THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals are in Pittsburgh for their final three games of the regular season. But despite being on the verge of completing the 162-game schedule, the Cardinals aren’t fully settled in time for the playoffs. Questions are lingering in the autumn air. Or something like that.
1. The Status of Adam Wainwright: He hasn’t looked good this month. And it doesn’t look good for him going forward. In his last six starts Wainwright has labored through 28.2 innings getting flogged for 23 earned runs, 44 hits and 11 walks. His ERA in the six outings was 7.22. His ground-ball rate dropped to 33.6 percent for the month. Opponents batted .358 against him with a .406 onbase percentage and .463 slug. His strikeout rate was a poor 9.4 percent – as was his swing-miss rate of 5.7%. Waino didn’t miss bats during the six starts; the contact rates against him were exorbitantly high.
Among 65 MLB starters that have pitched at least 28 innings since the beginning of September, Wainwright ranks 65th in swing-miss rate, 65th in contact rate allowed, 64th in strikeout rate, 63rd in contact rate on strikes, 63rd in ERA and 59th in ground-ball rate. And Wainwright’s average fastball velocity over his last six starts – 87.1 mph – is the lowest among the 65 starters since Sept. 1.
Given Wainwright’s startling, steep and unfortunate decline, I don’t see how manager Oli Marmol can choose him to be one of the three starters for the first-round playoff series. (Most likely against the Phillies.) This shouldn’t be a tough decision for Marmol … unless he does the Mike Shildt and Mike Matheny thing and gets all caught up in mooshy sentimentality.
I’d be very surprised if Miles Mikolas and Jose Quintana don’t start the first two games (in any order.) And that it’s a matter of Jordan Montgomery or Jack Flaherty for the third game (if necessary.)
2. The Missing Power Of Paul Goldschmidt: In the team’s 8-3 win on Aug. 25 at Wrigley Field, Goldy slammed two homers and drove in five runs to raise his slugging percentage to .637. In his 31 games played since that day, Goldschmidt has two homers and has slugged .355. And he has only nine RBI in 110 at-bats over that time.
Since Aug. 26, Goldschmidt is tied with Corey Dickerson for ninth in homers among Cardinals and has hit fewer home runs (2) than Andrew Knizner (3). Goldy is also ninth on the team in RBI and slugging and eighth in OPS since that day. You don’t need me to tell you that unless the All-Star first baseman can power up again – and soon – the Cardinals will be diminished offensively, and reduces their chances of making a deep postseason run.
3. The Overall Offense: Is Another Frenzy Possible? From July 15 through Aug. 31 the Cardinals went on the attack offensively, averaging 5.9 runs per game while going 28-11 to take control of the NL Central. Over their 39-game wingding the Cards led all of MLB in homers, slugging, onbase percentage, batting average, OPS and wRC+. Since the start of September the Cardinals are below the MLB average in runs per game (4.1) and rank 26th in batting average, 19th in OBP, 16th in slugging and 16th in OPS. The fellers soon will be challenged by a higher-quality level of pitching. Can the Cardinals rediscover their mojo offensively?
4. Can Albert Pujols Continue To Destroy Father Time? Well, he’s Albert Pujols so the answer is automatically a YES. But man oh man … since the All-Star break he’s tied with Manny Machado for the National League lead in homers (17) and leads the NL in slugging (.706), OPS (1.093) and wRC+ (203.) That wRC+ – which stands for park-and-league adjusted runs created – means that Pujols is 103 percent above league average offensively since the All-Star break. At 42 he’s been carrying his teammates for weeks. So we ask: can he continue to perform at such an extraordinarily high level? It’s a reasonable question to ask, but it’s an unreasonable thing to demand. Pujols needs more help from his teammates – especially Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Dylan Carlson, and, if he ever returns, Tyler O’Neill.
5. The Shape Of The Outfield. It’s A Puzzle: After a severe slump, Lars Nootbaar has reemerged over his last nine games to bat .310 with a 1.067 OPS. He’s getting on base at a high rate, hitting for power, and playing above-average defense. He’s your right fielder, full stop.
Center fielder Dylan Carlson is teasing you with a .276 average and .812 OPS in his last nine games – and the switch hitter has even improved versus RH pitchers as of late, with a .748 OPS against them since the start of September. But can Carlson continue to bounce back, or will he revert to his slump-prone ways? Legit question.
Tyler O’Neill (hamstring) hopes to be physically ready by the start of the postseason on Friday, but he’s missed 61 days to injury this season. And when he’s actually played, the Bro is batting .228 with a .383 slug – way down from his .560 slug in 2021. It’s difficult to count on him for much.
Juan Yepez has three doubles, a homer and a .484 slugging percentage since his recall from Memphis on Sept. 21. And going by OPS+, Yepez is 16 percent above league average offensively in his rookie season. So he’s an option. Corey Dickerson hit a grand-slam homer against the Pirates on Saturday, but he’s batting .098 since Sept. 15. Rookie Alec Burleson has stirred in recent days, going 4 for 13 (.308) with a .400 OBP and .615 slug. Is it enough to move him up in the general order of things when manager Marmol makes his postseason plans?
And then there’s Ben DeLuzio … the team’s best defensive center fielder and a cheetah on the bases. Limited offensively, yes. Does he deserve a spot? Marmol evidently wants to keep the offensively overwhelmed shortstop Paul DeJong around for defense; Pauly is batting .076 since Aug. 22. So if DeJong warrants a roster spot for defense, then why wouldn’t Marmol do the same with DeLuzio?
Brendan Donovan can play left field or right field. But if Marmol uses him there, it means he leaves second base. It also means more postseason at-bats for DeJong, who will have to play shortstop when Tommy Edman moves over to second base.
In terms of the number of players, Marmol has plenty of options for the outfield. But how many of those options are worry-free and a source of confidence?
Studying the outfield picture can cause headaches.
I have one now. And I’m sorry if I gave you one.
There are other areas of the team to think about, and I’ll get to them before the start of the first playoff round.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.