THE REDBIRD REVIEW

In two of their first four games at Wrigley Field, the Cardinals failed to get much of anything done against a minor-league pitcher who was summoned by the Cubs to start against their rivals.

First it was Javier Assad in the opener of Tuesday’s doubleheader; just last season he was knocked around for a 6.48 ERA at the Double A level. Wednesday night it was Luke Farrell, who has a 5.08 ERA for the Triple Iowa Cubs in 2022. But the Cardinals were mystified by the pedestrian journeyman and were pounded, inexplicably, by a 7-1 score in one of their worst performances in a long time.

In the two starts, Assad and Farrell combined to hold the Cardinals to one teeny-weeny run in 8 and ⅓ innings. Kind of embarrassing, no? Oh, well. The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 13 games and have a healthy lead in the NL Central. So forget about Wednesday’s doozy of a snooze, and regroup.

It’s been an odd series so far for the Cardinals, who scored 13 runs in one game – and two total runs in the other three contests. With the series tied 2-2, the Cardinals will try their luck against a real major-league pitcher, Marcus Stroman, in Thursday’s matinee.

LAST CALL AT WRIGLEY FIELD

It will be STL’s final game of the season at Wrigley.

And if they play, it will be the final time we’ll see Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina competing at Wrigley as their long and winding (and winning) road leads to retirement. Pujols, Molina (and Nolan Arenado) aren’t in the starting lineup for Thursday’s series finale.

Molina hasn’t done a much damage during his visits to Wrigley Field over 19 seasons, batting .233 with nine homers and a .629 OPS in 123 games in the Friendly Confines. But he helped the Cardinals to win a huge number of games there with his defense, pitch-calling, and intense competitiveness that pushed the Cardinals.

Pujols has wrecked Wrigley on many occasions. In 100 career games at Wrigley Field Pujols has 30 home runs and 76 RBI with a slash line of .292 / .393 / .600.

It would be special to watch the legends get at least one more swing at the old ballpark on the North Side of Chicago.

Pujols has hit so many stunning, majestic home runs at Wrigley Field during his career, and I don’t want to choose his greatest one. Too many choices. I was there for many of them, and it was such thrill for me to witness such greatness. Still is. And the memories will never fade.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Accounting Department: The Brewers lost to the Dodgers again on Wednesday night, so the Cardinals remained 5 and ½ games ahead of the second-place Crew in the NL Central sweepstakes … Despite having lost two of their last three to the Cubs in this series before Thursday, the Cardinals are 26-11 in their last 37 games … going into Thursday’s game the Cubs were 20-13 in their last 33 games and had the second–best record in the NL Central (19-13) since the All-Star break. In order, here’s how each NL Central team has fared since the break: Cardinals (17-5), Cubs (19-13), Brewers (15-15), Reds (14-17) and Pirates (8-23.)

STL Starting Rotation, Home & Road: This season Cards starting pitchers have a 3.03 ERA at home, which is fourth-best in the majors. But the rotation has a 4.67 ERA in road games which ranks 24th among the 30 MLB teams. This trend is personified by the Cards’ top two starters, Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas.

Waino: 2.11 ERA at home, 4.31 ERA on road.

Mikolas: 2.45 ERA at home, 4.21 road.

Mikolas lasted six innings against the Cubs on Wednesday, giving up five runs overall – three earned.

The Pressure Is On Dakota Hudson: The mercurial right-hander must pitch terrifically well for the Cardinals today at Wrigley and help his team win the series. But Hudson will also be trying to protect his spot in the St. Louis rotation, at least for a while. Jack Flaherty is nearing the end of his minor-league rehab assignment and could be activated from the IL later this month or in early September to reenter the big club’s rotation. And lefty starter Steven Matz is potentially in the mix as he attempts to make it back from a knee injury. Matz is just about ready to begin a minor-league rehab stint.

The Cardinals could have seven starters available to them at some point in September: Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery, Flaherty, Jose Quintana, Hudson, and Matz.

If Hudson wants to make a case to stay in the rotation, this would be a dandy day for him to start changing minds.

Hudson has a 5.98 ERA in his last 11 starts, and a 5.50 ERA in his previous seven starts. His walk rate on the season (11%) is as bad as his strikeout rate (13.6%).

Since July 4 the Cardinals are 2-5 in games started by Hudson and have a record of 25-11 when any other pitcher starts. Dak is up against it … so how will he respond?

The pressure is on, and we should learn more about him today – whether it be good or bad.

Albert Pujols Versus RH Pitching: The Great Pujols continues to amaze. We knew he could still wallop left-handed pitchers, but he was widely viewed as a lost cause against right-handed pitching. And that’s because of his awful numbers vs. RH over the past few seasons.

Early in his farewell season with the Cardinals, Pujols reaffirmed the view that he was overmatched by righties. At the end of June, he had a .137 batting average, .233 slug and .509 OPS vs. right-handers in 87 plate appearances.

But in 52 plate appearances vs. righties since the start of July, Pujols is hitting .265 against them with a .469 slug and .777 OPS.

First three months: 42 percent below league average offensively against RH pitching based on adjusted runs created (wRC+).

Last two months: 22 percent above league average vs. RHP in adjusted runs created.

Plus the Pujols OPS against RH pitching has improved by 268 points since the end of June. And his slugging percentage is up 236 points since the end of June.

For Pujols, the Fountain of Youth is apparently a river … the Mississippi River that rolls and flows near Busch Stadium.

Pujols is Old Time River Man … that was the title of a song written by the late, great St. Louisan John Hartford.

The Jordan Walker Watch: Writing for The Athletic, former major-league GM turned analyst Jim Bowden put Jordan Walker at No. 1 overall in his revised list of the Top 50 MLB prospects. The St. Louis gem has been binging at the plate in his last 13 games for Double A Springfield, batting .404 with three doubles, five homers, 12 RBI and a 1.189 OPS in 52 at-bats.

Here’s Bowden: “An incredible athlete for his size, Walker has few holes at the plate, which is difficult to achieve for a young player with a large frame. He has electric bat speed with lofting power to all fields and profiles to develop into a 30 to 40 home run hitter (per season). Walker also looks like a .300 hitter who could become a .400 on-base percentage standout. He is so talented he could play third base, first base, right field or left field — wherever the Cardinals have a need. Don’t be surprised if Walker makes it to St. Louis this season; if not, he’ll be there on Opening Day next year, and I predict he will be the National League Rookie of the Year in 2023. He’s a superstar in the making.”

With all due respect to Bowden, I’d be surprised to see Walker promoted to the big club later this season. He should, however, at least get some time at Triple A Memphis instead of spending the entire season at Springfield. Could Walker start the season in St. Louis in 2023? I suppose it’s possible but service-time considerations would theoretically give the front office motivation to have Walker open the ‘23 campaign at Memphis – similar to how the Cardinals handled rookie Nolan Gorman this year.

Walker, who turned 20 years old in May, is having an outstanding season at Springfield. In 99 games he’s hitting. .312, has a .393 OBP and a .533 slug, and has jacked his OPS to .912.

Needing time to adjust to Double A pitching, Walker had seven home runs in his three months at Springfield. But this formidable right-handed batter, a fast learner, has 10 home runs and a .673 slugging percentage in his last 28 games.

Another positive sign concerning Walker: his .544 slug, 15 homers and .939 OPS in his 352 plate appearances vs. RH pitching this season.

Walker has impressed everyone with his mature, evolved approach to hitting. Grip-and-rip is not his style, or his goal.

“I focus on trying not to get too big,” he told MLB.com last week. “My teammates bust on me all the time for not hitting more home runs, but honestly, I’m fine with that. If I start focusing on hitting home runs, I’ll get into trouble. Hitting the ball hard consistently and driving in runs is what my goal is each game.”

In the interview with MLB.com, Walker explained part of his preparation process.

“The prep work is really where it all starts,” he said. “We use an [iPitch Machine] with foam balls and I love it. It really helps me feel comfortable when I get in the box during a game.”

For the season, Walker has strafed Texas League ballparks for 28 doubles, three triples, 17 homers and 58 RBI. Walker played third base for Springfield through the end of July – but has been used exclusively in the outfield (all three spots) in his 19 games this month.

“I certainly don’t think I’m making anything look easy,” Walker told MLB.com. “[The pitchers] are really good. These guys have great stuff and know what to throw and when to throw it. The best thing I can do is to just keep things simple, but it’s been anything but easy. The pitching in Double-A is light years ahead of what I faced last year [in Single-A and High-A]. I’m not focused on my stats, just on each individual game.”

All Hail Corey Dickerson: The outfielder’s resurgence continued with zeal on Wednesday night, with his second consecutive four-hit game at Wrigley Field. In his last two games against the Cubs, Dickerson is 8 for 9 with three doubles, and he’s gone 9 for 13 (.692) so far during the road trip to Arizona and Chicago.

Dickerson actually benefited from his time on the injury list with a strained calf because it gave him time to reset mentally and take a more relaxed but confident approach to hitting. After signing a one-year $5 million deal with the Cardinals in the spring, Dickerson was jumpy at the plate and clearly pressing.

But since returning from the IL on July 9, the smooth left-handed hitter has batted .379 with a .400 OBP and .591 slug for a .991 OPS. During this period of reinvention Dickerson has lashed eight doubles, aired two homers and driven in 10 runs in 66 at-bats.

Since the beginning of July, Dickerson has the team’s best batting average (.379) among Cardinals that have at least 70 plate appearances over that time. And he ranks fifth in OPS, onbase percentage and slugging. Given Tyler O’Neill’s mediocre numbers against right-handed pitching this season – .222 average and a .641 OPS – Dickerson is in line for more playing time when the Cardinals face RH starting pitchers.

Brendan Donovan: He goes into Thursday’s game at Chicago with 10 hits in his last 21 at-bats over six games. Add in the two walks during that time, and Donovan has a .476 average and .522 OBP. It’s been a very nice rookie season for the super-utility dude, highlighted by .295 average, .404 OBP and 130 OPS+.

Yadier Molina’s Extreme Decline Offensively: In his 19th and final season with the Cardinals, the gold-plated catcher still has value defensively, which I’ve quantified several times this season. But Molina, 40, is slogging through his worst season offensively. Through Wednesday Molina had a 43 OPS+ which means he’s 57 percent below league average offensively. For perspective, consider that Molina was 11 percent above average offensively from 2011 through 2018. Those days are long gone.

This season 320 MLB hitters had at least 190 plate appearances through Wednesday, and Molina ranks 317th in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) at 59 percent below average offensively. And he’s 311th among the 320 hitters in onbase percentage (.267), 317th in OPS (.497) and 318th in slugging percentage (.209.)

Since returning from his lengthy stay on the IL, Molina is 11 for 55 (.200) with a .441 OPS with no extra-base hits and just two runs batted in. In his 108 plate appearances since May 21, Molina is hitting .175 with a .407 OPS – and has just two extra-base hits and four RBI in 103 at-bats.

Needless to say, the Cardinals are near the bottom in all relevant offensive categories at the catcher position. Molina, Andrew Knizner and two other catchers have collectively batted .208 this season with a .270 OBP, .259 slug and .530 OPS. St. Louis catchers are 24th at the position in OBP, 29th in OPS, and last in slugging.

I don’t know what the St. Louis front-office plans at catcher are for 2023, but it better be a good one.

Larruping Lars Nootbaar Does It Again: You can count on this guy to do something positive in just about every game he plays. On Wednesday it was a solo homer to account for the team’s only run in the Cubs’ 7-1 rout of St. Louis. In his last nine games Noot is batting .333 with a .539 OBP, .815 slug and 1.353 OPS – plus two doubles, a triple, three homers, seven RBI, 11 walks and 12 runs scored in 39 plate appearances.

Nootbaar’s volcanic eruption on offense has increased his OPS+ for the season to 137, meaning that he’s 37 percent above the league average. Among Cardinal regulars, only Paul Goldschmidt (195), Nolan Arenado (162) and Albert Pujols (150) have a higher OPS than Nootbaar.

In 35 plate appearances batting leadoff for the Cardinals this season, Nootbaar has a .514 onbase percentage and .792 slugging %.

Paulie DeJong. Sigh: In his last 11 games the Cards shortstop is 2 for 32 (.063) with a .323 OPS and has struck out in 50 percent of his 26 plate appearances. Even though DeJong went on a good-to-see scorcher of a streak after being called up from Triple A Memphis, it didn’t change his bleak season as a hitter. In 174 plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2022, DeJong is batting .170 with just six homers, a .598 OPS and a strikeout rate of 32.7%.

Brewers Bruised: After winning the opener the Brewers lost the final two games of their three-game series at Dodger Stadium. It was ugly, with LA batters scoring 22 runs in their two victories – roughing up Milwaukee starting pitchers Corbin Burnes and Adrian Houser for 11 earned runs in six innings combined. That’s an earned-run average of 18.00. The Brewers have lost 14 of their last 22 games and have allowed an average of 4.8 runs per game during this stretch.

The Brewers and Dodgers completed their season series with the Dodgers prevailing in four of the seven games. The Brewers haven’t won a season series with the Dodgers since 2014. This time, they were outscored 22-7 in the last two losses in LA.

“You play 162 games and you’re going to have games like this,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters after Wednesday’s 12-6 loss. “We’re at the end of a stretch that was a tough stretch for our bullpen guys. That’s a good team we’re playing. So, you chalk it up to you’re going to have nights like that. When you play a really good team, they’re going to put pressure on you to do things right.

“And we did things right, really, a lot of good things, for five of the seven games against them. We pitched exceptionally well for five out of the seven games against them. We pitched in a way where you can beat this team. We didn’t pitch that way the last two days.”

After a day off Thursday, the Crew opens a six-game homestand Friday, with the Cubs and Pirates coming to American Family Field for three games each.

Thanks for reading … enjoy the day baseball.

–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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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.