THE REDBIRD REVIEW
During their three-game winning streak it’s been fun to watch the Cardinals dig in and fight. Their 8-6 victory Monday at Washington was ruthless, with the feisty visitors wiping out an early 5-0 deficit.
This tenacious erasure was meaningful for a Cardinals team that entered the game with only nine comeback victories this season – tied for second-fewest in the majors to Kansas City’s seven.
Comeback wins are vital to a team’s success. Just look at the Reds, who have used 24 come-from-behind triumphs to move into first place in the NL Central.
If the Cardinals are serious about making a push in the division, they’ll have to fix a terrible ratio of comeback wins and blown leads.
I’ll keep this one simple:
Most blown leads: Royals 26, Cardinals 24, White Sox 23.
Fewest comebacks: Royals 7, Cardinals 10, Nationals 10.
To state the obvious, the chances of having sustained success are minimal if your team is tied for the fewest comebacks in the National League and has blown more leads than any NL team.
The Cardinals got it done with an outstanding comeback on Monday, and Jordan Hicks stepped up to save a win for a third consecutive day — and with no chaos.
Of course, it helps when your offense scores eight runs to delete Washington’s five-run lead. That came after the Cards outslugged the Mets with four homers and eight runs and scored eight runs in Sunday’s win at Citi Field.
That won’t happen too often, so it’s necessary to keep more games close.
This will likely be challenge for the Cardinals for three reasons:
1. A starting-pitching group that has a tendency to get stung for early runs. This season the Cardinals have the fourth-worst ERA (5.48) in the majors during the first three innings of a game. The Cardinals have won their last two games despite giving up 12 total runs to the Mets and Nationals. That ain’t easy to do.
2. They’re dependent on a bullpen that ranks 25th in the majors in save percentage. Hicks’ emergence as a fresh closer is potentially so important. Hicks hasn’t allowed a run or conceded a walk in his last four appearances, giving up two hits and striking out 44% of hitters faced over 4.2 innings. But he must take this performance forward without tripping.
3. The offense can’t be counted on to stage dramatic comebacks unless it cashes in with runners in scoring position. They’re 10 for 25 (.400) with RISP during their three-game winning streak. But before that the Cards batted .176 with runners in scoring position over 22 games. They can’t relapse into RISP futility.
If the Redbirds can change the damaging trends that pushed them to their worst start since 1978, they’ll win more games. A lot more games.
HITTING STARS: With the Cardinals down 5-0 in the third, Tommy Edman tripled in a run and scored on a Paul Goldschmidt single. In the fifth Brendan Donovan swatted a huge three-run homer for a 5-5 tie, and Goldschmidt followed up with a solo shot to give the Cardinals a 6-5 lead. Nolan Arenado and Willson Contreras added RBI singles in the seventh to push the lead to 8-5.
The hitting stars of the game:
1. Donovan. His three-run blast tied the game, rattled Washington and emboldened the Cardinals. The Cards, trailing 5-2, had a win expectancy of just 29 percent before Donovan’s big shot. In his last 10 games Donovan is batting .372 with a .438 onbase percentage and a .512 slug.
2. Goldschmidt. He went 2 for 5 with the solo homer and an RBI single. His home run increased the Cards’ win expectancy to 54%. In his last nine games Goldy is batting .342 with a 1.036 OPS, three homers, two doubles and 10 RBI.
3. The No. 8 and No. 9 hitters. That would be Paul Dejong and Tommy Edman. They combined to go 4 for 6 with two walks and scored five five of the team’s eight runs. And Edman’s RBI triple broke the ice for the Cardinals.
A BINGE ON OFFENSE: During their mini-run of three consecutive wins the Cardinals have averaged 7 runs, banged eight homers, slugged .533, put up a .680 slug and a 1.124 OPS with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals hit six total home runs in their two wins over the Mets and added two more in Monday’s victory in Washington. The Redbirds are 18-12 when they hit two or more home runs in a game – and 12-31 when hitting fewer than two homers.
EXCELLENT DEFENSE: Lars Nootbaar returned from the IL Monday and gave the St. Louis outfield an immediate boost defensively. In the bottom of the first, Noot threw out Washington’s Corey Dickerson in his attempt to advance to third base. The play ended the inning. But that wasn’t all for the Cardinal outfielders. In the second inning Donovan’s throw from left field cut down Luis García in his try for second base, and a batter later Edman made a diving catch on a liner to shallow center to deny a hit for the third out of the inning. All three outfielders helped Cards starter Jack Flaherty avoid more damage during his shaky first two innings.
JACK FLAHERTY: Sure, Flaherty deserves respect for largely shutting the Nationals down after giving up five runs in the first two innings Monday. After putting the Cardinals in a 5-0 deficit, Flaherty allowed one run over his final 4.1 innings and pitched into the seventh inning. That was a positive for two reasons (1) he gave the Cardinals a chance to make a comeback, which they did. And (2) the Cardinals didn’t have to go to their bullpen early. As it turned out, relievers Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Jordan Hicks closed Washington out by combining for 3.2 innings of scoreless, one-hit pitching.
That said, the bottom line for Flaherty was six earned runs allowed in 6.1 innings, with only five strikeouts against 25 batters faced. In his last two starts Flaherty has been bruised for 12 earned runs in 10.2 innings – with a subpar strikeout rate of 14.8 percent.
TROUBLE WITH STARTING PITCHING: In STL’s last nine games their starting pitchers have a 6.88 ERA with a poor 13% strikeout rate. And opponents have put up a .879 OPS against them. The early innings have been a torment, with Cards starters getting torched for a first-inning 13.00 ERA – and a 8.00 ERA in the second and third innings.
In six starts since June 10, Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Matthew Liberatore have been strafed for 30 runs in 32.2 innings for a collective 8.26 ERA. Adam Wainwright (4.50) and Jordan Montgomery (4.26) have been respectable over that time.
Overall this season the St. Louis rotation ranks 23rd in the majors with a 4.88 ERA. That’s 12th among the 15 National League teams.
THE PAUL DEJONG REPORT: Though his strikeout rate (29%) remains high, DeJong has emerged from a deep slump over his last seven games.
— In the last seven he’s batted .296 with two homers and a .556 slug. DeJong had two hits Monday to increase his hitting streak to five games, batting .316 with a homer and .526 slug during the heat-up.
— DeJong continues to provide plus defense at shortstop, ranking tied for eighth in MLB at the position with 4 Outs Above Average. That’s especially impressive considering that 21 shortstops have played more innings than DeJong this season. His stellar defense enabled manager Oli Marmol to move shortstop Tommy Edman to center field, and that is strengthening the outfield defense. This point shouldn’t be overlooked.
— DeJong is among the team’s best hitters with runners in scoring position this season, batting .250 with four homers, 15 RBI and a .600 slugging percentage in 40 at-bats. Per wRC+, DeJong is 36 percent above league average offensively when hitting with runners in scoring position.
— DeJong has 1.2 WAR this season, which puts him above notable shortstops such as Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Willy Adames, Brandon Crawford, Javier Baez and Tim Anderson.
— DeJong has a 33.3 percent strikeout rate in June and is hitting .189 batting average in his last 34 games – weaknesses that keep his haters aroused. But reasonable people probably have a more intelligent perspective on DeJong’s season – flaws and all. Among fans and media no one expected DeJong to be slugging .452, averaging a homer every 16.6 at-bats, posting an above-average OPS+ and generating an .886 OPS with runners in scoring position to this point of 2023.
ALL HAIL JORDAN WALKER: First of all, I want to apologize for a typo in my Monday column about Walker; I mistakenly wrote that he had a new 12-game hitting streak. Actually, it was 11 games. But … after two hits against the Nationals on Monday, I can accurately state that the rookie has his second 12-game hit streak of the season. This 12-gamer is a boomer, with a 405 average, .479 onbase percentage, .762 slug, four homers and a 1.241 OPS during the streak.
Among the 11 Cardinals who have at least 140 plate appearances this season, Walker leads the team with a .302 batting average. He’s second in OPS and wRC+ and is third in slugging and onbase percentage. Translated, Walker’s 137 wRC+ makes him 37 percent above league average offensively this season. Only Goldschmidt (143 wRC+) has done better than the rookie. And with his .488 slugging percentage this season, Walker has moved ahead of the slumping Nolan Gorman (.472)
MONITORING NOLAN GORMAN: On May 15, Gorman homered twice and had five RBI in his team’s 18-1 defeat of the Brewers. In his 121 plate appearances over a 30-game stretch since the big night, Gorman is hitting .174 with a .330 slug, five homers and a 39% strikeout rate. In his last 10 games Gorman is 2 for 39 (.051) with a 49% strikeout rate. He appears to be extremely frustrated at the plate.
Gorman, however, continues to play well at second base. He’s improved to a +2 in defensive runs saved this season. Last season Gorman was a minus 5 in defensive runs saved at second.
LET’S KILL ANOTHER FALSE NARRATIVE: I laugh every time I hear or read some media person claim that the Cardinals have weakened their infield defense by “playing infielders in the outfield.” Nothing of the sort has happened. Not even close. It’s absolutely false. Gorman has performed well at second base, and we already noted DeJong’s superb defense at shortstop. And the dudes named Arenado and Goldschmidt aren’t exactly sabotaging the infield defense. Meanwhile, Edman is the team’s best center fielder defensively, and Donovan is a +3 in left field and right field since the start of last season. As I’ve pointed out, both Edman and Donovan have negative defensive-runs-saved numbers as infielders this year. But this stupid narrative just won’t go away.
NL CENTRAL CHECK-IN: The rollicking Reds have won nine in a row to move into first place with a 38-35 record. The Reds have beaten four teams during the streak: Cardinals (2), Royals (3), Astros (3) and Rockies (1) … despite a three-game sweep of the Pirates, the Brewers have lost seven of their last 10 to drop to second place. The Crew has batted .201 with a .326 slug over the last 10 games … pity the poor Pirates; they’ve lost seven straight games while hitting .197 and averaging 2.4 runs in the process.
The Cardinals are 8 games behind Cincinnati, 7 and ½ games behind Milwaukee, 5 behind Pittsburgh and trail the Cubs by 4 and ½. From the St. Louis perspective, it appears that the race has tightened a little.
* The Cards are paying for their 3-4 mark against the Reds this season.
* Starting pitcher Wade Miley has returned to the Milwaukee rotation after spending a month on the IL. But ace Corbin Burnes is struggling (by his standards), Freddy Peralta has a 4.60 ERA, Brandon Woodruff remains on the IL and hasn’t pitched since April 7, and the Crew has leaned on Julio Teheran and Colin Rea to fill rotation spots.
* The Brewers have plenty of problems but have carved out a winning record (37-35.) The rotation has been ripped apart by injuries and the Milwaukee offense is last in the NL in runs per game (4.03), OPS+, batting average, onbase percentage and slugging. Two significant positives: The Brewers are tied for the MLB lead with 39 defensive runs saved, and their bullpen is tied for third in the NL with a 71% save percentage. The Brewers have squandered only 12 leads this season, the fewest in the NL Central.
* After winning their last three games, the Cardinals have a 14.6 percent chance to win the division according to the FanGraphs playoff odds. The Brewers have a 47.7% crack at winning the NLC. And the Reds, surprisingly, have a lower chance of winning the division (14.2%) than the Cardinals.
* The kids are having fun in Cincinnati. This season Reds rookie hitters have combined for 204 hits, 19 homers, 90 RBI, 42 doubles, 11 triples and 31 stolen bases. They lead NL rookie delegations in hits, doubles, triples and RBI and are second to the Diamondback rookies in homers, slugging, onbase percentage and OPS.
* In his first game off the IL, Reds first baseman Joey Votto made his 2023 debut Monday by hitting a solo homer and giving his team the lead with a two-run single in a 5-4 win at Colorado. Welcome back.
* During their seven-game losing streak the Pirates have been clubbed for 46 earned runs in 57 innings for a 7.26 ERA. The starters have a 5.42 during the skid but the relievers are much worse with a 10.32 ERA in the 0-7 collapse.
* Success in one-run games really matters. Just look at the records in one-run outcomes by teams in the NL Central:
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 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Sports Info Solutions, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus.
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.