THE REDBIRD REVIEW
After losing their final two games of the Houston series, the Cardinals recovered to win two of three from the Yankees over the weekend.
Sunday’s 5-1 victory behind the unyielding starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery gave the Cardinals an 8-5 record in the 13 games, and this was certainly preferable to another two-week stretch of drudgery and defeat.
The Cardinals are becoming reacquainted with winning, having gone 3-1-1 in their last five series. By prevailing over the Yankees, the Cards won their series at home since May 21, and they’ve made gains on two division mates, the Pirates and Cubs.
Problem is, the Cardinals don’t have anything else to show for their 8-5 upturn. Over the 13 games the Cards went from being 8 and ½ games behind the Reds and Brewers to trailing the division co-leaders by 9 and ½ games as of Monday morning (July 3.)
St. Louis (35-48) must almost certainly win the division to make the playoffs. That will require multiple stretches of sustained success, and that isn’t happening … not unless they build on their 8-5 uptrend in a dramatic way.
And the Cardinals cannot continue to waste weeks of baseball. And they did it again by losing a game – and a series – they should have taken from the Astros. The blown save in Wednesday’s 10-7 loss to Houston was a demoralizing blow in a homestand that could have been 4-2 instead of 3-3.
The Redbirds have been doing too much of this, and their trajectory over the last six weeks shows us all we need to know. The Cardinals aren’t moving up; their deficit has increased.
Here’s how much the Cards have trailed the first-place team (or teams) at the start of a new week over the last six weeks. This covers a six-week span that began in late May:
– 5.0 games out of first
– 7.5 games out
– 8.0 games out out
– 8.5 games out
– 8.5 games out
– 9.5 out this morning, July 3.
Even with their 8-5 upturn, the gap between the Cardinals and the first-place Reds and Brewers widened by a game. And the last 13 games – while factually successful – failed to enhance STL’s postseason probability.
After losing to the Mets on June 16, the Cardinals had a 9.2 percent chance to win the division and a 10% shot at making the playoffs. But after going 8-5, the Redbirds have an 8.3% crack at winning the division and a 9.8% probability of landing in the postseason.
Their postseason odds are less favorable despite having a winning record over the last two-plus weeks.
We can understand why. The Reds are 19-6 since June 5th, and the Brewers are 11-5 in their last 16. The takeaway here? Winning eight of 13 games represents positive movement for the Cardinals, but they’ll have to do substantially better than that to chase down co-leaders Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
The Cardinals have 79 regular-season games remaining as they open a four-game set at Miami on Monday. And there’s only seven games left for STL before the All-Star break.
1. Jordan Montgomery is pitching like an ace. He subdued the Yankees on Sunday, allowing two hits, three walks and an unearned run in 6 and ⅔ innings. Monty had a 3.29 ERA in his first seven starts before enduring a rough three-start stretch, allowing 13 earned runs and five homers in 14 and ⅓ innings. But he’s been absolutely fantastic since then, pitching to a 1.66 ERA with five quality starts in his last seven assignments. That 1.66 ERA is the best among MLB starters that have worked at least 40 innings since May 28.
2. Montgomery has 10 quality starts on the season; that’s tied for 5th in the National League. Among NL starters only Marcus Stroman (14), Logan Webb (12), Mitch Keller (11) and Clayton Kershaw (11) have more quality starts than Montgomery. This season Monty has as many quality starts as Zac Gallen, Corbin Burnes, Merrill Kelly, Spencer Strider and Justin Steele – and more QS than an extensive list of pitchers that includes Sandy Alcantara, Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Max Scherzer.
3. Just remember that when you hear or read that Montgomery is a No. 3 caliber starter. That’s nonsense; he’s much better than that. Montgomery has 2.3 WAR this season which is tied for 11th among qualifying MLB starters and a tick below Gerrit Cole (2.4).
4. Monty currently has more WAR than Justin Bieber, Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito, Luis Castillo, Shohei Ohtani (pitching only), Corbin Burnes, Brandon Webb, Merrill Kelly, Shane McClanahan, Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, Chris Bassitt, Sandy Alcantara, Jose Berrios, Christian Javier, Bryce Elder, Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Josiah Gray and Freddy Peralta … among others.
5. The Cardinals also received a quality start from Jack Flaherty in Saturday’s victory over the Yankees. St. Louis has 23 quality starts this season, ranking 13th among the 15 NL teams. Montgomery (10), Miles Mikolas (6) and Flaherty (5) have combined for 21 of the team’s 23 quality starts. The Redbirds are 16-7 this season when benefiting from a quality start.
6. Catching: during Montgomery’s excellent seven-start sequence that produced a 1.66 ERA, Montgomery was caught five times by Andrew Knizner and twice by Wilson Contreras. That said, Montgomery has a 2.92 this season in seven games with Contreras as his catcher – and a 3.53 ERA when Knizner catches him.
7. This season Cardinals pitchers have a 5.01 ERA when working with Contreras and a 3.82 ERA with Knizner behind the plate. When Contreras starts at catcher the Cards are 19-33. When Knizner starts behind the plate the team is 16-15.
8. Matthew Liberatore is pitching terribly. It’s really bad. Since pitching five shutout innings for a win over Milwaukee in his first start of the season, Liberatore has a 6.75 ERA in 26 and ⅔ innings with a poor 12.3% strikeout. Opposing managers load their lineup with right-handed hitters when going against Liberatore – and the results are ugly. Liberatore has faced 100 right-handed hitters since May 21 and they’ve blasted him for a .353 average, .420 OBP and .541 slug. And during this time Liberatore has walked as many RH hitters (11%) as he’s struck out (11%).
9. In Saturday night’s lousy start in the loss to the Yankees, Liberatore decided to ease up on his fastball velocity early on and the Yankees pounded him for three earned runs and a .556 average. (Hat tip, Derrick Goold.) Manager Oli Marmol gave Libby orders to throw harder, which he did, and the results were better after that. What the heck is going on with this guy? By now Liberatore should be pitching better – instead he’s never been worse.
9a. In a related note, Tampa Bay outfielder Randy Arozarena was named to the American League All-Star team and is performing 49% above league average offensively per OPS+. Nice trade by the St. Louis front office. Arozarena will be joined in the AL outfield delegation by Adolis Garcia, another former Cardinal.
10. Brendan Donovan went 3 for 4 in Sunday’s 5-1 win including a two-run homer that knocked the Yankees out. On May 20 Donovan was hitting only .241 with a .315 OBP and .331 slug. Since then he’s hitting .322 with a .431 OBP and .504 slug, six homers, 17 walks and 15 RBI.
11. Donovan is definitely hitting for more power this season. As a rookie last season he had a .379 slugging percentage and five home runs; this year he’s slugging .413 (and rising) with nine homers. To put it another way: Donovan homered every 78 at-bats last season; this year he’s gone deep every 28 at-bats. That’s a huge increase in his HR rate.
12. The Cardinals need more offense from Lars Nootbar. He batted .200 with a .273 onbase percentage during the six-game homestand. For the season Nootbaar is slugging only .380, a big decrease from his .448 slug in 2022. Per OPS+, Nootbaar is only four percent above league average offensively this season; in 2022 he was 23% above average.
13. Yankees manager Aaron Boone on Montgomery, the former Yankee: “That’s Monty at his best,” Boone told reporters after Montgomery’s terrific start. “Obviously we gotta find a way to do a little more. But just watching him, I thought he was excellent. He’s got that tough angle and when he’s got his sinker, curve, change going, I thought he executed a lot today and made it tough on us.”
14. The Cardinals defense has shown signs of improvement. During a recent stretch they’ve moved from the No. 28 ranking in the majors to No. 23 in defensive runs saved. The primary reasons for the cleaner defense include some better play by third baseman Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman’s performance in center field, good outfield defense from Nootbaar and Donovan, and an increase in defensive runs saved by shortstop Paul DeJong. And first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is having a stellar season defensively.
15. When a team’s options for Wednesday’s available start at Miami are Dakota Hudson, Steven Matz and Liberatore … well, no wonder why the Cardinals are 27th overall in winning percentage. The Cards enter the new week with a 4.83 starting-pitcher ERA that ranks 25th overall and 13th in the NL.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Sports Info Solutions, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus.
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.