THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals had a miserable Monday in Atlanta, losing 6-3 in a game that included a 2 hour, 37 minute break from bad pitching. Sitting out a lengthy rain delay may be boring, but the storm gave the Cardinals a chance to evacuate the field and head for shelter.

Though trailing 6-0 at the time of the stoppage, the Cardinals could take comfort … they no longer had to watch starting pitcher Dakota Hudson set the Braves up for more runs with careless pitching.

Hudson gave up nine hits, three walks, a hit batter and six earned runs in his four wonky innings. With the Cardinals stalled on offense, the possibility of overcoming a six-run deficit was more wish than reality. Long odds. Long night. And another loss on a foggy road trip.

The Cardinals need starting pitching. That’s obvious. And pardon me if I don’t think the return of Steven Matz from the IL will be a cure-all. He can help, but to what extent? Will his healing left shoulder object to throwing a baseball 90+ miles per hour in a major-league setting? Bad answer, but we’ll have to wait and see.

But even if Matz stays healthy and provides consistently solid work, the rotation contains plenty of questions.

The Cardinals have a record of 7-11 over the last 18 games with a faltering rotation pitching to a 5.06 ERA. In the 18 games the St. Louis starters have allowed a .288 average, .360 onbase percentage and .458 slug for an opponent .818 OPS.

Miles Mikolas and rookie Andre Pallante have combined for a 2.97 ERA over their six starts since June 15. But the other starting pitchers that have worked during the same run of schedule – Adam Wainwright, Hudson, Jack Flaherty and Matthew Liberatore – have a combined 6.49 ERA after being tattooed for 38 earned runs in 52.2 innings over 12 starts.

During the 18-game sequence the starters delivered an average of fewer than five innings per assignment. Wainwright has a 4.56 ERA in four starts. Hudson has a 7.85 ERA in four starts. Flaherty had a 5.63 ERA in three starts before taking his damaged right shoulder back to the IL. The rookie Liberatore had his pitches bludgeoned by the Phillies for five earned runs in 2.2 innings on Saturday.

Let’s zoom in for a closer look:

Matz had a 6.03 ERA when he departed for the IL on May 23. I’m confident that he’s better than that. But even if Matz makes a successful comeback, it doesn’t mean the others will hold up.

Wainwright will be 41 in August. His chase rate is down, the contact rate against him is up by more than four percent over his career standard, and his current swing-miss rate would be the lowest of his career. He also pitches more effectively at home, with Busch Stadium offering a more controllable setting that favors pitchers.

Mikolas is piling up the innings – fourth in the NL – after barely pitching over the previous two seasons. He’s pitched impressively, but will his stamina last for the next three-plus months?

The lefty Liberatore has a 10.97 ERA on the road and doesn’t have the defense system to subdue RH batters. They have a 1.013 OPS against him. He can develop into a good one, but the Cardinals have to get to work on fixing his primary flaw.

Pallante has been terrific, with a 2.57 ERA in five starts, and a 1.63 ERA in 18 relief appearances. But he hasn’t worked 100-plus innings in a season since college ball in 2018. The Cardinals were excited by his superb seven-inning turn in a matchup against the formidable Sandy Alcantara last week, but is it realistic to expect Pally to be an innings consumer all season?

There are potential internal solutions in the presence of rookie Zack Thompson (currently a reliever.) The organization is clinging to the belief that Flaherty will return later in the season – but are they talking about this season, or August 2023? (Sorry. My sarcasm switch went off automatically.) I don’t think they’ll rush prospects Gordon Graceffo or Michael McGreevy.

So, howsabout a trade?

To pitch deep into the postseason, a team needs three reliable, talented and highly competitive starters that love pressure and do their best on the biggest stage. Do the Cardinals have three starters that fit that description?

No.

OK, then now what?

First of all, the local obsession over Oakland’s Frankie Montas needs to chill. He left his most recent start early because of a barking right shoulder, and he was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Tuesday.

Montas said this to reporters: “I’m always sore. Usually I’ll go out there and pitch and it gets better. But my velocity has never been down. I felt like the best thing was to come out of this game and take a better look at (the shoulder).”

Does that sound like a realistic trade candidate for Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak? A trade candidate that will require a plentiful investment of prospects? If you’re sniffing glue, the answer would be YES.

Just because the Cardinals need a starting pitcher, it doesn’t mean they’ll be aggressive about pursuing one. I’d be surprised if they make a legitimate effort to acquire a starter at all. Maybe this will be the year … I hope so … but history discourages the notion.

Here’s why:

1) NL Central is bilge water. A third wild-card spot was added in each league for 2022. Why worry? The front office can putter around and still make the playoffs. This team hasn’t been built to make an all-encompassing postseason push for a long time.

2) Cardinals are prospect hoarders. And I’ve mentioned this before, but the front office always claims that potential trade partners want the pearls of the STL farm system to make a deal … except when those other ball clubs later trade the starter to another team , the return isn’t close to what the Cardinals claimed.

3) The Franchise ranks second to the Dodgers in average home attendance. The fans are coming to the park because it’s a way of life in the STL summer. And they’re filling even more seats at Busch Stadium this year because it’s the final career season for Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. There’s no pressure from the paying customers.

4) Follow the track record. The Cardinals haven’t made a major in-season trade for a starting pitcher since John Lackey in 2014. And that’s because the price was cheap in the exchange with Boston, and in his hilarious, team-friendly contract. And 2014 happens to be the last time the Cardinals won an NLCS game.

5) Matz is coming back. Everything is fine. You media people need to calm down.

6) Hey! Jack Flaherty will return and he’ll pitch like it’s 2019 all over again!

7) The Franchise still believes in Dak, even though he has a 7.82 ERA in his last five starts and the worst walk rate (11%) by a NL starting pitcher. And the worst strikeout-walk ratio by an NL starter. And the .352 onbase percentage against him is the second-highest against an NL starter.

8) The schedule will soften. A lot. After their current 14-game stretch against the Phillies, Braves and Dodgers the Cardinals will play 49 of their final 70 regular-season games against teams with losing records. Why fret? Even with the problems they are having now, the Cards’ eventual path to the playoffs will be as hard as picking flowers on a garden stroll. So why trade away part of the future?

9) Remember the summer of 2021. The Cardinals faced a more gruesome situation with their starting pitching last season. During a 10-19 stretch that ended around July 1, St. Louis had the second-worst rotation ERA (5.73) in the NL. And enduring an 11-22 slog through July 4, the Cardinals were knocked out of the division race and had no realistic chance to catch the Brewers.

Did management display any dramatic urgency during this stressful time? No. Wade LeBlanc was a helpful pickup, and the trade-deadline deals for Jon Lester and J.A. Happ turned out better than hoped or expected.

Ah, but that experience only decreases the likelihood of this team making a substantial, costly trade for a high-tier starting pitcher. If you can save your season, win 90 games and make the playoffs after adding Lester and Happ at the trade 2021 deadline, then why “panic” and barter top prospects to land a more elite starting pitcher? Unless STL management changes its outlook between now and the Aug. 2 deadline, making a trade won’t be about giving the team enhanced starting-pitching matchups in the postseason. It’s all about making it to the postseason.

From a management standpoint, the Cardinals always show us, and tell us, who they are. And by now we should know what to expect from them.

Jul 4, 2022; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Conner Capel (71) runs after hitting a home run against the Atlanta Braves during the sixth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Standings: The Brewers broke the Cubs in extra innings Monday, winning 5-2 at home on a walk-off three-run homer by Victor Caratini. With the Milwaukee win, and STL’s loss in Atlanta, the Crew leads the second-place Cardinals by 3 games in the NL Central … Manager Craig Counsell’s Milwaukee team is 12-5 since June 17 and has gone 7-2 in the last nine … The Brewers are 13-6 since the Cardinals – in first place at the time – opened a lead of 2.5 games over the second-place Crew on June 14. Since then there’s been a swing of 5 and ½ games in Milwaukee’s favor for the top spot in the division … In the Wild Card derby the Cardinals are clinging to the third and last spot, one game ahead of the Phillies and 2 ahead of the Giants.

The Accounting Department: Going in the wrong direction? Yes, for sure. The Cardinals are 1-4 in their last five games, and 1-3 on the current seven-game road trip … since residing in first place by 2.5 games on June 14 the Cards have lost 11 of 18 games … they are 15–17 since completing a three-game sweep of the Padres on June 1 … St. Louis is 28-28 since May 7 …

With the loss to the Braves the Cardinals drifted to 18-23 this season against opponents with winning records. That includes a 9-17 mark against winning teams on the road … the Cards are 5-15 in their last 20 road games against foes with winning records … the Cardinals are 3-8 so far this season against the Braves, Phillies and Mets … The Cardinals (44-38) are six games over .500. They hadn’t been only six games over .500 since losing at Tampa Bay on June 9 to fall to 32-26.

Is It Legally Permissible For Me To Inform You That Tommy Edman Is Slumping? I had to check. Not too many media people want to go there. Anyway, here’s some info: Edman is 3 for 18 (.167) in his last five games with a .211 OBP and .377 OPS. He’s been heading this way for a while.

At the close of business on June 4, the Cards’ leadoff man had a .281 average, a healthy .357 onbase percentage and a robust .424 slugging percentage for a .780 OPS. His performance to that point included 16 extra-base hits, a low 16.6 percent strikeout rate and a good walk rate of 9.2%. Across the board, it was an outstanding start (offensively) to the season for Tommy.

But in 122 plate appearances since then, Edman is batting .239 with a subpar .295 OBP and a low .327 slug for a .623 OPS. He’s struck out more (21.3%) and walked less (7.3%) over that time. The switch-hitting Edman has a .247 average and .634 OPS vs. right-handed pitching in 92 plate appearances against them since June 5.

For the record I’m confident Edman will rebound. The dude plays so much – and does it so aggressively – it’s got to be tiring. Even for him.

Oli Marmol On Dak: “It’s the big leagues. It’s about performance. This isn’t a tryout. I think we would agree – and he would say – that we need better. That’s where we’re at.”

And: “At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to put people away. Bottom line. The game is about missing bats. So, you’ve either got to be really good at being on the ground and not giving up free passes or you have to miss bats. I think it’s pretty clear that he’s more of the contact, on-the-ground. If you’re going to be that, you can’t walk people.”

State Of The Offense: Some Good And More Bad: As noted, the Cardinals are 1-4 in their last five games. There are many malfunctioning parts right now, including the starting pitching. But during the five-game stretch the Cardinals are hitting .214 overall, with a terrible .294 OBP. They’re doing some slugging (.424), and have hit eight homers in the last five. But here’s the most damaging offensive statistic over the last five games: The Cardinals are 3 for 34 with runners in scoring position for an .088 batting average.

Stretching this out a bit, the Cards are 4-7 in their last 11 games. And in five of the 11 they’ve managed just three or fewer runs and have been shut out twice. They have 15 homers and a .446 slugging percentage in the last 11 games – but are averaging only 4 runs per.

The Cardinals are capable of finding other ways to score without home-run muscle but have slacked off in this area as of late. Their batting average with RISP over the last 11 games is .192.

The Cardinals’ season average of 4.71 runs per game is 6th in the NL. They’ve dropped from No. 3 in the rankings in recent days after scoring only 16 runs in their last five games. And seven of the 16 runs were scored Saturday at Philadelphia – meaning that the Cardinals had only nine total runs in the other four games.

Another Problem: The No. 8 and No. 9 Lineup Spots. Say what you want about Harrison Bader, but he has above-average stats this season when batting 8th or 9th in the lineup, hitting .270 with a .418 slug and .722 OPS when used at either spot.

With Bader’s absence and the horrendous hitting by St. Louis catchers, and here’s what you have over the last 11 games from the No. 8 and No. 9 slots combined over the last seven games: .114 average, .216 OBP, .273 slug and .488 OPS. During the 4-7 stretch the No. 8-9 spots have collectively batted .159 with a .569 OPS. That includes some minor contributions from a hurting Bader before he went on the IL with a foot injury.

So when your team is receiving crumbs of offense from the 8-9 spots, and the No. 1 hitter (Edman) is struggling, the production and consistency will deteriorate. Except for the non-offense from the catchers, this will likely improve soon. Bader is feeling more comfortable. The imminent return of Tyler O’Neill will deepen the lineup and give the manager more appealing options.

Hard Times For Albert Pujols: His pinch-hit tap out ended Monday’s ninth-inning comeback attempt in Atlanta. Pujols has been in a deep freeze offensively after homering twice in the May 22 victory at Pittsburgh.

In 67 plate appearances since May 23, Pujols is 8 for 57 (.140) with a .224 OBP and .175 slug for a .399 OPS.

Pujols largely has been a non-factor against RH pitching this season, batting .137 with a .509 OPS in 87 plate appearances.

And though Pujols is slugging .449 with a .740 OPS in 55 PA against lefties this season, his strong start didn’t hold. In 31 plate appearances vs. LHP since May 23, Pujols is 4 for 27 (.148) with a .346 OPS and one extra-base hit, a double.

Commentary On Conner Capel: Nice game by the 25-year-old rookie in Monday’s loss. Capel went 1 for 2 with a homer, sac fly and two RBIs. He’s had only 1o plate appearances since being promoted from Triple A Memphis, but I like the way he handles himself at the plate. So far we’ve seen a LH batter who doesn’t swing at everything (no strikeouts) and drives pitches to the center section of the field.

With Bader and O’Neill returning soon, I don’t know if the Cardinals will have room for Capel. Manager Oli Marmol likes to use Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan in the corner outfield spots, and they’re in there for their offense. Lars Nootbaar hasn’t done much in his 81 MLB plate appearances this season, batting .139 with a .472 OPS and a 31 percent strikeout rate.

Capel hasn’t been used in center field by the Cardinals, and in Memphis he mostly was assigned to right field. But during his minor-league career Capel played 196 games in center, 174 in right, and 148 in left. Perhaps Capel will have a chance to strengthen his case over the next several days and make his bid to stay with the big club.

Unless O’Neill (hamstring) has a setback he should be back in the STL lineup for this weekend’s home series against the Phillies. Bader is making progress and should be ready just before – or after – the All-Star break. And what about outfielder Corey Dickerson? He’s still rehabbing something somewhere.

Frankly, I think the roster math works against Capel. We’ll see.

Monitoring The Brewers: As previously noted, The Crew has won seven of their last nine and 12 out of 19. Normally we’d tell you about their stellar pitching led by a dominant rotation. But that’s not why the Brewers have been winning.

During their 12-5 turnaround that pulled them out of an extreme slump, the Brewers lead the National League in runs per game (5.7), homers (33), doubles, slugging percentage (.491), walk rate (11.1%) and OPS (.839.) And their starting pitching over that time? The Brewers rank 17th in the majors with a 4.42 rotation ERA since June 17.

In going 7-2 in their last nine, the Brewers have averaged 6.9 runs and 2.1 home runs per game with a .357 OBP, .527 slug and .884 OPS. The rotation got a boost with the return of Brandon Woodruff. And though they’ve lost another starter (Adrian Hauser) to the IL, the void will be handled by lefty Aaron Ashby, who missed two weeks with forearm tightness. Milwaukee’s five-man rotation presently consists of Corbin Burnes, Woodruff, Eric Lauer, Ashby and Jason Alexander.

Corner outfielder Hunter Renfroe (calf strain) remains on the IL, but in their 7-2 streak the Brewers have been ignited by five homers and 10 RBIs from Rowdy Tellez, and five homers and 16 RBI (combined) from Luis Urias and Caratini. Don’t look now, but over his last 13 games a resurgent Christian Yelich has a slash line of .354 / .492 / .500 for a .992 OPS. Still isn’t hitting many home runs, though.

Thanks for reading …

– Bernie

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.

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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.