THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The first-place Milwaukee Brewers left St. Louis with two losses in a three-game series and renewed respect for the Cardinals. Their post-game commentary was filled with praise. Listening to the Brewers, you’d think the Cardinals were 26-18 instead of 18-26.

But after winning eight of their last 10 games and three consecutive series, maybe the Cardinals are a different team. They’ve narrowed Milwaukee’s lead to 6 and 1/2 games in the NL Central.

“They’re a good team,” Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich told reporters after STL’s 3-0 win Wednesday. “They went through a rough stretch, but every team goes through a rough stretch at some point. History kind of tells you that at the end of the season, they’re going to be there. That’s kind of how it works, you know? In a small sample size, it gets blown up into a big deal when they’re not playing good. But they’ve got a lot of players who have been there. You can look at their career track record and know what you’re getting out of these guys. It’s going to even out – and it’s starting to.”

Added Milwaukee utility man Owen Miller: “They obviously got a lot of good players over there. A lot of guys who have a good history of doing well and having success. Some of those teams you look at it and realize those guys are really talented and it’s about time that guys figure it out. It’s baseball. It’s a long season and a long grind. You hear a lot of stuff in the news but when you’re actually playing them some days, you’re going to get a different team. That’s how it goes and they played better than us.”

I don’t want to overstate it, but this was a meaningful series win for the Cardinals. A loss would have meant another series failure. They would have been 8 and ½ behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central. A loss would have slowed the Cardinals’ recent momentum. But in winning their first series at home since defeating Toronto (2-1) in the season-opening weekend at Busch, the Cardinals continued their forward progress. They passed a few tests including competing well under pressure.

Now the Redbirds will measure themselves against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who enter Busch Stadium with the NL’s best record (28-16) and 15 wins in their last 18 games. That stretch includes a three-game sweep of the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium in the final days of April. The Dodgers outscored the Cardinals 14-6 in winning all three.

The Cardinals have improved. But we’ll find out just how much they’ve improved after playing the next four games against the Dodgers.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: After falling to a season-low 14 games under .500 on May 6, the Cardinals have won eight out of ten and have cut their deficit to eight games below .500 for the season … the Cardinals have the NL Central’s best record (8-7) in May, followed by the Reds (7-8), Brewers (6-9), Cubs (5-11), and Pirates (3-11.)

SUPERB PITCHING: It would be unreasonable to ask the Cardinals to pitch better than they did while taking the series from the Brewers. St. Louis pitchers allowed four earned runs in 27 innings for a 1.33 ERA and slung a 29.7 percent strikeout rate. With runners in scoring position the Brewers went 2 for 21 (.095) with 10 strikeouts against St. Louis pitching.

Cards starting pitchers Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery and Matthew Liberatore collectively pitched to a 1.56 ERA in 17 and ⅓ innings. Montgomery gave up three runs in his start. But Flaherty and Liberatore were tremendous, combining to pitch 12 scoreless innings, while yielding only six hits and striking out the Brewers at a whopping rate of 34.7 percent. With runners in scoring position STL starters held the Brewers to an .083 average and struck out seven.

Overall in the three-game set Milwaukee batted only .220 with a .397 onbase percentage and .320 slug … and had a 41.7% strikeout rate with runners in scoring position.

This was easily the best performance by STL pitchers in a series this season. None of the team’s other 13 series come close to matching the pitching excellence that was on display against the Brewers this week.

MORE ON LIBERATORE: His first start of the season for St. Louis was impressive and uplifting and just about everything we hoped for. (Six innings would have been preferable to five innings, but I’ll take the quality five.) There were so many noticeable changes from his rookie season. He’s bigger and stronger and even looks a little older than his actual age of 23. His fastball had more steam. His curveball was surgical. More than anything Liberatore was full of confidence and pitched with an edge that we didn’t really see in his MLB debut season of 2022.

Last season opposing hitters had a 48 percent hard-hit rate against Libby. I know it’s only one game, but last night the Brewers had a hard-hit rate of 33 percent. The four-seam fastball is so much better, and Liberatore doesn’t hesitate to go on the attack with it. Last season, when hitters swung at his four-seamer, they whiffed on it 18.8 percent of the time. Wednesday night the Brewers had a 35% whiff rate on Libby’s heater. That’s exciting stuff for Liberatore and the Cardinals.

Considering the team’s wretched starting pitching early on, Liberatore should have been called to the majors sooner than this. But at least Liberatore is here now, and the rotation got an immediate boost by his five scoreless innings and the conviction he brought to the competition. Liberatore out-pitched 2021 NL Cy Young award winner Corbin Burnes and won the game that gave the Cardinals a series win over the Brewers.

Milwaukee stacked its lineup with right-handed batters to take on the tall St. Louis lefty. The Brewers’ RH batters went 3 for 16 vs. Liberatore and struck out on 31.6 percent of their plate appearances. With runners in scoring position the RH batters were 0 for 4 with two strikeouts against Liberatore.

As Burnes told reporters after last night’s loss: “We had a chance to win the series and couldn’t get anything going against Liberatore.”

PAUL DEJONG DOES IT AGAIN: His two-run homer in the sixth inning gave the Cardinals a much safer 3-0 lead over Milwaukee. It was his fifth bomb of the season. The Cardinals are 5-0 when DeJong homers in a game. Pauly continues to deliver in clutchy situations.

He has a 1.055 OPS with runners in scoring position, a .400 average with two homers and five RBI with runners in scoring position and two outs. In late and close situations DeJong is 6 for 13 (.462) with two homers and 1.303 OPS. And two of his five homers have given the Cardinals the lead. He’s done a good job in two-strike situations, hitting two homers with a .270 average, .459 slug and two homers.

TOMMY EDMAN’S SERIES: In the three games against the Brewers, Edman went 8 for 12 (.667) with a double, homer, two RBI, three stolen bases and five runs scored.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

* Thursday, 6:45 pm: LHP Julio Urias (3.61 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (7.20 ERA.)

* Friday, 7:15 p.m: RHP Tony Gonsolin (1.42 ERA) vs. Steven Matz (5.62 ERA.)

* Saturday, 6:15 pm: RHP Noah Syndergaard (5.94 ERA) vs. Miles Mikolas (4.91 ERA.)

* Sunday, 1:15 pm: Clayton Kershaw (2.52 ERA) vs. Jack Flaherty (5.24 ERA.)

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

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