THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals are coming home … to do what, I don’t know.

But after playing 13 of their last 15 games on the road, the Cardinals probably view Busch Stadium as an oasis. Or perhaps a (red) bird sanctuary.

After winning only five of 15 games and absorbing a stomping during this road-heavy and hostile stretch, the Cardinals need to clean themselves up. After Thursday’s off day, the Redbirds will begin a six-game homestand against the visitors from Cincinnati and San Francisco.

This would be a good time for the Cardinals to do a little something-something about their overall record (26-37) and the disappointing 12-16 logbook at Busch. In case you’re wondering, only three teams have defiled their home ballparks more often than the Cardinals this season – Washington, Kansas City and Oakland.

At the end of the day on May 21, the Cardinals were 21-27 but had stacked 11 wins in their last 14 games. And after being down by as much as 10 games in the NL Central standings, the Cards had narrowed the gap to five.

Momentum!

Yeah, it was exciting for a few minutes.

And then this happened: A four-game split at Cincinnati. Losing two of three at Cleveland. Stopping off in St. Louis to split two games with KC. Heading back out on the road to go 1-5 against Pittsburgh and Texas.

The fellers came home in worse shape. Instead of being six games under .500, they’re 11 under now. Instead of being five games out of first place, the deficit is back up to 8.5 games.

This 15-game block of schedule was a failure, and devastating to their postseason aspirations. The last two weeks set the Cardinals back in a way that will make it much more difficult for recover. STL’s 11-3 comeback bid was followed by a 5-10 dud that killed the buzz.

This is how it’s been for the Cardinals in 2023. Even when something good develops to brighten the outlook, the positive trend fades into another sequence of dark-days baseball.

The Cardinals made their way out of baseball hell for at least one night, pulling off an unlikely 1-0 victory at Texas to close the series.

Rangers starter Jon Gray dominated St. Louis, grudgingly permitting only four hits while striking out 41 percent of the Cardinals who entered the batter’s box over nine innings.

Gray’s authority was broken by a solo home run – a soaring tee-shot drive by Alec Burleson that carried over the right field wall with two out in the eighth.

In the other half of this successful night, starting pitcher Jack Flaherty and relievers Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley combined for a four-hit shutout.

For the Cardinals, this was a pleasant way to close a 15-game ordeal that took them from third place to the bottom of the NL Central. And now it’s back to Busch to do some much-needed home improvement.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: Wednesday’s win terminated the Cardinals’ six-game road losing streak but they’ve won only three of their last 13 roadies … this season the Cards are 10-13 against American League teams, 16-26 against winning teams, 14-21 on the road, and 7-14 in one run games … After the six games against the Reds and Giants, the Cardinals will head east for three games against the Mets at Citi Field, then three against the Nationals in D.C. After that, it’s onto England for the two-game set against the Cubs in London, and a return to St. Louis for a six-game homestand that brings the Astros and Yankees to town.

JACK FLAHERTY: It was another adventurous start for Flaherty. He competed his buttocks off, giving the Cardinals six shutout innings and allowing just three hits. But Jack walked five Rangers and struck out eight – meaning that 50% of the plate appearances against him ended on a walk or strikeout. Despite the walks Flaherty never cracked; the Rangers went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts when they had runners in scoring position against him.

Quickie notes on Flaherty:

He has a 2.06 ERA in his last six starts. That ERA is fifth-best in the majors among starting pitchers that have worked at least 35 innings since May 9.

Flaherty’s 13.2% walk rate this season is the third-highest among MLB starting pitchers that have thrown at last 60 innings this season. Can he continue to get away with this? Walks are risky business.

To follow up on that: Flaherty has done a good job at playing dodgeball; only seven of his 40 batters walked have come around to score. That’s only 18%, which is pretty good. Could have been much worse.

Flaherty hasn’t yielded a home run in his last five starts.

Jack is getting a good mix of strikeouts and ground balls. His 24% strikeout rate is approaching his 2021 level, and his 48.4% ground-ball rate is his highest since his MLB debut in 2017, when he had a 49% rate in 21.1 innings.

STARTING-PITCHING PROGRESS: In their 12 games since May 25, the Cardinals have the National League’s best starting pitching ERA at 2.77. That ERA is second overall to Texas (2.65) over that time.

JORDAN HICKS, WOW: In his last 10 appearances the menacing righthander has been scratched for only four hits and hasn’t been nicked for a single run over 12.1 innings. Best part? His 40% strikeout rate during the blazing stretch. Wednesday night Hicks, Gallegos and Hensley got the final 12 outs after taking over for Flaherty. The trio allowed only one hit and no walks and struck out four.

REAWAKEN THE BATS: During the aforementioned 5–10 stretch that included 13 on the road, the St. Louis averaged only 3.0 runs per game and hit only .180 with runners in scoring position. This cold spell began May 22; over that time the Cardinals rank 29th in MLB in batting average (.203), 27th in onbase percentage (.285), and 24th in (slugging.) Per wRC+, the Redbirds were 20 percent below league average offensively during the 15 games.

JORDAN WALKER WATCH: In his first six games and 23 plate appearances since being promoted from Triple A Memphis, Walker is hitting .200 with a .304 OBP and .350 slug. The highlight was his 430-foot homer on Tuesday in Texas. Another positive: only two strikeouts in 20 at-bats. But his ground-ball rate since returning is a way-too-high 66.7%.

In his 101 total plate appearances in his rookie season, Walker is batting .258 with a .702 OPS, three homers and 12 RBI. His hard-hit rate (50.7%) is outstanding.

ANALYST JOE SHEEHAN ON WALKER: This was written before Wednesday’s game. And you can subscribe to Joe’s newsletter by going to JoeSheehan.com … he has some free columns on there for you to sample.

Anyhoo …

“Nothing’s really changed with him,” Sheehan wrote. “If you combine his two stints in the majors, Walker has a 60.9% groundball rate, fifth highest among the 410 players with at least 50 plate appearances this year. There are very few ways to be a good player with a 60% groundball rate, and Walker — a poor corner outfielder with an average strikeout rate — doesn’t really have a path there.

“It’s not impossible to be a productive groundball hitter. Last year, 11 players had 400 plate appearances, a 50% or higher groundball rate, and at least a 110 wRC+. And seven and did it the year before. Raise the figure to 55% though, and it gets ugly. Since 2017, just four players have hit those marks.

“It’s a little silly to look for trends in a five-game sample, but Walker has been hitting the ball in the air more the last few days, and hit an impressive home run last night against the Rangers. The Cardinals, whose season is slipping away in a haze of bad defense, bad baserunning, and injuries, need a lot more swings like that from Walker if they’re going to avoid their first lost year in a long time.”

NEED-TO-HEAT-UP LIST: This listing was culled from the team’s 5-10 stretch since May 22. And I’m keeping it simple by only citing the player’s batting average. Plus some notes.

Wilson Contreras: 3 for 41, .073
Tommy Edman: 8 for 52, .154
Paul DeJong: 5 for 49, .163.
Nolan Gorman: 9 for 54, .167
Nolan Arenado, 11 for 48, .229
Alec Burleson, 6 for 41, .220

Notes I: Burleson did have the game-winning bomb on Wednesday … Arenado had two homers and seven RBI over the 15 games … Gorman had one homer, a .259 slug and a 36.7 percent strikeout rate … DeJong had a .265 slug and 29% strikeout rate over this span … Juan Yepez didn’t do much with a limited opportunity, going 2 for 11 with four strikeouts.

Notes II: Brendan Donovan batted only .239 over the 15 games but that was easily offset by his three homers, .386 OBP and .457 slug … in 16 plate appearances since May 22, backup catcher Andrew Knizner went 5 for 15 (.333) with two homers and a double … Paul Goldschmidt hit three homers, two doubles, slugged .472 and had a .805 OPS.

That’s about it … for now, anyway.

Thanks for reading!

–Bernie

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.

 

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.