THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals are confounding. They have a winning record (16-12) but continue to botch opportunities to add victories. With a chance to sweep a three-game series or win three times in a four-game set, they muck up and fail to close out opponents.

The Cardinals did it again over the weekend in San Francisco, taking the first two games of a four-game engagement to set themselves up for a series triumph. But this became another disappointing tease, with the Cardinals dropping the Saturday and Sunday games to settle for a 2-2 split.

This has been the pattern all season.

Opened the year with two wins over the Pirates, only to bungle the third game. No sweep.

Won two of the first three at Milwaukee, then lost the final game. Instead of going 3-1 in the first series of the season against the Brewers, the Cardinals went away with a 2-2 split.

Won the first two games of a three-game series at Miami, but got shut out in a Game 3 loss. No sweep.

Won the first two at Cincinnati, only to flatten out in an incomprehensibly uninspired performance and lose the final game. No sweep.

Lost two of three to the Mets; a blown save in Game 1 cost them a 2-1 series win.

And finally, the weekend giveaway at San Francisco. The Cardinals were brought down by substandard starting pitching in both losses, and lost by a run on Sunday by going 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

We keep waiting for a breakthrough in a way that really matters. But this is a team that goes around in circles, and it keeps them spinning in a frustrating cycle of mediocrity.

Here’s what I mean …

The Cardinals haven’t won more than three in a row. They haven’t lost more than three in a row.

The Cardinals have lost only one series this season – to the Mets at home in late April. That should give them a record better than 16-12. But the Cardinals have split four series (Brewers, Diamondbacks, Royals, Giants) and gone 0-2 when presented with a chance to notch a three-game sweep.

The Cards two games over .500 at home (7-5) two games over .500 on the road (9-7), two games over .500 on one-run games (4-2) and two games over .500 (6-4) vs. NL Central rivals. Notice the pattern? Above average, yes, but nothing jumps out as being particularly positive or impressive.

The Cardinals rank tied for 11th in winning percentage in games against losing teams (.692) and are 12th in winning percentage (.467) in games against opponents that are .500 or better. The Redbirds should be better against losing teams but let a few potential wins slip away. The Cards should have more wins against teams .500 or higher but allowed two winning teams (Brewers and Giants) to escape and salvage four-game series splits.

STL’s inability to close is can be seen in late-inning scenarios. When trailing going into the eighth inning this season, the Cardinals are 0-10. When behind on the scoreboard going into the ninth inning, the Cards are 0-11.

The Cardinals have only three comeback wins this season. In the National League, only the Braves, Cubs and Reds have fewer comeback victories than the Cardinals. In contrast, the first-place Brewers (19-10) have seven comeback wins. And even the Pirates, with eight comebacks, are a better counter puncher than the Cardinals so far this season.

The 3-3 road trip to KC and San Francisco is part of a stretch in which the Cardinals have gone 7-7. They are 5-5 in their last 10.

Yep. Going around in circles. They can’t synchronize their parts. Much of the time the pitching works and the hitting fails. The hitting strengthens for a period, but the pitching weakens.

It’s difficult to establish sustained success when your offense has produced three runs or fewer in 13 of 28 games. And finding consistency will be a difficult challenge when you have no idea what to expect from multiple starting pitchers from start to start.

Hey, at least the Cardinals have something new and exciting: Juan Yepez. But they’ll need a lot more goodness from players and pitchers that are performing below their talent levels – and their expectations.

Let’s move on …

ABOUT JUAN YEPEZ: You can’t realistically ask more from Yepez than the rookie gave the Cardinals in his first five games. Yepez went 9 for 19 (.474), reached base on 50 percent of his plate appearances, slugged .789, and cranked for a 1.289 OPS. His 15 total bases were pushed along by three doubles and a homer. He drove in three runs and scored four. As I told you in advance, Yepez punishes RH pitching even though he’s a right–handed batter. Sure enough he’s 8 for 16 with two doubles and a homer against RH pitching so far.

YEPEZ, PART TWO: In only five games Yepez already has more total bases than Andrew Knizner, Corey Dickerson and Edmundo Sosa. And with his 15 total bases, Yepez has only one fewer this season than Paul DeJong (16) and Albert Pujols (16.) This wouldn’t mean anything unless we note the differences in the number of plate appearances. So here you go:

Yadier Molina … 18 total bases, 61 PA
Paul DeJong … 16 total bases, 86 PA
Albert Pujols … 16 total bases, 47 PA
Juan Yepez … 15 total bases, 20 PA
Andrew Knizner … 14 total bases, 49 PA
Corey Dickerson … 10 total bases, 53 PA
Edmundo Sosa … 4 total bases, 28 PA

YEPEZ, PART THREE: Isn’t it kind of sad – not to mention bewildering – that the Cardinals promoted Yepez from Triple A Memphis only after Sosa had to go on the Covid list? This team needed a jolt on offense long before Sosa went out. But instead of calling for Yepez earlier, management let the offense stay in the stall mode, and only took action in response to losing Sosa for a while. I’d say “unbelievable” but it really isn’t.

THIS IS A GOOD SPOT FOR A NOLAN GORMAN NOTE: In his last nine games through Sunday: .229 average, .290 OBP, .429 slug, .718 OPS, 42% strikeout rate. (He did have two hits on Sunday, so perhaps the brief downturn is coming to an end.) Overall Gorman is having a potent season at the plate, homering 12 times in 101 at-bats with a .307 average, .360 OBP, .693 slug and 1.054 OPS. His strikeout rate through 26 games is 34.2 percent. He’s walked only eight times in 111 plate appearances.

THE UNPREDICTABLE STEVEN MATZ: After suffering Saturday’s beatdown at San Francisco, Matz walked off the mound with a 7.01 ERA in his first six starts of the season. He’s had three terrific starts for the Cardinals … and three horrendous starts for the Cardinals.

The “good” Matz held the Brewers, Reds and Royals to one earned run in 16.2 innings for a 0.53 ERA. The “bad” Matz was slapped around by the Pirates, Mets and Giants for 19 earned runs in nine innings for a 19.00 ERA.

If anybody can figure this gentlemen out, please let me know. His extreme performances – at both ends of the quality spectrum – are confusing. Just as confusing: the Cardinals are 4-2 in Matz’s six starts even though his 7.01 ERA is second-worst in MLB among 87 starting pitchers that have worked 25+ innings.

I should note Matz’s respectable fielding independent ERA (3.81). And he has a fine strikeout rate of 10.52 per nine innings. There’s nothing wrong with his walk rate of 2.81 per nine. So perhaps he’s overdue for some better luck on batted balls in play. The batting average against Matz on balls in play is .395 – third highest among MLB starters. That number will come down.

DAKOTA HUDSON IS FRUSTRATING: Walk, walk, walk, walk. After more of the same Sunday at San Francisco, Hudson has a 11.8 percent walk rate that’s fourth worst among 56 qualifying MLB starting pitchers. His strikeout rate (14.2%) is second worst among MLB starters. His strikeout-walk ratio (1.20) and fielding independent ERA (5.28) are second worst among big-league starters. With his failure to sharpen control, Hudson has returned to his rookie season (2018) form. He’s a talented dude. He’s too good to have so many walk-a-thons.

JORDAN HICKS? GIVE IT TIME: There are things to like. There are things to wonder about. It’s best to give it time. In his first four starts Hicks has averaged only 3.1 innings, which isn’t surprising. He has to build up his pitching stamina. But Hicks’ standard ERA as a starting pitcher is 4.97, with a 5.20 fielding independent ERA. He’s walked 14.8% of batters faced as a starter; that’s way too high. His strikeout rate (24.%) is more than acceptable for a reason: Hicks wants to be a more efficient pitcher so he can last longer in starts, and to that end he covets ground balls. And in his four starts his ground-ball rate is a fantastic 65.6%. That’s exciting.

WHAT’S UP WITH THE BREWERS? The offense was supposed to stink, right? Well, that’s not the case. Entering Monday Milwaukee was ranked second in MLB with an average of 4.76 runs per game. The Crew is also fifth in the majors in slugging (.402), tied for second with 36 homers, and ninth with a .710 OPS. Milwaukee has out-homered St. Louis 36-23, and has a 34-point advantage over the Cardinals in slugging percentage. This is the part where I point out a relevant consideration: 14 of Milwaukee’s 19 victories have come against NL Central rivals. That includes a 9-0 mark against the Reds and Pirates. The Cardinals have played only 10 games against division mates this season … and four of the 10 have been against the Brewers.

TRACKING AND TRENDING  …

1) Albert Pujols’ batting average for the season is down to .220. He’s slugging .390 and has a .709 OPS. But since homering at Milwaukee on April 17, then following up with two hits at Miami on April 19, Pujols is 2 for 23 (.087) with seven strikeouts and a .279 OPS. For the season Pujols is 2 for 25 vs. RH pitchers (.080) with a .313 OPS.

2) Andrew Knizner: in his last 36 plate appearances going back to April 17, he’s batting .129 with a .411 OPS and one RBI.

3) Corey Dickerson: For the season he has a .184 batting average and a .430 OPS, with only one extra-base hit in 53 plate appearances. He’s been a little better over his last 10 games, hitting .227 with a .490 OPS.

4) Yepez should change this if he’s kept busy as a designated hitter, but Cardinals DHs are collectively batting .183 with a .220 slug and .491 OPS when facing right-handed pitching. As a group MLB designated hitters aren’t so hot against RHP, with a .217 average, .366 slug and .491 OPS. But Cardinal designated hitters are ranked 28th in slugging and 27th in OPS against RH pitchers.

5) Dylan Carlson is 8 for his last 20 with three doubles, a homer and four RBI. Is he back? Can the Cardinals count on him to consistently provide impact?

6) Tyler O’Neill: through his first 26 games of 2021, O’Neill slugged .537, had a .805 OPS, and homered five times. Through his first 26 games this season he’s slugged .330 with a .607 OPS and two homers.

7) Nolan Arenado: the Cardinals and their fans are appreciative for his outstanding start to the season. But even the greatest of hitters have a frustrating series now and then — Arenado included. He went 3 for 17 against the Giants (with two walks) and was 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. In Sunday’s 4-3 loss Arenado came up three times with a runner in scoring position. And he came up short, grounding in the fifth, grounding out in the seventh, and striking out to end the game.

8) Paul DeJong: In 47 plate appearances on the road this season he’s batting .095 with a .170 OBP and .119 slug. That adds up to a .289 OPS. His road strikeout rate is 32 percent.

9) Jake Woodford: He has a 2.25 ERA in six appearances covering 12 innings. Since the final month of last season, Woodford has a 2.43 ERA in 40.2 innings and hasn’t given up a homer to the 160 batters he’s faced over this time. In the 40.2 innings since last September opponents are batting .236 vs. Woodford with a .586 OPS. He’s also conjured a 42% ground–ball rate. And this right-handed pitcher has limited LH batters to a .210 average and .537 OPS. Woodford should be pitching more often, but I’ve been singing that particular song for a long time now.

10) Even after getting shredded for 13 runs by the Giants on Saturday the Cardinals rank sixth in MLB in run prevention, allowing 3.46 per game.

11) Lefty reliever Genesis Cabrera has been bonked for four home runs in 12.2 innings this season – after allowing only three homers in 70 innings in 2021. But Cabrera’s current ERA (2.84) is better than his ERA last season (3.73.)

12) Paul Goldschmidt in his last 16 games: .377 average, .422 OBP, .507 slug, 1.015 OPS, 10 RBI, nine walks, five doubles, 10 RBI.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

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.

 

 

 

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.