THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Through the first 10 games of July the Cardinals are 3-7 and averaging 2.1 runs per game. They’ve been shut out four times in the first 10. They’ve scored more than four runs in only two of the 10. Before winning 4-3 on Sunday the Cardinals had scored only 7 runs in their previous 71 regulation innings.
Here are their monthly numbers, so far, with the MLB ranking in parenthesis: 21 runs (28th), .207 batting average (26th), .288 onbase percentage (23rd), .323 slugging (26th), .612 OPS (26th.)
Here’s my breakdown of the breakdown.
– Timely Hitting Gone Bad: The Cardinals are 8 for 64 (.125) with runners in scoring position in July.
– Quality of contact: It’s been a problem for the Cardinals all season, but they’re no longer getting away with it. The vulnerability has been exposed. For the season the Cardinals are tied for 27th among the 30 teams in average exit velocity (87.5 mph), tied for 23rd in barrel percentage (6.3), and rank 29th with a hard-hit rate of 34.7%. With so much soft contact the Cardinals rank 24th in MLB in expected slugging percentage this year. The statcast metrics have dropped in July, with the Cardinals ranking 30th in hard-hit rate (30.1%), 29th in average exit velocity (86.3%) and 27th in barrel rate (5.6%.) And as I’ve mentioned several times this season, the Cardinals have the highest pop-up rate (13.5%) in the majors this year. That’s symptomatic of the soft-contact issues.
Lousy strike-zone judgment: There’s more to this team’s struggles than quality of contact. Only four MLB teams have chased more pitches out of the strike zone than St. Louis (34.6%) this season. And only four teams have swung at fewer strikes than the Cardinals (66.5%). Strike-zone judgment is part of the problem and a source of the recent decline. Cards hitters have the seventh-worst strikeout rate in the majors (24.4%) since June 17.
– The downward trend of Tommy Edman: He’s 5 for 36 (.139) this month with a .158 OBP and .167 slug. Since June 21, Edman is batting .169 with a .401 OPS. His strikeout rate continues to rise.
– Diminishing outfield production: No Tyler O’Neill (injured.) No Harrison Bader (injured.) And a cooling-off Dylan Carlson, who has a .212 average, .590 OPS and a 37 percent strikeout rate this month. In 118 combined plate appearances in July the STL outfielders are batting .175, slugging .252, have only four extra-base hits, and have struck out just under 25% of the time.
– The slumping rookies: In one respect Nolan Gorman is holding his own, putting up a fine .770 OPS in July. Much of that is due to his increasing walk rate that’s generated a .400 OBP this month. But Gorman is hitting .222 and slugging .370 for the month. Juan Yepez has two home runs this month, but he’s batting .154 in July with a .498 OPS. Brendan Donovan is hitting .161 with a .439 OPS so far this month; it’s part of a longer trend in which he’s batted .189 with a glaring 26.7 strikeout rate since June 18. Donovan has a poor .289 OBP and only four RBI in his last 20 games.
– Top of the lineup is getting shut down: With Edman and Donovan fading – at least for now – the No. 1 and No. 2 lineup spots have generated a .136 batting average, .200 OBP, .148 slugging percentage, .348 OPS and a 29% strikeout rate in July. Edman, Donovan and Yepez have taken 73 of the 90 plate appearances from the No. 1-2 slots this month. But Gorman and Dylan Carlson have no hits, three walks, eight strikeouts and one RBI in 17 combined plate appearances from the 1-2 spots in July.
– Catchers, not exactly Johnny Bench: This month Andrew Knizner, Austin Romine and Ivan Herrera are a combined 3 for 33 (.091) with a 26% strikeout rate. They’re part of a bottom-lineup collective that’s batted .118 (12 for 102) with a .403 OPS from the No. 7-8-9 spots in July. That includes a 1 for 20 showing with runners in scoring position.
– The lack of quality depth. Lars Nootbaar is improving at the plate, but it hasn’t been easy to cover for O’Neill and Bader now that Donovan and Yepez are each experiencing their first down cycles as rookies. That was reaffirmed by the Cardinals plugging in Corey Dickerson on his first day back from the IL – and batting him 5th in Sunday’s game. He’s batting .183 with a .515 OPS this season. The catcher spot is a place where offense goes to die.
— The St. Louis front office is blocking its own prospect. The prime example right now is outfielder Alec Burleson, a second-round pick from the 2020 MLB draft who’s hitting very well at Triple A Memphis. Burleson, who bats from the left side, is hitting .336 with a .379 onbase percentage and .558 slugging percentage this season for a .937 OPS.
Burleson doesn’t strike out much; his K rate is only 14 percent. He’s stroked 15 doubles, 16 homers and has knocked in 64 runs. Burleson is on a nice streak for the Redbirds with a .364 average, .963 OPS and 15 RBI in his last 17 games. Given the scarcity of offense being supplied by the STL outfield these days, Burleson would be an upgrade, yes?
But the Cardinals’ intensifying prospect hoarding isn’t just about wanting to keep the prospects instead of trading them to another team. No. The prospect hoarding also includes keeping a talented, MLB-ready hitter down on the farm and away from the offense-needy big club in St. Louis. (The columnist shakes his head. And chuckles.)
If the STL baseball scholars are stashing Burleson in Memphis as a potentially valuable trade chip – to keep his full MLB service time intact – well, that could work out. Two things on that: (1) could this be Randy Arozarena, Part II? And (2) who among you are confident that John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch are going to take a home-run swing at the trade deadline? If I’m overrating Burleson, I’ll apologize at the appropriate time. But I’m not the fella who drafted Burleson 70th overall in 2020.
— Facing better teams and pitchers: Yeah. And that’s baseball. You don’t get to just play the bad teams and exclusively take swings against no one but mediocre or bad pitchers. There’s no excuse for a performance this feeble. Even with the limited roster, you have to find a way to do a better job.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
The Accounting Department: On June 29 the Cardinals lost to Miami and the Brewers defeated the Rays. At that point Milwaukee led the Cardinals by 1.5 games in the NL Central. Despite losing seven of their last 10 games the Cardinals are only 2.5 games behind the first-place Brewers as a new week begins. That’s because the Crew went 4-6 in a 10-game stretch against the Pirates and Cubs that ended Sunday. That includes a 2-4 homestand vs. the Cubs and Pirates that concluded Sunday … in the pursuit of the NL’s third wild-card spot, the Cardinals trail the Phillies by one game and lead the Giants by one … The Cardinals are 3-7 in July which ties them with Giants for 13th in the National League for the month. Among NL teams only Washington (1-9) has done worse in the NL in July… here are the bottom five records in the NL since June 15: Diamondbacks 9-13, Cardinals 9-15, Reds 9-15, Giants 8-15, Nationals 7-17 … the Cardinals are 30-32 (.484) since May 7 … the Playoff Odds report at Baseball Reference gives St. Louis a 67% chance of winning the NL Central.
Quotes From Oli Marmol: I’ll provide a quickie comment after each of Oli’s offerings on the condition of his laboring offense.
Quote: “I wouldn’t say anything’s going wrong,” Marmol said after a loss to the Phillies. “You tell me who’s underperforming. Guys are giving their best shot and playing to their capabilities.”
Comment: A lot of guys are underperforming. (Read on for more details.) But is there a subliminal message here? Is the rookie manager implying that the talent level is lacking? Because if these guys are playing to their capabilities, then what does the recent performance say about their capabilities? Hmmm.
Quote: “You look at this stretch. We’re playing some pretty damn good teams.”
Comment: Yes. And in a 162-game season every team in the majors has stretches of playing against damn good teams. And if the Cardinals make the playoffs, they’ll have to face damn good teams and beat damn good teams to make a deep postseason run. So I didn’t understand Marmol’s point there. The Cardinals can beat losing teams (26-15 record.) But they are 20-27 against this season against losing teams … and I don’t think the Cardinals can ask MLB to let them play against the Pirates or Reds in the postseason.
Quote: “I would summarize it this way. We’ve seen some pretty good arms. You can call it clutch hits. You can call it whatever you want. At the end of the day, our guys are playing to their best of their capability.”
Comment: Again … should they make it to the postseason, the Cardinals will encounter plenty of good arms. So if this is the best they can do — if they are playing up to their capabilities on offense — then what’s the point of making the playoffs?
Pitching Positives: Despite all that they’ve been through on the pitching side, the Cardinals still rank 5th in the majors and 2nd to the Dodgers in the NL with an average of 3.89 runs allowed per game. The Cardinals haven’t won many games over the last three-plus weeks, but for the season their run prevention puts them ahead of every NL postseason contender except LA. I don’t think many people would expect to see St. Louis allowing fewer runs per game than the Brewers, Mets, Braves, Padres, Phillies and Giants.
STL’s 3.76 ERA ranks 9th in the majors. All of this is surprising when we take into account the rotation’s IL subtractions (Jack Flaherty, Steven Matz) and substantial bullpen turmoil along the way. Recent small-sample trends are encouraging. The St. Louis starting pitchers have a 1.80 ERA over the last five games, and the relievers have allowed only four earned runs in 31.2 innings this month for a 1.14 bullpen ERA that ranks 3rd in the majors in July. Giovanny Gallegos has given up two of the bullpen’s four runs in his three innings of work this month; the other Cards relievers have a July ERA of 0.62 in 28.2 innings.
Standard Warning: The rotation remains vulnerable because of a poor strikeout rate (18.3%.) For the season Cardinal starters rank 21st in the majors in fielding independent ERA (4.28.) And in the last five games the starters have yielded 1.4 homers per nine innings, struck out only 16% of batters faced, and have a 4.70 FIP. The rotation remains fragile.
If You Are Hoping For A Blockbuster Trade: Well, in a Friday pregame conversation with STLtoday columnist Ben Hochman, president of baseball ops John Mozeliak pretty much extinguished your hopes. Unless, of course, Mozeliak was being coy … but it didn’t seem like it.
When asked about the possibility of deviating from custom and trading coveted prospects this summer, Mozeliak said, “We’re not going to blow up our model of how we think about player acquisition. We certainly understand this is a really fun team to be around. Obviously, we’re coming off a tough road trip, but we still believe, as we get healthier, there are some things we could augment that would make us stronger. So that’s how we’ll improve.”
All-Star Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and reliever Ryan Helsley were worthy selections for the NL All-Star team. And Albert Pujols getting the call as the Commissioner’s Choice was an obvious and wonderful thing to do, and MLB fans and players will get their chance to honor No. 5 in his final season of baseball. I don’t have any complaints. If anyone out there wants to fume over the exclusion of starting pitcher Miles Mikolas and middle infielder Tommy Edman … have at it. An All-Star case can be made for both, but my blood is not angered by the omission. And so many players and pitchers bailing out, Edman and/or Mikolas may receive an invitation, anyway. By the end of this process, the NL will have 71 players named to the team. Slight exaggeration, yes. But so many players opt out of this game, it’s almost as bad as the NFL Pro Bowl. But nothing is worse than the NFL Pro Bowl.
Tracking The Outfielder Injuries: Through Sunday, O’Neill, Bader and Carlson had missed a combined 75 days this season. In 2021 the three outfield starters missed a combined 84 days. O’Neill already has missed 41 days this season – already more than his days missed to injury (24) in all of 2021. Since making his major-league debut with the Cardinals in 2018, O’Neill has missed a total of 128 days due to in-season injuries. O’Neill is once again trying to establish career traction. Having one terrific year doesn’t do it.
Note To Readers: I’ll be posting another piece – on Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina – coming up in a couple of hours.
Thanks 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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which 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.