THE REBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals had a chance to earn credibility by winning a series in Philadelphia against a surging team that has the National League’s second-best record since the end of May.
After the teams split the first two games, the Cardinals had a chance to get out of Philly on Sunday night with a 2-1 series win. But after helplessly and predictably crawling through a quiet 4-0 loss, the Cardinals dropped another series to a winning opponent and increased the skepticism over their legitimacy as a serious contender for the NL pennant.
Their overall record (44-37) isn’t bad, but it comes with too many red-flag warnings.
– Their 18-22 record vs. opponents with winning records. That includes a 9-16 logbook in road games against teams over .500. The Cards are 4-9 in their last 13 away games vs. winning teams.
– Only two series victories in 12 meetings against winning opponents this season. They’ve lost five series against winners and split five others.
– A 22-23 record in games played outside of the NL Central division.
– An overall road record of 20-21.
– A 1-3-1 record in their last five series.
– The Cards have gone 0-8 in the final game of their last eight series and are 7-17 this season in series finales.
– They’re 15-16 since completing a three-game sweep of the Padres on June 1.
– Since cresting to their point of the season (37-27) on June 14, the Cards are a lousy 7-10 and have the NL’s 11th best winning percentage (.412) over that time.
I don’t know how to precisely explain the overused “killer instinct” cliche that’s applied to sports teams and athletes. Is it a real thing, or just a simplistic and largely worthless narrative?
But I do know this: whatever it is, the 2022 Cardinals don’t have it.
The Cardinals led the Brewers by 2.5 games on June 14. And now they trail the Crew by 2.0 games heading into a four-game series in Atlanta that begins Monday night at 6:40 STL time. The Cardinals weren’t exactly a bunch of fierce guardians after securing the division lead, and they have 11 games to go in a 14-game authenticity check against the Phillies, Braves and LA Dodgers.
So much for the glowing St. Louis run differential that ranks second in the NL. So much for Cards’ positive NL rankings for average runs scored per game (5th) and average runs allowed per game (3rd.) The numbers are misleading because the Cardinals continue to flop when confronted by a quality team.
I mean, bully for the Cardinals for their muscle and might against outfits like the Reds, Pirates and Royals. The Redbirds are 15-5 against those three teams this season – and 29-32 against all others.
About that St. Louis run differential: it’s minus 5 in the 40 against their winning opponents and plus 60 in the 41 games against losing opponents. That’s a more accurate look at the overall strength of the 2022 Cardinals.
At the 81-game mark, halfway through their 162-game schedule, the Cardinals are on pace to win 88 games and have a 1.5-game lead for the NL’s third wild-card spot.
(Go ahead and insert your “Exactly What Team Management Planned” zinger here.)
Laughter aside …
The Cardinals should end up with more than 88 victories. A reminder of what I wrote on Friday: after the current 14-game block of schedule against the Phils, Braves and Dodgers the Cardinals will have 70 games left on the schedule – and 49 will be played against teams with losing records.
That cushy part of the schedule begins July 15, and the Cardinals will have no excuse for failing to win 90+ games.
But right now the pace is 88 wins. And that should be embarrassing for a team that has Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, an upsurging Dylan Carlson, impactful rookie bats Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman – plus an infield defense that saves more runs than any infield defense in the majors. The pitching staff isn’t great, but it’s certainly respectable. And the Cardinals run the bases better than most teams.
We can say “this team isn’t all that good” and there’s some truth to that. That’s why I’m writing about this again; the point must be driven home as a reality check and a push back on the excess of Happy Talk.
If the Cardinals have any complaints about this characterization, that’s fine. Here’s how you knock it down and shut me and everyone else up: kick butt and stack up series triumphs when you play winning teams. That’s all it takes.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
All-Catch, No Hit: In 142 combined plate appearances since May 23, St. Louis catchers are batting .126 with a .200 OBP and .150 slug. Using park-and-league adjusted runs scored, they’re 93 percent below league average offensively. Absolutely ridiculous. The catchers are so awful offensively It’s like having pitchers batting again. Yadier Molina batted .159 during this stretch before going on the IL with a sore right knee. Rookie Ivan Herrera has a .111 average in 22 plate MLB appearances. Andrew Knizner is batting .108 since May 23 and he’s 4 for 47 (.085) since June 4.
The St. Louis Starting Pitching: More Vulnerable. The Cardinals have a 4.47 starter ERA since June 12 and have yielded a .335 onbase percentage and .427 slugging percentage over that time. The team’s record is 10-11 since June 12. It wasn’t a good weekend at Philadelphia for starters Miles Mikolas, Matthew Liberatore and Adam Wainwright; the three starters combined to give up 11 earned runs in 13.2 innings (7.24 ERA.) The three faced 65 batters and were slapped for a .362 average, .385 onbase percentage and .603 slugging percentage. Cards starters averaged 4.5 innings per start at Philly.
Sorry, But Liberatore Is Disappointing: Saturday’s poor start left the rookie lefty with a 5.66 ERA in five MLB starts this season. And his trouble with RH batters continues. Saturday Liberatore faced 11 RHB and gave up four hits (including a double and a triple) plus a walk. With the Cardinals Liberatore has faced 74 RHB so far and they’ve pounded him for a .306 average, .384 OBP and .629 slug. That’s a 1.013 OPS. The damage includes six doubles, a triple and four home runs.
Adam Wainwright, Road And Home: The Phillies got to him Sunday for eight hits (two homers) and four earned runs in 5.2 innings. In his last three road starts – Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia – Wainwright has been socked for four homers and 12 earned runs and a 6.47 ERA in 16.2 innings. This season Waino has a 2.25 ERA in seven home starts and a 4.10 ERA in nine road starts. He’s not alone. St. Louis starting pitchers rank 11th in home ERA (3.44) and 18th in road ERA (4.49) this season.
Catchers Can Make A Difference: We know all about Yadi Molina’s defense, pitch selection and masterful guidance of his pitchers. He doesn’t hit much anymore, but yes, the Cardinals are missing his presence behind the plate.
This season STL pitchers have a 3.47 ERA in their 313 and ⅔ innings with Molina, a 4.03 ERA in 344 innings with A. Knizner, and a 4.27 ERA in 59 innings with I. Herrera. Molina has a 38% caught-stealing rate this season compared to Knizner’s 22%. Herrera only has one stolen base attempt against him so far and the runner succeeded.
According to Fielding Bible, Molina is tied for 9th with a plus 3 in defensive runs saved among MLB catchers that have a minimum 300 innings behind the plate this season. Knizner ranks tied for 28th among the 29 catchers with an abysmal minus 6 defensive runs saved.
The Cardinals Offense Made Some Noise In Philly, But … OK, Nolan Arenado hit for the cycle in Friday’s 5-3 loss and drove in his team’s three runs. Saturday Arenado hit two more homers including the winning solo shot in the 9th to set up a 7-6 win. The game featured four consecutive home runs in the first inning by Arenado, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez and Dylan Carlson.
But the Cardinals couldn’t score after the third inning in Friday’s loss, and didn’t score at all in Sunday’s defeat. They scored 10 total runs in the series – but seven came in Saturday’s victory and the Cardinals needed five home runs to finally lock down the win.
For the series eight of their 10 runs were delivered via the home run; the only other two RBI came on an Arenado triple and a bases-loaded walk by Lars Nootbaar. And the Cards went 1 for 15 with six strikeouts during the series when batting with runners in scoring position. Terrible.
Arenado’s Very Strong Season: Arenado had an awesome binge at Philadelphia, going 7 for 12 with five extra base hits including his three homers. He drove in six of his team’s 10 runs in the three games. After a down May – .196 average, .642 OPS – Arenado has been terrific since the start of June with a .319 average, .597 slug and .964 OPS in 30 games.
For the season Arenado leads NL third basemen in fWAR (4.1), slugging (.539), doubles (20), RBI (55) and hits (85). And he’s second in batting average (.290), onbase percentage (.352), homers (17), OPS (.891) OPS+ (153), total bases (158) and extra-base hits (38.)
Defensively Arenado leads major-league third basemen with 10 outs above average (OAA) and is second at the position with 11 defensive runs saved.
Speaking Of Excellent Defense: Tommy Edman leads all MLB players with 15 defensive runs saved. Even though he spends much of his time at shortstop these days, Edman leads MLB second basemen with 11 defensive runs saved. And he’s tied for 9th among MLB shortstops with 4 defensive runs saved. That’s an impressive total considering that 28 shortstops have logged more innings than Edman at short this season.
Quickie Stuff On the Braves: They’re 46-34 and have the NL’s fourth–best winning percentage (.575) on the season. But they’ve been the NL’s best team since June 1 with a record of 23-7 … Since June 1 the Braves lead the NL in runs per game (5.7), homers and slugging (.500) and OPS. They’ve been fantastic with runners in scoring position since June 1, batting .278 with a .565 slug and .917 OPS … the Braves have outscored opponents 171-106 during their 23-7 streak … the four starters scheduled to pitch for Atlanta this series are Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Max Fried and Spencer Strider. The Braves have a 19-5 record since June 1 when those pitchers started a game … based on OPS+, the five best Atlanta hitters this season are Dansby Swanson (133), Austin Riley (133), Ronald Acuna Jr. (129), Matt Olson (120) and Travis d’Arnaud (112.)
I hope you’re enjoying this 4th of July!
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.