Welcome To The Redbird Review.
Memorial Day serves as a useful checkpoint during a long campaign. The Cardinals are 53 games games into the schedule; that’s nearly 33 percent of the season. It’s sure going fast.
So how are the Cardinals doing?
The good stuff:the Redbirds entered Monday’s three-game series at Dodger Stadium with a 30-23 record. They’ve been in first place in the NL Central for 31 consecutive days, but the second-place Cubs are only a half-gamme out and applying pressure. The third-place Brewers are only 2 games out.
The primary problems: erratic pitching and an affliction of walks that can’t be realistically contained for much longer. We’re already seeing damage, and the acts of self sabotage will only lead to more distress and defeat.
The uncertainty: do the Cardinals have the horses to keep pace with MLB’s best teams? Or will they just continue to display dominance against lesser competition?
The biggest question: will the front office step up and make moves to fortify obvious weaknesses — or be content to twiddle, tinker and tweak?
Here are 12 things I’ve learned about the 2021 Cardinals as they reach the Memorial Day stage of the season. I probably could have cited about 20. But this will do for now. And just a reminder: you may be reading this on Tuesday rather than Monday evening. Just keep in mind that all statistics used here were from the Cards’ first 53 games, through Sunday’s series finale at Arizona:
1) The Cardinals Must Acquire Pitching: The weaknesses and underlying vulnerabilities become more obvious by the day. A collapse of the pitching staff would absolutely wreck the Cardinals’ season. Strengthening a swaying rotation and adding a proven reliever (or two) to a fragile bullpen isn’t an option; gotta get it done. Should they continue to neglect this vital area, the Cardinals will eventually pay a painful price.
The trends are disturbing.
As a staff, the Cardinals have the worst walk rate (11.6%) in the majors and a sickly strikeout rate (21%) that ranks 29th. And no MLB pitching staff has a strikeout-walk ratio than St. Louis (1.8.)
Because of the chronic and astonishing problem of issuing too many walks, the rotation’s expected ERA (4.69) is the worst in the NL and 29th in the majors.
The bullpen’s walk rate (14.5%) is an ongoing embarrassment made worse by the overall shortage of punch-out power. That explains why the St. Louis bullpen has the worst expected ERA (4.85) in MLB.
The rotation has only 4 quality starts and a rotation ERA of 4.42 in the last 15 games. The starters have failed to provide as little as five innings in nine of the last 15 starts, and only four MLB rotations have pitched fewer innings over that time.
For good reason, manager Mike Shildt continues to lean on Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes. They’ve combined for a 1.49 ERA. The other relievers have a combined 6.29 ERA, and that’s why we saw the Cardinals struggled to protect large leads against a mediocre Arizona lineup that exploited the many soft spots in the STL bullpen. The Cardinals have three dependable relievers. That’s all. If someone tries to tell you otherwise, they must think you’re a fool that will believe anything. And Tyler Webb (12.33 ERA) is still in this bullpen; that only confirms the urgency of the situation.
One more thing on this ridiculous outbreak of walks: Among the 30 teams the Cardinals pitchers have faced the most batters with men on base (973) and the most batters with runners in scoring position (580.) That’s asking for a lot of trouble. And eventually trouble will find them. The Cards walked four or more hitters 33 times in their first 53 games. And they’re 16-17 in those contests. When they walk three or fewer opponents the Cardinals are 14-6.
2) The Cardinals have built their record by stacking wins against feeble opponents: Pittsburgh, Colorado and Arizona have a combined winning percentage of .366 this season and the Cardinals pounced on the three teams by winning 11 of 12 against them. Very good; that’s what you’re supposed to do … beat the bad teams, right?
So yes, sure, I give the Cardinals credit for taking care of business against lesser opponents. But when tangling with stronger teams that aren’t the Pirates, Rockies and Diamondbacks the Cardinals are only 19-22. And if you want to include their sweep of Miami (24-28 record) into this accounting the Cardinals are 14-1 against the Marlins, Pirates, Rockies and Diamondback and 16-22 against other opponents. The Cardinals have faced three division leaders (Mets, Padres, White Sox) in 10 games and are 3-7.
3) Boom! Tyler O’Neill Is Becoming The Slugger That STL Management Envisioned: First of all, let’s state the obvious and say that he has to stay on the field. He’s already had two pauses on the Injured List. But in his 34 games this season O’Neill is slugging .614 with 11 homers. His OPS is .914, and his adjusted OPS (153) is 53 percent above the league average.
And the power profile is even more impressive since O’Neill returned from his first IL stay back on April 23. Among 173 MLB hitters with at least 95 plate appearances since then, O’Neill (.711 slug) ranks 2nd to Fernando Tatis Jr. in slugging percentage and Isolated Power (.400.) O’Neill is also tied for 4th in homers (10), 6th in OPS (1.055) and 20th in batting average (.311.)
O’Neill is 7th among the 177 hitters in park adjusted runs created (185 wRC+) which means he’s 85% above league average offensively since April 23. With such a display of might, no one should fuss over his 30% strikeout rate over that time. Consistency will be O’Neill’s primary challenge going forward. That and staying healthy.
4) Yeah, It’s Fun Having Nolan Arenado On Your Team: He’s slugging .539 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs. He’s tied for the MLB lead with 17 doubles and is tied for 2nd with 29 extra-base hits. He’s hitting .283 with runners in scoring position. His adjusted OPS (145) would top his career-best 133 OPS+ back in 2018. And Arenado would be the first to tell us that he can (and will) play better defensively. His intensity, competitiveness, laser-beam concentration and obvious love of the game are template-setters for teammates to follow.
5) The Bench Is Hollow. The Depth Is Shallow: First, let’s point out the positives by praising Edmundo Sosa’s splendid work at shortstop since Paul DeJong went to the IL with a rib injury. And the Cardinals are 13-4 when No. 2 catcher Andrew Knizner starts in place of Yadier Molina. All we really need to know is this: Knizner has a Catcher ERA of 2.67. But even when we account for injuries that make it challenging to maintain certain standards — well, you can’t have three guys — Matt Carpenter, Justin Williams and Lane Thomas — collectively batting.146 with a 33.3% strikeout rate in their combined 267 plate appearances.
6) Yadier Molina Isn’t Turning Back The Clock; He’s Breaking It: The timeless, ageless catcher will be 39 on July 13. He’s been catching for the Cardinals since June 3, 2004. In case you’re wondering, that’s 6,207 days ago. There aren’t many guys still left in MLB from Molina’s starting date. Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Scott Kazmir, and, until his release earlier this month, Oliver Perez. I may have missed a couple of players, but you get the point. When Molina arrived in the bigs, his two brothers (Bengie, Jose) were already major-league catchers. Two future Hall of Fame catchers — Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez — were still playing. And in 2004 the MLB catcher position included future managers Brad Ausmus, Mike Mike Matheny, David Ross, A.J. Hinch and Kevin Cash.
Anyway, a catcher that’s been doing this since ‘04 isn’t supposed to be batting .301 with a .331 OBP and .541 slug. He isn’t supposed to be slashing 11 doubles, swatting 7 homers and knocking in 26 runs. He isn’t supposed to be leading NL catchers in RBIs, extra-base hits and doubles. He isn’t supposed to be 2nd in slugging, 3rd in OPS, 3rd in homers and 4th in batting average. And he surely isn’t supposed to be tied for 4th among NL catchers in most innings caught — and Molina has done that despite one stint on the IL with a strained foot. This is crazy.
7) The Offense Is Inconsistent: The power numbers are up from last season including the 62 home runs — tied for 5th most in the NL. But the Cardinals are lagging in their batting average with runners in scoring position, ranking 25th at .233. The Cards have scored three runs or fewer in nearly half of their games (26), tied for 4th most in the NL. Their record in those games is 6-20. The home-run dependency continues; just under 47 percent of STL’s total runs have come via the HR. When the Cardinals fail to homer in a game they’re 4-13.
8–Dylan Carlson Is Good But Can Be Better: I’m not being greedy here. He’s just very talented; it’s a compliment when I say I expect more from him. He’s batting .270 with a .359 OBP and .404 slug for a .763 OPS. And the rookie’s adjusted OPS puts him 18 percent above league average offensively. But I think more power can come to the surface. After slugging .494 in April, he’s slugging only .315 in May. And even though DC has a swell .355 OBP in May, his OPS is dropping. It was .857 in April and is .670 in May.
And while Carlson has cultivated a .353 OBP as the No. 2 hitter, his OBP is higher (.371) when he hits elsewhere in the lineup. But he’s lowered his strikeout rates by seven percent in May, and that’s another sign of his more deliberate approach as a No. 2 hitter. Not that Carlson was swinging for the fences before. But his emphasis in getting on base has likely made him less aggressive as the No. 2 hitter.
9) Wow. Alex Reyes Is A Closer, And How. He’s 15 for 15 in save OPS, has an 0.64 ERA in 28 innings, and is striking out batters at a rate of 32.2 percent. Reyes has faced 38 batters in high-leverage situations, limiting them to a .184 average and .125 slug — with a strikeout rate of 34%. The overall batting average against Reyes this season is .135. Sure, there are questions. Will he hold up physically? And the walks are worrisome. Reyes’ walk rate of 20.7% is the worst among MLB relievers this season. He’s been able to pitch his way through clusters of runners on base, but is this sustainable?
10) The Defense Is Saving Runs But Must Be Cleaner: The Cardinals had allowed 13 unearned runs in their last 10 games through Sunday. They have to tighten that up. And another issue is defensive shifts. According to Fielding Bible, the Cards’ usage of shifts has cost them two runs this season. That may not seem like much, but that minus 2 is the worst among 30 teams in shift-deployed defense. They may have to rethink some aspects of their positioning with shifts. Overall, the Cardinals rank tied for eighth in the majors in defensive runs saved (13) and that’s an obvious plus. But it’s time to tidy up.
11) The Cardinals Are Winning The Home Run Battle. I wanted to point this out before I wrap up. I think it’s interesting and important. The Cardinals have outhomered opponents by a significant margin, 62-35. In my opinion limiting home runs is the No. 1 attribute of this St. Louis pitching staff.
Consider: the Cardinals haven’t allowed a homer in 28 games this season. They’ve given up only one homer in 17 games. In the 45 games in which they’ve been touched for no more than a single home run, the Cardinals are 32-13. When they’re clobbered for two or more homers in a game, they’re 1-7.
12) Tommy Edman Wasn’t Made For These Times: Where is the massive strikeout total? Where are the hundreds of swings and misses? Where is the mediocre contact rate? What’s WRONG with this dude? Of course, I’m joking. I’m being sarcastic to make a point.
Going by 2021 standards, Edman is an unusual hitter. Unlike many in the 2021 grip-and-rip fraternity he swings and connects with baseballs at a high rate. He does not swing at air very often. He’s adamantly opposed to strikeouts.
- Overall MLB strikeout rate? That would be 24.1 percent. Edman’s strikeout rate, 9.7%, is fourth lowest among 147 qualifying hitters.
- The overall MLB swing-and-miss rate is 11.5 percent. Edman ranks 9th among 141 with a low swing-miss rate of 5.2%
- Overall MLB contact rate: 75.2 percent. But Edman ranks 5th among 141 hitters with an 89.4% contact rate.
- Overall MLB contact rate on pitches in the strike zone: 83.6 percent. Edman is tied for 5th with a 94.6 percent (!!!!) contact rate on strikes.
Sure, we can wish for a higher OBP at the leadoff spot; Edman (.335) ranks 16th among the 27 No. 1 hitters who have at least 100 plate appearances at the top spot. And his .733 leadoff OPS ranks 17th among the 27. But personally speaking, I just enjoy seeing a guy make frequent contact. It’s such a rare thing during these MLB modern times.
I hope you’ve had a happy and restful weekend.
I was in the mood to write so if you made this far …
Thanks for reading!
Please check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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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.