Welcome To The Redbird Review

A tough, long weekend for the Cardinals.

I hope your weekend was better.

The Cardinals are off today. After two home games against Cleveland the Cards will be off again Thursday. This is good for a couple of reasons:

1) They can use the rest, because all teams get tuckered out at times during a long season. And the Cardinals have just played 17 games in 17 days. So yeah, take a break while you can. Enjoy.

2) I’m hoping that the Cards having two days off in a four-day period will give manager Mike Shildt a reason to stop with the boo-hoo-hooing over the busy schedule. Playing 17 consecutive games without a day off isn’t a breeze. It isn’t a cabana on St. Barts.

Then again, playing 17 in a row isn’t exactly the pain and suffering endured by General George Washington and his Continental Army during the winter military encampment at Valley Forge in 1777-1778. OK?

According to Baseball Reference, only two MLB teams have faced an easier schedule than the Cardinals so far. The boys have been extra busy. You know. The baseball season. “We play 162,” and all of that.

Thank you.

Let’s move on …

THE OVERVIEW: Not good, my friends. Not good. Not healthy. Call it what you’d like to. A slump, rut, skid, decline, downturn or crash. “Plummeting” would be an accurate term. 

Or maybe it’s just reality.

This is what can happen when:

— Your pitching unravels. The rotation and the bullpen.

— You lose No. 1 starter Jack Flaherty to an oblique injury, striking another sledgehammer blow to a foundation that’s quickly eroding.

— Your wild-armed staff is trying to set all-time stupid records for most opponent batters walked, most batters hit by pitch.

— Your erratic offense has scored 4 or fewer runs in a game 38 times this season, tied for the second-most among the 30 MLB teams.

— Your front office left the roster precariously thin and vulnerable and bereft of effective replacement options for the bench and ailing pitching staff.

The Cardinals have too many problems and not enough people capable of fixing them. They lack talent and solutions. They won’t overcome their predicament unless the roster is mended and upgraded. They can’t stop the sink unless the standards are raised; feeling sorry for yourselves will only make it worse.

In their most intolerable bottom-line performance in a series this season, the Cardinals lost four games to the visiting Cincinnati Reds, who swept the home team to the side with the tossed beer cups and empty peanut shells at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals dragged into Monday’s off-day break with a five-game losing streak. They’ve dropped seven of their last eight, getting outscored 57-27.

The Cards are 6-11 and have a minus 38 run differential since the Cubs came to town on May 21 to open a three-game series at Busch.

Here are the NL Central standings since play began on May 14:

  • Cubs 16-7
  • Brewers 13-8
  • Reds 11-11
  • Pirates 8-13
  • Cardinals 8-14.

Given the dismal nature of their recent showing, I suppose the Cardinals and their fans can draw solace from the season standings. No, really. Not kidding. The Cardinals may be in third place — and closer to fourth place than first — but they remain only 2 and ½ games behind the Cubs and Brewers. I guess it could be worse.

SINCE WE’RE YAPPING ABOUT THE NL CENTRAL: The Cardinals are 5-0 vs. the Pirates this season … and the Cards are 8-11 in games against the Cubs, Brewers and Reds. 

THE MANY PITCHING PROBLEMS: After losing starter Miles Mikolas (forearm) on the previous homestand, the Cardinals lost Kwang Hyun Kim (lower back) after three innings in Friday’s start against the Reds. With Flaherty also on The IL, the Cardinals are missing three of their planned five starters for 2021. 

A few observations and stats:

— I must say I’m reluctant to declare that the Cardinals “lost” Mikolas. This would imply strong confidence in his return to the rotation, and there was no basis for that. Mikolas missed all of last season. He was sidelined for virtually all of 2021 spring training. And he’s pitched four major-league innings since the 2019 NLCS.

— And Kim was hardly a sure thing, either. He worked only 39 innings last season and still had much to prove. And he had lower-back issues that curtailed his 2021 spring training.

— The point: the Cardinals were hardly caught off guard and left stunned by the latest round of Mikolas-Kim setbacks. Once again, the front office had a chance to reinforce the rotation last offseason and took a pass.

— In going 23-15 in their first 38 games, the Cardinals were ranked 10th in rotation ERA at 3.53.

— In losing 14 of their last 22 games since May 14, the St. Louis rotation ranks 25th with an ERA of 5.26. That’s also 14th among the 15 NL teams over that time.

— During the team’s 23-15 start the rotation allowed only 0.8 homers per nine innings. Over the last 22 games, the rotation has yielded 1.5 homers per 9 innings — a huge increase that has them tied for 22nd in the category since May 14.

— The St. Louis bullpen has a 5.50 ERA since May 14, which ranks 25th. The bullpen still has the worst walk rate in the majors for the season at 14.4 percent. And during the team’s 1-7 slide the bullpen has allowed 75 percent of inherited runners to score.

— Jack Flaherty had seven of the Cardinals’ 19 quality starts this season. With Flaherty out, the Cardinals have a total of 12 quality starts among their remaining starters. That would be 12 QS in 49 games, a rate of 24.4%. Flaherty had a 63.6% QS rate before going on the IL. Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright each have five QS. John Gant has three.

–During their 1-7 mess the Cards’ staff has a 7.03 ERA. The overall Cardinal ERA since May 14 is 5.39, which ranks 27th. And since May 14 games the St. Louis staff has the worst walk rate (12.5%) and worst strikeout rate (18.9%) in the majors. That isn’t a good place to be.

THE 6TH INNING SUNDAY RALLY WAS EXCITING: In an attack on the Reds bullpen, the Cardinals erased a 7-0 deficit in one inning, lashing out for seven hits, two walks and seven runs to tie the Reds. The lineup went 3 for 4 with runners in scoring position in the sixth-inning ambush.

 It was fun to watch. But the joy did not last. And after his team’s unfortunate 8-7 loss to close the series, manager Shildt praised his men for not giving up. 

“This one stings because, first I just gotta say that I gotta lot of love for that clubhouse, man,” Shildt said. “A lotta love for these guys. You know, they’re playing their tails off. Leaving their hearts out there. This is a group that … do you know how easy it could have been (to give up)? And we see it. But you don’t see it here with this group. 

“Play 17 straight and you’ve had some tough games not go your way recently. And you’re down 7-0. So a lot of people would have proverbially thrown in the towel. This group wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t going to do it, they weren’t going to do it. 

“And you know, throw up a seven-run inning and have the winning run at second base with nobody out in the 9th. It’s a pretty special group. I hurt for them because you want to see the reward for the effort.”

HOLD ON. WE HAVE AN OBJECTION: Indeed, the rally was fantastic. Sincere kudos. But was quitting really an option? The players are being paid $166.6 million this year, and I’m assuming that comes with the minimum requirement of making an honest effort. 

And why would the Cardinals quit on any game when their season has gone astray, and they’ve lost three straight to the Reds at home in front of loyal fans? And why would the Cardinals pack it in during any game when they’re wedged into a tight NL Central race? 

And I have to wonder why the Cardinals were so listless during the first five innings of Sunday’s game. And come to think of it, the home team had prolonged periods  of quietness during each of the four losses to the Reds.

Maybe I’m a grouch, but I can’t bring myself to celebrate the Cards’ comeback attempts over the four-game series when the team made the long-shot rallies necessary by digging its own hole and falling in.  

The Cards were outscored 15-5 in the first five innings of the four games. 

The Cardinals went off in the sixth on Sunday — great! — but otherwise went 7 for 30 in their at-bats with two walks and seven strikeouts. And they went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in innings other than the sixth inning. 

WHAT ABOUT THE FINAL 3 INNINGS? Once the Cardinals leveled the score at 7-7, all momentum was on their side. And despite that, the Cards failed to score a run over the final three innings and inexplicably failed to tie or win the game despite having runners stranded at second and third with no outs in the 9th. 

The Cardinals lost this game despite being set with an advantage in the bullpen matchup. The Reds had to cover the final three innings with Ryan Hendrix, Heath Hembree and Lucas Sims The Cardinals had to handle the final three innings with Giovanny Gallegos in the 7th and 8th and Alex Reyes in the 9th. 

Coming into Sunday, the three Reds relievers (combined) had yielded 30 earned runs in 52 innings this season for an ERA of 5.76.  Gallegos and Reyes came into Sunday with a 1.59 ERA in 62 combined innings. 

Though St. Louis had the two best relief pitchers among the five (both teams) that worked the final three innings, the Reds won the game on a HR by Jesse Winker in the 9th. 

ABOUT MISTER WINKER: In eight games against St. Louis this season Winker is batting .421 with a .476 OBP and .842 slugging percentage for a dandy 1.318 OPS. And five homers. And 10 RBIs. Why not walk him more often? You fellers walk everyone else.

DID THIS REALLY HAPPEN? The Reds traveled to St. Louis with the worst ERA in the majors (5.07). Before winning four straight at Busch, they Reds had allowed an average of 5.85 runs in their previous 27 games. 

And the Cardinals scored in only six of the total 36 innings of at-bats vs. a hittable, shreddable Cincinnati pitching staff. 

HERE’S WHY THE CARDS LOST FOUR TO THE REDS. This is an easy one. The Cardinals were thwarted by Cincinnati’s starting pitchers, and that reduced their number of cracks at the Reds bullpen. Vladimir Guitierrez, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Wade Miley were very strong. 

Reds starters in the series: 92 batters faced, 23 innings, five earned runs, 1.96 ERA. STL hitters batted .179 and a dreadful .516 OPS against the Cincy starters. The Reds starting pitchers had a 26% strikeout rate over the four games. 

Reds relievers in the series: 62 batters faced, 13 innings, 10 earned runs, 6.92 ERA. The Cardinals batted .345 with a .928 OPS against a Cincinnati bullpen that has the worst ERA (5.78) in the bigs. But the Cardinals failed to chase the Reds starters from the game early. And that limited the Cincinnati bullpen’s exposure. 

TRACKING THE ST. LOUIS OFFENSE: The Cardinals were held to six runs by the Reds over the first three games. Which means that the home team scored more runs in one inning Sunday (7) than they did during the other 35 innings of the series … in losing seven of their last eight games the Cardinals averaged 3.4 runs and were held to three runs or less in five of the eight competitions … the Cardinals have homered only four times in the last six games and are 5-15 when they fail to homer in a game this season.

STREAKY NL CENTRAL TEAMS: If it’s any consolation, the Cardinals aren’t the only team in the division to get pummeled this season during awful intervals of futility. 

Every NL Central team has endured agonizing stretches of terrible pitching, hitting and defense — or all of the above. 

The Brewers went 4-12 in a freefall that began May 3. They recovered to win 12 of their next 15 through Sunday, reclaiming a share of first place with the Cubs. 

The Cubs lurched through April, losing six out of seven in one stretch and seven out of nine during another funk to go 11-15 for the month. The North Siders are 22-11 since the beginning of May, and rolled through a 14-3 show of force until losing three out of four at San Francisco over the weekend. 

The swagging Reds won six of their first seven games, proceeded to drop 11 of the next 14, and had lost considerable swag by winning only 18 of their last 46 games before coming to St. Louis. The Reds found that swag and swept a four-game series from the flagging Redbirds. 

Heck, even the Pirates had some early positivity, going 12-11 in their first 23 games. Ah. The happiness didn’t last; beginning April 22 the Bucs lost 20 of their next 26. 

Thanks for reading … 

–Bernie 

Check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store … the weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is also available at 590thefan.com … Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz