THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Over the weekend The Cardinals won a series and moved into first place. That’s good. The Cards also botched a chance to sweep the Reds in a loss that enabled Milwaukee to pick up a game in the NL Central standings. That’s disappointing.

The Cardinals (34-27) lead the Brewers (34-28) by a half-game. With 101 games remaining on the St. Louis schedule, it’s too soon to sweat over the standings.

Being in first place is fine. I’ll take it. But being in first place by a half-game isn’t the same as leading the division by, say, seven games. Along those lines my feelings on the current state of the two-team NL Central are kind of neutral.

I wrestle with differing outlooks.

One one hand, the Cardinals were four games over .500 after losing to the Brewers on May 26. At that point they trailed the Crew by 4.5 games. But since then the Cardinals have gained five games on the Brewers in the standings to move into first by that half-game margin. It’s definitely a positive to erase a 4.5-game deficit in 17 calendar days. Nice work.

However. The Cardinals went 10-7 while wiping out Milwaukee’s lead. They did not dominate their way into first. They did not really make a run to first place; it was more of a jog.

As of Monday morning the Cardinals were barely in first place for a simple reason: the Brewers have the worst record in the National League, 5-12, since taking that 4.5-game lead over STL on May 26.

On Sunday, the Brewers finally emerged from the fog of an eight-game losing streak by winning in Washington. And the Cardinals – as if to send a congratulatory gift to the Brewers – couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead to a second-rate Cincinnati team. The Redbirds lost 7-6.

The Cardinals are now 2-4 in the third game when having the chance to sweep a three-game series. The Cards are also 0-1 in the second game when having a chance to sweep a continuous two-game series. And when in position to win a four-game series by taking the final game, the Cardinals are 0-3.

The Cardinals took advantage of Milwaukee’s horrible stretch of baseball, but only to a point. After winning five of six games including a three-game sweep over the Padres, the Cardinals are 5-6 in their last 11. Milwaukee, meanwhile, is 2-10 in its last 12 games.

The Cardinals did well to nudge the Brewers aside. But the Cards had a chance to shove the Brewers to the ground and open a larger lead in the NL Central – but couldn’t get it done.

The Brewers are relieved. Their situation could be much worse.

“It feels amazing,” Brewers shortstop Willy Adames told reporters after Sunday’s win. “We’ve been through a rough time. It’s been a challenge for the team. But honestly, I’m happy it happened now and not later on. Hopefully we’ll be able to bounce back from this and be a better team.”

After an off day on Monday, the Brewers resume their nine-game road trip with a three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field. The Cardinals will be playing four against the Pirates at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals should have a chance to widen their lead. Let’s see how it goes.

The Brewers and Cardinals are essentially even in the standings. Their race has moved into a new stage, and there will be many twist and turns between now and the end of the regular season.

If the Cardinals ignite offensively the way they should — and if Jack Flaherty makes a healthy return to give his team an ace-like presence in the rotation — I sincerely like STL’s chances of winning this thing. But the Cards must do a better job of making the best of their opportunities to win.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Relapse By Dakota Hudson: Very disappointing. The Cardinals handed him a 3-0 lead Sunday in his assignment against a Reds offense that came into the game with sickly road statistics that included a .205 batting average, .307 slug, .571 OPS and an average of 2.7 runs per game.

So how do you lose a three-run lead to a feckless offense? Here’s how: Dakota Hudson opens the fourth inning with this sequence: a single, two consecutive walks, and a bases-loaded hit by pitch. The freebies issued by Hudson set up a three-run inning for the Reds. And just like that, it’s a 3-3 game. Instead of holding the line, Hudson gave up a leadoff double in the fifth to set up the Reds for a 4-3 lead.

Pitching line for Hudson: 7 IP, 9 hits, 6 earned runs, two walks, a HBP, two strikeouts. He did induce four double-play grounders. Cool. But six earned runs in seven innings is a failure.

Tommy Pham hit a solo homer off Johan Oviedo in the 8th for Cincinnati’s seventh run. The seven runs were the second most scored in a road game by the Reds this season. Cincinnati was 8-22 on the road before winning Sunday.

Questionable Decision by Oli Marmol: I realize that he’s reluctant to use any reliever that doesn’t have the surname of Cabrera, Gallegos or Helsley … but I still think Hudson had to be pulled from this game after six innings and the game tied 3-3. But I’m not going to go nuts over this. Marmol’s decision to stay with Hudson is the latest example of a manager that’s in fear of his own bullpen – except for the three dependable guys he leans on.

Gallegos threw 33 pitches Friday night, so that all but ruled him out for Sunday. Cabrera threw 21 pitches in covering 1.2 innings on Friday; perhaps Marmol wanted to be careful with him. But Cabrera probably could have given the Cardinals an inning on Sunday. Helsley had a 12-pitch inning Friday and should have been fresh on Sunday. Maybe Marmol was saving Cabrera for a late-inning matchup. Perhaps Marmol would have turned to Helsley for a save situation. But as the manager has noted many times, sometimes the game is decided before the 9th, or even 8th inning. And once Hudson gave up the lead in the seventh, the Cardinals never got back to even.

Why Marmol Is In A Bad Situation: The front office signed Nick Wittgren, Drew VerHagen and T.J. McFarland to free-agent deals this past offseason. The three have been slapped around for 40 earned runs (including eight homers) in 63.2 innings this season for a combined 5.65 ERA. If you add in another free-agent addition – Aaron Brooks – then the total is 73 innings, 11 homers and 48 earned runs for a 5.91 ERA. Yikes.

Another reliever brought in from the outside – Packy Naughton – has worked six scoreless innings when coming out of the bullpen. But Packy hasn’t been used properly. He has a 10.29 ERA as a spot starter this year but hasn’t pitched in relief since May 17.

Cards Catchers Aren’t Providing Much Offense: Yadier Molina is batting .200 with a .408 OPS in 55 plate appearances since May 17. Andrew Knizner is 1 for his last 28 with nine strikeouts. And after a good start at the plate, Kiz is batting .164 with a .434 OPS and one extra–base hit in 82 plate appearances since April 25.

Through Sunday, St. Louis catchers ranked 20th in MLB in batting average (.209), 27th in onbase percentage (.247), 23rd in slugging (.286), and 26th in OPS (.533) and 26th with runners in scoring position (.185.) Molina and Knizner have combined for three homers and 19 RBI.

Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) as the standard, the Cardinals haven’t had an above-average season offensively by their catchers since 2016.

If prospect Ivan Herrera is ready to go, the Cards’ offense at the catcher position should improve in 2023.

Trying To Plug In The Power: Since homering five times in the 14-5 victory at Wrigley Field on June 3, the Cards have homered five times in their last nine games and have a .313 slugging percentage over that time. They’ve averaged 3.6 runs during that 4-5 stretch. The Cardinals have only 18 homers and a .361 slugging percentage in their last 19 games. They’ve averaged 4.3 runs and are 10-9 over that stretch.

Tyler O’Neill Looks Good: In his six games since returning from the IL, Bro is 8 for 24 (.333) with a .346 OBP and .500 slug for a .846 OPS. He has a double, a homer and six RBI. It’s an encouraging restart for an important figure in the STL lineup.

Good Work, Juan Yepez: He gave the Cards a chance Sunday with a picturesque two-run homer in the 9th to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 7-6. It looks like the rookie slugger has made some adjustments, and his swing is more under control now. That’s a very good sign. Adjusting is a constant challenge. Especially for the young hitters. After a lull period, Yepez is batting .318 with a .500 slugging percentage in his last seven games. He has a 130 OPS+ for the season, which means he’s 30 percent above the league average offensively. His solid .341 OBP and .458 slug looks good.

Pauly Power! Shortstop Paul DeJong is getting his bat healthy at Triple A Memphis. He crushed three more home runs (combined) over the weekend in the Saturday-Sunday games, giving him nine longballs for the season. After a slow start in Triple A following his demotion by the Cardinals, DeJong has emerged as a menacing presence in the Redbirds’ lineup in his last 12 games. In 56 plate appearances since May 31, DeJong is batting .333 with a .896 slug, 1.271 OPS. This 12-game assault includes three doubles, eight homers and 19 RBI. He’s homered every 6.1 at-bats during the two-week revival.

I have no idea what the Cardinals plan to do if DeJong continues to hit, hit and hit. If that’s the case, we have to assume that he’ll get a second chance in St. Louis – but what is the pathway?

The Cardinals currently have a shortstop population that includes Tommy Edman, Edmundo Sosa and Brendan Donovan. But that aside, the situation is tricky. If the Cardinals choose to promote DeJong, his MLB service time wouldn’t allow the team to send him back down without designating him for assignment. They could trade him, yes. But DeJong is making $15 million guaranteed through 2023 and that’s a likely deal breaker. What GM wants to pick up that money unless he sees DeJong reestablish himself as a big-league hitter? The Cardinals could just release DeJong, but I doubt that they’ll discard him just to discard him. And with his above-average defense, he offers protection at shortstop.

If Nolan Gorman goes into a deep and extensive slump, would the Cardinals give him a breather in Memphis and go with Edman at second and DeJong at shortstop? Anything is possible but I don’t have an answer for that. The Cardinals seem committed to sticking with Gorman, but nothing is 100 percent guaranteed.

Just wait until next year when rookie prospect Masyn Winn makes his bid for the shortstop job at some point during the 2023 season. Crowded!

Who Are The Cards’ Best RBI Guys? Now that the Cardinals have played 61 games – enough to make a reading – I went to Bill James Online to check on the individual RBI percentages. These percentages do not include an RBI that’s credited when a hitter drives in himself with a homer. But what is the hitter’s percentage for driving in other players when they’re on base?

From highest to lowest:

Paul Goldschmidt, 51.8%
Nolan Gorman, 40.2%
Nolan Arenado, 39.6%
Brendan Donovan, 36.1%
Albert Pujols, 35.1%
Tyler O’Neill, 34.7%
Tommy Edman, 31.7%
Juan Yepez, 29.7%
Corey Dickerson, 28.3%
Harrison Bader, 27.6%
Yadier Molina, 26.9%
Lars Nootbaar, 25.8%
Andrew Knizner, 25.5%
Paul DeJong, 23.6%
Dylan Carlson, 19.5%
Edmundo Sosa, 14.5%

The Tommy Edman Report: He’s having an outstanding season and few things caught my attention.

1) Dan McLaughlin first pointed this out: Edman is one of the best hitters in the majors against relief pitchers. In 105 plate appearances vs. relievers Edman is hitting .323 with a .400 onbase percentage and .505 slug for a .905 OPS.

2) The switch-hitting Edman has improved against RH pitching. It’s not so much in batting average, even though Tommy is up by six percentage points (.267) from last year’s (.261.)

3) The most significant difference? Drawing walks and hitting for power. Last season Edman had a 5.6% walk rate vs. RHP. This year he’s nearly doubling that, with a 10.4% walk rate vs. righties.

4) After slugging .358 vs. RH in 2021, Edman has a .409 slug against them this season. And check this out: last season Edman had five home runs off RH pitchers in 495 at-bats. This year he already had five homers against RHP – but in only 176 at-bats.

5) Measured by park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), Edman was 16 percent below league average offensively last season against RH pitching. This year he’s 23 percent above league average against RHP. That’s an improvement of 39 percent.

6) This one is interesting to me: Edman has a .316 batting average on ground balls this season. And he’s doing it as a LH batter (.303) and a RH batter (.364.) Last season Edman batted .243 on ground balls. He had an average of .249 on grounders as a LH batter and a .224 average as a RH batter.

7) Why is that? Edman is hitting the ball slightly harder this season. Some of it could be batted-ball luck; he’s had a jump in batting average in balls in play this season (.324). And Edman is doing a better job of beating defensive shits. He’s 8 for 13 (.615) on non-traditional shifts, and is batting .284 against traditional shifts. Last season he hit .270 against traditional shifts.

8) Edman leads MLB position players with 3.7 WAR. The other four in the top five are Aaron Judge, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers and Mike Trout. But it should be pointed out that this is the Baseball Reference version of WAR, aka bWAR. In the FanGraphs version, Edman ranks 7th in the majors with 3.0 WAR – aka fWAR. Both metrics reflect well on Edman. And WAR takes offense, defense and baserunning into account, so all of a player’s skills are accounted for. What’s the difference between fWAR and bWAR? The calculation of fWAR places greater emphasis on peripheral statistics.

Buncha Short Notes On Nolan Gorman: (A) He had some better results in the Saturday-Sunday games against the Reds, getting on base four times in nine plate appearances. He went 2 for 5 on Sunday. But strikeouts (predictably) are an issue; in his last nine games Gorman has struck out in 40 percent of his plate appearances. (B) In 59 plate appearances since his MLB debut in the weekend series at Pittsburgh May 20-23, Gorman is batting .226 with a .305 OBP and .415 slug for a .720 OPS. And his strikeout rate is 39 percent over that time. (C) Fielding Bible credits Gorman with 1 defensive run saved at second base. (D) He’s batting .120 against pitchers that have a 3.50 ERA or lower. (E) Here’s a breakdown of swings and misses when Gorman chases pitches out of the strike zone: 21% are below the strike zone, 13% are on inside pitches out of the zone, 7% are outside pitches out of the zone, and 6% are above the zone. (F) Gorman has six strikeouts in nine at-bats that end with the slider, and eight strikeouts in 23 at-bats that end with a four-seam fastball.

Next On The Sked: The Pirates are in town for four games including a doubleheader Tuesday. The Cardinals plan to start three rookie pitchers in three of the four games: Zack Thompson on Monday night, Matthew Liberatore in one of the doubleheader games, and Andre Pallante on Wednesday. Veteran Miles Mikolas will start the other doubleheader game Tuesday.

The Bucs were doing well for a while, sweeping a three–game series from the Dodgers in LA, then winning two of three at Arizona to improve to 24-28. But the progress didn’t last; the Pirates come to Busch Stadium with a six-game losing streak – the last four defeats coming in Atlanta. The Pirates are 1-5 against the Cardinals and 0-6 vs. the Brewers this season … the Pirates rank 22nd in the majors in runs per game (3.4) and are 25th in runs allowed per game (5.00.)

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.