THE REDBIRD REVIEW
THE LEDE: Manager Oli Marmol and his players have stressed the need to do “the little things” to win more games. And that isn’t wrong. The Cardinals used aggressive but intelligent baserunning and a highly-rated defense to average 91.5 wins over the past two seasons.
From what we’ve seen during the first 22 games this year, their defense isn’t as sharp, the baserunning isn’t as smart, and their pitchers are letting too many hitters escape from two-strike counts. Timely hitting is still a challenge, but the Cardinals are improving in that area.
As much as I appreciate the little things …
I really like The Big Things.
One Big Thing is shutdown starting pitching. Hasn’t happened. Not much, anyway. Among other inadequacies, the arms are allowing too many home runs, and they don’t strike out enough hitters. On the pitching side, the Cardinals have been losing in the power game.
Another Big Thing? Timely home runs. Three-run homers. Homers with runners on base. Homers with runners in scoring position. Two-out homers. Homers that breaks the other side’s morale. More homers, period, of any type.
The Cardinals have fared well in some of their home-run scenarios – but they can and should do better. There’s abundant power in their lineup.
So why is Tommy Edman second on this team with three home runs? Edman has out-homered Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill and Wilson Contreras.
This season, when the Cardinals fail to hit at least two homers in a game, their record is 3-11. When they hit two-plus homers, they’re 6-2. These home-run splits – pertaining to wins vs. losses – are common among MLB teams. But so far in the NL Central the Cardinals have fewer two-plus homer games than the Pirates and the Brewers, the two best teams in the division. It’s just an early trend and certainly can change. But this much is true: the early trends are a factor in the early standings.
The Cardinals have out-homered the opponent 18-9 in their nine victories. In their 13 losses, the Cardinals have been out-homered 19-9.
The Redbirds have only three 3-run homers. And three 2-run homers. They’ve hit 13 solo shots.
Sunday in Seattle, the Cardinals defeated the Mariners 7-3. The Cards came up with The Big Things to push back and prevent being swept in the three-game series.
The Cardinals hit three homers and allowed just one.
Jack Flaherty and three relievers combined to strike out 39 percent of their batters faced. Flaherty had nine strikeouts and blanked the Mariners over his final four innings. Over those four innings the M’s barely touched Flaherty, getting one single and striking out in six of their 12 plate appearances. That’s 50 percent. That’s power. That’s a power attitude. Flaherty barked at the Mariners (twice) as he left the mound at the end of an inning.
The Cardinals, tied 3-3 after three innings, had a mighty response on a three-run homer by Gorman for a 6-3 lead in the top of the fourth. That’s power. On-time power.
The Big Things gave St. Louis control of the game.
Power hitting, power pitching, power attitude.
It was all there for the Cardinals on a pleasant getaway day in Seattle. They’re still only 9-13 on the season, which is ugly but not disastrous. If the Cards can do The Big Things more frequently, they can step up and out from the gutter they created.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: The Cardinals are 9-13 and in fourth place in the NL Central. They trail the first-place Pirates by 6.5 games, and are 6 games behind the second-place Brewers. The third-place Cubs lead the Cards by 3.5 games …Through their first 22 games of the 2022 season the Cardinals had a 13-9 record, so they’re four games behind last year’s pace … St. Louis lost the first game in Seattle and are 0-7 this season in the series-opening game. That means the Cardinals have a winning record (9-6) once they get past the first game of a series … The Cards’ overall winning percentage (.409) is 23rd in the majors and 12th in the NL … the Redbirds are 6-10 against opponents that have a winning record … The Cardinals have played seven series this season, winning two, losing four, and splitting one.
JACK FLAHERTY: The righthander looked strong Sunday in Seattle, striking out nine of 25 batters faced for a 36% strikeout rate. Jack had 20 swinging strikes. After allowing three runs in the second, Flaherty pitched four consecutive scoreless innings, and gave up one hit in 12 at-bats with no walks and a 50% strikeout rate. (As mentioned earlier.)
Flaherty allowed three runs in six innings to qualify for a quality start – only the team’s third QS this season. Through five starts Flaherty has a 3.29 ERA over 27.1 innings. His fielding-independent ERA (5.16) this season largely reflects his high walk total (13) in his first two starts. But Flaherty’s tough competitiveness has limited the damage; he’s walked 19 hitters this season but only three have come around to score (16%.) In his last three starts Flaherty has a more reasonable 4.60 FIP.
ANOTHER FLAHERTY NOTE: Flaherty is coming around and the team should feel encouraged about that. But here’s one glitch in the progress and it has to do with platoon splits. Flaherty has held right-handed batters to a .119 average, .458 OPS and no homers. Awesome. But when he’s worked against left-handed hitters, they’re batting .271 with a .900 OPS and three homers. Tio put it another way: Flaherty has a 1.26 ERA against right-handed hitters, and a 5.54 ERA against left-side hitters. A substantial difference. Jack has to find a way to be more effective against LH batters.
GAME SCORE TELLS A STORY: Quality Starts are representative of good starting pitching. But I prefer using the Bill James-devised Game Score.
Flaherty had a 57 game score against the Mariners, easily clearing the league average of 50.
If you think Game Score is junk stat. I’ll stick with this: When a St. Louis starter has a game score of 50 or better this season, the Cards are 5-2. When a STL starter has posted a below-average game score, the team’s record is 4-11.
Quite a difference, eh? Yes. Since the start of the 2021 season, the Cardinals have a .721 winning percentage when benefiting from a game score of 50 or higher.
Here’s how the starting-pitching Game Score has influenced the NL Central. I’ll list each team’s number of 50-or-better game scores. Then I’ll list each team’s record in those well-pitched games:
Pittsburgh: 16 games, 13-3 record.
Milwaukee: 13 games, 13-0 record.
Chicago: 13 games, 10-3 record.
Cincinnati: 10 games, 4-6 record.
St. Louis: 7 games, 5-2 record.
HAPPY FOR PAUL DEJONG: It was an impressive return to the big club for Pauly, who went 3 for 4 with a solo homer against the Mariners on Sunday. I don’t know what to make of this – other than he had a great first game. It doesn’t mean he’s fixed his swing and approach, though he worked extremely hard to do so last offseason so maybe he’s got a chance. He was still in the batter’s box, eliminating all of that movement including the leg kick. It was a positive reinforcement of what he worked on for several months after last season.
But I understand the skepticism. After a long stay at Triple A Memphis last season, DeJong was recalled by St. Louis on July 30. In his first 10 games, DeJong went off for a .333 average, .849 slug, five doubles, four homers and 13 RBI. But from Aug. 11 through the end of the regular season, DeJong batted .120 with a homer in 110 plate appearance. We won’t know about the effectiveness of his revised hitting approach until we see DeJong’s performance over time.
DeJong provides value defensively. From 2017 through 2022, he ranked 6th among major-league shortstops with 41 defensive runs saved. Last season, in limited playing time at short DeJong was credited with five defensive runs saved. That was only one fewer defensive run saved at shortstop than Tommy Edman – even though Edman played 85 more innings at shortstop than DeJong. Having more days off should keep Edman fresher during a lengthy season.
–- Lars Nootbaar: in 30 plate appearances since being activated from the IL, Nootbaar is batting .286 with a .500 onbase percentage and .520 slug for a 1.020 OPS. And he has a 30% walk rate over that time. Noot went 4 for 12 with a homer at Seattle.
— Willson Contreras: In his last seven games, Contreras has five doubles, two homers and seven RBI – to go with his .435 batting average and 1.465 OPS. For the season his contact metrics are outstanding: 46.3% hard-hit rate, 42.6% sweet-spot contact, and a 13% barrel rate.
— Nolan Gorman: in his last four games, he’s smashed two homers, a double, driven home eight RBI and slugged .846. For the season, Gorman ranks second in the NL in RBI (22) and is among the top five hitters in the league in slugging, OPS, and batting average. His six homers are tied for sixth in the NL.
— Jordan Walker is reheating. At Seattle he went 4 for 10 (.400) with a double and three RBI.
— Dylan Carlson was hitless in Seattle, going 0 for 6 with three strikeouts. His batting average is down to .205, and he’s slugging only .273. Carlson is batting .182 against RH pitching.
– Tyler O’Neill went 1 for 9 with an RBI in Seattle. He has only two homers on the season – only once since Opening Day – and his slugging percentage has dropped under .400, down to .388. His overall offense is seven percent below league average per OPS+.
– Paul Goldschmidt: In his last nine games Goldy is 6 for 35 (.171) with a .275 onbase percentage and .314 slug.
– Nolan Arenado: he went 3 for 14 (.234) in Seattle with one RBI and a 38.4 percent strikeout rate. In 41 plate appearances since April 13, Arenado is batting .231 with no homers, two RBI and a 26.8% strikeout rate. For the season, Arenado has just two homers in 88 at-bats and his slugging percentage has plummeted to .386. It’s not easy for the Cardinals to score a lot of runs when Goldschmidt and Arenado are quiet at the plate.
STARTING-PITCHING UPDATE: The St. Louis starters have given up 20 homers this season, tied for sixth-most in the majors. And the .504 slugging percentage against them is the fifth-highest against a big-league rotation. They’ve collectively given up a hard-hit rate of 46.1% which is the fourth highest in the majors. The problem the starters have with soft contact? They don’t get enough of it. Cards starters have a soft-contact rate of 12.% which is the third lowest in the majors. The St. Louis starter ERA is 5.57, which ranks 26th.
MILES MIKOLAS: Miles has allowed six home runs in his last four starts. Opponents’ hard-hit rate (41.3%), barrel-rate percentages (12%) and average exit velocity (91.3%) have gone up against Mikolas this season. That’s led to the highest slugging percentage, .616, against a big-league starting pitcher this season. (Minimum 25 innings pitched.)
* Would Dylan Carlson benefit from some time at Triple A Memphis?
* Are we still laughing at the Pirates? Hope not. In winning seven in a row to rise to first place in the division, the Pirates (16-7) averaged 6.4 runs per game and allowed 2.1 runs per game. Pittsburgh hosts the Dodgers for three games starting Tuesday.
* Willson Contreras is competing with an edge. Love it. As Contreras said after Saturday’s depressing loss at Seattle: “We need to be meaner.” And he’s 100 percent right.
* Who would be your choice to bat leadoff for the Cardinals? My choice is Nootbaar because he hits well against lefties and righties, gets on base at a high rate, hits for power, and can run. His relentless energy at the top of the lineup can help spark the Cardinals.
* The Giants are 8-13 but are 3-2 in their last five. I’m greedy. I don’t want to see a four-game series split. If the Cardinals hope to get this train moving, a split doesn’t do it for them. It’s neutral. You start building your record back up by winning three of four from the Giants.
Thanks for reading …
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.
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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. A new “Seeing Red” was recorded Monday (April 24) and is available now.
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.