THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals avoided a potential trap by winning the first two games of their three-game set against the wretched Oakland A’s.
The A’s are historically destitute, having won only 38 of their 120 games this season for a worst-in–show winning percentage of .270. Since MLB went to a 162-game schedule in 1961, only two teams have had a more impoverished winning percentage in a season: the 1962 expansion Mets (.250) and the 2003 Tigers (.265).
That said, the A’s have ambushed some superior opponents this season. Back in June they emerged from baseball hell to go off on a seven-game winning streak highlighted by five straight victories over the Brewers and Rays. Earlier this month the A’s swept a two-game series against the Giants. So you can’t take these lovable losers for granted. You have to stay on guard.
The Cardinals (54-66) are an also-ran this season, but they do have some pride. Accordingly, they shouldn’t squander a chance to complete a sweep of the A’s on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.
Oakland has a .245 road winning percentage this season. They’ve lost eight consecutive road games that’s part of a 2-14 skid during their travels since the second week of July.
The A’s have the lowest 26-man payroll in the majors this season at $56.8 million. To put that in perspective, St. Louis stars Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are making $61 million combined in 2023.
And the four highest-paid Yankees – Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Rodon – are being paid more than twice as much ($131 million) as the entire 26-man Oakland squad ($56.8 million.)
Despite being 12 games under .500 and perched 11 games out of first place in the NL Central, the Cards have reasons to stay motivated.
By going 27-15 the rest of the way, they can sidestep the first losing season by the franchise since 2007. A final 81-81 record would be no cause for celebration, and with a chance to improve their draft position in 2024, the Cardinals would benefit from having a losing record.
Players don’t care about that. When a team and individual players are accustomed to winning, losing stinks. Guys want to change it. And personal goals are in play.
– Matthew Liberatore, Dakota Hudson and Zack Thompson have an opportunity to make a case for inclusion in STL’s 2024 rotation. Liberatore goes against the A’s Wednesday and it’s important for him to follow up on his killer start at Tampa Bay by putting the clamps on the A’s.
– Rookie Jordan Walker has had a flat second half but shows signs of clicking in again. He can surge to a more impressive performance offensively and defensively and become a more complete player going into 2024.
– Rookie Alec Burleson is batting .282 with a .493 slugging percentage since the All-Star break. The outfield picture is fuzzy and Burleson can reinforce his bid to play regularly in 2024.
– With seven more home runs over the remainder of the schedule, Nolan Gorman would join Albert Pujols as the only Cardinal age 23 or younger to blast 31 or more homers in a season. But what’s up with the persistent back trouble?
– Goldschmidt, who turns 36 next month, can do something about his .458 slugging percentage and .827 OPS and tone down the rhetoric about his aging curve.
– After an uncharacteristic defensive slump in the first half of the season, Arenado is a plus defender since the All-Star break and is moving up in the third base rankings for Outs Above Average. Arenado has zoomed to a +3 in OAA for the season which puts him just outside the top 10 among third basemen. He’s closing.
– The Cardinals’ team defense is performing better, and it’s about damn time. It’s important to reestablish defense as a priority after letting this crucial area slide for most of 2023 — a flaw that had severe consequences for the pitchers.
– Catcher Willson Contreras has more time to establish a stronger connection with the pitchers and quiet the whispering-campaign murmurs about his future with the Cardinals. By the way the Cardinals’ starting pitching has improved – other than Adam Wainwright – and I wonder if Contreras will receive a nod of credit for that.
– If outfielder Tyler O’Neill has any internal desire to start fresh in an offseason trade that sends him away from the Cardinals, the best way to make it happen is to put up huge numbers over the final 42 games.
– The Cardinals have to retool their bullpen for 2024, and lefty slinger JoJo Romero can secure a spot by establishing more consistency down the stretch.
– Lars Nootbaar is on the rise, batting .330 with a 1.037 OPS since the All-Star break. Per wRC+, Noot’s all-around offense puts him at 82 percent above league average during the second half. That ranks an impressive ninth among 138 MLB hitters that have at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star break. Nootbaar loves playing here, and he’s surely fired up to reaffirm management’s “no-trade” mindset on his immediate future beyond 2023.
– A freshened shortstop Tommy Edman is on fire since returning from the IL on Aug. 1, batting .327 with a 1.037 OPS. He’s slugging .674 for the month, and eight of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. With rookie shortstop prospect Masyn Winn on the way, the Cardinals will go into the offseason with plenty of middle-infield questions, Edman – tied with Nootbaar for the team lead in WAR for August – is reminding everyone of his value … and that includes teams that are eyeing him as a candidate for an offseason trade. One big plus: Nootbaar is in the process of proving he can play center field at an above-average level.
There are other Cardinals I could cite … but you get the point. The Cardinals have no reason to roll over. And the thing is, the players haven’t done that despite the gloomy circumstances of 2023.
Why do I say that? Since getting off to a 10-24 start to open the season, the Cards have a winning record at 44-42. They’re 16-14 since the All-Star break, 19-15 since July 6, have a winning record since the trade deadline and had won five of their last six games through Tuesday night. Overall, this has been a disappointing and frustrating season. But at least there’s still some fight left in these fellers.
A CLOSER LOOK AT STARTING PITCHING: The overall work has taken a positive turn, and I think it’s fair to give it some attention. To do that, I have to show you what the other starters have done and the only way to isolate on that part is to remove Adam Wainwright’s statistics from the equation.
* Since Wainwright’s last win (June 17) the Cardinals have a 3.62 starting-pitching ERA and a 25-17 record in games started by other pitchers. Over that time Wainwright has a 14.87 ERA in seven starts, and the Cards are 1-6 in those games.
* Since the All-Star break St. Louis starting pitchers have a 4.62 ERA that ranks 19th in the majors. But if we subtract Wainwright’s numbers, the collective ERA by the other starters is 3.78. Since the break the Cardinals have a 15-11 record in games started by someone other than Wainwright.
* The Cardinals have a 4.20 starting-pitching ERA for July-August. That ranks 11th in the majors. But if we remove Wainwright’s troublesome stats, the other starters have worked to a combined 3.41 ERA over that time. The team is 1-4 in Wainwright’s starts since the beginning of July, but the record is 20-15 in games started by others.
* If we exclude the numbers from Wainwright’s two starts in August – four innings, 15 earned runs – the other Cardinal starters have pitched to a 3.27 ERA this month. The team is 7-4 in August when someone other than Wainwright starts a game. And that doesn’t include Jordan Montgomery or Jack Flaherty, who were traded on Aug. 1.
THE STATE OF THE OFFENSE: During their current 5-1 stretch the Cardinals have averaged 6.2 runs per game and are batting .295 with a .391 onbase percentage and .529 slug for a .920 OPS. And they’ve scored five runs or more in all six games. When the Cardinals put at least five runs on the board during a game this season, they’re 40-13 for a winning percentage of .755.
In the season rankings for National League teams, the Cardinals are fifth in average runs per game (4.70), fourth in batting average, fourth in onbase percentage, fourth in OPS, sixth in slugging, and third behind the Braves in Dodgers in wRC+. The Cards are averaging 1.41 home runs per game; in the NL only the Braves (1.94) and Dodgers (1.58) have launched home runs at a higher rate than St. Louis.
THE DAK ATTACK: Dakota Hudson is 3-0 since moving into the rotation, pitching to a 3.86 ERA in 18 and ⅔ innings. Hudson has been aided by 19 runs of support in his three starts, an average of 6.3 per game. The Cardinals staked him to an early 7-0 lead over Minnesota, an early 5-2 advantage at Tampa Bay, and gave him a 5-0 lead against Oakland in the first four innings. Those cushions matter, but Hudson did a good job of protecting them. He deserves credit for that, and his 60% ground-ball rate was a factor in all three wins. And he’s also limited walks for a solid 1.02 WHIP. On the other side of this three-start sample: Hudson yielded four home runs, struck out only 16% of batters faced, and had a 6.05 fielding independent ERA.
GOLDSCHMIDT’S VALUE: There’s been a lot of talk about his drop in power, and I’ve contributed to that in a simple just-the-numbers-please way. And since his slugging percentage was .500 on June 20, Goldy has slugged .391 and homered every 29 at-bats. Obviously that’s a drop from his power performance over his first 60 games of the season.
But I’m not into the age-related decline theory. The reasons are basic: Goldschmidt is still blasting pitches and has actually improved on his Statcast metrics from last year’s MVP season.
- His average exit velocity: up.
- His barrel rate: up.
- His sweet-spot rate: up.
- Hard-hit rate: up
On the surface it looks like Goldy is having a difficult time conquering four-seam fastballs. His slugging percentage is only .404 against the pitch this season – and was .559 in 2022.
Is this a sign of big trouble? Nope. Not according to Statcast. Based on the quality of his contact, Goldy should have a slugging percentage of .504 on four-seam fastballs this year. Last season the MVP had an expected .481 slugging percentage vs. four seamers.
So yeah, the quality of his contact has improved from last year. Here’s another reaffirmation of that: last season Goldy had a hard-hit percentage of 49.6 percent vs. four-seam fastballs; this season his hard-hit rate is 56.8 percent when he connects on a four-seamer. That doesn’t happen if a guy is spiraling because of age.
If you believe Goldschmidt is losing bat speed because he’s about to turn 36 … Well, sorry, but that isn’t supported by the most important and meaningful indicators provided by Statcast.
Goldschmidt has had terrible slugging percentages during specific months of a season in career. His power crashed in April 2012, and April 2021, and was well below average in April of 2022 … and he went on to win the MVP. He had a poor slugging percentage in May of 2018, and May of 2019, and a down slug in May of 2022. He had a bad June in 2019. His power fell in September of 2012 and Sept. of 2019.
But even if the home runs aren’t flying, you can count on Goldschmidt to deliver plenty of hits, and draw lots of walks. You never have to be concerned with his baserunning and defense. He’s had some periodic power shortages during his career, and a few of them happened during his younger seasons.
The man is a helluva all-around player. At some point his age will be a factor that we’ll absolutely tie to a loss of power. But I don’t think we’re there yet. Not when, in 2023, he’s hitting baseballs harder than he has in any season of a stellar career.
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.