Welcome to The Redbird Review
Cardinals 7, Mets 6.
Eleven innings, a few coronary episodes, some Shea Stadium flashbacks, ensuing night sweats. Just your ordinary regular-season ballgame. No biggie. And after the Cardinals handled that live grenade of a game to escape with a trembling victory, they did their part to advance to the top of the NL’s No 2 wild card standings. And that became a reality after the Reds and Padres lost their respective games.
The dramatic spectacle at Citi Field had me sitting down. Just to calm down. I don’t know about you, but my emotions were kinda like Alex Reyes: powerful, high anxiety, and with obvious control issues.
➤ Tyler O’Neill went deep for a booming two-run homer and a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth; we went deep into craziness. Authorities said the missile traveled 439 feet. I don’t know about that. I think it landed in Canada. O’Neill is a strong young man. It’s almost freakish, but not in a bad way. More of a ball-go-very-far way. It draws attention. Which brings me to the famous bodybuilder, actor and former Governor of California. Of course I am referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I just use my muscles as a conversation piece, like someone walking a cheetah down 42nd Street,” he once said. Hey, after that monstrous Bro’Neill home run, did anyone spot a cheetah on 42nd Street?
➤ Closer Gio Gallegos got popped by Javy Baez for the game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth; I popped a couple of Advils and tried to do some research to discover when Congress passed a federal law that prohibits manager Mike Shildt from using Luis Garcia to protect a lead in the ninth inning and get the final three outs for a save. Managers: they simply cannot help themselves. They cannot disconnect the electrodes. I, Robot.
➤ Look, for all of you nice people who think I’m mean. Nope. C’mon. Getting ticked at the manager is a mandatory feature of watching a crucial, nerve-wracking game of ball. Playfully, I once told Tony La Russa that he went out of his way to make controversial decisions that would leave fans and enraged. I told him I appreciated that he also provided plenty of rich content for my Post-Dispatch columns. I was joking with him. La Russa wasn’t joking when he said, “Next time, I’ll call the pressbox to get your approval before I bring in a reliever.” Another time, when I questioned his decision to bring in a lefty reliever who wasn’t exactly Sparky Lyle (Google it, kids) La Russa said, bluntly: “I’d like to manage against you.” It’s all part of the game. It’s harmless.
Heck, La Russa probably would have used Gallegos in that situation last night. TLR always liked to have a set closer so he probably would have approved of Shildty’s decision. But Garcia is good to go. And it is OK TO TRUST HIM. Especially when you look at the Gallegos stat sheet and see nine blown saves this season.
➤ That said, I can’t believe Shildt allowed Daniel Ponce de Leon to walk the bases loaded. You can’t let that happen, and the Cardinals were fortunate to get out of there with the Mets scoring only one run — thanks to the young reliever Kodi Whitley. Sometimes I think the game moves too fast for Shildt. He needs to be more proactive.
➤ Paul Goldschmidt, Yadi Molina and Nolan Arenado turned that 3-9-8 double play in the bottom of the 10th to save the night. What the heck is a 3-9-8 double play? Well, that’s how many Gold Gloves each defender has won during their run-saving careers: three for Goldy, nine for Molina, eight for Arenado. After that smart play initiated by Goldschmidt, Rawlings should have halted the game right there to give all three of ‘em another gold-glove trophy. What a double play. And at that point, I decided to have another double.
➤ In the top of the 11th St. Louis went on the forecheck and the fourth-line combination of Jose Rondon, Edmundo Sosa and Andrew Knizner came through with three consecutive hits that put three runs across home plate. Why do I call them the fourth line? Isn’t that insulting? Gosh, no. Was it insulting to call Alex Steen, Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev the fourth line when they were heralded for playing such an essential and valuable role in the Blues’ 2019 run to the Stanley Cup? Of course not.
➤ Let’s be honest: if you were asked before the game to predict a sequence of three consecutive hitters that would lead the uprising in extra innings to win this game for the Redbirds — well, absolutely NO ONE would have gone with the Sosa-Rondon-Knizner ticket. Rondon didn’t make the big club out of spring training. About 75 percent of the STL media stationed in Jupiter had written Sosa off after he struggled in exhibition games. And with Molina doing the Hall of Fame thing behind the plate, Knizner plays something like once every two months. A slight exaggeration, yes. But you get the point.
➤ And in the bottom of the 11th, with the Cardinals trying to get a three-run lead into the safety of the visiting-team clubhouse, lefty reliever Kwang Hyun Kim sweated so much that I had to pause the game for a few seconds to crank up my air conditioning. My goodness. I hadn’t watched this much sweating since Robert Hayes in “Airplane,” Bill Duke in “Predator” and Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News.” And after Kim made a throwing error to inflame the suspense, he had the high-intensity level sweating of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in “Scarface.” But Kim survived, induced a groundout by Albert Amora Jr., and the Cardinals held on for their one-run victory. Kim presumably had a postgame ice bath. Where were the other relief pitchers? Kim was gonna melt out there. By this time I was disoriented, so I don’t know how many guys were still in the St. Louis bullpen, but I’m pretty sure I saw Ray King getting loose.
➤ And then you had the dugout, um, debate between Molina and relief pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon. This supposedly had to do with pitch selection. Or confusion over pitch selection. Or maybe it had a little to do with Ponce evidently reaching the conclusion that he — and not the future Hall of Fame catcher Molina who could be the best of all time — had more experience and acumen in choosing a pitch. Yeah, Ponce. Whatever you say, pal. Try that again and we’ll see what happens. Put it this way: expect all THREE Molina brothers will show up at his apartment to have a little chat. You don’t want that to happen, dude.
All of this …
It was a helluva lot of fun to watch.
Can I get a witness?
I texted “Scoops” impresario Dan McLaughlin during a break late in the game to tell him that he was going wild, going bananas — which is a compliment — as he called and analyzed each move, twist, turn, ripple, oddity and potential strategy scenarios on Bally Sports Midwest as the action reached fever-pitch tension.
D-Mac’s response: “Entertainment, bro.”
That, coming from the hardest-working man in show business.
Yes it was, bro. Hell yeah.
If you love baseball, it would be a challenge to find a more entertaining game.
THE RESET: The Cardinals have won four in a row and are 6-1 in their last seven. Since Aug. 9 the Redbirds have a record of 20-13 for an impressive winning percentage of .606 that ranks fourth in the NL and fifth in the majors. Only the Dodgers (.765), Giants (.727), Brewers (.697) and Rays (.667) have been better than your favorite team over that time. I present this for a reason: if the Cardinals continue to play good ball, win games, and move in for the wild card, no one can fairly accuse them of backing their way in. Pending further developments, of course.
LET’S GO BACK TO AUG. 22: When all of the ballpark lights were turned off at the end of the day, the Cardinals trailed the Reds by 4 and ½ games in the No. 2 wild card standings and were 3 and ½ games behind the Padres. The Cardinals have erased the deficit and now lead the Reds by a half-game and the Padres by a full game.
Here is each contending team’s record since Aug. 23:
Hey, it looks like someone’s trying to break away from the pack. I’m not saying the Cardinals are a great baseball team. That isn’t the point. Here’s what it comes down to: at least they are winning, and their season is on a positive trajectory. And that’s more that you can say for the other wild card No. 2 contenders. (I’m going to call that “WC2” from now on.) The challenge for St. Louis is a simple and obvious one: continue to win games.
At 75-69 the Cardinals are six games over .500 for the first time since sitting at 31-25 on June 2. The next symbolic step: climb above their peak record of the season — eight games over .500, at 30-22, on May 29. Then keep going from there. With 18 games remaining on their schedule, the Cardinals are hardly free and clear. Then again, you knew that already. But they have momentum. And they can’t slow down. Not much, anyway … even while being pitted with Milwaukee for seven of their final 14 games.
IT’S ALMOST ALWAYS ABOUT THE PITCHING: Let’s circle back to my note on the Cards’ 20-13 record and MLB’s fifth-best winning percentage since Aug. 9.
During this 33-game stretch the Cardinals have a team 3.38 ERA that ranks third in the majors behind the Dodgers and Giants.
Here’s the ERA for the other WC2 contenders since Aug. 9:
1) During their current 6-1 run the Cardinals have a 2.35 team ERA that includes a 2.95 earned run average from the starters and a 1.42 ERA by the bullpen.
2) During the 6-1 run the foursome of Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill have:
* Provided 30 percent of the team’s doubles
* Scored 77.4% of the team’s 31 runs
* Hit eight of the team’s nine homers (88.8)
* Driven in 31.2% of the team’s runs
* Driven in 80% of the two-out RBI
* Drawn 62% of the team’s walks
* Batted .333 with two homers and eight RBI with runners in scoring position.
3) This month the Canadian Crusher, Tyler O’Neill is hitting .327 with a .386 OBP .673 slug, 1.059 OPS, five homers, and nine RBI. Go on with it, Boom Boom Geoffrion. Let it rip.
4) Since July 1 Goldschmidt ranks eighth in the majors in batting average (.325), sixth in OBP (.402), is tied for 12th in slugging (.571), and is eighth with a .973 OPS. He also has 14 homers, 15 doubles and 42 RBI and is 61 percent league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+)
5) In his last 26 plate appearances Jose Rondon is batting .375 with two doubles, four runs, two RBI and a .881 OPS.
6) Since the All-Star break Arenado, Goldschmidt and O’Neill have combined for 37 homers, 25 doubles, four triples, 95 runs and 98 RBI. The trio has accounted for 53 percent of the team’s homers and 42% of the team’s RBI since the break.
7) In 19 appearances and 18.1 innings since Aug 1 Giovanny Gallegos has a 5.89 ERA and has been roughed up for a .486 slugging percentage. Through the end of June, Gallegos had a 1.93 ERA and opponents slugged only .209 against him. His performance started to turn in July, when Gallegos had a 4.50 ERA and opponents slugged .375.
8) Since the beginning of August, the Gallegos ERA of 5.89 ranks 107th among 119 MLB relievers that have at least 15 appearances.
9) Second wind? In 41 plate appearances this month, Molina is batting .297 with a .595 slug and .945 OPS with two doubles, three homers and nine RBI.
10) Among MLB relievers that have a minimum 15 relief appearances since July 27, only two have a perfect 0.00 ERA: STL’s Luis Garcia, and Seattle’s Casey Sadler. Garcia has walked only three of 89 batters faced in his last 22 plate appearances.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES:
THE REDS: They lost 6-5 at Pittsburgh Tuesday; going into that one they’d won nine of 10 games from the Pirates this season … the Reds are 6-13 in their last 19 and 4-11 in their last 15 … after Tuesday’s loss to the Pirates, manager David Bell went to each player in the clubhouse and told them, “It’s going to turn. I can feel it,” … said Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart: “It’s one of those things where we can’t panic. We’re still in a situation where we can still win this series and we can still win ballgames moving forward and get to where we want to be. It’s just not going our way right now,” … lefty starter Wade Miley was pelted by the Pirates for 10 hits and 5 earned runs in 4 and ⅓ innings and has failed to complete at least five innings in three of his last five starts … Pirates lefty Dillon Peters blanked the Reds for five innings; Cincy is batting .225 with a .679 OPS against LH pitchers this season … help is likely on the way: the outstanding Jesse Winker (strained intercostal) began a minor-league injury rehab assignment Tuesday and the left fielder could be back with the Reds by the weekend — or early next week … Reds have missed Winker’s presence in the lineup since Aug. 16. With him gone, they’ve batted .227 and scored four or fewer runs in 16 of 25 games.
THE PADRES: The bedraggled and forlorn Friars were outscored 15-2 while losing their first two games at San Francisco … the Padres have scored six total runs against the Dodgers and Giants while starting an 0-8 start to the 13-game road trip that brings them to St. Louis this coming weekend … since Aug. 11 the Pirates have the worst record in the NL (8-21.) That’s the second-worst MLB record over that time; Baltimore is 8-25 … the Padres are batting .199 with a .613 OPS and averaging 3.2 runs in their last 29 games … the Padres have scored only six runs in their last 51 innings … NL All-Star Adam Frazier has a weak .558 OPS since being traded by the Pirates to the Padres in late July … the Padres claimed St. Louis-area lefty Ross Detwiler off waivers (from Miami) to provide innings for a depleted bullpen. He has a 4.86 ERA this season … valuable infielder Jake Cronenworth (fractured finger) is taking batting practice and the Padres hope to have him in the lineup for the series vs. St. Louis. Quote from SDP outfielder Wil Myers: “It’s just really weird to watch a lineup with this amount of talent struggle, collectively. When you put together a lineup that is this talented you would imagine that one or two guys might not be hot at one time. But right now we’re looking at six or seven guys who aren’t swinging the bat to their potential.”
THE METS: Manager Luis Rojas was taking heat after Tuesday’s loss to the Cardinals. Why? For removing effective pitchers from the game when they seemingly were fresh and throwing well. It’s a tactic he’s used for much of the season. Rojas calls it “arm care.” Accordingly: Starter Marcus Stroman came out after six innings and 89 pitches even though he wasn’t due to hit until the bottom of the seventh. After that, Rojas pulled so many relievers the Cardinals had a chance to beat on ineffective rookie Jake Reed and get the win. “I can’t ask any more from the guys,” Rojas said. “Right now, it would be unfair. I can’t put them in a situation where it would compromise anything else — their stuff, their health. You might run a guy out there, he might not be the same pitcher you’re asking the guy to be as well. There’s just a lot of things that come into it. Ideally, the manager wants to pitch everyone every day, but there are some other things that come into play.” Whatever. The Mets trail the Cardinals by four in the WC2 jamboree.
THE PHILLIES: The Phils’ soft remaining schedule is frequently mentioned by pundits that tout their chances of making the playoffs. Maybe it’s time to reconsider? After a six-game winning streak the Phillies (72-72) have gone 3-8, and that includes Tuesday’s loss to the Cubs. During this 3-8 skid the Phils (72-72) have lost six games to losing teams: Marlins (two), Rockies (three) and Cubs (two.) After playing at the Mets this weekend, the Phillies have a seven-game homestand against the Orioles and Pirates. The Phillies have a 5.13 ERA in their last 11 games. “The calendar obviously runs out and we’re getting to a point where it does,” said starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, who took the loss to the Cubs. “I don’t want to make it seem like we aren’t playing with a sense of urgency, because I think we are. I also don’t want to necessarily make too much of the situation. Anytime that you’re behind in a race, you only have so many games left to make it up. We’re a team that can get on a roll.” The Phils trail the Cardinals by 3 in the WC2 bake-off.
Forgive my typos.
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 “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 are 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.