WELCOME TO THE REDBIRD REVIEW
That was a helluva 9-6 win by the Cardinals on Tuesday night at Coors Field. Sure, the starting pitching was horrendous (again), but this time the St. Louis hitters rebounded from a 6-2 deficit to power the Cardinals to their second victory in the last eight games.
Down by four runs after five innings, here’s what the Redbirds offense did over the final four frames: Seven runs on six hits and four walks. A .353 batting average, .476 onbase percentage and .588 slug. A .500 batting average (3 for 6) with runners in scoring position. There was tight plate discipline, and swell at-bats. There was a game-tying three-run double by Nolan Arenado in the seventh, and a winning solo homer by Nolan Gorman to start the ninth.
The bullpen was sharp and dominant. The defense made good plays. The baserunning was smartly aggressive and picked up a couple of extra bases taken because of it.
How unlikely was this win? The Cardinals had a win expectancy of only 5 percent before their two-out, four-run rally in the top of the seventh. But the visitors overcame the disadvantage with lockdown relief pitching and by hitting the way teams are supposed to hit at Coors Field.
The Cardinals (4-7) have played 11 games.
This was their first comeback win of the season.
They had to deliver a season-high nine runs to beat the Rockies and the odds. They can’t do that every game, so the starting rotation can’t continue to fail the ballclub.
In response to the latest starting-pitching failure, the Cardinals kept pushing. They didn’t quit. Their energy level was noticeably higher. The dugout came alive. It was a huge change from what we were getting used to seeing from the early-bird Cardinals in 2023.
As Arenado told Derrick Goold of STLtoday: “I think the way we played today offensively was more like us. If we lose the lead, we still fight back. Before this game, we haven’t really been making it interesting. It was good to see some fight and some confidence.”
Will this splendid win get the Cardinals going?
Well, Wednesday afternoon’s game at Coors will provide the first test. It’s imperative for Cards starter Jack Flaherty to consistently find the strike zone to do something about his atrocious 28.9 percent walk rate over his first two starts.
Let’s take a closer look:
BULLPEN EXCELLENCE: The Redbird relievers deserve a major share of the credit for Tuesday’s comeback victory. The Cardinals were down 6-2 when manager Oli Marmol pulled starter Miles Mikolas after five innings, and the Cardinals couldn’t afford any blow-ups by relievers. No problem. Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley combined to pitch four scoreless innings and collectively struck out seven of 14 batters faced. That’s 50 percent. In the first two games of the series at Coors Field, Cards relievers have worked 6.1 innings without allowing a run.
The quality of the St. Louis bullpen is one of the quiet stories – a successful story – of the team’s first 11 games. Headed into Wednesday’s game, the STL bullpen led the majors with a 2.70 fielding-independent ERA, ranked seventh in strikeout rate (26.8%) and had the fourth lowest walk rate (7.1%.)
The bullpen’s standard ERA (3.18) is eighth-best in the majors and third in the NL. The crew’s strikeout-walk ratio (3.8) is tied for fourth overall and is second in the NL.
Drew VerHagen, Gallegos, Helsley, Cabrera, Zack Thompson, Packy Naughton and Chris Stratton collectively have given up just three earned runs in 29.1 innings for a superb 0.92 ERA and a 31 percent strikeout rate.
VerHagen, Naughton, Thompson, Gallegos and Cabrera haven’t allowed a run in their 19.2 innings of work and have struck out 33.7% of runners faced. Outstanding.
NOLAN GORMAN, MY GOODNESS! Leading off the ninth Tuesday in a 6-6 game, Gorman hit the game-winning homer. It was his third of the season in 28 at-bats. Gorman’s hitting line is impressive: .321 average, .457 onbase percentage, .714 slug, 1.171 OPS.
Among qualifying MLB hitters, Gorman ranks sixth with a 214 OPS+, meaning that he’s 114 percent above league average offensively. He’s sixth in the majors in standard OPS, seventh in slugging percentage, and 17th in onbase percentage.
His 214 OPS+ ranks No. 1 in the majors among players younger than 23 years old.
We know that Gorman has abundant power but he’s cranking up even more wattage early in 2023. So far this season Gorman has an average exit velocity of 93.5 mph, which puts him 30th in the majors and second to Paul Goldschmidt among Cardinals. The improved velo has resulted in a terrific 50 percent hard-hit rate.
But when we consider some of the weaker parts of Gorman’s hitting profile as a raw rookie in 2022, his early-season performance is stunning.
Here’s what I’m referring to:
— Gorman has the 11th-best walk rate in the majors at 20 percent. Last season he walked in 9 percent of his plate appearances. Gorman’s current walk rate puts him in the 95th percentile of MLB hitters.
— Gorman’s current strikeout rate (22.9%) is 10 percent lower than last season’s 32.9%.
— Gorman is in the 97th percentile in chase rate among MLB hitters. This may be the best stat of all: last season Gorman swung at 31.1 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. This season, his chase rate is only 15%
It’s early and all of that, but Gorman’s dramatic improvement in plate discipline is rather remarkable. Here’s the obligatory reality check: These numbers will be difficult to sustain, and that’s the challenge for Gorman going forward. But all of his offseason work and determination to improve is paying off.
IT’S OK TO SPEAK THE TRUTH ABOUT MILES MIKOLAS: Tuesday night he was strafed by the Rockies for 10 hits including three home runs. The home team got to Mikolas for six earned runs in five innings. He walked two and struck out three.
Three starts into his 2023 season, Mikolas has a 10.10 ERA that’s the worst among 33 starting pitchers that have logged at least 14 innings. His fielding-independent 5.78 ERA isn’t as bad, but it’s hardly anything to point to as a positive. Opponents have assailed Mikolas for a .420 average, .440 onbase percentage and .667 slug.
The average on batted balls in play against Mikolas is a preposterous .467 – so yeah, lousy luck is definitely part of his early showing. But that’s been blown out of proportion by media so let’s slow down on the babble about his “soft contact” victimhood.
Facts: Hitters have an average exit velocity of 91.7 percent against Mikolas (too high.) Opponents have made “sweet spot” contact on a whopping 53.6% of the pitches they’ve put in play against Mikolas (too high.) The two factors have led to a 44.6% hard-hit rate and plenty of damage against Mikolas. Based on the quality of contact, opposing hitters have an expected slugging percentage of .644 against Mikolas.
But yeah, let’s keep going with the laughable narrative about about “soft contact.” Mikolas isn’t a Little Leaguer. He’s a two-time All-Star who will be making $20 million a year in his new contract. He’s a pro. He’s an adult. He’s talented. I absolutely believe he will pitch better and have a fine season … but up to this point it’s OK to tell the truth about his performance.
STARTING-PITCHING BLUES: The rotation’s 6.39 ERA ranks 28th among the 30 teams. The rotation’s 5.38 fielding independent ERA ranks 21st. Jordan Montgomery has a 2.25 ERA in two starts, but the other four starting pitchers have been walloped for 37 earned runs in 44.1 innings for a 7.51 ERA. Mikolas, Steven Matz and Jake Woodford have collectively been bruised for a 9.17 ERA in their seven starts. Gee, that’s an awful lot of bad luck. (Sarcasm intended.)
STL OFFENSE COMES ALIVE: Before going off for nine runs on Tuesday, the Cardinals had averaged only 2.3 runs in their prior six games. The Rebirds hit three home runs in 36 at-bats against the Rockies after hitting only three home runs in 196 at-bats in their previous six games. After Tuesday’s power show, the Cardinals rank fourth in the majors in batting average (.286), second in onbase percentage (.358) and ninth in slugging (.433.) And they’re tied for fifth in the majors with a 115 OPS+.
ATTABOYS IN TUESDAY’S WIN
1. Paul Goldschmidt: At 35, Goldy is still as valuable as gold. He’s hitting .350 on the season with an OPS+ that puts him 63 percent above league average offensively. Tuesday at Coors, Goldschmidt reached base three times on a single and two walks. He drove home two runs and scored twice. In the seventh masterfully coaxed a bases-loaded, two-out walk to bring home a run – and then Arenado stepped up with his bases-clearing double.
2. The bullpen, obviously. But a special mention goes to Genesis Cabrera. The wired lefty has looked great after his promotion from Triple A Memphis, pitching 2.1 scoreless innings and giving up one hit and no walks. “Cabby” has struck out 37.5 percent of batters faced.
3. Arenado went 2 for 4 and his three-run double was the most important hit of the game, raising the Cards’ win expectancy from 5 percent to 32%. In 552 career games at Coors Field, Arenado has a .320 average and .608 average. As a Cardinal, Arenado has a .528 slug at Coors.
4. Nolan Gorman: I discussed his hot start earlier in The Review. But let’s add this: in Gorman’s 311 career at-bats as a Cardinal, he has a .447 slugging percentage, has homered every 18.3 at-bats, and is 17 percent above league average offensively per OPS+. In park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Gorman is 99% above average offensively this season. He won’t turn 23 until May 10. Still want to trade him?
5. Tommy Edman: three hits, including a solo homer, and two runs scored. Edman raised his season batting average to .289 and his OBP is up to .372.
6. Brendan Donovan: two walks, two runs scored. His seventh-inning walk was an important piece in the seventh-inning rally. Starting in left field, Donovan made an impressive catch on a ball that flew into left-center in the vast outfield space at Coors. The Cardinals need their leadoff man to get on base more frequently. Donovan’s OBP in his previous eight games was a substandard .250, so maybe this two-walk game will get him going.
7. Juan Yepez hit his first homer of the season to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead in the top of the third.
8. Jordan Walker: the 10-game hitting streak became an 11-game streak after Walker had an important leadoff single to open the seventh-inning comeback charge. Walker moved to within one game of Eddie Murphy’s MLB record for the longest hitting streak to open a career by a player 20 years old or younger. Murphy did it for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1912.
“He’s been awesome,” Gorman said of Walker, via MLB.com. “He’s a stud, and he’s helping us tremendously, so it’s great to have him up here.”
9. Cardinals pitchers struck out 10 overall on Tuesday and held the Rockies to a .167 batting average (2 for 12) with runners in scoring position.
Final Note: If the Cardinals can win Wednesday’s game they’d improve to 5-7 on the season. And they’d also be 2-2 in terms of series won. But a loss would drop them to 4-8 and a 1-3 record in series won. After closing their business at Coors Field for the season, the Cardinals will come home for a seven-game residency at Busch Stadium. A four-game weekend series against the Pirates, followed by three vs. the Diamondbacks.
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.
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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 this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Statcast, Baseball Reference and Bill James Online.
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.