THE REDBIRD REVIEW
I don’t care that it’s early. March-April games count just as much as August and September games. The Cardinals have stumbled into trouble And the harder they fall, the harder it is for them to make up ground in the playoff chase.
After a dull, offense-impaired 4-0 loss on Monday in San Francisco, the Cardinals are 9-14. They trail first-place Pittsburgh by seven games, are six behind Milwaukee, and four in back of Chicago. St. Louis and last-place Cincinnati are separated by one game.
“The more we talk about it (losing), the more it’ll sound like an excuse, and I refuse to do it,” Cards manager Oli Marmol told reporters late Monday night. “We have to play together collectively. We got to do all of it at the same time, that’s the bottom line. And my job is to get that out of every one of those guys in that clubhouse.”
Yes. That’s his job to bring the team together and shape a winning mindset. But the thing is, Marmol already has made excuses. Either way, it doesn’t matter much. This is about performance.
But Marmol did it again after Monday’s loss, mentioning how the Cardinals can’t catch a break. I’m sorry, but it’s up to a losing team to make its own breaks instead of feeling sorry for themselves.
“We’ve got a pretty mentally tough team,” Marmol said. “They’re not going to give in. Plenty of people would, but there’s no way anybody in that clubhouse — staff and player included — is going to give in to what’s going on right now. So, we’ll embrace it. We’ll wake up tomorrow morning and get after it again.”
The Cardinals may not give in, but they need to give more instead of succumbing so easily in too many games. And if the players are as mentally tough as their manager says they are, well, this would be a good time to start proving him right.
There isn’t another choice. I’ll explain why, and I wanted to do this after conversing with friendly and reasonable Cardinals fans on Twitter late Monday night. We talked about what the Cardinals can do to shake things up. I looked at each suggestion, and in this column I will evaluate the likelihood of each proposed solution. Frankly, most are unrealistic — and I’m trying to be realistic.
It’s not a matter of what I would do; it comes down to what chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball ops John Mozeiiak will do … or won’t do.
Can we still be friends?
1. The only sure recommendation is to see this team compete hard every game and maintain a high level of energy and enthusiasm. Right now there’s bad juju with this club. Their dugout looks like a rest home, or perhaps a morgue. The players who are capable of delivering high-impact performances need to step up and turn this around.
2. Trades are an option to change the mix and solve some personnel issues … but realistically it’s too soon to do that. Front offices around MLB are still trying to assess their teams and playoff chances. The big trades come later in the season. And two potential trade pieces – Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill – have reduced trade value because of their disappointing performances. That could change later, as teams approach the trade deadline.
3. Firing Marmol won’t happen. And it shouldn’t happen. It’s way too early to have serious conversations about this, but it appears that the stress is building. Marmol is more temperamental this season and has made mistakes that he wouldn’t have made last year as a rookie manager. But just like Matheny and Shildt before him, Marmol’s early success may make him headstrong and less willing to accept directives handed down by management.
4. How about shaking up the coaching staff during the 2023 season? Highly unlikely. How many coaches have the Cardinals cycled through over the past several years? It’s a bad look. It’s a shifting of blame. Or maybe the coaches just wanted to get out of here.
5. Does Mozeliak really want to sack another manager? He’s had three over the last four years, nine months and 12 days. Mike Matheny. Mike Shildt. Oli Marmol. And Mozeliak personally chose all three of them. If Mozeliak fires another manager this soon, it’s an admission that he doesn’t know what he’s doing … doesn’t know how to hire managers. I don’t think Mozeliak wants to do that.
All three of Mozeliak’s managers had never managed a major-league game before he put them in the big office on the clubhouse level. The popular theory: Mozeliak wants to control the manager, tell him what to do. The theory is overstated but there’s some truth to it. By hiring the inexperienced guys, Mozeliak avoids having to deal with a veteran, highly-experienced, hard-headed manager who will push back.
6. Mozeliak is responsible for the roster. For three seasons in a row, he’s gone into the new season with a vulnerable starting rotation. The first two times, Mozeliak scrambled to patch the starting pitching at the trade deadline. He may have to go there again this summer. Many of us want to see the Cardinals spend big to land a true No. 1 starter, but Mozeliak doesn’t set the payroll. He’s limited in what he can do.
7. Chairman DeWitt won’t fire Mozeliak. DeWitt did the opposite by extending Mozeliak’s contract during spring training. And as I’ve written and talked about many times, Mozeliak and DeWitt work as a team. They are baseball partners. DeWitt isn’t a passive owner; he’s involved in personnel moves. DeWitt respects Mozeliak and strongly believes that “Moe” has done a great job.
And despite some obvious professional flaws, Mozeliak’s leadership has produced an impressive overall record. (I know; start hating on me.) But despite 10 postseasons in 15+ years of Mozeliak’s reign as the head of baseball ops, his rosters are have gotten hammered in recent postseasons, losing nine of their last 10 games. The regular-season success is important, but Isn’t it about time to win another NL pennant, compete in a World Series, and go after another World Series title? The Cardinals have been very good for a long time, but they need to push for greatness. I’d hate to see the franchise waste the Goldschmidt-Arenado years.
TRACKING GOLDSCHMIDT + ARENADO: The Cardinal offense won’t be all that it can be until the franchise cornerstones rebound from mutual slumps to enliven the attack. Since the Cardinals finished their three-game series at Colorado, Goldschmidt and Arenado are batting a combined .205 with a .279 onbase percentage and .359 slug. They’ve collectively stroked four doubles, have one home run, and only three RBI.
OUTFIELD IS DRAGGING: Since April 13, St. Louis outfielders collectively are hitting .210 with a .323 slug and .623 OPS. In 140 plate appearances they have two homers, eight doubles and 12 RBI. And despite the high walk rate supplied by Lars Nootbaar, the outfield has a low .300 onbase percentage over the last 11 games. The outfield group is 24 percent below average offensively since April 13. We’re waiting for the outfield to put everything together in a profound way.
A few particulars:
– Tyler O’Neill has one home run and three RBIs in his last 20 games and 71 plate appearances. Lawdy.
– Dylan Carlson is batting .111 (3 for 27) since April 10.
– Alec Burleson is hitting .174 in his last seven games. And his OBP (.240) and slugging percentage (.304) have been sinking over that time.
HISTORY, PART ONE: The 2023 Cardinals and the 1988 Cardinals are the only teams in franchise history to go 0-8 in the first game of a series at the start of a season.
HISTORY, PART TWO: The Cardinals are 9-14 after 23 games, joining a club of 14 Cards teams that started out 9-14. The previous 13 failed to make it to the postseason, and only five had winning seasons – the best being the 1960 Cardinals who went 86-68 (.558.) The 1997 Cardinals were the most recent STL team to go 9–14 to open a season. The ‘1997 Cardinals finished 73-89.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: After Monday’s loss the Cardinals’ .391 winning percentage ranks 24th overall and 12th in the National League. The only NL teams that have a worse winning percentage are the Rockies, Nationals and Reds … the Cardinals have a .350 winning percentage since taking two of three games from Toronto in the first series of the season.
PLAYOFF ODDS: It’s a little early, but I was curious. And FanGraphs gives the Cardinals a 27.5 percent chance of winning the division and a 45.1% shot to reach the postseason. That’s not as bad as I thought it would.
HARD-HIT HOPE: St. Louis batters have 269 hard-hit balls this season, the third-highest total by a major-league team. That number provides hope for better results going forward.
THREE PITCHING NOTES: (1) After pitching six innings against the Giants and getting nipped for one unearned run, Jordan Montgomery lowered his season ERA. But his fielding independent ERA (2.76) is indicative of the true quality of his performance. (2) Drew VerHagen, who got clobbered by the Giants, has a 10.80 ERA and a 20% walk rate in his last six relief appearances. He had pitched well before that. (3) Jordan Hicks has pitched well in his three appearances: three innings, no runs, two hits, one walk and seven strikeouts. Hicks has a 58% strikeout rate in the three appearances and has held opponents to a .182 batting average.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.
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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.