THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Albert Pujols is having The Best Goodbye.

The most satisfying part about Pujols being back in The Lou for his farewell season with the Cardinals? He’s played a major role in leading the Cardinals in their dominant drive to first place.

Let’s recap: After losing to the Nationals on July 30 the Cards fell to 53-48 and trailed first-place Milwaukee by four games in the NL Central.

Since then St. Louis is 16-3 and has seized first place and opened a five-game lead over the Brewers. With the Cardinals winning 16 of 19 and the Brewers losing 12 of 19 in the same time frame, we’ve seen a stunning nine-game turnabout at the top of the division standings. The St. Louis takeover happened fast, requiring a little more than three weeks to pull off.

Pujols has been a powerful and prevalent presence in his team’s sensational rise to the top of the NL Central.

Just look at what what Pujols has done during the 16-3 march that began on the final day of July:

.469 batting average, 1st on the team.
.528 onbase percentage, 2nd
1.063 slugging percentage, 1st
1.590 OPS, 1st
.594 Isolated Power, 1st
.335 wRC+, 1st

During the 19-game acquisition of first place, Pujols has played in 13 games, starting eight times. The Cardinals are 12-1 when he plays. He’s had 15 hits in 32 at-bats with six homers and 13 RBI. That’s a home run every 5.3 at-bats, and an RBI every 2.4 at-bats. Heck, in addition to owning left-handed pitchers, Pujols has gone 3 for 9 (.333) against right-handers over this stretch.

Pujols has teamed with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to repeatedly punish opposing pitchers; in the team’s last 19 games this terzetto has batted .371 with 16 doubles, 19 homers, 56 RBI and 40 runs scored. Mercy.

Pujols isn’t here to take bows and enjoy his place in the sun during his final big-league campaign. No, he is here to conquer. To be a central figure in the (NL) central race. To remind everyone that he had more to offer than signing autographs, waving to the crowd as he receives ovations, and cheering his teammates on. To show that one of the greatest of all time can still be great at the unlikely age of 42.

We wouldn’t have said that at the end of June. At that point Pujols was struggling and batting .174 with a .294 onbase percentage, .336 slug and a .630 OPS. He had four homers in 116 at-bats. In 42 plate appearances in June, Pujols hit .158 with no home runs and a sad .425 OPS. Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Pujols was 76 percent below league average offensively in June.

Since then Pujols is hitting .378 with a .429 OBP, .768 slug and a 1.197 OPS in 91 plate appearances. And he has five doubles, nine homers and 20 RBI over that time, pounding a home run every 9.1 at-bats. And his wRC+ since July 1 (.229) is 129 percent above league average offensively.

The true “first half” wasn’t at the All-Star break. For the Cardinals the true first half came in their 81st game of the season, played on July 3. That left them with 81 games to go in the regular season.

In the true second half, which began July 4, Pujols is batting .397 with a .448 OBP, .808 slug, and 1.256 OPS. He’s stroked five doubles and flown nine homers with 20 RBI since then. His wRC+ since July 4 is a whopping 145 percent above the league average.

Among big–league hitters that have a minimum 87 plate appearances since July 4, Pujols ranks 1st in batting average, slugging,. OPS, Isolated Power and wRC+ and is third in OBP.

This Pujols surge has taken him back to an earlier stage of his career offensively. Here’s what I mean:

– His current batting average, .273, would be his best since he hit .285 in 2012.

– His current OBP, ,348, would be his highest since the .366 OBP in 2011, his last year with St. Louis before signing a 10-year free-agent contract with the Angels.

– His current .515 slugging percentage would be his most robust since his .516 slug in 2012.

– His .863 OPS would be his best since a .906 OPS in 2011.

This all would be incomprehensible … until we remember that we’re talking about Albert Pujols. Saturday night he gave his fans in St. Louis and Arizona another emotional jolt by igniting for two home runs and two singles in a 16-7 victory.

The ultra competitive Pujols is scripting his own final season, and will do it his way, and by now nothing should surprise us anymore.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Only eight home runs to go to reach No. 700.

Only five more homers to shove Alex Rodriguez out of the way and into fourth-place all-time with 697.

As great as it’s been to see Pujols move up in the historical rankings to stand in the same hallowed space occupied by the likes of Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Ty Cobb, I have to say this: it’s more gratifying to see what Albert is doing for the 2022 Cardinals.

This classic winner is still winning, still representing this franchise with enormous distinction, and all is aligned in the Cardinal universe. This man has a hungry heart, so there is more to come. Get ready. Don’t miss an at-bat. We’re fortunate to have another chance to live through a season of Pujols eminence.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD:

Accounting Department: The Cardinals have won seven seven in a row and eight of their last nine to improve to 69-51 on the season … STL’s five-game lead in the division is the largest by a Cardinals team since Mike Matheny’s 2015 squad led the NL Central by five games on Sept. 18 of that season. The 2015 team’s biggest lead of the season was nine games on June 28 … the Cardinals (69-51) are a season-high 18 games over .500 and haven’t been 18 over since completing the 2021 season at 90-72. Last year’s team peaked at 20 games over .500 (90-70) on Oct. 1 …

Going back to Aug. 10 of last year the Cardinals have a regular-season record of 106-68 for a winning percentage of .609. And it’s even better since Sept 8 of 2021, with the Cardinals going 90-55 for a winning percentage of .621. This elevated play reflects very well on the St. Louis front office.

The Cardinals have won six of their last seven series, and four were sweeps over the Cubs, Yankees, Rockies and Diamondbacks … the Cards are 24-9 (.727) in their last 33 games for the second-best record in the majors since July 10. Only the Dodgers (29-7) have done better than STL over that time … the Cardinals are 18-4 (.818) since July 24 and 16-3 (.842) since July 31 … the St. Louis record in August (15-3) is No. 2 in the majors to the Dodgers (16-3.)

With the sweep in Phoenix the Cardinals improved to 29-30 on the road this season … the Cards also built their record to 45-23 in games against losing teams. That .662 winning percentage against losing opponents ranks 6th in the majors and 4th in the NL.

Postseason Probabilities: During their molten-hot streak the Cardinals have greatly increased their projected chances of winning the NL Central. The Redbirds are given a 92.8 percent probability by Clay Davenport, an 84.2% likelihood by FanGraphs and are given an 80.5% expectancy by Baseball Prospectus.

Paul Goldschmidt, Triple Crown Candidate? It’s a little early for this; we’ll see how it looks three or four weeks from now. But if you go by the current numbers, Paul Goldschmidt has a shot at the Triple Crown. You know: lead the league in batting average, homers and runs batted in.

Entering Monday, here are the leaderboards among qualifying National League hitters:

Batting Average: Goldschmidt .340. That’s a 16-point lead over Freddie Freeman (.324.)

Home Runs: Kyle Schwarber, 34 – three ahead of Goldschmidt’s 31.

RBI: Goldschmidt 100, two behind Pete Alonso’s 102.

In other key statistical categories:

Onbase percentage: Goldschmidt is 1st at .422, leading Juan Soto by nine points.

Slugging percentage: Goldschmidt is 1st, 74 points ahead of Austin Riley.

OPS: Goldschmidt is 1st, with a substantial 138-point lead over Freeman.

wRC+: Goldy is No. 1 at 95 percent above league average offensively. He’s 38 points ahead of Freeman, and 39 points ahead of his teammate Arenado.

Wins Above Replacement: in the FanGraphs version of WAR, Goldschmidt leads the NL in with 6.5 WAR. That’s slightly above Arenado (6.2).

With only 42 games left in the Cardinals’ regular season, Goldschmidt is the clear frontrunner for the NL’s MVP Award.

Lars Nootbaar, Emerging Lineup Fixture: The energy-generating, onbase-greedy right fielder is turning into a high-impact offensive tool for the Cardinals. In his last four games Nootbaar is 6 for 12 (.500) with seven walks for a preposterous .684 onbase percentage. And his triple and two homers have produced a 1.167 slugging percentage over that time. This extreme … but nothing new.

Noot has a slash line of .313 / .455 / .578 since July 10 with four doubles, three triples, four homers, 17 RBI, and more walks (23) than strikeouts. His walk rate since July 12 is a crazy-good 24.2 percent.

Nootbaar’s OPS+ for the season is up to 135, making him 35 percent above the league average offensively. That’s very good. He’s delivering.

Nootbaar obviously has played a part to inflate the team’s onbase percentage, which is a MLB-best .366 since July 10.

Since Aug. 4, the LH-swinging Nootbaar has either batted first or ninth in Oli Marmol’s lineup. Noot hits ninth against left-handed starters, with Dylan Carlson batting No. 1 in those situations. Nootbaar bats leadoff against right-handed starters, with Tommy Edman (primarily) batting ninth.

During this stretch Nootbaar has the most plate appearances in the ninth spot, and is second to Carlson with PA at leadoff.

Here are the in-progress results of Marmol’s new lineup-arrangement tactic: since Aug. 4 the Cardinals are ranked 10th in the majors at leadoff onbase percentage (.358), are third in the majors for OBP in the ninth spot (.385) and are third in MLB with a .370 OBP in the No. 1 and No. 9 spots combined. That enhanced OBP is setting up more RBI opportunities for the 2-3-4 hitters.

Nootbaar is largely responsible for the improvement. I say that because Dylan Carlson has a poor .281 leadoff OBP in 57 plate appearances in the top spot since Aug. 4. And Tommy Edman, who has the second-most plate appearances (behind Nootbaar) in the ninth hole, has a .250 OBP there since Aug. 4.

The smart Marmol has increased his team’s platoon-split advantage to 52.3 percent of the plate appearances this season, up from 44.7% last season in Mike Shildt’s final year.

Don’t Forget About Brendan Donovan: The valuable super-utility dude doesn’t play as often but still makes a positive difference – and continues to be especially terrific at getting on base. Donovan has a .408 onbase percentage on the season, a .477 OBP since July 14, and a .556 OBP in 27 plate appearances in August. Nootbaar, Donovan, Goldschmidt and others are pumping up the team’s OBP at an impressive rate.

Speaking Of the St. Louis Offense: The Cardinals headed into the new week with an average of 4.88 runs scored per game, which is tied for No. 3 in the 30-team MLB. The Braves have also scored 4.88 runs per game. Only the Dodgers (5.35) and Yankees (.502) have scored at a higher rate than St. Louis and Atlanta.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Cardinals have scored three runs or less in a game only 44 times this season; that’s the second-lowest total in the majors behind the Dodgers, who have scored three runs or fewer 37 times. In other words: the Cardinals have a consistent offense, contrary to the comically erroneous perception.

One other note: Going into Monday the Cardinals had the best OPS+ in the majors at 117. That’s 17 percent above the league average offensively.

Among other things to brag about: The Cards lead MLB in OBP, slugging and homers since the All-Star break and are just a tick behind the Dodgers in yhe major-league lead for runs per game in the second half.

Great work, Jeff Albert!

Bravo, Bullpen: The relievers had an excellent series at Arizona, pitching to a combined 2.35 ERA over 12 innings. But all three earned runs were allowed by the increasingly unreliable Jordan Hicks in the eighth Saturday’s game.

The other six relievers used in the series – Andre Pallante, JoJo Romero, Giovanny Gallegos, Jake Woodford, Genesis Cabrera and Chris Stratton – collectively pitched 10 and ⅓ scoreless innings, and allowed only three hits and one walk in facing 39 batters.

In Sunday’s win, Stratton, Woodford, Cabrera and Gallegos combined for 6 and ⅓ of scoreless relief, providing their teammates with an opportunity to erase a 4-3 deficit to come back for the victory.

Gallegos and Cabrera: Quality performances returned over the weekend. Gio and Cabby are very important assets in the bullpen, and they’d been struggling in recent weeks. But in the sweep at Chase Field they each appeared in two games and worked two innings apiece over the three-game series. Gallegos and Cabrera each pitched to six batters and retired all 12.

Unmerciful Middle Lineup: During the team’s current seven-game winning streak Goldshmidt, Arenado and Albert Pujols have combined for a .432 batting average, 1.333 OPS, eight doubles, eight homers, 30 RBI and 15 runs. These fellers sure can handle the lumber.

Next On The Sked: Five games in four days at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have been playing good ball, going 8-3 in their last 11, 11-5 in their last 16, and 18-11 in their last 29.

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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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, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

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.