Welcome To The Redbird Review:
At the midway point of their 2021 schedule, the Cardinals are short on starting pitching, short on runs scored, short on the number of relievers that can be counted on to protect late-inning leads.
The Cards are short on solutions, short on trade options, short on depth (their fault), short on accepting reality, short on accountability, and short on the supply of MLB-ready prospects that can strengthen the big club.
There must be short memories; that’s the only way I can explain the surprising lapse in the attention to details. With the offense sputtering terribly, manager Mike Shildt, the coaches and the players finally got around to having a meeting to discuss ways to improve the hitting performance. This commitment to preparation happened in the third week of June. No rush, or anything.
All of this explains why the 40-41 Cardinals are short on victories and facing increasingly longer odds. On May 29, the first-place Redbirds led the second-place Cubs by a half-game and third-place Milwaukee by 3 games in the NL Central. And here we are, on the first day of July, and the Cardinals trail first-place Milwaukee by 8 games.
For the Cards and Brewers, that’s an 11-game swing in the standings in 32 days. And even though the second-place Cubs closed June by losing 12 of their last 16 games, they’re two games ahead of the Cardinals in the standings. That’s because the Cardinals have gone 10-19 since May 30.
For what it’s worth:
Baseball Reference gives St. Louis has an 0.8 percent chance of winning the division, a 1.1% chance of making the playoffs, and projects a likely final record of 77-85.
FanGraphs gives the Cardinals a 2.3 percent shot of winning the division, a 3.8% of making the playoffs, and projects a final record of 79-83.
Baseball Prospectus lists the Cards with an 0.6 percent probability of winning the division, a 1.3% chance for the playoffs, and projects a final ledger of 76-86.
Since acquiring impact shortstop Willy Adames from Tampa Bay, the Brewers are 27-10 since May 22 and own the best winning percentage (.730) in the majors over that time. The Crew won their eighth game in a row Wednesday, clubbing their way back from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Cubs 15-7.
Manager Craig Counsell is downplaying Milwaukee’s 48-33 record and a commanding lead in the NL Central.
“Look, nothing is decided,” Counsell said after the Wednesday win. “Nothing’s close. This goes to the last week of the season like every single year it does. When you give yourself some space, then you give yourself a little room for error, I guess is the best way to say it.
“We know that there’s a huge number of games left. Nothing’s happened this week. We’ve got to continue playing good baseball. It doesn’t change anything on our end. We’ve got to keep our heads down and keep playing good baseball. The space is great, for sure, but it doesn’t mean anything at this point.”
Counsell may not be counting out Milwaukee’s division rivals, but the Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers have to get themselves straight — and get busy winning games in bunches. If not, the Brewers will run away.
The Cardinals took advantage of the conveniently horrendous Arizona Diamondbacks (22-60) by sweeping a three-game series at Busch Stadium.
The Diamondbacks’ current .268 winning percentage would be the third–worst in the majors during the post-expansion era, ahead of only the 2003 Tigers (.265) and 1962 Mets (.250.)
Arizona was the perfect-timing opponent for the Cardinals, and the Redbirds made the best of an opportunity to collect must-have wins.
Having said that … while the 3-0 record against Arizona was nice the Cardinals went 5-12 in June against other opponents with losing records. And to no one’s surprise, the Cards were 2-5 against winning teams in June.
Making up for lost time — and too many lost games — won’t be easy. Between now and the All-Star break the Cards have 10 consecutive road games against teams that are 80-40 at home this season: the Rockies (28-16), Giants (26-11) and Cubs (26-13.)
The Rockies are 24-10 at home since April 20, and are averaging 5.8 runs and slugging .566 at Coors Field this season. The Cardinals have lost six of their last seven road series and nine of their last 11 road games, falling to 17-23 away from Busch Stadium.
After the All-Star break the Cardinals restart with a seven-game homestand against the Giants and Cubs, then head to Ohio for five games against the Indians and Reds. Of the four teams in that group, the only losing record (39-40) belongs to the Reds.
With 81 games in the books, and 81 to play, here’s a look at the Cardinals. What they’ve done. What needs to be done. You’re already aware of most of these things, but this is your reset from your tour guide.
Mandatory Assignment: They must improve the performance of a starting rotation that had a 5.76 ERA in June. Unless that happens, there’s no way back. The Cards have a 5.23 rotation ERA in their last 43 games; that ranks 23rd in the majors over that time. No surprise, but the team record in the 43 games is 17-26. When will Jack Flaherty return from a torn oblique? And is anyone still counting on Miles Mikolas (forearm) to make it back, and stay in the rotation, and pitch close to his 2018 standards?
Walking And Squawking: Stop it. Please. Through 81 games, the STL pitchers have a combined 409 walks and hit batters. Close to 30% of the total runs against the Cardinals this season were scored by opponents that reached base on a walk and HBP. Stop it.
Make Trades, Or Make Excuses: If this team continues to stink, there’s no reason to move top-stock prospects in a patchwork attempt to cover the pitching flaws. On the other hand, if the front office had gotten to work on upgrading the roster depth last winter, the Cardinals wouldn’t be staring at a huge deficit in the NL Central and the wild-card standings. We’ve gone around in these circles before.
Management likes to have it both ways: (1) it starts with the usual “our offseason work is done, we’re good, all set, don’t need to address the depth, we like our team, don’t know why fans and media are complaining, we’re fine,” which is followed by the June-July message of (2) candidly, we’re not in a good position to be trading young talent in poor-value deals that probably won’t make a difference for a team that has so many holes.
Yeah. That’s because the front office failed to increase the depth to provide the necessary protection against injuries and underperforming talent. The holes — many of them — are of your own making.
The Cardinals: Still Denying That A Problem Exists. In August 2019, the Cardinals fired their successful and popular hitting coach Mark Budaska and stressed the need to have one voice — Jeff Albert’s — in charge of setting the team’s hitting approach.
But earlier this week, when sticking up for the maligned Albert, president of baseball ops John Mozeliak said this: “You have to understand that these coaching staffs are large, there are multiple voices, and you’re hoping those multiple voices can reach different players.”
So much for the one-voice thing.
And Mozeliak offered up this gem: “For some reason, Jeff Albert has had a target on his back.”
C’mon, mang. Pardon my sarcasm, Mo. But I’ll take a wild swing here. I suppose the “reason” has something to do with the lethargy of a St. Louis offense that’s 29th among the 30 teams in runs scored since the end of April. The disappointing STL offense that scored the fewest runs and had the worst OPS in the majors in June. Another reason could be because fans don’t understand how a team can add Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado and Dylan Carlson and get more consistency and power from Tyler O’Neill and still get worse offensively.
I’m thinking that the criticism of Albert probably has something to do with the facts: since he took over as the hitting coach before the 2019 season, the Cardinals are 26th in the majors in runs per game, 26th in batting average, 26th in homers, 27th in slugging, 29th in hits, 29th in total bases, last in doubles. Situational hitting? Not good; 27th in batting average with runners in scoring position.
Mozeliak knows there are legitimate reasons for criticism of Jeff Albert. But in my opinion, it comes down to this: by firing or transferring Albert, Mozeliak and manager Shildt would have to admit that they made a mistake in hiring him. They would have to admit they made a mistake in marketing him as some innovative, next-generation, advanced-intelligence guru. (Confession: I fell for it.)
Mozeliak and Shildt don’t want to own that, so it’s much easier to dismiss the criticism as irrational mewling and pretend that the offense only needs a couple of tweaks and adjustments and then everything will be fine. They’ve been doing this for 2 and ½ seasons now. The offense. And the excuses for the offense. And the denials that there’s even a serious problem with the offense.
Let’s Offer Some Praise:
1) Tyler O’Neill must prove himself over the long term, but he’s been fun to watch him this season with his power, and speed and defense. There is nothing inadequate about his 15 doubles, 15 homers, .554 slug. He’s 39 percent above the league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created. He has 2.0 fWAR this season, already a career high and more than many big names including Kris Bryant, Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Trevor Story, Javy Baez, Freddie Freeman and Randy Arozarena.
2) It’s a joy to watch Nolan Arenado play baseball. Just an absolute joy. I grew up watching Brooks Robinson (my idol), and had the privilege of covering Scott Rolen. And now I get to see Arenado do his thing every day. I’m thankful for that.
3) Adam Wainwright is amazing. And here’s the bonus: he’s pitching so well, I think we can begin to look forward to seeing him do this in St. Louis in 2022. I don’t even want to talk about his age. His birth certificate is his performance.
4) I wrote this earlier this season but will mention it again: Wainwright and Yadier Molina make people happy. Every time they are out there, Cardinals fans are happy. That’s increasingly rare. And it’s a blessing.
5) Dylan Carlson is as good as promised, and he’ll only improve. Exciting times ahead.
6) All in all, the defense and baserunning are still a team strength. Getting a little sloppy, though.
7) I realize that everyone wants more muscular offensive numbers from Paul Goldschmidt, but my respect for him never wavers. He’s such a classy pro and an admirable person, and I’m glad he’s a Cardinal. But yeah, I’d also like to see that OPS reach .800 and higher.
8) The front office didn’t bolster the bullpen for 2021, and there aren’t enough sturdy, dependable relievers. But to defend a late lead, you can’t do much better than have Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes take the assignment. They’re just what you want to see at money time.
9) I’m pleased that Edmundo Sosa finally got a chance to show that he can help this team.
10) He isn’t here yet, but I look forward to watching Matthew Liberatore pitch for the Cardinals. And they’ll probably need him. Well, this is advance praise.
KEYS TO THE NEXT 81 GAMES
Good baseball health; fewer injuries.
Paul DeJong finds the 2017 swing.
Carlos Martinez gets it together, keeps it together.
John Mozeliak shocks the world; finds in-season help. Even if it’s a first-rate bullpen arm.
Yadier Molina doesn’t run out of gas.
Jack Flaherty gets healthy.
Tyler O’Neill stays healthy.
Paul Goldschmidt’s consistently hard contact leads to better stats.
Tommy Edman: a higher OBP if he can do it; .330 would be good.
Can Harrison Bader improve against RH pitching?
Shildt raises the standards and accountability.
Thanks for reading!
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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.