THE REDBIRD REVIEW
What’s gotten into the Cardinals? I don’t know, but maybe they’re eating their spinach. (Shout-out to Popeye the Sailor Man. Google it, kids.) I do know this: the Cardinals went into Atlanta and became the first and only opponent to pound out 10+ runs in back-to-back games against the Braves in 2023.
When your favorite team causes a rumpus by scoring 21 times against baseball’s finest ball-playing machine over two nights, you might as well enjoy it. But I don’t think there’s some deep meaning to derive from this … which is why I’m declining to do the old “HEY, WHERE HAS THIS BEEN ALL SEASON?” protest.
Major-league teams each play 162 games during the regular season, and there will be some unusual occurrences along the way.
Earlier this season the Braves went 2-4 in six games against the White Sox and A’s. Atlanta has won 65 percent of its games this season. The hideous White Sox and A’s have won a combined 35 percent of their games. But those two palookas took the Braves down. That’s baseball, baby.
After beating up the sore-shouldered Mike Soroka and doing more damage to his (6.40) ERA in the series opener, the Cardinals went after a more imposing pitcher on Wednesday. They blustered into Truist Park with a highfalutin attitude and jumped Spencer Strider, Atlanta’s strong Cy Young contender.
Until the Cardinals came to town with their 26th-ranked winning percentage, the Braves had won 22 of 27 games started by Strider in 2023. But the Cardinals did not fear Strider’s major-league leading strikeout total. The mischievous visitors assailed Strider for six runs in his 2 and ⅔ innings.
If this game had a soundtrack, Strider would still be hearing “Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers in his head. The St. Louis outbreak undoubtedly pleased the other National League Cy Young contenders including Blake Snell, Justin Steele and Zack Wheeler.
The 2023 Cardinals have done this before. They had no business winning three of four from the Dodgers at Busch Stadium. The three-game sweep at Boston’s Fenway Park was a lark. The Redbirds took two of three from the Rays in that weird stadium down in St. Petersburg. And it was rude of the Cardinals to slow Miami’s momentum when old friend Skip Schumaker brought his contending team to St. Louis to get swept during a three-game visit.
Before this series got underway on Tuesday, the Braves were 90-46. The Cardinals were 51-78. But the underdogs showed their teeth for the first time in a long time, mauling the big dogs for 26 hits, 21 runs, eight homers, doubles and six stolen bases in a two-win binge of offensive overindulgence.
In the series finale, the Cardinals will turn Adam Wainwright loose on the Braves … or maybe it’s the other way around, with the Braves chasing Waino and his 8.10 ERA (for now) out of his home state. But in a series that’s stopped making sense, a highly unlikely Cardinal sweep would be an appropriate ending.
LET’S REVISIT THE QUESTION: WHAT’S GOTTEN INTO THE CARDINALS? Nothing, really. For a sane or grounded person, there’s no need to reach for false narratives and portray Oli Marmol’s fightin’ Redbirds as a valiant, heroic group of relentless warriors who will battle until the final out of the season.
The first two games added two more chapters to the season story. Hit ball far. Hit ball over the wall. Hit enough home runs to fireproof your ramshackle pitching. And hold tight. The Cardinals put some other things into the mix – rare sightings of good defense plus smart and ambitious baserunning – but it came down to the usual plan. Which really isn’t a plan.
It goes something like this: fellers, get to walloping four homers tonight and we’ll win us a goshdurn ballgame. How’s ‘at sound to ya?
The Cardinals bombed four homers Tuesday and scored 10 runs. Win.
Their fusillade smoked four more homers Wednesday and scored 11 runs. Win.
In the first two games of this series 62 percent of STL’s runs were fathered by home runs.
Same as it ever was.
The Cardinals are 9-0 this season when hitting four or more home runs in a game, outscoring opponents 102-48 in those nine wins. The Cards have averaged 11.3 runs in their nine quadruple-homer games.
Before stopping by Atlanta this week for some peach pie, the Cardinals hadn’t clubbed four or more home runs in consecutive games since their barrage at Coors Field on Sept. 18-19, 2002 at Coors Field.
The Cardinals have won 24 times in a row when smashing four or more homers. They’re 39-1 in their last 40 games highlighted by four-plus homers. During the expansion era, which began in 1961, the Cardinals are 148-23 when bopping four or more HRs in a contest. That’s an .865 winning percentage my friends.
So what’s gotten into the Cardinals? The home-run derby mode kicked in. And that’s how the Cardinals defeated the Braves in two straight games despite their pitchers yielding 12 earned runs, 21 hits, eight walks, eight homers, four doubles and striking out only 9.8 percent of Atlanta batters faced.
Problem is, you won’t fireball four or more homers in a game very often. And if your pitching is horrendous, then what?
Well, here’s how the Cardinals have fared in 2023 when powering fewer than four home runs in a game:
* 52 wins.
* 78 losses
* .400 winning percentage.
That’s who the Cardinals are — and that’s the predicament. You can’t count on hitting four home runs per game.
This team has too many flaws to win a lot of games without hitting at least four homers. That tells us all we need to know.
THE ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: The Cardinals have won three straight and are 5-2 in their last seven games. During this heating-up phase, they’ve averaged 6.6 runs, cranked 17 homers and slugged .514 … Heading into Thursday the last-place Cardinals are 3 and ½ games behind the fourth-place Pirates … the Cardinals are 23-26 since the All-Star break and 14-18 since the MLB trading deadline … With their burst of power over the last seven games, the Cardinals have moved to 9th in the majors with a .430 slugging percentage. That’s fourth-best among MLB teams … The Cardinals’ last last loss when hitting at least four HRs in a game was a 7-6 setback to the Brewers at Busch Stadium on Sept. 15, 2019 … Braves pitchers gave up four-plus homers in consecutive games one other time this season – on June 23-24 at Cincinnati.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Four of the Cards’ eight homers in the first two games were solo shots by Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Masyn Winn and Willson Contreras. But Gorman, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill each smacked a two-run homer and Gorman flew a three-run home run … Congrats to Winn on his first big-league homer … Goldschmidt has regenerated in Atlanta, going 4 for 8 in the first two games with a homer, two walks, three RBI, and three runs scored.
GOING, GOING GORMAN: With three home runs in the first two skirmishes at Truist Park, N. Gorman has taken over the team lead with 27 homers. In 10 at-bats this series he has six RBI to go with his three big flies but has struck out on half of his 10 plate appearances. In his 10 games since returning from the IL after dealing with back pain, Gorman is batting .147 and has a strikeout rate of 48.7 percent.
In his (nearly) two seasons as a Cardinal, Gorman has a 32.7 percent strikeout rate. Gorman’s strikeout rate is the fourth-worst among 205 MLB hitters that have at least 700 plate appearances since the beginning of 2022. The three dudes with higher strikeout rates over that time are Joey Gallo (41.%), Patrick Wisdom (35.3) and Chris Taylor (34).
As an unfair point of reference, Stan Musial had a career 5.5% strikeout rate in 10,972 major-league plate appearances. And Tony Gwynn struck out at a rate of 8 percent in 10,232 PA.
But among MLB hitters that are age 23 or younger this season, only Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals) has clouted more home runs (28) than Gorman’s 27. Julio Rodriguez (Mariners) also has 27 HRs.
QUICK STAT: Among Cardinals that have 300+ plate appearances this season Goldschmidt, Lars Nootbaar, Walker, Gorman, Contreras and Brendan Donovan each have a higher OPS+ than Nolan Arenado.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Cards starting pitcher Dakota Hudson held the Braves to two runs in his first five innings as his teammates built a 6-2 lead. But the start got away from Hudson in the sixth with this shaky sequence: leadoff homer by Matt Olson, single, double, walk. Hudson was replaced at that point, but his three runners on base came around to score – which means Hudson officially was charged with five earned runs in five innings. Kind of the same deal with Dak: too many walks (3), not enough swinging strikes (5) and a low strikeout count (2). Hudson did get credit for the win and is 6-1 this season despite having a 5.24 Fielding Independent ERA.
JORDAN MONTGOMERY + JACK FLAHERTY: Just checking up on the former Cardinal starting pitchers that were dealt at the 2023 deadline.
– Montgomery has a 3.60 ERA in his six starts, but his last two starts were problematic: nine total innings, 11 hits, four walks, and a 9.00 ERA. The Rangers are collapsing, having lost 15 of their last 19 games to drop into third place in the AL West. They trail first-place Houston by three games. The Astros just swept three games from the Rangers, with Texas pitchers getting shredded for 39 runs in 27 innings.
– Flaherty had an excellent debut for the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles, giving up one run in six innings for a quality-start win at Toronto. But in his last five starts Flaherty has an 8.35 ERA and opponents have muscled him for a .295 average, .574 slugging percentage, five homers and a .939 OPS in 18 and ⅓ innings. He also missed a start because of shoulder ailment. But the O’s have the AL’s best record (88-51) and lead second-place Tampa Bay by 3 and ½ games.
DREW VERHAGEN: He wrapped up Wednesday’s win with two scoreless innings. Since Aug. 1 he has a 2.19 ERA in 12 and ⅓ innings and has limited opponents to a .195 batting average. We’d like to see more strikeouts, though.
GIOVANNY GALLEGOS: His season isn’t getting any better. In his last seven appearances covering four innings, the formerly rock-steady righty has been pelted for 11 hits, two walks, three homers and eight earned runs for a 18.00 ERA. And he has a 20% strikeout rate over that time. Here are three stats that reveal the depth of his decline:
– Gallegos had a 32 percent strikeout rate from 2019 through 2022; this season that’s dropped to 24.5%.
– After allowing a 37.4 percent hard-hit rate from 2019 through 2022, that rate has soared to 46.3% this season.
– From 2019 through 2022, opponents homered off Gallegos on 2.5 percent of their plate appearances. This season, they’ve homered on 4.7% of their plate appearances.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through 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, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus and Bill James Online 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.