THE REDBIRD REVIEW

In a familiar scenario that continues to limit their growth in the standings, the Cardinals flubbed another opportunity to win a series when having an advantage going into the final game.

After winning two of the first three games from the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, the Cardinals lost 8-0 on Sunday. So instead of winning three of four, the Cardinals had to settle (again) for a 2-2 split. Instead of winning and moving up to within 1.5 games of the Brewers in the NL Central, the Cardinals were 3.5 games out as the Crew left town.

I know the Cardinals faced a tough assignment in Milwaukee’s Cy Young starter, Corbin Burnes. But the STL offense had one of its most non-competitive showings of the season, scratching for two hits and a walk while striking out 11 times in his seven innings.

Cards starter Miles Mikolas was fine during the first four innings until the Brewers broke through in the fifth and sixth. Bottom line for Mikolas: 5.2 innings, 115 pitches (whoa!), two homers, six earned runs.

The Cardinals are now 1-6 this season when going into the final game of a series with a chance to sweep (three games) or win three out of four. They’re now 0-3 when presented with an opportunity to win a four-game set when leading that series 2-0 or 2-1. All three times the Cardinals left the field with a 2-2 draw. The 2-2 outcome happened in both of the series against Milwaukee.

THE ISSUE OF THE DAY 

At this moment in time, the Cardinals’ five-man rotation consists of Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Matthew Liberatore, Miles Mikolas and Packy Naughton. The depth is thin. The Cardinals needed a starter for Monday afternoon’s game against the Padres at Busch Stadium, and Naughton got the call. This is likely a spot start for Naughton – but hey, the way things are going we can’t be sure.

– Jack Flaherty (shoulder) is supposedly nearing his minor-league rehab assignment. But he’s pitched only 118.2 innings since the conclusion of the 2019 season so … we’ll see.

– Steven Matz is said to be recovering from his shoulder discomfort. A cortisone injection helped move things along. But there isn’t a timetable for a return an he had shoulder problems as a Met, so … we’ll see.

– Jordan Hicks (forearm) is in a state of uncertainty. There’s the injury. When he returns, will he start games (bad idea) or go to the bullpen? Or will he remain in the minors to work on throwing strikes and pitching with tempo after going there on a rehab assignment? … we’ll see.

– Can the rookie Liberatore remain in the rotation and give the Cardinals more of what we saw Saturday during his five shutout innings in the 8-3 victory over Milwaukee? Probably so, but … we’ll see.

– Naughton hasn’t allowed a run In five relief appearances spanning six innings for the Cardinals this season. And this intriguing lefthander has walked only one of 23 batters faced while working in relief. Outstanding. But in six MLB starts (one for STL) Naughton has a 7.84 ERA and has allowed five home runs in 20.2 innings. Can Naughton become a viable starter? We’ll see. (Update: he was very, very good in 2.1 sharp innings against the Padres on Monday.)

— Andre Pallante certainly is worthy of a look as a starter. The rookie has been terrific as an innings man out of the bullpen.

– Here’s another question: why has Packy Naughton appeared in only five games as a reliever this year? Yeah, I know that T.J. McFarland (7.23 ERA) is on The John Mozeliak Scholarship for 2022 … but still.

– I have nothing left to say about Jake Woodford and how he’s being used. The Cardinals have made up their minds, and that’s that. Before Monday’s game Oli Marmol brought out some stats for the media to show how Woodford’s slider makes him vulnerable. And explained how Woodford doesn’t get swings and misses on his slow stuff.  The people who run the Cardinals aren’t into Jake, but I guess he should get to work on the slider.

— I do, however, look forward to the manager’s presentations on other Cardinal starters and their assorted vulnerabilities. Perhaps Marmol can have another session in which he explains why Woodford — flaws and all — has a lower Fielding Independent ERA (3.82) this season than Adam Wainwright (4.02), Dakota Hudson (4.86), Steven Matz (4.29), Jordan Hicks (5.09.) and Matthew Liberatore (4.17.)

Anyway …

This is a precarious situation. The Cardinals are waiting for the injured arms to return. But if Flaherty makes it back it isn’t a cheap shot to wonder if he’ll last. Matz and Hicks have combined to give up 41 earned runs in 66 innings this season; that’s a combined ERA of 5.59.

The Cardinals rotation began cracking around this time a year ago – broken by injuries, ineffectiveness and front-office neglect. From May 30 through July 1 the STL starters combined for a 5.54 ERA and the team went 10-20 during a truly wretched stretch.

In June the front office picked up lefthander Wade LeBlanc and plugged him in. He did a fine job but didn’t make a start until June 28. A little more than a month later, the front office acquired lefty starters Jon Lester and J.A. Happ and the moves provided unexpected stability. That said, the Cardinals’ rotation had rebounded for a 3.44 July ERA before Happ and Lester arrived. But they were effective reinforcements.

Problem is, the Cardinals were desperate for starting pitching during their 10-20 collapse and little was done.

Cards starting pitchers have a 4.81 ERA since May 7, and it’s no surprise to see a 10-11 record over that time.

After a 3.45 ERA in April, the rotation has slumped to a 4.21 ERA in May (through Sunday.)

Trending: down.

The Cardinals used an all-bullpen format Monday. It worked beautifully and the relievers held San Diego to three runs in an 6-3 win. Helluva job by Naughton, Pallante, Gio Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera and Ryan Helsley.

Next up: eight games in seven days beginning Monday. It won’t be an easy ride for the rotation as presently assembled. And I don’t know how many all-bullpen games Marmol and pitching coach Mike Maddux can concoct during this busy time.

I might as well join you in stating the obvious: This seems like a good time to make a trade, an impact trade, for a starting pitcher. But by now we should know better than to expect this. This isn’t how the front office operates. The urgency remains low. There’s an extra wild–card ticket this season, there for an easy claim.

When was the last time the Cardinals acquired a healthy, upper-tier starting pitcher during the season? It happened at the end of July in 2014 when they traded for John Lackey in a deal with the Red Sox. In 43 starts through the end of 2015, Lackey went 16-6 with a 3.10 ERA. And don’t forget – the Cardinals paid Lackey around $550,000 in 2015 because of an existing term in his Red Sox contract.

The Cardinals will do what the Cardinals do: wait it out, cross their fingers on a smooth and speedy return by their injured pitchers, hope that Liberatore will be an answer, hope that Dakota Hudson will magically reduce his walk rate, hope that there’s more swing and miss action from a rotation that has the worst swing-miss rate in the majors, make a wish for more innings from all available hands, and make another wish that the current defensive downturn will end soon. Because this rotation is in trouble if the defense weakens.

Maybe they’ll try to go for another Michael Wacha rookie shocker (aka 2013) by rushing a recent draft pick such as Gordon Graceffo – or a similar lotto ball – to the big leagues. Lefty prospect Zack Thompson may get a call in the near future. Who knows? And if the Cards’ big problem still exists in mid-July, it will be time to hop into the pickup truck to go search the back alleys for salvage-piece furniture. Unless, of course, the front office does a surprising thing by making an aggressive attempt to win and win big. I can’t talk myself into that one, and our fans-and-media pleading won’t change a thing.

The most realistic hope? This is just a rough, unnerving phase that soon will pass. And that’s possible  … but what are the odds? The Cardinals entered Monday ranked 10th in the majors in run prevention and are allowing 3.89 runs per game. But not too long ago they rated among the top five in run prevention, and the immediate goal is to stop the slide. The challenge is more problematic with a defense that isn’t quite as sharp now. Good luck to all.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

1) Through 47 games the Cardinals are 26-21. It’s the same record the Cards had through the first 47 games last year. Update: after beating the Padres in the series opener, make the record 27-21. The Redbirds were 26-22 after their first 48 last year.

2) In six games since scoring 18 runs in the final game to sweep the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the St. Louis offense has averaged 3.8 runs per game while batting .221 with a .281 OBP and .357 slugging percentage for a .638 OPS. That was before Monday’s 6-3 win.

3) The Cardinals have scored three runs or fewer in 20 games this season. They’re 6-14 when it happens. The Cardinals have been shut out four times this season; three were at home.

4) Paul Goldschmidt – as you know – is hurting the baseball during a big-number stretch of memorable hitting. Since April 22, Mr. Paul leads the National League in batting average (.415), hits, runs batted in (39), onbase percentage (.463), slugging (.741), OPS (1.204) and park-and–league adjusted runs created. He’s also second in homers (10) and doubles (14.) He went off again Monday vs. San Diego, and we’ll update his stats festival on Tuesday.

I have only one complaint about this, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Goldy. During his hot-hot-hot streak the Cardinals’ record is 20-17. (Including Monday’s win.) The Cardinals wasted too much of this good thing.

5) As a group Cardinals outfielders are a combined minus 9 in defensive runs saved. That’s a large drop from last season, when the outfield unit was collectively plus 29 in defensive runs saved. Before going to the IL, Tyler O’Neill was a minus 2 in left field. And Dylan Carlson was among the poorest-graded right fielders in the majors at minus 4. Center fielder Harrison Bader is neutral (as in zero) in defensive runs saved so far.

6) In 2021 the St. Louis outfield finished 5th in the majors in batting average, 8th in OBP, 7th in slugging, and 6th in OPS. Through Sunday’s loss to Milwaukee the STL outfield ranked 14th in MLB in batting average (.239), 20th in OBP (.290), 21st in slugging (.353) and 20th in OPS (.642.) Last season the outfield had .778 OPS; the team’s outfielders are 136 points below that so far in 2022.

7) The Cardinals may want to take a look at their tactics on defensive shifts. So far this season the Cards are minus 7 when they don’t shift – and that’s the worst defensive performance on non–shifts in the majors. That, according to Fielding Bible.

8) With Monday’s dubya, the Cardinals are 12-13 against teams with winning records. Getting close.

(9) The Cards are 18-17 overall in their last 35.

10) Nolan Gorman can stay. My goodness.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the sunshine, the backyard gatherings, and/or a day at the ballpark.

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

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.