THE REDBIRD REVIEW

What’s this?

An offense?

Oh. Sorry. I didn’t recognize it at first.

I didn’t know what to call it. But yes, I do believe this is what an offense is supposed to look like. I’m starting to remember how the Cardinals used to do this quite often.  Get a lot of hits, draw plenty of walks, score a bunch of runs, make comebacks, win ballgames, smile, laugh, slap hands.

That’s better than moping and returning to the quiet clubhouse to frown, answer the same old questions, sulk, chomp hard on a sandwich and silently wonder why they’ve been forsaken by the baseball gods.

In their three-game winning streak over the Brewers and Angels, the Cardinals batted .295. They had 33 hits, 19 walks and one hit batter to cultivate a .405 on base percentage. They had five stolen bases. They smacked six doubles, three homers and slugged .429. The Redbirds played a ‘lil small ball. There was a good mix of styles and activities.

Now, I’m not saying it was a perfect offense. Heavens, no. In the last three games the Cardinals were 8 for 42 (.190) with runners in scoring position and (gasp) left 31 runners on base. Too many opportunities went unclaimed. And in Tuesday’s big win, the fellers struck out 14 times in 43 plate appearances. Yuck.

At least the Cardinals came through in other ways. And they took advantage of opponent mistakes – be it mental errors, physical errors, general boneheadedness, or bewildering managing by Anaheim’s Ron Washington.

Old guys hit, young dudes hit. The St. Louis leadoff hitters in the three straight victories were 38-year old Matt Carpenter, and 22-year old Masyn Winn. When Carpenter made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2011, Winn was nine years old. In the three wins all 13 of the St.Louis position players got hits, 10 drove home at least one run, 11 scored runs, eight of them walked, and four stole bases. Team effort, and all of that.

The Cardinals won in a reversal of form: Usually, the Cardinals go down in Loserville because their offense stinks and betrays quality pitching performances. Not this time. Not during this mini three-win roll. In the three victories, Cards starting pitchers Miles Mikolas, Matthew Lberatore and Sonny Gray were pelted and peppered for 12 earned runs in 15 and ⅓ innings.

That’s an engorged 7.04 ERA. But the STL hitters came to the rescue. The Cardinals averaged seven runs in these three consecutive happy outcomes – and saved the best for the stretch, outscoring the Brewers and Angels 14-2 over the final four innings in the three wins.

There were three comebacks. And one was different than the other two. The Cardinals won in the traditional comeback mode, eradicating a 3-0 deficit to triumph 5-3 on Sunday at Milwaukee. And then on Monday, the Cards were down 4-0 and looking like dead men batting before going berserk for an eight-run seventh inning that catapulted them to a 10-5 win.

What about Tuesday? Well, after the Angels suddenly came back to wipe out Sonny Gray’s 5-0 lead, the Cardinals responded by coming back from the stunning jolt to recover and win 7-6 on Alec Burleson’s two-run homer in the seventh. The mental and emotional comeback by the Cardinals was a very good sign.

The young catchers were ready to take on a  difficult challenge: losing Willson Contreras indefinitely to a broken forearm was a cruel and spirit-wrecking injury. But in this three-game winning streak, rookies Ivan Herrera and Pedro Pages combined for five hits in 12 at-bats (.417), cashed in five RBIs, and walked twice.

Since Contreras suffered the injury in the second inning of the loss to the Mets on May 7, the Cardinal catchers have responded by going 10 for 25 (.320) with four walks and hit batsmen to generate a .500 onbase percentage. Outstanding. In Tuesday’s game, Pages got his first big-league hit with a three-run double and put on a pitch-blocking clinic behind the plate. The Cardinals are 3-3 since Contreras went on the IL, and Herrera and Pages are making him proud.

The STL offense scored in a variety of ways. The Cardinals have scored 21 times in their three-game run. Here’s how they did it: four runs on homers, four on doubles, seven on singles, two on walks, two on opponent errors, one on a hit batter, and one a fielder’s choice.

The bullpen held firm: During this three-game “W” streak, St. Louis relievers had a 1.54 ERA and 29 percent strikeout rate in 11 and ⅔ innings. They had a 0.94 WHIP and held opponents to a .171 average and .464 OPS. Kyle Leahy’s strong middle relief was paramount in Monday’s comeback win, Andrew Kittredge got back on track, and Ryan Helsley added two more saves to his total. Helsley is tied for the MLB lead with 13 saves. His save rate is 92.8 percent.

There was fun. And composure when when situations got crazy and scary. Lefty reliever JoJo Romero took himself and everybody else on a wild Disneyland ride in Tuesday’s eighth inning – a hit and two walks – but escaped a bases-loaded cage without allowing the tying run. JoJo was undoubtedly pleased by manager Ron Washington’s strange decision to go for a suicide squeeze with one out and the bases full. It was an absolute disaster for the Angels that cost them their second out of the inning. That killed the home team’s momentum. The fired-up Romero ended the amusement by striking out the hitter (Luis Guillorme) who was part of the botched squeeze play.

Am I making too much of a big deal over a little winning streak by a team that still remains six games under .500 at 18-24? You can look at it that way. But here are a couple of things:

1) I had something different to write about instead of sitting down to type another rehashing of the futile endeavors from a poor offense. I appreciate the fresh material provided by the last three wins. It’s too early to know what this outburst on offense means, but at least it gives us something different to talk about. And I’m good with that.

2) This uprising on offense is interesting to me. Genuinely interesting to me. The Cardinals have 45 hits, 20 walks and 24 runs in their last four games. This is a change from what we are accustomed to seeing and expecting.

Compare the 24 runs in the last four games to a recent stretch where they scored fewer runs (23) over 10 games.

The Redbirds have scored 17 runs in the first two games at Anaheim. Compare that to the Cards scoring 12 runs during a five-game losing streak to the White Sox, Mets and Brewers. Keep swilling the energy drinks, fellas.

3) I remain grounded and a bit skeptical. The surge of offense is classic small-sample stuff, and the Angels are awful, and I am well aware of both realities. But this is also why it’s so fascinating to me. Is this the beginning of a turnaround, or just a meaningless blip? Is the run-scoring spree a fluke, or something that can last? I do not know. But for now, their sudden feistiness has gotten my attention. And, oh, it’s OK to take a teeny break from caterwauling about firing everybody.

4) We’ll all know more after the next 10 games. That’s one against the Angels followed by nine at home against the Red Sox, Orioles and Cubs. Through Tuesday, the Red Sox had the lowest team ERA (2.78) in the majors, the Orioles (3.30) were ranked sixth, and the Cubs (3.75) were 12th. The next home stand will be a helluva test for the Cardinal offense and the entire team.

5) What does an effective offense mean to this team? The Cardinals are 10-4 when scoring at least five runs in a game this season. And they are 8-20 when scoring less than five runs.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: Despite winning three on a row the Cardinals are still seven games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central … according to the projections by Clay Davenport, the Cardinals have a 15.5 percent chance of making the playoffs … if the Cards win Wednesday’s game at Anaheim, they’ll be 13-13 on the road this season. St. Louis is an abysmal 6-11 at home … the Cardinals can clinch their first three-game series sweep of the season by beating the Angels tonight. Before now, the Cards won the first two games of a three-game set four times – against the Padres, Marlins, A’s and Mets – only to lose the final game … win or lose Wednesday night, the Cardinals have won the series at Anaheim. That breaks their streak of four consecutive series losses (Tigers, White Sox, Mets, Brewers) … the Cardinals are 4-4 in their eight road series but only 2-4 in their six series at Busch Stadium … after Wednesday’s game the Cardinals will have played 60.4 percent of their first 43 games on the road.

STARTING-ROTATION ALERT! In the first month of the season Cardinals starting pitchers had a 4.22 ERA in 30 games. That earned-run average ranked 20th overall and 10th in the NL. The Cards were 14-16 in March/April for a .467 winning percentage. But through their first 12 games in May, the Cardinals have a 5.84 rotation ERA that’s 28th overall and 13th in the NL. And they’re 4-8 (.333) this month.

GRAY DAYS: In his last two starts Sonny Gray has been struck for 15 hits, including four homers, and given up 11 earned runs in 11 innings. That’s a 9.00 ERA. In their 52 plate appearances over Gray’s last two starts enemy hitters have mashed for a .326 average, .373 onbase percentage and .696 slug. On the brighter side, he’s struck out 29 percent of batters encountered in the last two starts.

ALEC BURLESON: The big man has started 26 games this season as a DH, corner outfielder or first baseman. But in 99 plate appearances as a starter, Burly has hit .264 with a .457 slugging percentage, five doubles, four homers and 15 RBIs. He’s hit only .222 without an extra base hit when coming into the game as a sub.

BURLESON PART II: Excluding Willson Contreras, who is on the IL and inactive, here’s where Burleson ranks among 10 Cardinals with at least 65 plate appearances since April 9:

1st in batting average, .314
1st in onbase percentage, .351
1st in slugging, .529
1st in OPS, .880
1st in home runs, 4
1st in wRC+, 152
3rd in RBIs, 13

That wRC – park and league adjusted runs created – puts Burleson 52 percent above league average offensively since April 9.

BURLESON, PART III: Since April 9, the Cardinals are 5-10 when Burleson doesn’t start. And they’re 8-8 when he starts. But seven other Cardinals have more plate appearances than Burleson over the corresponding time. And despite the positives that have come with Burleson in the starting lineup, he’s been in the lineup for only 16 of the last 31 games. The last 21 times Burleson has started a game the Cardinals are 11-10. (Writer pauses. Scratches head.)

HELS BELLS: One of the reasons why Ryan Helsley is such an elite closer is his ability to neutralize attempts at a platoon-split matchup. Helsley throws right-handed smoke and fire, and usually that means he’ll see a lot of left-handed hitters approaching the plate. Nah. Doesn’t matter. This season LH batters are 4 for 35 against Helsley (.114) with a 40.5 percent strikeout rate.

GOLDY GOOD, GOLDY BAD: Kind of a mixed bag for Paul Goldschmidt over the last four games. The Cardinals have won three of the four, and he’s 6-19 (.316) with a good .350 onbase percentage and robust .474 slug. However: Goldy has struck out 10 times in 21 plate appearances (47.6%) in the last four games. Then again … in the three-game winning streak Goldschmidt is 5 for 14 (.357) with a homer and three RBI. So he’s got some positive things going. As for what’s next, I have no clue.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.