Welcome To The Redbird Review
The Cardinals have won 16 consecutive games.
The Cardinals have won 16 consecutive games.
16 … consecutive … games.
Lawdy, I need to head to the fainting couch.
Then again, what’s the big deal? After all, the Cardinals won 16 games during a stretch earlier this season — yeah, even though it took them from May 30 through July 18 to reach No. 16. But they did get there, right? So what if it required 41 games for the Cards to make it to 16 wins on July 18? They were scratching and clawing, dang it. Let’s not be so hard on the fellers.
I know your head is spinning, as mine is.
So let’s start with this: eight home remedies to help you stop feeling dizzy…
+ Drink water before meals.
+ Avoid taking long showers or hot baths.
+ Drink ginger tea.
+ Eat whole grains.
+ Drink apple cider vinegar.
+ Get a massage.
+ Take Ginkgo Biloba*
(*Whatever the hell that is.)
Please understand that I am not a doctor.
But I do try to analyze and explain baseball stuff.
So I’m gonna take a shot at explaining how this streak of 16 straight wins actually happened. And it isn’t over; after a day off the Cardinals will go for No. 17 on Tuesday vs. Milwaukee at Busch Stadium.
For now here’s my 16 for 16 …
1) A Raging Offense: In the 16 victories the St. Louis offense averaged 6.8 runs, tops in the majors since the streak opened on Sept. 11. Over that time the Cardinals have also led the majors in batting average (.289), slugging (.531) and OPS (.871). They were also second in doubles (35) and tied for second in homers (31.) Enter all of this into the fancy-stats machine, and over the last 16 games we’ve seen a STL attack that’s 31 percent above league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created. No. 1 in the majors since Sept. 11.
1a) It helps to have an unsustainable .332 average on batted balls in play. But hey, they’ve done it for the last 16 games, so maybe they can sustain it for a little while longer. There are six games remaining on the Cards regular-season schedule.
2) Winning The Home-Run Derby: During the 16-game baseball party, the Cardinals out-homered opponents 31-14. That’s a good way to get the upper hand — by frequently clubbing the other side into submission.
3) Warning: Incoming Longballs. The Cardinals have scored 42.2 percent of their total runs via homers during this streak.
* Nine multi-homer games including four occasions of 3+ home runs in the competition.
* They’ve had eight homers that broke a tie, three homers that brought the Cardinals back to tie the game, and two homers that gave the Cards the lead when trailing.
* They’ve had 16 solo homers, 13 two-run homers, one three-run shot, and a grand slam.
4) Excellent And Preposterous Timely Hitting: They’ve batted an astonishing .360 in 165 plate appearances with runners in scoring position during the 16 games, delivering 50 hits and six sacrifice flies that brought home 70 total RBI. Of the 109 runs scored by the Cardinals in their sweet-16 streak, 64.2 percent were produced when hitters went hunting with runners in scoring position. The Cards have done serious power damage with RISP, slamming seven homers, 15 doubles and generating a .583 slugging percentage. This RISP onslaught can’t possibly last. But then again, no one thought that an eight-game win streak would stretch to 16, with a chance to keep going.
In a related note: with runners on base the Cardinals batted .330, slugged .549, doubled 12 times, tripled once, and banged 15 homers for 88 total RBI.
Footnote: The Cardinals brutalized Cubs pitching for 13 homers and a .644 slugging percentage in the four-game set. The visitors out-homered the Cubs 13-3. And the Cardinals averaged a home run every 10.3 at-bats during the series at Wrigley.
5) Charging To Early Leads, Or Making Comebacks, Or Doing Both: The Cardinals pounced to take the lead 12 times in the 16 games. But in the final two games at Chicago, they seized an early 1-0 lead only to slip behind the Cubs. But the Cardinals rallied to beat the Cubs in both games. So I put wins No. 15 and No. 16 in the comeback category. When your team regularly jumps opponents for an early scoreboard advantage, but also has the talent and the resilience to counterattack and keep the streak alive — well, you can’t ask for more than that. It’s special.
In their first-inning at bats during the streak, the Cardinals batted a MLB-best .357, scored 23 runs, lined seven doubles and smacked four homers. They also hit a preposterous .529 with runners in scoring position during the 16 first innings.
In the seventh, eighth, ninth and extra innings, the Cardinals led the majors with 46 runs, batted an MLB-best .323, and had 12 doubles and 14 homers in 188 plate appearances. And they hit an MLB-best .375 with runners in scoring position during the late innings.
Let’s say it again: special.
6) The Pitching: No surprise here; after all the Cardinals rank in the majors in ERA (3.67) since June 28 including a 3.54 rotation ERA that ranks third. But during this 16-game rush, the Cards’ overall 2.98 ERA is the best in the NL and second overall since the streak began on Sept. 11. That includes a 3.32 rotation ERA (5th overall, 3rd NL.)
7) The Bullpen Padlock: I put this in a separate category for a couple of reasons, starting with the terrific 2.56 ERA (2nd in MLB) over the last 16 games. But the way the relievers have handled pressure is the defining feature that warrants special praise. The St. Louis relievers have been at their best when the heat’s turned up. During the 16 wins the bullpen crew has faced 67 batters with runners in scoring position. And the fellers were tough to crack; opponents batted .109 with a .391 OPS and 0.72 WHIP. And in high-leverage situations with RISP, the bullpen has taken on 29 batters and allowed no hits and five walks. We can nitpick the walks, but their bottom-line performance in the most pressurized moments was fantastic. There’s been only one blown save over the course of the 16 games, and Giovanny Gallegos more than made up for it by saving eight other wins.
8) The Defense. Of course. But you knew that. Too many plays to go over, too many zany things to reconstruct. But the defense has been phenomenal during this stretch. Excellent defense. Entertaining defense. Inventive double-play defense. Did-you-see-that, you-gotta-be-kidding defense.
The Cardinals have been Top 10 caliber all season. But it’s important to note the dramatic improvement from Aug. 10 through Sunday’s win at Chicago. (The info courtesy of the outstanding Mark Simon of Baseball Info Solutions.) On Aug. 9 the Cardinals were 55-56 and ranked ninth in the majors with 35 Defensive Runs Saved. Since that day, the Cardinals have 40 Defensive Runs Saved in 35 games, the most in the majors (by at least 10) over that time.
And it’s no coincidence that St. Louis has the No. 2 record in the majors — 32-13 — since Aug. 10. Only the Dodgers, at 33-11, have topped that. The Cardinals have 75 DRS for the season, first in MLB.
9) The Baserunning: There have been many dazzling displays of speed, athleticism, acumen and dexterity on the bases from the Cardinals over the last 16 games. The guys haven’t missed many opportunities to push for an extra base, or take advantage of a fielder’s bobble, or catch a defender off guard. We witnessed this time and time again in the victories over the Reds, Mets, Padres, Brewers and Cubs.
The Cardinals continue to move up the leaderboard for net baserunning gain, via Bill James Online. The Cards are now up to +82 net bases gained, only four behind MLB leading Tampa Bay (+86.) The Cardinals’ baserunning has been so delightfully grand in recent days that they’ve picked up at least 10 more net bases gained since the Milwaukee series. This has been a factor in a 16-game win streak that’s included seven victories by two runs or fewer.
10) Manager Doing The Right Thing, Lineup: Mike Shildt has stayed with his best lineup when all starting position players are available. And that’s really important. This lineup has clicked at virtually every spot, with the productivity flowing from the front part of the lineup all the way through the No. 8 spot.
Based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) — and 100 is average — here’s how the Cardinals have fared at each batting position since Sept. 11. Spoiler alert: there’s only one below-average spot:
1st: 37% below average
2nd: 139% above avg
3rd: 70% above avg
4th: 33% above avg
5th: 13% above avg
6th: 44% above avg
7th: 21% above avg
8th: 32% above avg
Shildt has made a couple of tweaks here and there. Usually that’s based on a matchup, and if Yadier Molina is getting the day off for rest. But Shildt is letting it ride, and that hasn’t always been the case this season.
11) Manager Doing The Right Thing, Bullpen: Once Shildt changed his regular usage pattern and installed Luis Garcia, T.J. McFarland and (most recently) Kodi Whitley into more prominent roles, the bullpen has settled into a smooth, consistent place. With Whitley’s emergence the heart of the bullpen consists of six relievers: McFarland, Garcia, Whitley, Genesis Cabrera, Alex Reyes and Gallegos. Despite a couple of thrill-ride scares from Reyes, the six have combined for a 2.53 ERA over 49 and ⅔ innings during the 16 games.
12) The Outfield Of Dreams: Not screams. Unless it’s the sound of cheering. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak went all-in this season on an outfield alignment of Tyler O’Neill in left, Harrison Bader in center, and Dylan Carlson in right. The goal — and fantasy — was three athletic outfielders, hitting up a storm and using their speed and athleticism to run the bases and chase down baseballs.
The vision has become the reality. During this maniacal 16-game sprint the Cardinals’ outfielders have combined for a .346 average, .380 onbase percentage, .676 slug, 1.056 OPS — plus 14 doubles, 15 homers, 45 runs, 48 RBIs and six stolen bases in six attempts. And with runners in scoring position during this time, the outfielders have batted .412 with a .706 slug and 1.127 OPS. Lars Nootbaar’s contributions are included in this, and he’s done a terrific job at the plate. And Nootbaar’s defense has fit right in with the standards set by the regulars.
For the season, using adjusted OPS, O’Neill is 45 percent above league average offensively. And he’s been an absolute monster in September, crushing 11 home runs in 100 at-bats with a .690 slug and 1.054 OPS. As a bonus, Bader (19%) and Carlson (11%) are also above league average for the season. And the three current starting outfielders have combined for 27 Defensive Runs Saved this season.
13) Goldschmidt And Arenado: Though Goldy’s offensive stats outshine Arenado’s during the 16-game winning streak, ‘Nado has done plenty by himself. Combining the numbers over the last 16 games, this is what we come up with: .332 average, nine doubles, 11 homers, 28 RBI, 35 runs, 17 walks, .418 onbase percentage, .685 slug, and a 1.123 OPS. They’re coming through at the most crucial time of the regular season. This brings back fond memories of the Albert Pujols & Scott Rolen days at the infield corners.
14) Wild About Harry Bader: Harrison: I’m being redundant here, because I’ve already highlighted the robust performance of the entire STL outfield during this 16-0 spree. But how about Bader? In the 16 games he’s hit .400 with a .429 OBP, .725 slug and 1.179 OPS. The power supply is deep, with four homers and nine doubles in addition to his 13 runs and 12 RBI. Bader has been going blow-for-blow with O’Neill, who has seven homers, 19 runs, a .672 slug and a team-leading 21 RBI over the last 19 games.
Another note on Bader: he’s led off an inning 88 times this season, reaching base 33 times (.375 OBP.) And when Bader leads off the inning by getting on base, the Cardinals average 1.21 runs in that inning. That’s very impressive.
15) Adam Wainwright Got Some Unexpected But Welcome Help: From June 3 through Sept. 8, the Cardinals were 14-4 when Waino started a game — and 56-64 in all other games over that time. But during this 16-game launch that almost certainly will put the Cardinals in the postseason, Wainwright hasn’t had to carry most of the weight.
Here are three respective earned-run averages for the four other starters in their 12 combined assignments since Sept. 11:
J.A. Happ, 2.03
Jake Woodford, 2.51
Miles Mikolas, 3.06
Jon Lester, 3.71
Think about that … as we were sitting around watching the Cardinals slip-and-slide around .500 at mid-summer, Woodford was an adequate middle reliever. Mikolas was idle on the IL for the second time this season and had barely pitched since the end of the 2019 season. Lester and Happ were getting drilled while pitching for the Nationals and Twins, respectively.
Who would have guessed — seriously — that we’d see Happ, Lester, Mikolas and Woodford playing such vital roles in this late-season surge?
15a) This Just In: Yadier Molina is good. He has a chance to play for a long time in this game. The laddie seems to know what to do with his pitchers. He’s effective at guiding them. He probably won’t hit much … what’s that? He nearly has 2,000 MLB hits? He’s third all-time to Stan Musial and Lou Brock for most hits by a Cardinal in franchise history? Oh.
Which brings us to our 16th and final candle that we light to illuminate this 16-0 mini-miracle:
16) It’s A Cliche, But Oh So True: Everyone has contributed. Some have surprised us more than others. Not just Lester and Happ. Woodford and shortstop Edmundo Sosa are good examples. I don’t think we expected to see Woodford blooming with a 1.90 ERA in 23 and ⅔ innings this month. Or that Sosa would be hitting .301 with a .811 OPS in 73 starts this year. Or that Nootbaar would be walloping homers and making sensational catches to help the Cardinals reach their goal.
Or that Whitley would be working on a streak of 13 and ⅔ scoreless innings. Or that utility man Jose Rondon would be 9 for his last 27 (.333.) Or that pitcher Dakota Hudson would return just under a year after his Tommy John elbow surgery to pitch in Friday’s second game at Wrigley Field — and look really good his first time out there.
During this 16-0 March, the Cardinals have gotten starts from six pitchers and turned to 11 different relievers. Among their 12 position players used since Sept 11, eight have homered, eight have doubled, 10 have driven in at least one run, 10 have drawn walks, seven have lofted a sacrifice fly, and all 12 have at least one hit and have scored at least one run.
It’s a team.
Playing team ball.
A complete team that’s mastering all aspects of the game.
A team that has turned the season upside down by winning 16 in a row, and leading their stunned but delighted fans on a fabulous trip that has defied all reasonable logic and expectations. A team that should have been better than it was all along — but has proven worthy of a spot in the postseason. A team that leaves us wondering about these Cardinals: what craziness do they have planned for us next?
I must go now. I think I have the vapors.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available at 590thefan.com
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net 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.