THE REDBIRD REVIEW

During their winning expedition, the Cardinals have explored many ways to win. And it seems to be working for a team that has the best record in the majors, 17-3, since July 31.

That’s when the Cardinals began their mad dash into first place in the NL Central, obliterating their four-game deficit on July 30 to zoom past the Brewers and bust open a five-game lead in the division.

During their exciting 17-3 hell-on-wheels run to the top, the Cardinals have …

– Won four games by shutting out opponents.

– Posted five victories by blowouts, winning games by five runs or more.

– Won five games by a one-run margin.

– Won four times by scoring nine runs or more.

– Won six times when scoring four runs or less.

– Won 12 times by holding opponents to three runs or less.

– Won eight times on comeback victories.

As manager Oli Marmol and several players have said, this is all the sign of a good team. The Cardinals have won baseball shootouts, and 1-0 nail biters. They’ve rallied for comebacks, and fended off opponents that pursued them in the late innings.

The Cardinals have won by asserting themselves early in games. They’ve prevailed by grinding out wins with the score tied in the middle or late innings. They’ve won with pitching, they’ve won with offense, and they most certainly have won with defense.

During this 17-3 stretch the Cardinals are 15-1 in games played away from the hideous arcade baseball that passes for competition at Coors Field in Denver.

Over the past 20 games the Cardinals lead MLB teams in average runs per game (6.05), homers (34), batting average (.286), onbase percentage (.367), slugging percentage (.507), OPS (.875.) At 48 percent above league average offensively, they lead the majors in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) and have the best OPS (.947) with runners in scoring position.

Their overall ERA (3.32) ranks sixth since July 31, and that includes a fourth-ranked starting pitching ERA of 3.03. Since the Aug. 2 trade deadline the Cardinals are 16-3, the best in the bigs. And eight of the victories came in games started by trade acquisitions Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana.

So you can say that president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has, in effect, been winning games too.

They’ve won because of baseball senior citizen Albert Pujols, leading MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and the power and defense of third baseman Nolan Arenado. They’ve won because of young Cardinals Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan. And they’ve won because of veteran starting pitchers Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright – and the valuable all-purpose pitching of rookie Andre Pallante.

They’ve won because of the virtually flawless performance of first-time closer Ryan Helsley … and a bullpen that has wobbled at times – but generally has handled a burdensome workload with effective results. The St. Louis relievers rank third in the majors in Win Probability Added, or WPA.

And they’ve won because of Oli Marmol’s shrewd managing. After sorting things during his first three months of the season, Marmol has figured out his team’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that’s enhancing their chances of winning.

In his newsletter that dropped on Monday, baseball analyst Joe Sheehan offered a spot-on assessment of Marmol’s work in 2022.

“Some of what we’re seeing here is a rookie manager finding his way,” Sheehan wrote. “Marmol has tried a lot of approaches this season. He’s been unafraid to put young players into key spots. Perhaps more impressively, Marmol has backed off when a plan — Tommy Edman at leadoff, Pujols versus righties — isn’t working. The use of rookie Andre Pallante in a true swingman role is, in and of itself, probably worth a column.

“The bullpen beyond Pallante remains a nightly challenge, as Marmol doesn’t have a deep well of options and is wary of overusing his best reliever, Ryan Helsley. While the effectiveness of Quintana and Montgomery has lifted some of the burden on that pen, Marmol just doesn’t have the depth out there that many of his peers do.”

The Cardinals, 70-51, have 41 games to go in the regular season. There is plenty of time to screw up, and plenty of time to do even better. But right now this team is in a very good place, and they’ll play 68 percent of their remaining games against teams that have a losing record. The Cardinals are 46-23 (.667) this season against opponents with losing records.

“We discussed it today, with the staff and the players, we trust every single person that’s on this roster and everyone is stepping up in different ways,” Marmol said after Monday’s 1-0 win at Wrigley Field. “Today is a different version of a win. Yesterday the bullpen did a really nice job, our offense has come through in other games. Everyone is doing their job right now.”

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Accounting Department: The 1-0 victory over the Cubs improved the Cardinals’ record against NL Central rivals to 31-17. That .646 winning percentage inside the division is a major reason for STL’s first-place standing. Second-place Milwaukee is a lesser 31-28 against NL Central opponents for a .525 winning percentage … With Monday’s success the Cardinals leveled their road record to 30-30 on the season … at 25-9, the Cardinals have MLB’s second-best record (to the Dodgers) since July 10.

Monty Is Money: What a fantastic performance by Jordan Montgomery in Monday’s 1-0 dubya. He retired 27 of 28 batters faced, allowed only one hit, and didn’t walk a Cub while striking out 11. Montgomery has gone 15 consecutive innings without walking an opponent. Last night he disposed of the Cubs on 99 pitches, and 65 went for strikes.

Montgomery is 4-0 with a 0.35 ERA in his four starts as a Cardinal. He’s given up three extra-base hits (all doubles) to his 91 batters faced and held them to a .149 average, .187 onbase percentage and .184 slug. As a Cardinal, Monty has a 26.3 percent strikeout rate and a miniscule 3.3% walk rate.

The Cardinals have gone 4-0 with Montgomery on the mound since the trade deadline. The Yankees, who traded Montgomery to St. Louis, have won only five total games as a team since the deadline.

Quintana and Montgomery, Tag Team: The Cardinals are 8-0 in their starts, and the duo has combined for a 1.58 ERA in 45 and ⅓ innings since joining the Cardinals.

To put that in perspective, the Cardinals have won eight games when their two new starters go to work; since Quintana made his first start on Aug. 4, followed by Montgomery two days later, 11 different MLB teams have won fewer than eight games, total.

The Cardinals rank 7th in MLB with a 3.25 rotation ERA since the trade deadline. Since dealing Montgomery, the Yankees are 23rd in the majors with a 4.46 rotation ERA.

One More On Montgomery: His four-seam fastball is making a difference, and it’s the result of a significant change in his pitching approach since becoming a Cardinal.

As a Yankee this season Montgomery used his four-seam fastball on only 7.76 percent of his pitches. And it didn’t go so well for him, with opponents batting .361 with a .639 slugging percentage on at-bats that ended with a four-seamer.

Montgomery – and the Yankees – lost confidence in the pitch. But the Cardinals studied video, saw the velocity and the life on the lefty’s four-seamer, and encouraged him to throw it more frequently.

This change has propelled Montgomery. As a Cardinal he’s thrown the four-seam on 30 percent of his pitches, and opponents have batted only .103 against it. Montgomery has eliminated his cutter and slider, and he’s used his changeup more often when behind in the count against RH batters.

More Words About Albert Pujols: His solo homer in the seventh – with the wind blowing in – delivered the only run, and the winning run, for the ageless wonder and his Cardinals.

Pujols Points:

– Pujols raised his OPS+ to 150, which means that through Monday he was 50 percent above league average offensively. In his final season as a Cardinal the first time around (2011), Pujols had an OPS+ of 148. Lawdy.

— With his homer and a single on Monday night, Pujols increased his season numbers to a .273 batting average, .351 onbase percentage and a .530 slug. His .880 OPS through Monday is Pujols’ largest since he had a .906 OPS for the 2011 Cardinals.

— In his last 10 games through Monday, Pujols was 17 for 31 (.548) with seven homers and 14 RBIs. Since Aug 10, Pujols had as many homers (7) as the Tigers and Royals had hit as teams, and more homers than the entire output by the White Sox (6) and Red Sox (5). Crazy!

— Since Aug. 14, and through Monday, Pujols had six home runs. From Aug. 14 through Aug. 23, Pujols matched the entire home run totals produced by seven different teams, and out-homered eight different teams. And Pujols hit his six home runs in ONLY 21 AT-BATS. How does this happen? Crazy!

— Since the All-Star break, 108 MLB hitters have at least 30 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. Among the 108, Pujols has the most homers (7) and RBI (13) vs. lefties and ranks first in batting average (.567), slugging (1.333) and OPS (1.951.)

— With 14 homers through Monday night, Pujols ranked fourth in baseball’s modern era for the most homers by a player in his age 42 season. The top three are Barry Bonds, who had 28 homers in 2007; Carlton Fisk, who homered 18 times in 1990; and Carl Yastrzemski, who hit 16 home runs in 1982.

The Brewers Are Still Whining About Josh Hader? More than 20 days later Milwaukee starting pitcher Eric Lauer is still crabby over the trade that sent Hader, their closer, to the Padres.

“It didn’t send us the right message from the upstairs people trying to say, like, ‘We’re doing this and we’re trying to put you guys in the best position and we’re trying to win right now with you guys,’ “Lauer told MLB.com. “It seemed more of a, ‘We’re trying to develop for the future.’

“I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the way they described it to the public,” Lauer said. “I’m not trying to just get a bunch of ‘bites of the apple.’ Especially if things are going the way they are, the way the Brewers have historically traded (guys before) paying guys. I don’t know how many bites of the apple we can take in the next few years. We’re not going to be able to afford a lot of guys in this room.”

Four things: (1) Hader had a 14.04 ERA in his last 10 appearances as a Brewer. In 8.1 innings he was clobbered for 15 hits including five homers and walked eight hitters. (2) Since becoming a Padre, Hader has a 16.20 ERA in five appearances and was removed from the closer’s role. (3) Closer Taylor Rogers, who came to Milwaukee in the Hader trade, has a 5.63 ERA in his first eight appearances for the Brewers. That doesn’t look good, but here’s some context: Rogers had one bad outing, giving up four runs in 0.2 innings against the Cardinals. In his other seven relief appearances for the Crew, Rogers has allowed one run in 7.1 innings. He’s pitching better than Hader. Lauer must have forgotten to mention that. (4) A much bigger problem for the Brewers is their habit of rolling over in games against bad teams; they’ve gone 4-11 in their last 15 games against the Reds, Pirates and Cubs. But yet, over a recent stretch, the Crew has a 5-2 record against the Dodgers and Rays.

If you’re good enough to win five of seven games against quality teams, then why can’t you handle the also-rans? And given horrendous decline, why are y’all acting like he’s still a dominant closer? The Brewers need to get to work, take responsibility for their play, and stop with the pouting.

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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which 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, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

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.