THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Is it a slump?
Yeah, it kind of is. But I’d describe it a different way: the Cardinals are in a rut.
It’s nothing extreme or particularly worrisome. Nothing, so far, that has weakened their hold over the Brewers for first place in the NL Central.
Hey, it’s baseball. The season is a long and winding road that has plenty of potholes and a few detours. All 30 teams deal with it, right? I mean, how else would we explain the Dodgers having a 1-5 record against the Pirates this season?
The Cardinals, 4-4 in their last eight games, have been slowed by a flat tire. They’ll fix it and be on their way.
And even after going 4-3 against the woeful Nationals and Pirates last week, and losing to the Brewers 8-4 on Tuesday, FanGraphs gives the Cardinals a 97.8 percent probability of winning the division.
Having said all of that, it would be nice to see the Cardinals get rolling again. They can begin the reset process by defeating starting pitcher Corbin Burnes and the Brewers on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.
It won’t be easy to take down Burnes, the reigning National League Cy Young award winner who has owned the Cardinals over the last two seasons.
In seven starts against St. Louis since the beginning of 2021, Burnes has been chipped for only five earned runs in 43 innings for a 1.05 ERA.
This season the Cardinals have faced Burnes three times, scrounging for just one dinky run in 21 innings (0.43 ERA.) In their three previous tries against Burnes in 2022 the Cardinals have batted .111, put only 11 of 75 batters on base, and struck out in 36 percent of their plate appearances.
So while most of the attention will be focused on Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina and their record-setting start – No. 325 of their careers, most by a pitcher-catcher combination in MLB history – the Cardinals will have to find a way to break Burnes.
Unless, of course, Wainwright plans on outpitching Burnes to lead the Cardinals to a win. That’s the best way to get it done. Last season the Brewers lost two of Burnes’ four starts against St. Louis for a simple reason: a lack of run support. In the two losses Milwaukee scored one run on Cardinal pitchers over 18 innings.
The Cardinals are 8-5 since Aug. 30. That ain’t bad for a sort-of slump. But 13 games have included a deceleration by the STL offense … that and some gaffes on defense and on the basepaths.
There’s no mystery here. During the 8-5 slowdown the Cardinals have averaged 4.38 runs, batted .224, slinked to a .298 onbase percentage and powered down a bit for a .408 slugging percentage.
They’ve scored four runs or fewer in seven of the last 13 games and have needed to stage wild rallies in the eighth or ninth inning to win three games against the Nationals and Pirates.
The Redbirds are right around the MLB average in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) during the downturn.
There’s nothing appalling about being average – but it just looks shabby after your team has spent weeks binging on offense and lacerating pitchers by putting up huge numbers.
Just take a look at this sampling of St. Louis stats over the last 13 games:
1. Slumping Stars: A .186 batting average for Paul Goldschmidt, and a .213 BA for Nolan Arenado – with Goldschmidt slugging .372 and Arenado posting a .362 slug.
2. Muddle In the Middle: Over the 13 games, the 3-4-5 spots in the St. Louis lineup have collectively batted .221 with a .299 onbase percentage and .376 slug. That includes a .200 average with runners in scoring position.
3. Spottiness In The Leadoff Spot: The No. 1 slot on the STL lineup has generated a turrible .271 onbase percentage over the 13 games. In a related note, Lars Nootbaar has a .088 batting average and .238 OBP over the 13 games.
4. Still Waiting On The Bro: Since Aug. 30 Tyler O’Neill is batting .190 with a .300 OBP and .381 slug.
5. Rookies Being Rookies: Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman have been assets for the Cardinals this season, with both putting up above-average marks in OPS+. But over the past 13 games Gorman is hitting .160 with a .552 OPS and has struck out 12 times in 25 plate appearances. (That’s 46.1%). And Donovan, uncharacteristically, is batting .200 with a too-low .304 OBP over the team’s last 13 contests.
6. Outfielders Making Too Many Outs: I’ve noted this several times lately, but here’s an update: since Aug. 30 the St. Louis outfielders have collectively hit .203 with a .288 OBP and .362 slug. In 156 combined plate appearances during this phase they have five homers and a .651 OPS and are 13 percent below league average offensively in wRC+.
Corey Dickerson has a .342 average with six RBI over this time when used as an outfielder – but the team’s other outfielders have hit .144 with 10 RBIs since Aug. 30. Just awful.
This is a major comedown from the St. Louis outfield’s collective production from July 22 through Aug. 29. During the hot streak the team’s outfielders batted .268, led all MLB outfields with a .361 OBP, and were second among all outfields in slugging (.481) and OPS (.482.) The outfield was 39 percent above league average offensively in wRC+ … and became a prominent factor in the team’s formidable average of 5.9 runs per game over that time.
7. How About A Little Help From The Bench Guys? Over the team’s last 13 games, Paul DeJong, Andrew Knizner, Alec Burleson and Dylan Carlson have combined for three hits in 39 at-bats.
So there you have it. There’s no way to have a robust offense when the top guns in your lineup have gone quiet, the middle-lineup section is dormant, the leadoff spot isn’t setting up enough RBI chances, and all but one of your outfielders are lost at the plate.
The only St. Louis hitters that have matched or exceeded their season standards offensively since Aug. 30 are Tommy Edman, Dickerson and Molina. It’s only 13 games, and not a big deal in the bigger picture. But we’d like to see this offense get moving again.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
No Thanks, I’ll Pass On Going For Cheap Clicks: Sorry to disappoint some of you, but I won’t be writing anything except this brief point of reference concerning the knucklehead media yapper who cast aspersions on Albert Pujols. And I feel dirty and dimwitted just by doing that.
Why do I want to shovel this manure out of my path?
Three reasons (1) Writing about this dude is EXACTLY what he wants – attention, notoriety, hot-take points, Twitter fame. So why be his servant and do him a favor by publicizing this? Why put the garbage in circulation? (2) The big mouth didn’t have the guts to come straight and say what he really wanted to say. He finessed innuendo. It was a poltroon move. Yeah, so let’s repeat it and promote it. (3) Just by going deep into this sewer, I’d be indirectly spreading gossip that would prompt more imbeciles to look at Pujols with their suspicious half-minds. Again: why the hell would I do that? (4) Pujols needs no defending. As anyone that has an attention span that exceeds that of a common house fly already knows, Pujols’ power returned last season when he signed with the Dodgers in a rejuvenating move.
Pujols hit 17 homers last season. He has 18 this season. He hit a homer every 14.2 at-bats last season; he’s hitting one every 15.7 at-bats this year. Where exactly is the taint in those numbers?
Pujols has taken his reestablished power to a higher level since early July. He put a helluva lot of work into this to get ready physically for his farewell season in the majors. He’s inspired to the max because he’s back in St. Louis for his final major-league season, a combination that taps into every measure of his pride. And he’s made the necessary adjustments in his hitting mechanics after getting off to a slow start. Just as he did in 2021, Pujols is punishing left-handed pitchers. There’s nothing complicated about this. But you know how it is in modern culture: fake tough guys just gotta strike a pose. I apologize for bringing it up.
Good Luck To Wainwright And Molina: Tonight it’s the 325th start with Molina catching Waino … it’s such a cool thing, a tribute to their longevity and the sustained excellence that made their lastingness possible. There are many impressive numbers that go with this achievement, but my favorite thing about their partnership and friendship can’t be summed up in a statistic. Through their work they’ve provided so much fun and precious memories. More than anything, Waino-Yadi made Cardinals fans happy. So very happy. They’re like older family members that have their quirks, their exuberant ways, and bring more wisdom and humor to the setting than anybody. They are guaranteed to entertain you when they show up at your house, and you just love being in their presence. This is what I will be thinking about tonight … the memories … and feeling thankful that we’ve been watching this buddy movie since the late part of the 2005 season. Hall of Fame players. Hall of Fame dudes.
Awesome Waino-Yadi Stats: MLB.com tells us that, going into tonight, the Cardinals have a record of 212-112 when Wainwright starts a game with Molina as his catcher. The 212 wins are the most by a pitcher-catcher tandem in the modern era. And as MLB.com noted, if you take the winning percentage produced by Wainwright-Molina starts since 2007, and apply it over 162 games, the Cardinals would go 106-56.
I’ll add to those notes with one of my own: since 2007, when Wainwright starts a regular-season game and pitches to Molina, the Cardinals have a .654 winning percentage. In all other regular-season games since 2007, the Cardinals have a winning percentage of .534.
And don’t forget that the Wainwright-Molina duo has worked together in 15 postseason starts during their careers.
Tommy Edman Refuses To Back Down: Edman on Tuesday extended his hitting streak to 14 games – and has hit .426 with a 1.243 OPS during his fusillade. In the 14 games 12 of Edman’s 23 hits have gone for a double (8) or home run (4).
Among 153 MLB hitters that have at least 50 plate appearances since Aug. 28, Edman ranks fourth in OPS, fifth in batting average and slugging, and 10th in onbase percentage. Fun with smallish sample sizes: since Aug. 28 Edman has a higher OPS than a bunch of big-name MLB players including Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, Shohei Ohtani, Manny Machado, Mookie Betts, Austin Riley, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa.
Edman had a difficult time in July, batting only .198 for the month. But since the beginning of August Edman is batting .318 with a .918 OPS and has 12 doubles, a triple, six homers and 20 RBI.
Edman Vs. Right-Handers: As a switch-hitter Edman has been inconsistent in his performance against right-handed pitchers. That’s been the case this season. From the start of May through the end of July he batted .230 with a .628 OPS vs. RHP. But since the start of August Tommy is batting .333 with a .868 against RH.
Using wRC+ as the reference, Edman was 20 percent below league average offensively when going against RHP from May through July … but since Aug. 1 he’s been 46 percent above average offensively confronting the righties. Well done, sir.
The Cards Have A Better Rotation Now. But … The pitch-to-contact philosophy works well, for the most part, with a highly skilled infield defense behind the STL starting pitchers. That said, sometimes the ground balls get through. Or the soft-contact liners plop onto the outfield grass. Even though he did strike out six Brewers and get a decent amount of swinging strikes (10) it was one of those games for Cards starter Jordan Montgomery on Tuesday. He gave up seven hits and four earned runs in five innings.
Even though the rotation was upgraded in a strong way through the trade-deadline acquisitions of Montgomery and Jose Quintana, the Cardinals remain vulnerable to the vagaries of batted-ball fortune.
Here’s what I’m referring to, and these STL starting-pitching stats are from Aug. 2 through Sept. 13:
— A swinging-strike rate of 8.3%, which ranks 29th among the 30 teams.
— A strikeout rate of 17.8%, which ranks 24th.
— An opponent contact rate of 88.7% on pitches in the strike zone; that’s the seventh-highest among the 30 teams.
— 227 hits allowed, second-most in the majors since the deadline. Though, in fairness, the Cards starters have a .259 batting average against them over that time – which isn’t great. But nine other team sets of starting pitchers have yielded a higher batting average since deadline day.
— The Cardinals starters have allowed a .310 onbase percentage since the deadline. That isn’t awful … but 17 team sets of starting pitchers have a lower opponent OBP over this time.
— The STL starters have some good things going for them since the deadline: the lowest rate of home runs allowed per nine nine innings (0.56) among MLB rotations; the highest ground–ball rate (48.7%), a lot of soft-contact by opponents, and the eighth-lowest walk rate (6.2%).
But without much swing-and-miss stuff, and not enough strikeouts, the Cardinals are more susceptible to cheap hits and batted-ball randomness.
The best teams in baseball have two common starting-pitching traits: swing-and-miss strength, and strikeout punch.
The five highest swing-miss rates this season belong to the Rays, Mets, Braves, Yankees and Dodgers.
Seven of the top 10 strikeout rates belong to starting pitchers on the Mets, Braves, Yankees, Padres, Rays, Astros and Dodgers.
The Accounting Department: Despite going 4-4 in their last eight games, the Cardinals still have MLB’s second-best record (32-12, .727) since July 27 … The Cardinals have lost three of their last five home games … the Cards are 37-60 this season when failing to hit at least two homers in a game … Pujols is batting .225 over his last 40 at–bats since Aug. 29, but five of his nine hits have flown for extra bases – including four home runs … the Cardinals didn’t get a hit Tuesday after Corey Dickerson singled to lead off the third inning … the Brewers retired 20 of STL’s final 22 batters, giving up a walk and hitting a batter … Goldshmidt is hitting .172 with two RBI in his last eight games, dropping his batting average on the season to .322. Goldy trails Freddie Freeman (.329) and Jeff McNeil (.323) in the NL batting-title race … Pete Alonso has moved ahead of Goldschmidt in the NL’s RBI count, 110 to 109. And in the NL’s home-run derby, Goldschmidt (35) remains two behind Kyle Schwarber (37) and one behind Austin Riley (36) …
The Brewers are 5-1 in their last six games. Before heating up again they’d gone 14-21 during a bleak 35-game stretching … According to FanGraphs the Brewers have a 2.2% chance of winning the NL Central and a 25.7% crack at securing a wild-card spot … the Cardinals are now 14-2 in games started by Quintana or Montgomery … with three more games to go against each other in the remaining 20 games, the Cardinals and Brewers are tied 8-8 in their regular-season series … top prospect Jordan Walker has only one homer in his last 16 games (70 plate appearances) at Double A Springfield … the Cardinals went 0 for 9 against Milwaukee’s LH relievers in Tuesday’s setback.
As always, thanks for reading …
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, 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.