THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The St. Louis Cardinals became a different team in August. A much better team in August. Their offense was the best in baseball. Their starting rotation was hardened by two crucial trades. They repeatedly rallied from deficits and jolted opponents with 10 comeback victories. They won games in four different time zones.

The Cardinals went 7-2 against the Yankees, Brewers and Braves – the three best teams on their August schedule. The Cardinals played nine series in August and one eight of them. They whooshed into first place in the first week of August, expanded their lead  from there, and refuse to give the second-place Brewers oxygen or optimism.

Manager Oli Marmol was brilliantly creative with his lineup tactics and bullpen usage and his impact is unquestionable. Marmol is really good, and August was his best month yet.

Albert Pujols came back to St. Louis to make his inspiring comeback as an offensive force. Albert is 42 and young at heart again. He’s always at his best when he’s with his people … Cardinals fans. They’re together again, and it’s a beautiful thing. To paraphrase the late great Jackie Wilson, “Your love is lifting him higher.”

Young hitters Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan were August accelerators, getting on base to fuel Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, the two corner-infield pillars of excellence. In August Goldy and Nado combined 18 home runs, 56 RBI and showcased their exquisite brand of defense.

August went fast; that’s usually what happens when you’re having fun, tapping into the Cardinals’ energy, watching the happy scenes in the dugout. You can’t wait for the next game to start.

In the closing days of July, the Cardinals had only a 14.5 percent probability of winning the NL Central (according to FanGraphs) and at one point (July 30) trailed the first-place Brewers by four games.

As the Cardinals flew home from Cincinnati after winning a 5-3 endurance test that lasted 13 innings and 4 hours and 48 minutes, they had a six-game lead over the second-place Brewers and a 92% shot of winning the division.

The Cardinals were 22-7 in August, whisking the second-best record in the majors, only a half-game behind the Dodgers (22-6.) The bold power move during their most successful month of the season gave the Cardinals a 28-11 record and a glistening .718 winning percentage since July 15. And the Cardinals continued to own visiting teams at Busch Stadium in August, winning 13 of 15 at home.

With August 2022 filed into history, let’s break down a spectacular month that drastically altered the Cardinals’ season:

1. Big Winners At The Trade Deadline: On Aug. 2 John Mozeliak and his baseball ops staff made a huge impact on their team’s fortunes by acquiring left-handed starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery. After the dealing was done, the Cardinals had moved only one player off their roster – injured center fielder Harrison Bader, who was expendable – and still had 23 of their top 24 organizational prospects.

The early returns were incredible: Montgomery and Quintana have made 11 starts (combined) and the Cardinals are 10-1 when they’ve pitched. Montgomery has a 1.76 ERA, Quintana has a 3.38 ERA, and the new duo has averaged 5.4 innings per start.

As a bonus, Mozeliak and crew strengthened the bullpen by securing right-hander Chris Stratton from Pittsburgh in the Quintana trade, and flipping backup infielder Edmundo Sosa to Philadelphia for lefty JoJo Romero. Since Romero made his Cardinal debut on Aug. 20, he and Stratton have combined to allow only one run in eight appearances and 11 and ⅔ innings (0.77 ERA) with 31% strikeout rate.

2. The Offense Blooms and Booms: In August the Cardinals led the majors in these categories:

Runs per game, 5.96 … just ahead of the Dodgers.
Home runs, 51 … 10 more than any other team.
Batting average, .281
Onbase percentage, .361
Slugging percentage, .503
OPS, .864 … 48 points higher than the No. 2 Dodgers.

In addition the Cardinals had the third-lowest strikeout rate (18.1%) and the third highest walk rate (9.6%) and were fourth in doubles. STL’s adjusted runs created (wRC+) was 45 percent above league average offensively – and that was 17 percentage points higher than the No. 2 Dodgers for the month.

3. Home Run Heft: The Cardinals’ 51 home runs were the most in the month of August in franchise history. They walloped two or more homers in 17 of 29 games. And their record in those two-plus homer games was 16-1. “Two” is the magic number. When the Cardinals have launched two or more homers in a game this season they’re 41-8 for a winning percentage of .820.

4. Marmol’s Prescient Lineup Adjustment: On Aug. 11 the rookie manager put Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan in the No. 1 and No. 2 lineup spots whenever the Cardinals faced a right-handed starting pitcher. Marmol recognized the value of pumping up a high onbase percentage in the first two slots to set up more RBI opportunities for No. 3 hitter Paul Goldschmidt, No. 4 hitter Nolan Arenado, and the No. 5 batter.

Marmol’s strategy has paid off. In August the Cardinals had a .398 onbase percentage (collectively) from their No. 1 and 2 spots against RH pitching. Since Aug. 11, Nootbaar has a .406 OBP and .975 OPS as the leadoff man against righties. And Donovan has a .431 OBP vs. right-handers as the No. 2 hitter.

Arenado led all MLB hitters with 29 RBI in August; Goldschmidt was third with 27. The Cards’ No. 5 hitters ranked fifth in the bigs with 24 RBI.

Since Aug. 11 the Cardinals averaged 6.1 runs while winning 15 of 21 games.

5. This Lineup Is Deep. Among MLB players with at least 50 plate appearances in August, the Cardinals had a voluminous presence on the industry leaderboards.

Batting Average. Four of the top 13 leading hitters were Cardinals: Corey Dickerson (.411), Arenado (.364), Pujols (.361) and Goldschmidt (.343.) Dickerson’s .411 average was the best by a MLB hitter in August.

Onbase Percentage. The Cards had five of the top 18: Goldy (.448), Nootbaar (.421), Pujols (.420), Dickerson (.411) and Arenado .410. Goldschmidt’s OBP ranked fifth overall.

Slugging Percentage. The Cardinals had three of the top six sluggers in the majors: Pujols (.803), Arenado (.729) and Goldschmidt (.667.) That .803 from Pujols was highest in MLB for August.

Onbase + Slugging, OPS: The Cardinals had three of the top five in the majors: Pujols (1.224), Arenado (1.139) and Goldschmidt (1.115.) Specifically, Pujols was No. 1, Arenado No. 3, and Goldy at No. 5. Two other Cards, Dickerson (1.000) and Nootbaar (.979), finished in the top 20.

Home Runs: Goldschmidt and Arenado were among five players tied for the August lead with nine home runs. Pujols, with eight homers, was tied for sixth. And Tyler O’Neill (7) was among seven players tied for eighth in the majors.

Runs Batted In: The Cardinals had three in the top 16. Arenado (29) was first, Goldschmidt (27) was third, and O’Neill (20) was tied for 16th.

6. Holding Strong And Steady. Not Letting Go: The Cardinals trailed the Brewers by two games on Aug. 2. After sweeping the Cubs in a doubleheader on Aug. 3, the Cards moved into a tie for first place. They remained there for two more days, moved into sole possession of first place on Aug. 6, and stayed in the top spot for the rest of the month. Since Aug. 20 the Cards have led the second-place Brewers by no fewer than five games.

7. Marmol’s Bullpen Maneuvers: He was more aggressive about using relievers for multiple-inning stints. Marmol changed his approach by turning to his middle relievers earlier in games and doing it more often. (Andre Pallante, Chris Stratton, Jordan Hicks, Jake Woodford.) And four of nine August appearances by closer Ryan Helsley lasted more than an inning.

The starting pitching still doesn’t provide deep-run innings on a consistent basis. That makes the bullpen more important.

Over the season’s first four months St. Louis relievers worked more than one inning in 35.6 percent of their appearances – including a low multiple-innings rate of 28% in July. In August the relievers pitched more than an inning in 32 of 70 appearances – a rate of 45.7 percent. That’s a dramatic difference from the first four months.

In August the St. Louis relievers held opponents to a .232 average, .301 OBP and .345 … ranking no worse than eighth in the majors in those categories. The overall ERA (3.69) wasn’t anything special, ranking 15th. But St. Louis pitchers absorbed a pounding during a three-game series at Coors Field, and I think we can give them a mulligan for that. Otherwise, the relievers had a 2.68 ERA for the month. The starting pitchers had a 3.19 ERA in their 26 non-Coors games.

St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Lars Nootbaar (21) celebrates with St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Ron ‘Pop’ Warner (75) after hitting a 2-run home run in the thirteenth inning of the MLB game between between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.
St Louis Cardinals At Cincinnati Reds

NOTABLE AUGUST PERFORMANCES 

+ Because of the trades for Quintana and Montgomery, the Cardinals led all MLB teams in starting-pitching wins, starting-pitching innings, and starting-pitching WAR from hurlers acquired at the trade deadline. No team helped itself more than the Cardinals did.

+ The Cardinals had five players in the top 20 for most WAR in the majors for August. Arenado (2.4 WAR) was No. 1 in MLB. Goldschmidt (1.8) was tied for fifth. Nootbaar (1.6) was tied for 10th. Tommy Edman and Pujols (1.1) were tied for 20th.

+ Albert Pujols had an amazing August with a slash line of .361 / .420 / .803. He led the majors in slugging and OPS (1.224) and clouted eight homers – going deep once every 7.6 at-bats. Pujols has a 144 OPS+ for the season, meaning that he’s 44 percent above league average offensively. In the post-expansion era (1961-present), that 144 OPS+ would be sixth best in a single season among players age 40 or older that had at least 200 plate appearances. And his .515 slug would be seventh best in a post-expansion season by a age 40+ player with 200 plate appearances.

Pujols needs six homers for 700 in his career. Can he get there?

+ Arenado had an awesome August, clubbing nine homers, driving home 29 runs, batting .364, slugging .729, and rocking a 1.139 OPS. As noted, he was the best player in the majors in August based on WAR.

+ Goldy flattened out near the end of August but it was still a helluva month. Goldschmidt and Arenado were the only two hitters in the majors in August to put up this combination: a .330 average or higher; at least nine homers; at least 25 RBI, and an OPS of 1.000 or better.

Goldschmidt is still right there in a quest for the first NL Triple Crown since 1937. With a .332 average Goldy has a seven-point lead over Freddie Freeman, is tied with Pete Alonzo with 105 RBI, and has three fewer homers (33) than league leader Kyle Schwarber’s 36.

+ Nootbaar is a revelation. His August performance gave the Cardinals a huge boost in OBP, but this is no slap hitter with a craving for walks. So while his 19% walk rate and .421 OBP are valuable and appreciated, Noot dosed the St. Louis offense with abundant power. He slugged .558 for August, and 13 of his 27 hits for the month went for extra bases: five doubles, three triples and five homers.

+ I already mentioned this, but Corey Dickerson had a .411 average and 1.000 OPS in August. At the end of June he had a .194 average and .531 OPS. He heated up in July, and went nuts in August. No, I didn’t see it coming.

+ Reliever Giovanny Gallegos wobbled for a while, but he got back to being a liquidator in August, pitching to a 0.93 ERA in his nine appearances. Andre Pallante had a 1.17 ERA in his nine relief gigs. And Jake Woodford has a 0.71 ERA in his one start and four relief jobs.

+ Brendan Donovan batted .338 in August and posted a .403 OBP for a .787 OPS. He adds so much value with his ability to play six different positions without undermining the team’s defense. According to Fielding Bible, Donovan has been a league-average defender at first base, second base, and right field. He’s a minus-1 defender at shortstop, a plus-6 defender at third base, and a plus-1 defender in left field. That’s a net of six defensive runs saved overall.

I was laughing last night while reading through an online forum thread that labeled Donovan as a “horrible fielder.” One observer described Donovan as “very awkward with his feet, not fluid at all, they overexpose him in the field, more of a DH type.”

Another said that Red Schoendienst is rolling over in his grave because Donovan makes one-handed catches. Another poster criticized Donovan’s lack of power. Another wrote, “Maybe he won’t be on the team next year.”

Yeah, but of course … there’s simply no place on the big club for a dude that gets on base 40 percent of the time to set up the big hitters for RBI opportunities. We can’t see a future for a guy who can capably play six defensive positions to give his manager tremendous flexibility – and a strategic edge – by moving him around as a chess piece. What the hell are the Cardinals thinking? Donovan belongs in Memphis. Absolutely.

+ Tyler O’Neill rebounded in August, hitting seven homers, driving in 20 runs and slugging .462. It’s a start. But will we see consistency?

+ Backup catcher Andrew Knizner hit .303 in August with a .439 OBP and .455 slug.

That’s all I have for now.

The Cardinals are resting today – and the day off is right on time after the team played 17 games in 16 days without a break. The Cubs come into Busch Stadium on Friday for the start of a three-game weekend series.

What will we see from the Cardinals in September?

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.