THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals had a very good week, winning six of eight games from the Padres and Cubs.

Going into Memorial Day, the Cardinals trailed first-place Milwaukee by 3.5 games. By the time they departed Wrigley Field late Sunday night, the Cardinals had grinded the Brewer lead to a half-game.

Nice work.

Especially when we consider a few things:

1. A rotation that’s still missing injured starters Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz and a potential bullpen asset in Jordan Hicks. At least Flaherty and Matz are progressing in their rehabs. In their absence the Cardinals may have cultivated at least some starting-pitching depth within the organization in rookies Andre Pallante and Zack Thompson.

2. Since Matz (shoulder) went to the IL after his start on May 22, the Cardinals are 9-5 with a 4.05 staff ERA that ranks a respectable 14th in the majors over that time.

3. Excluding Yadier Molina’s one inning of work in a blowout win in the series finale at Pittsburgh, the Cards have used 19 different pitchers in their last 17 games. They won 12 of the 17 games over that time with a 3.92 ERA. Minus Molina’s four-run inning, the team ERA since May 20 is 3.71. All things considered, that’s outstanding.

4. Eight different pitchers have started games during the 12-5 stretch – and with all of this turmoil the rotation has managed to turn in an admirable 4.04 ERA.

5. Despite the many challenges endured by manager Oli Marmol, pitching coach Mike Maddux and the revolving carousel of pitchers, the Cardinals have maintained their top-10 status in preventing runs. Going into the new week, the Cardinals have allowed 3.91 runs per game to rank 9th overall and 4th in the NL. Many would be surprised to learn that the Cardinals are slightly ahead of Milwaukee (3.95) in fewest runs allowed per game.

And what about the offense?

– First of all, the Jeff Albert fetishists need to calm down a bit. This offense isn’t ideal. But in the context of 2022 and the state of MLB offense, the St. Louis hitters have performed rather well.

– The Cardinals rank 4th in runs per game (4.89) and are 5th in batting average (.254) and onbase percentage (.323.) They rank 12th in OPS (.721) and are 13th in slugging (.399.) I’d like to see those numbers be higher, but their slugging percentage is 11 points above the MLB average, and their OPS is 23 points above the MLB average.

– In using OPS+ – which adjusts to park and league effects – the Cardinals have the No. 6 offense in baseball at 10 percent above the MLB average.

– During their 12–5 stretch the Cardinals averaged 5.7 runs per game and batted .264 with a .737 OPS. They’ve been 12 percent above league average offensively during this time.

– In their 6-2 week the Cardinals averaged 5.8 runs per game, batted .266, had a .342 onbase percentage and a .418 slug. They were 18 points above league average offensively during the eight-game block of schedule.

– The Cardinals have MLB’s second-best batting average (.285) with runners in scoring position. Their hitters’ strikeout rate (19.3%) is second-lowest (as in best) in the majors. And STL leads the majors with 44 stolen bases.

– The player-development system provided a substantial boost by sending Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman to the big club at a time of need. Having those three move up to deliver instant-impact offense was right on time. Their presence has mitigated the injury-related losses of outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. Donovan is a revelation. We’ll get to him later in The Review.

The Cardinals can frustrate us with their inconsistency and a few incomprehensible quirks in their usage of personnel. And until the front office proves us wrong, we can’t trust the bosses to go outside the organization to land a legitimate top-three rotation piece to make their starting pitching more formidable.

STL’s 32-23 record is commendable, and the Cardinals are moving in the right direction in the NL Central. O’Neill, Carlson and Matz should be back soon, and Flaherty won’t be away much longer.

Marmol deserves a lot of credit for being so resourceful as he continues to patch the injuries. And the rookie manager has been aggressive in using his rookie players. The farm system is paying off.

The Cardinals need to pump up the slugging but can’t impair the defense. O’Neill is fortunate to get a chance for a do-over in 2022 and can’t blow it. Carlson was rolling before straining a hamstring, and can’t slow down.

But we’ll still demand more from this team. They’ll have to find ways to get better. They can’t backslide. They have to do a helluva lot more in games against winning teams because 14-13 won’t cut it.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Accounting: The Brewers are 1-5 in their last six and 4-7 in their last 11. But the problem isn’t pitching, even with injuries to Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. During their 4-7 stretch the Crew has a respectable 3.90 ERA but have scored only 3.8 runs per game with a .206 batting average and .656 OPS … Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Andrew McCutchen have horrendous offensive numbers since May 1 … the return of shortstop Willy Adames (ankle) and right fielder Hunter Renfroe (hamstring) are imminent … with their schedule toughening up as of late the Brewers have slipped to 10-12 in games against winning teams this season.

The Best Thing About the 5-Game Series At Wrigley: The Cardinals easily could have gone 1-4 but put up a vigorous fight to overcome the Cubs and claim extra-innings victories in the final two games of the series.

Zack Thompson: Hey! Four innings, one run allowed and a picture of absolute confidence on the mound at Wrigley Field on a wind-blown day that was hazardous for pitchers. Thompson put away the Cubs in relief of Miles Mikolas. It was an important 14-5 win that followed a St. Louis loss in the series opener. If the Cardinals need a starter … well, you know. He doesn’t have to be “stretched out” and all of that because he’s been a starting pitcher at Memphis all season.

Genesis Cabrera: After four innings of stellar relief in Sunday’s 5-3 win in 11 innings, does he feel like putting in an application for an opening in the team’s starting rotation? Probably need Cabrera more in a relief role, but the idea of using him as a starter is intriguing. What a magnificent performance.

Jun 5, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Brendan Donovan (33) reacts after hitting a double to drive in a run in the 11th inning as Chicago Cubs shortstop Andrelton Simmons (19) watches at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

 

Brendan Donovan: The rookie super-glue player put on a show at Wrigley Field with his offense, defense, and timely hitting. He had a national cable showcase on Saturday night, and another on Sunday night, and the secret is out. Fans from other parts of the nation that checked Donovan out were probably thinking (A) “Who the heck is this guy, I never heard of him,” and (B) “He’s really, really good!”

Yes, Donovan is quite good. Entertainingly so. Surprisingly so. Among NL hitters that have at least 110 plate appearances this season, Donovan leads with a .439 onbase percentage, is 4th in walk rate (15.8%), 6th in batting average (.319), 7th in park and league adjusted runs created, 7th in wOBA (.394.) and 9th in OPS (.885.)

Among Cardinals that have 110-plus plate appearances Donovan leads in onbase percentage and walk rate and is 2nd to Paul Goldschmidt in batting average, 2nd to Goldy in OPS, 2nd to Goldy in park and league adjusted runs created, 2nd to Goldy in wOBA, and third in slugging percentage (.447) to Goldy and Nolan Arenado.

The Question Of The Day: When Carlson and O’Neill return, how will the lineup change, and how will it impact Donovan’s playing time?

Kinda short answer: O’Neill will be back in place as the starter in left field, Carlson will return to right field. And even though Donovan has played a lot of corner outfield with O’Neill and Carlson sidelined, it would be absolutely nuts to reduce his playing time. And Marmol ain’t crazy, OK?

I’m in favor of this: Donovan at second base, Tommy Edman at shortstop and Nolan Gorman at DH against RH pitching. It doesn’t have to be that way for every game; a key element of Donovan’s value is his flexibility. So far this season he’s played 77 innings in right field, 56 at shortstop, 42 at second base, 37 at third base, 21 at first base and 10 in left field. But I think Donovan is a better second baseman than shortstop; he played 1,103 innings at 2B in the minors. It was by far his busiest and most natural position. Edman is wonderful at second base but he’s an effective shortstop who won’t hurt you there.

Gorman’s left-handed swing would bolster the Cardinals’ production at DH against RH pitching. In 59 plate appearances vs. RH pitchers this season, the Cards’ left-handed hitters are batting .167 with a .259 slug and .497 OPS. Awful.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, Marmol has used Albert Pujols for 52 plate appearances as the DH against RH pitching and in the role Pujols is batting .125 with a .527 OPS.

Gorman’s second-base defense isn’t his strength. His strength is hitting the baseball. And doing lots of damage against RH pitchers. In 47 plate appearances vs. righthanders as a Cardinal, Gorman is batting .310 with a .383 OBP and .598 slug for a .978 OPS. He also has three doubles, three homers and 10 RBI vs. RH.

By using Gorman as the DH vs. righthanders, several things are accomplished:

– Strengthens the lineup at DH when the Cardinals face a RH starter.

– Gives the Cardinals a stronger middle-infield defense which is important for a ground-ball pitching staff.

– Reduces the number of at-bats for Pujols against RH pitching.

– Corey Dickerson would no longer be the first LH-swinging option at DH against RH pitching.

— The Cardinals would have more full-time lineup muscle against RH pitching. And while they already have that when Gorman plays second base, using him at DH means that weaker links won’t be utilized there instead.

I’m in favor of having a more capable offense. I’m in favor of keeping the middle-infield defense strong. I’m in favor of common sense.

Unless the front office is absolutely committed to playing Gorman at second base and gives the manager firm orders to do so, Marmol should do what’s best for the team.

Maybe this is why LH bat Alec Burleson is being kept at Triple A Memphis instead of being promoted to St. Louis to DH. Were the Cardinals keeping the left-swinging role at DH open for Gorman? We’ll find out.

Hot Harrison Bader: On a message board, I saw a guy writing that Bader “isn’t exactly tearing it up” offensively. Oh. OK. Let’s see here … in his last 100 at-bats going back to May 6, Bader is hitting .310 with a .324 OBP and .460 slug for a .784 OPS. During that time he has four homers, 13 RBI, has scored 18 runs and has swiped eight bases in nine attempts. That and his plus defense in center field … yeah, Harry is killing this team.

I ran out of time and left out Adam Wainwright out of this column but will get to him tomorrow.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.