THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals are looking forward to the next eight games on the docket. Based on their attitude, this road trip is a journey into self-discovery. The players are psyching themselves up to take on three winning opponents, viewing this as an opportunity to assess their worthiness.

The Padres, Dodgers and Brewers will give the Cardinals a chance to compare and contrast. And this appeals to the fellers.

Shortstop Paul DeJong explained this to reporters after Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Reds.

“I think these series will be a parallel to our Yankees and Braves series (in August) when we knew we were playing good teams and we had to step it up. We know we’re going to be playing good teams, it will be a good test for us, and we’ll have to step it up before we go into October.”

And as starting pitcher Miles Mikolas told Derrick Goold of STLtoday: “Win or lose, you want to play those games hard enough to where when the Dodgers see that we won and that’s who they’re going to play they go, ‘Aw (dung), you know, Cardinals won, like, we want to play the other team.’

“Wherever the Padres finish, if they see they’ve got to play us, you want them to think, ‘Aw (walnuts), got to play the Cardinals.’ That extra little bit of doubt or uneasiness that we can instill coming into a series is great. So, we’ve got to go there and play hard. We’ve got to try to stick it to them.”

I enjoy good, colorful quotes. Mikolas is among the best two or three Cardinals at dishing the most interesting thoughts and opinions.

That said …

I don’t believe the Dodgers fear the Cardinals or any team. And that would be true even if the Cardinals win all three games at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers respect the Cardinals because they already know STL is capable of playing great baseball. After all, the Dodgers (42-14) and Cardinals (37-17) have the two best records in the majors since the All-Star break. And the way the postseason matchups are aligning, the Cardinals wouldn’t see the Dodgers until the NLCS – and only if both teams advance that far.

As for San Diego, the Cardinals already handled the Padres this season, sweeping a three-game series at Busch Stadium from May 30 through June 1. Since Aug. 4, immediately after the trade deadline, the Cardinals are 32–13 – and the Padres are 20-20. The Padres have a capable, dangerous team. They haven’t won as many games as expected. They have it in them to put together a fearsome run of winning baseball. But to the stage of the campaign, the Cardinals have been the better team. That could change, sure. Because that’s baseball and you never know when the momentum will shift. But if we’re going by their respective records and recent trends, the Cardinals have been better than the Padres for a while now.

As for Milwaukee, the Cardinals and Brewers already have played each other 17 times this season. The Cardinals have a 9-8 edge. They’ve played five series so far, with St. Louis winning one and splitting the other four. The NL Central rivals know each other very well. I don’t know if there’s anything left to prove on either side. They’ll play two games in Milwaukee next Tuesday and Wednesday. And perhaps the Cards and Crew will meet again in St. Louis in the first postseason round. But at this point, what else is there to say? If the Cardinals lose both games to the Brewers next week they won’t fall apart mentally and run to a hiding place.

I’m intrigued by the road trip because the Cardinals will be playing three consecutive road series against winning teams for the first time this season.

So if you’re in the “Cardinals Have To Prove Themselves” camp, I have some fact nuggets for you:

* Only two teams (Dodgers, Padres) have played fewer games against winning opponents than the Cardinals this season. The Cards are 27-30 in their 57 contests against winners for a .474 winning percentage that ranks 11th in the majors in this category.

* The Cardinals’ 91 games against losing teams is tied for third-most in the majors. They’re a robust 60-31 against the weaker teams.

* The Cardinals have 87 total wins, and 69 percent of the victories have been bagged against teams with losing records. Only 31 percent of STL’s wins this season have come against winning opponents.

* The Cardinals are 8-16 in 24 road games against winning teams. But most of those games were played before the All-Star break, before the Cardinals got rolling. Then again, maybe the Cardinals couldn’t put winning streaks together in the first half because they struggled against winning teams.

* In their seven road series against winning teams this season, the Cardinals are 0-4-3. That’s correct; 148 games into the 2022 campaign the Cardinals are still seeking their first road-series triumph over a winning opponent.

* If you take Milwaukee out of the equation, the Cardinals are 4-12 on the road this season against other winning teams and have a series record of 0-4-1.

* The Cardinals haven’t faced a winning team on the road since splitting a two-game series at Toronto on July 26-27. Since losing that first game at Toronto, the Cardinals have a 36-14 record that ranks second to the Dodgers in MLB.

* In the 24 road games against winning teams this year the Cardinals have averaged 3.3 runs, batted .235, posted a .304 OBP, slugged .373 and have a .677 OPS. They’ve also struck out 24 percent of the time and averaged just over 1 home run per game. On the road the Cards have been outscored 112-80 by the Brewers, Mets, Braves, Phillies, Blue Jays and Reds.

* Against winning teams on the road, Cardinals starting pitchers have a 5.34 ERA and have been knocked around for a .475 slugging percentage and .803 OPS. But in fairness I must also point out that Matthew Liberatore (6.75 ERA), Dakota Hudson (7.43), Andre Pallante (11.74), Jack Flaherty (6.00) and Jordan Hicks (4.50) made 11 of those starts. I must also point out that Adam Wainwright made four of those starts and had a 5.40 ERA.

So, yeah. If you believe it would be healthy for the Cardinals to show they’re more than just a cat toy on the road when encountering the most successful teams … I won’t push back on that.

I’d like to see the Cardinals raise their game. Not so much to prove a point, but to snap out of their recent languidness on offense. And it’s a matter of pride; their road record against non-garbage opponents this season is pathetic.

I will, however, repeat something I wrote Monday: unless we’re talking about a new set of injury woes, winning or losing these next three series will have little if any impact on how the Cardinals do in the postseason. Playoff baseball is too random.

If the Cardinals are tapping into extra motivation to lift their intensity and spirit over the next eight games … I’m in favor of it. Why not? Quickening the pulse would be good for the fellers. In getting blanked by the Reds while napping on Sunday, I almost expected to see a St. Louis hitter hooked up to a CPAP machine in the batter’s box.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Accounting Department: The Cardinals open their road trip with a 8 and ½ game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central. And the Redbirds are 6 and ½ games behind the Mets and 5 and ½ games in arrears to the Braves in the “race” for the NL’s No. 2 postseason seed … the Brewers were aced by dominator Max Scherzer (six perfect innings) in a 7-2 loss to the Mets on Monday. The loss dropped the Crew to a deficit of 2 and ½ game behind Philadelphia in the scrum for the NL’s third wild-card coupon … if the Cardinals can win 11 of their 14 games, they’d finish with 98 wins – which would rank fourth among Cardinal teams during the 27 seasons of the Bill DeWitt Jr. Era of ownership … if the Cardinals go 9-5 they’d have 96 wins to rank 6th among the 27 DeWitt Cardinal teams … only five more wins (to 92) would put this year’s team into the No. 8 spot among the 27 DeWitt teams for most single-season wins.

Low-Scoring Games Update: I forgot to add this to The Review on Monday. But after crawling on offense too often over the past 15 games, the Cardinals have been held to no more than one run 28 times this season. That’s 14 shutouts, and 14 instances of scoring only one run. And they are 4–24 in the 28 games. Only 10 teams have endured more games of scoring one or no runs than St. Louis this season.

Inspecting The Padres: After a lethargic 4-0 loss at Arizona last Thursday, the fed-up manager Bob Melvin called his team out privately and publicly. “Very, very frustrating,” Melvin told reporters. “Didn’t even feel like we put up a fight. Can’t play this way, especially this time of year … when you don’t hit, it doesn’t look great, but it’s the way you go about it. The way we’re going about it right now does not look good to me.”

The Padres responded with three straight wins over the Diamondbacks, outscoring the home team 20-4. “I need to inspire them more,” Melvin said. The Padres were off Monday, but the Cardinals can expect to play against a charged-up team over the next three games. San Diego currently holds the NL’s No. 2 wild-card ticket, leading the Phillies by a half-game and the Brewers by 2 and 1/2.

Juan Soto, Pretty Quiet: Since being acquired from Washington for approximately 500 prospects (kidding) the next Ted Williams is batting .221 with a ..366 slug and .752 OPS in 38 games for the Padres. Soto has knocked home only 12 RBI but does have 34 walks and a .366 OBP. Eight regular Cardinals have a higher OPS than Soto since Aug. 3: Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, Corey Dickerson, Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill and Brandon Donovan.

After disappearing into a 3-for-48 funk, Soto went 5 for 12 with a double, homer and five RBI in the final three games of the series at Arizona. So the Cardinals could be catching Soto at a bad time.

“It feels better,” Soto told reporters on Sunday. “And it feels more better as we get into the end of the season where we’re gonna start the playoffs and start getting hot at that time where everything matters.”

Perspective On Nolan Gorman’s Demotion: The only way Gorman can rebound is to play more and get regular at-bats. That wasn’t happening for him in September. This month he ranked 10th on the team with only 32 plate appearances, and started only nine games. He batted .138 this month with a homer and a truly terrible 47 percent strikeout rate.

Since Aug. 18, in 71 plate appearances, Gorman batted .156, slugged only .250 and struck out 39.4% percent of the time.

Since that point (Aug. 18), Gorman was hitting .091 against four-seam fastballs and struck out 11 times in the 22 at-bats that ended with that pitch. He hit .125 on sinkers, striking out in three of eight at-bats. He also struck out six times in 12 at-bats that ended with a slider, and had five strikeouts in 11 at-bats vs. the changeup.

And this season Gorman (no surprise) was at his worst against big-league pitchers that had an ERA of 3.50 or better. In 101 at-bats against those high-level pitchers Gorman batted .158 with two homers and five RBI with a .458 OPS.

Gorman obviously had to regroup. It was a necessity. It made no sense to keep him in the majors to have his confidence obliterated.

Gorman, 22, has nothing to be ashamed of. The Cardinals were 52-37 when he played, and 44-29 when he started. Despite the horrendous slump, Gorman has an above-average OPS (106+) as a big-league rookie, and he banged 13 doubles and 14 homers to slug a respectable .420. Gorman still has a swing-miss problem. Obviously. He made good progress but relapsed in September with a 18.5 percent swinging-strike rate and a contact rate that declined to 65.5% for this month.

Gorman helped this team. From his promotion on May 20 through Aug. 17, he played in 67 games (55 starts) and hit 13 homers, 10 doubles, drove in 31 runs, slugged .470 and posted a .789 OPS. Terrific numbers for a 22-year-old rookie in his first big-league voyage. But contact issues slowly took him down. It’s nothing new in major-league baseball. This game ain’t easy.

Gorman is respected for his admirable work ethic and hungry desire to improve. There isn’t much time in Memphis — the schedule is running out — but I hope Gorman can get back on track and be prepared to roll during the postseason.

Related note: with Brendan Donovan presumably set to play regularly at second base, the Cardinals will lose his added value that comes from BD’s multi-positional versatility. That said, I think we’ll see Donovan move around in the late innings in games.

Ken Rosenthal On Cards Manager Oli Marmol: Writing in The Athletic about the candidates for NL Manager of the Year, Rosenthal correctly mentioned Buck Showalter (Mets) and Melvin (Padres) as early favorites, and praised Phillies’ interim manager Rob Thomson and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts.

“Showalter will be a strong choice if the Mets hold on in the NL East,” Rosenthal wrote. “But Cardinals first-year manager Oli Marmol also belongs in the mix. His team features two MVP candidates and three all-time franchise greats, but his pitching staff is perhaps the least talented of the NL contenders and the Cardinals have given more plate appearances to rookies than any contending team.”

Thanks for reading …

–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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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.