THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals were able to grab two straight wins in New York before moving down the Atlantic coast for three games in Washington.
They took two of three at Citi Field to win their first series since May 21, and the two-game winning streak is their first since winning taking two in a row from the Dodgers on May 20-21. The Cards had failed to win their last seven series (0-5-2) before upending the wobbly Mets, a team that isn’t nearly as formidable as their $270 million payroll.
This is progress, sure. But I don’t think many folks will get excited over the NL Central derby and the Cardinals’ chances of winning it. Too soon for that. The Redbirds were 16 games under .500 after losing at Citi Field on Friday, and now they’ve hustled back to 14 games below level.
That, my friends, is exactly where the Cardinals stood on May 6 when after sinking to 10-24. In the last 43 days the Cardinals went from being 14 games under .500 to … still being 14 games below .500.
When the Cardinals played poorly under Tony La Russa, he had this rule: don’t even talk about the standings or making the playoffs until you get to .500. And even then, La Russa would say, you have to go from .500 to 10 games over .500 and keep climbing.
Don Tony was, and is, right about that. The charitable foundation known as the NL Central has kept St. Louis 8 and ½ games out of first. In the NL East, the Cards would be 17 games behind the first-place Braves, and the deficit would be only slightly better (15 games) in the NL West where the first-place Diamondbacks are rolling.
The Cardinals’ membership in the NL Central has propped them up since the World Series-winning Cubs began slowing down in 2019. The tradition still holds. The 2023 Redbirds haven’t been buried, but that isn’t much of a battle cry for a team that is 4-11 in June – and has won only eight of their last 24 games.
Wins are good – especially if you can stack them up into large piles. Except for their one brief winning spell (11-3), the Cardinals have stacked up piles of defeats.
THE RETURN OF NOOT: Outfielder Lars Nootbaar He came off the IL Monday and will be available for the Cardinals’ 3:05 p.m. (local time) game at Washington. He’d been out since suffering a back strain on May 29. This is good news, and Noot will bat third in Monday’s lineup and play right field. Brendan Donovan will play left field, Tommy Edman is in center. Jordan Walker is the DH in today’s series opener.
What can Nootbaar do for the Cardinals? Plenty. He has a 16 percent walk rate, a .377 onbase percentage and a .458 since the start of July last season. That includes a .356 onbase percentage in the leadoff spot. This season – which has been interrupted twice by injuries – Nootbaar has maintained a high OBP (.380) but is down with his power numbers, slugging .383. But that’s probably misleading; because of his hard contact and 91.7 mph exit velocity Nootbaar has an expected slugging percentage of .431 – and that’s higher than his expected .422 slug last season. That said, it’s important for Nootbaar to increase his hard-hit rate, and that should come with continuity. He’s missed 18 days this season and that works against consistency. Nootbaar is slightly above average when playing right field or in center field, so that’s a plus. And he has the strongest throwing arm among STL outfielders.
NOOTBAAR’S RETURN PART TWO: Manager Oliver Marmol has four primary outfielders now in Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, Walker and Tommy Edman. So how will he allocate playing time? I’m not worried about it, simply because Marmol likes to move players around, he’ll be doing it again, and may create another logjam in the outfield. So why worry about it? Oli is gonna do the Oli.
After hearing the whining about infielders playing outfield, the Cardinals won’t have to do that unless Marmol wants to. Take today’s game at Washington for example. Marmol could have gone with three outfielders playing the outfield – but instead he’s starting two “infielders” with Brendan Donovan in left and Edman in center. Which is fine because Edman looks good in center, and Donovan the utility dude has never been a defensive liability when playing left field or right field. Which means the previous yelping about infielders playing outfield – to justify the weak outfield defense – was utter nonsense.
But if Marmol is determined to use Edman as his regular center fielder, then we can probably expect to see Walker used at DH more often. If you include Donovan, Marmol has four outfielders in Nootbaar, Carlson, Edman, Walker and Donovan. So someone has to take a lot of swings at DH to make this work, and it could be Walker … unless Marmol wants to go with Alec Burleson.
The one concern is Walker getting enough corner-outfield reps to improve his shaky defense. It’s never easy for the Cardinals, eh? It’s always something. Despite their protestations, they can’t get away from creating the logjams that Marmol talked about earlier this season when the club optioned Walker to Memphis. And here they are again, with Marmol moving Edman to center field. I’m curious to see how he’ll deal with the latest outfield congestion. But if they’re good players, then it can work. The Cardinals need good players. And it’s up to Marmol to come up with a successful formula.
JORDAN HICKS, LOOKS LIKE A CLOSER: In his last 15 relief appearances that covered 17.1 innings, Hicks has a 1.56 ERA with an exceptional strikeout rate of 38.2 percent. He’s been especially dominant over his last three relief gigs, holding opponents to an .091 average and punching them out for a 50% strikeout rate in 3.2 innings. His powerful back to back saves against the Mets were high on the list of reasons why the Cardinals won the final two games at Citi Field by scores of 5-3 and 8-7.
ADAM WAINWRIGHT, SHAMAN: I don’t know he does it, but the wizardry of the 41-year-old starting pitcher was on full display Saturday when he earned career victory No. 198 in the 5-3 win over the Mets. In facing 26 batters, Wainwright allowed seven hits, walked three and yielded two home runs. This wasn’t an easy ride by any means, but the resourceful Wainwright gave the Cardinals a valuable 6.1 innings and limited the damage to three runs. He halted his team’s six-game losing streak and set up the weekend-series win. Wainwright has given up exactly three earned runs in his last four starts. No, his 4.84 ERA over the last four assignments isn’t shiny – but the point is, it could have been a lot worse. Among other things, a shaman is known for practicing sorcery for healing or divination. That’s Wainwright.
STARTING PITCHING UPDATE: I’m not sure how the Cardinals expect to have sustained success and rattle off a lot of wins when they can’t count on reliable starting pitching. In the team’s last eight games, STL starters collectively have a 6.65 ERA and have been tagged for a .319 average, .385 OBP and .478 slugging percentage. And though the Cardinals did win two of three games from the Mets, their starters had a 7.71 ERA over the weekend. Waino was decent but in their two starts Miles Mikolas and Matthew Liberatore collectively were bopped for 12 earned runs over 10 innings for a 10.80 ERA. In that context the Redbirds were fortunate to win the series. But their offense came through in the final two games (both wins) with six homers, a .521 slug and 13 runs. Nine of STL’s 16 hits went for extra bases over the final two games at Citi.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT GOLDY: In his last eight games Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .333 with a .405 OBP and .576 slug. His power is back to normal; over the eight-game stretch he has four extra-base hits (including two homers) and ha driven home eight runs. Per OPS+, Goldy is 38 percent above league average offensively this season.
NOLAN GORMAN: The drought continued for the second-year slugger, with Gorman going 0 for 12 with five strikeouts against the Mets. In his last 10 games Gorman is batting .039 with a horrendous 51.2% strikeout rate. He is strikeout rate for June is 47.3%. Over his last 23 games, he’s hitting .122 with a .207 slug and has struck out in 45% of his plate appearances. Two things: (1) This famine has largely been ignored by local media, and that’s bizarre; and (2) I wonder what it will take to get Gorman out of his funk.
The Cardinals need Gorman to blast off again. Gorman, as much as any STL lineup regular, can deliver substantial impact when he’s right. In his first 43 games Gorman slammed 13 homers, slugged .636 and knocked in 39 runs. In his last 23 games, he has two homers, six RBI and a .207 slug. His strikeout rate was 24.7% through May 22 and has increased by 17 percent since May 23.
JORDAN WALKER: In June, the rookie outfielder ranks eighth among MLB hitters that have at least 60 plate appearances with a 183 wRC+. That means he’s 83 percent above league offensively this month. For the season Walker ranks fifth among MLB rookies with a 131 OPS+ that puts him 31 percent above league average offensively. His OPS+ is the best in the majors among rookies age 21 or younger. I wrote about Walker’s breakout earlier today. Here’s the link
NOLAN ARENADO’S RECOVERY: Here’s a positive trend for Arenado and his team: after a slow start through the end of April that included a .600 OPS and .351 slugging percentage, the third baseman is batting .302 with a .351 onbase percentage and .616 slug for a .967 OPS. His turnaround includes 13 homers and 34 RBI over that time. But there’s one nagging issue; Arenado has batted .214 with runners in scoring position since May 1. It was a wonderful Father’s Day for Arenado on the first Father’s Day as a dad. His first swing of the day produced a two-run homer, and his last swing of the game was a homer that broke a 7-7 tie for the win.
BRENDAN DONOVAN: He’s been terrific since June 6, batting .362 with a .423 OBP and .849 OPS in 11 games.
WILLSON CONTRERAS: Though he homered during the Mets series, the Cards catcher is batting .096 and slugging .219 in his last 22 games.
HELLO, LANE THOMAS: The former St. Louis outfielder — who was traded for starting pitcher Jon Lester at the 2022 trade deadline — is making it happen for the Nationals. In 294 plate appearances this season Thomas is hitting .287 with a .485 slug. He has 30 extra-base hits, 11 of which are homers. Since May 8, Thomas has a .559 slug, .905 OPS, and eight homers among his 22 extra-base hits.
AS OTHERS SEE US
Here are several items from USA Today ballwriter Bob Nightengale in his Sunday notes column, and I’ll quote him without using quotation marks. These are all Bob’s words.
1. The Cardinals have no plans to fire manager Oli Marmol, and his job remains secure, at least until next season, one high-ranking official said.
2. They have already had three managers since the 2018 All-Star break, and aren’t about to hire a fourth. It also certainly helps that the Cardinals’ star players have strongly expressed their support towards Marmol instead of blaming themselves.
3. No matter how ugly the Cardinals’ season gets, already sinking to depths last seen since 1997, they privately say they are not trading All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt or All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado. It’s a waste of time to even try.
4. Now, if you’re interested in starters Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery, and relievers like Jordan Hicks, the Cardinals will be all ears.
Thanks for reading …
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.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Sports Info Solutions, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus.
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.