THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Over the past two weeks the Cardinals had the opportunity to show that they belong in the group of elite teams in the National League.

They failed, losing nine of 14 games.

But you wouldn’t know that by listening to Cards manager Oli Marmol after his team got skunked 4-0 by the Dodgers on Thursday night.

“I feel like we match up just fine with these teams,” Marmol said. “We’re at a spot where we’re still a couple of guys down, and we’re in a part of our schedule where it’s been tough and guys are tired. They don’t want days off. They want to stay in there until this thing wraps up. We’re where we are, and with how we played against these guys, I’m alright with this. I’ll take my chances any day against them.”

Good grief.

First of all, all 30 MLB teams have to go through difficult sections of schedule. The tough-sked excuse is worthless.

OK, what about the Cardinals being tired? Please.  All teams are worn down to some extent at this stage of the season — during the final days before the All-Star break. Among NL postseason contenders the Brewers, Mets, Braves, and Phillies have played more games than the Cardinals since June 1. Over that time the Dodgers and Padres have had the same number of games (49) as the Cardinals, and the Giants have had only one fewer game than St. Louis.

As for the injuries … here we go again. I’ll remind Marmol and others of this fact: 23 MLB teams have endured more days missed by players on the Injured List than St. Louis has this season. The list of teams that have been hit harder than the Cardinals includes every other member of the NL Central division plus the Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, Braves, Padres, Giants, Phillies, Twins, White Sox and Red Sox. And if we want to limit the time-lost number to players that are on the IL right now, only three MLB teams have fewer days missed than STL.

The Cardinals are missing starting pitchers Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz. OK. But the front office never should have assumed that Flaherty would plug back in and stay healthy and pitch effectively. He hasn’t done that for any sustained period since the second half of the 2019 season and has missed 197 in-season days while on the DL since June 1 of 2021. The front office assumed he was fine, and didn’t collect enough rotation depth. That’s their fault, so the excuse doesn’t fly.

Moreover the team – including Marmol – screwed up Flaherty’s shoulder rehab by allowing him to talk his way back into the rotation before he was ready. That led to three bad starts, another injury setback, and a transfer to the 60-day IL. Again: the team messed up, and now they must deal with it. The imminent return of Matz should help, but we’re talking about a dude that had a 6.03 ERA when he went out on May 22 with shoulder issues.

And if the Cardinals think they’ve been walloped so viciously by starting–rotation injuries, they probably should talk to a few other teams.

Mets starting pitchers – including Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Chris Bassit, Tylor Megill and Taijuan Walker – have missed 337 days this season with injuries. Brewers starters Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser and Aaron Ashby have collectively missed 118 days. The Dodgers rotation has scrambled to cover 268 combined days missed by Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, Andrew Heaney and Mitch White. The Braves haven’t had Michael Soroka all season, and the Padres have lost 100 combined days on the IL because of injuries to starting pitchers Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger and Joe Musgrove.

The injury days missed by outfielders Tyler O’Neill (44), Harrison Bader (19) and Dylan Carlson (19) certainly are a factor in the Cards’ inconsistency on offense. But we should also note that so far Bader and O’Neill are having below-average seasons offensively, and Carlson is two percent above the league average offensively as the Cardinals go into the weekend series against Cincinnati.

I’m not sure why Marmol is conjuring up so many excuses when the Cardinals have experienced nothing more arduous than a typical baseball season … you know, just like the other 29 teams have done. Over 162 games there will be injuries, fatigue and brutal segments in the schedule.

That’s why we hear the term “grind” used so frequently by athletes. They know the deal. A sixth-month baseball marathon is demanding.This rigors of the regular season isn’t part of a plot against the Cardinals; a 162-game test is SUPPOSED to be hard.

Despite what the manager says, the Cardinals flunked the test in their checkup against the Phils, Braves and Dodgers. The Redbirds had their moments but did not “match up just fine” with these teams over the 14 games.

Not only did the Cardinals go 5-9, but they failed to win a series – losing three and splitting the four-game set with the Phillies at Busch Stadium. The Cards haven’t won a series against a winning team since their three-game sweep of the Padres that ended June 2. Since that impressive triumph the Cardinals are 0-5-2 in their seven series against winning opponents.

And if the Cardinals match up so well against successful teams, then why are they 23-31 in their 54 games against winning opponents? Their .426 winning percentage against teams over .500 ranks 17th among the 30 MLB squads. And STL has won only 10 of 26 games (.384) against the NL teams that have the four best winning percentages.

In the 14 games against the Phils, Braves and Dodgers the Cardinals averaged 2.85 runs, were shut out five times, and scored three runs or fewer nine times. The Cardinals exceeded the NL average of 4.42 runs per game in only three of the 14.

Over the 14 games, Cardinals held a lead at the close of an inning only 30 times in 128 innings. That’s an innings-led percent of 23.4%.

All 14 games were played in July. So a look at the NL numbers for the month shows this: the Cardinals are 14th among the 15 teams in runs per game, rank 11th in OPS (.654), and are 10th in batting average (.224), onbase percentage (.294), and slugging (.390.) They’re also batting .202 with runners in scoring position in July.

The Cardinals were outscored 57-40 in the 14 games. Their bullpen did well for the most part, compiling a 2.88 ERA in the 14 games. But the starting pitchers failed to supply at least six innings in nine of the 14 games, and the STL rotation ranks 21st overall and 12th in the NL with its 4.56 ERA in July.

Since June 7 the Cardinals are 8-16 in games against winning teams.

The trends are concerning.

Marmol can gloss over the down-bound performance, but that doesn’t change the factual truth or the obvious, no-doubt reality.

You can only prove your worthiness to stand among the elite teams by defeating the elite teams – even if we’re talking about having a .500 record against them. (At least you’re playing them even.) But the Cardinals haven’t done that. They’ve won only TWO of 16 series played against winning teams this season — with eight series losses and six splits. And in five of the six splits the Cardinals could have taken the series by prevailing in the final game … only to go 0-5.

This team falls flat too often. Not surprising. When the manager makes excuses and declares that his team can stand among the best teams – after they just failed to do so – it’s no surprise to see the Cardinals turn soft at times.

Marmol’s opinions after Thursday’s loss were … odd.

On one hand, he flashed false bravado by saying his team could match up against the best teams — after they had just done the opposite of that.

And then he followed the false bravado by copping excuses for his team on issues that apply to every other franchise in the majors.

Not a good look.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Accounting Department: I stayed up late and watched the visiting Brewers nip the Giants 3-2 in extra innings Thursday. With the Cardinals snoozing to a non-competitive (offensively) 4-0 loss to the Dodgers, the Crew left the ballpark in San Francisco with a three-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central standings.

After sweeping the Padres and winning three out of five games at Wrigley Field in early June, the Cardinals were 32-23 and trailed Milwaukee by a half-game. Since that point, beginning June 7 at Tampa, the Cardinals are 16-21 and have the NL’s 11th-best winning percentage at .432 … since reaching 10 games over .500 (37-27), taking the division lead and opening a 2 and ½ game lead over the Brewers on June 14, the Cardinals are 11-17 (.393) and have lost 5 and ½ games to Milwaukee in the standings.

The Cardinals are 11-16 since the beginning of a seven-game road trip that began June 17 in Boston. The Cardinals had a two-game lead over the Brewers going into the first game against the Red Sox, but that did last.

Here are the NL Central standings since June 17:

Brewers, 15-10
Pirates, 13-15
Reds, 11-15
Cubs, 11-15
Cardinals, 11-16

Kudos To Nolan Arenado: He deserves credit for speaking out on the state of the Cardinals. I’m sure most of you have seen or heard these quotes, but in case you missed it, here’s some of what he said after Thursday’s low-energy loss to the Dodgers:

Arenado has never won a division title. Not with Colorado or St. Louis. He wants it bad in 2022. “Absolutely, you want to win the division,” he said. “I don’t want to win the wild card anymore. Obviously, you get to the playoffs it’s great. If we get in, great. But you want to win the division. It’s important to win the division. I’ve never won it. I would like to be a part of that.”

“Pitch well, we don’t score runs. We score runs, we don’t pitch,” he said. “We’re not putting it together. That’s just what it is. The good teams put it together. The Braves, they’re a good example. They’re putting it together. The Dodgers, obviously. That’s just the best team in the National League we just played. You could see that … It’s a huge test. They pitch well and they score runs. We do that. We’re just not doing it on the same page every time. I think we can. And we will.”

Arenado added that he believes the Cardinals are capable of putting it together with the help of returning pitchers and position players that had their seasons disrupted by injuries. Flaherty, Matz, O’Neill, Bader, Yadier Molina.

And he added something else…

Arenado didn’t cite the front office by name, but he did send a message to John Mozeliak and crew. “A few pieces here and there could help us, too,” he said. “It helped last year when we got (starting pitchers) Jon Lester and J.A. Happ. A few pieces here and there definitely goes a long way, you know? There are some things we need, and it always feels good when you add. We’re not out of it and the most important thing is we’re still in it. So there’s no reason why we can’t take a big step forward in the second half.”

Arenado can opt out of his St. Louis contract and become an unrestricted free agent after the 2022 season.

The Dakota Hudson Experience: Not that it mattered, because the Cardinals didn’t score a run for him in Thursday’s 4-0 blanking by the Dodgers. Hudson held the Dodgers to one run through the first five innings, which prompted considerable post-game Happy Talk on the teevee. Problem is, Hudson ended up allowing four earned runs in his 6 and ⅔ innings, which is a 5.39 ERA. He gave up six hits, a walk, a run-scoring double, a two-run homer and hit three batters. His Game Score for the outing was a below-average 42, and Hudson has a 6.16 ERA in his last seven starts.

Be Grateful: Freddie Freeman left town. In the three-game series at Busch Stadium, the LA first baseman reached base 12 times in 14 plate appearances. He had nine hits in 11 at-bats (.818), with three doubles and a homer for a 1.364 slugging percentage. He scored three runs and knocked in two. I had Big Papi flashbacks from the 2013 World Series, when manager Mike Matheny refused to tell his pitchers to walk or otherwise pitch around David Ortiz.

Yo, Where Did The Offense Go: The Dodgers are the Dodgers because they have an extremely intelligent front office that routinely identifies low-cost pitchers with high-value potential. Guys like lefty starter Tyler Anderson, who signed a one-year deal with LA for $8 million this past offseason. Anderson baffled the Cardinals for six innings Thursday, picking up the win to improve his record to 10-1 and lower his ERA to 2.96. Anderson was an outstanding pickup and a main reason why the Dodgers have successfully filled injury-related holes in their rotation. Inexplicably the Dodgers declined to spend a combined $52 million on Steven Matz, Drew VerHagen and T.J. McFarland. Anyway … Anderson and three relievers teamed up to give the Cardinals their fifth shutout loss in the last 12 games. The home team never advanced a runner past second base, got their first hitter on base only two times in nine innings, and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

Random Follow-Up Note on Giovanny Gallegos: Earlier this week I explained why hitters are doing extensive damage when facing Gallegos. He’s lost 3 mph off his average fastball velocity. His fastball doesn’t have as much snap or break compared to what we’ve seen in the past. Hitters are powering up and going off on his fastball.

I wanted to add this to the case file: the right-handed Gallegos no longer controls LH batters with authority.

From 2019 through 2021 LH batters hit .164 against him with a .297 slug and .530 OPS. The LH bats averaged 0.8 home runs against him per nine innings, and struck out 34 percent.

This season LH batters are hitting .298 against Gio with a .614 slug and .963 OPS. They’ve homered off him at a rate of 2.5 per nine innings, and his strikeout rate against them has dropped to 23.8 percent.

In 31 at-bats this season that have ended with LH batters seeing the Gallegos fastball, they’ve hit .323 with three doubles and three homers and a .710 slug.

From 2019 through 2021, LH batters hit .197 with a .349 slug against Gio’s fastball. The whiff-swing rate by LH batters against the pitch has dropped in a significant way, going from 31.1 percent from 2019 through 2021 to 24% this season.

The disparity in Gio’s fastball effectiveness is stark. The fastball is no longer a reliable asset for Gallegos, and that’s a huge problem.

Don’t Sleep On The Reds: They come into Busch Stadium on the ride of a 6-1 streak that includes five wins in six games against the Rays and Yankees since July 8. And since May 7, the Cardinals (32-34) and Reds (31-33) virtually have the same record. In their current 6-1 spell the Reds have averaged 5.6 runs per game, cranked 13 homers and 13 doubles, and slugged .433.

The Cardinals will see three impressive rookie starting pitchers this weekend: Hunter Greene on Friday night, Nick Lodolo on Saturday afternoon, and Graham Ashcraft on Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals will counter (in order) with Andre Pallante, Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz.

Have a great weekend!

And thanks for reading …

–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.