Welcome to the Redbird Review…
POSITIVITY: The Cardinals have won three of their last four series, with one split. They’ve won three of their last four games, five of their last eight, and nine of their last 15 … after a 10-17 June, the Cards are 6-6 in July. The Cardinals have stopped the bleeding, and that needed to happen.
STANDINGS UPDATE: By winning two of three from the Giants, the Cardinals had a nice relaunch in their return from the All-Star break. If the Cardinals believe they can catch the first-place Brewers in the NL Central, then it was a mixed-bag weekend. The Cards actually lost a game in the standings to Milwaukee, which swept a three-game series at Cincinnati. On the other hand, it could have been worse. Had their two close victories (Saturday and Sunday) turned into losses, the Cardinals would be 11 games behind the Brewers today. Even losing two out of three to the Giants would mean a 10-game division deficit for the Cards. But the Cardinals also have to catch the second-place Reds, and the Brewers helped on that end.
The Cardinals took advantage of Milwaukee’s three-game sweep to cut two games off the Reds’ advantage. The Reds were four games ahead of the Cardinals at the All-Star break. But after getting outscored 25-10, blowing two leads and losing all three games to the Brewers, the Reds are only two games above St. Louis and Cincinnati.
A MESSAGE FROM MILWAUKEE: In one weekend the Brewers were able to expand their lead over Cincinnati from four games to seven. But Milwaukee outfielder Christian Yelich isn’t feeling secure in the standings. “It’s a bad week away from being a really tight race,” Yelich told reporters Sunday, after the Crew completed their sweep. “It’s far, far, far from over.”
CLOSE CALLS: As you know the Cardinals won back-to-back games over the Giants despite scoring only five total runs in the two victories. The Giants managed only two total runs in the two losses. Cards pitchers held the Giants to two earned runs and a .149 batting average in 18 innings covering Saturday and Sunday.
LOW-SCORING WINS: When the Cardinals give up only three runs or fewer in a game this season their record is 31-9. That’s outstanding. Problem is, the Cardinals have won fewer of these type of games than teams they’re tangling with in the NL Central. When allowing three or fewer runs in a game, the Brewers have 36 such wins, the Reds have 31, and the Cubs (surprisingly) have 40.
The Cardinals simply haven’t pitched well enough to limit opponents to three runs or less on a more frequent basis. For example, the Mets have 38 such wins and their offense actually averages fewer runs per game than the Cardinals. The Mets starters turn in more low-scoring games. Nine NL teams have compiled more games of permitting three runs or fewer than the Cardinals.
RYAN HELSLEY, GROOVED: He has a 1.29 ERA in his last 15 appearances, allowing a .125 average, and .458 OPS. The Cards bullpen was strong in the two wins over the Giants, allowing one earned run in seven innings with a 32% strikeout rate. I won’t mention the walks. Too many, six. Wait, I just mentioned the walks. Oh, well.
STARTING PITCHING REPORT: Kwang-Hyun Kim and Wade LeBlanc combined to allow one earned run, 11 hits and only three walks in their 11 innings of work in the two STL victories. Both starters turned in above average Game Scores in the Saturday-Sunday games.
When the Cardinals get an average Game Score (50) or better from a starter this season, they’re 37-17. When a starter has a below-average Game Score, the Cards record is 9-30.
LeBlanc has a 2.50 ERA in his four starts as a Cardinal. Since Jack Flaherty (oblique) made his last start on May 31, the Cardinals have gotten a combined 2.66 ERA in 20 starts and 111.1 innings from LeBlanc, Adam Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim.
In the team’s other 19 games since June 1 — started by Johan Oviedo, Carlos Martinez or John Gant — the starting-pitching ERA is 7.46.
K.K. KIM IS UNDERRATED: Yes, he really is. And here are a few reasons why:
1) Kim has the best ERA among Cardinals starters this season (2.87) and the Cards are 10-6 in his 16 starts.
2) Kim’s 2.87 ERA ranks 20th overall among MLB starting pitchers and is 14th among NL starters *minimum 78 IP. Kim’s 2.87 ERA is superior to that of many notable starters including Yu Darvish, Shane Bieber, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Lucas Giolito, German Marquez, Sandy Alcantara, and Adam Wainwright.
3) In his last seven starts Kim has a 1.64 ERA and the Cardinals are 5-2. Among the many starters that have pitched at least 35 innings since June 15, Kim’s 1.64 ERA ranks fourth in the majors.
4) Kim has made 26 starts since joining the Cardinals before the 2020 season. Over the last two seasons his starter ERA (2.40) ranks No. 5 in MLB among 86 starters that have thrown at least 115 innings over that time. Kim’s 2.40 earned-run average is lower than that of many notable starters including Brandon Woodruff, Bieber, Kershaw, Darvish, Max Scherzer, Lance Lynn, Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Trevor Rogers, Kyle Hendricks, Alcantara, Greinke, Zac Gallen, Dylan Cease, Giolito, Sonny Gray and Kyle Gibson — among many others.
5) Since the start of the 2020 season Kim has a better ERA (2.40) than that of Wainwright (3.50) and Jack Flaherty (3.69.)
Let’s look at some bats:
WINNING THE HARD WAY: The Cardinals went 12 for 60 (.200) in the victories over the Giants — with only two walks for a .226 onbase percentage. And four of their five runs scored in the two wins were delivered via home runs.
PAUL DEJONG: He had a terrific series, going 6 for 10 against the Giants with a solo home run on Sunday. In his last 17 games (14 starts) since June 25 DeJong is batting .367 with a 1.170 OPS in 57 plate appearances. His damage includes a .714 slug, two doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs. A live bat from DeJong is a welcome development for the Cardinals.
NOLAN ARENADO: He’s going through a challenging phase. In his last 28 games and 114 plate appearances since June 13 Arenado is batting .192 with a .254 OBP and .394 slug for a .649 OPS. He does, however, have six doubles and five homers over that time. With the downturn, Arenado has a .795 OPS that puts him under .800 OPS for the first time this season. Arenado had a .513 slugging slugging percentage entering July and that’s down to .484 after a quiet 1 for 13 weekend against San Francisco.
THE CARDS AND FLY BALLS: They’re hitting too many of ‘em. According to data at FanGraphs the Cardinals’ FB rate of 38% is the highest in the NL and fourth-highest overall. This is a problem, and I’ll explain.
When the Cardinals hit a fly ball this season they have a .213 batting average that ranks 28th overall. And that’s well below the .235 MLB average on fly balls.
The Cardinals have a .623 slugging percentage on fly balls; that ranks 27th and is nearly 100 points lower than the MLB slug (.718) on fly balls.
It’s even worse for the Cardinals at Busch Stadium; they have a.187 batting average and .536 slug (30th) on fly balls in home games.
THE FLY BALLS AREN’T HELPING ARENADO AT BUSCH STADIUM: On 70 at-bats that ended with a fly ball at Busch, Arenado is batting .157 with a .486 slug. He’s 35 percent below league average on fly balls at home this season based on park and league adjusted runs created. In his years at Coors Field, Arenado was 97 percent above league average on fly balls struck there.
THE CONSISTENCY OF TYLER O’NEILL: He does not have an issue hitting fly balls this season, batting .290 with a 1.014 slugging percentage. He’s 135 percent above league average offensively on fly balls based on park and league adjustments.
Here’s another thing we should really like about O’Neill’s 2021 season. It’s his consistency. Here is his OPS for each month and keep in mind that the overall OPS among MLB hitters this season is .719…
April: .805 OPS
May: 1.020 OPS
June: .817 OPS
July: .858 OPS
Also, O’Neill’s onbase percentage has gone up each month: .268 in April, .329 in May, .356 in June, .375 in July. He’s had better slugging months than others but hasn’t had a SLG lower than .462 in a month this season. Finally: after batting .241 in April, O’Neill is hitting .287 since the start of May.
PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT: Since June 1 he’s barreled his way to a .317 average, .394 OBP, .549 slug, nine homers, 25 RBIs and a .943 OPS. And Goldy is 13 for 34 (.382) with a 1.021 OPS with runners in scoring position since June 1.
AS OTHERS SEE US: ESPN baseball analyst David Schoenfield gave the Cardinals a “C minus” grade at the All-Star break and offered this explanation:
“Look, it could be worse. The Cardinals have almost an entire rotation on the injured list — Jack Flaherty, Carlos Martinez, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson,” Schoenfield wrote. “And yet the offense has been the bigger issue than the pitching staff. Nolan Arenado has been solid and Tyler O’Neill has been a pleasant surprise, but even with O’Neill slugging .546 the Cardinals rank just 23rd in the majors in outfield OPS. Paul DeJong is hitting below .200 and Paul Goldschmidt’s 115 OPS+ would be the lowest of his career. Never count out the Cardinals, but this is a .500 team that looks like a .500 team the rest of the way — and the Cardinals haven’t finished below even since 2007.”
Thanks for reading …
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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.