Welcome to the Redbird Review
You may have noticed how the Cardinals are laboring and toiling to build sustained success, going 0-7 in their last seven chances to winch their record to two games above the .500 barrier. The latest attempt to take this modest step led to another muck up on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
The Atlanta Braves charged in, rudely kicked around the remaining fragments of Jon Lester’s career, and scored five first-inning runs in 90 seconds … or so it seemed.
The Braves skylarked to a 6-1 victory. Oh well. Are we surprised? Watching Lester defeat the Cardinals is nothing new. It’s been a tradition since 2013. Yeah, there was a new twist this time, with Lester wearing the Cardinal uniform. Different colors; same outcome: Lester beats Cardinals.
After Tuesday’s faceplant the Cardinals fell to 7.5 games behind the Padres in the tussle for the NL’s second wild card playoff spot. In the pursuit of the Padres, the Reds (5 out) and Phillies (7 out) are in closer range than the Cards.
At 53-53, the Cardinals are glued to .500 team again.
A little above .500, or a little below.
They can’t scrape it away.
Manager Mike Shildt would probably tell us that his fellers are 9-7 since the All-Star break, 12-9 since the 5th of July, and 16-12 in their last 28. The upbeat Shildty might even file a protest: “Hey, we won the Twins series over the weekend!”
All of this is true. But I would probably tell you that the Cardinals have a losing record (39-41) since the end of April, have the NL’s fourth-worst winning percentage (.441) since May 14, are 23-31 since May 30. I would probably add that the Cardinals trail Milwaukee by 10 games in the NL Central.
And I would probably present the division “standings” since May 30:
- Brewers: 37-19, top o’ the heap
- Reds: 34-23, 3.5 games out
- Cardinals: 23-31, 13 games out
- Cubs: 22-35, 15.5 games out
- Pirates: 21-35, 16 games out.
Alert observers would point this out: over the last two-plus months, the Cardinals’ record is unnervingly close to Pittsburgh’s record — putting the Redbirds more in the Pirates’ bottom of the sea location than Milwaukee’s astral plane.
If you’re looking for the Cardinals, you can find ’em on the 500 block of Mediocre Street.
I digress …
ABOUT JON LESTER: Snark aside, I felt bad for the guy. Proud pitcher. Big-game mentality. Fiercely competitive. Never backs down from any hitter, any challenge, any situation. Few starting pitchers of Lester’s time in the MLB can match the quality and magnitude of his work. But longtime Cardinals fans will remember — or maybe you wanted to forget — that Bob Gibson had a 5.04 ERA and was pulled from the rotation in 1975, his final season. One of my personal baseball heroes, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, tried to make a comeback in 1991, seven years after retiring as an active player. In 1984, his final year, Palmer went 0-3 and got rocked for a 9.17 ERA. But at age 45, he still felt those intense pangs of competitive hunger. The older Palmer still believed he could be the young Palmer again. The comeback did not go well. He didn’t make it through spring training. Similar stories — about hundreds of warrior-pitcher types — have been told through the decades.
Lester, 37, is at that awkward place in his career. After being part of three World Series championships with the Red Sox and Cubs, his paladin spirit is intact. His mind is sharp. He still believes he can do this — compete and conquer — at a respectable level. But the statistics tell us otherwise.
Lester had a 4.46 ERA for the Cubs in 2019, a 5.16 for the Cubs in 2020, and has a 5.38 ERA for the Nationals and Cardinals this season. Among 94 pitchers that have made at least 17 starts this season, Lester ranks 83rd in ERA. His ERA over his last seven starts is 7.71. The lefthander can’t fend off RH batters; this year they’re hitting .315 against Lester with a .379 onbase percentage and .547 slug — and homering every 18 at-bats. And he’s walking RHB at a rate of 9.5 percent.
Lester didn’t want to do this, give up five runs in the first inning in his Cardinal debut. It was the worst-case scenario. The Braves beat him up during the game, but Lester probably was much harder on himself when he went back to the hotel and tried to sleep.
At some point Lester will know when it’s time. It may not be now. But he’ll know. They all do. The moment arrives when pride gives way to reality. That’s when pitchers go from facing hitters to staring at retirement.
As Gibson famously said: “When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit.”
YOU CAIN’T WIN A GAME WHEN: The first four guys in the lineup — Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado — combine to go 1 for 16 with no walks and five strikeouts. That’s what happened Tuesday night.
ARENADO AT BUSCH STADIUM: Arenado has played 50 games at Busch so far this season after moving into his new home ballpark.
— At Busch: 207 plate appearances. He’s batting .247 with a .314 OBP and .457 slug for a .771 OPS. Arenado has 12 doubles, nine homers and 29 RBIs at home.
— On the road: 224 plate appearances. Arenado is batting .274 with a .321 OBP, .524 slug and .845 OPS.He has 15 doubles, two triples, 11 homers and 33 RBIs.
— In his last 21 games at Busch Stadium since June 8, Arenado has batted .192 with a .264 OBP, .397 slug and .662 OPS. This includes four doubles, four homers and eight RBI.
TRADE DEADLINE AFTERMATH: Eddie Rosario remains on the IL. But Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall — the other three outfielders acquired by the Braves in July trades — are batting a combined .315 with four doubles, three homers, nine runs and 14 RBI for their new team.
HAPPY TALK! (1) Tyler O’Neill, who has been slumping, had three hits (including a double) with a walk and no strikeouts against the Braves and scored the Cards’ lone run. And (2) relievers T.J. McFarland, Luis Garcia and Justin Miller combined to pitch four scoreless innings, giving up only one hit and a walk, after Lester’s departure.
BRO’NEILL ADDENDUM: Since June 11, O’Neill has only two homers in 140 at-bats and is slugging .357. But he does have nine doubles and a .338 onbase percentage over that time.
Pitchers aren’t throwing O’Neill as many strikes; they obviously assume they can get him to chase pitches out of the zone.
Here’s a look at the percentage of strikes thrown to O’Neill in each month, along with his chase rate:
➤ April: 46% in strike zone; 36.6% chase.
➤ May: 44.2% in strike zone; 31.6% chase.
➤ June: 41% in strike zone; 33.5% chase.
➤ July-August: 36.8% in strike zone; 35.5% chase.
MAKE ROOM FOR YADIER MOLINA: The Cards catcher had two hits and a RBI against the Braves in the series-opener. Bally Sports Midwest play-by-play voice Dan McLaughlin has done an outstanding job of keeping the viewers informed on Molina’s offensive-category rankings in franchise history. Yadier is fourth among Cardinals all-time in hits (2,077), is fourth in doubles (395) and has moved up to seventh in total bases, times on base, and RBI — only 26 runs batted in behind Ken Boyer, who ranks sixth. With 25 more RBI, Molina would become only the seventh Cardinal in team history with 1,000 or more.
I was tinkering with another way to measure Molina’s offense in the context of Cards history. What about the post-expansion era, which for the National League began in 1962? The Cardinals have had so many great players over the last 60 years. And they’ve won five World Series and 10 NL pennants since 1964.
Among all Cardinals hitters during the post-expansion era Molina ranks:
- 3rd in hits behind Albert Pujols and Lou Brock.
- 2nd in RBI to Pujols.
- 3rd in total bases behind Pujols and Brock.
- 4th in extra-base hits behind Pujols, Brock and Ray Lankford.
- 4th in most times on base behind Brock, Pujols and Ozzie Smith.
- 6th in home runs behind Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Lankford, Mark McGwire and Ted Simmons. Molina, with 168, trails Simmons by four home runs.
- 7th in runs scored to Brock, Pujols, Ozzie, Lankford, Willie McGee and Matt Carpenter. Yadi is seven runs behind Carpenter and 19 behind McGee.
What a career. And he’s still moving up.
Thanks for reading…
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* All stats used here are 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.