How are ya?

THE OVERVIEW: Remember the good times? Just kidding. But the Cardinals’ momentum of a 15-5 stretch ended with three straight losses during a hideous weekend of baseball at Petco Park in San Diego. After winning two of three in Milwaukee the Cardinals fell apart in San Diego to fall to 23-18 on the season. 

JUST WONDERING: Did this series reveal a discouraging, schedule-related trend? Maybe. But after the skunking by a Padres team that was missing three key regulars — Fernando Tatis Jr., Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers — the Cards are 12-14 vs. teams that currently have winning records. They have done much better (11-4) when encountering losing teams.

A WEEKEND OF UGLY, BORING BASEBALL: Let’s get into this. It must be done. In getting slapped around by the San Diego Padres in a three-game series sweep, the Cardinals played their worst series of the season. Frankly, it was embarrassing. Not only did the Cardinals play bad baseball in every aspect of the game that matters, they did so slowly — their dawdling pitchers throwing so many pitches, walking so many Padres, the shortest game (Sunday) lasted 3 hours 31 minutes. Friday’s endless, mind-numbing tedium lasted 4 hours and 8 minutes. If you wanted to isolate one game and use it as an example of the sorry state of competitive play in major league baseball, this snoozer had everything. Except, of course, entertainment. 

**** As you undoubtedly know by now, St. Louis pitchers walked 26 San Diego batters and hit three others. According to ESPN, this collapse of control set a bleak team record for most walks in a three game-series. On 10 of the walks, the hitter came around to score after accepting the free pass. The Padres used a 21 percent walk rate to reach base on 46.4% of their 125 plate appearances. The Cards struck out only 15 Padres in 24 innings for a pathetic strikeout rate of 12%.

**** Starting pitchers Johan Oviedo, Adam Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim provided only 9 and ⅓ innings and pitched to only 52 batters, walking 11 with only five strikeouts. They gave up 13 runs, 10 earned. In four innings, Wainwright was walloped for eight hits, three homers and three walks in the Padres’ 13-3 win. 

**** The STL bullpen had to cover 14 and ⅔ of the team’s 24 innings. Because of that, I’m not even going to bother to discuss the bullpen performance. When you expose a bullpen in extreme circumstances, there will be flames. At least Matt Carpenter helped out by pitching 1 and ⅓ innings without allowing a run or issuing a walk. When your 35-year-old infielder is your best pitcher in the series, that’s a problem.

**** The Cards defense was shaky. I don’t care if the defenders were charged with only one error in three games; that’s just an example of ridiculous official scoring. The Cards failed to make plays they should have made. They ran into each other in the pursuit of a baseball. It wasn’t clean.Cardinals hitters scored 10 runs in three games. The output was one-dimensional. They went 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position, and hit .179 with men on. The Cards clubbed six homers, but four were solo shots. The other two came with a man on. Eight of the 10 runs were created by homers. Otherwise? Not much.

**** Where was this “small ball” and astute run manufacturing that I keep reading and hearing about? I thought this was supposed to be a speciality or something. (Pardon my sarcasm.) Update: through 41 games, the Cardinals have produced 56 percent of their runs on homers. 

The Cardinals could have won two of the three games. They had a shot. But they were doomed by walks, snafus and a dull offense. (Except for Nolan Arenado.)

TOO MANY WALKS MAKES FOR BAD HISTORY: This isn’t a new thing; Cardinals pitchers have been ventured into danger by walking opponents all season. But after seeing them walking 26 in San Diego, I had to go to FanGraphs and do some research.

The Cardinals have the worst walk rate (11.9%) of any MLB pitching staff this season. Hold on; that isn’t the research part. 

Here’s your eye-opener: no Cardinal pitching staff has ever been so careless about walking hitters. The data goes back to 1916, which covers 106 seasons including this one. And if the current 11.9% walk rate holds, it would be the worst by a STL staff in the 106-year period. The second-worst? That would be 1999, and a 10.4% walk rate. Third-worst: a 10.3% walk rate in 2020. Last season! 

No, this is not a new flaw or a temporary phase. The Cardinals have a major problem throwing strikes and giving walks to appreciative hitters. And it’s chronic. It should not be downplayed or pushed to the side by excuses or rationalizations. 

Since the start of last season the Cardinals have the worst walk rate (11%) in the majors. And that includes a 9.4% walk rate from the starters (5th worst) and the 13.2% pass rate by their relievers (the worst.) 

Over that time the Cardinals (all pitchers) have the worst first-strike rate (57%) in the majors. The Cards are 20th in overall percentage of pitches in the strike zone (40.7%), and opponents are onto them. Since the start of last season opponents have swung at only 44.7% of the pitches thrown by St. Louis. That’s 26th among 30 teams. 

THE CONSEQUENCES OF A LOW STRIKEOUT RATE: A related STL flaw is a low strikeout rate, especially by the starters. The Cardinals rank in 23rd in overall strikeout rate over the last two seasons. That includes a 21% rate by their starters (25th.)

When you don’t miss many bats, and have been hit for the 10th-highest contact rate (84.6%) on pitches in the strike zone, well … that leads to caution and trying to pick corners and attempting to get hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone. Since the start of last season, Cards pitchers have gotten hitters to chase 29 percent of pitches thrown out of the zone. That may seem like a lot — but it isn’t, relative to current standards. Only one pitching staff (Colorado) has a lower chase rate than St. Louis over the last two seasons. 

THE PADRES ARE SMART: Clearly, the San Diego manager, coaches and analytics staff sniffed out the Cardinals’ obvious plan to get opponents to swing at pitches that go astray of the strike zone. And that intel clearly was a significant factor in the 26-walk marathon. The Padres came into the weekend series with a 26.4% chase rate on the season. Against the St. Louis pitchers, the Padres reduced the chase rate to 18.7%. And when the Padres swung at a strike? Ouch. The Friars had a contact rate of 90.6% on strikes. 

You don’t have to like the Padres. But you should respect them for their excellent preparation. The Padres became familiar with the Cards’ pitching approach, and used the info to adjust their own hitting approach. And the Cardinals? No adjustments. Not from what I can tell. Just keep throwing pitches out of the zone, trying to lure the Padres into swinging. No go. The Padres held their plate discipline and owned Redbird pitching. 

YOU GO, NADO! Cards third baseman Nolan Arenado extended his recent blistering pace by going 6 for 12 against the Padres, hitting a homer in each game and driving in four of the Cards’ 10 runs. 

Among the 159 MLB hitters that have at least 50 plate appearances since April 30, Arenado is second in batting average (.381), second in slugging percentage (.762), second in OPS (1.204), second in RBI (15), tied for fourth in homers (5), and is ninth in onbase percentage (.429.) I like this one too: since April 30 Arenado has struck out only three times in 68 PA. 

He’s good! 

BATTING 2ND, DYLAN CARLSON: Since being switched to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, the smooth rookie is hitting .296 (good), has a .372 OBP (very good) and is slugging .346 (no good.) This one jumps out at me: in 94 plate appearances as the No. 2 hitter Carlson has only four extra-base hits, all homers. And he’s driven in only five runs. 

When Carlson batted at other spots in the lineup — mostly 5th, 6th, or 7th — his power numbers were much better: .534 slug, three homers, seven doubles, 12 RBI. 

Using park adjusted runs created (wRC+), Carlson was 44 percent above league average offensively when batting in spots other than 2nd. But as the No. 2 hitter, his wRC+ is seven percent above the league average. 

TOMMY EDMAN, DEFINITELY SLUMPING: In his last 10 games the Cards leadoff hitter is 7 for 43 (.163) with a .217 OBP and .380 OPS with no no extra-base hits. With the downturn Edman ranks 21st among 27 major league leadoff hitters (minimum 75 PA) with his .321 OBP for the season. And he’s 24th among the 27 with a .679 OPS. 

HARRISON BADER, MAKING REAL PROGRESS: In 61 PA since he rejoined the Cardinals from the IL, Harrison Bader is batting .283 with a .361 OBP, .528 slug and .889 OPS. Also notable is Harry’s low strikeout rate of 12.5%. Bedeviled by RH pitching during his career, Bader is trying to turn it around in 2021. And so far in 54 PA vs. RH he’s struck out only 14.8% of the time. Coming into the season Bader had a career strikeout rate of just under 31% when facing RH. Can Bader make his improved plate discipline last? 

OBLIGATORY TYLER O’NEILL WATCH: O’Neill has played in 22 games since leaving the IL. He’s doing really well. In 78 plate appearances O’Neill has a .292 average, .625 slugging percentage and .958 OPS. His strikeout rate (27%) is high but not absurdly so. He’s offset the strikeouts with 7 homers, 3 doubles, and 15 RBIs. And he’s managed to get on base 33 percent of the time.

Thanks for reading …


Please check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store. 


Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.