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I don’t know how the Cardinals can do this, make up so much ground and do it rather quickly as Milwaukee’s lead continues to grow in the NL Central.
We’ll talk about the Brewers and Cubs later in The Review, but there’s only one thing the Cardinals can do: Just win, baby. (A nod to the late Al Davis there.) Just win baby and do it again and again and again.
This game called Baseball can be wonderfully simple at times.
Do you want to win the game?
Get a quality performance from your starting pitcher.
Get big impact from your best players.
Get good plays from your defense.
Get the lead.
Get the bullpen to lock it down.
Get the manager to use his head and not screw things up.
That’s it. The formula.
Easy to understand.
Not so easy to do.
There are other ways to win of course. You can score a bunch of runs against a hideous baseball team to bust up a close game; the Cardinals did that to Arizona on Monday night. You can take advantage of an opponent’s sloppy defense, or a terrible bullpen. You can get lucky because luck is a part of baseball. (More on that later.)
The Cardinals had the formula flowing for the last two nights. Two nights of winning baseball. And I know that these precious victories were achieved against the AZ Diamondbacks, a sad-sack outfit that’s produced a sickly 7-46 record since May 4. They are road worriers, these Diamondbacks, having lost 27 of their last 28 games played outside of Maricopa County.
But your opponent’s flaws don’t matter much when you are the St. Louis Cardinals, a mediocre entity that’s been brought down by its own defects.
As fans we shouldn’t be snotty about success just because the winning is directly related to the presence of the hopeless, malfunctioning visiting team at Busch Stadium.
The Monday-Tuesday starts by Wade LeBlanc and Carlos Martinez were impressive — just because the St. Louis rotation has been so woefully, chronically unimpressive.
Tuesday’s two-run homer and a sensational defensive play by third baseman Nolan Arenado were beautiful moments. And these starring-role turns are dramatic and fabulous against any team, in any stadium, under any circumstances.
When the bullpen does the job and goes from being a liability to a strength, it’s a positive and overdue trend that transcends the abnormalities of an opponent.
When the top of the lineup clicks, I don’t care if it happens against the 22-59 Diamondbacks or the 50-29 Giants. The Cardinals have to win games, mang. They have to win many games to make up for their extensive period of inertia. That’s all there is to it.
Cardinals 7, Diamondbacks 1.
Cardinals 3, Diamondbacks 2.
Also known as “It’s a Damn Good Thing Y’all Didn’t Mess Up.”
The Cardinals had won three of their last four as they prepped for the series finale vs. the Diamondbacks on Wednesday afternoon, starting at 12:15 p.m.
Speaking of which, I’m running late!
(As I type this the Cardinals are leading 4-1 in the fourth.)
FOR ST. LOUIS, IT COMES DOWN TO THIS: The team that had no interest in signing LH-hitting slugger Kyle Schwarber needs to find a way to get as hot as Kyle Schwarber. When you have Lane Thomas as an outfield weapon, why waste money on a reasonable one-year contract for Schwarber? I think Schwarber may have homered two more times as I wrote this paragraph. He’s put Washington back in the playoff race, and ace starter Max Scherzer isn’t going anywhere.
Going into the final day of June (today), the Cardinals had a small lead over Schwarber in the home run race. Through Tuesday the entire Cardinals team had 19 for the month. Schwarber had 16. But Schwarber didn’t start cranking until June 12. And since that day, he’s outhomered the Cardinals 16-12. Maybe he’ll widen the lead today.
THE BULLPEN UPDATE: The walks were annoying in Tuesday’s game, including the bases-loaded walk that has symbolized their wildness as a staff. (Andrew Miller was the culprit, this time.)
This is a tiresome sitcom. The Cardinals have no reason to frequently put themselves at a cliff’s edge against the Diamondbacks or anyone. But at least Alex Reyes walked onto the scene to dispose of Arizona over the final two innings, getting out of an error-created jam in the 8th. And he had no problems on the 9th. Good night.
All in all, the bullpen is improving.
Bottom line: After 7.2 innings of one-run relief over the first two wins against Arizona, the Cards lowered their bullpen earned-run average to 2.45 since June 12; that’s tied for the third-best bullpen ERA in the majors over that time. During this 17-game stretch STL relievers have held opponents to a .217 average and .674 OPS.
MORE ON ALEX REYES: Making only his 8th appearance in the Cardinals’ last 28 games, Reyes bagged his 19th save of the season. And his season ERA (0.98) funneled below 1.00 again. Among MLB relievers that have at least 10 saves this season, only two have a 100 percent save rate: Reyes (19-19) and Milwaukee’s Josh Hader (20-20.) Hader has the lower ERA, at 0.55.
Manager Mike Shildt made the right if obvious call in having Reyes pitch more than one inning Tuesday. Too many managers, including Shildt, stubbornly hold their designated closers in reserve for a 9th-inning save opportunity that may never materialize. If your team is blown up in a crucial situation in an earlier inning of a game, the closer becomes irrelevant. If he sits in the bullpen while the outcome of the game is on the line, then he’s about as valuable as a bullpen chair. Just a piece of furniture.
I wonder if any of the team’s frequent early-inning meltdowns could have been averted by decisions to aggressively front-load Reyes into early crises. I’m truly surprised by how Shildt simply declines to be creative and daring in deploying Reyes’ intimidating talent.
When St. Louis management hired Shildt, I sincerely believed he’d be the type of manager who would get away from the robotic thinking and decision-making that permeates most MLB dugouts. That has not been the case. Shildt is not quite as bad as the other members of the Manager GroupThink Club — but he hasn’t demonstrated much willingness to break away from the herd.
Shildt is just another in a long line of MUST SAVE CLOSER FOR 9TH INNING! guys that follow the established customs, even when it makes little or no sense to do so. What are these men afraid of, anyway? That other managers will make fun of them?
Shildt’s hesitance to go against the norms has led to Reyes sitting around in too many games, doing absolutely nothing, his talent wasted, with opportunities lost, and games lost. It’s unfortunate.
COOL CARLOS MARTINEZ: You never know how things will go. But the good Carlos — the calm and focused Carlos — was there in mind and spirit on Tuesday night. He gave the Cardinals 6 innings of one-run pitching, allowing four hits, walking only two, and striking out six. Martinez had 23 caught-looking strikes against the D-backs; it was his highest total in a start this season. In the first two games of this series, LeBlanc and Martinez held Arizona hitters to two earned runs in 10.1 innings.
Martinez had a 64 Game Score in this one; that’s well above the average (50.) When the Cardinals get a Game Score of 50+ from a starter this season, their record is 32-13. In a below-average Game Score start, the record is 7-28.
THE TOMMY EDMAN REPORT: At first I didn’t like Shildt’s decision to move Edman back into the No. 1 spot for Tuesday’s game. Dylan Carlson was thriving in his role as the new leadoff man — so why change it? But Shildt’s instincts were right; he banked on Edman’s probability of success against Arizona lefty starter Caleb Smith.
Edman’s splits are extreme this season. He’s outstanding against LH pitchers and weak vs. RH pitchers.
Against LHP: 70 plate appearances, .333 average, .391 onbase percentage, .556 slug, .947 OPS.
Against RHP: 273 plate appearances, .240 average, .278 onbase percentage, .318 slug, .596 OPS.
How extreme are these splits? Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Edman is 62 percent above league average offensively against lefties, and 31 percent below league average versus righthanders.
In Tuesday’s win Edman did damage against both sides of the pitching wheel. He singled against the LH (Smith) and scored on Arenado’s two-run homer. Later Edman singled in a run off RH reliever Matt Peacock to give the Cards a 3-1 lead in the sixth.
Shildt’s decision paid off; the first four spots in the lineup went 4 for 14 with three walks, two runs scored and three RBI.
That said, Edman has a .197 average and .218 OBP vs. RHP in 147 plate appearances against them since May 9.
ARENADO A GO-GO AGAIN: After slumping for a time, Nado is batting .303 with a 1.188 OPS, four homers and four doubles in his last 10 games through Tuesday. Arenado has a 137 OPS+ this season; that would be the best adjusted OPS of his career. The previous high was a 133 OPS+ for the Rockies in 2018.
Entering Wednesday’s game Arenado was tied for 2nd in the NL with 41 extra-base hits, tied for second with 24 doubles, ranked fifth with 52 RBI, and was tied for 12th in homers (16.) Among the 26 NL hitters that have at least 300 plate appearances this season, Arenado was 5th in slugging percentage (.520) and 9th in OPS (.844.)
ARE THE CARDINALS ‘LUCKY?’ Well, in one sense I suppose they are. Based on their awful run differential of minus 45, they should have a record of 35-45 this season. But the Cards are 39-41, which in theory makes them four games better than they should be.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: This opinion on Arenado from USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale, who is well connected to the Nado Network:
“Please, enough with the silly narrative that St. Louis Cardinals All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado may opt out of his contract. He loves St. Louis and is staying put. He told friends he wasn’t even going to opt out of his contract if he stayed with the Colorado Rockies, and it certainly isn’t an option now.
“Arenado still is owed $179 million by the Cardinals through 2027, with deferred payments that will pay him $3 million a year until he’s the age of 50.
“You really think anyone in their right mind would leave that and test free agency?
THE BREWERS: GOING BONKERS. To have a chance at making a run at first place in the NL Central, the Cardinals have to get busy piling up wins. The Cards will also need the first-place Brewers to slow the heck down.
The Crew will try to complete a three-game sweep of the visiting Cubs on Wednesday. But they’ve already won the series — and have taken all four series against the rival Cubs this season. Pending Wednesday’s outcome, Milwaukee has an 8-3 record vs. Chicago this season.
The Brewers needed only two hits to scratch out a 2-1 win over the Cubs on Tuesday. The Crew moved to a season-high 14 games over .500 at 47-33 and continued their grip on the NL Central.
Through Tuesday’s action Milwaukee led the Cubs by five, the Reds by seven and the Cardinals by eight games. Key factor: The Brewers are an outstanding 23-11 vs. teams that are .500 or better.
Brandon Woodruff (1.87 ERA) defeated the Cubs Tuesday, delivering his 13th quality start in 16 turns this season. Milwaukee ranks 7th in MLB with a 3.31 rotation ERA and is 3rd with 37 quality starts.
The Brewers don’t have an imposing offense, but there’s a warming trend. Through Tuesday they were averaging more runs per game (4.19) than the Cardinals (3.90) this season.
CUBS AGONISTES: After getting beat by Milwaukee on Monday and Tuesday, the Cubs were 4-11 in their last 15 games. It’s been a tough time for the Chicago offense; during the 15-game slide the Cubs averaged 2.3 runs and batted .168.
As the schedule flipped to June, the Cubs were on an 18-7 streak that turned their season around. But now, with one game to go in June, the Cubs were 12-15 this month. The season has turned again. Turned the wrong way. A beaten-down lineup is dealing with injuries. And the June schedule was a rough ride, with the Cubs playing a bunch of games against the Padres, Giants, Dodgers, Mets and Brewers.
The latest struggle has prompted a new round of “Buyers Or Sellers” questions for the Cubs as MLB approaches the July 30 trade deadline.
“I don’t buy or sell — that’s not my job,” Cubs manager David Ross told reporters via video conference after Tuesday’s loss. “But the key is for us to represent a winning product and something that can win a division and go into the playoffs and do something special. That is what we try to produce on a daily basis here, and then the front office is involved in all that, and they’re also watching with an eye on, like, do you believe in this group and what they can do? I think we have to prove that on a nightly basis.”
Thanks for reading …
You’re invited to check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It specializes in truth-telling and airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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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.