THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals had a disappointing start to their five-game series at Wrigley Field, getting clubbed 7-5 by the Cubs on Thursday night.

Starting pitcher Miles Mikolas will try to get the Cardinals on track in Friday’s 1:20 p.m. game, but he’ll need some run support from teammates who will be swinging at Cubs starter Marcus Stroman.

I have one primary takeaway from the annoying loss to the Cubs: The Cardinals must have rotation stability. And they must get there as soon as possible. That’s obvious. We all know that. But the point was driven home — with the subtlety of a large hammer — when the Cardinals got knocked down at Wrigley.

The Cubs blasted Cards’ rookie lefty Matthew Liberatore in the series opener. He didn’t last long, getting pulled after 3 and ⅓ innings. The Cubs had a batting-practice session against Liberatore, sending 19 batters to the plate to punch him for three homers, two doubles, three walks and four earned runs.

After posting a 5.54 ERA over his first three big-league starts, Liberatore was optioned to Triple A Memphis on Friday. He gave the Cardinals one impressive performance, pitching five shutout innings with no extra-base hits in last Saturday’s 8-3 win over Milwaukee at Busch Stadium.

Liberatore’s other two starts were messy and left bruises. In road losses at Pittsburgh and Chicago, the organization’s top pitching prospect was hit for a combined eight earned runs in eight innings. The Pirates and Cubs had a total of 13 hits against him, and 10 were smacked for extra bases in the form of six doubles and four homers. In the two unfortunate starts opponents thumped Liberatore for a .371 average, .450 onbase percentage and .886 slugging percentage.

Liberatore has a lot of work to do at Memphis, and that starts with coming up with a solution to his glaring weakness against RH batters. In his three assignments for the Cardinals, right-handed hitters knocked him around for a .659 slugging percentage and 1.019 OPS. Nine of their 12 hits against him resulted in a double (5) or homer (4.) Liberatore wasn’t good against LH batters; they put up a .817 OPS against him.

But RH–swinging opponents tore into every type of Liberatore pitch except the sinker. They had a .722 slugging percentage against his four-seam fastball, a .889 slug against his curve, a .1000 slug against his change, and a .1000 slug against his slider.

Liberatore was well below average against RH batters at Triple A this season, and that weakness naturally carried over and got worse at the major-league level. He’s talented. He’ll learn. But there are clear flaws in his pitching profile that he must correct to become an above-average starter in the majors.

Jun 2, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel (18) runs to score against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals’ rotation should settle down soon with the return of lefty Steven Matz. And Jack Flaherty won’t be out for much longer. That’s the hope, anyway. And if all goes smoothly, the Cardinals should gain traction.

When they’ve restored the rotation the Cardinals will have to figure out a plan for a fifth starter. Candidates include Liberatore, Zack Thompson, Jake Woodford, Andre Pallante and Packy Naughton. A healthy Jordan Hicks would be more useful in the bullpen. That seems obvious to anyone that doesn’t receive a paycheck from the Cardinals.

Through Thursday … when Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson start a game for the Cardinals this season, they’ve combined for a 2.78 ERA and the team has won 12 of their 18 starts for a winning percentage of .618.

Also through Thursday … the other STL starters used this season – Matz, Liberatore, Hicks and Naughton – have combined for a 5.56 ERA and the Cards are 11–10 in their starts.

Daily Accounting: With Thursday’s loss, the Cardinals are 29-22 on the season and trail first-place Milwaukee (33-20) by three games in the NL Central. Thursday night the Brewers trailed the Padres 4-1 going into the ninth inning but rallied for a 5-4 victory on a three-run triple by Jace Peterson and a walk-off RBI single by Andrew McCutchen … McCutchen’s winning hit snapped his 0-for-32 slump … The Brewers are 15-6 at home this season and have won 10 of their last 13 games at American Family Field … The Crew has 14 comeback wins this season – twice as many as the Cardinals (7).

What’s Up With Miles Mikolas? In his two previous starts, against the Blue Jays and the Brewers, the crafty righty was tagged or three homers, a .551 slugging percentage, and nine earned runs in 12 and 1/3 innings. I’m watching today’s game and Mikolas was ripped for a three–run homer by Patrick Wisdom in the bottom of the first. What the heck?  Here I am, writing and talking about rotation stability. UPDATE: Mikolas didn’t have his A-grade stuff, but he competed his tush off on a windy day at Wrigley. And he was coming off a 115-pitch start that may have been too much. The Mikolas pitching line wasn’t good today, but I throw it out. He fought off the Cubs and kept the score close until the STL bats piled up some runs in what became a 14-5 blow-out.  There are times when a starting pitcher must survive and endure tough conditions to lead his team into the clubhouse with a win. Mikolas was one of those tough dudes on Friday.

On Nolan Gorman: Glad to see the baby boomer return to the lineup for Friday’s game – and at DH no less. But that’s the smart way to go; his slightly creaky and vulnerable back is under more stress when he plays second base.

Fun Stats On Brendan Donovan: After his one-hit, two-walks game against the Cubs on Thursday, the rookie super-utility man has a .442 onbase percentage and .863 OPS on the season.

Donovan’s OBP is third in the majors among hitters with a minimum 95 plate appearances.

And his .863 OPS is higher than the OPS posted by Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Wander Franco, Francisco Lindor, Nelson Cruz, Joey Votto, Randy Arozarena, fellow rookie Bobby Witt Jr., Vlad Guerrero Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rendon, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley and Shohei Ohtani.

Not bad.

A Friendly Note To The STL Front Office: In Thursday’s defeat at Wrigley Field, lefty reliever T.J. McFarland had another bad turn at the old ballgame and is the worst relief pitcher in the majors.

When I say he’s the worst reliever in the majors I am just going by the statistics. This is not a cheap shot. It’s just horrendous pitching.

This season 91 MLB relievers have pitched at least 20 innings, McFarland included. (He has exactly 20.)

Among the 91 relievers, MacFarland:

– Has the worst ERA, 7.65.
– Has the worst batting average against, .363.
– Has the worst onbase percentage against, .416
– Has the worst slugging percentage against, .588
– Has the worst OPS against, 1.004
– Has the worst wOBA against, .433
– Has the worst walks-hits allowed per inning, 1.75.
– Has the worst rate of homers yielded per 9 innings, 1.8.

I believe this provides sufficient evidence to back my claim that McFarland is the worst reliever in MLB at this present time.

If it’s any consolation, McFarland isn’t last among the 91 relievers in fielding independent ERA (5.74.)

He’s 90th in fielding independent ERA.

A Happy Talk Look At The DH Spot: As I’ve pointed out several times, the Cardinals have received little production from left-swinging designated hitters this season. I’ll update that in a moment. But in fairness to the ballclub, the Cards are actually doing pretty well overall at DH.

Going into Friday’s game, St. Louis designated hitters ranked 8th in the majors in park-and-league adjusted runs created at 18 percent above the MLB average. The DH delegation is tied for 2nd in RBI (32.) They’re 7th in batting average (.263), 7th in onbase percentage (.340), eighth in OPS (.764), and 10th in slugging (.425.) And their seven homers are tied for 12th.

Two reasons:

One: Albert Pujols has made 81 plate appearances as a DH. And among the 20 designated hitters that have at least 75 plate appearances he ranks 7th in onbase percentage (.358), 10th in OPS (.758) and is 8th in park-and-league adjusted runs created at 22 percent above the MLB average.

The numbers aren’t awesome, but they’re above average, and that’s acceptable given his difficulties against RH pitching. In 65 overall plate appearances against righties, Pujols is batting .132 with two homers and a .538 OPS.

In 33 plate appearances vs. lefties, Pujols is batting .357 with a .394 OBP and .643 slug for a 1.037 OPS. That includes a .400 average and 1.134 OPS against LHP when he’s slotted in the DH role. In 52 PA as a DH against RH pitchers, Pujols is batting .125 with a .527 OPS. But he has walked 10 times, and has a .327 OBP against them.

Two: Manager Oli Marmol hasn’t used Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado a lot as designated hitters – only 36 plate appearances between them – but the benefits are plentiful. When utilized as designated hitters Goldy and Nado have combined for 16 hits and a .516 batting average. And they’ve knocked in 14 runs, scored seven runs, and powered for six extra-base hits in only 31 at-bats combined.

And in those 31 at-bats that have cashed in 14 RBI, Goldschmidt and Arenado have produced 43.7 percent of the total 32 RBI delivered by St. Louis designated hitters this season. The team’s other DHs have combined for 18 RBI in 148 at-bats.

Now , Some Unhappy Talk: Here’s an update. When Marmol uses a LH batter as a DH against RH pitching, the Cardinals are 70 percent below league average offensively in park-and-lead adjusted runs created. In these situations the LH hitters are 8 for 49 (.163) with three RBI. And how about that 204 slugging percentage? Pujols has the most plate appearances on the team as a DH against RH pitching (52.) No disrespect, but that shouldn’t be happening. If only this team could turn to a legitimate LH hitter to pound RH pitchers.

Hello, Alec Burleson! What Have You Been Up To Lately?  The LH-swinging corner outfielder went 4 for 6 with a home run and four RBI last night to hoist Triple A Memphis to a 9-7 win at Charlotte. In 124 plate appearances vs. RH pitching this season, Burleson is hitting .361 with a .387 OBP and .706 slug for a .1.093 OPS. His damage against them includes six doubles, 11 homers and 37 RBI.

A Closer Look At Harrison Bader: He’s having an interesting season. Continuing to put an emphasis on making more contact when swinging away, Bader has an admirably low 14.8 percent strikeout rate through his first 48 games. And he’d already improved significantly in this area last season with a 21% strikeout rate. Until the start of the 2021 season, Bader was slowed down offensively by a career strikeout rate of 29 percent.

The most dramatic improvement is Bader’s contact-rate progress against RH pitchers. Before 2021, he struck out 30.7 percent of the time against them. But since the start of the ‘21 season his strikeout rate vs. RH is only 19 percent.

And that’s made a difference, because Bader is hitting .275 with a .326 OBP and .449 slug against RHP since the beginning of 2021. That gives him a healthy .775 OPS that ranks 10th among 23 center fielders that have at least 250 plate appearances against righties since the start of the 2021.

One drawback? Bader isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he used to. By trying to cut down on strikeouts in exchange for a more reliable contact rate, a more restrained Bader has experienced a sizable drop in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate.

Bader’s .378 slugging percentage this season is slightly below the overall MLB slug percentage of .386. But he’s trending in a positive direction. In his last 48 plate appearances going back to May 19, Bader is batting .333 with a .479 slug and two homers. He continues to lead the majors with 13 stolen bases.

Yes, More Corey Dickerson: He was in Oli Marmol’s starting lineup Friday. But of course he was. And batting sixth no less. Dickerson went into this contest with a .183 average, .215 slugging percentage and .453 OPS this season. Among 279 MLB hitters that have at least 100 plate appearances this year, Dickerson ranks 278th in slugging and 277th in OPS. Dickerson is also tied for the third-worst WAR (minus 0.7) among MLB position players this season. Well, he’s a nice fellow and I hope he has a good day for himself, for his team. UPDATE: Not one … but TWO homers for Dickerson in Friday’s 12-5 dubya over the Cubs. Sure, his second HR came against Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel, but I won’t deduct points because of that. Oli Marmol is a genius!

Thanks for reading.

I hope you have reasons to enjoy Cardinals-Cubs this weekend …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and 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 and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

 

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.