THE REDBIRD REVIEW
My goodness, where did that come from?
Well, the Cardinals’ five-run lightning strike of a comeback in the 9th inning came from the same place where the old Albert Pujols turned young again … the same place where the young hitters turned into old heads to play leading roles in an awesome run of winning baseball …
The same place where you’ll find the two best position players in the National League, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, supplying the power and the RBIs and stand on guard at the corner infield spots … the same place where two left-handed starting pitchers, Jordan Montgomery arrived in trades to ameliorate the rotation.
This improbable ninth-inning charge to a 6-5 win over the Nationals came from the same place that had already generated 32 comeback victories this season. Make it 33.
This astonishing refusal to give in to the inevitable – and prevail to beat the odds – embodies what we’ve been seeing from a St. Louis team that has a 30-9 record, the best in the majors, since July 27.
As Brendan Donovan walked to the batter’s box to begin the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals trailed 5-1 after eight innings of uninspired play. Hold tight. A rush of inspiring play would soon take over the game, the Nationals, and the emotions of the crowd.
As Donovan prepared to face Nationals’ reliever Kyle Finnegan, the St. Louis Win Expectancy at that moment was only two percent. Which means Washington had a 98% probability of closing out a win and turning out the lights at Busch Stadium.
And then a crusade happened.
Arenado curled an opposite-field RBI double to make it 5-2.
Corey Dickerson grounded out to second base but got another run home. It was 5-3 now.
Tyler O’Neill, down 0-2 in the count, refused to get jumpy and overreact to his predicament. He coaxed a walk in a fabulous at-bat.
Rookie Nolan Gorman struck out.
The Cardinals were down to their last out.
Ageless catcher Yadier Molina singled in a run.
Now it was 5-4.
Tommy Edman smashed a first-pitch 98 mph fastball fired by Finnegan … this opposite-field rocket could not be intercepted by left fielder Alex Call. It landed for a double, two runners sprinted home, and the Cardinals stunned the Nationals and the home crowd for a 6-5 tour de force of a triumph.
Craziness. Disbelief. Fantasia.
One group of people was not stunned by this uplifting and unlikely uprising.
That would be your 2022 St. Louis Cardinals.
”To stay locked in, it speaks to the culture of this team,” manager Oli Marmol said. “The fight there at the end is impressive to see.’”
Think about the guys that made this special delivery in the ninth.
* Donovan opened the season in the minors but made a place for himself in the lineup by getting on base at a high rate to set up RBI opportunities for the big bats.
* Those big bats – Goldschmidt-Arenado – are having MVP-caliber seasons. They played their usual starring roles in the 9th.
* Dickerson was a sad free-agent bust … until he wasn’t. Dude is batting .460 in his last 50 plate appearances. Since July 11 he has a .396 average, .398 onbase percentage and .604 slug in a mad blast of unexpected offense.
* O’Neill has stalled too often this season, trying to find the confidence and the stroke that made him such an imposing hitter in 2021. Heck, he’d already struck out three times in Wednesday’s game before the ninth-inning bedlam got underway. But O’Neill’s plate discipline was phenomenal in his final at-bat, and he resisted the seemingly inevitable fate of striking out.
* And Molina? His single was overlooked in all of the commotion. If the future Hall of Famer makes an out there, the game’s over. But in a season of extreme offensive decline, the 40-year-old catcher lined a single to left to cut Washington’s lead to one run. Molina entered September with a sickly .200 batting average and .473 OPS. For the season he’s 49 percent below league average in OPS+. But with the season winding down, Molina is winding up. He feels it. He knows that October baseball, postseason baseball, is coming. It’s his last hurrah before retirement. Considering all of that, and factoring in his winning pedigree – is anyone surprised to see Molina open September with 7 hits in 14 at-bats?
* And finally, Edman. The switch-hitting defensive dynamo who often struggles to hit right-handed pitching. But he conquered that 98 mph heater thrown by a right-handed reliever. Didn’t wait. He took immediate action and won the game.
Think of that group: rookie, the two mighty stars, the revitalized journeyman free-agent outfielder, the disappointing but determined slugger who is searching for his 2021 form, the fading but stubbornly proud catcher, and the switch-hitting infielder who can be overtaken by kryptonite when a RH pitcher turns up the velo.
This disparate row of hitters teamed up for the most outrageous comeback win of the 2022 MLB season. Before the brouhaha broke out in the bottom of the ninth, major-league teams that trailed by four or more in the ninth inning this season had no wins and 817 losses.
The neighborhood team made it 817-1.
And it took a combination of hitters who, in many ways, personify the 2022 Cardinals and all that makes them go … and go … and go.
“That was an interesting game the way it all played out,” Marmol said. “We weren’t scoring early, guys mentally stayed with it and put together a really impressive ninth inning there. So credit to that group for not checking out and actually staying locked in. Those are some really good at-bats during the ninth. Just the fight there at the end is what is impressive to me. The fact that the guys didn’t check out was big.”
The Cardinals added another remarkable day of baseball to the memory book on a wild Wednesday. They’ve romped to a 81-56 record for a season-high 25 games over .500. And on a night when a win seemed impossible, the Cardinals came alive to make everything seem possible … not just in this game. But in all of the big games to come.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
Accounting Department: If the Cardinals beat the Nationals on Thursday, they’ll win their fifth series in a row … and a victory over the Nats would give the Cardinals a 9-1 record in their last 10 series … and a win would clinch a 15th consecutive winning season for the franchise … the Cards enter today’s game with a 47-23 record at home and a 55-27 ledger against teams with losing records … they entered Thursday with a 6-1 record in their last seven, had won nine of their last 11 and were 28-8 since July 30 … with Wednesday’s win the Cardinals are Cardinals 20-3 at home since July 15 … on Wednesday second-place Milwaukee completed a 2-5 road trip that took them to Arizona and Colorado. The Brewers are 14-21 in their last 35 games. During that devastating stretch they went from leading the Cardinals by four games to trailing the Cardinals by 9 and ½ games.
Is Jordan Montgomery The Ace? Well, it’s fair and factually correct to say he’s been the rotation’s top performer since being traded by the Yankees to St. Louis on Aug. 2. Montgomery was fantastic again Wednesday, allowing an earned run, three hits, two walks and striking out six in his 6.2 innings against Washington. Montgomery didn’t collect an individual “win.” The score was 1-1 when he departed. But the Cardinals are now 7-0 in his starts.
In the seven starts Montgomery has a 5-0 record, a 1.45 ERA and 2.28 fielding independent ERA in 43.1 innings. He’s averaged 6.19 innings per start. He’s struck out 38 and walked only eight for a fine K-BB ratio of 4.75. His WHIP is 0.90. Opponents are hitting .200 against him and have a faint .515 OPS. Montgomery has faced 164 batters and given up one homer.
Monty had one poor start as a Cardinal, getting cuffed for five earned runs in five innings against Atlanta. Other than that, Montgomery has been scratched for just two earned runs in 38.1 innings in his other six starts. That’s an ERA of 0.46. And he’s given up no more than one run in six of his seven assignments. Montgomery already has accrued 1.4 WAR. That’s damn impressive. If we prorate it over 28 starts, that’s a 5.6 WAR.
The Cardinals are 13-1 in games started by Montgomery and Jose Quintana since John Mozeliak made the two trades on Aug. 2 that delivered the two lefties and applied a significant rotation upgrade.
Fun Facts About The STL Rotation: Since the All-Star break the Cardinals rank fourth in the majors in fielding independent ERA (3.37) and are fifth overall with 5.1 fWAR. Since the beginning of August the St. Louis rotation is fourth in the majors in FIP (3.18) and fWAR (4.4.) Those stats from the start of August through Wednesday are a direct reflection on the impact of Montgomery and Quintana.
The Paul Goldschmidt Triple Crown Monitor: Goldy came through Wednesday with a 1 for 3 showing that included his 35th home run, a walk, and two runs scored. As play resumes Thursday, Goldschmidt (.329) leads the NL in batting average, five points ahead of Freddie Freeman (.324.) He leads the NL with 108 RBI, two ahead of Pete Alonso. And in the home-run derby, Kyle Schwarber leads with 36 – one more than Goldschmidt and Austin Riley.
Goldschmidt also leads the National League in fWAR (7.1), onbase percentage (.417), slugging (.616), OPS (1.033), OPS+ (194), total bases (300) and park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+). His wRC+ puts him 89 percent above league average offensively. Goldy is also second in the NL in extra base hits (70) and times on base (236.) And he’s a plus defender at first base.
Goldschmidt is 34 years old having the best season of his big-league career. If his numbers hold up, he’ll finish with his highest OPS+, slugging percentage, batting average, OPS and wRC+. And he has a good chance to exceed his highest home-run count in a season – 36, in 2013 and 2017.
Here’s the best way to sum up all of this: Paul Goldschmidt, your 2022 National League MVP.
About That Tyler O’Neill Walk In the 9th Last Night: Before he finessed that pass in a key moment in the comeback, O’Neill had 50 strikeouts and two walks when down 0-2 in the count this season. And now he has three walks in 0-2 scenarios. O’Neill has been much better this season in overcoming all two-strike counts. Before 2022, he had a 57 percent strikeout rate when dealing with two-strike challenges. This year he has a 44.8% strikeout rate in two-strike situations.
Brendan Donovan: He had two hits Wednesday and opened the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single. In his last 17 games Donovan is batting .328 with a .800 OPS.
He’s also one of the best rookies in baseball. Donovan’s 125 OPS+ is fourth overall among major-league rookies and second to Atlanta’s Michael Harris in the National League. Donovan leads all MLB rookies with a .392 OBP, and his batting average (.290) is second overall to Harris (.310.) Donovan’s 2.6 bWAR is sixth highest on the MLB rookie board.
Donovan Part II, An Outside View: Writing for The Athletic, former MLB general manager Jim Bowden listed Donovan as the third-best rookie in the National League behind the two rising stars in Atlanta: starting pitcher Spencer Strider and the outfielder Harris.
“Donovan’s versatility and ability to get on-base have been invaluable to the Cardinals this season,” Bowden wrote. “He has played all four infield positions as well as left and right field. He’s reached base at a 39 percent clip and provided 21 extra-base hits in 310 at-bats. A left-handed hitter, Donovan protects the Cardinals from injuries all over the diamond and plays with passion.”
Say It Ain’t So! Yes, I am sorry … but it’s true. Lars Nootbaar is in a recession. A mini-downturn if you will. He’s 0 for 17 with no walks and six strikeouts in his last five games. And he’s 1 for 21 with a homer and a walk in this early September.
Tommy Edman’s Power Ball: Edman extended his hitting streak to 10 games Wednesday, and he’s hitting .395 with a .410 OBP and .868 slug over that time — and 10 of his 15 hits have gone for extra bases. (Four doubles, six homers.) Edman’s surprising power has been sparking since the All-Star break; he’s slugging .490 since then with 11 doubles a triple and six homers. And Tommy is slugging .558 in his last 32 games.
Jake Woodford: though he gave up two hits, Woodford pitched a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday to keep the Cardinals (down 5-1) within range for a comeback. Because the Cardinals have made sporadic use of Woodford this season, we have to go back a long way. But in his last nine appearances (including one start) since June 16, Woodford has been dinged for only one earned run in 16.1 innings.
Questions Of The Day: (1) If outfielder Dylan Carlson had been dealing with a thumb injury for several weeks, why did the Cardinals wait until earlier this week to send him in for an MRI? (2) Nationals starter Josiah Gray has been popped for 34 homers this season, so will we see career No. 696 from you know who? (3) can right fielder Alec Burleson go on the attack today in his MLB debut and make a case for a solid amount of playing time? The Cardinals need some outfield/lineup reinforcement and I hope the big fella gets a chance. Burleson isn’t a grip-and-rip hitter. In addition to hitting .331 with a .372 OBP and .532 slug at Triple A Memphis this season, Burleson struck out only 14.2 percent of the time in his 470 plate appearances.
Can the Cardinals catch the Mets or Braves? There was a lot of talk in the St. Louis clubhouse late Wednesday night about the fellers making a run at the National League’s No. 2 seed in the postseason. To accomplish the goal, the Cardinals will have to finish with a better record than the team that wins the NL East – the Mets or Braves.
Here’s a breakdown as of Thursday morning:
– The Mets (87-51) lead the Braves (86-51) by a half-game in the NL East.
– The Cardinals (81-56) are 5 and ½ games behind the Mets and trail the Braves by 5.
– Games remaining: Cardinals and Braves 25; Mets 24.
– Home/Road remaining: The Mets have 12 at home and 12 on the road … Cardinals have 11 at home, 14 on the road … Braves have nine at home and 16 on the road.
– The Mets have the easiest remaining strength of sked in the majors. They’ll face opponents that have a combined winning percentage of .432. The Mets have only six games left against winning teams – three against the Brewers and three vs. the Braves. Otherwise the Mets will play the Marlins (5), Pirates (4), Cubs (3), Nationals (3) and A’s (3.)
– The Cardinals have the 5th easiest remaining schedule, with an opponents’ winning percentage of .460. The Cards More than half of the games left on the St. Louis sked will be played against the Pirates (9) and Reds (5.) But there are also three series against winning teams, all on the same road trip: three at the Padres, three at the Dodgers, and two at the Brewers.
– The Braves have the 12th easiest slate of games, going against teams with a .488 winning percentage. Atlanta will play 13 games against postseason contenders: Phillies (7), Mariners (3) and Mets (3.) On the other side of the schedule, the Braves have six games left against the Nationals and will play three against the Marlins and three vs. the Giants.
– A look at the trends: Going into Thursday’s round of games, here’s how the three teams have done since the Aug. 2 trade deadline: Cardinals are 27-8, Braves 24-10, Mets 22-14.
– Projected total-wins, based on Clay Davenport’s remaining-game simulations: Mets 102.2, Braves 100.8, Cardinals 96.3.
What will it take for St. Louis to capture the No. 2 seed? More than anything the Cardinals must take care of their own business by beating up on bad teams and putting together a winning eight-game road trip to San Diego, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. And with 14 road games to go, the Cardinals have to improve when playing away from Busch Stadium. Their road record on the season is a humdrum 34-33.
Thanks for reading …
Enjoy the day ball, and Wainwright pitching to Molina for the record-tying 324th big-league start as a tandem.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.