THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Tuesday was a good night of baseball for your St. Louis Cardinals. A festoon of positivity. A night for genuine Happy Talk. There was a terrific start by Carlos Martinez, blasts of timely RBI doubles from raptorious hitters, an aerobatic defensive play by the exceptional third baseman Nolan Arenado, and the sixth save of the season from nascent closer Alex Reyes. The 5-2 victory over Philadelphia raised the Cardinals to 12-11 on the season. The Birds are tied with Pittsburgh for second place in the feral NL Central, two games behind Milwaukee.
ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR CARLOS MARTINEZ: Carlos controlled the Phillies and himself for 7.1 innings Tuesday, getting chipped for two hits and an earned run. In his last two starts Martinez has given up six hits and two earned runs with only three walks over 13.1 innings. Can we call it a comeback? I don’t know; probably too soon for that. But his last two starts reminded me of the best version of Carlos Martinez — his “El Gallo” years from 2015 through 2017.
Over the three seasons Martinez ranked 10th among MLB starting pitchers in wins, 12th in Quality Starts, 12th in strikeouts, 15th in ERA. That version of Martinez had the fifth-highest ground-ball rate and eighth-lowest HRs allowed rate among big-league starters.
Over the three seasons Martinez had more wins than Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Trevor Bauer and Jacob deGrom. Martinez had a better ERA than David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, James Paxton, Marcus Stroman, Sonny Gray, and Aaron Nola. He had as many Quality Stars as deGrom and more than Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, and Cole Hamels. Martinez threw more innings than Clayton Kershaw, and struck out more hitters than Zack Greinke.
In his last two starts Martinez gave us a flashback to his peak-form phase. But now he must make it stay real, and make it last.
AS THE ROTATION TURNS: In the last 10 games Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Martinez, Kwang Hyun Kim and John Gant have each made two starts. In two impressive turns of the rotation, the five starters combined for a 2.03 ERA and averaged 6.2 innings per spin. They held opposition hitters to a .199 average and .582 OPS. They posted a sturdy 4.1 strikeout-walk ratio. They permitted a .133 average with runners in scoring position. Tremendous work, gentlemen.
BEFORE AND AFTER: More on the starting-pitching turnaround. In the first 13 games of the season, the Cardinals rotation had the worst ERA in the majors at 6.33. In the last 10 games, their rotation ERA of 2.03 ranks second to San Francisco (1.68.)
I TOLD YOU: DOUBLES ARE GOOD! In Tuesday’s win the Cardinals stroked four doubles. Two by Arenado, one by Paul Goldschmidt, another from Tommy Edman. Three of the doubles delivered five two-out RBIs. In the first inning Arenado’s double drove in Dylan Carlson to tie the game 1-1 In the second, Edman’s double brought home Justin Williams and Andrew Knizner for a 3-1 lead. And in the seventh Goldy doubled for an insurance policy, knocking in Carlson and Edman for a 5-2 lead.
In this space Monday, I complained about the Cardinals’ unfortunate neglect of the double. They were 26th in the majors in doubles through the first 21 games — and ranked last (30th) in doubles since the beginning of the 2018 season. But the Cards went with the doubles whammy on Tuesday, and it made the difference in the game. In order the doubles by Edman, Goldschmidt and Arenado were the three biggest plays of the game in terms of Win Probability Added.
Since the start of the 2018 season the Cardinals have a record of 22-6 when blistering four or more doubles in a contest. I’d like to file a request for additional doubles, if that’s OK with the rest of y’all.
CHECKING ON THE TOP FOUR SPOTS: Manager Mike Shildt belatedly got around to resetting his lineup, making the changes for the start of the weekend series with Cincinnati. Edman first, Carlson second, Goldschmidt third, Arenado fourth.
How’s it looking? The Cardinals haven’t generated a starburst of runs — only 18 in the last five games — but don’t blame it on the top half of the lineup.
Since the switcheroo, the firm of Edman, Carlson, Goldschmidt and Arenado has driven in 13 of the team’s 18 runs and scored 10 of those runs. They have 22 of the team’s 35 hits over the five-game paradigm, batting .289 and getting onbase 32.5% percent of the time. Meanwhile, the No. 5 through No. 8 lineup spots combined for a .179 average, 23.6% onbase rate, and had only five RBIs.
DYLAN CARLSON, CATALYST: Since his relocation to the No. 2 hole, the rookie is 9 for 19 (.474) with a walk for a .500 onbase percentage to set up RBI opportunities for Goldschmidt and Arenado. And sure enough, Goldy (six) and Nado (three) have combined for nine RBIs in the last five games. Carlson and Edman have combined for eight runs scored and four RBIs. I’d say the new alignment is looking good … very good.
MORE ON DYLAN. (CARLSON, NOT BOB): For the season, in 89 plate appearances, Carlson is hitting .303 with a .920 OPS. With 13 RBIs and 16 runs scored, Carlson has made a direct impact on 28% of the team’s 103 runs this season … among MLB hitters that have at least 85 plate appearances, Carlson ranks 16th on a list of 103 hitters with an OPS+ of 160. (For context, 100 is league average.) The only player on the list who’s younger than Carlson is Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In case you wanted to know, Carlson is 144 days older than VG Jr.
GET WELL, YADIER MOLINA: The catcher and his team were smart to take the careful, cautious and responsible path by placing the future Hall of Famer on the Injured List with a strained tendon in his right foot. There’s no reason to push it and risk turning a relatively minor issue into a major problem. The Cards need Molina for the long haul.
NEXT ON THE SKED: Weather permitting, talented rookie RH pitcher Johan Oviedo will make his first start of the season in tonight’s scheduled 6:45 game against the Phillies. RHP Vince Velasquez, the scheduled starter for Philly, has an overall 4.75 ERA in 135 career games — and a 4.72 ERA in his 107 starts. LH batters have hit .271 with an .818 OPS vs. Velasquez during his career.
Thanks for reading …
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