THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals scored five runs in Tuesday’s 8-5 defeat at Houston. With a well-pitched game that can be enough run production to supply a win.

The Cardinals didn’t have the pitching part working. Starter Andre Palllante wasn’t viable, getting perforated for sic runs while lasting only three innings.

The Cardinals still had a chance to come back and steal this game. They had 11 hits and five walks. They smacked three homers, two doubles and struck out in only 16 percent of their plate appearances.

For all of the traffic the Redbirds put on the bases, they didn’t capitalize enough. They went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position in the first four innings and left the bases loaded in the seventh. Overall the Cardinals went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Too many opportunities were squandered as the Cardinals slipped to 3-5 on their nine-game itinerary with stops in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Houston. There’s one game to go, at 1:10 p.m. this afternoon, and the Cardinals will try to avoid being swept by the Astros.

Through the first eight games on this road trip, the Cardinals are 8 for 51 (.157) with runners in scoring position. This is hardly a new development. St. Louis has been chronically ineffective with runners in scoring position all season.

They are bad at this. They are historically bad at this. At least so far, anyway, through 61 games.

The team’s .209 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks 28th in the majors. The Cardinals hit .205 with RISP in the first month, .217 with RISP in May, and are batting .194 with men in position to score in the early days of June.

The Cardinals’ failures with runners on second and/or third base are a prime factor in their average of 3.9 runs per game this season. That ranks 14th among the 15 NL teams and 25th overall.

Now that I’ve warmed you up, here comes the kicker:

The .209 batting average with runners in scoring position would be the worst in a season in Cardinals franchise history — at least since the RISP stat was first  tracked in 1912.

And it’s not even close. I went through STL’s year-by-year averages, to check for the lowest batting average with runners in scoring position in a season through 2023, and the lowest mark was .232 in 1966.

(In case you’re wondering, the highest batting average with runners in scoring by the Cardinals was .342 in 1930. The 2024 Cards sure could use some of that.)

This will get better, right? The Cardinals won’t bat .209 with runners in scoring position all season. They’ll improve in this area. That .209 is an outlier, so the statistics will normalize.

That’s a reasonable way to look at it. Over the past 10 full seasons from 2013 through 2023 – which excludes the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign – no team has hit lower than .217 with runners in scoring position in a campaign. (That was Oakland, in 2023.)

So the Cardinals will almost certainly raise their current .209 average with runners in scoring position. But how much? That is the question. But for the St. Louis offense to emerge with good results on a consistent basis, RISP improvement is necessary.

Among the 10 major-league teams that have the highest batting averages with runners in scoring position, eight are in the top 10 for most runs scored per game. The only exceptions are Detroit and Texas, and both are doing fine in runs per game.

But a .209 average with RISP won’t make the cut.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: The 28-31 Cardinals have lost four of their last five games … the Cards are 15-19 on the road this season and are 7-8 in their last 15 away games … the Cardinals remain seven games behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central and are one game behind the second-place Cubs … the Cardinals and the Diamondbacks are one game behind the Cubs in the quest for the NL’s third wild-card seat.

AS THE ROTATION TURNS: After an impressive performance last week at Cincinnati in his first start of the season, Andre Pallante was brutal against Houston on Tuesday. He lasted only three innings and was strafed for six earned runs.

Pallante faced 19 Astro hitters and 10 reached base – six hits, three walks, and a hit-by-pitch. Yainer Diaz went ballistic for a three-run homer in the third inning to ruin Pallante’s start and give Houston a 6-1 lead. After two starts Pallante’s ERA is 6.16.

The fifth-starter slot is a big problem spot for the Cardinals, and it has pretty much been that way all season.

Steven Matz, Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore and Pallante have combined for a 6.63 ERA in 13 starts. They’ve been battered for 10 home runs in 57 innings. And they’ve averaged only 4.38 innings per start.

The four primary St. Louis starters – Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and Miles Mikolas – have a combined 3.89 ERA in 46 starts and have averaged 5.5 innings per outing. Mikolas has a 5.54 earned-run average overall this season but has pitched to a 3.91 ERA in his last four starts.

The Cardinals are 24-22 in games started by Gray, Gibson, Lynn and Mikolas. And they’re 4-9 in games started by Matz, Liberatore, Thompson and Pallante.

If the current plan stays on schedule, Matz (strained lower back) will head out on a minor-league rehab assignment on Thursday.

HOME RUNS OR BUST: It’s time for another update. Four of STL’s five runs on Tuesday were produced by home runs. This continued an extreme trend. In their last nine games the Cardinals have powered 17 home runs that produced 24 runs. But as I noted yesterday, the Cardinals are struggling like heck to score runs when they don’t homer. In the last nine games the Cardinals have scored 70.5 percent of their 34 runs on homers. That’s crazy. And of their 17 home runs during this stretch, 10 have been solo shots. The other seven were two-run HRs.

HITTING APPROACH? As mentioned, the Cardinals were 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position Tuesday, and their failure to cash in RBI opportunities was a huge factor in their 8-5 loss. Brendan Donovan was 0 for 3 in RISP situations and took two consecutive heart-of-the plate called strikes to go down looking with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning. That was a big spot for Donovan and the Cardinals. I was surprised that he didn’t attack those pitches. (Easy for me to say, I know.)

For the game, St. Louis hitters took 36 called strikes overall and 13 came with runners in scoring position. The 36 called strikes were the second most for the Cardinals in a game this season; they watched 39 called strikes in their April 20 loss to Milwaukee.

This is problematic. This season the Cardinals have taken 733 called strikes on pitches thrown to the heart of the strike zone. That’s the second-highest count in the majors. But the Cardinals’ 8.4 percent called-strike rate on heart of the zone pitches is the highest in MLB. St. Louis also has the second highest number of called strikes on heart of the zone pitches when hitting with runners in scoring position. These are basically down the middle pitches; I don’t know what the fellers are looking for.

THE ALEC BURLESON FILE: This season he’s converting his high average exit velocity and terrific 45 percent hard-hit rate into expanded power. He’s already matched his 2023 total of eight home runs.

– Burleson homered again Tuesday and has gone deep in three consecutive games. Burly’s slugging percentage for the season has jumped to .448, and that’s 58 points above his .390 last year. His .448 slugging percentage is 60 points higher than the overall MLB average in 2024.

– Last season Burleson homered every 39.3 at-bats. This year, he’s homering every 21.7 at-bats.

– Burleson homered on 2.3 percent of his plate appearances in 2023 and has nearly doubled that HR rate (4.4%) this year.

– Burleson’s .448 slugging percentage is right there with the .450 slug produced this season by Adolis Garcia. Burleson is outslugging Atlanta’s Matt Olson (.435) and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. (.434.)

– Burly’s slugging percentage ranks third on the Cardinals behind Willson Contreras (.551) and Nolan Gorman (.508.)

– Burleson’s Isolated Power (ISO) number is .172, which is higher than that of Kyle Schwarber and William Contreras. ISO is a measure of raw power, computed by subtracting a hitter’s batting average from his slugging percentage.

– Burleson ranks in the top 28 percent of major-league hitters in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate and is in the top 23% for expected slugging percentage (.467.)

– When Burleson is in the lineup as an outfielder, he’s batting .292 with a .500 slug, .829 OPS and a wRC+ that makes him 38 percent above league average offensively.

NOLAN GORMAN’S SPACE TRAVELS: He took to the sky with another home run in Tuesday’s loss, giving him 14 for the season and six bombs in his last seven games. The only other MLB hitter to hit six homers in a seven-game stretch this season is Corey Seager. The last Cardinal to go deep six times in seven games was Nolan Arenado in May of 2023. Before that, it was Albert Pujols in August of 2022. And Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna did it in 2019.

Gorman has nine homers in his last 14 starts, and his .508 slugging percentage for the season is tied with Mookie Betts for fifth in the National League. Going into Wednesday’s game, the only NL hitters with a higher slugging percentage than Gorman were Ozuna, Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper and Will Smith.

ARENADO & GOLDSCHMIDT: Through the first eight games of the roadie, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are a combined 12 for 60 (.200) with three homers and seven RBIs. And they’re a combined 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

DISEASED DEFENSE: The Cardinals made two more errors on Tuesday, both by second baseman Nolan Gorman. The Astros scored an unearned run. That makes 11 errors by St. Louis on the first eight games of their nine-game road trip. And the Cardinals were charged with 23 errors in their last 19 games.

Other notes on this:

– The Cardinals’ average of 0.63 errors per game ranks 25th among the 30 MLB teams.

– The Cardinals have allowed 38 unearned runs this season, the second most in the National League and fourth highest total overall.

– The Cards have given up 17 unearned runs in their last 13 games. And 32 percent of the runs scored against St. Louis over the last 13 games were unearned.

– Opponents have scored 38 unearned runs against the Cardinals this season. But the Cardinals have scored only 19 unearned runs against their opponents.

BULLPEN BUMMER: The loss of Keynan Middleton (forearm surgery) is a damaging blow to the Cardinals. He was signed to take on an important relief role, and the Cardinals won’t have him in 2024. At all. Manager Oli Marmol doesn’t have the luxury of relying on the many options that were planned to stock a deep bullpen, but he’s done a very good job of maximizing what he has. And Marmol can get more from Matthew Liberatore and Kyle Leahy. Chris Roycroft is intriguing. And I’m unaware of any federal, state or local law that prevents John Mozeliak and the front office from making a trade for a reliever.

Perhaps the Cardinals will benefit from the eventual return of injured relievers Giovanny Gallegos, Riley O’Brien and Nick Robertson. But we really don’t know what to expect from any of them unless they make it back, are totally healthy, and can turn into assets. In other words: a lot of hurdles to clear. The Cardinals could really, really use the 2019, 2021 and 2022 version of Gallegos. But that version might have faded. But I’m not ready to write him off. Let’s see what Gio can do when he gets the opportunity to reestablish himself.

Thanks for reading …

Enjoy the day ball …

–Bernie

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