THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals have MLB’s second-best record (25-11) since the All-Star break and had won seven of eight series in August before heading into Cincinnati.

But even the best teams have clunkers, and the Cardinals went into the full zombie mode in Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the Reds. At least the Cardinals succumbed quickly in a game that required only 2 hours and 33 minutes to play.

Presumably the Redbirds will muster more energy and effort in the attempt to win the series on Wednesday night. If the Cardinals wobble and fall again, the result will be their second consecutive series loss at Great American Ballpark. They resumed play after the All-Star break by dropping two of three at Cincinnati … and it could happen again.

Three things: (1) It’s been a terrific August, with the Cardinals winning 21 of 28 games and taking control of first place in the NL Central. (2) This team is stronger now than it’s been all season. (3) On the rare occasion when the Cardinals yawn and doze off, the second-place Brewers fail to take advantage.

The Cardinals have lost four games since Aug. 23, posting a blah 5-4 record over that time. But their leveling off has not mattered in the standings. You’ll be pleased to know that the Cards have actually increased their lead over the Brewers over the past eight days.

When the Cardinals split a doubleheader at Wrigley Field on Aug. 23, they picked up a half-game because the Brewers lost to the Dodgers that day. The St. Louis lead went from 5 games to 5 and ½ games. They gained another half game on Aug. 24 by winning at Chicago on a scheduled day off for the Brewers.

On Aug 26, the Cardinals got smacked around in a 11-4 loss to Atlanta. No worries; the Brewers lost to the Cubs on that same Friday night. And there was no penalty for the Cards’ no-show on Tuesday because the Brewers yakked up a late lead and lost 4-2 to the Pirates.

So even when the Cardinals have a bad day, the Brewers somehow manage to have a worse day. In the final week-plus of August, the Cardinals have continued to win even when they lose – because the Brewers have failed to cut into the St. Louis lead, and another day of baseball is scratched off the schedule.

Such is life in the NL Central.

The Cardinals have played excellent baseball since the All-Star break, and I don’t take that for granted. They’ve rightfully earned praise, and they’re delivering plenty of entertainment value. And there have been so many baseball heroes and happy stories: the inspiring final campaign of Albert Pujols; Paul Goldschmidt’s bid for a Triple Crown and the National League MVP award; the elite defense and powerful offense from Nolan Arenado; the trade infusion that solidified the starting rotation … plus Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Tyler O’Neill, Ryan Helsley … on and on.

That said, the Cardinals continue to receive unexpected help from the Brewers. Instead of putting pressure on the Cardinals, the Brewers are wilting under pressure themselves.

This month the Brewers are 5-9 against the Pirates, Cubs and Reds.

Wait; it’s even uglier than that; if we rewind the schedule, the Brewers have lost 15 of their last 24 games played against the Pirates, Cubs and Reds — three teams that have won 155 of 387 games for a combined .400 winning percentage this season.

The Cardinals have a six-game lead over the Brewers for multiple reasons, but I keep going back to this: St. Louis has a .653 winning percentage in games against losing teams this season – more than 100 percentage points higher than Milwaukee’s .542 winning percentage vs. losing opponents.

At the beginning of August, FanGraphs gave the Brewers a 80.7 percent chance to win the division. And now, with one more game to go this month, Milwaukee’s first-place probability is down to 8.6 percent.

There are three reasons for STL’s dramatic rise to the top of the division in August:

1. The Cardinal offense became a lot deeper and more dangerous. This month the Cards rank second in the majors in runs per game, and lead MLB in batting average, onbase percentage, home runs, slugging, and OPS.

2. Milwaukee’s pitching has deteriorated. In August their 4.14 starting-pitching ERA ranks 19th, and the bullpen’s 3.94 ERA is 17th. The Brewers were supposed to have a dominant rotation in 2022, but that hasn’t been the case. Blame it on injuries, blame it on unexpected ineffectiveness. But since the beginning of June, the Brewers have a starting-pitching ERA of 4.25 that ranks 19th in the majors. And even with all of their rotation issues in June and July, the Cardinals rank 14th in MLB since June 1st with a starter ERA of 3.99.

3. Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak boosted the starting rotation and lifted the morale of his team by acquiring starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery. Brewers president of baseball ops David Stearns demoralized his team by trading closer Josh Hader to the Padres. Hader has been absolutely hideous for the Padres so far, getting battered for a 23.14 ERA in his seven appearances – which prompted manager Bob Melvin to remove him from the closer role. And never mind that Hader had a 12.54 ERA in his final month as a Brewer. He’s lost his mojo … and so did the Brewers, who have pouted since their pal became a Padre.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Dakota Hudson Being Dakota Hudson: Tuesday in Cincinnati, he could not follow up on last week’s strong start at Wrigley Field. His performance against the Reds was more in line with what we expect to see from the enigmatic right-hander. Hudson lasted just 4 and ⅔ innings and was yanked after giving up nine hits and five earned runs. The low point was Hudson serving up a two-run homer to catcher Austin Romine. Let’s just say that Romine doesn’t remind anyone of Johnny Bench. Romine has bounced around in his career. He has played for three teams this season, including the Cardinals. He has a career slugging percentage of .355. Well, Dak gave him a Johnny Bench moment.

Hudson has a 5.88 ERA in his last 13 starts. He has pitched fewer than five innings in four of his last six starts. In July and August, the Cardinals 3-6 in Hudson’s nine starts. And they’re 12-18 in his last 20 starts.

Dak is a downer. His body language, his general demeanor, his tortoise-like pace in too many starts that puts me to sleep, other fans to sleep, and probably his teammates to sleep.

But manager Oli Marmol keeps running him out there.

Tommy Edman: He gave the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead with a towering home run that traveled very far … and that was it for the Cardinals’ offense. A tip of the cap to Edman. In his last eight games he’s homered three times, added three doubles and a triple, and is hitting .313 with a .750 slug and 1.093 OPS. Edman has seven RBI and seven runs scored during his heat-up from his cold streak.

Shocker! Jake Woodford Pitches Great! Actually, no, there is nothing shocking or even surprising about that. While the Cardinals continue to honor some sort of bizarre blood oath to give Dak Hudson the ball for starts no matter how bad he is, the largely overlooked Woodford continues to impress and outpitch Hudson.

After working an inning Monday night, Woodford returned to the mound Tuesday to relieve Hudson and turned in 3 and ⅓ innings of scoreless relief. In his two appearances during the series, Woodford has given up no runs, three hits and no walks. And he used his improved slider to dig the Reds with a 10 percent swing-miss rate.

Woodford has a 2.16 ERA in 16 games this season, allowing only one homer and seven total extra-base hits to his 130 batters faced. Since the start of last September, Woodford has a 2.32 ERA in 62 innings. Opponents have batted .227 with a .281 onbase percentage and .291 slug over that time. Woodford has been outstanding … and strangely, irresponsibly ignored for the most part.

I thought it was a plus – and beneficial to the team – to have a pitcher who gets so many outs and avoids serious damage. Woodford does that. And I don’t think Hudson is very good … but what the hell do I know?

Marmol and pitch coach Maddux asked Woodford to cultivate a better slider, and Woodman got it done. Good for him. That said, the narrative is being pushed too hard. Before the All-Star break Woodford was hit for a .615 slugging percentage by RH batters. But all of that “damage” was caused by one double and one homer in 84 sliders thrown. With such a puny sample, the high slug against him was virtually meaningless.

Since Woodford was sent back to the minors to fine-tune his slider, he’s been more effective when he goes with the slider against RH batters; they’re 1 for 11 against that pitch. Well done, Woodford. But this is also true: in Woodford’s appearances for the Cardinals this month, the overall contact rate against him has gone up, and his swing-miss rate has gone down. Give Woodford credit for this: he’s walked only one of 47 batters in August. That makes him the anti-Dak type of pitcher.

There’s really no need to parse Woodford’s stats and nitpick flaws that are real or imagined. The dude is just a good pitcher, and we should give him credit for being a good pitcher … until less appealing results give us a reason to reconsider.

Since the start of September 2021, six current Cardinals have pitched at least 60 innings. Among the six, Woodford has the best ERA and has allowed the lowest slugging percentage, and has been touched for the second-lowest batting average.

Starting-Pitching Road Troubles Continue: This Somebody has to point this out. And as the town’s resident sports-media grouch and hellraiser, I’m proud to be of service. After Hudson’s latest subpar outing, St. Louis starting pitchers have a 4.74 road ERA this season. That’s bad. That ranks 25th among the 30 MLB teams. As a group the fellers are very good starters at home, ranking 6th among MLB rotations with a 3.12 ERA.

That will be a big factor in the first round of the playoffs; unless something changes the Cards will have all three scheduled first-round games at Busch Stadium. But if they advance to the next round, they’ll be going on the road. Just a thought. Why do you think the Cardinals are a mediocre 33-33 on the road?The high road ERA by the starters is an obvious and prominent part of the problem.

And before you say, “But Bernie, the Cardinals added starting pitching at the deadline and the rotation is much better now!”  … well .. yes, overall it’s more solid and stable and capable. But in August road game the St. Louis starting pitchers have a 4.77 ERA. In fairness that ERA was inflated by the three-game series at the comedy shop known as Coors Field. In the other 10 road games this month the rotation’s road ERA is 3.72.

So, I’ll ease up a bit. Hey, I like the shape of the Cardinals starting pitching. The trust factor is stronger. And Jack Flaherty may provide a boost.

I’m also seeing a rotation strikeout rate of just 18.2 percent in August, which ranks 24th. The Cardinal starters had a 18.4% strikeout rate over the first four months of the season, before the additions of Montgomery and Quintana. The starters still must rely heavily on the defense that backs them. And the road performance doesn’t compare (favorably) to the home performance. That should be pointed out.

Satan will move on now …

Paul Goldschmidt’s Last Five Games (Shrugs): Goldy is 3 for 17 (.177) with eight strikeouts and hasn’t driven in a run or discharged an extra-base hit. He’s walked three times. This won’t last.

Yadier Molina: After another hitless day, Molina is 0 for 20 in his last seven games. He’s batting .172 since returning from the IL on Aug. 2 and has no extra-base hits and only two RBI in his 67 plate appearances this month. Molina has just two RBI and one extra-base hit (a double) in 93 plate appearances since June 2.

Pro-Cardinal Stats Since All-Star Break: Among major-league hitters with at least 70 plate appearances during the break, the Cardinals have a dominant presence on the leaderboards:

Batting average: Corey Dickerson (.427) and Albert Pujols (.397) rank 1st and 2nd in the majors.

Onbase Percentage: the Cardinals have five of the top 13 players in OBP: Pujols (2nd), Dickerson (6th), Goldschmidt (8th), Brendan Donovan (11th) and Lars Nootbaar (13th.)

Slugging Percentage: The Cards have three of the top four – and four of the top eight – in this category since the break: Pujols (1st), Goldy (3rd), Arenado (4th) and Dickerson (8th).

OPS: The Cardinals have four among the top six: Pujols (1st), Goldschmidt (3rd), Arenado (5th) and Dickerson (6th.)

Home Runs: Goldschmidt is 2nd in MLB with 13 home runs, with Pujols and Arenado tied for 8th with nine homers.

Runs Batted In: Goldschmidt (35 RBI) ranks 2nd in the majors, and Arenado (28) is 9th. One thing I didn’t realize: Tyler O’Neill has 25 RBI since the break; that ranks tied for 18th in the majors and is only three less than Arenado’s total.

John Mozeliak, Albert Pujols and Corey Dickerson: From a baseball-performance standpoint, Mozeliak’s lineup-based free-agent signings weren’t looking so hot earlier in the season.

— Three months into the 2022 campaign, Dickerson had a .194 average and .531 OPS. Pujols was a little better with a .198 average and .630 OPS.

In 214 at-bats between them from April through June, Pujols and Dickerson combined for modest totals of six homers, 13 extra-base hits and 28 RBI.

Since the beginning of July … well, much has changed.

In 195 at-bats between them, Pujols and Dickerson have the two highest batting averages on the team, with Dickerson hitting .382 and Pujols a .358.

Pujols leads the Cardinals with a 1.151 OPS since the end of June, and Dickerson isn’t far from that at .993

The two veterans have combined for 14 homers, 30 extra-base hits and 36 RBI since July 1. You could say that we’ve seen an improvement.

Both players were signed to one-year contracts, with $5 million going to Dickerson and $2.5 million being paid to Pujols.

That combined $7.5 million is a bargain.

AS OTHERS SEE US

Our friend Ben Clemens did a deep dive on Lars Nootbaar at FanGraphs. The headline over Ben’s analysis: “Lars Nootbaar Is For Real.”

Here is the general conclusion from Clemens:

“Yes, everything is coming up Nootbaar in St. Louis these days. His newfound power is no mirage, which means his above-average production is here to stay as well. That makes the Cardinals’ outfield crowded; if Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill all deserve everyday at-bats (and I think they do), that doesn’t leave much room for Corey Dickerson and Juan Yepez, never mind the departed Bader. The deadline trade that returned Jordan Montgomery has already paid huge dividends, and it’s reasonable to think that the Cardinals only made it because of what they see in Nootbaar.

“In fact, Nootbaar is making me re-evaluate the way I consider prospects, and I bet teams are doing a similar thing. If you looked at his raw statistics in 2019, there was no reason to predict he’d turn into a slugger in the big leagues. It’s not like the Cardinals saw it, at least not exactly; he went off on his own to try to hit for more power rather than doing it with the team. But if teams can figure out a way to evaluate whether a player could unlock extra power through mechanical changes, there could be a bevy of good-eye, no-pop prospects out there just waiting for the Nootbaar treatment. These guys could be quietly going about their business, posting excellent walk and strikeout numbers in the low minors without much power, before suddenly bursting onto the scene.”

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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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.