WELCOME TO THE REDBIRD REVIEW…
The Cardinals were a headstrong troupe in Milwaukee, winning two of three games from the Brewers including the 2-0 tipping-point triumph on Thursday afternoon.
The Cardinals were madly imperfect. They were also stubbornly and impressively persistent. More than anything the Cardinals pitched like mad men, strong-arming the Brewers into submission, granting only 1.29 earned runs per game … and no runs at all in the series-capping game.
And the Crew scored three of their five total runs in the series only because of the Cards making it possible with a wild pitch fireball on a strike three that would have ended Wednesday’s 8th inning. The Brewers used the slapstick-created opening for a 4-1 victory.
The Cardinals won two of three in the genial Cheesehead territory despite:
== Having to dig in against Milwaukee starting pitchers Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. They’ve combined for a 1.98 ERA this season and collectively are striking out 13 batters per nine innings.
== Scoring in only five of the 29 innings played.
== Scoring only nine total runs in three games.
== Scoring five of those nine runs during a span of five batters in one inning — the 11th inning of Tuesday’s 6-1 stunner.
== Batting .168 for the series with a 27% strikeout rate.
== Going 3 for 28 with runners in scoring position.
== Slipping on a catch in center and sailing that wild pitch to lose on a weird Wednesday.
But the Redbirds brashly recovered from Wednesday’s gonzo game to pocket Thursday’s win on their way out of Wisconsin.
And isn’t that what much of this STL season is about so far?
Yes, I believe so.
The Cardinals recovered from an 8-10 start that dropped them into last place in the NL Central. They rebounded from having MLB’s worst rotation ERA (6.33) through the first 13 games. They’ve restored missing pieces caused by injuries. They’ve rewired after slow starts by hitters. They’ve recharged after last season’s pathetic shortage of home runs and power.
The Cardinals have a knockout closer, Alex Reyes, who pushed his way back in multiple comebacks from devastating injuries. They have an ace, Jack Flaherty, who put away a miserable 2020 and dominate again. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is renewed after enduring depressing circumstances with his former team in Colorado.
The perpetually rejuvenated battery of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina just keep coming back — period. This team has other stories, other characters, that reflect the resiliency. And it’s a great quality to have during a long season.
The pleasing outcome in Milwaukee showed us this team’s collective personality. They’ll pitch very well, and that forms the foundation of a winning way. They may struggle to score runs, but usually do enough to get the thing done. They’ll compete in a way that you’d want from your favorite team. Lose and bounce back. Win, and keep pressing. Lose composure at a given moment in a game, and then calm it down and come back stronger the next day.
THE RESET: The Cardinals have won five of their last six, 11 of their last 14, and are 15-5 since April 23. That 15-5 is the best record in baseball over that time. And to think that these Cardinals were at the bottom of the division, a half-game behind the Pirates, on April 22.
Here are the NL Central standings in the games played since April 23:
- St. Louis, 15-5
- Cincinnati, 8-9
- Chicago, 8-10
- Milwaukee, 9-11
- Pittsburgh, 6-12
After the successful series at Milwaukee, the Cardinals are 10-5 vs. NL Central rivals. That includes an 8-1 mark vs. the Reds, Pirates and Brewers since April 23. The Cardinals haven’t lost a series since going 1-2 at Washington (April 19-21.)
DUELING ROTATIONS: Kwang Hyun Kim, John Gant and Jack Flaherty more than held their own in their pitching matchups against (in order) Peralta, Woodruff and Burnes.
The St. Louis three allowed two runs, but only one earned, in 16 and ⅓ innings (0.55 ERA). Milwaukee batted only .203 overall against the STL starters, hitting .071 with men on and .053 with runners in scoring position. This is why The Cards starters stranded 89.5 percent of the runners that reached base on them during the series.
The Milwaukee three were outstanding. Just great. Peralta, Woodruff and Burnes allowed a .134 average and struck out 37.5% of the STL hitters faced. Their strand rate (94.8%) was even better. And the Milwaukee three also turned in three more innings than the St. Louis starters.
You certainly can make the claim that the Brewers had the better starting-pitching performance. Their strikeout-walk dominance was clearly superior. But if you’re a bottom-line evaluator, it comes down to this: the Brewers starters allowed one more earned run and had an 0.92 ERA.
JACK THE FANTASTIC FLAHERTY: After smothering the Crew for six shutout innings and the win on Thursday, Flaherty is 7-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last seven outings. Over the sizzler stretch Flaherty has thrown 43 innings, allowed a .174 average, .479 OPS and one homer, and struck out 27% of the hitters.
Flaherty — who has a 2.47 ERA for the season — has modified his four-seam fastball to attack the higher part of the strike zone. The Brewers noticed.
“He was throwing a different fastball,” manager Craig Counsell said. “His velocity was up a tick, for sure. He grabbed some 97s (mph). He’s pitching more up in the strike zone. His command is really on point right now and that’s the difference for a guy like him because he’s not giving you a lot of pitches to hit. He’s a tough customer and he’s off to a good start.”
Opponents are batting .145 against the Flaherty four-seamer this season. And though they’ve done a little damage against the Flaherty slider, he has a 38.8% strikeout rate on plate appearances that end with that pitch. Flaherty doesn’t throw many curveballs, but he strikes out a lot of hitters (34%) when he uses it.
According to MLB.com, Flaherty is the first Cardinals pitcher to have a sub-3.00 ERA and win at least seven of his first eight games of a season since Bob Gibson did so in 1965. And MLB.com notes that Flaherty is the first St. Louis starter to win seven consecutive starts in 20 years. The last guy to do that was one of my favorites: Matt Morris, in 2001.
If you consider 2020 a messed-up outlier for Flaherty — as I do — then let’s do a quick mashup of his 2019 and 2021 performances: 41 starts, 243 and ⅔ innings, 2.69 ERA.
If we want to just include his final 16 starts of the 2019 season and combine it with the early 2021 showing, here’s what we have: 24 starts, 153 and ⅔ innings, and a preposterous 1.40 ERA.
ALEX REYES AND THE INFERNAL SLIDER: Aiming a variety of projectiles at the strike-zone region in the ninth inning Thursday, the colossal closer disposed of the Milwaukees for his 11th save of the season. Reyes is 11 for 11 at closing time, and his season ERA (0.45) is gleaming. He’s struck out 27 in 20 innings. He’s a bruiser.
Reyes absolutely walks too many batters; just call it “toying with them” for added fun. It goes like this: Reyes puts a couple of runners on, strikes out their teammates, smiles, greets his catcher, and gets in the team celebration line for fist-bumps and high-fives. Sure, the walks are precarious. But Reyes continues to punch his way out of threatening situations.
Reyes has faced 52 hitters with men on base, and he’s fought off the other side with a 31% strikeout rate. And by allowing a paltry .074 batting averages.
And with runners in scoring position? The hitters should not get their hopes up. He’s confronted hitmen 41 times with RISP, and here’s the result: 32% strikeout rate, .033 batting average.
When a plate appearance ends with Reyes slashing his slider at the hitters, here’s the outcome: 16 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances — 57 percent! — and a sad little batting average of .042.
THIS IS ME, GROWLING: Our baseball townspeople and associated medias are eternally obsessed with “small ball.” And this means an instant overreaction to a stolen base, a heads-up baserunning play, a ground ball that moves the runner over, the sacrifice fly, the well-placed bunt. Sorry, but all teams do this. It’s not an art form. It’s baseball.
Here’s what I call it:
“Good Baseball. “
I call it “Doing What You Should Do.”
I call it “Nice Work, Buddy. But C’Mon, This Is Why They Pay You Money, Right?”
I do appreciate this St. Louis Small-Ball Manufacturing Company when it’s operational (infrequently) and produces a successful project on occasion. But it’s funny how we never hear about the wonder of small ball and the inspiring precision manufacturing of runs and the Return of Whiteyball when a Cardinal (A) screws up on the bases; (B) gets thrown out while trying to force the issue; (C) muffs an ill-advised bunt that blows up the inning; (D) hits an infield pop fly when trying for one of those lovely sacrifice flies. And I’d like to add (D) wasting out trying to bunt and wasting a damn out when you ALREADY have a runner in scoring position. Nope, we don’t hear any happy talk when a so-called small ball presentation ends in disaster.
This. Again: The Cardinals have scored 53.5% of their runs on homers this season. That’s the highest percentage among NL Central teams. When the St. Louis side does not hit a home run in a game, I assume this is when the elfin ball is supposed to come through to save us all.
Well, now. If small ball is so effective, then why do the Cardinals have a .250 winning percentage in their homer-less games? Why do they have a .667 winning percentage when they bang at least one home run in a game? Why do have they won 90 percent of their games when hitting two homers? Why have they won 75% of the time in 3+ homer games?
I have my own definition of small-ball: it’s when your pitchers dominate, get real stingy, and allow a very small number of runs. The Cardinals are winning a lot of games that way this season. Many games.
BIRD BYTES: The Cardinals have allowed three earned runs or fewer 12 times during their 15-5 run. (Is this small ball?) … The Cards are 10-3 since center fielder Harrison Bader returned from The IL. Harry has a 128 OPS+ so far (100 is league average) … since the start of last season Bader has a .333 OBP, .456 slugging percentage and 117 OPS+ … when the Cardinals have an ERA of 2.30 or less in a game, their record is 18-5 — for a winning percentage of .682 (AKA small ball) … Rookie outfielder Justin Williams is doing a nice job as a pinch-hitter so far, going 3 for 6 with two walks, a homer and three RBIs … after handling Flaherty on Thursday Andew Knizner has a 2.41 catcher ERA in 142 innings this season.
NEXT ON THE SKED: Three at San Diego. The Cardinals will start Johan Oviedo, Adam Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim, in that order. The Padres counter with Joe Musgrove on Friday night, Chis Paddack on Saturday, and lefty Ryan Weathers on Sunday night’s ESPN telecast … the Padres are 21-17 but may not have Fernando Tatis Jr. or Will Myers this weekend because of Covid-related issues … the Padres are tied for 20th in the majors with an average of 4.05 runs scored per game … but the Padres are allowing the lowest average of runs per game, 3.34.
As always thanks for reading and I hope you have a terrific weekend…
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.