Welcome to the Redbird Review…
The Cardinals are making headway, but the pace is slow. They are 16-11 since June 28. They’ve won 12 of their last 20 games. They have a 9-6 record since the All-Star break. That’s positive. That’s progress. The second NL Wild Card spot has come into view, and it’s no hallucination.
But if the Redbirds could just speed it up a little, we’d have a lot more to talk about. Over the weekend the Cardinals won two of three from the wretched Minnesota Twins. It was the start of a 26-game stretch that represents their best opportunity to become relevant and prominent in postseason-race discussions.
With the Twins out of the way, the remaining 23-game pathway to potential success includes 17 games against the Pirates (9), Royals (6) and Tigers (2.) Plus three apiece with the Braves and Brewers.
The average record of the Pirates, Royals and Tigers is 45-60, but I add a note of caution: the Tigers are 42-33 since May 8, and the Cardinals are 34-38 over the same plot of schedule.
When the Cards are done with this next phase, the degree of difficulty intensifies. Beginning Aug. 17 the Cardinals will proceed with three at Milwaukee, four at home vs. the Dodgers, 3 at home vs. the Reds, 3 at the NY Mets, 3 at home vs. the Padres, and four at Milwaukee.
So this would be a good time for the Cardinals to rev it up. And they should be able to do that. Even with their many false starts along the way, I’d be surprised to watch the Cardinals stagger between now and Aug. 30.
Other than the softer section of schedule, here are a few reasons why:
1) The offense isn’t great but it’s doing better. Since July 1 the Cardinals are averaging 4.3 runs per game. Their batting average (.259) ranks 10th in the majors. Their OPS (.752) is 13th. With runners in scoring position over this time the Cards are fourth in MLB in batting average (.310) and eighth in OPS (.871.)
2) For all of the mewling over the Cards starting pitching, their rotation ranks fifth overall and third in the NL with a 3.28 ERA over the last 26 games. In the NL only the Brewers (2.58) and Dodgers (2.68) have posted lower starting-pitching ERAs since June 28. You’d like to have more innings thrown by St. Louis starters, but the problem isn’t as awful as believed. Since June 28 the Cards starters rank 16th overall and ninth in the NL with 142.2 innings pitched. I don’t know, with certainty, when Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas will rejoin the rotation after lengthy stays on the Injured List. But they’re getting close. But the guys that are filling in haven’t done as poorly as believed over the last four-plus weeks. And that sets it up for Flaherty and Mikolas to come back, improve the rotation, and keep the momentum going.
3) The Cardinals are a +20 in net baserunning gain and have made the third-fewest outs on the bases (24) among the 30 MLB teams. Defensively, their 31 runs saved rank ninth in the majors. Using another metric, from statcast, the Cards are tied for second in the majors with 31 outs above average. So the next time you hear manager Mike Shildt praising his team for its sharp fundamentals, please know that he’s speaking the truth.
Can the Cardinals make the playoffs?
We should know a lot more by late August.
But if the Cardinals flub this imminent opportunity to heap wins, they’ll fall into deeper trouble. I think we can agree on that much.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE PADRES: I’ll let others cling to their fantasy of the Cardinals catching the Brewers and winning the NL Central in a late rush. To do that the Cardinals first must surpass the second-place Reds, a point that inexplicably eludes many.
As for Milwaukee, the Brewers are 20 games over .500 and have the third-best winning percentage in baseball. They’ve gone 42-20 since May 22, and are 10-4 since the All-Star break. The starting-pitching ERA (3.14) is No. 2 in the majors. The bullpen has become more fearsome now that St. Louisan Devin Williams is 100 percent sound in his right shoulder. Before the trade deadline president of baseball ops David Stearns made another series of moves to bolster the Crew, and his team has even more depth now. I know; the Cardinals have 13 games left with the Brewers. They are also 9.5 games behind the Brewers. We’ll see how the two teams do against each other; the next series between them starts Aug. 17.
The Reds (56-50) have won seven out their last 10 and had the NL Central’s best record (16-10) in July. What about that horrendous bullpen? Well, the Cincinnati front office reeled in three relievers before the deadline including Mychal Givens. Reliever Michael Lorenzen is back from the IL, and Lucas Sims is right behind him.
The Cincinnati rotation is 12th in the majors in ERA (4.00) and the offense is second in the NL with an average of 4.92 runs per game. Joey Votto is on fire, and Nicholas Castellanos (wrist) and Mike Moustakas (heel) will return soon.
The Reds have the easiest schedule around; it includes 13 games against the Pirates, seven against Miami, six against the stripped-down Cubs, four against the stripped-down Nationals and only three vs. Milwaukee. Cincinnati’s remaining opponents have a 49-56 record.
I’ll be spending more time keeping track of the Padres. They are 61-47 but only 12-14 since July 1. Their rotation is cracking, ranking 24th overall and 13th in the NL since June 1 with an ERA of 5.20. And over the weekend shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. went back on the IL for the third time this season with the same injury, a partially dislocated left shoulder. Manager Jayce Tingler says surgery is “on the table” as an option for Tatis if the shoulder doesn’t heal.
The Padres score plenty of runs and have an excellent bullpen that added Nationals Daniel Hudson at the deadline. But the Padres have a problem if Tatis Jr. can’t play and the rotation continues to unravel.
Joe Musgrove has been fine since June 1 with an ERA of 3.88. But take a look at some of the other San Diego starter ERAs since June 1:
- Yu Darvish, 5.07
- Blake Snell, 5.03
- Ryan Weathers 6.48
- Chris Paddack, 6.09
- Dinelson Lamet, 4.43
- Reiss Knehr, .648
The Cardinals trail the Padres by 6.5 games in the hunt for the second wild card. The Reds are closer at four games behind the Padres. Just as is the case in the NL Central, the Cards can’t win the division or take the second Wild Card unless they can take down Cincinnati. Or if the Reds yield by spiraling into an extensive losing funk.
As of Monday morning FanGraphs gave the Cardinals a 3.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. That consists of a 1.0 percent shot at winning the division, and a 2.2% probability of making it as a wild card.
JON LESTER & J.A. HAPP. WHAT DO THE DIGITS TELL US? The Cardinals acquired the two lefthanded starters just before Friday’s trade deadline. What can we expect? I took a dive into the stats over the weekend and here are my findings.
Through Saturday this is where Happ and Lester rank among the 110 starters that have made at least 15 starts this season:
—ERA: Happ (6.77) No. 110. And Lester (5.02) is 86th.
—Fielding Independent ERA, aka FIP: Happ (5.40) is No. 102; Lester (5.41) is No. 103.
—Wins Above Replacement, the Baseball Reference version: Happ’s minus 1.8 WAR is the worst among the 110 starters. And Lester (minus 1.0 WAR) is also near the bottom at No. 105. Needless to say, Happ and Lester are each below the replacement level according to bWAR.
—Opponent OPS+: Happ is 50 percent below the league average in the adjusted OPS against him this season. That ranks No. 109 out of the 110 starters. Lester is 44 percent below average in adjusted OPS against him; that puts him at No. 107.
—St. Louis pitchers have allowed too many runners to reach base this season, right? In Happ and Lester, they’ve added two starters that rank No. 101 and No. 100, respectively in opponent obase percentage. The OBP against Happ is .357. The OBP vs. Lester is .356.
—Happ has allowed an average of 1.586 hits/walks per inning which ranks No. 102 out of 110 starters. Lester is even more generous, giving up 1.593 walks/hits per inning; that ranks No. 103.
—Both lefthanders have been pounded for big slugging percentages: .549 vs. Happ (109th), and .503 (101st) vs. Lester. Happ has been bopped for an average of 1.92 homers per nine innings which ranks 101 among the 110 starters.
—We can expect opposing managers to load the lineup with righthanded hitters when facing either lefty, Lester or Happ. When going against RH batters this season Lester has been blasted for a .318 average and .931 OPS. RH batters have hammered Happ for a .307 average and .943 OPS.
—Lester is effective against LH batters this season, holding them to a .224 average and .595 OPS. That isn’t the case with Happ; LH bats have gotten to him for a .301 average and .735 OPS.
—RH batters have 20 homers, four triples and 24 doubles vs. Happ this season. Extra-base hits have accounted for 46.6% of the hits against Happ in 2021.
I wish I could have found more positive numbers for you.
+ In recapping the Winners & Losers from the trade deadline, USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale ripped into the Cardinals: “Sure, they have no chance to catch the Brewers in the NL Central, and probably weren’t going to catch the Padres for the second wild-card spot, but there still are two months left in the season,” Nightengale wrote. “They are getting ace Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas back in a few weeks. And the Cardinals surrendered.Their only moves were acquiring Twins veteran J.A. Happ, who has an 8.74 ERA in his last 14 starts, and Nationals veteran Jon Lester, who has a 5.02 ERA. It’s a tough day for a veteran Cardinals team and passionate fanbase to swallow.”
+ Dylan Carlson is back on it again. In his last 69 plate appearances he has seven doubles, four homers, a .596 slugging percentage and .925 OPS. For the season Carlson is 10 percent above the league average offensively with a 110 OPS+
+ In recent weeks the STL front office has collected four relievers from various locations in the neighborhood known as Oblivion. I don’t know what to call these gentlemen … discards, maybe? I mean no disrespect. But so far Justin Miller, Luis Garcia, T.J. McFarland and Brandon Waddell have combined for 25 appearances, 23.3 innings and a 6.84 ERA. In a related note the Cardinals’ bullpen ranks 21st in the majors with a 4.93 ERA since July 1.
+ The Kid, Adam Wainwright, ranks tied for third among NL starting pitchers with an average of 6.3 innings per start. In the NL only Zack Wheeler (139.2) and Walker Buehler (135.2) have thrown more innings than Waino (132.2) this season. He’s 10th in the NL with a quality start percentage of 62%. His average game score (57.2) is 15th. And his ERA (3.53) is 18th. Those statistics are plenty good. But this guy actually transcends the numbers. Really special.
+ There’s no place like home: Including the weekend series vs. the Twins, the Cardinals are in a stretch of playing 17 of 23 games at Busch Stadium. That should be a very good thing. The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 13 home games and are 14-6 in their last 20. The Cards have a better home record this season (30-21) than the Brewers (29-24) and Reds (26-26.)
+ The marvelous Edmundo Sosa: In his 42 starts this season Sosa is batting .299 with a fine .364 OBP and solid .399 slug for a .762 OPS. The Fielding Bible credits Sosa with six defensive runs saved this season; two at second base, four at shortstop. Sosa’s four defensive runs saved at shortstop ties him for 11th at the position in MLB. And that’s really impressive. Why? Because 33 other major-league shortstops have played more innings than Sosa’s 275.2 this season. And he’s saved more runs than many of the guys that have played twice as much (and then some) at shortstop compared to Sosa.
Thank you for reading!
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.