THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals are quartered in Cincinnati this weekend for a three-game series that reconnects two NL Central rivals.
The Cards haven’t had much fun against NL Central opponents in 2023. The Redbirds remain stuck in last place, looking up at the Brewers, Cubs, Reds and Pirates. After thriving against division opponents with a .568 winning percentage from 2019 through 2022, the Cardinals are 15-24 (.385) against them this season.
An overconfident St. Louis front office took their division challengers for granted. In the planning for 2023 president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. ignored a treacherous starting-pitching shortfall, declined to reinforce an increasingly shaky bullpen and paid no attention to the rising wave of young talent about to reach the ballparks in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
At the field level Cardinals manager Oli and Marmol and his staff were responsible for a damaging breakdown of the team’s defense, baserunning and situational-baseball fundamentals.
A commitment to winning became a commitment to napping. A franchise that proudly has touted its idealistic standards in performance and sharp-eyed attention to detail was shoved off the throne and is flopping around with a .436 winning percentage in baseball’s shantytown.
All of this could have been prevented but a huge part of the Cardinals’ laughably lazy strategy was counting on the other NL Central teams to fail. This terrible miscalculation has the Cardinals on a wayward course to finish with the worst franchise winning percentage in a full season since 1990 … or perhaps 1978.
From ownership to the front office to the dugout, the Cardinals are paying a painful price for the organization’s conceit and negligence. The Brewers, Cubs, Reds and Pirates have exploited the do-nothing passivity in St. Louis. They walked over the fallen Cardinals to step to a higher spot in the standings.
The Brewers and Cubs are closing in on a postseason spot and the Reds have a chance to give the NL Central a third representative in the playoffs.
As of Friday morning the updated FanGraphs Playoff Odds had the Brewers at 98 percent, the Cubs at 89.7%, and the Reds at 23.9%. The first-place Brewers have the best shot of winning the division (71.6%), with the second-place Cubs (27.8%) sitting only two games out. The Reds are a half-game behind Arizona in the race for the third NL wild-card.
The Cardinals? They still have a chance to catch the fourth-place Pirates but seem more likely to finish in last place in their division for the first time since 1990. With 22 games left in their season the Cards (61-79) are 18 below .500 and stumbling toward their first losing season since 2007 and their second in the last 25 seasons.
And 2023 doesn’t seem to be a fluke. Mozeliak has said the team will look to add three new starting pitchers before 2024 but that doesn’t mean he’ll get it done. And what about the quality? Can the front office procure impactful arms that can muscle for more strikeouts and implement a more modern style of pitching? The ‘23 Cardinals rank 29th among 30 teams in starting-pitching strikeout rate (17.6%).
The other NL Central teams are on a positive trajectory.
Reds rookies lead the majors with 7.8 WAR and are ranked first among rookie groups in homers, RBI, runs scored and steals. The Pirates have started as many as five rookies in the same lineup. The Brewers have several elite prospects on the way. For the first time in a long while, the Cubs have found the right balance in roster construction.
As baseball writer Patrick Mooney opined at The Athletic, “Right now, the Cubs don’t have to choose between winning games and developing talent for the future. They’re doing both. The future is now. And the future could be blindingly bright.”
In MLB Pipeline’s updated farm-system rankings the Pirates were No. 2, followed by the Brewers (3rd), Cubs (4th) and the Reds at No. 5. The Cardinals are 22nd. And Baseball America put St. Louis at No. 21.
“With the recent graduations … the Cardinals lost a little bit of their top 10 depth. With a string of injuries and poor performances by recent draftees the Cardinals Top 30 Prospects list was backfilled by their recent draft and a flurry of trade activity at the deadline, but the Cardinals still lack potential above-average regulars outside Masyn Winn and Tink Hence … they have done well to shore up their depth (since the trade deadline) but lack the sort of impact players throughout their top 10 they’ve had in years past.”
ADAM WAINWRIGHT: His farewell season hasn’t played out as hoped. After the Braves knocked Waino around Thursday for six earned runs and four homers in 5 and ⅔ innings, his ERA through 19 starts was enlarged to 8.19.
Since 1900 here are the five worst single-season ERAs by a MLB pitcher that made at least 19 starts:
1. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis, 8.19 in 2023.
2. Chris Tillman, Baltimore, 7.84 in 2017
3. Les Sweetland, Philadelphia (NL), 7.71 in 1930
4. Claude Willoughby, Philadelphia (NL), 7.53 in 1930
5. Mike Moore, Detroit, 7.53 in 1995.
You’ll note that two starters from the same team – the 1930 Phillies – are on this top five “worst” list for a single season. That team went 52-102-2 and had a starting-pitching ERA of 6.84. There’s no truth to the rumor that John Mozeliak put that Philly rotation together.
MORE FROM THE WAINO FILE: Since 1900, opponents have clouted four or more homers in a game 38 times against a Cardinals starting pitcher. It’s happened twice to Wainwright; the first time came against the Cubs on Sept. 28, 2019. But there is no reason to be ashamed. Other Cardinal starters that got blitzed for four homers in a game include the immortal Bob Gibson (three times!), Dizzy Dean, Max Lanier, Chris Carpenter, Woody Williams, Bill Sherdel, and Lance Lynn.
Wainwright has made 11 starts since June 24 in his bid for career victory No. 199. But he has a 10.72 ERA in 45 and ⅓ innings over the 11 outings. His personal record in those starts is 0-10, and the team’s record is 1-10. The Cardinals are 2-13 in the last 15 games started by Wainwright. They have a 5-14 record in his 19 starts in 2023.
RUN TOMMY EDMAN RUN! This is a compliment … Edman moves like a rabbit when he’s tracking balls in the outfield. He’s not only good at this; he makes it fun. Edman showcased his exciting center field defense (again) during the Atlanta series. His sprint speed – which per Statcast ranks in the 88th percentile among MLB players – is an obvious asset. But Edman is also fearless in his pursuit of an out. Crashing into the wall. Laying out to make diving grabs.
As Cards pitcher Miles Mikolas told John Denton of MLB.com: “He’s won a Gold Glove at second base, but he might be one of the best center fielders I’ve ever seen. I mean, he made some incredible plays and he tracks a fly ball better than anyone I’ve ever seen. What he does all around the diamond is really special.”
Last season Edman played at five positions, including center field, but logged only five innings in CF. This season Edman has played 379 innings at shortstop, 284 in center, 248 at second base, and 44 innings in right field.
Since his promotion to the majors during the 2019 season, Edman has been credited with 43 defensive runs saved in 4,675 innings afield. Among the other Cardinals, only third baseman Nolan Arenado has more. Here’s the breakdown via position: 23 runs saved at second base, 11 saved at shortstop, six saved in the outfield and three saved at third base.
Edman won the Gold Glove in 2021 for his stellar defense at second base, and warranted selection again in 2022 – but lost out to teammate Brendan Donovan in the first-ever “utility” Gold Glove award.
This season Edman ranks 29th among 261 fielders – all positions – with eight Outs Above Average. Six of his eight OAA were cultivated in center field. Per Statcast, has an expected 87 percent success rate in making plays in center. But he’s exceeded that with a 92 percent success rate. That five percent difference is tied for second among MLB center fielders.
Edman has 102 stolen bases in 118 attempts in the majors for an excellent 86.4 percent success rate. In the 2021-2022 seasons combined, Edman led the majors with an average baserunning gain of +45.5 per year. This season manager Oli Marmol inexplicably put brakes on the STL running game and didn’t maximize Edman’s full capacity as a baserunning asset.
Edman has a +15 baserunning gain this season – which is good, but it should be much higher. Not his fault; Marmol’s misguided intervention slowed Edman down. (Opponents should thank the Cards manager.)
Edman’s defensive value, versatility, speed game and two more years of contract control give Cardinals management plenty of motivation to keep him instead of trading him.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: In winning two of three at Atlanta the Cardinals averaged 8.7 runs, batted .306 with a .934 OPS and stroked 13 extra-base hits including eight home runs … in 26 plate appearances since returning from being struck in the ballocks on Aug. 16, Lars Nootbaar is hitting .143 with a .286 slugging percentage with one homer and one RBI … In Thursday’s 8-5 loss to the Braves, Edman batted leadoff and went 2 for 4 with three RBI. This season the switch-hitting Edman is batting .273 with a .813 OPS against lefty pitchers and has a .237 average and .688 OPS vs. righties.
NOLAN ARENADO, POWER OUTAGE: The third baseman went 4 for 14 during the Braves series but hasn’t homered since Aug. 19. In his last 15 games Arenado is batting .172 and slugging .224 with one extra-base hit and two RBI. He’s also 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position over that time. Before the All-Star break Arenado slugged .518 and homered every 17.4 at-bats. Since the All-Star break he’s slugging .403 and has homered every 26.5 at-bats.
Arenado’s first-half OPS was .850; his second–half OPS is .697. Per wRC+, Arenado was 27 percent above league average offensively before the All-Star break but is 13 percent below league average offensively since the break.
NOLAN GORMAN’S UNDERRATED TALENT: That would be baserunning. He’s a big dude, but runs well and has sharp instincts. He made a great slide at home plate Thursday to beat the tag and snatch an early run for the Cardinals. In addition to stealing seven bases in nine attempts this season, Gorman has the best net baserunning gain among Cardinal regulars. Here’s the list, in order:
Gorman, +27 net bases gained.
Lars Nootbaar, +17
Paul Goldschmidt, +17
Tommy Edman, +15
Brendan Donovan, +9
YOUNG AT HEART: The best part of the Cardinals winning the series in Atlanta? That would be the performances put up by Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman and Masyn Winn. As you know, Winn and Walker are rookies and Gorman is in his second season. Walker and Win are both 21 years old; Gorman is the old man of the trio (hah) at age 23. In the three nights in Atlanta, the three big parts of the Cardinals future combined for 5 homers, 11 RBI, 12 runs scored, 11 hits, two doubles, two walks and Gorman’s stolen base. Gorman and Walker provided most of that damage, but Winn had a few good moments including his first big-league homer. He’s settling in. The three young hitters have a combined 1,201 plate appearances in the bigs. Learning is fun. The best is yet to come. I don’t know why I’m typing in rhyme.
FUN WITH NUMBERS: Since the start of the 2022 season, former Cardinals outfielders Adolis Garcia, Randy Arozarena and Lane Thomas have combined for 106 more home runs and 346 more RBI than the Cardinals have received, combined, from Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill over the same period of time.
Just by themselves, Garcia and Arzona have out-homered O’Neill and Carlson 102 to 36 and have driven in 220 more runs than TO and DC.
Garcia and Arozena also have 60 more stolen bases (combined) and 54 more doubles (combined) than O’Neill and Carlson.
Thanks for reading …
Have a pleasant weekend …
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.