THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Few among us would have put money down on the probability of the Cardinals taking three straight series on the road, winning six of nine games, against Atlanta, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
The marooned, last-place Cardinals entered this three-city trip with only 59 wins through 137 games. Their .431 winning percentage ranked 14th in the National League and 26th overall. The Redbirds have been under .500 since April 4. They haven’t had a winning record since taking two of three games from Toronto in the season-opening series.
The Braves have the best winning percentage in the National League, (.658), the Orioles have the top winning percentage in the American League (.628) and the Reds (.517) are tied with the Diamondbacks for the No. 3 wild-card spot in the NL. The Braves, Orioles and Red have a combined .600 winning percentage this season.
On top of that, who would have bet on these propositions?
+ That Masyn Winn, Luken Baker and Rich Palacios would have as many combined RBI (9) as Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Lars Nootbaar.
+ That the Cardinals would win a game in Atlanta against the best team in the bigs with a pitching matchup that had Dakota Hudson going against Spencer Strider.
+ That Richie Palacios would hit three home runs by himself – and Nolan Arenado, Lars Nootbaar, Luken Baker, Tommy Edman, Andrew Knizner and Alec Burleson hitting none.
+ That the Cardinals would lose the first game in Baltimore only to win two in a row in games started by Adam Wainwright and Drew Rom. Going into their starts at Camden Yards, Waino and Rom had an ERA of 8.19 and 7.79, respectively.
+ Or that Wainwright and Rom would, over two nights, collectively hold the Orioles to two runs and nine hits in their combined 10 and ⅓ innings.
+ Or that the Cardinals would win two in a row from the Orioles by scoring six total runs in the two games.
+ Or that the Redbirds would win two straight by limiting the strong-hitting Orioles to a .190 batting average in the two games – including a 1 for 18 performance with runners in scoring position.
+ Or that the St. Louis bullpen would play a major role in the Cardinals winning four of six games in Cincinnati and Baltimore by posting a 2.31 ERA and allowing a .188 average over 23 and ⅓ innings of work. Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, John King, Matthew Liberatore, Drew VerHagen and Casey Lawrence were terrific in the three-game series at Camden Yards.
+ Or that the Reds and O’s would go 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position in the six games against the Cards bullpen. In the final two wins at Baltimore the STL relievers faced 27 batters over 7 and ⅔ innings, did not allow a run, and held Orioles hitters to a .130 average.
Yes, that’s baseball. I thought Wednesday’s pitching matchup between Rom and Kyle Gibson would turn into a barrage of extra-base hits and runs. Nope. Just the opposite. The Cards and O’s scored only one run in 68 combined plate appearances. The only crack in the scoreboard was a solo homer by Palacios. Baseball can be strange and beautiful.
(Note: Yes, I know the Cardinals did this in “Garbage Time” as one gentleman told me on Twitter. I didn’t think I needed to point that out, but I do so just for him. Yes, it’s garbage time. Season ends real soon. But a 6-3 road trip against superior teams was a surprise. Was it garbage time for the Reds and Orioles? Both of those teams have a lot on the line. Here’s the context: This 6-3 was unexpected. But over a 162-game schedule, the baseball season is full of surprises. It never fails to surprise us. Many times. That’s the context. Thank you.)
The Accounting Department: the Cardinals are 7-3 in their last 10 games, 9-5 since Aug. 29, and have won four of their last five series … The Cardinals were 35-48 against teams that were .500 or better before getting the best of the Braves, Reds and Orioles.
Stating The Obvious: The Cardinals bullpen looks a helluva lot better when Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos are available for the same game to work those late-inning tandems.
Fun With Smallish Sample Sizes: I don’t know what this means, if anything at all. But in 139 plate appearances when being used as a center fielder this season, Tommy Edman has batted .183 with a .553 OPS.
Richie Palacios Update: with another home run in Baltimore Wednesday night – making it three homers in the last two games, both wins – Palacios leads the Cardinals in batting average (.311), slugging percentage (.622) and OPS (.963) since being promoted to the majors on Aug. 17.
Since that date, Palacios has more homers (4) than Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Gorman, Nolan Arenado and Lars Nootbaar. And he’s driven in more runs (9) than Arenado and Nootbaar combined over that time.
Palacios started at second base against the Orioles in Wednesday’s game. He’s now played in all three outfield positions plus second base and DH. The Cardinals are 7-4 when Palacios starts a game.
The Intriguing Drew Rom: In Wednesday’s start the lefty befuddled the Orioles with his funkadelic pitching delivery, yielding only two hits in 5 and ⅓ scoreless innings for his first major-league victory. Here are some notable aspects of his surprisingly effective outing:
– Over his two previous starts, vs. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, Rom struck out only one of 40 hitters faced. But in a dramatic turnabout, Rom struck out seven of the 21 batters he went against for a strikeout rate of 33.3 percent. Where did that come from? Well, Rom upped his four-seam fastball usage, throwing 50 of them Wednesday. He got nine swings and misses. He struck out five of 10 batters faced in plate appearances that ended with a four-seamer. He challenged Baltimore hitters up in the zone. He was more aggressive about pitching inside. The approach worked; the Orioles managed to put only three balls in play when swinging at Rom’s modified four-seam. Assist to pitching coach Dusty Blake.
– In his two previous starts, Rom was just about as hittable as it gets on pitches in the strike zone. The Reds had a 100 percent contact rate when swinging at strikes and the Pirates connected on 96% of their swings in the zone. Rom had only five swings-and-misses (total) in the two starts. The Orioles had a 86.2% contact rate on Rom’s strike-zone offerings, and that’s a nice improvement.
— In his first four starts, Rom was cudgeled by right-handed batters for a .355 average, .962 OPS, and six extra-base hits. Wednesday, the Orioles’ RH bats went 2 for 16 and struck out seven times in 16 plate appearances. That’s a ridiculous strikeout rate of 36.8 percent, especially when we consider that RH batters struck out on only 7 percent of their plate appearances in Rom’s four starts. Goodness.
Drew Rom Part II: The Cardinals acquired Rom from Baltimore in the trade for Jack Flaherty. In five starts as a Cardinal, Rom has a 5.96 ERA. In six starts for the Orioles, Flaherty had a 7.16 ERA.
Rom has an inflated ERA, yes. But he’s turned in above-average starts in two of his five outings including a 70 Game Score against the Orioles. Two of his starts were poor. Another was so-so. But Rom is 23 years old, this is his first tour in MLB, and he seems to have some upside. I give credit to the Cardinals for giving Rom a chance to start and staying with him. That way he gets a chance to develop at the big-league level and the Cardinals can find out a lot more about him.
Thumping: Willson Contreras. He didn’t play Wednesday because of a sore hand. But in his final five games on the road trip Contreras went 9 for 18 with three homers and 11 RBI. No other Cardinal had more than six RBI during the nine-game itinerary.
Slumping: Lars Nootbaar. Since returning from the IL on Sept. 1, Noot is batting .182 with a .321 OBP and .318 slug. He has one homer and three doubles in 53 plate plate appearances over that time.
Prospecting: Tekoah Roby pitched again for Double A Springfield on Wednesday. Since returning from a stay on the IL that provided rest for his cranky right shoulder, Roby has a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings. He’s allowed a .146 average and has struck out 43.7 percent of the hitters faced. Roby was traded here by Texas in the deal that moved pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton to the Rangers. Roby came over with infield prospect Thomas Saggese and major-league lefty reliever John King – so the deal has the potential to be a good one for Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and his staff.
Ailing: Outfielder Dylan Carlson had ankle surgery and won’t return this season. It was pretty much a lost year for Carlson in 2023. After posting a 115 OPS+ with 18 homers and 31 doubles in 2021 at age 22, Carlson has declined offensively. This season Carlson’s 80 OPS+ was 20 percent below league average offensively. And he had only five home runs, a .219 batting average and a lethargic .333 slug in in 255 plate appearances. Carlson, a switch hitter, batted only .196 against RH pitching this season.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus 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.