THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Over the first three months of the 2022 season the Cardinals played a busy and hectic schedule that stretched the limits of their endurance, their pitching, their roster … and perhaps their sanity.

They crammed in a MLB-high 74 games from April 14 through June 29. The bustling pace included three doubleheaders, a 10-game road trip, three other roadies lasting seven games or more, and one day off during a 26-game stretch that ended in mid-May.

During the 74-game marathon the Cardinals used 19 different position players and an astonishing number of pitchers – 26! – including moonlighters Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. The 26 arms combined for a quite respectable 3.76 ERA while handling the most innings (655.2) in the majors over that time.

Whew.

That part of the schedule was hardcore tough.

Another aspect of the three-month schedule was porridge soft.

Through their first 78 games, the Cardinals (43-35) played 41 games against opponents with losing records. Only the Dodgers, with 44, had more matchups against losing–record teams.

The Cardinals were challenged in one block of schedule, playing 20 of 26 games against winning teams from May 5 through June 1. They went 11-9 in the 20 games vs. winners – Giants, Mets, Blue Jays, Brewers, Padres – but the Cardinals still have a lot to prove when squaring up against baseball’s better teams.

The Cardinals are 17-20 vs. teams with winning records so far. To this point only three MLB teams have played fewer games against teams over .500 than St. Louis.

That’s changing … at least for a while. But the next patch of schedule will present an intriguing patch of schedule for the Redbirds.

Beginning Friday night at Philadelphia the Cardinals will play 14 consecutive games against winning teams. It will go like this:

3 at Philadelphia
4 at Atlanta
4 home games against Philly
3 home games vs. the LA Dodgers.

The Dodgers have the top record in the National League (47-28, .627) and have won 10 of their last 15.

The Braves have the fourth-best record in the NL (44-33, .571) and went 21-6 in June.

The Phillies don’t have a scary record; they’re 40-37 overall. But after a terrible start the Phils fired manager Joe Girardi, won 15 of their first 17 games in June, and are 19-8 in their last 27.

In June the Cardinals went 15-14.

In June the Dodgers, Braves and Phillies combined to go 54-26 for a .675 winning percentage. The Braves and Phillies had the NL’s two best records, respectively, in June.

But what if the Cardinals can push through the next 14 games without skidding? Suppose the Birds can go 7-7, maybe 8-6, or do even better?

A decent or strong showing over the next 14 games would put the Cardinals in good shape. But before I explain why, I should also acknowledge that first-place Milwaukee just entered a favorable phase of schedule that puts them against the Pirates or Cubs for 10 straight games.

The Brewers lost at Pittsburgh Thursday night, giving the Cardinals a small pickup in the standings. As the teams head into the weekend, STL trails MIL by one game in the NL Central. But if the Cardinals get battered by the Phillies, Braves and Dodgers, they could be staring at a much larger deficit by mid-July.

After that, the schedule gets easier for the Cardinals. After completing the next 14 games, the Cards will have 70 games remaining on their regular-season schedule.

They’ll play 49 games against teams that currently have a losing record – and only 21 games against opponents that are above the .500 line right now. Those teams are the Brewers (7 games), Yankees (3), Braves (3), Padres (3), Dodgers (3) and Blue Jays (2.)

All 21 games against winners will be played after the All-Star break. The Cardinals won’t have consecutive series against winning teams until they begin an eight-game road trip on Sept. 20 that will take them to San Diego (3), Dodger Stadium (3), and Milwaukee (2.)

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

1) The Cardinals are the only team in the National League that has a winning record (15-13) when failing to homer in a game. What does that mean? They have a more diversified offense that can score in a wide range of ways, including adept baserunning and timely hitting. I just wrote about the baserunning in a column posted Thursday. A quick recap: The Cardinals now have the No. 1 percentage in the National League in advancing an extra base on batted balls in play, and they’re tied for first in the NL in steals. In part because of their smart aggressiveness on the bases and the enthusiasm for putting men on the move, the Cardinals are tied for the MLB lead at scoring their baserunners at a rate of 34 percent.

2) The Cardinals are tied for sixth in the majors with an average of 4.79 runs per game despite ranking 15th in MLB with an average of 1.05 home runs per game. There are other ways of getting it done. St. Louis is 2nd in the NL in hits per game (8.7) and are just fine with hitting a lot of singles and doubles. (So old-fashioned!) The Redbirds rank 4th in the NL in average singles per game (5.72) and average doubles per game (1.74.) And they’re one of the better NL teams at getting runs in on sacrifice flies. Vestiges of old-school ball can be effective. It also helps to have one of the league’s highest batting averages (.270) with runners in scoring position.

3) Worst thing about the STL offense? Too many dang pop-ups. Their 13 percent pop-up rate is the highest (and worst) in the majors. And please take more walks, please.

4) Manager Oli Marmol doesn’t want to make it a habit of pitching his three best relievers on consecutive days. And he’s done a very good job of spacing them out with the hope of preventing fatigue and a second-half fade by his three best bullpen assets. Gio Gallegos has pitched on consecutive days five times, Genesis Cabrera has done it three times, and Ryan Helsley has done it three times. Last season Mike Shildt pitched Cabrera on consecutive days 18 times, did that with Gallegos 17 times, and had closer Alex Reyes work without a day of rest on 13 occasions. All three relievers suffered a drop in effectiveness over the final three months, combining for a 4.94 ERA.

5) Here’s another reason why Marmol is reluctant to pitch his three best relievers without giving them at least one day of rest: when Gallegos, Cabrera and Helsley have pitched on consecutive days this season, they have a combined ERA of 5.90 in 10 and ⅔ innings.

6) Now that I’ve offered some statistical evidence – and I’ve been thinking about this for a while — the St. Louis front office would help the cause by acquiring an established, effective reliever with a positive track record in high-leverage situations. Much of the media-fan focus has concerned the fragile composition of the team’s starting pitching. But it’s important to add some late-inning muscle to the bullpen cast.

7) In their three-game series at Philadelphia the Cardinals have to do a good job of putting the ball in play to stress the Phillie defense. The Phils rank 29th in the majors with a minus 25 in defensive runs saved, and are 22nd with a minus 22 in Outs Above Average (OAA.)

8) In June the Philadelphia offense averaged 5.4 runs per game and were second in the NL in slugging percentage (.445) and OPS (.772.) The Phillies also averaged a robust 1.6 homers per game in June. Kyle Schwarber led the NL in homers (12) and RBI (27) in June. The Philadelphia lineup won’t be as fearsome without Bryce Harper, who is sidelined with a fractured thumb after getting hit by a pitch on June 25.

9) In June the Philadelphia offense had the highest walk rate in the NL (9.6%) and the lowest strikeout rate (19.3%) in the NL.

10) The Phillies rank 7th in the NL with an average of 4.29 runs allowed per game. The pitching staff is ranked 12th in the NL in Wins Probability Added.

11) Warning: it’s difficult to steal a base on the Phillies. Their catchers’ caught-stealing rate of 38 percent is the best in the NL. Starter J.T. Realmuto, who has caught 553 innings, leads regular NL catchers with an excellent caught–stealing rate of 47%. Realmuto has nabbed 14 of 30 runners that have tried to steal on him.

12) Rookies Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan were essential to the STL offense in June. These guys keep pumping the lineup with energy and production..

Among Cardinals with at least 75 plate appearances, Donovan ranked 2nd to Paul Goldschmidt in batting average (.321) and onbase percentage (.402). Donovan’s RBI count (17) was tied for 2nd with Nolan Arenado, and Donovan ranked 3rd in OPS (.845.) Yepez was 2nd to Goldschmidt in slugging (.583) and OPS (.895), tied for 3rd in homers (5) and was 4th on the team with 16 RBI.

13) Though he homered four times in June, rookie Nolan Gorman had a .207 average, .250 onbase percentage, .368 slug, and a .618 OPS during the month. And his strikeout rate for June was 32.5%.

14) In park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), Yepez was 45 percent above league average offensively for June – with Donovan right there at 44 percent above league average. Gorman, however, was 24% below league average offensively for the month.

15) St. Louis catchers had only 12 hits in the month of June, batting .130 with a .152 slugging percentage (30th in MLB) and .358 OPS (30th.) In park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) the St. Louis catchers performed 90 percent below league average offensively.

Thanks for reading …

I hope you enjoy the 4th of July weekend.

–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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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.