fine work, combining for a 3.00 ERA in two starts and 12 innings. But Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty had a combined 6.55 ERA in five starts – with 15 walks and five home runs allowed.

Tommy Edman Update: We’ve been keeping an eye on his performance against RH pitching this season. And through Thursday, Edman had a .353 onbase percentage, .405 slugging percentage and .758 OPS vs. righthanders. That’s a swell improvement from 2021, when Edman had a .308 onbase percentage, .356 slug and .665 OPS vs. righties. And Edman has done a splendid job of adjusting and adapting. After batting .211 with a .627 OPS vs. righthanders in May, he’s rebounding in June with a .304 average, .377 OBP and .449 slug for a .826 OPS. The switch–hitting Edman was 19 percent below league average offensively vs. RHP in 2021, and he’s 20 percent above league average offensively against righthanders so far in 2022.

Um, Better Luck Next Offseason: In advance of the 2022 season the STL office brought in six pitchers via free agency or waiver claim: Steven Matz, Drew VerHagen, Nick Wittgren, Aaron Brooks, Packy Naughton, and T.J. McFarland.

So far this season:

– The six pitchers have been whacked for 92 earned runs in 132 and ⅔ innings for a 6.24 ERA.

– The six pitchers have allowed 34 percent of all earned runs scored against the Cardinals this season.

– The six pitchers collectively are a terrible minus 2.4 wins below replacement level according to the Baseball Reference version of WAR.

Whew.

Just one “however” to add: there’s still hope for Matz, the lefty starting pitcher who is progressing in his rehab of a tender left shoulder. Before going to the IL, Matz had five above-average performances in eight starts. Because of the three hideous starts, Matz had a 6.03 ERA when sidelined after four pitches in the May 23 game at Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals signed Matz to a four-year, $44 million deal on Nov. 29, and a lot is at stake here. Not just the money part; a quality version of Matz would upgrade the St. Louis rotation. state of the St. Louis starting rotation.

Cardinals Catching Zzzz At The Plate: Andrew Knizner and rookie Ivan Herrera went a combined 2 for 19 on the road trip. Add the numbers posted this season by the injured Yadier Molina, and St. Louis catchers are batting .199 on the season and their .521 OPS ranks 27th among the 30 MLB catcher delegations.

In June Cardinal catchers have combined for nine hits and are batting .117 with a .324 OPS. Yes. Nine hits, total, in 23 games and 88 plate appearances this month. Where have you gone, Ted Simmons?

Good Road Trip: Nolan Gorman started six of seven games and went 7 for 22 (,318) with a .727 slugging percentage, 1.075 OPS, three homers, and five RBI … Nolan Arenado was 10 for 27 (.370) with four doubles, three homers, seven RBI and a 1.266 OPS … Juan Yepez went 5 for 15 (.333) with a double, a homer, five RBI and .913 OPS … By his ridiculously high standards Paul Goldschmidt was human, and he struck out eight times in 26 plate appearances – but still delivered two doubles, a homer, five RBI and a .825 OPS.

Not So Good Road Trip: Edman managed to go only 6 for 30 (.200) with a .273 onbase percentage and a 33.3 percent strikeout rate … rough one for Brendan Donovan: 4 for 26 (.154) with a .459 OPS and a 36.6 percent strikeout rate in 30 plate appearances … Albert Pujols went 0 for 7 with no walks, four strikeouts and one RBI on a sac fly … Pujols is 7 for 47 (.149) since his two-homer game at Pittsburgh on May 22.

Enjoy the Cubs-Cardinals series …

Have a wonderful weekend …

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.