Welcome to The Redbird Review
The Cardinals had a swell weekend, taking two of three from the Reds to narrow the gap in the race for the NL’s No. 2 wild card.
It was a special weekend for Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado. Saturday night, he blasted the game-winning two-run homer to break a 4-4 tie and win it for the home team after the Cards had fallen behind 4-0. Sunday afternoon Arenado busted another two-run homer, an early blow that gave the Cards a 2-0 lead that held up, as is, the rest of the way.
With 31 homers and 96 RBI, Arenado has moved into select company among primary third basemen in St. Louis franchise history. Among hitters that played 75 percent of their games at third base in a season, only three others had at least 31 homers and 96 RBIs: Ken Boyer (32-97 in 1960); Fernando Tatis (34-107 in 1999); and Scott Rolen (34-124 in 2004.)
Bravo, Mr. Arenado.
The wild fun for the wild card is a five-team scrum. The Reds and Padres are trying to reverse extended stretches of bad baseball. The Cardinals are still seeking consistency — most of all with their offense and bullpen. The Phillies were on the rise for a while but have gone spinning in the wrong direction. They hope to exploit a weak remaining schedule. And the Mets are trying to make a late rush but face the longest odds of qualifying for the wild card.
Here’s an overview of the five contenders.
And a report on the state of play in the No. 2 Wild Card race.
PADRES (74-68, .521)
No. 2 Wild Card Standing: tied with Cincinnati for the lead. FanGraphs lists the Padres with a 35.7 percent chance of grabbing the second wild card. That’s the second-highest percentage among the five contenders.
Three Things To Know:
1) According to a prominent media report on July 29, the Padres were on the verge of finalizing a deal to acquire Nationals starter Max Scherzer. But a day later the Nationals traded Scherzer and All-Star infielder Trea Turner to the Dodgers. Since then, the Dodgers have won all eight of Max’s eight starts with them, and he has six wins and a 0.88 ERA. Since the big trade that went against San Diego the Padres are 14-23. But the troubles began earlier than that; the Padres are 25-35 since July 1.
2) Injuries continue to damage the Padres. Not only did they get swept by the Dodgers in three-game weekend road series at LA, but the Padres lost starting pitcher Blake Snell (groin tightness) and middle infielder Jake Cronenworth (fractured left ring finger) during the series. Snell departed after throwing only 11 pitches in Sunday’s shutout loss to Scherzer and the Dodgers. Snell — who was in line to start against the Cardinals Friday in St. Louis — had been nicked for only four total hits in his previous three starts and had crafted a 1.85 ERA in his previous seven starts. Cronenworth is hitting .270 with 20 homers and a .814 OPS this season and has started at second base and shortstop.
San Diego manager Jayce Tingler expressed optimism after losing two key pieces and believes they can return relatively soon. The Padre starting pitching had just settled into a healthy, successful groove but a Snell absence would throw the rotation into chaos again. And Cronenworth had moved in at shortstop in place of Fernando Tatis Jr. who relocated to right field to protect his vulnerable shoulder. With Cronenworth down, Tatis has returned to shortstop.
3) The San Diego offense is in the throes of a stunning freefall. Since Aug. 11, a span of 27 games, the Padres rank last in the majors in batting average (.202), onbase percentage (.289) and slugging percentage (.323.) They’re also last in runs per game (3.4) over that time. And a tired San Diego bullpen has a 5.20 ERA (26th in MLB) since Aug. 11.
Remaining Schedule: In a word … brutal. The Padres begin with four at San Francisco, then three at St. Louis. Then it’s back home for three vs. San Francisco and three against Atlanta. The season winds down with three at the Dodgers and three at the Giants.
The Remaining Opponents: have an average record of 86-56 (.605 winning percentage.) Just a note: when the Braves visit San Diego for three games, the teams will also finish the final 2 and ½ innings of a game played in Atlanta that had been suspended because of rain. The Padres led that contest by a run.
Quote: “We definitely need to play better,” Tingler said after his team was put away by the Dodgers on Sunday. “But we’ve got the guys to do it. We’ve said that all along. The belief is still there. And we’ve got to go out and take it. There’s not much more to say, except we’ve got to play better. It’s probably been our low point. But we’ve got a chance to turn that around. Nothing’s going to matter about this pocket if we can go out and play well these next three weeks.”
REDS (75-69, .521)
No. 2 Wild Card Standing: Co-leader with the Padres. FanGraphs has them with a 40.5% shot at taking the second wild card. That’s the best chance of any of the five contenders.
Three Things To Know:
1) The Cincinnatians have lost six out of their last nine. They are staggering at 6-12 since Aug. 24. They have lost six consecutive series. Can the Reds save their season? Not too long ago, the situation was highly favorable. After a 13-6 stretch that ended Aug. 22 the Reds were 69-57 and had, according to FanGraphs, a 64 percent chance of making the playoffs. After losing the weekend series in St. Louis, the Reds’ postseason probability is down to 40.5 percent. Still healthy, yes. But only if the Reds can find their winning form.
2) The Cincinnati bats are covered in icicles, with the Reds hitting .220 and averaging only 3.6 runs per game over the last 18. They’ve scored four or fewer runs 13 times in the last 18. For reference, National League teams are averaging 4.45 runs per game this year. The Reds have several slumping regulars but no downswing has impacted the team more than Joey Votto’s. In the last 18 games the first baseman is batting .164 with a .640 OPS, six RBI and 29.4% strikeout rate — and he’s 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. The Reds clearly miss left fielder Jesse Winker, who hasn’t played since Aug. 15 due to an intercostal strain. At the time of his injury Winker was leading the NL with a .955 OPS with 24 homers, 71 RBI and a league-high 32 doubles. Several replacements have flopped in his place.
3) The starting pitching remains strong; during the team’s 6-12 downturn the Reds’ rotation ranks third in the majors with a 3.55 ERA. But the bullpen is still a detriment, ranking 27th in the majors with a 5.08 ERA during the team’s plummet, which began Aug. 24. That bullpen ERA is 4.90 since the All-Star break.
Remaining Schedule: 3 at Pittsburgh, 3 vs. the Dodgers (home), 3 vs. Pittsburgh (home), 4 with Washington (home), 2 at Chicago White Sox, 3 at Pittsburgh. Playing the Pirates nine times in their final 18 games should help the Reds.
The Remaining Opponents: have an average 63-79 record (.443).
Quote: “Listen, I trust our team. I trust where we are,” Reds manager David Bell said after Sunday’s loss at Busch Stadium. “Clearly, we’re not satisfied by any means with the last six series or whatever it’s been. But there is no time to think about that. The bottom line is: I trust who we are, each one of these guys; offensively, defensively and our pitching. I feel great about moving forward with this entire group. It’s pretty easy to be positive when you’re around this group every day. That’s the way I see it today. Just trusting them really helps with that.”
CARDINALS (73-69, .514)
No. 2 Wild Card Standing: They’re a game behind the Padres and Reds and will try to stay ahead of the Phillies and Mets. The Cardinals’ postseason odds are improving. FanGraphs gives them a 12.2% crack to win the wild card.
Three Things To Know:
1) The Cardinals still have a losing record (12-13) since Aug. 17 but have found ways to survive. In the latest instance the Redbirds escaped a terribly timed four-game losing streak by rallying to win four of five games from the Dodgers and Reds. In their 4-1 turnaround Cardinals pitchers did a wonderful job, handcrafting a 2.60 ERA.
2) The inconsistent STL offense continues to lag, scoring two runs or fewer in seven of the team’s 12 games in September. And the Cards haven’t scored more than three runs in nine of their last 14 games. There has to be more consistency during the final 20 games.
3) The Cardinals bullpen has alternated between good and gruesome since late August. This group tends to be extreme. The Cardinals are 9-8 since Aug. 26. In their nine wins, the bullpen has a 0.96 ERA. Great! In the eight losses, the bullpen ERA is a horrendous 7.16. Ugh! Which version of the St. Louis bullpen will show up the most over the final 20 games?
Remaining Schedule: 3 at the Mets, three (home) vs. San Diego, then 4 at Milwaukee, 4 at Chicago Cubs — and back to Busch Stadium for a six-game homestand against the Brewers and Cubs.
The Remaining Opponents: have an average record of 75-67 for a .528 winning percentage.
Quote: “We’ve got some tough games that we’ve been able to win a lot of. We’ve got a couple (of losses that) really hurt at the end,” manager Mike Shildt said. “But this is a team that is hungry, is going to fight. We’re going to stay together, and we’re going to keep preparing and we’re going to continue to get after it. If you’re a fan of this team, you got to respect that and appreciate that.”
(Yes, I do appreciate a team that shows up to work, prepares, and competes hard. You know — a team that is fulfilling the basic, minimum job requirements to justify being paid. Let’s hold off on building the monuments, OK?)
PHILLIES (72-71, .503)
No. 2 Wild Card standing: 2 and ½ games behind co-leaders Padres and Reds. And 1 and ½ games behind the Pirates. FanGraphs has their wild card chances at 6.6 percent. And they have an 8.4% chance to topple first-place Atlanta in the NL East.
Three Things To Know
1) After a six-game winning streak through Sept. 2 that lifted them to five games above .500, the Phils are unraveling. They’ve lost seven of their last 10 games — and that includes this past weekend’s 1-3 home series against a Rockies team that’s 21-51 (.292) on the road this year. “It stunk,” manager Joe Girardi said after Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Rox at Citizens Bank Park. “It stunk. It stunk. There’s no other way to describe it. It stunk.”
2) Bryce Harper is doing all that he can, batting .333 with a 1.329 OPS, six homers and nine RBI during his team’s 10-game slide. That’s no surprise considering Harper’s 2021 performance that features 32 homers, 32 doubles, a .307 average, and 1.032 OPS. But other lineup regulars — most notably catcher J.T. Realmuto — continue to struggle. During the 3-7 stretch Philadelphia batted .227, averaged 3.9 runs per game and hit .175 with runners in scoring position.
3) With starter Zach Elfin gone for the season with a knee injury, Girardi is low on starters and will pretty much go with bullpen games every fifth day. During the 3-7 skid the Phillies had a 6.42 bullpen ERA and a 5.07 ERA overall.
Remaining Schedule: Cubs (home) for 3, at the NY Mets for 3, Baltimore (home) for 3, Pittsburgh (home) for 4, at Atlanta for 3, at Miami for 3.
The Remaining Opponents: have a 61-81 average record (.429 win pct.)
Quote: “It’s go time,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “We don’t have any more time to waste. We can’t have anymore splitting series, losing series. We have to go. We have to win every series the rest of the season. We have to do a better job. We can’t sit around and play .500 baseball and expect them to come back to us.”
METS (72-72, .500)
No. 2 Wild Card Standing: The Mets still have a chance. FanGraphs gives them a 3.7 percent shot of emerging as the No. 2 wild card. (And like the Phillies, the Mets are still chasing first-place Atlanta in the NL East, FanGraphs has the Mets with a 3.7% shot to win the ficision.) As for the wild-card math, the NYM trail San Diego and Cincinnati by 3.0 games. And they’ll also have to hurdle the Cardinals and Phillies to get to the co-leaders.
Three Things To Know:
1) Watch out for shortstop Francisco Lindor. The Mets have only 18 games to work with, so it’s just about desperation time. But if Lindor can continue his assault on pitching, the Mets are capable of a lightning strike. Lindor is having a disappointing first season in NY after signing a 10-year, $341 million contract with the Mets. But he’s having a better-late-than-never September that includes a 1.105 OPS, six homers and 14 RBIs. And Lindor slugged three homers in Sunday night’s volatile 7-6 win over the Yankees. In fairness to Lindor — who spent considerable time on the IL — he has a .346 onbase percentage and .511 slug since May 29. With Lindor stepping up, the Mets won two of three from the Yankees to bag their first season-series win over their crosstown rivals since 2013.
2) The Mets are actually the hottest team among the wild-card contenders. I don’t know if 10-5 constitutes a true hot streak, but that’s the Met record since Aug. 28. The Mets have done it with stellar pitching; they have an overall 3.74 ERA and a rotation ERA of 3.72 over the past 15 games. And the Mets offense leads the National League with 76 runs this month; their .829 in September ranks fourth overall and second in the NL.
3) The Mets, however, rank 27th overall and 13th in the NL this season with an average of 3.98 runs per game. They’re also 24th overall in slugging (.392) and 21st in OPS (.709). Only four MLB teams have scored two or fewer runs in a game more often than the Mets this season. And at minus 42 net baserunning gain, the Mets rate among the worst teams in the majors on the bases. Without the injured Jacob de Grom (elbow) and Noah Syndergaard (elbow) the Mets lack quality depth in their rotation. Since de Grom last pitched on July 7, the Mets are 26-35 and have a rotation ERA of 4.64.
Remaining Schedule: Home for 3 vs. St. Louis, home for 3 vs. Philadelphia, on the road for 2 games at Boston and 3 at Milwaukee, 4 at home against Miami, and a closing three-game series at Atlanta.
The Remaining Opponents: have an average record of 74-69 for a .517 winning percentage. This is an important week for the Mets, who host six games against STL and Philadelphia, two teams they have to catch in the wild card standings.
Quote: “It’s exactly what I expect,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said of Lindor. “He wants to give the fans the best show. We know he has had a lot of ups and downs, but this is the Francisco that we all know, the Francisco that we all expect. This is the Francisco we know.”
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 “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.