Welcome to the Redbird Review
After two consecutive losses to the Atlanta Braves, the Cardinals have gone groundhog again, digging themselves another hole. They’ve scratched and clawed their way back to the underground, below .500.
What’s a manager to do?
I’ve been hard on Mike Shildt this season, but much of my grumbling is directed at the weakness of his public messaging, especially after losses. As the only member of the organization who speaks to the public (via the media) before and after every game, Shildty takes positive thinking to an absurdly extreme level — talking about the Cardinals as if they played Little League baseball instead of collectively earning $164 million this season as paid professionals. You don’t lather praise on a team for playing hard; it’s their dang job. And it makes me and others wonder if Shildt holds players accountable.
And then there’s the baseball stuff.
To repeat: What’s a manager to do?
1) Was Shildt given a roster with deep, quality depth? No.
2) Was Shildt provided with help when Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas suffered injuries that weakened the rotation? No. The starting pitching pretty much has been thin all along, and Shildt could only do so much.
3) At a time when contenders and better teams were loading up or restocking, did the St. Louis front office step up to add significant or meaningful talent to the roster before the trade deadline? No. Not even some established bullpen help? No.
4) And it’s no coincidence that the Cardinals just lost two games to the Braves, a team acquired four outfielders and a closer-type reliever to boost the morale and the team’s postseason chances. Three of the outfitters — Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson — pounded the Cardinals for three homers and seven RBIs in the first two games of the series.
5) It’s no coincidence that the Cardinals trail first-place Milwaukee by 11 games; the Brewers’ exceptional front-office led by David Stearns has been padding the Crew’s depth all season — from spring training right on up to the trade deadline. Recent additions Eduardo Escobar and Rowdy Tellez already have combined for seven homers and 22 RBI, and Stearns’ early jump to land shortstop Willy Adames in a May trade with Tampa Bay was a huge moment in the Brewer season. Except for the Cardinals the teams that are chasing a Wild Card spot went to the market for good position players, some starting pitchers and bullpen help.
6) When Shildt’s offense is bogged down by slumping hitters, can he turn to the bench for viable solutions? A bat that can lift the team? Other than Edmundo Sosa, the answer is NO. This front office didn’t even bother to come up with a legitimate fourth outfielder this season despite the injury histories of Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader. The Cardinals have the worst bench in the majors. Shildt didn’t put it together.
7) Should we rip Shildt because Paul DeJong is batting .198 with a .383 slugging percentage and has driven in only nine runs that didn’t come on home runs? Heck, no.
8) When Paul Goldschmidt gets off to a cold start, that isn’t Shildt’s fault. When Nolan Arenado levels off and doesn’t hit with much authority for more than a month, that isn’t on Shildt. When the Cardinals lack high onbase percentage options to bat leadoff, I can’t blame Shildt. He wasn’t the guy who dumped Kolten Wong, who quickly was signed by the superior Brewers.
9) Shildt didn’t extend the aging Matt Carpenter’s contract, or make the call to sign Carlos Martinez and DeJong to long-term deals with no rush to do so with free agency being years away. As for Carpenter: he’s a member of a short bench, and Shildt must use him. To expect otherwise is goofy. If you want to rage about Carpenter, then look upstairs to the front office.
10) Shildt didn’t assemble a bullpen that had three stellar relievers for the back end but was clearly vulnerable in the middle.
11) Among MLB position players that have at least 250 plate appearances this season, the Cardinals have only one player in the top 50 in Wins Above Replacement: Arenado, who ranks 30th with f3.1 WAR. O’Neill (2.5) is 53rd, and Goldschmidt (1.9) is tied for 80th. Blame Shildt? No. Why would we do that?
Sure, Shildt absolutely can be criticized or dinged for a few things.
–Shildt doesn’t take control of catcher Yadier Molina’s playing time. But let’s be honest here: Molina, 39, intimidates managers. And Molina manages Molina — and decides when Molina plays. It’s been this way for a long, long time. As for this year, Molina is batting .301 with runners in scoring position and has driven in 43 runs. But in the bigger picture Molina is batting .232 with two homers and a weak .568 OPS in his last 55 games.
–With shortstop DeJong struggling offensively through much of the first half, Shildt was too slow to begin utilizing Sosa.
–Shildt stayed too long with Tommy Edman at leadoff. But the eventual replacement at the No. 1 spot, rookie Dylan Carlson, has a .307 leadoff OBP — the same as Edman’s when Tommy bats first.
–Shildt probably plays Edman too much. But two things: (1) the manager didn’t decline Wong’s 2021 option and basically hand him to the Brewers while getting nothing in return. And (2) Edman’s weakness against RH pitching is more of a talent-evaluation issue; Shildt can only play with what he has. Shildt has been working Sosa into the lineup at second base, but that doesn’t matter much if the shortstop, DeJong, isn’t hitting. Matt Carpenter’s lineup placement is questionable; he’s occupied one of the first six lineup spots in 24 of his 37 starts.
–Shildt has worked Giovanny Gallegos too hard, and we’re seeing what it’s doing to Gio’s effectiveness (Not good. More on that later.) But again, the Cardinals went into the season with too many mediocre relievers, and gathering castoffs and other low-hanging fruit during the season isn’t the ideal solution.
–I don’t know what to say about hitting coach Jeff Albert. But Albert is a John Mozeliak guy as much as he’s a Shildty guy. And there’s no excuse for waiting until June 24 to have a meeting to correct the team’s flawed hitting approach. That bugs me.
My strong belief: The No. 1 problem with this manager is the roster that he’s managing. And since before spring training the St. Louis front office has largely ignored glaring weaknesses in the team’s depth. What exactly do we expect Shildt do in terms of how he deploys personnel?
Based on their minus 45 run differential, the Cardinals should have a record of 49-58. They are four games better than that at 53-54. They’ve probably won more games than they should have. And two of Shildt’s top priorities — strong defense and opportunistic baserunning — have a lot to do with that.
Moving On …
THEM BRAVES LIKE THE LEFTIES: Yeah, OK, sure … J.A. Happ wasn’t bad. He was fine. And judging Happ in the context of the Cardinals’ low-standards summer — the summer of low-hanging fruit, the summer of faded ambition — Happ was pretty good. Five innings, five hits, a homer, two earned runs, one walk, no hit batters, and four strikeouts. It was a LeBlanc kind of start — and no, that isn’t a dig at LeBlanc.
But a rotation filled with lefties is a problem. The Braves’ RH batters did considerable damage when challenged by Jon Lester and Happ on consecutive evenings: 32 plate appearances by RH batters, .315 average, .375 onbase percentage, .552 slugging percentage. Lester and Happ combined for the equivalent of a 7.36 ERA when facing Atlanta’s right-side hitters.
And while Lester’s flameout was definitely more alarming, Happ was roughed up even worse by ATL’s righthanded batters: six of the 15 reached against Happ; they batted .357; they had a double and a homer; they had a 1.043 OPS. Lester faced 17 RH bats and gave up a .267 average and .820 OPS. But Happ completely blanked Atlanta’s six LH batters last night; in six plate appearances they failed to reach base and struck out twice.
What about LeBlanc, who starts Thursday night’s game? As a starter for St. Louis he’s faced 88 RH batters so far and given up a .293 average and .831 OPS. And walks (11.4%) have been a problem.
LET’S TALK ABOUT GIO: Through the end of June, Gallegos was fourth among NL relievers with 42 innings pitched, and was tied for 13th with his 34 relief appearances. The workload was fairly intense, and I expressed concern about his usage on multiple occasions. Unfortunately for him and the Cardinals, Gallegos hasn’t been the same pitcher since the start of July. He entered Wednesday’s game in the 8th inning and the score tied 4-4. Gallegos retired two of six batters and allowed three hits, a walk, and three earned runs. The Braves opened a three-run lead and took a 7-4 victory into the clubhouse.
OK, here’s Gallegos statistically before July 1 … followed by his numbers after July 1. He had 34 appearances before that date, and has made 14 appearances since the calendar turned to July.
Let me start with this: Gallegos was tagged for only nine earned runs in 42 innings during the first three months. And he’s allowed the same amount — nine earned runs — in only 13.2 innings in the last month and five days.
- ERA: 1.93 before … 5.93 after
- Strikeout rate: 32% before … 27% after
- Walk rate: 5.3% before … 8.5% after
- Opponent OPS: .407 before … .732 after
- K-BB ratio: 6% before … 3.2% after
Gallegos limited opponents to a .209 slugging percentage in the first three months; that slug is .404 since July 1. In his last six outings Gallegos has a noticeably low 15.6 percent strikeout rate, and an elevated walk rate of 11.5%.
Opponents hit .134 and slugged .194 against his four-seam fastball over the first three months but have a .233 average and .367 slug against the pitch since July 1. After slugging .227 vs. the Gallegos slider through the end of June, opponents have a .400 slug against the pitch in his last 14 appearances.
Gio’s velocity is intact, but there’s been less of a vertical drop and more grooved pitches over the last 14 appearances.
Wednesday against Atlanta, Gallegos raised questions with his body language and slow pace. Something isn’t right. Gallegos is an essential part of the bullpen’s lead-protection security detail.
THE OFFENSE RESTS: After Nolan Arenado’s three-run homer in the first, the Cardinals went quiet at the plate, going 3 for 26 from the second inning on, with two walks and two hit batters. The Cardinals have scored four runs or fewer in 11 of the last 17 games. For the season, they have scored three runs or fewer in 53.3 percent of their 107 games and have scratched out three runs or less in 38.3% of their contests. The only MLB team with more games of three-or-fewer runs than the Cardinals (41) this season is Pittsburgh, with 46. Sad.
THE SLUMP WATCH: Pauly DeJong has gone hitless in his last 14 at bats with seven strikeouts … Yadier Molina doesn’t have an extra-base hit since homering at Colorado on July 2; that’s a span of 79 plate appearances. All 19 hits have been singles. Molina has a .266 OBP and .247 slug since July 3.
REDBIRD RESET: Pardon my redundancy, but the Cardinals lost ground again Wednesday and now trail Milwaukee by 11 games. The Cards stayed 7.5 games behind San Diego (which lost) for the second wild card. But Philadelphia has won four in a row, and is 6.0 games behind the Padres. The Braves, finally at .500, are 7.5 games in back of the Padres. The closest pursuer is Cincinnati, which is only four games behind the Padres … the Cardinals are nine games under .500 since May 30 … after an 8-4 stretch that included a sweet 5-2 home stand after the All-Star break, the Cardinals have bumbled their way to six losses in the last 10 games and have dropped three of the last four … despite winning five of their first seven games after the All-Star break the Cardinals are now only 9-8 since the break … the Cardinals have won only one out of four series since the break (including a 1-1 split at Cleveland.)
Thanks for reading …
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.