OVERVIEW: For the Cardinals and their fans, Thursday’s 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays was a source of frustration. When Nolan Arenado lined a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth to lift the home team to a 9-8 lead, the Cardinals had an expected-win percentage of 91.5% with closer Ryan Helsley ready to go in the ninth. But Helsley couldn’t lock it down, and the Blue Jays broke him for a dispiriting two-run rally to wrestle a victory from the Cardinals.

This was a wildly entertaining game, with the Cardinals and Jays slugging it out for 3 hours and 38 minutes of action. The battle of the birds featured 19 runs, 34 hits and 44 baserunners. The two managers used 14 pitchers.

The Cardinals fought back from 3-0, 4-1 and 5-3 deficits in the first four innings, and the Blue Jays erased a Redbirds’ lead in the seventh, eighth and ninth to put the home team away. The biggest downer of the day was Willson Contreras leaving the game in the eighth inning with a knee contusion.

Before the clouds moved in, it was a lovely afternoon.

Putting that and the loss aside …

It was a gorgeous day with ideal baseball weather.

The pregame ceremonies were perfect.

The beloved Cardinals Hall of Famers looked happy and handsome in their red jackets

The crowd was fantastic and created a wonderful setting.

New Cardinals Jordan Walker and Willson Contreras received a warm and affectionate welcome.

Adam Wainwright stepped to the mic to sing the national anthem. What a delightful surprise from Uncle Charlie.

All in all, it was a very good day that reminded us of there is much to treasure about Cardinals baseball — even when the home team loses.

MILES MIKOLAS: Ouch. He was strafed for 10 hits and five earned runs in 3 and ⅓ innings, which computes to a 13.50 ERA. One positive: no walks and six strikeouts.

THE TRUTH: Let’s clear something up. Yes, the Blue Jays had their share of soft-contact hits, but that wasn’t the story here. The Blue Jays had an average exit velocity of 91 mph on balls struck against Mikolas. And a glaring 50 percent of their balls in play against the Cards starter traveled 95 mph or higher. Last season the average hard-hit rate against Mikolas was 35.7%. Big difference. So let’s cool the “soft-contact, bad-luck” scenario. It’s a mostly false narrative.

RESPECT THE JAYS: Overall on the day, Toronto batters had an average exit velocity of 90.2% against St. Louis pitching – the highest by a team on Opening Day. The Blue Jays have an excellent offense, and they had a little “luck” working for them Thursday. But no MLB team smashed the ball harder than Toronto on the first day of the 2023 season.

AGAINST THE ODDS: when the Cardinals scored 9+ runs in a game last season, their record was 20-0. When the 2022 Cards scored exactly nine runs in a game, their record was 4-0. So we had to like the Cards’ chances of winning after putting up nine runs Thursday. The odds were against the Blue Jays, but their offense prevailed to outscore the Cardinals. That part isn’t surprising; last season Toronto was second in the American League in runs and led the AL in OPS, batting average, slugging, onbase percentage and total bases.


* All nine batters in the STL starting lineup had a hit, and five had at least two hits.

* Two-run homers from Brendan Donovan and Tyler O’Neill. Donovan had three hits, two RBI and two runs scored and was the star of the game for St. Louis.

* The first six hitters in the STL lineup were Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Willson Contreras and O’Neill. The six spots combined for 11 hits, two walks, two doubles, two homers, eight RBI and eight runs scored. Collectively the top six combined for a .393 average, .469 onbase percentage and .679 slug.

* Willson Contreras had an outstanding debut for the Cardinals before he left the game with a knee contusion in the top of the eighth, exiting after his right knee absorbed a 102.7 mph pitch from reliever Jordan Hicks. Contreras went 2 for 4 and threw out Matt Chapman on an attempted steal. Contreras had a key-at bat in the third, lining a two-out, two-strike pitch to keep the inning going. And just like that, O’Neill bombed the two-run homer that cut Toronto’s lead to 4-3.

* Playing in his first MLB game, the 20-year old mountain of potential, Jordan Walker, had his first big-league hit in his first at-bat and later notched his first RBI by outracing a throw to avoid an out.

* Relievers Zack Thompson and Drew VerHagen were terrific in their 2 and ⅓ combined scoreless innings. They each allowed a single, but there were no walks. And Thompson (three) and VerHagen (one) combined to strike out four of nine batters faced.


* As mentioned, the Cardinals coughed up a lead in each of the final three innings. Here’s the combined pitching line for relievers Andre Pallante, Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley: 3 and ⅓ innings, seven hits, three walks, five earned runs, and only ONE strikeout in 19 batters faced. Horrendous. Here’s the worst part: On two-strike counts the three relievers gave up five hits and two walks. If you want to get into the blame game for the loss, start with this.

* In his last two appearances at Busch Stadium – the first being the meltdown in Game 1 of the wild-card series vs. the Phillies – Helsley has been rocked for three hits, three walks, a hit batter and six earned runs for 27.00 ERA.

* The Cardinals scored plenty of runs but could have done more damage. But they went only 3 for 15 with runners in scoring position. Toronto was better, going 5 for 16 with RISP.

* The Contreras injury. Contreras went through an MRI scan to check the severity of the knee contusion; as of this writing there was no update from the team. The information will likely be provided later today.

* The Contreras scare raises another issue that I’ve been yapping about since Yadier Molina retired: the Cardinals need a better backup catcher, but the front office doesn’t seem to grasp the obvious. Andrew Knizner is a fine fellow and the pitchers like him. Wonderful. But he can’t hit. In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals led 9-8 and had Arenado on second base with no out.

Knizner was up. Rather than let Knizner hit away, manager Oli Marmol called for the bunt. He chose that over the possibility of Knizner getting a bloop single or something. It wasn’t a good choice by Marmol; keep in mind that Knizner has one sac bunt in 554 big-league plate appearances. But rather than have Knizner hit away with a runner already in scoring position, Marmol opted to take his chances with the sac-bunt attempt.

Over his final 19 games in 2022, Knizner batted .158 with a poor .485 OPS. In his big–league career, Knizner is below the replacement level with a minus 1.7 WAR. Per wRC+, his MLB career hitting performance is 32 percent below the league average. If the Cardinals can’t do better than this for a No. 2 catcher, the front office hasn’t tried enough. Contreras hasn’t started more than 123 games at catcher in a season, so the backup role takes on added importance in 2023.

NEXT UP: Saturday’s starting-pitching matchup features Jack Flaherty vs. Toronto starter Kevin Gausman. Game time, 1:15 p.m. Flaherty is physically sound after two consecutive seasons of injury torment and has worked hard to get his career back on track. Last season, his first for the Blue Jays, Gausman pitched 174.2 innings and posted the best fielding-independent ERA (2.38) by an AL starter. Gausman received Cy Young in each of the last two seasons (Giants, then Blue Jays.) Over the last two seasons Gausman is 26-16 in 64 starts with a 3.07 ERA and 2.71 FIP.

FUNNIEST SUBJECT LINE AT CARDS TALK: “Will this be the year that Mozeilek gets canned?” Cards Talk is a lively fan forum on STLtoday.com. There’s a lot of sky-is-falling angst on there, which makes the place entertaining. There are positive comments too. The “Mozeilek” question was put online by a poster at 3:48 am last night. Taking the loss pretty hard, eh?

Thanks for reading …

I look forward to writing the Redbird Review for you all season.


Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs and Bill James Online.


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.