Welcome to The Redbird Review
The Cardinals powered up on the road, making stops in Pittsburgh and Kansas City and winning all six games.
The baseball was mostly one-sided, with the Cardinals outscoring the Pirates and Royals 37-13. The Cards had 17 more extra-base hits than their opponents and outhit them by 80 points, .282 to .202.
Cardinals starting pitchers had a 1.31 ERA in the six games, and the bruised PITT-KC starters had a 6.27 ERA while being pummeled by the roughouse gang from St. Louis.
Except for the injuries to starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc, outfielder Dylan Carlson and shortstop Paul DeJong, the Cardinals took charge and pretty much had everything go their way. LeBlanc is on the IL with a sore elbow; Carlson (wrist) and DeJong could return as soon as Tuesday.
The push for a perfect 6-0 week landed the Cardinals in striking range for the No. 2 National League wild card. As the Cards came home for a rest on Monday they trailed San Diego by 4.5 games, with only one team, Cincinnati in the way. But there was good news on that front; the gap between the Reds and Cards is only two games.
The 6-0 raid on Pittsburgh and Kansas City can be viewed in several different ways:
1) Big whoop. Put those party favors back in the box. The Pirates and Royals are truly awful, as evidenced by a combined winning percentage of .388. The Pirates have lost 20 of their last 26 games. The Royals are 20-41 since early June. The Cardinals should dominate these teams.
2) Don’t nitpick, be happy, enjoy the success. And appreciate the Cardinals (56-51) for shouldering their way into wild-card contention by winning eight out of their last nine games. Even if the 8-1 was achieved by whacking the Royals and Pirates. The Cardinals struggled against losing-record teams for a while, dropping series against Atlanta (under .500 at the time), Detroit, Pittsburgh and Colorado from mid-June through July 4. If you blasted the Cardinals for falling down during the bad stretch, it doesn’t seem fair to blast them for reversing the pattern by razing a couple of terrible teams.
3) Relax. No need for a hard-and-firm conclusion. Was the 6-0 trip nothing more than an enjoyable jaunt, a blip on the schedule — or the indication of something more substantial? Look, we’ll find our answer in due time. The Cardinals will play 29 of their final 45 games against teams that currently have winning records. I should note that the Mets, 59-58, are barely above .500.
I’m on the Door No. 3 side of things.
But again, the answer will take shape soon enough. As of Monday, here are the toughest remaining schedules in the NL based on average record of remaining opponents:
San Diego, 65-52
NY Mets, 61-56
St. Louis, 61-57
San Francisco, 61-57
The easiest remaining schedules based on average opponent record belong to Cincinnati (52-66) and Philadelphia (52-66.)
ABOUT THE CARDS’ RECENT RECORD: I feel compelled to point something out here. And yes, I’m going to defend the Cardinals. But the 6-0 roadie represents the continuation of a positive trend. Even with some missteps along the way the Cardinals have recovered from a horrendous 7-19 breakdown that began May 30. They’ve been in the process of turning their season around since June 28.
On June 27 the Cardinals skidded to their low point, losing three of four games to the Pirates at Busch Stadium to sink to 37-41. At four games under .500 the Cardinals had their worst record of the season.
Since then the Cardinals are 24-15 for a .615 winning percentage that ranks fifth in the NL.
Since July 5, they’re 20-12 for a .625 winning percentage that ranks third in the NL behind San Francisco and Milwaukee.
Since the All-Star break the Cardinals’ 17-10 record is third-best in the NL. Only Milwaukee (19-8) and San Francisco (19-10) have done better.
The Cardinals had a .474 winning percentage on the evening of June 27. They’ve played .615 baseball over their last 39 games.
The Cardinals already were improving, winning more often, making headway. It definitely seemed like a crawl at times, but they’ve hustled into contention. The 6-0 road trip to Pittsburgh and KC was the turbo boost they needed.
ARE THE CARDS REALLY IN CONTENTION? To win the NL Central, no. Absolutely not. They trail first-place Milwaukee by 10 games. The Brewers have the top record in the majors (51-24, .680) since May 22. The Cardinals can do something about that, at least in theory, because they’ll play the Brewers 13 times in their final 45 games. That’s nearly 30 percent of the Cards schedule.
As for the wild-card bid, the Cardinals are 4.5 games out with 45 to go. After losing on June 27 the Cardinals trailed the Padres by 9.0 games. So yeah, I think the Cardinals are in contention for the second wild card.
To me “Are they in contention” is the wrong question.
Here’s the more meaningful question: “The Cardinals have put themselves into contention, but can they stay there?”
My answer: not sure. And that isn’t a cop-out on my part. As I mentioned earlier, the schedule won’t be as easy. The Cardinals have done a pretty good job of beating up losing teams this season, going 41-24 with a plus 52 run differential. But the Cards have an abysmal 20-32 mark against winning teams; that .385 winning percentage vs. losing sides is fifth-worst in the NL.
And there’s more to that. The Cardinals have played 65 games against teams with losing ledgers so far this season. That’s the second-most by an NL team. Based on current records, the Cardinals won’t have as many opportunities to stack wins against losing sides. That’s why it was important to maximize this stretch against KC and Pittsburgh by winning eight of nine games including the last six.
THE PLAYOFF ODDS: Well, adjust your optimism. According to FanGraphs the Cardinals have a 6 percent chance to make the playoffs; 5.3% for a wild-card spot. Baseball Reference gives the Cardinals a 4% crack at the postseason. Baseball Prospectus has St. Louis with a 1.2% probability of reaching the postseason.
THE STARTING ROTATION: On the 6-0 road trip Cardinals starting pitchers J.A. Happ, Adam Wainwright, Wade LeBlanc, Jack Flaherty and Jon Lester combined for a 1.31 ERA, scratched for only five earned runs in 34.1 innings. (Wainwright and Happ made two starts; the others made one.)
LeBlanc developed a sore elbow in his Thursday start at Pittsburgh and gave up three earned runs in two innings. That means Wainwright, Happ, Flaherty and Lester combined to hold Pirates-Royals to two earned runs in a 32.1 innings for a 0.55 ERA. The foursome collectively faced 114 batters and only 23 reached (17 hits, six walks.)
STL ROTATION, STILL OVERLOOKED: The Cardinals have gotten a boost from J.A. Happ, who has a 1.62 ERA in three starts since coming over in the July 30 trade with Minnesota. Lester, acquired from Washington on the same day, seems to be coming around. He was plenty tough and good in Saturday’s 9-4 win at Kansas City with one earned run allowed in 5.2 IP.)
And then there’s Flaherty, who pitched six scoreless innings, with authority, in Friday’s welcome-back start from the IL. Very impressive by a guy that hadn’t started a big-league game since May 31.
But I remain perplexed by something: the Cardinals have the third-best rotation ERA in all of MLB since June 28, and it’s rarely mentioned or written about. And I don’t know why. It’s astounding to me. Credit to Bally Sports Midwest TV voice and “Scoops” impresario Dan McLaughlin who definitely is not asleep on this stat. He talked it up during Sunday’s game.
In the last 39 games, the Cards rotation ERA is 3.27. Only the Brewers (2.43) and Dodgers (3.27) have been better over that time.
And that 3.27 ERA was put together through difficult and challenging circumstances, with injuries or subpar performances requiring the use of nine different starters over the last 39 games:
- Wainwright: eight starts, 2.75 ERA
- LeBlanc: eight starts, 3.53 ERA
- Kwang Hyun Kim seven starts, 2.45 ERA
- Happ: three starts, 1.62 ERA
- Jack Flaherty: one start, 0.00 ERA
- Carlos Martinez: two starts, 1.93 ERA
- Johan Oviedo: four starts, 4.19 ERA
- Jake Woodford: three starts, 5.93 ERA
- Jon Lester: three starts, 6.75 ERA
Have to give those guys a lot of credit. Many have helped, tried to help, or otherwise contributed.
The Cardinal rotation had a 3.99 ERA in April, a 3.55 ERA in May, struggled terribly in June (5.75), and got back on track in July (3.44) and has been strong so far in August (3.31.)
COMPLIMENT FOR THE FRONT OFFICE? President of baseball ops John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch moved too slow before kicking into action. And they didn’t amass enough starting-pitching depth in advance of what would surely be a turbulent, injury-chopped season for pitchers. But LeBlanc was a dandy find, helping the staff in relief (five games, 3.27 ERA) and as a starter (eight outings, 3.53 ERA.) After pitching to a 6.77 ERA for the Twins, Happ has been a most pleasant surprise after regrouping in St. Louis. Lester could go either way — but in fairness, his fielding independent ERA in the last two starts is 3.82.
From the time of LeBlanc’s first start for the Cardinals on June 28 (as mentioned) the rotation has a 3.27 ERA. In the 12 games since Lester and Happ joined the band, the rotation ERA is 3.24.
A tip of the cap to the front office for cultivating starting-pitching help, and depth, in time for the final push over the remaining 45 games on the sked.
THE OFFENSE COMES ALIVE: The boys have scored four or more runs in 11 straight games and 12 of the last 13. In winning eight of their last nine games the Cardinals have averaged 5.7 runs, hit .285, slugged .485 and gotten on base in 36 percent of their plate appearances. The walk rate over the last nine games is a healthy 10%. And with runners in scoring position the Cards have batted .322 with a .836 OPS.
Since June 28 the St. Louis offense has shown major improvement in a variety of areas; I listed the improvement since June 28 and then put in the team’s NL ranking before June 28:
- .265 average, 3rd NL. Were 13th at .224.
- .333 OBP, 3rd NL. Were 15th at .298.
- .436 SLG, 8th NL. Were 10th at .373.
- .768 OPS, 8th NL. Were 13th at .671
- .314 avg. with runners in scoring position, 2nd in NL. Were 13th, at .227.
- .208 avg. on two-strike counts, 2nd NL. Were 14th at .144
- Hard contact rate 35.3%, 1st in NL. Were 13th at 30.2%
The Cardinals averaged 3.9 runs through June 27, having played 78 games.
They’ve averaged 4.6 runs in 39 games since June 28.
GOLDY AND NADO: During the Cardinals’ 8-1 streak Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have combined to hit .314 with a .405 OBP and .586 slug for a .990 OPS. In the nine games they’ve teamed to drive in 21 runs, score 14 runs, get 22 hits, and walk 12 times. And with runners in scoring position the two corner infielders are a combined 12 for 22 (.545) with 15 RBI between them.
BENCH BANGERS: Heck of a road trip for infielder Edmundo Sosa, outfielder Lars Nootbaar and utility dude Jose Rondon. They had a chance to play more because of injuries to Carlson and DeJong.
In the six games the three combined for 14 hits in 35 at-bats (.400), scored six runs and knocked in five.
— The rookie Nootbaar clubbed two homers, drove in three and made a positive impression in all areas of the game. Four of his nine hits this season have gone for extra bases, and he’s slugging .474 on the season.
— In 47 starts this season the rookie Sosa is batting .301 with a .370 OBP and .410 slug. That, and fabulous defense. Despite playing only 303 innings at shortstop Sosa ranks tied for ninth in MLB at the position with 5 defensive runs saved.
— Rondon is 7 for his last 15 (.467) and has emerged as an effective bench piece that can be used in the outfield or infield.
TRACKING SAN DIEGO: The Padres have lost four out of their last five and are 18-20 since July 1. The remaining schedule is harrowing. Between Aug. 20 and Sept. 5, the Padres have series against Philadelphia, LA Dodgers and Houston. And when the Padres begin their closing drive on Sept. 10 they’ll play only four teams the rest of the way: SF Giants (10 games) Dodgers (6), St. Louis (3) and Atlanta (3.)
The starting rotation is cracking. In the first two months of the season San Diego starters had a 3.14 ERA as the team went 34-21. But since the opening of June the SD rotation ERA is 5.26, and the Pads are 33-32. Yu Darvish has a 7.13 ERA in his last seven starts and is on the IL with back tightness.
The Padres have an outstanding bullpen, and Fernando Tatis Jr. just returned from his third shoulder-related IL stay of the season. Sunday, in his first game, Tatis had two homers and a double and drove in four runs in his team’s 8-2 win at Arizona. Tatis played right field Sunday. Will he stay there? Maybe.
Tatis is below average defensively at shortstop this season; he has 20 errors with minus 7 defensive runs saved. Among the 25 MLB shortstops that have played at least 600 innings this season, only three of the 25 have cost their team more runs on defense than Tatis. That, according to Fielding Bible.
That said, a healthy Tatis is a scary hitter. In only 320 at-bats this season he’s homered 33 times, driven in 74 runs, and slugged .625. He’s 86 percent above league average offensively in adjusted OPS.
That’s it for today. I can’t wait for the Brewers-Cardinals series at Busch Stadium that opens Tuesday night. It’s a three-game reunion for two teams that haven’t faced each other since May 11-13 in Milwaukee. The Cardinals took two of the three games at American Family Field. Since completing that series Milwaukee is 52-29 and the Cardinals are 38-41.
Thanks for reading…
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.
The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available at 590thefan.com …
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
* 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.