THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals were on the verge of winning a game, only to get ambushed by the Angels for two homers and three runs in the top of the ninth.
Final score: The Halos 6, The Bedeviled 4.
The Cardinals have lost five in a row. They are 3-12 in their last 15 games. They have the worst record in the National League (10-21.) With a .323 winning percentage the Redbirds are off to the fifth poorest start in franchise history since 1901.
The Cardinals lost again Wednesday despite hitting two homers and scoring four runs against the great Shoehei Ohtani in his five innings. They lost because their hitters struck out 17 times against Ohtani and the Angel relievers. The Redbirds lost because they barely scratched the LAA bullpen, getting two hits and scoring no runs over the final four innings.
The Cardinals lost because manager Oli Marmol replaced closer Ryan Helsley at the top of the ninth after the human fireball required only 10 pitches to retire four hitters. At that point the dominant Helsley was in full mowing-down mode, having struck out 50 percent of his batters faced.
But Marmol put the chain on his attack-dog closer and brought in Giovanny Gallegos to protect a 4-3 lead. After the game Marmol defended his decision, in part, by pointing to Gio’s wickedly strong April. And Marmol didn’t want to use Helsley to bridge three innings. That meant Helsley would go from the mound to the dugout – hot, then cold – multiple times.
I understand the thinking … sort of.
Helsley was fresh. Your team was desperate to win a game, any game – and the elusive prize was within reach. So make the push to grab it. Helsley last pitched Sunday and was coming off two-plus days of rest. And going into this scenario, Marmol had already used Helsley for 23 pitches or more in four relief appearances. There was no reason to shut him down so soon on Wednesday.
As for Gallegos, he’s been an excellent reliever for the Cardinals since 2018. But Gio has a warning label. He’s much better at working set-up innings. He’s at his worst in high-leverage situations.
Here’s the leverage breakdown for Gallegos over the last five seasons:
Low-leverage: 1.59 ERA
Medium-leverage: 2.72 ERA
High-leverage: 5.13 ERA
Marmol has to be aware of this.
But in a game that was won, then lost, the manager made one move too many.
And for the Cardinals, the beatdowns keep coming.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: Among all 30 MLB teams, only the Royals (.258) and the A’s (.194) are doing worse than the Cardinals. (The White Sox and Cardinals have an identical winning percentage) … With Wednesday’s loss, the Cardinals have now dropped five consecutive series. Since taking the series from Toronto to open the season, the Cardinals have gone 1-7-1 in their last nine series … The Cards are 5-10 at home this season and have lost nine of their last 12 games at Busch Stadium … St. Louis is 5-16 against opponents that have winning records … Since April 17, the Cardinals and Oakland A’s are tied for the worst record (3-12) in the majors … The only Cardinal teams in franchise history to have a lower win percentage through 31 games came in 1903 (.258) and 1907 (.258). The 1973 Cardinals, like the 2023 Cardinals, were 10-21 after 31 games.
HITTERS UP: In Wednesday’s game, Nolan Gorman went 2 for 4 with a solo homer … Nolan Arenado had his best offensive game in weeks, going 2 for 4 with a walk … Willson Contreras was 2-4 with an RBI, and Dylan Carlson swatted a two-run homer to give St. Louis a 4-3 lead.
HITTERS DOWN: Lars Nootbaar, Paul Goldschmidt, Alec Burleson, Tyler O’Neill, Brendan Donovan and Tommy Edman combined to go 0 for 19 with 11 strikeouts in Wednesday’s defeat.
BULLPEN SMOKE: In the last 12 games the St. Louis bullpen has a 5.40 ERA and has allowed six homers, eight doubles, a triple and a .442 slugging percentage. And the relievers have a ghastly 13.3 percent walk rate over the last dozen games.
OUTFIELD CHECK-IN: Rookie outfielder Jordan Walker played his last game for the Cardinals on April 23 before being optioned to Triple A Memphis. Since then outfielders Nootbaar, O’Neill, Burleson and Carlson have combined to hiit .183 and slug .280 with two homers and seven RBI in 105 plate appearances. Per adjusted runs created (wRC+), the Cardinal outfield is 51 percent below league average offensively since April 24.
FLUBBING A CHANCE TO GAIN GROUND: The Cardinals could have reduced the size of their deficit in the NL Central but are failing to take advantage of their opportunity. The Pirates have lost three in a row, the Brewers have lost six of their last nine, and the Cubs are 1-5 in their last six games. But it hasn’t mattered because the Cardinals are 1-8 in their last nine games.
MILES MIKOLAS: He pitched OK in Wednesday’s setback, allowing three runs in 5 and ½ innings. But for the 24th time in 31 games this season, a Cardinal starter failed to deliver six innings (or more) in a start. Mikolas is trending in a positive direction, pitching to a 3.13 ERA in his last four starts.
TWO-STRIKE DERBY: Cardinal starting pitchers have yielded 18 two-strike home runs this season, tied with the White Sox for the most in the majors. And all 18 homers were allowed by STL starting pitchers. On the other side, Cardinal hitters have only six two-strike home runs this season which ranks 24th. The Cardinals are coming up short in this particular derby.
A CLOSER LOOK AT BRENDAN DONOVAN: As a rookie last season, Donovan was an important part of the St. Louis offense with a .281 batting average and .394 onbase percentage.
Donovan modified his swing last offseason in an attempt to hit for more power, but the results haven’t come and his numbers are down.
So far this season Donovan is batting .264 with a .316 onbase rate. That’s a 17-point drop in average and a 78-point drop in OBP. And his slugging percentage (.368) is down from last season’s .379.
Last season Donovan performed 29 percent above league average offensively per wRC+. This season he’s nine percent below the league average.
So what are the problems?
* Donovan is being more aggressive at the plate, swinging at 45.7 percent of the pitches that come his way. Last season he was more selective, swinging only 37.8% of the time. And Donovan has swung at the first pitch 18% of the time this year compared to 11.6% in 2022.
* Donovan is chasing more pitches out of the strike zone. Last season Donovan had a low chase rate of 23.2 percent; this year that’s jumped to 35.8%. There are repercussions; his walk rate has dropped from 12.8 percent last season to 6.3% this year.
* Donovan is pulling pitches at a much higher rate (45.7%) this season after pulling the ball 37.8% of the time in 2023. This isn’t helping him. This season the left-handed hitting Donovan is batting .438 when he hits to the opposite field, .353 when he hits to center – but only .242 when he pulls.
Long story short: Donovan is making it easier for the pitchers by getting himself out so often.
GUEST VIEW: Joe Sheehan On The Cardinals. Here are a few things from my friend Sheehan, who publishes a daily newsletter:
— “This isn’t a bad baseball team. It’s a team that hasn’t played well, it’s a team that’s been a little unlucky, it’s a team that has been sorting through a lot of unsolved problems. It’s not a bad team.”
— “We’re talking about two things here: Why are the Cardinals 10-21, and what will they be going forward? They’re 10-21 because their rotation has been bad, because they have provided too little consistent playing time to their hitters — affecting the offense and the defense — and because they’ve lost a disproportionate amount of close games. They’re not a (.323) team.”
— “This is a rare case where a team really is being undercut by not doing the little things. The Cardinals have, per FanGraphs, been the worst baserunning team in the game so far. They’re tied for the league lead with 11 outs on the bases (this doesn’t include times caught stealing) and well below par when it comes to taking extra bases. That adds up. They’re not one of the teams running wild on the bases, either, and are tied for third in MLB with 26 GIDPs.”
— “That sloppiness on the bases is matched in the field. Per Statcast, Total Zone, and Defensive Efficiency, this is one of the worst defensive teams in baseball … Take this with a grain of salt, but that’s consistent with what I’ve seen as well, a team that just makes a lot of mistakes, fails to make a lot of plays, and occasionally just falls apart in the field.”
— “Oli Marmol has made a number of mistakes in the early going, not building on his successful 2022 season. This is a high-maintenance roster, and he has to do a better job running it. Marmol made an enormous leadership mistake by publicly calling out O’Neill for lack of effort. Whatever merit there may have been to the charge, it’s the kind of thing that should be handled privately. Firing Marmol isn’t the answer, not 191 games into his tenure, but he’s been more part of the problem than part of the solution in 2023.”
— “The reaction to this 31-game stretch has been deranged. The Cardinals have made the playoffs for four straight years. They have the sixth-best record in baseball in that time. Take any time period you want back to 1980, and the Cardinals are one of the best organizations in not just baseball, but in sports. This front office created the too-many-players problem by developing a bunch of MLB-caliber hitters. It traded nothing for Nolan Arenado and nothing for Paul Goldschmidt. Just last year, it added 126 innings of 2.56 ERA to the rotation in a pennant race. The idea that the Cardinals aren’t one of the best-run teams in baseball is lunacy. Be frustrated. Be sad. Don’t be stupid.”
To subscribe to Sheehan’s digital newsletter, go to JoeSheehan.com
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.