Note from Bernie: This column was written Wednesday morning, after the Cardinals scored one run while losing Tuesday’s game at Kansas City. The struggles on offense have become a running commentary for obvious reasons. But the Cardinals got busy on Wednesday, jumping on overwhelmed Royals lefty Kris Bubic for five first-inning runs, as I type this the Cards are up 8-0 in the bottom of the 8th. I just didn’t want to confuse any of you who may have been wondering why I didn’t have anything to say about today’s game. Hey, it’s one game at a time. And first things first. Tuesday’s game was the next on my writing schedule. Thanks!
THE REDBIRD REVIEW
I’m stuck in a writing loop. Frankly I’m running out of ways to say the same ol’ thing in new ways. The Cardinals are playing the same game over and over again. Not always, but most of the time. The starting pitching is usually good. The bullpen does its job. The offense gasps and crawls.
It happened again Tuesday night in Kansas City when the Cardinals failed to provide offensive support for Dakota Hudson. He allowed two runs over his first five innings, and gave up three runs in his six-inning stint but didn’t get any help from a lineup that managed only three hits and five baserunners in the first six frames.
The bullpen had a rare off-form performance and couldn’t keep it close. But those who would dwell on Hudson’s imperfections and relievers T.J. McFarland and Jake Woodford breaking down to five up four runs in two innings … c’mon now.
It didn’t matter what Hudson and the relievers did or did or did not do; the pitching evaluation is irrelevant because of a languid STL offense that didn’t put a run on the board before Kansas City opened a 7-0 lead. Hudson gave the Cardinals a chance to win. We can’t expect the St. Louis pitchers to carry and save this offense on a near-daily basis. That’s unrealistic and unreasonable.
Even with Tuesday’s seven-run yield added in, the Cardinals rank sixth in the majors with their average of 3.35 runs allowed per game. And their staff ERA, 3.34 ranks ninth.
The nine other teams in MLB’s top 10 of run prevention had a combined winning percentage of .645 through Tuesday’s games.
Now compare that to the Cardinals’ winning percentage of .565. Something ain’t right. When you’re sitting at No. 6 among the 30 teams in the mission of suppressing your opponent’s runs count, then you should be winning more frequently.
The Cardinals are 13-10. Only one team, the Orioles, has scored two runs or fewer in a game (14) more often than St. Louis (11.) And the Cardinals are 3-8 in those instances.
The Cards have mustered no more than two runs in nearly half of their 23 games. They’ve scored no more than one run in seven of their last 14. They’ve been shut out three times in the last 13.
The Cardinal starters and relievers don’t need a ton of runs to get this team to the winner’s circle. When the STL offense scores at least four runs in a game this season – and the MLB average is 4.04 runs scored – the Cardinals are 10-2.
The Cardinals and Royals conclude a three-game, two-town set today in Kansas City. The Cardinals held on for a 1-0 win in St. Louis on Monday, then got skunked 7-1 in Tuesday’s embarrassing loss.
In their first two games against Royals pitching this week, the Cardinals scored two total runs. They went 14 consecutive innings without scoring – getting blanked for their last seven innings of at-bats on Monday, and then the first seven innings of ABs on Tuesday. Combining both games, the Cardinals went 10 for .157 (.175) with three extra-base hits. They reached base 24.2% of the time. They slugged .263, wheezed for a .505 OPS, and were 1 for 8 (.125) with runners in scoring position.
Coming into Monday’s game, the Royals had a 4.63 team ERA that ranked 27th in MLB. And all the Cardinals could do was take bad at-bats and keel over.
And by scratching out only one run Tuesday, the Cardinals failed for the sixth time this season when given a chance to build a three-game winning streak. They’ve had six two-game win streaks but couldn’t extend them. And in going 0-6 and coming up empty with a shot at winning a third game in a row, the Cardinals scored a total of 10 runs.
See, that’s one of many problems for a team that has a groggy offense: there’s little margin of error, your pitchers have to be virtually flawless, and the inconsistency from at-bat to at-bat makes it frustratingly difficult to string together wins. Two in a row is nothing. I’m talking about winning six straight, or maybe 10 of 13. A team can’t sustain winning if it scores two runs or fewer as many times as the Cardinals have this season.
BAD HABITS: Yesterday I wrote about the Cardinals’ terrible, near-bottom rates in hard-hit contact, barreling pitches, average exit velocity, average distance of home runs. Here’s another installment: another close-up view of some ongoing problems with a malfunctioning. I’ll make it quick:
1) No MLB offense hits as many harmless pop-ups than the Cardinals, who have the highest pop-up rate (12%) in the majors.
2) The Cardinals have the 12th-highest fly ball percentage in the majors at 26%. And with the deadened baseball being such a horrendous factor in historically low totals on offense, 2022 is a really bad time to be hitting a lot of fly balls. They don’t travel well.
3) The Cardinals’ swings get “under” the pitch at a rate of 32.1 percent … that’s the highest, as in worst, in MLB. That explains the worthless pop-ups and lazy fly balls.
4) Line drives? Line drives are good! But the Cardinals rank 26th in MLB with a LD rate of 21.8%.
5) The Cardinals do not hit to all fields. Their percentage of batted balls struck to the opposite field (24.3%) is the sixth lowest among the 30 teams.
6) Their barreled-ball rate (5.5%) is now the worst in the majors.
7) Their rate of “solid” contact (6%) ranks 22nd.
8) The Cardinals are chasing way too many pitches out of the strike zone. Their percentage of swinging at non-strikes – 30.8 – is the third-worst in the majors.
9) Making the chase rate even worse is the team’s low percentage of attacking strikes. The Cardinals’ percentage of swinging at strikes (66.8) ranks 25th in the majors.
So when you …
Swing at too many non-strikes … and don’t swing at enough strikes … and hit so many easy-out pop-ups and fly balls … and have the fourth-worst average exit velocity … and are the worst team in baseball in hard-hit rate and barrel percentage …
That’s pretty much the formula for a fragile offense.
Someone please fix this offense.
THE FROLICSOME TOMMY EDMAN: On a quiet and terrible night for the St. Louis offense, the Cards second baseman brought some energy to a lifeless lineup, going 2 for 4 and scoring the team’s only run. After a brief lull Edman is 8 for 23 (.391) over his last six games. His 1.4 WAR this season ranks tied for 7th among all MLB position players. And Edman has the second-highest batting average (.316) and third-best OPS (.896) among qualifying MLB second basemen. And he leads the position in defensive runs saved.
In the all-encompassing “Total Runs” metric devised by the great Bill James, here are the top three leaders on the season so far: Manny Machado 30 Total Runs, followed by Nolan Arenado (27) and Edman (27.)
PAUL DEJONG SINCE APRIL 14: He’s 5 for 48 (.104) with a .319 OPS and 29 percent strikeout rate.
WELCOME, JUAN YEPEZ: Maybe Yepez can jolt the Cardinals offense during his stay with the big club. He certainly was tracking well at Triple A Memphis. After a slow start this season for the Redbirds – .167 average and 50% strikeout rate in his first six games – Yepez settled down, recharged his confidence and began his fearsome assault on pitching. In his last 16 games at Memphis, Yepez hit .323, slugged .774 and had a 1.151 OPS. This show of force included eight homers, four doubles and 20 RBI. And Yepez has struck out at a low rate of 13% during his 16-game surge.
Here’s another reason why Yepez is so compelling: this RH batter has had no problem against RH pitching. Last season he had a .614 slugging percentage and .990 OPS vs. righthanders and clubbed 23 homers and 22 doubles in 277 at-bats. This season he’s roughed up righties for a .579 slug and .902 OPS, with five homers and three doubles in 57 at-bats. Over the last two seasons he’s put up a .904 OPS against lefties in 2021, and a 1.116 vs. LH so far in 2022.
If Yepez can adjust quickly and give the Cardinals an imposing presence as a DH against RH pitching, he can help solve an early-season problem. Through Tuesday the Cardinals had a .152 average, .182 slug, .428 OPS and no home runs from the DH spot in 74 plate appearances against RH pitchers. Against righthanders the Cards’ park-and-league adjusted runs created by designated hitters is 60 percent below league average offensively. Good grief. And you wonder why this offense stinks?
As for Yepez playing defense … there’s no reason to force this. I have no idea why anyone would give a hoot about his defense. The young man is the personification of a designated hitter. I know this DH thing is new to the National League … but the Cardinals do realize that the “H” in DH stands for “hitter,” right?
YEPEZ SCOUTING REPORT: This is from Baseball Prospectus, written when the Cardinals announced the Yepez call-up. “A lot of what you have previously read about Yepez rings true today: he is a bat-first corner guy who leverages a slightly open stance and modest leg kick to set up his short, compact stroke. Though he’s always possessed plus-plus raw pop, his in-game power development since the start of last year is why he’s set to become a big leaguer. Yepez hunts fastballs and has feasted on them so far in ‘22 to the tune of a 98.7 mph average exit velocity. What has perhaps been more encouraging, however, is his newfound willingness to use the whole field to push breaking balls the opposite way without sacrificing any power. Simply put, he has sensational barrel control. The K-rate has jumped a bit, but we still believe Yepez possesses uncanny plate discipline for this archetype of hitter. On the whole, you’re looking at a guy who might have a 55 hit tool and 6-7 game power to boot. That’s, um, a really good hitter.”
As for Yepez in the field, Baseball Prospectus wrote the truth: “Defensively it’s… yeah, it’s not great. Despite adding muscle over the years, Yepez is still a well below-average athlete who doesn’t get good reads anywhere on the field. He is the quintessential ‘He can stand there’ guy who will be subbed out for better defenders late in games. He is also a non-factor on the basepaths. To sum it up, Yepez is a big leaguer thanks to his bat.”
That’s swell. The Cardinals need hitters. Powerful, productive hitters to cure a sickly, underachieving offense. Yepez gets a shot, and let’s hope he makes the best of it. Nolan Gorman, you still may have a chance to make it to the big leagues one day.
QUICK NOTE ON NOLAN GORMAN: Going into Wednesday, the top prospect has a 41% strikeout rate in his last six games.
NEW-LOOK LINEUP TODAY: Sort of. The no-brainer has Albert Pujols at DH and batting fourth against Kansas City lefthander Kris Bubic (10.20 ERA in 12 innings.) Since the start of last season Pujols has ruined many pitches tossed by lefties – batting .311 with a .352 OBP and .636 slug (.988 OPS) in 162 plate appearances. Over that time he’s taken LHs deep 15 times in 151 at-bats … that’s one home run every 10 at-bats.
A couple of things to note about manager Oli Marmol’s lineup card for the 12:15 game at KC: Nolan Arenado batting third, with Tyler O’Neill dropped to 6th … Yepez is making his MLB batting sixth and is assigned to right field.
Here’s the lineup card — which you already know about because the game just started and Dan McLaughlin is full of energy as always.
Tommy Edman 4
Paul Goldschmidt 3
Nolan Arenado 5
Albert Pujols DH
Juan Yepez 9
Tyler O’Neill 7
Harrison Bader 8
Yadier Molina 2
Paul DeJong 6
Placing O’Neill in a lower spot is overdue. Though he’s knocked in a run in two of his last three games, he’s batted .125 with a .167 slug and .352 in his last 13 games – with a rising strikeout rate of 31.4 percent.
For the season O’Neill is batting .188 with one home run and a .263 slugging percentage. Since homering on opening day, O’Neill is slugging .208 (whoa) and has gone 80 consecutive at-bats without homering.
ADAM WAINWRIGHT IS YOUR STARTING PITCHER TODAY: He opened the 2022 season for the Cardinals on April 7 with six shutout innings in a 9-0 punch-out of the Pirates at Busch Stadium. Since that wonderful performance Wainwright has struggled with a 5.14 ERA over his last four starts. During this rough stretch opponents have batted .305 with a .476 slug and .865 OPS, and Waino has an unusually high walk rate of 12.6 percent. Another issue is LH batters. In his five starts LH swingers have gotten to Wainwright for a .302 average, .384 OBP, and .460 slug.
Now, let’s remember a couple of things: after five starts last season Wainwright had an ERA of 4.08. After five starts this season his ERA stands at 4.00. In 2021 Wainwright really didn’t grooved until the beginning of June; his earned-run average at the end of May was 4.22. Ah, but over his final 22 starts the second-greatest starting pitcher in franchise history had a 2.58 ERA and went 14-3. The Cardinals were 18-4 in his final 22 regular-season starts.
Waino will be just fine. More than fine, actually.
MORE ON WAINO: Keep an eye on this … In Waino’s first five starts, the first hitter he’s faced in an inning has reached 48 percent of the time. Last season the first batter in the inning reached base only 28% of the time. When Wainwright retired the first batter in an inning last season, he had a 1.19 ERA in those innings. When the first batter of the inning reached base last season, Waino’s ERA was 7.80 on those innings. It’s more of the same so far this year: a 2.25 ERA in innings that he retires the first batter; a 5.54 ERA in innings when he doesn’t retire the first hitter.
FINAL THOUGHT: The Cardinals should pummel Bubic today.
No excuses if they don’t.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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.
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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.