THE REDBIRD REVIEW FOR WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14
Hello. Good Morning. We have some day ball today, with the Nationals and Cardinals closing their three-game series at Busch Stadium, first pitch 12:15. I didn’t give you much time to read this before the start of the game, but I like to be thorough and I type as fast as I can!
The Overview: Visiting team aside, a good time was had by all at Busch Stadium Tuesday night in a merry ballpark jamboree. The Cardinals muscled three homers and grazed for 12 singles in a 14-3 offensive that led to the worst sacking of Stephen Strasburg’s career. And once Straberg left the scene, the Cardinals continued their party by trashing the Washington bullpen. Nine different Cardinals had hits, six scored at least two runs, and four had a three-RBI night.
Strasburg Was Vulnerable. The Cardinals Attacked. The esteemed Strasburg labored through four uneasy innings, getting jacked for eight hits, five walks and seven earned runs. His obvious discomfort was jarring. The last time — and only other time — Strasburg walked five came in 2010 in his second career start. Tuesday he retired only 12 of 25 batters.
Strasburg’s Game Score was minus 3, the worst of his career. (For context the average Game Score this season is 52.) The most glaring problem for Strasburg was an alarming drop in velocity. He averaged 90.9 mph on his four-seam fastball and 90.6 on his sinker. This was Strasburg’s 243rd career start; according to MLB.com he’d never averaged less than 91.7 mph with his four-seam or 91.9 mph with his sinker in a game. And MLB.com offered this eye-opening note: Strasburg threw nine fastballs Tuesday that registered less than 90 mph; in his first 242 starts he’d thrown only 16 sub-90 fastballs, total. Speaking via video conference after the game, Strasburg insisted he wasn’t hurt. He attributed his poor outing to mechanics. He waved off the low-velocity questions as a “narrative.”
Strasburg pitched only 5 innings last season and had surgery in August to alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome. But he looked great in his first start of 2021, allowing only one hit and striking out eight in controlling the Braves for six shutout innings.
But in his second start of the new year Strasburg was teed up for homers by Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Matt Carpenter. Goldy connected on a 91 mph four-seamer, Arenado lined an 85 mph changeup, and Carpenter golfed a four-seamer clocked at 89.7 mph.
Clearly, Strasburg was a weakened version of himself; he was no ace and the Cardinals caught a break. But to their credit the Cards took advantage of Strasburg’s diminished form for an easy win. “I just threw a lot of poor pitches,” Strasburg said. “And they made me pay for it.”
Candid Camera On Bally Sports Midwest? The Nats Didn’t Like It: After the Cardinals got to Strasburg with a four-run third inning, a TV camera showed the pitcher sitting in a chair in the tunnel behind the dugout, kneading the area between his neck and right shoulder. The unique cam view prompted speculation about Strasburg’s condition and possible injury.
The Nationals were miffed.
“Quite honestly, that shot shouldn’t have been shown, so I’m a little perturbed about that,” Martinez said. “It shouldn’t be there. Honestly, that camera, there are rules and regulations about that. It’s not supposed to go down in the tunnel. It’s in black and white.”
Strasburg called the behind-the-scenes video a “joke,” and a violation of privacy.
“There’s got to be some sort of safe place in the stadium,” he said. “There have been plenty of other starts where something is not feeling right, and whether you treat yourself or you have a trainer come treat you, it’s just part of the business. I went out there and I gave it everything I had; it wasn’t good enough tonight. There should be some sort of privacy. People don’t watch the games on TV to watch some sort of spy camera watching what the player is doing in the tunnel.”
It was a tough night for Strasburg.
Recharged Bats Do Early Damage. In their previous nine contests the Cardinals scored only nine total runs during the first five innings of the games, batting .174 with a 31% strikeout rate in 178 plate appearances. In Tuesday’s pummeling of the Nationals the Cardinals scored all 14 runs during the first five innings, lashing 14 hits, walking seven times and batting .519. They got all of this done on just 36 plate appearances.
Top Of The Lineup, Tip Of The Cap: Tommy Edman, Goldschmidt and Arenado combined for six hits, two homers, four runs and six RBIs. As noted before, Goldy and Arenado each homered. And they also drove in three runs apiece.
High Exit Velocity And Hard-Hit Baseballs: That potent combination usually leads to positive results. But it doesn’t always work out; poor batted-ball luck means smashing pitches that land in an opponent’s glove. Based on their velo and hard-hit rate Goldschmidt and Carpenter have deserved much better numbers this season, and a payoff came Tuesday. Goldy had two hits including his second HR of the season. Carpenter hit his first homer of the season for temporary relief from frustration and torment.
Goldschmidt leads qualifying MLB hitters with 25 hard-hit balls this season and is second with a hard-hit rate of 71.4 percent. Carpenter isn’t far behind with his hard-hit rate of 69.4%. And both hitters have shown a significant increase in average exit velocity, with Goldy at 96.6 and Carpenter 96.4.
Based on the Statcast data and quality of contact, Goldschmidt has an expected batting average of .331 and an expected slugging percentage of .625. Carpenter’s expected BA is .296, with an expected slugging pct of .746.
The Cardinals’ team hard-hit rate points to a more positive performance in the days and weeks ahead. Through Tuesday the Cards were tied for third among the 30 teams with an average exit velo of 90.4 mph, and they were also third with a 45% hard-hit rate. Their barrel percentage ranks 8th in the majors.
Good On Ya: Rookie outfielder Dylan Carlson had three hits and a walk ans has lifted his average to .243 and his OBP to .341. Carlson is slugging .514, and his OPS+ is 37 percent above league average offensively … Outfielder Justin Williams had two hits and scored two runs Tuesday, and he’s playing good defense in left field … backup catcher Andrew Knizner made his first start of the season and had a single and a walk and scored a run … Edman is batting .292 and has raised his onbase percentage to .346 … the Cardinals were 6 for 10 with runners in scoring position. This could surprise you but the Cards are performing well in this area so far. According to the FanGraphs stats on batting with runners in scoring position St. Louis is hitting .282 (third in MLB) with a .849 OPS (fifth.)
Zoning In On Jack Flaherty: The rotation’s No. 1 starter went five innings, allowing only three hits and an earned run. He struck out six Nationals and walked none. In his last two starts, Flaherty has given up only four hits and a run in 11 innings with 12 strikeouts.
It would have been nice to see Flaherty pitch six or seven innings Tuesday, but there’s a simple reason for why he can’t get there: Jack doesn’t throw enough strikes, and that runs up his pitch counts. And that limits his number of innings.
Among MLB starters that have pitched at least 10 innings this season, Flaherty’s first-pitch strike percentage (46.7) ranks 68th on a list of 71. And his rate for pitches in the strike zone (38.8) is 63rd among the 71.
Rotation Check: The Cardinals have only one quality start in 11 games. That ranks 29th, and 20 teams have three or more quality starts … as you know, the Cards have only one start that’s lasted six innings … the Cardinals’ average start lasts 4.4 innings; that’s 29th ahead of only Pittsburgh (4.3) … the Cardinals’ average Game Score by starters is 45, tied for 26th. So far this season MLB starting pitchers have an average Game Score of 52. And STL’s average score of 45 is the lowest among the five NL Central rotations — behind Milwaukee (63), Cincinnati (52), Chicago (48) and Pittsburgh (47.)
Next Up: Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals today in Yadier Molina’s 2,000th career game at catcher. RHP Joe Ross starts for Washington. He pitched five scoreless innings against the Dodgers in his first start of the season.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the day of baseball.
Please check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.