THE REDBIRD REVIEW

After a weekend of baseball in Philadelphia, the Cardinals officially will reach the halfway station of their 162-game regular-season schedule for 2022.

The Redbirds are finished playing ball in June, having closed with a sudden and stunning 4-3 loss to Miami on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. Ryan Helsley is forgiven for delivering the fastball that Avisail Garcia mashed for a winning two-run homer with two out in the top of the ninth.

I’m getting a jump on the halfway-mark review by taking a look at where St. Louis stands after three months of action.

Record: 43-35. Their .551 winning percentage is tied for 10th overall, and sixth in the National League.

Standing: Trail first-place Milwaukee by 1 and ½ games in the NL Central. The Cards hold the third wild-card spot, one game ahead of San Francisco.

Recent Trend: The Cardinals have a 6-8 record since climbing to a season-high 10 games over .500 (37-27) and opening a lead of 2 and ½ games over the second-place Brewers on June 14.

Most Damaging Trait: The glaring failure to finish off a series in a strong, successful way. During the first three months the Cardinals are 2-12 in the final game of the series when having an opportunity to complete a two-game sweep, a three-game sweep, or winning a four-game series.

Record Vs. Winning Teams: 17-20.

Record Vs. Losing Teams: 26-15.

Home-Away: 24-16 at home, 19-19 on the road.

Record In Segments: The Cardinals have played 11 segments this season, with six homestands and five road trips. In the 11 segments they’ve had a winning record five times, a losing record two times, and a .500 record in the other four.

Run Differential: The Cardinals have outscored opponents by 70 runs. That run differential is fourth-best in the majors and No. 2 (behind the Dodgers) in the National League.

The Offense: As I wrote earlier this week, the St. Louis offense is a lot better than many of their fans believe, and that’s easily supported by facts. The Cardinals rank 4th in the NL and 6th in the majors with an average of 4.78 runs per game. They lead the NL with a 110 OPS+. They are 3rd in the NL in batting average (.254), standard OPS (.729), and doubles. They have the NL’s third-lowest (as in third best) strikeout rate, and rank 4th in slugging percentage (.408) and 4th in batting average with runners in scoring position (.270.)

The most disappointing aspect of this offense so far? The Cardinals can do a better job of getting on base. The NL’s third-ranked batting average is fine. The problem is their 10th-ranked (NL) walk rate of 8.1 percent. That’s primarily responsible for a .321 onbase rate that ranks 7th in the NL.

The Cardinals have improved – virtually across the board – in their offensive performance from 2021. Last season the Cardinals finished 10th in the NL in runs per game, 11th in onbase percentage, 7th in batting average, 7th in slugging, 8th in OPS and 5th in OPS+.

The Run Prevention: Even with the injury-created chaos with their pitching staff, the Cardinals are doing an impressive job at preventing runs. And sure, the defense is a big part of that. But the bottom line is the bottom line, and St. Louis ranks 3rd in the NL and 8th overall with an average of 3.88 runs allowed per game. Their 3.77 staff ERA is 5th best in the NL.

Starting Pitching: All things considered, their 3.84 rotation ERA — 5th best in the NL — is surprising and admirable. I say that because the Cardinals have received a combined 45 starts from three pitchers – the sturdy and dependably effective Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright plus the inconsistent Dakota Hudson. Those three have accounted for 57.6 percent of the team’s starts this season; eight different pitchers have combined to handle the other 33 starts. The patchwork has exceeded expectations thanks to rookie Andre Pallante who has a 2.57 ERA in five starts after giving the Cardinals outstanding work as a reliever. I’m thinking that many would be surprised to know that the STL rotation has a better ERA than the rotations in Milwaukee, Atlanta, NY (Mets) and San Francisco. And while the Cardinals need more innings from their starting pitchers, the problem isn’t extreme. The St. Louis rotation ranks 9th in the NL with an average of 5.2 innings per start; that matches the NL average.

The Bullpen: Despite frequent turmoil, the scramble to fill the innings load, and horrendous performances by T.J. McFarland, Drew VerHagen and Nick Wittgren, the St. Louis bullpen crew is hardly an embarrassment. Did you know that the Cardinals have the fifth-best bullpen ERA (3.69) in the NL? Or that the bullpen’s Win Probability Added (WPA) metric is No. 2 to Milwaukee in the NL rankings? The late-inning leverage relievers – Genesis Cabrera, Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos – are strong and mentally tough. A revised group of bridge relievers – now starring Zack Thompson, Johan Oviedo and Junior Fernandez – is a substantial improvement over the failed middle relievers. And Jordan Hicks will be in the Cards bullpen soon.

The Defense: Fielding Bible credits St. Louis with 25 defensive runs saved which ranks 3rd in the NL and 10th overall. According to Statcast the Cards are 3rd in the NL in both Outs Above Average and Runs Prevented. And the Cardinals are third in the NL in defensive efficiency.

The Baserunning: Another team strength. According to the FanGraphs baserunning metric (BsR) the Cardinals rank 3rd in the NL and 5th overall. The Cards are essentially tied for first in the NL with a bases-taken percentage of 49 percent. They’ve successfully advanced an extra base on a batted ball in play 75 times this season which ranks 3rd in the NL. The Cardinals also have the highest percentage by a NL team in going first base to third base on a single. Thirty-four percent of all STL baserunners have scored this season; that’s tied with the Mets for No. 1 in the majors. And in the NL As for stolen bases, the Cardinals are tied for second in the majors with 57 steals and are tied for the MLB lead in steals of second base with 51. Their 80% success rate on steal attempts ranks 5th overall and 4th in the NL.

Jun 23, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (46) and second baseman Nolan Gorman (16) react after scoring runs in the first inning during game against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Team’s Most Valuable Player: Paul Goldschmidt. He leads the National League in hits, extra-base hits, batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and total bases and is 2nd in doubles and RBI and 3rd in homers. His slash line of .342/.424./.630 ain’t too shabby. And Goldy is second in the NL with 4.2 bWAR. Runners up: Tommy Edman, who leads the NL with 4.5 bWAR. And Nolan Arenado, who is 4th in the NL with 3.4 bWAR. That’s right: through the end of June, the Cardinals have three of the four most valuable players in the NL based on the Baseball Reference version of WAR.

Biggest Surprise: The magnitude of the performance and production provided by rookie hitters Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman. In 456 at-bats between them, they’ve combined for 3.9 WAR (Baseball Reference version) 130 hits, 29 doubles, 17 homers, 67 RBI and 69 runs scored. Their combined OPS+ is 134 – which means that the trio has collectively performed 34 percent above league average offensively. And Donovan’s .411 OBP and ability to play six defensive positions makes him especially unique and valuable. No, I didn’t think Donovan would be leading NL rookies with 2.1 bWAR at the end of June. And I can’t forget Pallante. Excellent in relief, a very good starting pitcher, and an overall 2.10 ERA in 55 and ⅔ innings.

The Early Team Rookie Of The Year: Brendan Donovan, first on my ballot. Followed by Pallante, Yepez and Gorman.

The Early Team Cy Young Award: Miles Mikolas. He’s third among NL starting pitchers for most innings and ranks 5th with a 2.57 ERA.

Biggest Disappointments: I think it’s best to go with the list format here:

1–The offseason job done by the front office, especially with the bullpen free–agent signings.

2–Jack Flaherty’s breaking away from the plan for the total number of rehab assignments devised to get him ready for a return to the majors after an extensive absence. Flaherty wanted to rush back, lobbied to get his way, but wasn’t ready. He reinjured the shoulder after three brief and regrettable starts. Flaherty had the contractual right to terminate his injury-rehab assignment but needed to be smarter and more mature about this. And the front office team didn’t have to activate him and put him back in action in the majors – but rolled over, and let him do it anyway. Shame on everyone.

3–Tyler O’Neill’s two stints on the IL with a sore shoulder and a hamstring strain. He’s appeared in 45 games and has 185 plate appearances, batting .241 with a .361 slug and .653 OPS. O’Neill was rolling before his second injury so perhaps he’ll resume cranking when he returns from the IL in early July.

The STL offense has done well without him. But the Cardinals do need more home-run punch, and this is the guy to do it. Last season O’Neill had 26 doubles, 34 homers, a .560 slug and .912 OPS.

4–It’s wonderful to have Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols spending their final MLB seasons together as members of the Cardinals. That part is storybook stuff, and it’s fun to see the two pals hanging out together – usually smiling – at the dugout rail. But as far as the actual baseball part … it hasn’t been pleasant. Molina wasn’t in shape early on, has endured considerable pain, and is trying to heal his way to health on the IL. Molina, who turns 40 on July 13, is batting .213 and has an OPS+ that puts him 49 percent below league average offensively. Pujols, 42, is batting .198 with a .336 slug and has an OPS+ that puts him 18 percent below average offensively.

5–Steven Matz. He’s made nine starts and has a 6.03 ERA and one Injured List stay after signing a four-year, $44 million free-agent contract. But he can rebound. And probably will.

6–Paul DeJong, for obvious reasons. He was batting .130 with a .417 OPS when the Cardinals demoted the former All-Star shortstop to Memphis on May 8. In 40 games with Memphis he’s batting .219 with a .268 OBP but has displayed power with a .475 slug. He was struck on the hand by a pitch Wednesday and left the game. No update so far today.

Looking Ahead: The Biggest Need. A starting pitcher for depth and peace of mind. This team can’t count on Jack Flaherty, who is back on the IL for the fourth time in less than two seasons. Since the end of the 2019 season Flaherty ranks 149th among MLB starters with only 126 and ⅔ innings pitched. The Jordan Hicks rotation experiment was a flop. Steven Matz (shoulder) is likely to return soon and we’ll see how he looks – but can we count on consistency? He had a 6.03 ERA before going on the IL. I don’t trust Hudson. Pallante has been very good, but will he wear down as the innings pile up? Rookie lefty Matthew Liberatore has talent but he’s still developing and has to find a way to neutralize RH batters. This season – Triple A and majors – Liberatore has been roughed up by RH batters for a .285 average, .361 OBP and .497 slug for a .859 OPS. Zack Thompson would be an option for the rotation but he’s becoming an increasingly valuable reliever. And the Cardinals could decide to audition another starting-pitching prospect, Gordon Graceffo.

There are worse rotation situations in the majors. The Cardinals do have internal options for their rotation. But if the goal is to win a World Series, then the Cardinals need to ramp up and trade for a rotation upgrade.

The Overview: Given their impressive run differential, their improved offense and scoring average, and their No. 3 NL ranking in run prevention, the Cardinals should be better than 43-35. Based on the run differential, the record should be the third-best in the NL at 46-32. The Cardinals have a clear edge over the Brewers in most meaningful categories but continue to trail Milwaukee in the standings. That should change going forward … but only if (1) the Cardinals put teams away when they’re leading in a series; (2) the front office bolsters the rotation; and (3) Tyler O’Neill gets healthy, stays healthy, and powers up … with Dylan Carlson continuing to put up the stout offensive numbers we’ve seen from him since May 1.

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.