WELCOME TO THE REDBIRD REVIEW
THE OVERVIEW: The Cardinals dropped a surreal game on Wednesday night at American Family Field, losing 4-1 to the Brewers. With the setback the Cardinals are 22-15 and lead the Brewers by two games in the NL Central. The overall trend is positive — a 10-3 record in the last 13 games — but the Cardinals were taken down by Stranger Things in Wednesday’s weirdness. Just add this peculiar episode to the motley but intense Cards-Brewers rivalry.
“It’s a jungle out there,” said Brewers right fielder Avisail Garcia, who put the Cardinals away with a space-shuttle two-run homer. “You’ve just got to compete and do your best and fight every at-bat, every pitch.”
I’ll keep saying it: this is a great rivalry.
“That’s how these games are going to go,” said Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw, who drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth. “St. Louis is in first place right now. Every time we play them, it seems like they’re close games like this. There’s going to be some back and forth. We’re going to have some nights that get away from us, like last night. We’re going to have our night like we did tonight. Just come ready to play each day. These games are huge, obviously at the top of the division.”
The Cardinals won the Battle of the Bullpens Tuesday.
Wednesday, the Bullpen Battle was taken by the Brewers.
—The Crew scored a run in the sixth without benefit of a base hit, as Lorenzo Cain motored home to take advantage of a slip, catch and fumble by Harrison Bader on the sod at the warning track in center. In past times, Tony La Russa would have put his conspiratorial and edgy mind to work and accused the Brewers of doctoring the field, or something.
—With the game tied 1-1, Milwaukee scored three in the eighth … but only because STL reliever Ryan Helsley sailed a two-out, strike-three pitch over the head of catcher Yadier Molina. Big Brewer first baseman Daniel Vogelbach inexplicably swung at this planetary offering; Vogie would have needed a ride in a helicopter to make contact. In normal circumstances it’s strike three and inning over. In abnormal circumstances, the wild pitch leads to an RBI double by Shaw, and the two-run homer by Garcia.
—Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff had cuffed the Cardinals for 7 and ⅓ imperious innings, permitting only one irrelevant hit while striking out 10. But with one out in the eighth, Tyler O’Neill flexed on a savory slider for a solo homer that drew the Birds even at 1-1. The Cardinals were blanked after that — failing to score again despite having five outs to work with and four hitters reaching base after O’Neill’s bomba. The Cardinals had two at-bats with runners on and a chance to tie in the ninth. But there was no joy in Sudsville, with long-maned closer Josh Hader settling down to bet the last two outs on a ground ball (Edmundo Sosa) and punch-out (Tommy Edman.) Five outs left, four of your guys get on base, then … nothing. That’s hard to do, right?
Parts of this game were as freakish as the many ghost stories from Milwaukee’s grand Pfister Hotel.
GHOSTS? WAIT … WHAT? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, many tales have been told of visiting baseball teams being visited in the night by a mysterious and disturbing presence at the Pfister.
For example: The Cardinals’ Carlos Martinez, Marcell Ozuna and catcher Francisco Pena in 2018. The Pfister poltergeist unnerved them.
“We are here in Milwaukee,” Martínez said in Spanish in an Instagram video. “I just saw a ghost. In Ozuna’s room, he saw another one … We are all here. We are all in Peñita’s (Pena) room. We are all stuck here. We are going to sleep together. If the ghost shows again, we are all going to fight together.”
Another tale of terror (not really) from retired Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young.
“Listen, I’m not someone who spreads ghost stories, so if I’m telling you this, it happened,” Young told ESPN. “I was lying in bed after a night game, and I was out. My room was locked, but I heard these footsteps inside my room, stomping around. I’d heard all these stories about this hotel, so I was wide awake at that point. And then I heard it again, these footsteps on the floor, so I yelled out, ‘Hey! Make yourself at home. Hang out, have a seat, but do not wake me up, okay?’ After that, I didn’t hear a thing for the rest of the night. I just let him know he was welcome, that we could be pals, that he could marinate in there for as long as he needed to, just as long as he didn’t wake me up.”
Longtime MLB outfielder Carlos Gomez, to ESPN: “I’m scared to go there. They should change the hotel. Everybody here doesn’t like the hotel. Why do they always put us in the same hotel when you can’t sleep? Everything’s scary. Everything in the hotel, the paintings and pictures, it’s a lot of old, crazy stuff. No good, man. No good.”
Perhaps the Pfister apparition wandered into the ballpark and guided Helsey’s pitch into the ozone, leaving Molina and Vogelbach helpless to do a damn thing about it. Maybe the Pfister revenant sabotaged Bader in center field. When you are the source of anxiety and sleeplessness and Stranger Things — well, what’s a little piece of outfield sod to mess with? Easy work.
I’ll run this stuff by La Russa.
REAL QUIET BATS: It was a tough two days in the first two games at Milwaukee for five key hitters in the Cards’ lineup. Edman, Dylan Carlson, Nolan Arenado, Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina are a combined 2 for 38 with one RBI.
That came on a game-tying sac fly by Carlson late in Game 1. But at the top of the lineup Edman and Carlson are a combined 1 for 16 with five strikeouts, a walk and one run scored in the first two games.
The Cardinals have nine hits, seven RBIs and three homers through two games. Paul Goldschmidt, O’Neill and Harrison Bader have combined for seven of the nine hits, six of the seven RBI, and all three homers. O’Neill has two homers and four RBIs in the first two games at American Family Field.
JOHN GANT DOES IT AGAIN: He went 5 innings Wednesday, allowing three hits and an unearned run. He also walked three; at least he struck out more hitters (five) than usual. By now we know what to expect from STL’s 5th starter. He’ll run up his pitch count. He’ll grant too many walks. He won’t strike out a bunch of hitters. After walking into trouble, he will maneuver out of trouble. He’s a talented pitcher and a terrific competitor. He will allow very few earned runs. He will not supply a hefty load of innings. He will impress us. And confuse us.
Among 82 MLB starting pitchers that have worked at least 34 innings this season, Gant ranks 5th with a 1.83 ERA. The only arms with lower ERAs are Jacob deGrom (0.68), John Means (1.21), Gerrit Cole (1.37) and Brandon Woodruff.
Gant also has the worst walk rate at 17.4 percent … and the 14th-lowest strikeout rate (18.7%.) That’s a vulnerable profile. You’d think his ERA would be much higher, but no. As I wrote earlier this season, Gant is The Escape Artist. He wiggles out of traps of his own making by holding opponents to a .169 batting average with men on, and a .139 average with runners in scoring position. Gant is something else. I don’t enjoy the walks, but he’s an entertaining pitcher.
ST. LOUIS ROTATION, STILL GOING STRONG: Let’s update. In the first 14 games of the season the Cards had the worst rotation ERA (6.33) in the majors. But in the last 24 games, their rotation ERA of 2.51 is No. 1 in MLB. Their record in the 24 games in 16-8.
OWNED BY MILWAUKEE’S ROTATION: In the first two games Cardinals hitters were all but annulled by Brewers starters Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff. The two righthanders faced 52 batters, allowing just four hits, two walks, and a lone earned run in their 14.2 combined innings. Only seven of the 52 reached base, and Peralta-Woodford struck out 18. The Cardinals took 38 of their 52 plate appearances with the bases empty. And their 14 PA with runners on produced nothing. Not a hit or a walk.
In five games against St. Louis hitters this season Milwaukee’s starting pitchers have been scratched for two earned runs in 30.2 innings, an ERA of 0.59. And the Cards have batted .152 with a 27% strikeout rate when confronted by the Crew’s starters.
In three starts St. Louis Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Peralta have allowed one run and five hits with 27 strikeouts in 20.2 combined innings. Adrian Houser and lefty Brett Anderson gave up one run in their combined 10 innings against the Cardinals.
IT DOESN’T GET ANY EASIER: In the series finale the Cardinals will have the formidable challenge of facing the domineering Corbin Burnes in his return from a two-week Covid absence. The righthander will go against No. 1 Cards starter Jack Flaherty in Thursday’s early 12:40 p.m. start.
Burnes hasn’t walked a hitter — and has 49 strikeouts — in his 29.1 innings this season. In the plate appearances that end with Burnes’ fiendish cutter, he’s struck out 26 of 56 batters.
Burnes could set a record today for most strikeouts and no walks to open a season. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen established the record in 2017 with 51 strikeouts before conceding a walk. Burnes is 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA and a WHIP of 0.55 through five starts.
But hey, maybe there’s some hope for the Cardinals; the Marlins knocked Burnes from the game in the fourth inning of his most recent start back on April 26. And perhaps he’ll have to tune his sharpness in his return to the mound.
When asked if he had any concern about his ability to keep rolling without a glitch after missing time, Burnes had a one-syllable response:
With Burnes restored and Brett Anderson having returned from the IL Sunday, Milwaukee’s rotation will be fully intact for the first time since April 22.
BRO’NEILL UPDATE: The Cards made one breakthrough against Woodford on Wednesday, with Tyler O’Neill hammering an opposite-field home run to right in the eighth inning. The slider-slam tied the score 1-1. In 63 plate appearances since plugging back in on April 23 following a stay on The IL, O’Neill is batting .288 with a .627 slugging percentage and .945 OPS. He’s hit six of his seven home runs and driven in 13 of his 16 RBIs since coming back.
Strikeouts are still a problem for O’Neill but the whiffs haven’t been as extreme since his return. Before going on The IL O’Neill struck out in 48.4% percent of his plate appearances. Since rejoining the team O’Neill’s strikeout rate (25.3%) is less flagrant. That said he’s walked only twice in his 92 PA this year.
O’NEILL, PART TWO: O’Neill has a .517 slugging percentage for the season. That ranks 5th among 36 NL Central division hitters that have a minimum 90 plate appearances so far. O’Neill is behind Jesse Winker (.670), Kris Bryant (.650), Nicholas Castellanos (.603) and Tyler Naquin (.517.)
(Yep, three Reds. The Cincinnati fellers love the easy power on the driving range otherwise known as the Great American Ball Park. The Reds have the highest home-ballpark slugging percentage (.502) in the majors. The Reds road sluggo, .357, ranks 25th. But in fairness to the underrated Winker, the dude is slugging .754 on the road.)
In case you’re wondering — and you’re probably not — O’Neill is slugging .452 at home and .578 on the road. Among National League hitters with at least 45 road plate appearances so far, O’Neill’s .578 slug ranks 7th among 107.
PAULY DEJONG: He had to depart Wednesday’s game with side-muscle tightness. We’ll know more from what the Cardinals choose to tell us later, but if DeJong has to miss significant time, they’ll have to come up with a plan at shortstop. Despite manager Mike Shildt’s announced pledge to give Pauly more rest during the season, it really hasn’t happened. Unless DeJong suffers an injury, he plays — with few days off. And that explains, in part, why DeJong tends to wear down.
The Cardinals haven’t given Sosa a chance to play. He hasn’t done much with a scant number of opportunities. Kind of like the Carson Kelly thing in St. Louis before his trade to Arizona as part of the Goldschmidt addition. As was the case back then with Kelly, Sosa’s low batting average (.182) in 22 career major-league plate appearances has led to cries for a demotion, or something.
A couple of the well-traveled veteran infielders who looked good in spring training, and that generated considerable excitement among the STL medias … because as we all know, you can always count on spring-training numbers to translate perfectly into real-baseball season success.
My snark aside, if an audition is warranted, then make a move. And I must say: this got my attention. Infielder Jose Rondon homered four times and drove in 12 runs in the first seven games at Triple A Memphis. Goodness. That certainly makes a strong case for giving the guy a shot. Because even though it’s minor-league baseball, it’s real baseball. Not the Grapefruit League. Rondon, however, is 27 years old and has a career average of .201 with a .336 slug in 106 MLB games with the Padres, White Sox and Orioles.
If DeJong is down for a while, maybe Sosa will get a few turns. Maybe Shildt will completely bypass Sosa, delight the fans by moving Edman to shortstop and playing Matt Carpenter at second base. That would make The People happy! Update: that’s what Shildty did with Thursday’s lineup. Maybe the Cardinals will bring up Rondon to save the day. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Get well soon, Pauly.
Thanks for reading …
Please 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.