THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals move into Dodger Stadium for a weekend of baseball. They undoubtedly entered Chavez Ravine in a better mood, having escaped San Francisco on Thursday with a dandy 6-0 Thursday win that blocked the Giants from completing a four-game sweep.
The Cardinals brewed the most important formula for winning baseball games: excellent pitching, loud home runs, and stellar defense. There’s some truth to the “doing the little things” narrative that’s become the new cliche applied to Cardinal baseball. It has replaced the previous cliche of choice, “manufacturing” runs. And indeed the Cardinals played a cleaner, smarter style of game in the 6-0 win. They were fundamentally sound and all of that admirable stuff.
That said, here I go again: The Big Things win baseball games. Because if you do The Big Things, you don’t have to play flawless defense. You don’t have to run the bases like Rickey Henderson. You can survive the mistake-pitch damage thrown by your pitcher. You have room for errors in your pitching and field. The little things matter more in tight games, but I’m in favor of the Cardinals having fewer one-run games. Win big.
That usually requires very good pitching and a couple blasts of home-run dynamite. And that’s what happened Thursday.
The Cardinals smashed two homers. When they hit two or more homers in a game this season, their record is 7-4. When they hit fewer than two homers in a game, the Cards are 3-13.
Miles Mikolas made a terrific start. When a St. Louis starter delivers an average-or-better Game Score this season, the Redbirds are 6-4. When a starter posts a below-average Game Score, the Cardinals are 4-12.
Effective starting pitching and multiple home home runs. For the most part, that’s how the Cardinals need to win games this season.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: With Thursday’s win at San Francisco the Cardinals finally reached the 10-victory threshold and are 10-16 on the season. The Cards .385 winning percentage ranks 25th overall and 13th in the National League … the Cardinals have lost three consecutive series – Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco – and are now 2-5-1 in their first eight series of 2023 … the Cardinals have won only one series (at Colorado) since taking two of three from Toronto to launch the season. That makes St. Louis 1-5-1 in their last seven series. The fellers have to start winning more series and to go on a run.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: During the wild-card era, which began in 1995, only five teams have made it to the playoffs after winning 10 games or fewer in their first 26 games of the season: Oakland in 2001, Minnesota in 2006, Colorado in 2007, Pittsburgh in 2014, and Texas in 2015. That Oakland team went on to win 102 games, and the ‘07 Rockies made a late-season charge to get into the postseason with 90 wins – and then captured the NL pennant. So yes, there is some hope for your Cardinals.
IMPROVING ROTATION? Before beginning the current 10-game road trip, Cardinal starting pitchers had a 5.60 ERA that ranked 25th in the majors. And the rotation had only two Quality Starts.
Though the Cardinals lost five of seven games to the Mariners and Giants, their starting pitching showed clear signs of improvement.
In the first seven games on this trip St. Louis starters have a 3.27 ERA, and Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery and Mikolas each came through with a quality start.
Three quality starts in their last seven games? After having only two quality starts in their first 19 games? That’s a nice upturn. Now it’s onto Los Angeles for three games against the Dodgers, which leads to a question: can the STL starters extend their recent positivity?
MORE ON MIKOLAS: Easily his best start of the season. He was in command, sharp and effectively mixing his pitches over 6.1 innings of shutout, four-hit ball. Mikolas had a 67 Grade Score based on the Bill James system. An average game score for a starting pitcher is 50, and Mikolas was well above that. Until Thursday, his highest game score in a start was a below-average 48. If Mikolas can keep rolling, that’s big for the Cardinals.
TOMMY EDMAN, STEALTH POWER HITTER: The Cards’ middle infielder is having a fantastic season offensively, amassing an OPS+ that’s 40 percent above league average. in his last seven games Edman has two doubles, a triple and three home runs — and he’s posted a .485 onbase percentage plus a 1.000 slugging percentage. He’s slugging .494 on the season.
NOLAN GORMAN: He had difficulties against San Francisco pitching, going 2 for 16 with seven strikeouts. Gorman’s OPS had been 1.000 or higher since the second game of the season. But he left San Francisco with a .935 OPS. Which is terrific. It will be interesting to see if Gorman can reheat at Dodger Stadium.
TRACKING THE OUTFIELDERS: In their first two games since rookie Jordan Walker was optioned to the minors, the remaining outfielders combined to go 5 for 21 (.238) with a .360 onbase percentage and .429 slug against the Giants. Their four walks inflated the OBP, which is good. And the outfielders only struck out four times in two games. Which is also good. And rookie Alec Burleson blasted a long homer that came close reaching McCovey Cove.
PLAY OF THE YEAR: For the Cardinals, anyway. It was a great job by backup Andrew Knizner. With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, he jumped out from beyond the plate like a cat pouncing on a mouse to claw a batted ball chipped by Thairo Estrada. The ball hopped onto the infield grass, and in one continuous motion Knizner captured it, wheeled around and tagged the incoming runner for the second out of the inning. Mikolas got Joc Pederson to line out for the third out. If the alert and aggressive Knizner doesn’t make that play, the Giants would have had a 1-0 lead and a ton of momentum. Fantastic play by Knizner.
PAULY POWER: In his first five games off the Injured List, infielder Paul DeJong is 8 for 17 (.471) with two homers, two doubles and four RBI. And he’s struck out only once. He started out with a bang last season after a stay in the minors, but it didn’t last, and DeJong ended up hitting .157 with a 33.3 strikeout rate for the season. So why would it be different this time? Because DeJong spent months working to rebuild his swing and remove excess movement in the batter’s box. And so far he looks really smooth and comfortable and has eliminated all of the twitchiness as he awaits the pitch. The leg kick is gone. And Pauly may be back. Time will tell. The first test will be his first slump. Will he turn anxious and revert to his bad habit of incessantly changing his swing and approach? That’s a crucial question. But it’s been fun to see that his offseason work is paying off so far.
NOLAN ARENADO: TIME FOR CONCERN? He went 1 for 5 Thursday but at least he got a hit. In his last 11 games Arenado is batting .133 with a stunningly high 32.6 percent strikeout rate. He’s never had a strikeout rate higher than 18 percent in a full season. Arenado’s season slugging percentage is down to .347. Among Cardinal regulars, only Dylan Carlson has a lower slug (.333) than Arenado. Also: Arenado’s Isolated Power number (.089) represents a heavy decline and he’s hard-hit and barrel rates are down. For the season Arenado’s OPS+ is 17 percent below the league average.
GENESIS CABRERA. IMPRESSIVE AGAIN: The high-voltage lefty relieved Mikolas and filled 1.2 innings of effective, scoreless relief. Cabrera had to work out of a little trouble but never lost his poise. Over his last seven relief appearances Cabrera has a 1.13 ERA in eight innings, and punched out 44.3% of his batters faced.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.