THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals are playing like a group that’s gotten bored by whupping up on bad teams. Perhaps the pursuit of first place in the NL Central was too easy for them. It’s probably a challenge to compete with urgency when there’s no pressure.
I mean, just look at the division standings since the beginning of August:
If the season started Aug. 1, the Cardinals would lead the Cubs by 10 games, the Brewers by 10 and ½, the Reds by 13, and the Pirates by 15. That sort of comfort makes it easy to switch to cruise control.
To their credit the inspired Cardinals succeeded in a hostile NL Central takeover by hitting and pitching and fielding and running the bases like hombres loco. They did what they had to do … and then some.
The Redbirds were merciless. To the Cardinals, the Pirates, Reds and Cubs were speed bags. When the Cards made their berserk push, the Brewers gave way and succumbed in short time.
But since opening their largest lead of the season over the Brewers – 9 and ½ games on Sept. 7 – the Cardinals are 3-4. The four losses were inflicted by the Nationals, Pirates, Brewers and Reds.
St. Louis is 5-5 in the last 10 games that includes a blah 4-4 mark against the Nationals, Pirates and Reds. The fellers haven’t tapped into energy unless Albert Pujols is hitting a game-tying, or game-winning home run that brings him closer to No. 700 … or Adam Wainwright is throwing curve balls to Yadier Molina to set a MLB record for the most career starts by a pitcher-catcher coalition.
The Cardinals’ five-run, ninth-inning ambush to rally past the Nationals on Sept. 7 was a wild party. But after so much excitement the Cards napped through a 11-6 loss to the Nats the next day … and settled for a split of the four-game series against the worst team in the majors.
The Cardinals are dawdling.
They are playing with their food.
With 18 games remaining on STL’s regular-season schedule, their 7 and ½ game lead over Milwaukee is safe. Their motivation comes and goes. Taking intense, focused at–bats is optional.
The announced intention to elbow the Mets and Braves out of the way to seize the No. 2 seed in the NL postseason and gain a first-round bye … well, that was mostly for the pep-squad media’s benefit.
The first time the Cardinals sounded off about making a run for the No. 2 seed, they lost their next game to the Nationals. When the No. 2 seed pom-pons came out again, after Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee, the Cardinals trudged into Busch Stadium 24 hours later and dozed off in a loss to the Reds.
That embarrassment occurred Thursday night at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals were so fired up, they pounced on the Reds for one hit through the first eight innings and lost 3-2. Their belated effort to energize and get their blood flowing for a comeback fizzled in the bottom of the ninth.
“It’s been a stretch where it’s been no offense certain days,” manager Oliver Marmol said after the clunker. He added, “But we’re not overly concerned.”
Of course not. We can see that.
Some “concern” might be healthy right now.
In going 6-5 in their last 11 games, the Cardinals have averaged 3.7 runs, batted .227, reached base only 29 percent of the time, and slugged a substandard .388. During the 11-game stretch they’ve scored four runs or fewer seven times – and two runs or less four times.
In 15 games since Aug. 30 the Cardinals rank 21st in MLB in batting average, 20th in onbase percentage, and 17th in OPS. There have been too many low-scoring showcases at the ballpark.
The malaise has involved and impacted many.
Since Aug. 30, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Albert Pujols, Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, Alec Burleson, Paul DeJong and Andrew Knizner have combined for 62 hits in 347 at-bats for a .178 batting average.
One Cardinal (Pujols) has as many as 10 RBI over the last 15 games. Eleven St. Louis hitters are slugging .408 or less, and 10 have an OBP of .304 or lower.
With runners in scoring position since Aug. 30, the contingent of Goldschmidt, Nootbaar, O’Neill, Corey Dickerson, Gorman, Donovan, DeJong, and Burleson are a combined 6 for 35 for a .171 average. Add Nolan Arenado to that list, and it’s 11 for 54 (.203) with RISP.
In the team’s last 15 games Arenado and Goldschmidt have combined for a .221 batting average, four homers and a slugging percentage that’s barely over .400. And they’re a combined 7 for 33 (.212) with runners in scoring position.
In his last 18 games Goldschmidt has five RBI, a .222 batting average and a .365 slug. Arenado has four home runs in 29 games since Aug. 13, averaging a homer every 28.5 at-bats. From the start of the season through Aug. 12, Arenado hit a HR every 15.7 at–bats.
Pujols has homered in three games since Sept. 4, and the Cardinals won all three. In games with no home runs from Pujols the Cardinals are 3-5 since Sept. 4.
Last summer outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson had breakout performances after the All-Star break – combining for 30 homers, 24 doubles and 77 RBI.
This summer, since the All-Star break, O’Neill and Carlson have combined for 13 homers, 10 doubles, and 43 RBI.
As I wrote the other day when discussing the team hitting slump – there’s no mystery here. Too many guys – important bats – aren’t creating much offense.
They should reemerge at some point. The Cardinals have too many good, capable hitters to remain stagnant. And I understand that a decompression stage isn’t unusual for teams that have just played exceptional, winning baseball for six or eight weeks. Several NL contenders have gone through it … and some still are going through it.
For the Cardinals, perhaps the urgency will return on the next road trip, which begins Tuesday. They’ll play three at San Diego, three at Los Angeles and two at Milwaukee.
“We’ve got a big road trip coming up out west against some teams we’re probably going to see in the playoffs, so it’s easy to get hyped up and get in that mindset,” starting pitcher Miles Mikolas said.
In their first 49 games against losing teams this season, the Cardinals went 34-15 for a .694 winning percentage. Since then they’re 23-15 vs. losing sides for a .605 winning percentage. As you can see, there’s been slippage. This team needs a more rigorous challenge.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
— Miles Mikolas has a 4.72 fielding-independent ERA in his last seven starts. And that doesn’t include his runs-inflated start at Coors Field on Aug. 9.
— Nolan Gorman has only 25 plate appearances in September, and 12 have ended in a strikeout. In 64 plate appearances since Aug. 18, Gorman is batting .170 with one home run and a faint .271 slugging percentage. This month, when pitchers throw him a four-seam fastball or sinker, Gorman is 0 for 10 with five strikeouts.
— Top St. Louis prospect Jordan Walker has only one homer in 11 games this month but is batting .326 and getting on base at a .392 clip. The outfielder is 6 for 13 in his last three games for Double A Springfield.
— In the “race” for the NL’s No. 2 postseason seed the Cardinals lost ground Thursday. Their loss to the Reds, combined with the Mets’ win over the Pirates, left the Cardinals 5 and 1/2 games behind the Metropolitans. And the Cards are 4 and 1/2 game behind the Braves, who are trying to chase down the Mets to finish first in the NL East and capture the No. 2 seed. But the deficit is actually bigger than that. The Cardinals can’t win a tie-breaker with New York or Atlanta because they lost the season series to those teams.
— Top shortstop prospect Masyn Winn is slumping a bit at Double A Springfield, batting .214 with three extra-base hits in his last 42 at-bats.
— Rising pitching prospect Gordon Graceffo has a 3.94 ERA in 18 starts at Springfield after being promoted from High A Peoria. In his last three starts for Springfield, Graceffo has pitched 16.2 scoreless innings, giving up only five hits and striking out 22.
— Potential pitching phenom Tink Hence has a 1.38 ERA and a 41.5 percent strikeout rate in his 18 starts and 52.1 innings at Class A Palm Beach. Hence turned 20 on Aug. 6.
— The Cardinals have moved up to No. 4 in the majors for most defensive runs saved this season, with a plus 56. But they’ve played inconsistent defense in the outfield, with a minus 2 in left field, a +6 in center, and a minus 5 in right field.
— In the first full season of the DH in the National League, the Cardinals have done pretty well. The Cardinal designated hitters have combined for a .436 slugging percentage that ranks seventh among major-league DH groups. The St. Louis DHs are also seventh in homers (24) and OPS (.755) and 11th in RBI (75.)
— Marmol has used 13 different Cardinals at designated hitter. Here they are with the number of DH plate appearances in parenthesis: Pujols (203), Goldschmidt (87), Juan Yepez (70), Arenado (56), Dickerson (53), Gorman (48), Donovan (44), Nootbaar (11), Burleson (5), O’Neill (4), Conner Capel (4), Carlson (4) and Edmundo Sosa (1.)
— Interesting: when Pujols plays first base this season he has a .355 average and 1.148 OPS in 69 plate appearances. But in his 200+ plate appearances at DH, he’s batting .235 with a .759 OPS.
— Since returning from the IL on Aug. 9, Juan Yepez has played 27 games for Triple A Memphis. In 108 plate appearances there since then, Yepez is batting .263 with a .352 OBP and .516 slug. (His strikeout rate is 23%). In 95 at-bats Yepez has seven homers and 22 RBI.
AS OTHERS SEE US
Here’s a view of the Cardinals from baseball writer Grant Brisbee of The Athletic. This Giants fan has been making fun of the Cardinals and their fans for many years.
“The Cardinals haven’t lost a series since the beginning of August, and even that was a series in Coors Field, which is a Sarlacc Pit that slowly digests even the best teams. And they aren’t just winning, but they’re winning in goofy, surprising and dramatic ways.
“The teams ahead of them in the rankings will get better odds to win the whole thing, but it feels like we’ve gone far too long without a postseason filled with Cardinal nonsense.
“Even if they don’t offer that, they’re syndicating the Albert Pujols Show, and it’s so warm and fuzzy that it makes you want to puke, but it also makes you want to watch. It makes you want to puke-watch. Which is sort of what the Cardinals have offered for decades now. It’s their brand. It’s a strong brand. And it’s a very strong team.”
As always, thanks for reading … and have a great weekend.
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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.