THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals headed East, to Philadelphia and Atlanta. The travelers have gone missing.
In losing five of six to the Phillies and Braves, the Cardinals were outscored 31 to 14. They’ve lost four consecutive games, suffering through two shutouts and getting outscored 20-4 in the process.
The Redbirds have been the Fredbirds on this trip. They have one more game to go on the Road to Nowhere – shout-out to Talking Heads – and we should ask authorities to send out a search party in the general vicinity of Smyrna, Ga. to locate the Cards in time for Thursday night’s series finale.
The Cardinals are 0-3 in the Georgia part of the itinerary. They have scored only one run in the last 30 innings of non-competition. This is worse than Georgia’s 43-6 win over Mizzou in a SEC football rout last Nov. 6 in Athens.
I say that because the MU football Tigers weren’t cast and promoted as a contender for the SEC East title. Not even close. The Cardinals have been touted and clearly overhyped as a NL contender. The absurdity peaked early, during spring training, with manager Oli Marmol and players beating their chests and going into full-swagger mode with oddly confident talk about winning a World Series.
Yeah, well … to this point the Cardinals can’t even beat a first-place Milwaukee team that keeps trying to hand St. Louis the NL Central. The Cards are as lucky as Wilbur the Pig from the children’s book, Charlotte’s Web. But they aren’t quite as lovable as Wilbur.
But the luck is with them because the Milwaukee Brewers can’t get rid of them. With the Cardinals playing their worst ball of the season and staggering through early July with a bombed-out rotation and a dormant offense, the Brewers have lost four of seven games to the Pirates and Cubs to enable STL to stay within three games of first place.
The Cardinals have a 22-26 record outside of the NL Central, and that includes a 10-20 mark in games against reps from the powerful NL East and AL East. Outside of the division and their 6-6 record vs. the Brewers, the Cardinals have won only 12 of 31 games against opponents with winning records this season.
This goofy division is the JV of the National League. It would be funny, but the mediocrity is a detriment that saps the motivational drive of the team management and players.
Why strive to improve your team in a push for the division title, a quest for greatness and stronger postseason viability?
Why bother to go big and bold and make an aggressive trade to acquire a priority starting pitcher? And who needs a catcher? You can probably win the NL Central without one.
There’s no need to have a heightened sense of urgency when the NL Central provides a safe haven for a flawed team, a laid-back front office and franchise ownership that currently has its lowest MLB payroll ranking (13th) in the 10 seasons of the luxury-tax system?
Where’s John Lackey when you need him?
In 2014 John Mozeliak acquired Lackey from the Red Sox to fill the void in the St. Louis rotation. But there was another reason behind the trade: Mozeliak thought the clubhouse needed a salty dog and a politically incorrect loudmouth to challenge teammates. Lackey sharpened the edge. He definitely sharpened the edge. After praising Lackey for his irascible but effective presence, I received a text message from an irritated St. Louis pitcher. He informed me that teammates didn’t like Lackey personally.
That was the point of adding him.
He had no desire to be a member of The Good Old Boys Club in St. Louis. Lackey shook up a mellow team culture, disrupted the cozy-comfortable “I’ve got your back if you have mine” culture and put some spice in a Happy Talk space. The bristly porcupine Lackey was just what the Cardinals needed at the time. And the people on the team that didn’t care for him didn’t realize his value. At least not until the 2014 Cardinals made a postseason push to the NLCS. And the fellers didn’t seem to mind Lackey in 2015 when he was a large part of a remarkably good rotation (2.99 ERA) that generated a 100-win season for a team short on offense.
Go find a new Lackey if possible.
This nightmarish roadie has been a Griswold family vacation for the Cardinals. At least the Cards can come home late tonight after trying to avoid a four-game sweep in Smyrna. At 26-7 the Braves have the NL’s best record since June 1, scoring an average of 5.7 runs per game, slugging .498 and launching 133 extra-base hits (including 64 homers) in the 33 games.
The Cardinals will try to quiet the Braves with a rookie starting pitcher that has a 5.66 earned-run average overall and a 10.97 ERA on the road. The Braves are slugging monsters at home, and the Cards rookie has been bashed for a .854 slugging percentage in his three road starts.
Go get ‘em, Matthew Liberatore.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
The Accounting Department: The Cardinals have lost six of their last seven games … they are 7-13 since June 15 … and 15-19 since June 3 … and 28-30 since May 7 … the current streak of four straight road losses leaves the Cardinals with a 20-24 record away from Busch Stadium this season. But that record has been getting worse; the Cardinals are 4-12 in their last 16 road games … the Cards have a 9-19 road record against winning opponents, and have dropped 15 of their last 20 road games against winning teams.
The Cardinals are 18-25 overall (.419) vs. winning teams. None of the other seven NL teams with a winning overall record this season have a poorer winning percentage than St. Louis in all games against winning opponents … the visit to Atlanta already is in the books as a loss, giving the Cardinals a 1-4-1 record in their last six series and a 3-5-1 mark in their last eight series.
What’s Wrong With The Offense? Since their five-homer detonation in Saturday’s 7-6 win at Philadelphia, the Cardinals have managed only four total runs in their last four games (all losses.) And as I mentioned, they didn’t score at all in two of the four defeats.
From Sunday through Wednesday the Cardinals have batted .216 with a faint .289 OBP and anemic .284 slug. They’ve gone 9 for 57 – all singles — with men on base during this 0-4 skid and are 2 for 24 (.083) with runners in scoring position.
But except for that 7-run uprising at Philly, the quiet stretch has lasted seven games, with the Cardinals losing six times. Other than the glaring failure to deliver with men on base and runners in scoring position, what are the primary reasons for the malaise during this 1-6 slump?
1) Tommy Edman isn’t hitting. He’s 4 for 26 (.154) with one walk and a .185 onbase percentage over the seven games.
2) Brendan Donovan isn’t hitting. He’s 4 for 25 with three walks, two hit by pitches and .290 OBP over the last seven. The rookie hasn’t scored a run since the June 28 game vs. Miami.
3) Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .308 with a .823 OPS over the last seven games, but he’s also struck out 30 percent of the time and doesn’t have an RBI during the stretch. But that no-RBI count makes sense when you look at what I’m about to share with you.
Over the last seven games the Cardinals have received little offense from the 1-2 spots in the lineup. And they have received scant offense from the 6-7-8-9 spots in the lineup.
The only three lineup spots that have functioned well during the last seven games are the 3-4-5 spots. Goldschmidt at No. 3, Nolan Arenado at No. 4, and mostly a combination of Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman at the No. 5 spot.
In the last seven games the 3-4-5 lineup block has combined for a .338 average, .424 OBP, .588 slug and a 1.011 OPS. And the power has been there with six doubles and four homers. They’ve driven in eight runs, some on solo homers.
You’d think it would be more than eight RBI, right?
Here’s the problem: over the same seven games the No. 1 and No. 2 lineup spots are a combined 9 for 56 (.161) with a pathetic .210 onbase percentage. The top two spots have been manned by Edman, Donovan, and, to a lesser extent Dylan Carlson. So when your No. 1 and No. 2 setup spots aren’t supplying abundant RBI opportunities for the 3-4-5 hitters, it becomes a damaging disconnect in the supply line.
And while the 3-4-5 guys have gotten on base at a high rate, their collective onbase percentage has largely been wasted because of the dead zone in the 6-7-8-9 lineup spots.
In the last seven games the final four lineup spots have combined for a .165 average, .259 OBP and an awful .578 OPS The four spots have cashed in only six RBI in 109 plate appearances in the last seven games. And here’s the key statistic: those four spots are collectively 0 for 22 with runners in scoring position in the last seven games. Goldy and Arenado have done a lot of standing around on the bases.
The 3-4-5 spots have been isolated. Their 1.011 OPS is beautiful. But that hasn’t mattered much because the other lineup parts have brought the offense down.
Outside of the 3-4-5 hitters, the other six lineup spots have combined for a .171 average, .502 OPS, and gone 2 for 29 performance. The six spots have only nine RBI in 171 plate appearances over the seven games. And solo homers are responsible for a high percentage of those nine RBI.
Way To Go, Bullpen: This road trip has pretty much been a disaster. But that can’t be applied to St. Louis relievers. In the six games the Cards bullpen has allowed two earned runs in 21.2 innings for a 0.83 ERA . Zack Thompson and Gio Gallegos provided two innings of scoreless relief Wednesday after starter Miles Mikolas pitched six innings.
Thanks for reading …
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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.
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.