THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals aren’t a bad team. The Cardinals aren’t a good team. The Cardinals are a .500 team. They are a middling team. A medium team. A middle-of-the-road team. There is symmetry to their mediocrity. There is a consistency to their inconsistency.

If the Cardinals were golfers, they’d shoot par. 

  • 12 wins and 12 losses on the season. 
  • 10-10 record in the last 20 games. 
  • 6-6 at home
  • 6-6 on the road
  • 4.4 runs scored per game
  • 4.3 runs allowed per game
  • Batting average for, .225
  • Batting average against, .222
  • OPS for, .684
  • OPS against, .682

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Vacating an early 3-1 lead, the Cardinals slipped at home and fell to the Philadelphia Phillies — the proud opponent that represents the Cradle of Liberty, the Birthplace of America, and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. The Phils improved to 4-2 against the Cards this season, and the teams will complete their four-game series at Busch Stadium today at 12:15 p.m. This game also marks the end of the regular-season competition between the teams. 

GENESIS CABRERA, A FRIGHTENING EPISODE, AND A DUMB RULE: The young Cardinal left-hander had a wild turn last night after entering to handle the sixth inning. His first pitch was a 97 mph fastball that struck Bryce Harper in the face. Cabrera’s next pitch, whistling in at 95 mph, popped Didi Gregorius in the ribs. This was horrifying, scary and sad. 

There was an unforgettable visual of Harper raising a hand at the last nanosecond in a desperate effort to deflect the incoming projectile. Thank God he seems to be OK. There was also a poignant post-game scene, with the distraught Cabrera offering two heartfelt apologies. 

The unnerving episode revealed the inherent stupidity of the three-minimum batter rule. This idiotic rule, installed before the 2020 season, stripped away the freedom and authority of managers in their use of bullpen personnel. When a reliever comes into the game, he must face no fewer than three batters. Teams that pay relievers a handsome salary to do an important job are prohibited from using key late-inning roster pieces at the manager’s discretion. The rule prevents the manager from exercising the traditional autonomy to make key strategic decisions that can determine a game’s outcome. 

There are two exceptions: (1) The reliever can be pulled before fulfilling the three-batter requirement if he’s injured. And (2) a reliever that completes an inning doesn’t have to return. 

MANAGER MIKE SHILDT WAS HELPLESS: After the game Shildty said he would have pulled the rattled Cabrera after the reliever hit Harper. But Shildt wasn’t allowed to do so because of the three-batter directive. The Gregorious hit-by-pitch could have been prevented. But no … a melting-down reliever MUST throw more wayward, high-speed pitches in the general direction of home plate. 

Because that’s exactly what you want, right? An emotionally-distressed, unhinged reliever  out there with absolutely no command of a mini-missile soaring at nearly 100 mph. And if a batter gets hurt, well, too bad. MUST FOLLOW THE RULES. Even if it means endangering more hitters. Makes sense. 

“That’s a failure of the three-batter minimum,” Shildt said. “Absolutely. Completely, absolutely, no doubt. You’re talking about an aggressive young pitcher that’s throwing to one of the superstars of this game and the ball got away from him and unfortunately got Bryce up top. Clearly he (Cabrera) felt terrible. We went out to calm him down but at that point that’s a tough thing to deal with in competition. It was an unfortunate scenario.”

After Cabrera hit the two batters he gave up an RBI single to Andrew McCutchen, and the Phillies took a 4-3 lead. They were on their way to a victory. 

THE RULE ISN’T WORKING: Here’s the thing: the rule isn’t working. It was instituted to speed up the game by limiting pitching changes and putting a stop to the parade of relievers. 

These average game times are from a piece written by Jayson Stark of The Athletic after last season. And the average-time info was provided by MLB: 

  • 2020 — 3:07:46
  • 2019 — 3:05:35
  • 2018 — 3:00:44

“They tried to make the games shorter,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told Stark. “But I think the games got longer.”

Correct. In 2020 the average time of a nine-inning game was the longest in MLB history. 

But commissioner Rob Manfred’s little speed-it-up brainstorm did lead to fewer mid-inning pitching changes, right? Um, no. Stark reported that managers averaged 2.32 mid-inning pitcher changes last season, an increase over the 2.17 average from 2017, 2018 and 2019. 

As others have said, the three-batter minimum reliever rule was a solution in search of a problem. 

JOE GIRARDI CALLED IT:  “If the commissioner is listening, it’s the dumbest rule that we’ve ever put in,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said during a speaking engagement last November. “And from what I saw, the games were not sped up.”

Props to the Girardi.

After Cabrera’s loss of control prompted the umpires to issue a warning to both dugouts, Girardi blew a fuse and was ejected. Who can blame him? Girardi should have been mad. Really mad. But at least the Phillies responded to this alarming sequence by pushing ahead of the Cardinals. 

And consider this: As a player Girardi broke his nose 21 years ago when struck by a pitch. So we can understand why he’d be so fired up by what he witnessed last night. “It’s extremely scary,” he said. 

FOOTNOTE: Wednesday’s nine-inning game lasted 3 hours and 19 minutes. Good job, MLB!!! 

JOHAN OVIEDO: The rookie St. Louis starter made one significant mistake pitch, and Philly’s Brad Miller deposited the juicy slider for a two-run homer that tied the game 3-3 in the fifth. Oviedo’s pitching line doesn’t reflect how well he pitched: five innings, three runs, three hits, two walks and seven strikeouts. The RH limited the Phils to a low 56.8% contact rate. He had an impressive 17% swing-miss rate. He finished with a 52 Game Score, which is slightly above average.

PITCHING UPDATE: The Cardinals gave up five runs. An opponent scored more than four runs for only the second time in the last 11 games. The Cards have an overall 2.44 ERA during this stretch — with a modest 6-5 record to show for it. In the last 11 Cards starting pitchers have a 2.28 ERA which ranks second in the majors since April 17. 

ABOUT THE CARDS OFFENSE: The Cardinals scored all three runs in the first three innings on a two-run homer by Tyler O’Neill and a solo home run from Paul Goldschmidt. St. Louis has scored 52 percent of its runs this season via home-run balls. 

Over the final six innings Cards hitters went 5 for 22 (all singles) with five strikeouts and two double-play groundouts. And the final five innings of at-bats included an 0 for 4 showing with runners in scoring position and an 0 for 10 with runners on base. The Cards were 0 for 6 with RISP for the night. 

The STL offense is averaging 4.3 runs over the last 14 games. That’s about average.  And 26 of their 60 runs during this stretch were scored in two blowout wins against Washington. The Cardinals averaged 2.8 runs in the other 12 games. 

WELCOME BACK, BRO: Since returning from the IL, outfielder Tyler O’Neill has three homers in 18 at-bats, driving in four runs and scoring four. The time off gave O’Neill a chance to regroup. Before being sidelined by a groin injury, O’Neill had a ridiculous 48.3 percent strikeout rate and chased non-strikes on 40% of his swings. Since coming back O’Neill has a 15.8% strikeout rate with a chase rate of 22%.  O’Neill’s power show has boosted his slugging percentage to .500 for the season. 

CHECKING IN ON PAUL DEJONG: During his first three seasons DeJong batted .251 with a .467 slugging percentage and .785 OPS. Since the start of the 2020 season DeJong is batting .223 with a .356 slug and .662 OPS … when DeJong has batted fourth or fifth in the lineup this season he’s 8 for 56 (.143) with three homers and five RBIs … with runners in scoring when batting 4th or 5th DeJong is 2 for 19 (.105) with two RBIs. And with runners on base while batting 4th or 5th he’s 3 for 28 (.107) with two RBIs. 

NEXT ON THE SKED: Kwang Hyun Kim makes his third start of the season (second vs. Philly) at 12:15 p.m. today. The Phils go with Aaron Nola, who shut the Cardinals out 2-0 on April 18 … as expected, there’s no Bryce Harper or Didi Gregorious in the Philadelphia lineup today … in their first six games against the Phillies the Cardinals hit .204 with a .609 OPS … Phillies pitchers have a 3.23 ERA vs. St. Louis this season. 

Enjoy the ballgame and thanks for reading this … 

–Bernie 

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.