THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals let one get one away on Tuesday night at Tampa Bay, losing 4-2 in 10 innings on a blown save by Drew VerHagen. This was a bad one.

The Cardinals fell to the Rays despite:

– Outhitting the Rays 9-3 and limiting the home team to one hit in six at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals reached base 13 times in this game compared to six times on base for the Rays.

– Receiving an excellent start by Dakota Hudson, who allowed two hits, a walk and one earned run in seven strong innings.

– Having Hudson and relievers Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsey shut down the Tampa Bay offense for the first nine innings on one run, two hits and two walks. When your opponent puts only 4 of 31 batters on base in nine innings, you have to win this game. Period.

– Rallying to tie the game 1-1 on a Harrison Bader RBI single in the 8th inning.

– Taking a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th on a sac fly by Lars Nootbaar.

– Witnessing the wonder of third baseman Nolan Arenado, who made a platinum-level defensive play in the Tampa Bay 10th. Denying a sac-bunt attempt that would have put the tying run on third base, Arenado rushed forward, plucked the bunt, wheeled, and made a perfect jump throw back to third base to get the out. You just won’t see a better play from a third baseman than that. And I say that as a guy who grew up watching Brooks Robinson play 3B for the Orioles.

The Cardinals blew it because the offense couldn’t convert opportunities into runs through the first seven innings.

The Cards blew it by leaving 11 men on base overall.

The Cardinals blew it because Albert Pujols and Tyler O’Neill struck out five times in eight combined at-bats from the No. 4 and No. 5 lineup spots.

The Cardinals blew it because Paul Goldschmidt uncharacteristically slowed a bit after rounding third base to look over his shoulder and check on Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as Kiermaier collected Bader’s single. Goldy was thrown out at the plate to prevent St. Louis from taking a 3-1 lead in the 10th.

The Cardinals blew it because VerHagen failed to take advantage of Arenado’s extraordinary play. After getting a pop up for the second out in the 10th, Verhagen threw a putrid 89 mph sinker that drifted high and inside in the zone. Just a horrendous pitch.

Switch-hitter Taylor Walls, swinging from the left side, launched a tee shot into the fair-pole mesh in right field. Walls entered the game batting .151 with a sickly .238 slugging percentage.

VerHagen threw the worst pitch of the STL season to date and gave Walls a meatball that gave Tampa Bay the sudden victory in front of a noisy pro–Cardinals crowd. That unlikely walk-off ruined the Cards’ chance to walk off the field with a half-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central.

MINI-CONTROVERSY OF THE DAY

Did Oli Marmol Make A Mistake? The rookie manager got roasted in the usual hot-spot spaces of the interweb after Tuesday’s loss because he didn’t stay with Ryan Helsley in the 10th for a second inning of relief after Helsley threw only 11 pitches in the 9th.

I wouldn’t have fussed had Marmol stretched Helsey to a second inning to preserve the Cards 2-1 lead. But you know, as I know, that the same social-media stage actors would have been passing out with fake rage had Helsey blown the save in a second inning of work.

I had no problem with Marmol’s decisions. Why? Because I frequently criticized previous STL managers Mike Matheny and Mike Shildt for burning out – or breaking – relievers by pushing them too hard. A lengthy list of victims includes Kevin Siegrist, Trevor Rosenthal, Alex Reyes, Seth Maness, John Brebbia, Matt Bowman, Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan, Dominic Leone, Jordan Hicks, Edward Mujica, Seung Hwan Oh, Fernando Salas, and Bud Norris. Not all were injured, per se, but they gradually weakened during exhausting relief-work usage.

Last season the Cards’ three-best relievers – Gallegos, Reyes and Genesis Cabrera – combined for a 1.84 ERA and a 30.3 strikeout rate over the first three months. But all three ranked high on the list for most appearances and innings by a MLB reliever during the first half of the season. And over the final three months Gallegos, Reyes and Cabrera combined for a 4.94 ERA and 27.4% strikeout rate.

I very much prefer to see Marmol avoid wearing the big three out. They need to have gas in the tank for the entire season instead of running on fumes  during the final couple of months.

Marmol has been responsible in this area and I respect that.

So far this season St. Louis relievers have pitched without a day of rest only 20 times in 56 games. That’s the fifth-lowest total by a major-league bullpen. Last season only 10 bullpens used relievers on zero days rest more often than St. Louis. In 2019, only seven bullpens used relievers on no days rest more frequently than STL.

Marmol has changed that. It was a necessary step to preserve a bullpen that’s covering a lot of innings because of a relatively low innings supply by starting pitchers. The Cardinals are tied for fourth this season for the highest average of outs per game from the bullpen. And Marmol can’t keep putting the load on the same three guys, just because they’re the best relievers you have. Among other things, Marmol has to discover if he can count on a guy like VerHagen in pressure situations. And the only way to do that is to give VerHagen opportunities to prove himself — or flunk the test. But you can just bury him this early in the season after management signed him to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.

In Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Cubs, Helsley and Gallegos combined for 4.2 innings of relief without giving up an earned run. With the Cardinals in danger of being swept in Saturday’s doubleheader and losing the series, these were high-stress innings for Gallegos and Helsley. Sure, they both got a chance to rest on Sunday and Monday, but on Tuesday the Cardinals began a stretch in which they’ll play 10 games in nine days. That includes a doubleheader against the Pirates on Wednesday at Busch Stadium.

After the multi–innings gigs on Saturday, giving Helsley and Gallegos an extra day of rest on Tuesday is a good example of making sure your top relievers will perform like your top relievers all season instead of part of the season. There are times when it’s prudent for a manager to keep the bigger picture in mind instead of living entirely in the moment.

Many of you will disagree with me, and that’s fine. This all makes for a meaningful discussion.

I just don’t want to have yet another summer of watching a St. Louis manager breaking his relievers. I’d much rather have the big three stay healthy and viable all year. And if that means Marmol being somewhat cautious on how he uses Gallegos, Helsley and Cabrera – well, so be it.

So far this season Helsley has pitched on consecutive days only one time. Cabrera has pitched on back-to-back days two times, and Gallegos has done it three times. Last season the big three of Reyes, Cabrera and Gallegos pitched with no days rest a combined 48 times. And don’t forget that Helsley had an injury-plagued 2021 season that led to surgery. It’s best to be prudent. Or would you like to lose him again?

Here’s an idea: John Mozeliak and the front office should focus on acquiring more reliable and experienced relief help to assist Helsley, Gallegos, Cabrera and rookie Andre Pallante. If offseason free-agent signees Drew VerHagen and Nick Wittgren aren’t the answer, then try and try again.

Unless the Cardinals do something stupid (again) by putting Hicks back in the rotation when he returns from the IL, Hicks will fill a valuable role in the bullpen if he can stay healthy.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Daily Accounting: The Brewers suffered a shock of their own by losing 3-2 at home Tuesday when their seemingly invincible closer, Josh Hader, was rocked by the Phillies for two solo homers in the 9th inning. With two out in the bottom of the 9th Milwaukee’s Pablo Reyes struck out with the bases loaded to end the game.

Before Tuesday’s lightning strikes Hader hadn’t allowed a run in his 19 appearances covering 17.2 innings. During the dominant stretch he held opponents to a .069 batting average and struck out just under 44 percent of batters faced. The loss terminated Hader’s streak of 32 consecutive regular-season saves, including 18-for-18 this season.

The Brewers (33-24) have lost four in a row, six out of seven, seven of their last 11 and are 14-16 since May 7. But they’re still clinging to a half-game lead over St. Louis (32-24) which has won 12 of 18 since May 20 … With the loss the Cardinals fell to 3-3 on their current road trip which has two games to go in St. Petersburg … The Cardinals are 14-14 against teams with a winning record this season and 16-13 on the road.

Nolan Gorman: He’s 2 for 16 on the road trip with nine strikeouts. (With a homer and three RBI.) Since his first three games in the majors during the weekend series at Pittsburgh, the rookie has struck out 18 times in 41 plate appearances for a strikeout rate of 44 percent.

Dakota Hudson: In his last two starts Dak has allowed two earned runs in 14 innings for a 1.29 ERA. He’s working faster and walking fewer hitters – posting a strike percentage of 63% while walking only two of 50 batters faced over the two starts. And opponents have a .128 batting average in Hudson’s last two outings. Over his last three outings Dak has given up two earned runs in 18.2 innings for a 0.96 ERA. It’s reassuring to see Hudson realize that he had to adjust to become a more effective starting pitcher. He’s so much better – and entertaining – when pitching with tempo and enhanced precision .

Tip Of The Cap To The Rotation: Since Steven Matz went on the IL, the Cardinals have a starting-pitching ERA of 3.82 in 15 games. That ranks 12th in the majors over that time. The Cards have three rotation fixtures ranked among the top 25 in ERA among 61 MLB qualifying starters: Adam Wainwright 15th at 2.73, Hudson 18th at 2.76, and Miles Mikolas 25th at 3.02.

Harrison Bader: He’s been on an impressive run, and it continued Tuesday at Tampa Bay. In 107 plate appearances since May 6, Bader is batting .317 with a .336 onbase percentage and .462 slug for a .798 OPS. The streak includes four homers, 14 RBI, 18 runs and eight steals in nine attempts.

Bader ranks fifth among center fielders with 1.1 WAR since May 7 – and ranks third at the position in batting average and sixth in slugging over that time.

Since the start of the 2020 season Bader has a .439 slugging percentage and .764 OPS and is 13 percent above league average offensively based on adjusted OPS.

Jim Bowden – former MLB general manager and current baseball analyst for The Athletic – chose Bader as the starting center fielder for his “early” National League All-Star team.

Please Do Better, Mr. VerHagen: He was making progress since returning from a hip pointer that put him on the IL. But in his last two relief appearances VerHagen has gotten knocked back by giving up four earned runs, a .455 batting average and .818 slugging percentage in two innings.

The damage left him with a 4.96 ERA on the season.

VerHagen has faced 13 batters in high-leverage situations this season and it hasn’t gone well. In the high-leverage settings VerHagen has been popped for six earned runs, a .400 batting average, .538 onbase percentage and .800 slugging percentage.

As I wrote Tuesday afternoon, VerHagen has talent and is capable of being an asset. But he can’t establish consistency. Tuesday he issued another walk and now has a walk rate of 13.3 percent this season. That ranks 184th among 203 relievers that have pitched at least 16 innings this season.

Is The St. Louis Defense Slipping? Yes, if you go by the metrics. The Cardinals have dropped to 14th overall in the majors with their total of 12 defensive runs saved. Last season they were second overall and first in the NL with 81 defensive runs saved. This season the Cards rank 11th overall in defensive efficiency based on their .704 percentage of turning balls in play into outs. Last year they ranked second in defensive efficiency with a percentage of .714. The Cardinals still have an above-average defense but it’s leveled off.

How’s Tommy Edman Doing At Shortstop? Dandy. He’s been credited with one defensive run saved in 110 innings. And when he plays shortstop Edman is hitting .298 with a .333 OBP and .404 slug for a .757 OPS. Edman is better defensively at second base than he is at shortstop, but that doesn’t mean he’s inadequate at short.

Edmundo Sosa: He’s played 129 innings at shortstop this season and has provided +3 defense in runs saved. But when Soda is used at shortstop this year (54 plate appearances) he’s batted .192 with a .434 OPS, two RBI, no walks and 13 strikeouts.

Mostly because of Paul DeJong and Sosa, the Cardinals have lagged offensively at the shortstop position in 2022. Their collection of shortstops have batted .223 with a .317 slug and .611 OPS. As a group they’ve performed 20 percent below league average defensively. Edman and Brendan Donovan (8 for 16, .500) have punched things up when playing shortstop this season, but overall the position hasn’t added much impact offensively.

Lars Nootbaar, Making A Bid: After time on the IL Tyler O’Neill (shoulder) has returned, and Dylan Carlson (hamstring) is about to return. Carlson had three hits and four RBI for Triple A Memphis on Tuesday night in a blast-off that included a homer and a double. What will become of Nootbaar, who can play all three outfield positions? The outfield is headed for overcrowding but Nootbaar is making a pitch to stay with the big club. In his last 20 plate appearances Noot has a .350 OBP, .563 slug and .913 OPS with a homer and four RBI.

By the way the St. Louis outfield is minus 13 in defensive runs saved this year, with much of the problem confined to left field and right field. Last season the St. Louis outfield was credited with 29 defensive runs saved – best in the majors. And O’Neill and Bader each won a Gold Glove.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and 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 and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

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.