THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals just completed a dreadful homestand, losing three consecutive series while winning only three of 10 games from the Cubs, Twins and Rockies.
The team continues to find ways to disappoint a loyal, revenue-generous fan base that ranks third in the majors in average home attendance this season. With 23 home games remaining, the Cardinals have drawn 41,013 fans per game to Busch Stadium. The only teams ahead of St. Louis in home-attendance rankings – Dodgers and Yankees – play in massive-population centers.
Baseball has been a bummer at Busch this season. The Cardinals are 25-33 for a .431 home winning percentage that’s the fifth worst in the majors. Only the A’s, Royals, Nationals and Tigers have been more futile at home than the Cardinals so far in 2023.
— If the Cardinals finish with a .431 winning percentage (or poorer) at Busch Stadium in 2023, it would be their worst home performance since the new ballpark opened in 2006.
— The .431 home winning percentage would be the third-worst by a Cardinals team over the last 53 full seasons. The 1990 and 1970 Cardinals each went 34-47 (.420) inside the previous version of Busch Stadium. The 1994 Cardinals had a .411 winning percentage in only 56 home games. I didn’t include ‘94 because the season was shortened by a labor dispute between the owners and players. The 1994 Cardinals played their final home game on July 31.
— The 2023 Cardinals have a winning record in only two of the nine homestands played so far this season. They’ve had a losing record in five homestands and a .500 record in two others.
— The Cardinals have won just five of 18 home series this season, losing 11 and splitting two. The home failures began early, with STL going 0-5-1 in the first six series at Busch in ‘23.
— The Cardinals’ home 4.59 ERA would be the second worst in a full season during the expansion era, which began in 1962 for NL teams. It’s close, but at the moment only the 1999 Cardinals had a higher home ERA (.461) than than the ‘23 pitching staff.
— After taking residency at the present Busch Stadium in 2006, the Cardinals had MLB’s third-best home winning percentage through 2022. And they were tied for the second-best home ERA in the majors from 2006 through 2022. Needless to say, this 2023 collapse is a huge change from the norm.
Sad. I wonder if this historically depressing showing at Busch Stadium will flatten home ticket sales going into 2024. But the ownership-management offseason approach looms as a significant factor. Another dull and complacent offseason will turn off more fans. An aggressive offseason that reaffirms a commitment to winning would give the fans more hope. And the usual volume of home ticket sales would likely hold steady.
THE ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: With a 1-2 weekend, the Cardinals (49-64, .434) slipped to 14th in the overall NL standings, falling a half-game behind the Nationals. Only the Rockies (44-67) have done more poorly than St. Louis among National League teams. Among the 30 MLB franchises only the White Sox, Rockies, Royals and A’s have a lower winning percentage than the 26th-ranked Cardinals. After winning six consecutive games from July 15-20, the Cardinals have flopped to a 5-11 record in their last 16 games. In the 16-game skid the Cardinals scored four runs or fewer 11 times … the Cardinals are 15 games under .500 for the first time since July 7.
THE DEFLATED OFFENSE: During their 5-11 slump the offense averaged 4.0 runs per game – below the MLB average – and had a 2-7 record when hitting fewer than two home runs in a game. But in going 5-11 the Cardinals’ biggest problem was a .214 batting average with runners in scoring position – which includes a .176 RISP batting average in the last 10 games.
In losing three of their final four games in the homestand, the Cardinals went 3 for 30 with runners in scoring position (.100) and scored seven runs, total in the three defeats. In the Colorado series the Cardinals went 3 for 27 with runners in scoring position overall; they were a sputtering 1 for 17 RISP in their two losses to the Rockies.
THE WAINO WATCH: It was another unfortunate evening for Adam Wainwright on Friday, and it left him stuck on 198 career victories. The Rockies got to him for nine hits (three doubles), two walks and seven earned runs in three innings. Wainwright faced left-handed batters nine times in this one and they produced six hits (two doubles), two walks and four runs.
Among MLB starting pitchers that have worked at least 60 innings this season Wainwright has the worst ERA (7.81), the worst strikeout rate (12.2%), and the worst swinging–strike rate (5.5%.)
People are babbling about Wainwright being damaged by frequent two-out hits, and routinely parse his performance in other ways that are designed to garner empathy and portray him as a victim of bad luck – or something like that. It’s been one excuse after another.
Can we please be adults here? His demise is all about a glaring inability to get swings and misses and strikeouts, and the cave-in began late last season. Waino was battered during the final month of 2022, and that’s continued in 2023. Even the greatest pitchers of all time get old and lose their stuff in a way that often leaves them virtually defenseless. It’s baseball. It’s silly to concoct false-narrative scenarios to dodge the truth.
The immortal Walter Johnson had a 5.10 ERA in his final season. The seemingly invincible Bob Gibson had a 5.04 in his final season. The dominant lefty Steve Carlton was torched for a 6.40 ERA in his final one-plus seasons. And there are many more Hall of Famers in that group. Pitchers get old, fade physically, and can’t be what they were. There’s no shame in that.
In his last 20 starts and 94 and ⅓ innings going back to the beginning of September 2022, Wainwright has a 7.63 ERA. He’s been hammered by opponents for a .358 average, .408 onbase percentage and .547 slug. And he has struck out only 11.4 percent of 458 batters faced during the 20 starts.
Wainwright will continue to plug away, and compete as hard as he can, in the quest for 200 career wins. With generous run support and two or three decent starts, he’ll hopefully get there. From a team standpoint this season went down the toilet a long time ago, and Wainwright isn’t blocking another pitcher from entering the rotation.
These are good things – albeit in an unintended way. If the Cardinals had a shot at the postseason, imagine the criticism being heaped on manager Oli Marmol for staying with Wainwright. Imagine the criticism if the exciting prospect Tink Hence was ready for the majors but the Cardinals had no room for him because Marmol was catering to Wainwright, who turns 42 on Aug. 25.
But these aren’t issues, and there’s no reason to resent Wainwright for hanging on. If anything he’s in position to make the fans happy near the end of an unhappy season by getting the two individual wins to reach 200. It would mean more during a successful season for the team and Wainwright – but as Mick Jagger sang, you can’t always get what you want. And hell, Jagger just turned 80. Rock & Roll gods never have to leave the stage; they can stay as long as there’s an audience willing to pay to see them. But Jagger, the pitcher, would have been long gone.
BUILDING TRUST: STEVEN MATZ. His revised pitching approach is working beautifully. After limiting the Rockies to a run in six innings for the win Saturday, Matz has an 0.95 ERA in his last three starts. And since returning to the rotation on July 9 after regrouping in the bullpen, Matz has a 1.65 ERA in six starts. This is good work. Matz is getting swings and misses by zinging his fastball up in the zone. He’s throwing more changeups when ahead in the count, getting more foul balls and swings and misses. His curve is being used as a timely neutralizer that induces ground balls. Matz had 15 swinging strikes against the Rockies on Saturday.
TRACKING WILLSON CONTRERAS: The hits keep coming. In 96 plate appearances through June 25 Contreras is hitting .405 with a .500 onbase percentage and .633 slug for a 1.133 OPS. That OPS ranks sixth overall in the majors since June 25. And since that day he’s tied for the lead among MLB catchers with 1.5 WAR, and ranks first at the position in batting average, OBP, sluggin, OPS, wOBA and wRC+. Based on his wRC+, Contreras is 112 percent above league average since June 25.
This season, when used as a catcher, Contreras is 19 percent above average offensively per wRC+. As a DH, he’s only six percent above average offensively per wRC+.
Contreras ranks 24th among 30 catchers (minimum 1,500 pitches caught) with minus 4 framing runs. And he’s also ranked 24th with minus 4 blocking runs. Contreras was improving in his framing and blocking for a time this season but couldn’t sustain it. Contreras has a caught-stealing rate of 29 percent; that ranks fifth among MLB catchers that have caught a minimum 400 innings.
TRACKING JORDAN WALKER: Since maxing at an .850 OPS on June 20, the rookie is batting .216 with a .618 OPS in his last 135 plate appearances.
TRACKING GOLDY: At the All-Star break, Paul Goldschmidt had a .475 slugging percentage, .844 OPS, and a wRC+ that put him 33 percent above league average offensively. His first-half power produced 15 homers and 20 doubles in 341 at-bats. Goldy has powered down after the All-Star break, slugging .379 with a .729 OPS and is only five percent above league average offensively per wRC+. Goldschmidt has only three homers and two doubles in 100 plate appearances since the All-Star break. But perhaps he’s heating; Goldy had five hits against the Rockies in three games. And no accounting of the Cards first baseman would be complete without mentioning his .389 batting average with runners in scoring position since the break.
ZACK THOMPSON: He impressed against the Rockies on Sunday, striking out eight and allowing one run in four innings in the “opener” role. The talent is there. It is obvious. It’s a shame the Cardinals wasted so much time while trying to determine whether Thompson should be a starter or reliever in the big leagues.
JUST A QUESTION: Are the Cardinals so high and mighty that they can’t give Luken Baker more than a superficial look with the big team? Baker has 20 plate appearances for the Cardinals this season — which hardly constitutes an opportunity. But Baker keeps banging home runs for Triple A Memphis. He leads all of the minor leagues with 31 big flies this season and has driven in 89 runs. For the Triple A season Baker is batting .337 with a .442 OBP and.721 slug. He’s limited to DH and first base … but the Cardinals are out of the postseason hunt, and this is a good time to give him a legitimate audition in the majors.
CARDS-CUBS: Remember when the Cardinals went to Wrigley Field in July and beat the Cubs 7-2 in the series opener played July 20? At that point the fourth-place Cardinals were only 1 and ½ games behind the third-place Cubs in the NL Central standings. But since that night the Cubs are 6-1 against the Cardinals and have MLB’s record of 13-3 since July 21. The Cardinals went into another lost zone, losing 11 of 16 games since winning that series opener at Wrigley.
The Cubs are rolling. They’re tied for the second-best record in the majors, 32-18, since June 9 – leading MLB with an average of 6.2 runs per game over that time. They have MLB’s best record (16-7) since the All-Star break, and are 15-4 in their last 19. The Chicago offense has erupted, leading the majors in runs per game (7.2), batting average, onbase percentage, OPS and wRC+ since the break. And their .513 slugging percentage ranks second to Atlanta.
The Cubs just went 5–2 in a seven-game homestand against the Reds and Braves. At 58-54, the Cubs have moved into second place in the division and are only 1 and ½ games behind the first-place Brewers. And they entered the new week with the third wild-card spot in hand. The Cubs have a chance to build on their success during the next 18 games; only three of the contests will be played against a team (Blue Jays) with a winning record.
That said, the Cubs’ roll could be slowed by starting pitching; their starter ERA (5.43) ranks 27th in MLB since the All-Star break. One other NL Central note: The Reds have lost six straight and are 9-15 since July 15.
CHECKING IN ON FORMER CARDINALS:
* Paul DeJong is 2 for 20 with seven strikeouts for the Blue Jays.
* Jack Flaherty won his first start for the Orioles to clinch a 3-1 series win at Toronto. Jack gave up one run and four hits in six innings and struck out 33.3% of his batters faced.
* Jordan Hicks was tagged for two runs in his first appearance as a Blue Jay but followed that with 2 and ⅓ scoreless innings in his next two relief assignments.
* Genesis Cabrera has a 3.68 ERA in seven appearances and 7 and ⅓ innings for the Blue Jays. He’s held the other side scoreless in six of his seven relief shifts.
* Jordan Montgomery did his part to keep the Rangers rolling, pitching six innings and allowing two runs and six hits with six strikeouts in Friday’s 6-2 win over the Marlins. The Rangers had won six in a row through Sunday.
* Reliever Chris Stratton has been outstanding for the Rangers, giving up three hits and no runs in his first four appearances that covered 4 and ⅔ innings. He struck out six and held opponents to a .188 average.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts a weekday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
The “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz is available at 590thefan.com, the 590 the fan app or your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus or Bill James Online.
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.