WELCOME TO THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals easily could have been swept in their three-game series at Colorado but persevered through the threat of failure to win the last two games.
It was a burning point that could become a turning point. The Cardinals were fed up with losing and did something about it.
After dropping the series opener 7-4 Monday, the Cardinals made a dramatic comeback from a late four-run deficit to win 9-6 on Tuesday. The Redbirds surrendered a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh on Wednesday afternoon, but wouldn’t let a 4-4 game go the wrong way. And the ensuing 7-4 victory brightened the Cards’ season in several ways.
After losing three of their first four games on their first road trip, the Cardinals showed heart, picked themselves up, and finished with a 3-3 record.
Instead of coming home with a 4-8 record, the Redbirds flew home with a 5-7 mark. There’s no parade for that, but 5-7 sure looks better than 4-8.
With the two straight wins at Coors Field, the Cardinals left Denver with a 2-2 record in their first four series of the season. Considering that the Cardinals lost seven of their first 10 games, a split in their first four series looks pretty good.
The Cardinals checked a few other boxes at Colorado.
There was the reassuring start by Jack Flaherty.
A warming trend for Tyler O’Neill.
A prodigious display of power from Nolan Gorman.
Sustained success at the plate for rookie outfielder Jordan Walker.
The continued emergence of rookie outfielder Alec Burleson, who extended his hitting streak to seven games. He’s hit .346 with a 1.068 OPS during his streak.
A bullpen that allowed two runs in 10 innings at Coors Field and limited the Rockies to a .205 batting average.
An offense that won the final two games by outscoring the Rockies 11-2 over the final three innings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Cardinals found the cable wires to recharge and came home with an improved record and a better state of mind. That’s a start. But the Redbirds must do a lot more of this during their final 17 games in April.
Moving On …
JACK FLAHERTY, HELLUVA JOB: His pitching line against the Rockies: 5.1 innings, five hits, one earned run, one walk, six strikeouts.
The Cardinals needed this.
Jack needed this.
After coping with turbulent control in his first two assignments, Flaherty found the norm for where he needs to be.
Yep. After walking 13 of 45 batters faced (29%) in his first two starts, Flaherty walked one of the 20 batters (5%) he encountered at Colorado.
After posting a strikeout rate of 6.3 per nine innings in his first two starts, Flaherty raised the rate to 10.13 strikeouts per 9 in his start against the Rockies.
In his first two starts, Flaherty threw strikes on 36.5 percent of his pitches. (Ugh.) But against the Rockies he had a strikes-thrown rate of 42.4% Big improvement.
And throwing more strikes helped him. After allowing a strike-zone contact rate of 81.6% in his first two starts, the in-zone rate was 79% vs. Colorado. And when the Rockies made contact, their hard-hit rate against Flaherty was a low 23.1%. This is good stuff … especially in that ballpark.
Jack did a nice job of attacking the Rockies with his four-seam fastball and an improved slider. Opponents are batting .167 with a .208 slugging percentage against Flaherty’s slider this season.
As I noted earlier in the week, Flaherty is damn tough when stuck in jams. For all of his walks Flaherty never folded. He got the big outs to keep the game under control.
In his first two starts, 18 of the 45 hitters faced by Flaherty reached base (40%). But not much came of that; Jack was scratched for only two runs in his 10 innings.
Through three starts Flaherty has allowed only a .176 batting average with runners in scoring position, and a .208 average with men on base. He’s been able to deal with the pressure.
When in trouble, this prideful righthander has competed with max intensity to escape.
Yes, the walks were awful and he’ll have to show that the Colorado start was more than just a one-game respite.
If you look at Flaherty now, he’s allowed only nine hits and three earned runs in 15.1 innings over three starts. Because of the two walk-a-thon starts, Flaherty’s fielding independent ERA is 5.49. And that makes sense. That’s fair. But because of his stubborn refusal to succumb, Flaherty has an actual 1.76 ERA in his three starts. That ERA says a heck of a lot about Flaherty’s competitive character.
BEHOLD THE POWER OF NOLAN GORMAN: The booming 22-year-old slugger put on a show in the three games at Colorado, batting .300 and slugging 1.000. He had the game-winning home run in Tuesday’s 9-6 victory, busting open a 6-6 tie with a leadoff missile in the ninth. He had another game-winning homer on Wednesday, a two-run shot in the eighth that ruptured a 4-4 tie. The Cardinals proceeded to 7-4 triumph.
So where does Gorman stand after 12 games?
* Among MLB hitters with at least 39 plate appearances through Wednesday, Gorman is second with a .750 slugging percentage. Toronto’s Matt Chapman leads with a .851 slug.
* Gorman leads the majors in Isolated Power (ISO) with a .438 percentage. ISO measures the raw power of a hitter by taking only extra-base hits — and the type of extra-base hit — into account. You can calculate ISO simply by taking a hitter’s slugging percentage and subtracting his batting average. Gorman’s .438 ISO tells us that he’s the most powerful hitter in baseball right now. To put it into perspective, Yankee slugger Aaron Judge has a .296 ISO. Yeah, small sample. But Gorman has authentic power. There’s nothing fluky or random about this.
* Gorman is third in the majors with his 1.186 OPS. And he’s sixth in the majors in OPS+, supplying a massive load of offense that’s 118 percent above the MLB average.
* Gorman’s batting average is up to .313, and his onbase percentage (.436) is a pleasant surprise. But it isn’t a fluke … not when Gorman has an 18% walk rate, with nearly as many walks (7) and strikeouts (8.)
MORE GORMAN: For those of you who enjoy the fancy-pants stats: among MLB hitters Gorman is in the 80th percentile for hard-hit rate, the 83rd percentile for barrelling the ball, the 83rd percentile for average velocity, and in the 96th percentile in “chase” rate.
Understand that 100 represents the most elite level of performance in a category. So in terms of plate discipline, Gorman’s current “chase” rate means that only four percent of MLB hitters have swung at a lower percentage at non-strikes than Gorman.
GOLDY+ARENADO: The dynamite duo played a major role in the two consecutive wins at Coors Field. In the final two games, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado combined for six hits in 16 at-bats (.375) with a .417 onbase percentage and .750 slug. The most valuable Cardinals teamed for eight RBI, three doubles, a homer, four walks and four runs scored. Arenado had the homer and five of the eight RBIs.
TYLER O’NEILL IS STIRRING: In Wednesday’s win over the Rockies, O’Neill blasted a 461-foot homer into the forest beyond center field … he singled and stole a base to get into position to score on Taylor Motter’s single … and Bro’Neill ran at top-end speed. Manager Oli Marmol is undoubtedly pleased. In his last five games of the road trip, O’Neill batted .353 with a .389 OBP and .529 slug. O’Neill has increased his hard-hit rate to 60 percent, tied with Burleson for the team lead. Is this the start of something grand? Did Marmol find the ignition switch?
INSPECTING THE OFFENSE: In scoring a total of 11 runs in the final three innings of the last two games to beat the Rockies, the Cardinals batted .345, had a .457 onbase percentage, slugged .655 and hammered three homers and two doubles. The Redbirds kept the pressure on in the late innings of their two wins by walking in 16.7% of their plate appearances, and hitting .455 and slugging .727 with runners in scoring position.
Through their first 12 games the Cardinals rank first in the NL in batting average (.284); are second in onbase percentage (.355), OPS (.801) and OPS+ (119); and are third in slugging (.446.)
The Cardinals’ average of 4.67 runs per game only ranks seventh in the NL, but they’ve been moving up in that category because of a recent increase and power and an improved hitting performance with runners in scoring position.
After homering only four times in 235 at-bats during their 1-6 downturn, the Cardinals homered six times in 74 at-bats in their final two games at Colorado.
In their three games at Colorado the Cardinals batted .350 with a .500 slug with runners in scoring position.
5 THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE ON THE HOMESTAND: The Cardinals begin a seven-game occupancy at Busch Stadium tonight. They’ll have a four-game series with the Pirates, followed by a three-game set against the Diamondbacks.
Here’s a wish list:
1. Have a successful homestand. The Cardinals were 2-4 at Busch in the first week of the season. Don’t assume this will be easy for the Cardinals. The Pirates are 7-5 and in second place in the NL Central. And the D-backs lead the tough NL West with a record of 8-5.
2. A consistently solid run of starting pitching. Flaherty set the tone with his effective showing against the Rockies. Now it’s up to the others to follow. The Cardinals still rank 26th in the majors with a rotation ERA of 5.98. In order, the Cards will start Jordan Montgomery, Jake Woodford, Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas against Pittsburgh.
3. A burst of offense from catcher Willson Contreras. In his first four games as a Cardinal, Contreras went 6 for 17 for a .353 batting average. But since then he’s been slumping with one hit in his last 22 at-bats (.046) and has a 28 percent strikeout rate. For the season Contreras is batting .179 and slugging only .205. He has just one extra-base hit, a double.
4. Brendan Donovan doing Brendan Donovan things: He’s struggling with a .214 average and a surprisingly low .277 onbase percentage, Last season Donovan had a .281 average and .394 OBP. After slugging only .379 last season, Donovan spent the offseason working to improve his power stroke – but his slugging percentage is actually worse (.357) so far in 2023. Compared to last season’s standards, Donovan’s strikeout rate is up by eight percent (to 23.4%) and his walk rate is down by four percent, to 8.5%.
Last season Donovan was 26 percent above league average in OPS+. Early this season he’s 27% below the league average in OPS+. Even though Donovan has been hindered by an unusually low and unlucky batting average (.233) on balls in play, it’s time to start reversing the trends.
5. Rookie Jordan Walker setting a MLB record. If he can get a hit Thursday night against the Pirates, will have a 13-game hit streak at the start of a big-league career by a player age 20 or younger. Walker is tied with Eddie Murphy, who had a career-opening 12-game hitting streak at age 20 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1912. After his first 50 plate appearances in the majors, Walker has a .319 average and a .849 OPS. Using OPS+, he’s 31 percent above league average offensively.
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 were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Statcast, Bill James Online 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.