THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Can I say something here?

The Cardinals are a good team. A really good team. And a fun and entertaining team. I’ll draw the line right there. When the Cards begin competing in the 2022 postseason, we’ll see if they can be a great team.

But I encourage you to enjoy the show. I know that most of you are doing just that – and when Albert Pujols comes to the plate to swing the bat, the approval rating rises to 100 percent.

I don’t know if the Cardinals are a complete team. Saying that would imply that they’re a team without flaws or weaknesses. But how many major-league teams are competing without flaws or weaknesses? The answer: none.

The 2022 Cardinals are the best all-around team of Redbirds that I’ve seen in a while. I don’t feel like getting into deep comparisons here. I’ll leave it at this: the last time the Cardinals won the NL pennant was 2013, and this 2022 edition plays better ball than the ‘13 NL champions in several ways … including defense, baserunning, OPS+ and runs per game.

Granted, the 2022 team has the DH, which is a built-in advantage when measured against any National League offense from the past. The 2013 Cardinals had better pitching – but not by a wide margin.

The 2022 Cardinals have a superior manager in Oli Marmol and are more advanced in their philosophies and tactics. Mike Matheny (2013) could never graduate from the old school, and often was a liability in the dugout. (See: David Ortiz and the 2013 World Series.)

There I go again … I ventured into a comparison against my own stated wishes. I never claimed to be sane.

So let’s just focus on the 2022 Cardinals and why we should appreciate them … probably more than we have appreciated them this season. And here’s my case to back up the claim that they’re an impressive all-round team… a team that is above average (and then some) in all areas.

A DEEP AND VERSATILE OFFENSE

The Cardinals lead the majors with a 117 OPS+, which means they’re 17 percent above the MLB average. That’s higher than the other 29 teams.

They are third in the majors in runs per game at 4.90.

And second in the majors in onbase percentage (.329), third in slugging percentage (.429), sixth in homers, sixth in batting average.

As a group, St. Louis position players are second in the majors in WAR, and fourth in Wins Above Average.

The Cardinals have the fourth-lowest strikeout percentage in the bigs and are tied for sixth in contact rate. When you can hit for power and limit strikeouts, that’s exactly what you want on offense in the modern game.

The Cardinals have Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and a fully rejuvenated Albert Pujols. Goldy and Arenado rank No. 1 and No. 2 in WAR among National League players. Pujols needs five homers to reach 700 for his career. And is an international treasure. Goldschmidt is a serious contender for the first NL Triple Crown since 1937. Star power abounds.

How deep is this offense? Among Cardinals that have at least 200 plate appearances this season, 10 are above league average offensively based on OPS+. They are, in order, Goldschmidt, Arenado, Pujols, Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson. Tyler O’Neill is one good game away from becoming the 11th player on that list. The Cardinals haven’t had as many as 10 players with an above-average OPS since the 2016 went nuts playing power ball.

The offense features icons (Pujols) legends (Goldschmidt and Arenado) and promising young players such as Donovan, Nootbaar, Gorman and Yepez. The latter is at Triple A Memphis for now, but he had 11 homers and a .457 slugging percentage before suffering a strained forearm.

How versatile is this offense? Using park-and-league adjusted runs created – which neutralizes offensive statistics to account for ballpark effects and league trends – the Cardinals are No. 1 in the majors against left-handed pitching and are tied for fourth in the majors against right-handed pitching. The Cards are No. 2 in home offense, and No. 3 in road offense. Why are they so balanced against lefties and righties? Because Marmol has increased his team’s platoon-split advantage by 10 percent from last year.

SMART,  DARING  BASERUNNING

The Cardinals are fifth in the majors with a plus 76 net gain on the bases, rank sixth in extra bases taken, and have the fifth-highest extra bases taken percentage in the majors. They’re also ninth in the majors with 83 stolen bases but have the seventh-best success rate (79%) in attempted steals. Nothing beats the excitement of watching Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals run the bases in the 1980s. But the 2022 Cardinals are entertaining in their aggressive and successful style of motoring for extra bases on batted balls to put pressure on the defense.

 DEFENSIVE  EXCELLENCE 

The Cardinals are fourth in the majors and second in the NL with 58 defensive runs saved. And they are second in the majors with 25 Outs Above Average. They have the best infield in baseball with a collective 49 defensive runs saved this year. That’s considerably better than the 2021 St. Louis infield, which was credited with 29 defensive runs saved. The 2002 Cardinals have turned an MLB-highest 152 double plays. Watching the 2022 infielders play defense is a marvelous show and one of my favorite things about watching this team play. Defense can be entertaining … and this one is wildly entertaining.

THE PITCHING STAFF: ABOVE AVERAGE AND IMPROVING

The Cardinals are eighth among 30 teams with their average of allowing 3.9 runs per game. The starting-pitching ERA ranks 12th in the majors with a 3.83 ERA. But the rotation was fortified by trades and has a 3.42 ERA since Aug. 1, and a 2.84 ERA since Aug. 12. The bullpen ranks second in the majors in Win Probability Added (WPA). And they’re led by Ryan Helsley, one of the short-list best closers in the majors.

Speaking of franchise legends, how cool is it to come to Busch Stadium to watch Adam Wainwright demonstrate his artistry? Wainwright’s connection with catcher Yadier Molina is historically prominent and personally meaningful. It’s a buddy movie come to life. And an enduring combination that we’ll never see again in major-league baseball.

This is one helluva baseball team. And it’s based on more than the wins, the style, the stats, the metrics. But it is a team of colorful personalities, a team that has baseball heroes, a blended team of young and old, and a team that loves playing baseball together. And it has a unique touch because we’re seeing the last of Pujols and Molina before they retire. We’ll remember this team and this season with abundant fondness for a very long time.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Accounting Department: With Tuesday’s 4-1 triumph over the Nationals, the Cardinals lead the second-place Brewers by 8 and 1/2 games in the NL Central and have MLB’s best record (29-9) since July 27 – just ahead of the Dodgers (29-10) … The Cardinals also have MLB’s top record (26-8) since the beginning of August … The Cards are 32-12 since July 14; only the Dodgers (35-12) have been better over that time … since July 10 the Cardinals and Dodgers are the only two MLB teams to have a winning percentage above .700 … The Cardinals are 46-23 at home this season, and are 54-27 vs. teams with losing records…

Tracking The Pace: The Cardinals notched their 80th win of the season in Game No. 136. The 2021 Cardinals reached their 80th win in Game No. 149. At the time the ‘21 Cardinals had won nine in a row and were on the way to 17 consecutive triumphs, ultimately finishing the regular season with 90 wins. The 2022 Cardinals can top that by winning only 11 of their 26 games left on the schedule. Legendary baseball statistician Clay Davenport projects the Cardinals to finish the regular season with 96 wins. The FanGraphs model is more conservative, projecting 94 wins for the Redbirds. If that proves to be accurate, the Cardinals will go 14-12 in their remaining games. As of Wednesday morning, FanGraphs gave St. Louis a 98.7 percent probability of winning the NL Central.

Season-Altering Trades Continue To Pay Off: With Wednesday’s win, the Cardinals are 12-1 in games started by lefties Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery since acquiring them on trade-deadline day (Aug. 2.)

Montgomery has a 1.47 ERA in six starts. Quintana has a 3.15 ERA. In their 13 starts, opponents have scored 18 runs in 71 innings. That’s a combined 2.28 ERA for the rotation additions. Montgomery and Quintana have yielded two total home runs while facing 285 batters while pitching for the Cardinals.

Quintana and Montgomery already have amassed a combined 1.9 WAR as Cardinals – impressive given their short time here. Three prominent starters traded before the deadline – Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas and Tyler Mahle – have combined for only 1.0 WAR in 16 starts, collectively, for their new teams.

Here’s the Wins Above Replacement leaderboard among the five most notable starting pitchers that were moved at the deadline:

Montgomery, 1.2
Castillo, 0.9
Quintana, 0.7
Montas, 0-2
Mahle, minus 0.1

— Castillo has pitched very well for Seattle, logging a 2.39 ERA in six starts. The Mariners have won four of his six starts and Castillo has been a big help on the drive for the playoffs.

— Montas has a 5.87 ERA in six starts for the Yankees.

— Mahle has made four starts and pitched only 16.1 innings (with a 4.41 ERA) for the Twins. Mahle has been on the IL two times with shoulder ailments – missing 17 days total – since the Twins acquired him from the Reds. In his most recent start – Saturday against the White Sox – Mahle’s fastball topped out at only 88 mph.

About Last Night: Quintana made a crackerjack start against Washington on Tuesday, working five innings and giving up five hits and one earned run. The best part? Quintana struck out five of 19 batters faced (26.7%) without issuing a walk. Quintana mixed in more changeups than usual, but his best weapon was his four-seam fastball. He threw 38 of them, and the Nationals went 2 for 10 with two strikeouts in the 10 at-bats that ended with the four-seam. And the visitors went 1 for 5 with two strikeouts against Quintana’s curve.

Since the series at Coors Field that ended Aug. 11, Cardinals starting pitchers have combined for the second-best ERA among National League rotations at 2.84.

Montgomery will start Wednesday’s game against the Nationals.

Home Run Derby: With Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman homering in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over the Nationals, the Cardinals now have hit two or more homers in 52 games this season. They’re 44-8 when going deep at least twice in a game. In more recent times, the Cardinals have won 14 in a row, and 19 of 20, and 22 of the last 24 when bopping 2+ homers. Among the seven NL postseason contenders only the Brewers (59) and Braves (57) have more 2-plus homer games than St. Louis. But those two teams can’t match STL’s .846 winning percentage this year in 2-plus homer games.

Paul Goldschmidt, Warming: Goldy went 1 for 3 with a walk on Tuesday. Perhaps this is the beginning of a warming trend that will turn into a heat wave. In his last 11 games Goldschmidt is batting .211 with a .375 OBP and .316 slug. That includes a double, homer and two runs knocked in.

NL Triple Crown Update: After his 1 for 3 evening Goldschmidt (.329) increased his lead in the NL batting–average race to six points over Freddie Freeman (.323.) Goldschmidt remains third in the NL home-run count; his 34 HRs put him two behind Kyle Schwarber and one in back of Austin Riley. Goldschmidt maintains a 107-to-106 edge over Pete Alonso for most RBI.

Two More Things About The Triple Crown Race: As I mentioned, Goldschmidt is third in homers and only two off the league-leading total. But other hitters are gaining on him. Mookie Betts has 33 homers, and Christian Walker and Pete Alonso are sitting at 32. This is the most competitive category – and most difficult for Goldschmidt. But it’s a different situation in RBIs. You have Goldy at 107, Alonso and 106, and then the next guys on the board are Trea Turner (90) and Matt Olson (90.)

Let’s Talk About Albert Pujols … His Defense. Here’s a fabulous note from Mark Simon of Sports Info Solutions: “You know how much we love defensive excellence here, so we do have to tip our cap to how Pujols played first base. Pujols has 137 Defensive Runs Saved at the position since we started tracking the stat in 2003. Mark Teixeira ranks 2nd with 92. Anthony Rizzo is the nearest active player there with 68.”

Pujols, 42, has done a nice job in his 122 innings at first base this season. He’s minus 1 in defensive runs saved. That’s a smidge below average — but much better than most people expected. And that minus 1 by Pujols is the same as first basemen Pete Alonso, Jose Abreu, Luke Voit, Josh Bell and Freddie Freeman. And the Pujols minus 1 at first base is better than Anthony Rizzo, Eric Hosmer and Joey Votto … among many others.

Jordan Hicks Is Nasty Again: From July 22 through Aug. 20, the right-handed reliever was punished for a 10.50 ERA in 11 appearances and 12 innings. He was peppered with 12 hits, walked nine, and hit two batters. The Hicks slider remained formidable during this time … but his sinker was terribly ineffective. In the 12 appearances opponents jumped on the pitch for a .320 average and .480 slugging percentage.

In his last five relief assignments, Hicks hasn’t allowed a run in eight innings. He has scattered five hits in the eight innings. He hasn’t walked a batter in the eight innings. And he’s had a strikeout rate of 35.7 over the eight innings. Big change.

He’s making more use of his slider and has reduced the volume of sinkers. During his bad stretch Hicks went with the slider on 29 percent of his first pitches. In the last five appearances he’s used the slider on 46.4% of his first pitches, and it’s made a difference for a simple reason: In the five games Hicks had a 69% strike rate on his first-pitch sliders – and opponents had a whiff-swing rate of 80 percent against those first-pitch sliders. Hicks is getting ahead of the hitters, and that really matters when he’s pitching.

When Brendan Donovan Bats 2nd In The Lineup … He thrives. In 150 plate appearances this season as the No. 2 hitter Donovan has batted .287 with a .391 OBP and a .420 slug for a .811 OPS. He’s slashed for six doubles, a triple and two homers in the No. 2 role. His solo homer in the fourth inning Tuesday tied the score 1-1.

Corey Dickerson, Doing The Tony Gwynn: Two more hits on Tuesday, and he’s batting .379 with a .975 OPS in 107 plate appearances since returning from the IL on July 9. And that’s just part of it. In 59 PA since Aug. 11 Dickerson is hitting .458 with a 1.119 OPS. This season the Cardinals are 38-15 when Dickerson is written into the starting lineup.

Go-Go Tommy Edman: In Tuesday’s win he extended his hitting streak to nine games. And during the streak Edman is batting .412 with five doubles, four homers, eight RBI and a .912 slugging percentage. Oh, and Edman leads all major-league players with 20 defensive runs saved.

Final Note: Welcome to the big leagues, Alec Burleson.

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.

“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.

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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.