THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Sunday’s baseball party at Busch Stadium was close to perfect. Sunshine, glorious weather, first place on the line, and a fast-paced game that left you with less time to catch your breath and cool your mind.

The Brewers led early, the Cardinals struck back and the action crackled into the eighth inning with NL Central rivals tied 2-2. As is the custom in 2022 the Cardinals and Brewers were conjoined, evenly matched with mutual respect and equal passion. All weekend the Cards and the Crew had competed in a way that’s best described by words from a Springsteen song:

No retreat, no surrender.

This was anybody’s ballgame. One of the teams had to end the chase, and reach up and grab it. Go higher. Go get it. Leave your opponent on the ground.

And on this sublime Sunday the Cardinals wouldn’t let go of the game or the series. And they went above and beyond the Brewers and into the sky with an eighth-inning sling.

And boy did they dunk on vulnerable Milwaukee reliever Taylor Rogers.

Dylan Carlson, first-pitch. Boom. Solo home run.

Albert Pujols, first pitch. Boom. Three-run homer.

These sudden, stunning blasts put the denizens of Busch Stadium in a state of delirium, staggered the Brewers, and weaponized the home team for an extra-special 6-3 win.

Given this team’s fun roster mix of kids and veterans, this home-run tag team was pretty cool. Carlson was a three-year old when Pujols began his major-league career in 2001. “I’m the grandpa around here,” Pujols said on TV after the game

On Sunday, the 23-year old and the 42-year old hit the Brewers with a multi-generational, timely show of force … and that was that.

The Cardinals strengthened their clench on first place in the NL Central. With a loss, the Cardinals would have tripped into second place again, a half-game to the rear of the Brewers. With the win, the Cardinals went up on the Crew by 1 and ½ games.

I’ll take it. Instead of following their inspirational 6-0 homestand against the Cubs and Yankees with unacceptable series losses to the Rockies and Brewers, the Cardinals ramped up to take the weekend from the Brewers.

STL’s 3-3 record on the week isn’t what you’re looking for, but the Cardinals screwed up at Colorado. The only thing left to do was recover and win an important test against the Brewers. Had the Cardinals fizzled Sunday, they would have been left with a crummy 2-4 record for the week. What a letdown! (And I’d be doing lots of hollering today.) But the Cardinals did what they had to do, and gave their fans a game to remember.

And easily one of the best victories of the season. Even with their blunder at Coors Field, the Cardinals have won 10 of their last 13 games. And they’ve been outstanding at home: 37-21 overall, which includes a 24-10 mark at Busch since May 30.

The Cards have won eight of their last 11 series at home, with two losses and a split. And they’re 9-2-3 in their last 14 series at Busch.

Before we get to Pujols, let’s give a hand to Carlson and Tyler O’Neill. In recent weeks both have been swinging at too much air and plunging statistically. And to be blunt about it, Carlson and O’Neill were stalling out a good offense that has a chance to be a great offense. I won’t overreact to their contributions Sunday and proclaim that all is well again, but the Cardinals needed both to step forward.

O’Neill went two for four with a homer, RBI and two runs scored. His solo homer in the 6th tied the score at 2-2 and gave his team (and the fans) an emotional boost. And while Carlson stuck out twice as the leadoff man again, his go-ahead homer increased the Cardinals’ Win Probability by 30 percent and was deemed the most valuable hit of the game by Baseball Reference.

The Cardinals need more of this … a lot more of this … from these two sources of potentially robust offense over the final 48 games of the regular season. And beyond.

And now …

THE GREAT PUJOLS DOES IT AGAIN 

How much does Pujols love to play at Busch Stadium? How much do the fans love him? How good does it make everyone feel so happy by seeing him back home, and finishing his Hall of Fame career in the baseball-mad town where his Hall of Fame journey began?

Pujols (as you know) homered in the second inning to cut Milwaukee’s lead to 2-1. And the legend was just stirring; the best was yet to come. On the way: La Bamba! The three-run homer that put the Brewers away was perhaps the most joyous moment of the season.

The Pujols-guided missile traveled 443 feet. Pujols admired it for a couple of seconds and proceeded on a home-run tour that had him opening his arms at the chest level – where the team name is etched onto the uniform front – to proclaim the glory of Cardinals baseball. From that point, Pujols could have trotted home on air – with 44,142 fans floating behind him.

It was such a beautiful scene – the mighty swing, the picturesque flight of the baseball and the perfection of St. Louis and Albert Pujols back together again, just as it was meant to be. For a Cardinals fan, it truly became a happy-to-be-alive twinkle.

A minute’s worth of total bliss that left everyone bouncing, and moving, shouting and or doing all of the above in their own silly dance. The kids, the parents, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles. Pujols brought them all to their feet – just as he has so many times.

This is just the way he’s been doing it St. Louis from his very first home at-bat in the majors – a home run off Colorado starter Denny Neagle in the second inning on April 9, 2001 at the “old” Busch Stadium. And 21 years, four months and five days later, Pujols shook his home ballpark again. Made it rattle. Made it roll.

Because of Albert’s age, I say this with fondness: we’re being treated to the Grayest Show On Earth.

Pujols jacked his season OPS+ to 125 on Sunday, the highest it’s been during a season since 2014. His slugging percentage (.459) and OPS (.785) are the highest they’ve been in a season since 2015. His onbase percentage (.325) is the highest it’s been in s season since 2013.

In 64 plate appearances since July 10, Pujols has exceeded even the wildest, most unreasonable expectations by batting .356 with a .406 onbase percentage and .729 slug for a 1.135 OPS. His banging over that time includes six homers, four doubles and 12 RBI.

Pujols is up to 10 homers this season. When he hits a home run in a game, the Cardinals are 7-1. When he drives in a run, the Cards are 12-5.

In 2004, Pujols teamed with Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to give the Cardinals a Big Three. And though Pujols doesn’t play every day, when there is a lefty on the mound he’s formed another Big Three with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Pujols has been a brute against left-handers this season with a .351 average, .386 OBP and .662 slug for a 1.049 OPS. When facing lefties, Pujols has cranked a homer every 12.3 at-bats.

Albert is up to 689 home runs for his career.

He’s trying to chase down Alex Rodriguez, who has 696.

And 700 is out there.

“You’ve got guys in the dugout getting goosebumps. It’s such a special career, and to see him keep doing it, it’s incredible,” Mikolas told reporters said after Sunday’s win. “That’s how you get into the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t take anything for granted. Even in his last season, he’s always trying to get better. He’s not coasting into the Hall of Fame. He’s going to kick down that door and have a nice plaque up in there somewhere.”

Incredible. All things Pujols. Just incredible.

NOTES  ON  MY SCORECARD 

Trending: Back on May 26 the Cardinals were stuck in their largest deficit of the season, trailing the first-place Brewers by 4 and ½ games. But since that point the Cardinals are 39-31 and the Brewers are four games under. 500 at 32-36 … if you want to measure by going with a more recent stretch, since July 15 the Cardinals are 15-7 and the Brewers are 11-12. And since July 31 the Cards are 10-3 compared to the Crew’s 4-8. After a loss in Washington on July 30, the Cardinals were down by four games to the first-place Brewers, but since then the rivals have taken distinct paths, with STL going north and MIL heading south.  And that’s how a four-game deficit turned into a lead of 1 and ½ games in two weeks.

Division Dominance: With the series triumph over Milwaukee, the Cardinals are 30-17 vs. NL Central opponents this season for a winning percentage of .638. That success, if sustained, looms as a huge factor because the Brewers are a more modest 30-26 in NL Central play (.535).

Not only that, but the Cardinals will play 60.4 percent of their remaining games against NL Central rivals. By contrast the Brewers will play only 40.8 of their remaining games within the NL Central.

Playoff Odds: As of Monday morning, here’s a sampling of the percentage of probability for the Cardinals winning the division or making the playoffs:

FanGraphs: Division, 62.2%. Playoffs, 77.8%

Clay Davenport: Division, 78.2%. Playoffs, 88.2%.

Baseball Reference: Division, 73.3%. Playoffs ,84.3%

Baseball Prospectus: Division, 56.3. Playoffs, 74%.

St. Louis Starting Pitching In Control: The Cardinals had three impressive starts in the weekend series, with Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas holding the Crew to 11 hits, three walks and three earned runs for a 1.17 ERA. The Brewers batted only .139 with a .171 OBP and .228 slug against the STL starters. And the three Cards starters had an excellent strikeout rate of 26.8% in the series. That’s a dramatic improvement over the norm. Coming into the series St. Louis starting pitchers ranked 25th in the majors with a 18.5% strikeout rate.

The Newcomers: Making An Impact. Trade-deadline acquisitions Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery have each made two starts since joining the Cardinals, and the Redbirds have won all four starts. The lefties have done a fantastic job, combining for a 1.30 ERA in 23 innings. Quintana has allowed three runs in 12 innings; Montgomery hasn’t given up a run in his 11 IP. Both starters have been in command in all four starts, allowing only 14 hits and seven walks while striking out 22. These fellows keep the bases clean, permitting only 14 of 82 batters faced to reach base so far. Their collective WHIP is 0.61 and opponents have only a .170 onbase percentage against them.

As for their strikeout rates as Cardinals, Quintana has been strong at 28.3% and Montgomery is slightly above league average at 22%. As you know, the Cardinals wanted to get more strikeout power in their rotation and Quintana and Montgomery have certainly punched it up so far.

The lefties have thrived in matchups against right-handed hitters. Montgomery has held RH batters to six hits in 36 at-bats (.182) and Quintana has limited RH hitters to seven hits in 40 at–bats (.400.)

Let’s issue the mandatory “still 48 games to go” warning. But I loved these trades when they happened – and I love them even more now.

The Rotation And Busch Stadium: After three terrific starts against the Brewers, the STL starting rotation has a 3.12 ERA at home this season which ranks No. 5 in the majors. And since May 30 the rotation ERA at Busch is a superb 2.62; that ranks 3rd in MLB over that time. Starting pitching is the No. 1 reason why the Cardinals are 24-10 at home – .705 winning percentage – since May 30.

Giovanny Gallegos And The Decline Of His Four-Seam Fastball: The talented and valuable but less dependable right-hander had an off night on Saturday, allowing two hits and an earned run in the 10th inning of Milwaukee’s 3-2 win over the home team. Over his last 15 relief appearances Gallegos has been slammed for a 4.60 ERA and .466 slugging percentage. Before that, in his first 25 assignments of the season, Gallegos had a 2.70 ERA and held opponents to a .327 slug.

The issue here is his four-seam fastball, which he’s thrown 47 percent of the time this season. Not counting the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, here’s how Gallegos has fared in 2019, 2021 and ‘22 in opponent slugging percentage:

2019: .340 slug percentage; .415 expected slug.
2021: .315 slug; .363 expected slug.
2022: .493 slug; 512 expected slug.

And in a substantial change from the past, Gallegos is getting pummeled by left-handed hitters this season.

Take a look at his performance against LH batters this season compared to 2019 through 2021:

– 2019 through 2021: A total of 291 LH batters faced, .164 average, .223 OBP, .297 slug, 34% strikeout rate.

– 2022: A total of 74 LH batters faced, .284 average, .324 OBP, .552 slug, 21.6% strikeout rate.

Notice the huge differences in slugging percentage and strikeout percentage. And this year LH batters are all over Gio’s four-seam fastball. In 32 at-bats that ended with the four-seamer, opponents have batted .313 with three homers, three doubles, two walks, a .313 batting average and .688 slug.

The four-seam has been much more effective against RH batters. But opposing managers know this, so Gallegos can expect to see even more LH bats during the remainder of the season.

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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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

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.