The Brewers vs. the Cardinals for the NL Central title?

“I think anytime we play them it’s a playoff atmosphere,” Brewers closer Devin Williams said. “I think we’re the two best teams in our division, if you ask me. And we always play each other tough. You know coming in here, that’s what it’s going to be.”

If you accept the premise – that the NL Central will come down to a clash between Milwaukee and St. Louis – the Cardinals screwed up terribly on Tuesday night, letting a 2-1 lead and another one-run verdict slip away.

After being vanquished in Monday’s 18-1 loss to the Cardinals, the Brewers responded with an unyielding 3-2 victory despite losing starting pitcher Wade Miley to a strained lat after he’d faced only seven batters in 1 and ⅔ innings.

By holding the Cardinals off, the Brewers increased their division lead over the Redbirds to 7 and ½ games. The Cardinals should have won Tuesday night at Busch Stadium but failed to capitalize on plentiful run-scoring opportunities.

Because of their failure, the Cardinals blew a chance to clinch a series win and give themselves a shot to complete a three-game sweep of the Crew.

The Cardinals can still take the series, and if they can get past Brewers starter Corbin Burnes to grind out a Wednesday win, they’d cut Milwaukee’s lead to 6 and ½. If the Cardinals lose the today’s game and the series, they’ll trail Milwaukee by 8 and ½ games.

Wednesday’s match is a large one for the Cardinals. Either way, the outcome will result in a two-game swing in the standings. I don’t think the Cardinals want to be 8 and ½ games in arrears to the Brewers with the National League’s best team, the 27-16 Dodgers, arriving in the STL to play four against the NL’s worst team, the 17-26 Redbirds.

But if the Cardinals prevail over the Brewers tonight, no problem. A victory would give the Cardinals their third consecutive series win – and their first series victory at home since the season-opening weekend vs. Toronto. After winning two of three from the Blue Jays the Cardinals have gone 0-4-1 in their last five series at Busch.

May 16, 2023; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Brendan Donovan (33) reacts after striking out against the Milwaukee Brewers during the eighth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports



1. After losing Miley to injury, Brewers manager Craig Counsell activated his bullpen, bringing in a sequence of four relievers that held St. Louis to one run in 7 and ⅓ innings. After the Cardinals took a 2-1 lead off lefty receiver Hoby Milner in the fourth inning, the Crew’s relievers pitched five innings of scoreless relief. The relievers gave the Cardinals chances to make a breakthrough by allowing six hits and six walks in the 7 and ⅓ innings, but the Cardinals flunked.

“They were incredible, they really were,” Counsell told the media while praising his bullpen. “Losing your starter five outs into the game and the job that all of them did and doing some different things tonight and all pitching multiple innings was really, really impressive.”

2. With his adroit bullpen maneuvering in the aftermath of Miley’s unexpected departure, Counsell showed – again – why he’s one of the very best managers in the majors and easily the top manager in the NL Central. The Brewers have a 26-man payroll that’s $58 million less than what the Cardinals have spent for 2023, and Counsell’s team leads St. Louis by 7.5 games.

3. The Cardinals went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position in this game, leaving 12 men on base. They’ve left 333 runners on base this season, third-most in the majors. The Redbirds had at least one runner on base from the second inning through the ninth inning. And they had two runners on in both the eighth and ninth innings. Nolan Arenado hit a solo home run – he’s now gone deep in five straight games – but the Cardinals managed only one other run on an RBI single by Brendan Donovan in the fourth. The Cardinals threatened to tie it up in the eighth and ninth innings but went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position against Devin Williams. The St. Louisan came up huge for Milwaukee by notching a five-out save.


BROKEN HOME: Cardinals have won only seven 21 games at home this season for a .333 winning percentage that’s the worst mark through the first 21 home games of a season since the new Busch Stadium opened in 2006.

Since 1901, this is the fourth-worst home winning percentage by a Cardinals team after the first 21 home games. Here are only clubs that were more hideous through the first 21 home games of a season:

1907, 4-17, .190
1969, 5-16, .238
1903, 6-15, .286

SEASON SERIES UPDATE: After tonight, the Brewers and Cardinals won’t face each other again until Sept. 18. They’ll play four in Milwaukee and then host the Brewers in St. Louis in a three-game series that opens Sept. 26. That will be the next-to-last series of the season for both teams. Going into Wednesday’s game, the Brewers lead the season series 3-2. These head-to-head matchups are important.

Here’s Counsell, commenting on Tuesday’s victory: “You’ve got to win these because they come at a cost. We’re fortunate that we did. Look, anytime you beat a division opponent it’s a big win.”

ONE-RUN MARGINS: Here’s another reason why Milwaukee resides in first place in the NL Central.  The Brewers are 8-2 this season in games determined by one run. The Cardinals are 2-8 in one-run games. Elsewhere in the division in one-run outcomes: Pirates 5-4, Reds 7-11, and Cubs 2-8.

POWER BALL: The Cardinals had a combined 14 hits and walks in this game; Milwaukee had a combined 10 hits and walks. But home runs carried the night, and Milwaukee had a 2-1 edge over the Cardinals to win the longball contest and the game. The Cardinals are 5-21 this season when hitting fewer than two home runs in a game. The Brewers are 14-4 when they hit two or more homers — including a 10-3 mark when they smack exactly two home runs in a game.

WELCOME BACK, MATTHEW LIBERATORE: The 23-year-old lefty was summoned from Triple A Memphis to make Wednesday’s start against the Brewers. This was the right move for several reasons.

Because of a busy schedule, the Cardinals are shifting to a six-man rotation to give each starter a breather – at least for a while. Adam Wainwright, who gets the first extra day of rest, was scheduled to go tonight but now will start against the Dodgers on Thursday.

Liberatore has pitched well for Memphis this season. In eight starts and 46 innings, Libby has a 3.13 ERA and has struck out Triple A hitters at a rate of 30.3 percent, or 11 punchouts per nine innings.

The Brewers are awful against left-handed pitching this season, ranking 29th against them in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging and OPS. And the Crew’s 30.7 percent strikeout rate vs. lefties is the highest (as in worst) in the majors.

This season left-handed starting pitchers have a 2.41 ERA and 31.6 percent strikeout rate in 67.1 innings against Milwaukee. And the lefty starters have limited the Crew to a .219 batting average.

Last season Liberatore made a start against the Brewers and held them scoreless in five innings of work. He allowed only three hits, struck out six of 22 batters faced (27.2%) but did walk three. It was Liberatore’s second big-league start and the Cardinals won 8-3 on May 28.

It’s about dang time for the Cardinals to start getting a positive return on the depressing trade that sent outfielder Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay in exchange for Liberatore, then considered an elite pitching prospect. Libby has a 5.97 ERA in 34.2 big-league innings. Arozarena is 34 percent above league average offensively (per OPS+) since joining the Rays. In the 2020 postseason, Arozarena homered 10 times in 77 at-bats, posted a .442 onbase percentage and .831 slug, and led Tampa Bay to the American League pennant.

A concern about Liberatore: In his first six starts at Memphis this season Liberatore had a 2.12 ERA, allowed a meager .608 OPS, gave up two homers in 33.2 innings and had a 34 percent strikeout rate. But in his last two starts, Liberatore has a 5.84 ERA, allowed a .890 OPS, was walloped for three homers in 12.1 innings, and struck out only 21% of batters faced. There’s been an obvious decline in his last two starts, and on Wednesday night we’ll get a chance to see if it was just a mini-slump or something more.

JORDAN MONTGOMERY: He went 5 and ⅓ innings against the Brewers on Tuesday, giving up eight hits and three earned runs with seven strikeouts and a walk. After being given a slim 2-1 lead, Montgomery put the Brewers in the lead by serving up two solo homers.

In his first seven starts this season Monty had a 3.29 ERA and allowed only two homers in 41 innings. In his last two starts he has a 7.84 ERA and has yielded four home runs and a .711 slug in 10.1 innings.

Cardinals starters rank 23rd in the majors and 12th in the NL with a 5.15 ERA. And the opponent .482 slugging percentage against them ranks 26th overall and 13th in the NL. As always, remember that .482 slugging percentage against St. Louis starters when you hear broadcasters talking incessantly about “soft contact.” The Cards starters are allowing 1.4 homers per nine innings; that’s tied for the 19th-highest rate in MLB.

PAUL DEJONG: He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts on Tuesday. In his last five games, Pauly is 2 for 19 (.105) with a home and a glaring strikeout rate of 41 percent. But for the season DeJong has a 142 OPS+ which means he’s 42 percent above league average offensively despite his recent downturn.

TOMMY EDMAN: The switch-hitter had three hits and a season-high two stolen bases in Tuesday’s game. One hit was a double that put Edman in position to score on Donovan’s RBI single in the fourth to give the Cards a 2-1 lead. In the first two games of this Milwaukee series Edman is 7 for 9 with a home run and double and five runs scored. For the season Edman is batting .275 and slugging .473. With a 122 OPS+, that puts him 22 percent above league average offensively.

RUN TOMMY RUN: Edman has only five stolen bases this season; before last night he hadn’t swiped a base since April 27 at San Francisco. Last season Edman stole 32 bases in 35 attempts for a fantastic success rate of 91.4 percent. And this season he’s snatched five bases in six attempts (83%.) I don’t understand the passivity. When you have an excellent base stealer like Edman who has a 90.2% success rate since the start of 2022 – why isn’t he running more? Because of the rules changes and the larger-sized bases, the number of steals is up substantially this season.

Even with the favorable changes in the game that have opened up the fast lane for stealing, manager Oli Marmol has his team plodding instead of sprinting and it makes little sense. And it makes even less sense when we see that the Cardinals have an 86% success rate on attempted steals this season; they’ve made it safely on 30 of 35 steal attempts.

I’ve pointed to this next stat several times already this season, but let’s update: last season the Cardinals were tied for fourth in the majors by advancing an extra base on batted balls in play at a rate of 46 percent. This season their extra-bases-taken percentage is down to 37% which ranks 25th in the majors. When it comes to baserunning, manager Oli Marmol has turned his guys into turtles.

NOLAN ARENADO, HIGH-FIVE: Here’s what Arenado has done during his last five games:  5 homers, 12 RBI, .476 average, .478 OBP, 1.191 SLG, only three strikeouts. Arenado – who had only two homers in his first 138 at-bats of the season – has bashed six homers in his last 39 ABs.

DYLAN CARLSON: How good is he? As he continues to recover from a sprained ankle, I want to point out that he’s batting only .195 in May and is 25 percent below league average for the month per wRC+. Before that he was 26% below average offensively during the opening month. Carlson heated up for a while, but that didn’t last. And according to Fielding Bible, he’s minus two runs saved defensively in center field this season. Statcast, however has him at plus two outs above average – so yes, there is a conflict in the two defensive ratings. Either way you want to cut it, Carlson’s center-field defense has been average-ish this season.

I didn’t bring this up to pick on Carlson. But the recent declarations out there – he’s improved offensively, and he’s very good defensively in center – just don’t hold up under scrutiny. I just want to hold off. I want to see a lot more.

AS THE OUTFIELD TURNS: In my view the Cardinals have only one outfielder who can be counted on to deliver a consistently good overall performance: Lars Nootbaar. This season, among 48 MLB outfielders that have at least 125 plate appearances this season, Noot is tied with Juan Soto for fourth in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) at 47 percent above league average offensively. And Nootbaar is plus two in defensive runs saved this season in center field.

With Carlson and Tyler O’Neill sidelined by injuries, Oli Marmol continues to shuffle and mix his outfielders. Last night he had Edman in right field, Donovan in left and Nootbaar in center. That was the team’s 16th different outfield combination in 43 games. The Cardinals don’t have a lot to show for their cycling; in the 15-team National League the STL outfield ranks 10th in slugging (.380), 11th in OPS (.710) and 12th in homers (12.)

BREWERS ROTATION IS THINNING: Miley became the latest Milwaukee starting pitcher to go on the IL, following Brandon Woodruff and Aaron Ashby. Woodruff made only two starts this season before suffering a shoulder injury. Ashby was shut down in spring training due to a shoulder problem.

That’s not all. Plug-in starter Colin Rea was optioned to Triple A earlier this week after posting a 5.52 ERA in six starts. Adrian Houser came off the IL and has a 5.19 ERA in two starts. The Brewers are skipping Eric Lauer’s next start to give him a chance to reset after a tough stretch and arm fatigue.

Milwaukee already has used eight different pitchers to start games this season; the only constants have been Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. But Peralta has a 5.29 ERA in his last six starts, and Burnes is pitching with reduced strikeout power.

MORE ON BURNES: The 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner pitches against the Cardinals on Wednesday night, and he had a 1.44 ERA and a 32 percent strikeout rate against the Redbirds in eight starts over the 2021-2022 seasons. But is he the same guy?

From 2019 through 2022, Burnes had a 33 percent strikeout rate, but so far this season it’s only 20%. His swing-and–miss rate is down, opponents aren’t chasing as many pitches, and the contact rate against him is up six percent from last season.

Burnes still has a formidable cutter, but it isn’t as devastating to hitters this season. Burnes was clobbered for a 9.64 ERA in his first two starts of the season. And even though he’s done better since then, his current 4.11 Fielding Independent ERA would be his worst in a season since 2019.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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 or the 590 app.

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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.


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.