Welcome to The Redbird Review

The Cardinals had a wonderful and exciting adventure at Citi Field in New York. It was three days of frollicking in the grass, toying and tormenting the Mets, running around the bases with considerable zeal, covering themselves with dirt on hard slides, leaping about to make catches that would be worthy of a prize at a carnival.

It was a colorful three-game sweep. It was a straight-up whupping, with the energetic visitors outscoring the downbound Mets 25-10. And when the Cardinals left the yard, they had climbed the playground bars to the lead position in the NL’s second wild card zone.

We watched a full and purposeful demonstration of the finest baseball played by this team all season. The Cardinals mashed to an average of 8.3 runs per game, and pitched to a 2.17 ERA. At the money moments, the Cardinals batted .386 with runners in scoring position and starved the Mets to a .125 average in the same RISP challenge. The Cardinals showed the Mets how to play defense and run the bases. Evidently, the clumsy Mets did not take notes.

The best quote of the series came from Cards left fielder Tyler O’Neill, who summed up the late-summer feeling of a team on the march.

“We’ve been waiting to bust out all year,” O’Neill said after Tuesday’s gasket-blowing 7-6 win. “This is crunch time. We’re the Cardinals. September baseball. Stuff’s important. Here to win. That’s what we do. We’re the Cardinals. We’re ready to go.”

The only thing missing was Blues coach Craig Berube barking in the background with his “Let’s (Effing) Go!” maxim during the 2019 Stanley Cup run.

O’Neill said it twice: “We’re the Cardinals.”

For much of the 2021 season they hadn’t been the Cardinals. They had the names, and the uniforms, and a few good men hitting or pitching to their potential. But they did not have the consistency of performance, or a sharp edge. And they were easily demoralized.

And now? They are the Cardinals. I don’t know if this is a team rediscovering its identity, or a team that now gets after its goal with a more urgent disposition. Certainly the uplift in confidence is part of the higher elevation.

All of the parts are coming together at the right time. The attitude is rambunctious and a bit rowdy. The stars are doing starry things. Valuable contributions are being made by outcasts, recent Memphis Redbirds, ancient arms, cheeky rookies and other members of the collective.

It’s all on display now: the hitting, the starting pitching, the relief work, the defense, the baserunning, the burn. This is what a good team looks like. And now comes the challenge of holding form over the final 17 games of the schedule. This is no time for a relapse. Not when you’ve finally turned into the Cardinals again.

LET’S GET A FEW THINGS STRAIGHT:

There’s an undercurrent of dissent out there. It goes something like this: “I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not like the Cardinals are a great team that’s earned their place in the race. They don’t deserve to win the wild card.”

Much of this is true.

But it also ignores an important part of recent developments.

Three parts:

1) Absolutely, the Cardinals were able to take off from the launch pad because other WC2 contenders were snoozing, dawdling, stumbling, limping — or go ahead and pick your own word to describe it.

2) Had a superior entity presented itself as an unstoppable power to vanquish all dallying, middling teams in their path — well, the Cardinals’ season would have faded a long time ago. We know this. Who doesn’t know this? The San Diego Padres looked like the tank that would flatten everyone not named Giants or Dodgers … but what happened? The answer is “Baseball.” Baseball happened. The Padres deteriorated.

3) When an opportunity remains within reach — and stays there, stays there, stays there — there are a couple of ways to go. You can (A) get off your duff, wake up, and grab the damn thing and run with it. You can prove that you are better than the others in the herd. Or (B) you can sit at the side of the river and eat bonbons as the season flows by. The Cardinals have responded in a way that most of their fans hoped for. And just because they weren’t a very good team earlier in the season, what would you like them to do now? Quit? Declare themselves unworthy of postseason contention and withdraw from consideration?

The Cardinals aren’t stealing anything here. They’re playing by the rules. They didn’t create a double wild card system for each league. And because they had some time on their side, the Cardinals are in the process of stacking up enough wins to make a rightful claim to the second wild card.

Will they get there? We’ll see. But if the Cardinals stop winning, they don’t deserve any prizes. Or much respect. And they will relinquish the opportunity to compete in the postseason tournament. That’s baseball. But the idea that this team would be obligated to apologize for getting into the playoffs if they make it — well, that’s ludicrous. A pile of hooey.

On Aug 5, the Cardinals were a sad 53-55.

They were eight games behind San Diego and trailed Cincinnati by 4 and ½. The Cards were also looking up at the Mets. The Redbirds had the NL’s ninth-best record at the time, and the outlook was bleak.

Since Aug. 6, the Cardinals have the NL’s fourth-best record at 23-14. That’s a .621 winning percentage. The Cardinals not only erased the perilous standings deficit that put their season in serious jeopardy — but they’ve muscled their way ahead of the Padres, Reds, Phillies and Mets.

The Cardinals didn’t back their way into the second wild-card lead; they’ve gotten there rather quickly. They’ve accelerated rapidly. If you want them to “earn” their way into the postseason — um, what the heck do you think they’re doing? They may not hang on, but they are making a strong move.

Since Aug 6, the Cardinals have MLB’s sixth-best record, have MLB’s hird-best ERA (3.34) rank 11th overall in runs scored, and can be found among the top eight MLB teams in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.

The Cardinals were a mediocre team.

They are not a great team.

But they currently occupy a spot in the “good” team category. With a chance to move up to “very good.” And if they backslide, we’ll all have plenty of time to recommend trades, firings, free-agent signings, a regime change, etc.

But for right now … I dunno … why not live in the moment and enjoy it?

This is why there’s a 162-game season in Major League Baseball. This ain’t the NFL. In baseball you have six months to show us who you really are. That’s the defining test, and the beauty, of the sport. You can’t fake your way in. Being a Baseball King in May doesn’t mean a damn thing. And if you reside on the lower floors of the standings in June, it doesn’t mean that all is lost, including hope.

We can ask the Padres about that.

Or the Cardinals.

OFFICIAL WILD CARD PICTURE: How much has the No. 2 Wild Card race shifted? Quite dramatically, obviously. As of Thursday morning here are the latest Playoff Odds From FanGraphs, showing each team’s chance of grabbing the WC2 spot:

Cardinals, 41%
Padres, 28.9%
Reds, 22.6%
Phillies, 5.1%
Mets, 0.5%

According to the latest FanGraphs forecast, the Cardinals are projected to finish with a final record of 84-78.

The Cardinals (76-69) are seven games above .500 for the first time since May 30. They have a one-game lead on the Padres (75-70) and are ahead of the Reds (73-72) by 1 and ½. The Phillies (73-72) are three games away from the Cardinals and the Mets (72-75) are in a nearly hopeless situation, trailing by five with only 15 games remaining on their schedule.

POUNDING METS PITCHING: In winning three straight at Citi Field, the Cardinals averaged 8.3 runs per game, batted .331, slugged .548, posted a .926 OPS, cranked 15 extra-base hits, and went 17 for 44 (.386) with men in scoring position. Well done, fellers.

FIRST FIVE LINEUP SPOTS: Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Arenado and Yadier Molina led the attack by combining for a .371 average, 1.057 OPS, six doubles, four homers, 13 RBI and 19 runs. This fab group of five also batted .360 with runners in scoring position.

GOLDSCHMIDT & ARENADO: This is what stars do in a crucial, three-game series sweep: combine to hit .385, reach base on 48 percent of their plate appearances, slug .808, put up a 1.292 OPS, produce seven RBI, and score nine times. In the Cards’ 7-1 stretch Goldy and Nado have combined for five homers and 13 RBI while hitting .357 with runners in scoring position.

JON LESTER DELIVERS AGAIN: He was washed up. Done. No longer an effective pitcher. Burnt pie.

Until he wasn’t.

I’m typing this sentence for the first-ever time: It’s really fun to watch Jon Lester pitch.

Lester was credited with the win Wednesday after allowing three runs in six innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. After a shaky first two starts, Lester 3-0 in his last seven starts with a 2.72 ERA. And the Cardinals have won five of those seven starts.

Lester’s turnaround is amazing. In his first 18 starts of the season — 16 with Washington and two for St. Louis — he had an unsightly 5.57 ERA. Now he’s transformed. So is old-dude lefty J.A. Happ; except for the one really awful outing in Cincinnati, Happ otherwise has a 2.56 ERA in his other seven starts. At the time of the trade that sent him from Minnesota to STL, Happ had the worst starting-pitcher ERA in the majors at 6.77. He’s 4-2 with a 4.08 ERA for the Cards.

During their 7-1 streak the Cardinals have an overall ERA of 2.96 and a starting-pitcher ERA of 2.43.

EDMUNDO THE MAGNIFICENT: The rookie shortstop was at it again in New York: four hits, three runs, a stolen base, a homer and three runs batted in during the three-game set. And, of course, Sosa made his usual array of dazzling plays. In his 65 starts this season Edmundo Sosa is batting .311 with a .389 OBP and .457 slug for a .837 OPS. Plus six doubles, four triples, six homers, four steals, 24 runs scored, 12 hit-by-pitches and 100 total bases. Just magnificent.

A GOOD SERIES FOR THE OUTFIELDERS: The unit did considerable damage against the Mets in three games, hitting .333, slugging .548, driving in 12 runs and scoring seven. And the defense out yonder was exceptional.

WELCOME BACK, HARRY: After a brutal August that included a .152 batting average, .421 OPS, no homers and only four RBIs, center fielder Harrison Bader is performing as an asset offensively in September. In 55 plate appearances he’s got a .308 average, .884 OPS, three doubles, three homers and 10 RBI.

THE LARS NOOTBAAR CATCH, AS SEEN THROUGH NEW YORK EYES: Yeah, it was a big grab by Noot — especially the part where his jaw flapped open to allow his tongue to slither out as he waited for the perfect moment to snatch Pete Alonso’s deep, home-run-bound drive. Just like that, three runs were transferred from the Mets to the Cardinals. Lars the Card kept the score at 8-4 instead of a less comfortable appealing 8-7. That was the last gasp for the Metropolitans, who ultimately fell by a 11-4 count.

— Here’s some deliciousness from the New York Post:

“It never is the culprit you expect. If this is a final dagger into the Mets’ season, it was Lars Nootbaar assisting in the stabbing.

“Nootbaar, a young Cardinals outfielder appearing in his 44th career game and not a description of a Snickers, will be remembered in Queens as a robber, taking what might have been a game-altering home run away from Pete Alonso during the Mets’ 11-4 loss to the Cardinals at Citi Field.

“There were plenty of frustrations in the Mets’ third straight defeat, but the image of Alonso, halted between first and second base and bent over in disbelief, will be the lasting one from Wednesday night.”

— This, from the New York Daily News: “A dude named Lars Nootbaar stuck his tongue out, tracked the ball all the way to the warning track, poked his glove over the wall and robbed Alonso of a three-run home run. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Mets season in a nutshell. There’s hope, then there’s despair, and finally there’s a Mets fan base once again heartbroken over the reality of their mediocre team.”

— Mets manager Luis Rojas was somewhat less descriptive. “The kid made a nice play,” he said. “He just came in the game, and he was ready. You got to credit that, too.”

Rojas seems like a nice fella.

Sep 15, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Lars Nootbaar (68) celebrates with center fielder Harrison Bader (48) after robbing New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso (not pictured) of a home run during the seventh inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE ON THE PADRES: As I type this they’re about to begin their fourth and final game of a series at San Francisco. They’re playing the fourth

Wednesday night the Padres had a win to celebrate after defeating the Giants 9-6. The break from losing ended a five-game losing streak and gave San Diego a 1-5 record on the 10-game trip that began at Dodger Stadium, continued in San Francisco and will put them in St. Louis for the weekend.

“It feels good to be back in the win column,” Padres starting pitcher Joe Musgrove said. “It’s been a while.”

Yes, Joe. It’s been a while. The Padres have won only nine of their last 30 games.

Quick notes:

— Wednesday the Padres had 16 hits, their most in a game since July 17. And the nine-run scoring spree was especially notable; the Padres had scored only six total runs through the first five games of the roadie.

— Starting pitcher Blake Snell was placed on the IL on Wednesday with a left abductor strain. So the Cardinals will face Vince Velasquez on Friday night in St. Louis. After being released by the Phillies, Velasquez became the second castoff starting pitcher signed by the Padres in recent times. The first was Jake Arrieta. Velasquez had a 5.16 ERA in his last four-plus seasons with the Phillies. Arrieta had a 5.08 ERA for the Phillies in 2020 and has a 7.05 ERA in a 2021 season split between the Cubs and Padres.

— As of now the Padres’ three scheduled starters for the weekend series at Busch Stadium are, in order: Velasquez, Yu Darvish and Arrieta. The Cardinals counter with Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and J.A. Happ.

UPDATE ON THE REDS: Wow. Tough loss on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. The Redlegs went down 6-5 on a walk-off ground ball.

(Wait, what?)

Yes. In the ninth inning of a 5-5 game, Wilmer Difo reached second base when Reds left fielder Max Shrock overran a highly catchable flyball that went for a ground-rule double. From there, Dilfo scored when Colin Moran sent a grounder down the first-base line, deep behind the bag. Reds first baseman Joey Votto handled it, then flipped the ball to reliever Mychael Givens at first base for the putout. But Givens was facing the outfield when he fielded Votto’s throw, and didn’t see Difo sprinting around third base, headed for home. And that’s how the Pirates got a 6-5 walk-off in the ninth: a runner scoring from second base on a ground ball to first base. A disaster for the Reds at PNC Park.

“It sucked the way that ended,” Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer said. “Honestly, there are no words to describe it.”

The Pirates’ second straight victory over the Reds clinched the series for the Bucs. And it meant a seventh consecutive series loss for the Reds. They’ve lost four games in a row and are 4-12 since Aug. 28.

“After a game like tonight, it was really quiet,” Farmer said of the team’s mood. “Guys are down as we should be. We’re down, for sure. The clubhouse is down, but we just have to keep being positive. The tide will turn.”

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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available at 590thefan.com

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

 

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.