THE REDBIRD REVIEW

No question about it, the events of a miserable weekend in Cincinnati formed the worst weekend of the season for the Cardinals.

Let’s review:

1) The timing couldn’t have been worse. The Cards came out of the All-Star break seeking to kick-start their enigmatic, underachieving season but dropped two out of three games to the Reds to lose a series to the National League’s second-worst team. True to their puzzling ways, the Cardinals have lost three of their last four games to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. The uninspired performance left the Cardinals with a 8-11 record in July; that’s the worst record among the five NL Central teams this month. STL’s winning percentage (.421) ranks 12th in the National League and 23rd overall in July.

2) The Cardinals lost starting pitcher Steven Matz to a knee injury on a fluke play, with the lefty slipping while chasing a tapper groundball down the first-base line. Out with a sore shoulder since lasting four pitches in a May 22 start at Pittsburgh, Matz made his comeback and lasted only 5.1 innings and 90 pitches before going down again. The ligament damage will keep Matz out of circulation for a considerable period of time. It’s another nasty blow to the Cardinals, who were desperate for a successful Matz return.

Jul 23, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

3) The injuries are adding up. Center fielder Harrison Bader (foot) had a setback in his injury-rehab assignment and went off to seek a second opinion on his plantar fasciitis – and as I write this there’s no timetable for a return. Young slugger Juan Yepez was making progress in recovering from a strained forearm … until he wasn’t. Yepez will miss more time.

4) And of course, there was the surprising and unwelcome news about Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The team’s two most valuable players refused to be vaccinated and – per Covid 19 protocol – were prohibited from entering Canada. The All-Stars will be missing during the two-game visit to Toronto that begins Tuesday night. After STL’s two most important players left a team that’s 14-19 in the last 33 games, a hollowed-out St. Louis lineup will now attempt to stand up to a Toronto cadre that’s won six straight games and eight of the last nine – outscoring opponents 71-23 during the current 8-1 frenzy.

Be nice to the visitors, Blue Jays!

5) I’d be stunned if any teammates criticized Goldschmidt and Arenado through the media, so we’ll never know how the other Cardinals truly feel about this. (Pardon me if I decline to pay attention to the inevitable and predictable cotton-candy spin.) Or maybe we’ll get an idea just by watching the active Cardinals play. Those who got vaccinated for themselves and their team should be fired up by the opportunity to make a statement in this two-gamer in Ontario.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

At Least There’s Some Positive News: Catcher Yadier Molina is apparently nearing his return from knee inflammation, with Aug. 2 set as the planned Welcome Back Yadi Day at Busch Stadium. He’s missed 40 days and counting. Molina, 40, is limited offensively but remains a plus defensively and with his skill as a pitch caller. After an extended stay in Puerto Rico – a disappointing development – Molina’s reappearance and presence in St. Louis should boost the team’s overall morale after a cycle of mediocrity.

The Other Good News: Colorado 2, Milwaukee 0 on Monday night. After losing three straight to the Brewers, the Rockies averted a four-game sweep at American Family Field. On their day off, the Cardinals (51-46) picked up a half-game on first-place Milwaukee (54-44) and now trail the Brewers by two games.

More Thoughts On Matz: I’m not trying to cheap-shot the guy after Saturday’s terrible setback. Matz wants to pitch. He doesn’t want to live on the IL. He wants to make good on the Cardinals’ four-year, $44 million investment. That said, we shouldn’t be shocked by what’s happened this season. Matz has missed 337 in-season days because of injuries during his career. That includes 56 days – already – in his first season with St. Louis.

Matz looked good Saturday night in Cincinnati, striking out 32 percent of batters faced. His strong work over 5.1 innings was paramount in the Cards’ only victory in the series. Matz had a chance to take his season in an upbeat direction after returning and resetting – only to endure another depressing episode. He’s made only 10 starts, pitched only 42.2 innings, and has a 5.70 ERA in his debut campaign with the Cardinals.

Rotation Concerns Intensify: The Cardinals had their top two starters ready to go against the Reds; Adam Wainwright on Friday. Miles Mikolas on Sunday. The results weren’t what the Cardinals wanted or needed.

Wainwright gave up seven earned runs, and two homers, in 5.1 innings. Mikolas – who had a chance to get the Cardinals out of Cincinnati with a series win – didn’t get it done during an afternoon of bad batted-ball luck, so-so pitching, and a cheerless outcome. Waino, Matz and Mikolas combined for a series ERA of 8.62, but at least Matz delivered an encouraging outing before mangling the wiring in his left knee.

The real problem? Wainwright and Mikolas combined for only 11.1 innings and were beaten for 13 earned runs, 12 hits, five walks, three homers and a double and a 11.32 ERA.

Matz is gone.

Rotation spots are open.

The front office is still marinating.

Same as it ever was.

Waino’s Road Woes: The future Cardinals Hall of Famer has a 4.81 ERA in 10 road starts this season, and that includes a 7.77 ERA over his last four road starts.

In 58 road starts since the beginning of 2017, Wainwright’s ERA is 5.17 away from Busch Stadium. But he had a bum elbow in 2017, so the fair thing to do is look at his road ERA since the start of the 2018 season. And over that time he’s had a 4.66 ERA in 45 road starts compared to his 2.77 ERA in 55 home starts. Since the start of the 2019 season his ERA is 4.63 in 32 road starts and 2.75 in 41 home starts.

In the recent past the Cardinals have arranged Wainwright’s schedule to have him start more home games and fewer road games. That’s changed this season under first-year manager Oli Marmol; Wainwright has made more starts on the road (10) than at home (9.) And he’s scheduled to make road start No. 11 on Wednesday in Toronto. Given Wainwright’s gap in home-road splits, this is a strange time to be starting him so often on the road. Then again, Marmol doesn’t have many options, so I can’t blame him. The front office has put the manager and the team in an abysmal situation.

What’s The Rotation Going Forward? Good question. We’ll know more as the week goes on. But the two off days this week are helpful. There’s Wainwright and Mikolas in the top two slots in the rotation. Dakota Hudson will likely start during the weekend series at Washington – if his neck pain has gone away. Perhaps rookie Andre Pallante will be freshened up after the All-Star break, but he closed the first half with a 8.16 ERA in three starts in which he pitched only 14.1 innings. It could be time to take another look at Zack Thompson as a starter, but he isn’t stretched out. There’s always Matthew Liberatore, but the coaches haven’t done much to give him a better chance to handle RH batters.

What the Cardinals need most of all is a rotation upgrade that arrives through a trade. Interesting answer from Oli Marmol on Sunday when asked who his No. 5 starter is. “He isn’t here yet,” the manager said.

More Applause For The Bullpen: The St. Louis relievers continue to provide excellent work — and their performance is even more impressive considering the shortage of innings from a decrepit starting rotation. For the season the STL bullpen ranks 3rd in the NL and 9th overall with a 3.49 ERA. In July, the Cardinals’ 2.62 bullpen ERA ranks 2nd in the NL and 3rd overall.

In the National League only Atlanta (3.15) and the LA Dodgers (3.30) have a better bullpen ERA than the Cardinals this season. But Cardinal relievers lead the NL in Win Probability Added (WPA) so far in 2022.

The Offense, A Mixed Bag At Cincinnati: It was a disappointing showing by the offense, and the Cardinals didn’t have to face Reds ace Luis Castillo?

– Goldschmidt and Arenado had 11 hits in 27 at-bats, hitting .407 against the Reds, and Albert Pujols went 3 for 6. The other hitters on the team had 12 hits in 74 at-bats for a .162 average.

– Goldschmidt (7), Tyler O’Neill (5) and Tommy Edman (2) combined for 14 RBIs, but the other Cardinals failed to drive in a run in 70 combined at-bats over three games.

– O’Neill, Goldschmidt and Edman collectively went 5 for 9 with runners in scoring position; the other Cardinals went 0-15 with RISP.

– Nolan Gorman went 0 for 9 in the series with five strikeouts. In his last 10 games, going back to July 9, the rookie is 3 for 33 (.091) with a .167 OBP, .273 slug and .439 OPS. And he’s struck out 15 times in 33 plate appearances (45.4%) over that time.

– Albert Pujols remains in a groove; in his last 12 games Pujols is 12 for 33 with four walks, three doubles and two homers. In those 12 games he’s batted .364 with a .405 OBP and .636 slug for a 1.042 OPS. Tired from the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game and festivities. At age 42, Pujols is having one of the best summers of his life.

– Brendan Donovan was 1 for 12 against the Reds but did have three walks. In 61 plate appearances in July, Donovan is batting .184 without an extra base hit, and his OPS is .512. He has done an OK (not great) job of getting on base with a .328 onbase percentage this month.

– Tyler O’Neill had a good series at Cincinnati with a homer and five RBIs. The Cardinals went 2-0 against the Reds before the All-Star break. So in his last five games, all against Cincinnati pitching, O’Neill batted .278 with a .435 onbase percentage and .444 slug.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated 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 by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac unless otherwise noted.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.