We are told that the Cardinals are tired, very tired. When the broken-wing Redbirds try to deny Kansas City a victory tonight at Busch Stadium, it will be the 19th game in 19 days for the weary and possibly disoriented St. Louis baseball club.
You know we’ve reached this crisis stage when the Royals come to town and threaten to pitch a perfect game until the Cardinals ended their justifiable nap by singling twice to open the bottom of the eighth. The home team was felled in a 7-0 wipeout by KC, a team with the second-worst record in big-league ball.
I’ve put in a call to Amnesty International, explained the problem via voicemail, but haven’t received a response.
After tonight’s exhausting competition, the Cardinals will have two consecutive days off before resuming play at Pittsburgh for the weekend. To account for their extreme fatigue, the Cardinals should pack themselves in ice, drink plenty of cold water, and get hooked up to an IV to regain the weight they’ve lost … and perhaps put the golf clubs away. Playing 18 holes in these hard times would be a bad look for the fellers with all of this wilting going on.
After the Cardinals won 11 of 14 games, they ended their molten-lava streak by losing five of their last eight to three teams that are collectively 31 games under .500 that season. All of that winning and happiness must have been draining for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals face a more difficult climb now. At 24-32 they’ve slipped back into last place in the NL Central. With a .429 winning percentage, the Birds rank 14th in the 15-team NL.
The offense is stagnant. Except for Miles Mikolas, the starting pitching is the same as ever (horrible), and the defense has loosened to the point of tumbling to 19th in in the majors with a minus 7 defensive runs saved through Monday.
I wish I had some Happy Talk to cheer up the BFIB – but it wouldn’t work anyway. They’re pretty snarly these days, and who can blame ‘em? But Tuesday is the right time for the Cardinals have a primal-scream breakout on offense, draft on the crafty pitching of Miles Mikolas, and friskily head into their two-day siesta.
Going into this evening’s match against the Royals, the Cardinals are 2-5 this season in games against the putrid AL this season … Monday’s loss left the Redbirds with an 11-16 home record. The only teams that have been less successful than the Cards at home so far this season are Washington (11-17), Kansas City (8-21) and Oakland (6-23.)
STATE OF THE OFFENSE
The Cardinals have scored an average of only 3.25 runs in their last eight games, but it’s really worse than that. In the last six games this offense has squeaked for only 13 runs – an average of 2.16 per contest – while batting .176. The Cardinals have dozed with runners in scoring position, going 3 for 34 (.088) over the last six.
It’s easy to identify the problem: the Cardinals have too many guys mucked in slumps. Here’s what I’m talking about: During the 3-5 stretch Willson Contreras, Nolan Arenado, Nolan Gorman, Paul DeJong and Tommy Edman are a combined 16 for 129 for a batting average of .124 with a strikeout rate of 27 percent. The five hitters have only one home run and 11 RBI in 145 plate appearances during this time – and have collectively hit .138 with runners in scoring position.
When your team has Arenado, Gorman, Contreras, Edman and DeJong going into a deep-freeze condition at the same time, you won’t be piling up runs.
Look, this team has the makings of a very good offense. Even after the 10-24 start and the current 3-5 downturn, this is where the St. Louis attack ranks among NL teams through Monday:
– Tied for 2nd in the NL in OPS+
– Third in home runs.
– Fourth in runs per game (4.84), OPS (.757), onbase percentage and slugging percentage.
The Cards offense is down for now but should get healthy again soon.
STATE OF THE STARTING PITCHING
Doing the loop-the-loop.
It was Adam Wainwright’s turn Monday, and his fifth start of the season looked similar to his first four starts. In Waino’s five innings of work the Royals pelted him for nine hits, worked him for a couple of walks, and scored three runs. Wainwright needed 105 pitches to notch 15 outs, but came up with his usual feats of legerdemain to make escapes to avoid heavier damage. And he struck out a season-high six batters – an encouraging sign, yes.
Wainwright’s ERA on the season is 6.15. Going back to late last season, he’s been rough up for a 7.14 ERA in his last 11 starts. He has a non-threatening 5.4 percent swing-miss rate, and a career-worst 12.9% strikeout rate, a combination that makes it easier for hitters to make contact and hit the ball hard. Opposing hitters are barreling balls against him at a rate (13%) that’s twice as high as last season. And hitters have connected against Wainwright sweet-spot contact at an alarming rate of 42 percent. All of these factors have led to an average of 12.6 hits per nine innings against him, the third-worst rate among MLB starters.
I don’t know what else to say.
We hear and read a load of stuff about the tough breaks, the little bloopers, the ground balls that get through, the catches that aren’t made, and those mean umpires not calling strikes on pitches out of the strike zone.
It’s never about the diminished velocity, or that Wainwright is down to one “plus” quality pitch, the curveball. (That’s according to Statcast.) It’s never about the career-low rates on strikeout percentage, and swing-miss percentage.
It’s never about what opponents are doing to Wainwright this season: batting .325 with a .366 OBP, .553 slug, and .918 OPS. It’s never about what hitters are doing to his sinker, the pitch that he’s used the most this season: .450 batting average, .825 slugging percentage, and a ghastly 47 percent hard-hit rate.
St. Louis starting pitching ranks 21st in the majors in WAR (2.7), 23rd in ERA (4.94), 26th in strikeout rate (18.8%), 27th in quality-start percentage (21%) and 28th in Win Probability Added (minus 3.43.) The only two teams in the majors that are worse in Win Probability Added by starters are Kansas City and Oakland.
UPDATED OUTFIELDER RANKINGS
I haven’t done these in a while, and things are stirring.
Offensively, the Cardinals outfield is pretty mediocre in May, posting a .685 OPS. They’re seven percent below league average offensively per wRC+, and have only seven homers (25th in MLB) and 38 RBI this month. And, perhaps worst of all, the St. Louis outfielder slugging percentage (.363) ranks 28th among the 30 outfield delegations in May.
1. Lars Nootbaar: He has a .380 onbase percentage, .390 slug, and a 114 OPS+. With this patchwork outfield, that makes you Tris Bleeping Speaker. Hopefully Nootbaar’s back spasms will ease up. But you ain’t a Cardinal outfielder unless you’re always dealing with an injury.
2. Jordan Walker: What? He’s at Triple A Memphis. I didn’t forget. But he’s making real progress to reduce his shockingly high ground-ball rate and his inexperienced-hitter habit of chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone. Walker has looked much better over his past 13 games, hitting .321 with a .419 OBP and .528 slug. He’s walking more and striking out less. He’s hitting the ball even harder. He’s pounded five doubles, two homers and delivered 11 runs batted in since May 14. Defense? Not so good, and we can’t just ignore that. Interesting development: Walker told reporters that he’s gone back to his old swing — because the changes recommended by the Cardinals weren’t working,
Walker may not be on the big-league roster – that should happen sooner than later – but he’s very talented and will develop into a great Cardinal. With the sorry state of the STL outfield Walker rates a top-three spot on this list. Even though Walker hasn’t played a game for the Cardinals since April 23, his 97 OPS+ still ranks fourth among St. Louis outfielders behind Nootbaar, Mercado and Yepez. We’ll have to see how the latest twist — Walker discarding the Cardinals’ advice — plays into their decision.
3. Alec Burleson: Yeah, every Cardinal fan tenses up when a fly ball or hooking line drive is hit in Burly’s direction. But he’s been heating up as a hitter, batting .282 with a .341 OBP and .385 slug in his last 10 games. And his slug is .402 in his last seven games. Getting better. Doesn’t strike out much. He hasn’t been hitting the ball as hard as he did earlier, and he’ll have to pull his hard-hit rate back up. But this is one of manager Oli Marmol’s favorites, and it’s important to remember that.
4. Dylan Carlson: He’s on the IL, and I stopped paying attention to injury–return estimates a long time ago because the organization is seldom on target. If Carlson gets healthy and stays that way, he’ll make his way up this list. While he’s a solid but overrated center fielder – still a plus – I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be excited by his offense. Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), Carlson is 17 percent below league average offensively overall. And the switch-hitter is 12 percent below average against RH pitching.
5. Oscar Mercado: Statistically he’s given the Cardinals a lift. It’s only been 28 plate appearances, which is why I don’t have him higher on this countdown. But he’s batted .333 with a .357 OBP and .444 slug. Mercado is in a 0-for-8 mini slump, but that’s no big deal. He’s helped this team. Will there be a space for him on the 26-man roster going forward? To be determined. He can be an asset coming off the bench, but the front office may have other plans in mind.
6. Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan. Yeah, I know it’s a tie. But so what? There aren’t many true outfielders on this team, and in that sense these two versatile talents have supplied a valuable service for a team that’s short on quality outfielders. Edman’s offensive stats while playing the outfield are abysmal – but at least he’s available. Donovan has a .351 onbase percentage as an outfielder, and I don’t really care that his overall-hitting numbers are slightly below league average. That’s OK because of his versatility, and he’ll be above average before too long.
7. Juan Yepez: He hasn’t been given much of a chance, having logged only 40 plate appearances this season. All things considered he’s done fine, posting a .300 OBP and a .432 slug. He can provide league-average offense – or close to it. But it is nerve-wracking to watch his attempts to play defense.
8. Tyler O’Neill: He doesn’t exist.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online 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.