THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Great win by the Cardinals on Monday night. I don’t care that they got it done against a 24-35 Pirates team that entered the series with a six-game losing streak.

You’re not supposed to come up with a 7-5 victory after trailing 5-0 after 5 and ½ innings. When Michael Chavis gave the Pirates a 5-0 lead on a three-run homer in the fifth, the Cardinals had a Win Expectancy of 6 percent. Before the Cards began batting in the bottom of the sixth, their Win Expectancy was zero percent. ZERO!

The odds of a St. Louis comeback?

Excessively high.

Well, that changed in a hurry.

A two-run double by Brendan Donovan in the sixth. Later in the sixth, a game-tying three-run homer from Dylan Carlson. A solo home run by Paul Goldschmidt in the seventh for a 6-5 STL lead. And a tack-on run in the eighth.

The Cardinal bat attack wouldn’t have mattered without relievers T.J. McFarland, Giovanny Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera and Ryan Helsley teaming up to blank the Pirates over the final four innings.

Well done, gentlemen.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Daily Accounting: Milwaukee was off Monday, so with the win the Cardinals lead the Brewers by one game in the NL Central … The Cardinals are 6-1 vs. the Pirates this season and have a 13-5 record against NL Central dwellers the Reds, Cubs and Pirates …the Cards are 3-1 on the current seven-game homestand and have won six of their last seven and eight of their last 10 at Busch Stadium … they’re now 19-12 overall at home this season … by rallying to defeat the Pirates, the Cardinals improved to 21-11 this season against teams with a losing record. STL’s .656 winning percentage against teams under .500 is better than the overall .586 MLB winning percentage against losing teams.

About Zack Thompson: In his first major-league start, the bottom line wasn’t impressive: 5 IP, five earned runs. But this rookie lefthander certainly made a positive impression in his first four innings, allowing three hits and a run. At that point, Thompson had given up only one run in his first eight big-league innings. But on a sweltering night at the ballpark, Thompson pushed through a difficult fifth inning and the Pirates got to him for four hits and four runs.

Thompson was running out of gas, but manager Oli Marmol stayed with him. But as Chavis came to the plate, Thompson had allowed only one run in the inning. He almost escaped major damage. But the ensuing three-run homer imploded all of Thompson’s good work.

That’s baseball. But the Cardinals are coping with serious middle-innings bullpen issues, and had to keep Tuesday’s split doubleheader in mind. That’s one of the main reasons why Marmol declined to intervene during the inning. Oli had faith in the rookie, but the patience led to trouble.

Thompson threw a hanging changeup on a 1-1 count, and Chavis didn’t miss. But here’s the thing: Thompson never seemed frazzled. He was poised and mature and looked like a veteran out there. Grinding through the fifth in an effort to lessen the load on the bullpen, Thompson made a bad pitch and paid a price.

If you are upset by this, I understand. But the dissatisfaction, if any, should be directed at Marmol. Thompson did what he was asked to do – get the Cardinals through five innings. He got after it. Didn’t nibble. Wasn’t afraid to throw strikes. And even after yielding the three-run homer, Thompson wasn’t flustered. He calmly got the final two outs of the inning, in order.

“We need Thompson to get as many outs as possible,” Marmol said after the game. “That was the thought behind it. He didn’t cave. He didn’t get sped up. He attacked the zone and got beat.”

On A Side Note: I understand Marmol’s logic in trying to get more outs from his starting pitchers, and can appreciate the difficult challenge of having to navigate through so many innings with a bullpen that has too many mediocre parts. As I’ve written a couple of times recently, he has the long run in mind, and that’s the right way to go about this. So until Marmil can get a close game, a tie game or a lead into the late innings, he’s taking a risk on two fronts: (1) Stay with a starter for too long to get one more inning and use one fewer shaky reliever. Or (2) pull the starter and go with a reliever that doesn’t inspire confidence. Either way, the manager is doing a fire dance and can get burned.

The situation should improve when Jack Flaherty returns to the rotation. That will give Marmol the flexibility to move Andre Pallante or Thompson to the bullpen to fill a valuable role as a bridge reliever. If Jordan Hicks recovers from a forearm strain – I’m not sure of the projected timetable – he’ll add an imposing arm to the bullpen. If the problem persists, and the patches fray, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and staff will have to pursue relief help from the outside. One other possibility: improvement within.

Which leads me to …

T.J. McFarland: The beleaguered lefty was especially valuable in Monday’s relief gig, entering the competition in the top of the sixth and getting four outs without issuing a walk, or giving up a hit. With one out in the seventh, Marmol summoned Gallegos to take over for McFarland. Gallegos pitched an inning and then handed the baton to Cabrera, who secured the final two outs in the eighth. And then it was closing time, and a 1-2-3 inning by Helsley in the ninth. McFarland, on this night, was an effective bridge reliever. And oh how the Cardinals needed that.

Marmol defended McFarland after the embarrassing 11-3 loss at Tampa Bay last week. (The “I thought there were two outs” game.) Marmol focused on McFarland’s increasing volume of ground balls.

McFarland got only one ground ball in his 1 and ⅓ innings against the Pirates. He didn’t get a ground ball in his inning of work against the Reds on Sunday.

But for whatever it’s worth: since the awful appearance at Tampa Bay, McFarland has turned in two consecutive clean appearances covering 2 and ⅓ innings. McFarland has faced seven batters in his last two games without giving up a walk and ceding just one single. Is McFarland earning trust? Maybe.

Paul Goldschmidt Continues To Turn Back The Clock: What a great player. After resting Sunday, Goldy returned Monday and zapped the Pirates with energy. He had three hits and a walk. He scored two runs. He clubbed the game-winning homer. He was solid-gold Goldy.

Goldschmidt’s OPS+ for the season is up to 192 – which means he’s 92 percent above league average offensively. That may be difficult to sustain over the final 100 games, but Goldschmidt has a chance of posting his best OPS+ in a season. He generated his career-best OPS+, 168, in 2015 at age 27. He’s 34 now, and hitting better than ever. Remarkable stuff.

Goldschmidt Fun Facts:

He goes into Tuesday’s doubleheader with the best batting average (.362), onbase percentage (.419) and OPS (1.017) in the National League and his .598 slugging percentage is second to Bryce Harper’s .631. He’s also second in the NL with 48 RBI and is tied for fourth in doubles.

With runners in scoring position (minimum 40 plate appearances) Goldschmidt leads the majors with a .463 batting average and 1.460 OPS and is second with a .558 OBP and .902 slug.

Goldschmidt’s tie-breaking homer Monday was his 13th home run of the season. Last year he cranked 31 homers but many of those shots came later in the season. Last season Goldy didn’t hit his 13th homer until his 88th game, and did it on his 335th at-bat. This season Goldschmidt hit No. 13 in his 59th game and 223rd at-bat.

“Scoops” baron Dan McLaughlin mentioned this recently on Bally Sports Midwest, so I’ll follow up with a note on Goldy’s fantastic hitting performance on two-strike counts. His .271 batting average on such counts is second in the NL and fifth overall. But he leads the majors in these two-strike categories: Slugging percentage (.542), onbase percentage (.379), OPS (.921), and RBI (24.) His eight two-strike homers are third overall and first in the NL.

Dylan Carlson, Picking Up Where He Left Off: Carlson was reaching peak form in May before straining a hamstring on May 21. Since returning from the IL for Friday’s game against the Reds, Carlson is 4 for 11 with a double, homer, walk, two runs and three RBI. He was 2 for 4 against the Pirates. After hitting the humongous home run to tie the game in the sixth, Carlson followed with a leadoff double in the eighth and scored his team’s seventh run.

In his last 23 games and 82 plate appearances, Carlson is batting .338 with a .378 onbase percentage and .546 slug. That’s a robust .924 OPS. And Carlson has seven doubles, three homers, 10 RBI and 10 runs in the 23 games. His heat-wave hitting in May was interrupted by a strained hamstring, but Carlson’s bat didn’t cool off during his time on the IL.

Tyler O’Neill And Carlson, Together Again: This is a pretty big deal for the Cardinals to have Carlson and O’Neill back in the lineup again. O’Neill returned June 7 after resting his sore right shoulder on the IL, and Carlson was back in action three days later.

Combining their stats since both departed the IL, O’Neill and Carlson are 14 for 39 (.359) with a .381 onbase percentage and .615 slug. These two outfielders have contributed two homers, two doubles, six runs and nine RBI in 52 combined plate appearances since returning. (Plus O’Neill has stolen two bases.) On top of that, O’Neill and Carlson are a combined 5 for 16 (.312) with runners in scoring position. And their hits with RISP have plated eight runs for the Cardinals.

When both of these guys are rolling, the impact is substantial.

Brendan Donovan, Rookie Of The Year? Granted, it’s a little too soon to have a serious discussion on this. But as we survey the rookie landscape in the National League, Donovan jumps out in a number of ways. So yeah, he could make a run at this.

Among NL rookies that have at least 135 plate appearances this season Donovan leads with 1.4 WAR. (The Baseball Reference version.) He also leads in batting average (.310), onbase percentage (.424), OPS (.855) and OPS+ (150.) He’s second in hits and doubles, third in RBI, and fourth in runs scored.

In a related note, Donovan’s .424 OBP is No. 1 in the NL among hitters that have at least 135 plate appearances. His 14.4 percent walk rate is fifth-highest in the NL.

Four other things we love about Donovan:

1) His positional versatility, of course. Has played first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field. He’s also been used as a DH.

2) Donovan bats from the left side. But he’s batting .300 with a .791 OPS vs. lefty pitchers. And is hitting .313 with a .869 OPS against righthanders.

3) He hits to all fields. He has 14 hits when he hits to the opposite field, 15 hits when he hits the ball to the center part of the field, and seven hits when he pulls the pitch to right field. This is unusual (and good!) in today’s style of baseball.

4) Dude takes great at-bats. Here’s a breakdown:

– He’s had only 11 one-pitch-and-done plate appearances.

– He’s had 49 short plate appearances, defined as 1 to 3 pitches.

– He’s had 67 long plate appearances, defined as 4 pitches or more.

– He’s had 19 plate appearances that have lasted 7+ pitches.

Donovan excels in the longer at-bats. It’s one thing to have lengthy at-bats, but what do you get out of them?

Donovan is batting only .182 on one-and-done plate appearances.

On his short plate appearances, Donovan has a .306 average and .714 OPS.

On his long plate appearances, Donovan is hitting .313 with a .937 OPS.

On those plate appearances of 7+ pitches, he’s hitting .421 with a 1.160 OPS.

The longer the plate appearance, the better he is.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and 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 and Brooks Baseball Net 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.