THE REDBIRD REVIEW

At 18-25, the St. Louis Cardinals are seven games below .500. Their pauperized winning percentage (.419) ties them for the third-worst record by a Cardinals team through the first 43 games since the Bill DeWitt Jr. regime opened in 1996.

St. Louis is 13th among the 15 National League teams in wins. The Cardinals are 9-16 after sitting at .500 on April 16. They have lost 11 of 14 games against winning teams. They have dropped four consecutive home games and are 6-11 at Busch Stadium.

This once-distinguished franchise is 14th in the NL in scoring runs at an average of 3.6 per game. St. Louis is the worst team in the majors at hitting with runners in scoring position, squeaking for a .196 average.

The Cardinals have hit the fewest home runs by a National League side. A franchise loaded with power-hitting voltage in modern times – embodied by Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Mark McGwire, Jack Clark, Ray Lankford, Matt Holliday and Scott Rolen – is languishing with a scrawny .347 slugging percentage in 2024. And that’s before the reality of losing their best hitter, Willson Contreras, sets in.

Preventing runs was an enduring Cardinals’ speciality for many years. But since the start of 2023 only four major-league teams have been shattered for more runs than St. Louis.

In 2022, the Cardinals ranked second in the majors in average home attendance at 40,994 per game. This season, they’ve fallen to sixth at 36,949 tickets sold per game at Busch Stadium. That’s still strong compared to most MLB markets – but fan enthusiasm is subsiding in St. Louis.

I’ve just written five straight-to-the-point paragraphs that dwell on a list of negatives associated with the 2024 Cardinals. And if anything, I kept the list short. But you already know there’s been a bad moon rising over the last two years. So what’s the point of posting another misery index?

The answer: despite the massive negativity, the Cardinals open the weekend only 2 and ½ games out of the NL’s third wild-card spot. That’s screwy. Even at this early date, the Cardinals should be all but buried in the standings. And they’re not.

Sure, the Cards are stuck in the catacombs of the NL Central, eight games out of first place. The deficit is imposing. But the expanded wild-card format is forgiving, and the Cardinals still have a chance to rise up and snatch a ticket to the postseason.

I’m not striking some utopian pose here. I’m under no illusions. This is a seriously flawed team. Their historically impotent offense has the fourth-lowest per game scoring average by a Cardinal team during the 64-season expansion era. The 2024 starting rotation is already showing signs of cracking, posting MLB’s worst ERA (5.94) so far in May.

That said, if the National League reeks in 2024. There are three super teams in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Los Angeles. There are two good teams in Milwaukee and Chicago. That’s it. The other 10 clubs that compete in the NL have losing records, with winning percentages ranging from .478 down to .289.

So you never know what can emerge from this big ol’ pile of mess. As long as your team is alive, there’s a chance to put something together, climb to higher ground and appear on the horizon. The Cardinals are in that lump of teams. That’s all I’m saying.

Friday night the Cardinals begin play in a challenging nine-game homestand that brings Boston, Baltimore and the rival Cubs of Chicago into Busch Stadium. We can call this an opportunity to start a comeback. We can view the next nine games as a block of schedule that will dump the Cardinals closer to ruin. Or it could be just another phase of mediocrity that deadens the spirit.

The vapid St. Louis offense will try to match up against pitching staffs that rank first (Red Sox), fifth (Orioles) and 11th (Cubs) in earned-run average. All three sets of pitchers rank among the top 12 in the majors in fewest home runs allowed per nine innings.

The pitchers from Boston, Baltimore and Chicago have collectively conceded three runs or fewer in 51 percent of the 130 games played by the three teams. And they’ve allowed four runs or less in 68 percent of their games. That percentage could increase because the Cardinals have been held to three runs or fewer 26 times – and have won only six of the 26.

Standing in the batter’s box at Busch Stadium will be a collection of St. Louis hitters that have scored 3.35 runs per home game to go with a .210 average, .296 OBP, a .346 slug. The Cardinals have homered every 47.6 at-bats at Busch this year.

I’d like to brag about the St. Louis home field advantage … but there is none. Over the last two seasons the Cards’ .418 home winning percentage is tied with Washington for the most pitiful in the NL. Entering the homestand the Cardinals have lost four of their last five series at Busch in 2024.

OK, but what if the Cardinals flip expectations, make a stand, and come through with a winning record in the next nine games? There would be a glimmer of daylight – well, at least until they head out to play the next nine games at Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Houston.

As of Friday morning, here’s how FanGraphs rated the playoff probabilities for each NL team that has at least a one percent chance to make the postseason. Subject to change – many times – of course.

* Braves, 99.3%
* Dodgers, 98.8%
* Phillies, 96.7%
* Brewers, 71.9%
* Cubs, 64.9%
* Padres, 45.7%
* Diamondbacks, 38%
* Mets, 26.1%
* Giants, 23%
* Cardinals, 14.2%
* Reds, 11.6%
* Pirates, 8.7%

The current NL wild-card accounting gives plenty of teams hope to stay in the free-for-all for the third spot.

The division leaders are Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Los Angeles. Based on that, the top three wild-card leaders are Atlanta, Chicago and San Diego.

And then there are seven teams within 2 and ½ games of the Padres for the third ticket.

Arizona and Washington are a couple of percentage points behind the Padres, and the Mets are a half-game out. Next are Pittsburgh and San Francisco at 1 and ½ games out, Cincinnati at 2 games out, and St. Louis trailing by 2 and ½.

Despite all that has gone wrong, the Cardinals are in the scrum but have six teams ahead of them in the third wild card scramble.

And while it’s ridiculous to see the Cardinals perched in such a doable position as a would-be playoff contender, the clemency isn’t enough. The NL’s charitable wild-card foundation is generous, but the Cardinals must do something with it.

No matter what the standings reveal on May 17, this much is certain: if the Cardinals see themselves as a postseason contender, they’d better start stacking wins.

Just because seven other NL wild-card petitioners are flopping around with losing records – Padres, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Mets, Pirates, Giants and Reds – the Cardinals can’t continue to lollygag.

If the Cardinals want to make a statement about who they are and where they’re going, it’s a good time to make that statement … if they’re capable of it.

Here’s the other scenario: perhaps the next nine games will reaffirm the Cardinals’ nonentity status … a team kennelling with Colorado and Miami as the three worst teams in the National League. But if the Cardinals are going to get out of the kennel and make a run, this is the time.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts a strongly opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through 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 ‘X’ 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.