THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Despite playing at a disadvantage because of injury-related chaos, the Cardinals are surviving. Actually it’s more than that. They’re thriving.
And the Redbirds have been sneaky about it. Going into Wednesday’s day game against the Padres, the Cardinals had won eight of their last 11 games and were tied with the Mets for the NL’s best winning percentage since May 20.
I didn’t know that until I looked it up.
After skirmishing with the Padres for 10 innings Tuesday and emerging with a 3-2 victory, the Cardinals are a season-high seven games over .500 at 28-21.
I didn’t expect that.
Not with an Injured List that includes starting pitchers Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz. Not with pitcher Jordan Hicks on the IL and in limbo with a role to be determined later. Not with a stitched together rotation and an overworked bullpen that’s increasingly vulnerable to fatigue.
Not with starting outfielders Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill out of action and waiting it out as their afflictions heal. Not with Nolan Arenado slumping at the plate. Not when the team doesn’t have a legitimate left-side designated hitter to take on right-handed pitching.
Not after a disappointing four-game split with Milwaukee in the home series that ended Sunday. Not after playing a schedule that’s been more difficult than the early-season docket handed to the Brewers.
But here the Cardinals are, competing their way through it all to reach their high point of the regular season on the final day of May. This isn’t a cause for celebration, but an expression of appreciation is warranted. Until their pitching stabilizes, the Cardinals are still susceptible to anguish. But given all that’s hit them so far, the Cardinals could easily be in worse shape than 28–21 as the calendar flips to June.
Tuesday’s win over the Padres was special for several reasons:
An impeccable start by Adam Wainwright. More greatness from Paul Goldschmidt. Superb defense and daringly successful base running by second baseman Tommy Edman. His steal of third base in the bottom of the 10th set up Albert Pujols to deliver the winning run.
There was the rocket-launcher throw by left fielder Lars Nootbaar that took out a Padres runner at home plate in the top of the 10th. I don’t know how a guy throws a 96.5 miles per hour fastball with perfect accuracy from left field – to get a fast runner, no less – but Noot charged the rolling single and slung some serious heat to stop San Diego’s bid for the lead.
And, of course, there was Pujols adding to his legend with two sacrifice flies – including that sweet walk-off finale – to drive in two of his team’s three runs. The Pujols clutch gene remains healthy at age 42. He now has 1,344 career RBI as a Cardinal, second to Stan Musial (1,951) in franchise history.
All of this offset a number of hazardous events including a blown save by Giovanny Gallegos after Wainwright had artistically staked the Cards to a 2-0 lead. And then there was the offense, which went only 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position to make this a close call.
In the end the Cardinals prevailed. They prevailed by doing small things that turned into significant, game-changing, game-winning moments.
Pujols has played 1,732 regular-season games as a Cardinal. Before last night Pujols had two sacrifice flies in a game only one other time: Sept. 13, 2007 against the Reds at Busch Stadium. Pujols was 27 years old back then, and the Cardinals lost the game by a run.
They would not lose this one.
Fifteen years later, in his second multiple sac-fly game as a Cardinal, Pujols made sure of that. It wasn’t a 420-foot homer or a scorching double in the gap. It wasn’t even an infield hit, or a blooper, or another way of getting the run home. This was just a smart at-bat by one of the most poised and intelligent hitters of all time. And Pujols got the job done. Whatever it takes, right? He came through.
“A big part of our team identity is taking advantage of anything a team gives us,” Edman told reporters after the game. “We pay attention to all those small details, whether that’s base running, defense, from the hitting side as well. It’s something that we really take pride in.”
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
Accounting Department: The first-place Brewers failed to protect a three-run lead and lost 8-7 to the Cubs on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals cut the Crew’s lead to three games in the NL Central … the Cardinals evened their record to 13-13 in games against winning teams, and they’re now 7-5 in one-run games.
Wainwright: Some Kind Of Wonderful. We witnessed one of his finest starts in a distinguished career. Wainwright bedazzled the Padres over seven innings, allowing only two singles and a walk while striking out 10. The Padres had two total bases on him; both on singles by Luke Voit.
And check this out: Until last night, Wainwright had never posted a start in which he worked at least seven shutout innings, gave up no more than two hits and one walk, and struck out 10. Considering that Waino has made 368 regular-season starts as a Cardinal, that’s amazing.
Wainwright had a Bill James Game Score of 82 in this gem against the Padres. That 82 Game Score ranks tied for 22nd on his list of best starts in his career. I thought it would be more of a Top 10 start, but stingy, complete-game outings have more value. But not last night; the Cardinals really needed seven innings of Wainwright excellence to (A) give themselves a strong chance of winning and (B) preserve the bullpen. With the performance, Wainwright lowered his season ERA to 2.75.
More Words On Pujols: In his last five games Mang has two homers, seven RBI, a .364 onbase percentage, .625 slug, and a .989 OPS. He has a .727 OPS overall this season – but a 1.037 OPS vs. lefties.
Gio Isn’t Quite The Same: Giovanny Gallegos has been a terrific reliever for the Cardinals since coming over from the Yankees in 2018 and moving into a prominent bullpen role in 2019. But his first two months of 2022 weren’t as dominant as before.
In 10 games and 18.2 innings, Gallegos has a 3.86 ERA, and that would be his worst in a season as a Cardinal. To use some shorthand here, here’s the yearly trend line of his ERA, and 100 is league average. Obviously, a pitcher wants to be well above 100. And doesn’t want to be below 100.
There’s nothing awful about a pitcher that’s slightly above average according to league standards for a particular season. But Gallegos has us spoiled; we expect (demand?) a shutdown reliever every time he goes out there. And three seasons ago Gio was 82 percent above league average in performance — and so far this year he’s one percent above average.
His performance started to decline over the final three months of 2021.
— From the start of the 2019 season through the end of June 2021, Gallegos had a 2.34 ERA in 131 innings with a strikeout rate of 33.3 percent and a walk rate of 5.7%. Opposing hitters had a .160 average and .495 OPS against him.
— Since the beginning of July last season, Gallegos has a 4.11 ERA in 57 innings. His strikeout rate is down a bit, to 29.9%. And his walk rate is up (6.8%) from his peak-form level. Over this time opponents have batted .233 with a .678 OPS against Gio. That’s a 183-point increase in OPS over his previous performance standards.
Another problem: Gallegos, who throws right, isn’t as dominant against RH batters. Since last July 1 they have a .248 average and .722 OPS against him with a 27.4% strikeout rate. And he’s allowed RH batters to hit 1.2 homers per nine innings.
From the start of 2019 through the end of June last season, RH batters hit .167 against him with a .493 OPS and 32.6% strikeout rate. Plus a home-run rate of 0.7 per 9. So in the “before” and “after” look at this, we see a 229-point increase in opponent OPS.
Don’t get me wrong; Gallegos is still an asset. Very much so. But I offer these numbers as a way of showing how he’s lost some of his authority over hitters. Especially RH hitters. Last season I repeatedly expressed my concern in this space over how Gallegos was being used by then-manager Mike Shildt.
Shildt overdid it and pushed Gallegos too hard. He did the same to Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera, and their earned-run averages inflated over the final three months. In my opinion, the heavy-duty usage caused some burn-out with Gallegos. Marmol is using Gallegos in a more responsible manner this season and that should help Gio rebound.
Positive Pitching Trend: During their 8-3 stretch that precedes Wednesday’s day game, the Cardinals have given up three runs or fewer in seven of the 11 games and haven’t allowed more than four runs in nine of the 11 games. They have a 3.44 ERA over their last six games. The upturn is reflected in the overall run-prevention stat for the season; the Cards are allowing 3.84 runs per game which is tied for 7th in the majors.
This may surprise you but as I type this the Cardinals and Brewers are both surrendering an average of 3.84 runs per game this season. Manager Oli Marmol and pitching coach Mike Maddux are doing an admirable job of patching this pitching staff during a time of turmoil. It hasn’t been easy but they’re getting good results amid the turmoil.
Paul Goldenschmidt: What a May for the Cardinals first baseman. He led the majors in slugging (.817), RBI (33), OPS (1.288), park-and-league adjusted runs created (158% above average), and Isolated Power (.413). He was second in MLB in batting average (.404) and onbase percentage (.471). And third in hits (42), doubles (13) and homers (10.)
During his streak of 36 consecutive games of reaching base, Goldy is hitting .411 with a 1.220 OPS – plus 15 doubles, 11 homers and 42 RBI.
For the season Goldschmidt leads qualifying MLB hitters with a 1,049 OPS and ranks among the top four in batting average (.352), OBP (.422), slugging (.626), and RBI (43.)
Another Example of Why Goldschmidt Is A Winning Player: Goldy’s double gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead and he came around to score on Pujols’ first sac fly to extend the lead to 2-0. And by making a heads-up decision not to follow Edman in the 10th in what would have been an attempted double steal, Goldschmidt stayed at first as Edman swiped third base. Had Goldy taken off to steal second, the Padres probably would have walked Pujols intentionally to take their chances with the next hitter, rookie Juan Yepez. But with Goldy at first and Edman at third, the Padres hoped to get Pujols to hit into an inning-ending double play. They got a game-ending sac fly instead.
Born To Run: The Cardinals lead the majors with 40 steals and have been caught only seven times for a stolen-base success rate of 85 percent. That ranks a close third in MLB … the Cardinals lead the NL and are third in the majors with a extra-bases taken percentage of 51%. That’s based on the number of times that a runner goes from first to third on a single, second to home on a single, first to home on a double – or otherwise moving up a base on a batted ball in play that isn’t a forceout … according to the FanGraphs metric, two Cardinals are the top baserunners in the majors this season: Edman (1) and Harrison Bader (2.)
Brendan Donovan: He walked and scored on Goldschmidt’s double, and that was a positive contribution when the Cardinals needed a jump start Tuesday. But in his last five games the rookie super-utility glue player is 2 for 16 with a .263 OBP and .388 OPS.
Paul DeJong: Triple A Memphis lost at Charlotte (14-7) on Tuesday night but don’t blame Pauly. He had a big night with three hits, including a double and a homer, and knocked in three runs.
Thanks for reading …
Enjoy today’s game. I hope it doesn’t rain too much.
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 were 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.