THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals have just one game left to play in May, the Friday-night series opener at Philadelphia. It’s been a rollicking ride, with the Redbirds swerving from one extreme to another.

The Cardinals crashed. They cruised. They spun into a dangerous reverse. They sped up and streaked forward. They were one of the worst teams in the majors … and one of the best teams in the majors … all in the same month.

By late Wednesday afternoon, after a 5-3 win at Cincinnati, the Cardinals had clambered back to .500 at 27-27. They’ve now played one-third of their 2024 schedule. The season is moving fast, enough to make us dizzy.

This has been a crazy month for the Cardinals. May is Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – the Disneyland amusement that takes passengers on a manic ride through the countryside. As described by Disney:

Skid past teetering stacks of books in the library and barrel through a fireplace—before hurtling into a formal dining room. Careen through a wall-sized window and race past a riverbank, narrowly missing a flock of sheep.

While avoiding a platoon of policemen, crash through scaffolding, splatter a stack of pies, smash crates and ignite a fiery explosion—but look out for that train!

Will you escape trial for your trail of destruction? Or is something even more devilish in store?

That’s quite the itinerary. Heck, the metaphor fits here because the Cardinals won their first series of May at the ballpark in Anaheim, right down the street from the actual Disneyland.

In no particular order, let’s review the upside-down, topsy-turvy nature of a careening expedition that turned the 2024 baseball season around in St. Louis. I’ll cap my list at 15 with a couple of bonuses thrown in. And even then I’m probably leaving some stuff out, like Ivan Herrera catching a bouncing pitch in his man basket against the Cubs on Sunday — a scare that prompted the concerned pitcher Sonny Gray to do a quick cup check.

1. Flipping the script: the Cards opened May by losing eight of nine games. But since May 12 they’re 12-3. They had a seven-game losing streak, soon followed by a five-game winning streak. A 1-9 stretch was followed by a 10-2 stretch. Extreme.

2. Almost worst to first: On May 11 the Cardinals had a 15-24 record for a .385 winning percentage that ranked 13th among the 15 National League teams. Since May 12, the comeback Cardinals have an .800 winning percentage that is No. 1 in the NL. Not quite the worst-to-first, but close enough. This rapid recovery required only 15 games.

3. Bad series streak. Good series streak: On the first day of May the Cardinals lost at Detroit, which hung them with a series loss. They would go on to lose three more series, making it four straight failures. But after dropping four consecutive series in the first part of May, the Cardinals pivoted to win five consecutive series in the last part of May. Extreme.

4. Unexpected development in the outfield: Michael Siani has played 22 games for St. Louis in May. Outfielder Jordan Walker has played 22 games for Triple A Memphis in May. We all saw this development coming, right?

5. Broken forearm, unbroken team: The Cardinals lost their best hitter, Willson Contreras, to a fractured forearm in the May 7 loss to the Mets. He was placed on the IL the next morning, and at that point the Cardinals had a 15-21 record on the season. Lo and behold, they’ve gone 12-6 with Contreras sidelined. At the time of his brutal injury, Willson had a robust .950 OPS and an OPS+ that put him 71 percent above league average offensively. Huge loss! Terrible! Season over! What can they do? No problem. Just go out there and win 12 of the next 18 games for a .667 winning percentage that’s tops in the NL since Contreras went down.

6. The rotation rises above the chaos: The Cardinals basically went through most of May with four starting pitchers, which is absolutely wacko. Despite that, their rotation ranks 13th in the majors and sixth in the NL with a 3.83 fielding independent ERA. This doesn’t make sense, but it’s the truth. The team got a big lift from Andre Pallante, who was promoted in advance of Wednesday’s game at Cincinnati. Pallante led the way to a 5-3 win by pitching six scoreless innings. During the Cards’ 12-3 return to respectability they’ve received a combined 2.97 ERA in 13 starts from Miles Mikolas, Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn and Pallante. And the Cardinals were 11-2 in those starts.

Through May 17, the Cardinals had a 6.07 starting pitching ERA for the month – the worst in the majors over that time. But from there, their starters had a 1.88 ERA over the next 10 games, ranking second in the majors since May 18.

7. Taking back the homefield advantage: The Cardinals opened the month by losing four of five at Busch Stadium and were taken down by the White Sox – then the worst team in the majors – in a three-game home series. But their late-May schedule included a 7-1 record on a homestand against the Red Sox, Orioles and Cubs. Can’t beat the White Sox at Busch … but sweep the Orioles at Busch? Extreme.

8. The NL Central standings tighten up: On May 11 the Cardinals trailed the first-place Brewers by nine games, and the second-place Cubs by 7 and ½ games. But as they awakened in their Philadelphia hotel rooms on Friday, the Cardinals were 4 and ½ games behind the division-leading Brewers and were tied with the Cubs for second place.

8a. Doing better than their rivals: Since May 12, the Cardinals’ 12-3 record is 4 and ½ games better than Milwaukee (8-8) and 7 and ½ games better than Chicago (5-11)

8b. An upturn in the playoff odds: After the games were played on May 11, Fangraphs gave the Cardinals a 3.4 percent chance of winning the division and a 10.4% probability of making the playoffs. Thursday morning, the Cardinals had an 18.4 percent crack at winning the division and a 37.7% probability of making the postseason. Still a long way to go, but this team has made a big climb in a short time.

9. Resuscitating the offense: At the start of May the Cardinals ranked 26th in MLB in batting average, 26th in onbase percentage, 28th in slugging and 27th in OPS. Their batting average, OBP and slugging slash line at the time was .220 / .300 / .338.

With a game to go in May, the Cardinals rank fifth in the MLB in batting average, third in onbase percentage, eighth in slugging and fifth in OPS. Their slash line in May is .257 / .326 / .409.

The Cardinals averaged 3.6 runs per game in March-April, 2.7 runs in their first nine games in May, and 5.4 runs in their last 15 games.

10. Let’s play Home Run Derby: The Cardinals averaged 0.66 home runs per game in April, tied for the worst HR rate in the majors. In May, the Cardinals have averaged 1.16 home runs per game, which ranks tied for 10th in MLB. After homering only 12 times in their first 13 games this month, the Cards have walloped 20 homers in the last 15 games.

11. The bullpen is expanding and evolving: this month big-three St. Louis relievers Ryan Helsley, Andrew Kittredge and JoJo Romero have allowed 13 earned runs in 33 innings for a 3.54 ERA. The secondary St. Louis relievers John King, Ryan Fernandez and Kyle Leahy have allowed 11 runs in 36 and ⅓ innings for a 2.72 ERA. Huh. Weird. Interesting. Extreme. But this is a good sign; the Cardinals have expanded their bullpen capability in May. Manager Oli Marmol has more viable options available to him now.

12. The youth shall lead them: In May of 2022, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado teamed for 48 RBIs while on the way to finishing first and third, respectively, in NL MVP voting. But in May of 2024, Goldy and Arenado have combined for just 23 RBIs. Younger, homegrown hitters have compensated for the Goldschmidt-Arenado downturn. Nolab Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, Masyn Winn, Brendan Donovan, Alec Burleson and Ivan Herrera have combined for 59 RBIs this month. And just three of them – Gorman, Nootbaar and Winn – have a combined 36 runs batted in this month. Arenado and Goldschmidt are contributing, but the younger and less experienced homegrown Cardinals are carrying a larger share of the load. Their collective performance in May made a huge difference in the team’s reversal of fortune.

13. More on the new-generation surge: The 2024 Cardinals have 112 RBIs from players age 26 or younger – the fifth-highest total in that age group among the 30 teams. And STL’s 93 RBIs from players age 25 or younger ranks fourth among the 30 teams. The Cardinals are also fifth in the majors for home runs by players age 25 and younger. And are seventh in HRs by players age 26 and younger.

14. Are the Cardinals taking better at-bats? Yes, absolutely. In April they batted .146 on two-strike counts, 26th in the majors. In May, they’re hitting .208 on two-strike counts, No. 1 in the majors. Their two-strike OPS was .447 in the first month and is .573 in May. They hit four homers with 31 RBIs on two-strike counts in the first month – and have 11 homers and 48 RBIs on two-strike counts in May.

15. Reducing their number of low-scoring games. In their 1-8 record to begin May, the Cards scored three runs or less jn 82 percent of the 11 games. But in their 12-3 run since May 12, the Redbirds have scored three or fewer runs in only 20 percent of their 15 games.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream live or access the podcast on 590thefan.com or the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.