Welcome to The Redbird Review:
The Cardinals won a three-game series at Cincinnati but lost three dates on the MLB calendar. At 68-64, the Cards are down to 30 regular-season games. They are very much in contention for the NL’s No. 2 wild-card spot, hanging at 2 ½ games behind the Reds and Padres. Are you having fun yet?
There are two ways to look at the series in Cincinnati:
1) The Happy Talk View: The Cardinals won two out of three games from a team they need to catch in the wild-card standings. They hadn’t won a series from the Reds since late April. Before this week’s visit to the Great American Ball Park, the Cardinals had lost two consecutive series to the Reds, going 1-6 in the process. The Cardinals were 3 and ½ games out when they set up in Cincinnati. They were 2 and ½ out when they left. They picked up a game. They made progress. So if you want to complain, shaddup.
2) The Grumpy View: You gotta be kidding, right? The Cardinals messed up in Pittsburgh, blowing two leads to end up with a split in the four-game series instead of going 4-0. And they should have gone 4-0. Granted, it was a positive turn for the Cardinals to win the first two games in Cincinnati. But with the Cincy offense in a dormant state, and the Reds veering off course with six losses in their previous eight games, the Cardinals failed to seize the opportunity to sweep Wednesday’s doubleheader — and sweep the series. After winning the first game 5-4, the Cardinals couldn’t take the cudgel to the Reds in Game No. 2. Instead, the Reds recovered, fired up the offense, and walloped the Cardinals 12-2. At the end of the day, the Cardinals were 2 and ½ games out. They could have been a half-game back. Once again, the Cardinals fumbled their chance to close in. It’s September. And they air-balled a big shot.
Yes. I agree.
There is merit to both arguments.
For the Cardinals, the most important task was winning the series and gaining ground instead of losing the series and losing ground. The Cardinals have done a poor job against winning teams this season; they’re now 23-35 in such encounters. They’ve been a losing team on the road this season (now 33-34) but found success in Cincinnati. And the Cardinals had to reverse the negative trend in their clashes with the Reds. They did that.
But upon further review … yeah, when you’ve knocked the Reds on their arses and are beginning to generate momentum after a disappointing stretch of baseball, you can’t make it so easy for the Reds to rise up and slap you around in a ridiculous 10-run loss in Wednesday’s second game.
In the final month of the season, when there’s a chance to cut the Reds’ lead to a half-game and you leave the ballpark at 2 and ⅕ out … well, that isn’t just a matter of losing the second game of a doubleheader. Nope. You lost two games in the standings based on what could have been. And with the hour getting late and the schedule turning gnarly, every game takes on added importance and urgency.
One more thing: had the Cardinals lost Wednesday’s first game and rebounded for a victory in the second game, we would all be Mike Shildt: praising these good boys for their scratching and clawing and fighting and leaving their hearts out on the field and showing the courage of Hannibal’s Carthaginians that wiped out the vastly superior Roman army at Cannae.
Or something like that.
SHILDT VS. NICHOLAS CASTELLANOS: This was actually pretty funny. Castellanos was using a chipped bat. He used this bat in the Reds’ 3-1 loss to the Cardinals on Monday. He used the bat during his team’s first-game loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday. This must have been fine with the visitors; there wasn’t a peep from the St. Louis dugout — well, not until Castellanos messed up the Cardinals with two missile homers, including a grand slam, in the first two innings of Wednesday’s 12-2 blowout. With two swings, Castellanos put six runs on the board for the Reds.
And that’s when Shildt emerged from the dugout to make an issue of the lumber being used by Castellanos to bludgeon the Cardinals. All of a sudden the bat was dangerous; hey, all Shildt was trying to do was protect his fellers!
Shildty was suddenly VERY concerned with player safety and the possibility of watching in horror as one of his boys got speared by a flying shard of splintered bat.
“I guess it was an issue,” Castellanos told Bally Sports Ohio after the game. “But it wasn’t an issue the first two games of the series.”
It wasn’t even an issue when Castellanos banged a two-run homer in the first inning of the Wednesday night’s affair, giving the Reds a 2-1 lead. (Still only a one-run lead, you see.) Ah, but when Casty’s second homer flew — apparently over the cuckoo’s nest — the 6-1 deficit triggered Shildt’s conscience and the obligation to shield his players from harm. It was time to seek shelter. It was time to remove this alarming existential threat. It was time to expunge this evil, disfigured wood.
Shildt’s postgame explanation was terrific. (Terrific in that he actually thought non-gullible people would buy it.) His focus was on the well being of the players. Had nothing to do with Castellanos destroying his team’s chance to sweep a doubleheader and the series. Shildt wasn’t trying to get the grand-slam taken off the scoreboard, or anything like that.
“I just wanted to make sure we captured the bat because he went out there so quickly,” Shildt said. “Really, it’s just a safety issue with a cracked bat. Had a couple of good swings and that was it. Nothing bigger than that.”
Castellanos: “He is trying to do anything that he can to make his team have the best chance to win, right? Today was making them check a bat that drove in six runs that put us ahead.”
Castellanos gave the bat to a delighted eight-year-old boy who couldn’t stop smiling.
I’m surprised the Cardinals didn’t confiscate it.
We wouldn’t want the kid to suffer an injury caused by this dangerous bat. It’s all about the safety, right?
MEANWHILE, IN THE BALLY SPORTS OHIO BOOTH: Here’s an interesting exchange, as relayed by the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Reds analyst Barry Larkin: “We do know this: He has been using that bat for a while. Now see back in the day, that is a Tony La Russa move right there.”
Reds analyst Chris Welsh: “Yeah. Which is you let him use it until something happens, right?”
Larkin: “That’s right. To try to get under the skin of a player.”
Welsh: “Maybe Tony left some notes in the manager’s desk drawer?”
Larkin: “The Tony La Russa way or the St. Louis Cardinals way? One in the same.”
Welsh: “Worked for both of them.”
I politely disagree, gentlemen.
La Russa would have been proactive and aggressive. If he wanted to get into Castellanos’ head, and disrupt and distract the Reds, and overheat the brains on the Cincinnati side, TLR wouldn’t have waited until his team was beaten down and losing by five runs. Guys in the Reds dugout seemed to enjoy Shildt’s stunt. They weren’t bothered by it. Not in the least.
THE REAL ISSUE: It wasn’t about the bat. That was a strange attempt at stagecraft. Interesting and confusing but ultimately irrelevant.
This was much more relevant and potentially important to the outcome: Why did Shildt allow Cards starter J.A. Happ to serve up another home run to Castellanos?
As I wrote here on “Scoops” about five hours before Wednesday’s second game:
“Happ has a fantastic 2.22 ERA in five starts for the Cardinals. But Happ isn’t a formidable strikeout guy, and his fielding-independent ERA is 4.32. One thing to look out for: since coming to St. Louis, Happ has a fly-ball rate of 49.4 percent. And that was the 13th highest fly rate in August among 156 MLB starting pitchers who made at least three starts during August. Fly-ball pitchers are not a great match for Great American Small Park.”
There was also Happ’s history against Castellanos. Coming into Wednesday’s matchup, Castellanos was 12 for 25 (.480) vs. Happ with two doubles, a triple, a homer, and six RBI. Castellanos had gone 0 for 3 against Happ earlier this season during Happ’s time with the Twins. But before that Castellanos was a .545 hitter vs. Happ with a .864 slugging percentage and 1.147 OPS.
It’s just a bad matchup for Happ. The ballpark, his high flyball rate, and his history against Castellanos. Lefties don’t fare well against Castellanos when the setting is Great American Ball Park. Before last night, Castellanos (as a Red) was hitting .353 with four doubles, a triple and five home runs in 68 at-bats vs. LH pitchers at home. Again: just a terrible, terrible matchup for Happ.
And that obvious, fact-based reality was reaffirmed by the first-inning homer struck by Castellanos. Happ, who didn’t have much working for him, was already in serious trouble before Castellanos stepped in with the bases loaded in the second inning.
That’s an awfully tough spot for a reliever, yes. But Happ simply wasn’t competitive last night. He was off form. By the time Castellanos dug in for the second time, Happ had faced 11 batters — and eight had reached on two doubles, a homer, three singles and two walks.
The Cardinals were off Tuesday. They had a clean seven-inning game Wednesday afternoon, with three relievers getting work. But Luis Garcia threw only eight pitches, and Giovanny Gallegos threw 11. The only reliever that may have been unofficially crossed off the list for second-game availability was Genesis Cabrera; he threw 34 pitches in the first game. Other than that, Shildt had a full bullpen for game two. And the Cardinals would be off on Thursday.
This was the ideal time to take an urgent, aggressive approach with your bullpen. You had a chance to win the second game and sweep the series to cut the Reds’ lead to a half-game. You had a fresh bullpen and the cushion of Thursday’s off day. If Happ was pitching well, then it’s a different outlook.
But Happ was having a very tough time on the mound Wednesday — unable to establish command or keep the ball down. The Reds were muscling him, hitting everything. Fastball and changeup were null and void. After Happ gave up three consecutive singles to open the bottom of the second, it was time to call it a night and have someone else pitch to Castellanos. And Shildt had all that he needed in the bullpen to provide the innings.
It was incomprehensible, seeing Shildt choose to have a defenseless Happ confront Castellanos in that situation. There was Happ’s brutal history against Castellanos, the first-inning bomb by Castellanos, and the reality of a struggling, fly-ball lefty working at Great American Ball Ball Park.
Removing Happ may not have mattered — heck, Shildt had Junior Fernandez warming up, as the next pitcher in — but it was foolish to expose Happ to Castellanos again. Not with a loaded bullpen. Not with the bases loaded. Not when it’s early in the game and you’re down 2-1. The Reds may have had a big inning, anyway. But that isn’t’ the point. The worst possible matchup the Cardinals could have at the moment was J.A. Happ pitching to Nicholas Castellanos. Period. If Happ is no longer on the mound to try his luck with Castellanos again, maybe the Cardinals get a ground ball for a double play, or a couple of strikeouts, and escape the inning without as much carnage.
Yeah, but let’s not worry about that, right?
Let’s just be ready to jump out of the dugout to make a fuss over the Castellanos bat after the grand-slam damage is done.
Castellanos was amused by all of this. As he should be. Shildt did him a huge favor by letting him have another chance to clobber Happ — a pitcher that he’s dominated in matchups since 2014. But after it was too late, after the heavy damage had been inflicted, after the game was all but decided — hey, at least Shildt had the chance to go with his big secret-agent, bat-detective routine.
OK, I feel better now. I vented.
AN UPBEAT NOTE: Paul Goldschmidt just keeps going. At the end of May he was batting .239 with a .305 onbase percentage and .380 slug. His OPS was a low .686, and his offense was 11 percent below the league-average level in park-and-league adjusted runs created.
Since June 1, Goldschmidt is batting .321 with a .389 OBP and .571 slug. His OPS is .960, and he’s 58 percent above league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created. Goldy’s production during this stretch includes 16 doubles, 18 homers, seven stolen bases, and a 10% walk rate. (He’s only struck out 18 percent of the time since June 1.) And on top of that, Goldschmidt has a .373 average with runners in scoring position over the last three-plus months.
Thank you for reading …
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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.