THE  REDBIRD REVIEW

By now we shouldn’t be surprised when the Cardinals go splat on the road. It didn’t matter that the boys had just completed a rambunctious 6-0 homestand with sweeps of the Cubs and Yankees.

When the Cards boarded the aero plane for their trip to Denver, they metaphorically traveled at the speed of light, taking their seven-game winning streak for a ride.

But after moving into first place and opening a two-game lead on Milwaukee, the Cardinals returned to normal by losing two of three games to a last-place Rockies team that entered the series with a 48-63 record.

When the Cardinals traveled back to St. Louis on Thursday night, they had a 26-30 road record for the season … and only 10 wins in their last 28 games away from Busch Stadium.

Since June 7 the Cardinals have played 10 road series, winning only one of the 10. And that came in Washington D.C. against the worst team in baseball. Otherwise the Cardinals had two series splits, and seven series losses.

Now that they are home again, the Cardinals must love the view of Busch Stadium and presumably are feeling chirpy about their chances to win their weekend showdown series against Milwaukee.

The Cardinals have been embarrassed themselves in too many road games this season, but the ballpark at 700 Clark Ave. brings out their best. They’ve played exceptionally well there, customizing a 35-20 record for a .636 home winning percentage that ranks 5th in the majors and 3rd in the National League. The Cardinals are 8-2-3 in the last 13 series played at Busch. And STL is 27-13 in its last 40 home games.

This Cardinal team has been soft on the road this season — which makes their home-ballpark dominance even more important. The Cardinals and Brewers have played 12 games against each other with each side winning six times. But Milwaukee hosted eight of those 12 games, and the Cardinals get to play in their backyard for five of the seven remaining regular-season games between the rivals.

For now the matter at hand is three home games against the Brewers in an intriguing series that starts at 7:15 p.m. on Friday night. The Brewers return to St. Louis for a two-game series that begins Sept. 13, and the teams will play in Milwaukee starting Sept. 27.

For now let’s zero in on this weekend.

This is a big series.

“I don’t believe in big series,” Cards manager Oli Marmol declared after Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the Rockies. “This was a big series. The Yankees series was a big series. Milwaukee’s coming to town. Our goal is to beat them. That’s it.”

No, Oli.

Wrong.

It’s a big series.

First of all, if the series at Colorado was so “big,” then why did your team play so small in their two losses at Coors Field?

The Cardinals fell behind 12-0 in the first game and lost by 11 runs. In the third game the Cards scored only two runs during the first seven innings and trailed 8-2 before making a belated run that came up short. The Rockies didn’t fold, and won 8-6 to bag a series win.

The Cubs series was big because the Cards and Cubs are blood rivals. The Yankees series was big because the Cardinals had the opportunity to test themselves against the American League’s best team. The Cardinals earned respect by giving the Yankees their only sweep in a three–game series so far in 2022 – only to spit up at Coors Field.

The Cards-Rockies event was “big” only because the Cardinals stumbled again, which allowed the Brewers to cut into the St. Louis lead in a way that lifted the Crew’s morale.

The Rockies series was the latest example of the bizarre complacency we’ve witnessed in the Cardinals on too many occasions this year. And this makes it difficult for me to trust them. And this is coming from a dude that continues to say — strongly — that the Cardinals should win this division … and they should be leading this division by a half-game.

After the disappointment in Denver, the series against the Brewers is definitely big. By winning all three games at Coors, the Cardinals would have increased their lead over the Brewers to 2 and ½ games. But after the Cardinals went soft on the road again, only a half-game separates the top two teams in the NL Central.

The Cardinals have returned to their home base, where they are strong. And they should have a successful weekend. But with this team you just never know.

Soon before the All-Star break I wrote a column that said the Cardinals have the best team in the division and won’t have any excuses if the Brewers finish in first place.

I still feel that way – and then some.

Here’s why I believe it:

Scoring runs and preventing runs. That’s what it’s all about, right? This season the Cardinals are averaging more runs scored per game than the Brewers. And the Cardinals are allowing fewer runs per game than the Brewers. To update a note I’ve used a couple of times: heading into the weekend the Cardinals are one of only five teams in the majors that rank in the top eight in both runs scored per game, and fewest runs allowed per game. The other four teams are the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets and Braves.

The Cardinals improved their team at the trade deadline; the Brewers did not. The Cards acquired two good starting pitchers in Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery and have won all three of their starts so far, with the two lefties combining to allow just three runs in 17 innings. The Brewers traded away their closer, Josh Hader, a move that left his teammates shocked and dejected. The Crew wanted to add a bat to the lineup but couldn’t get a deal done.

Fielding Bible has credited the Cardinals with 45 defensive runs saved this season. The Brewers have been credited with 28 defensive runs saved. According to Fielding Bible, the STL infield has saved 38 runs this season; the MIL infield hasn’t saved any. This matters. The Brewers’ pitching staff has a superior ERA+ when compared to the Cardinals; the difference is nine percent better. Advantage Milwaukee. But the Cardinals give up fewer runs per game than the Brewers. St. Louis ranks 8th in the majors with a rate of 4.05 runs ceded per game; Milwaukee is 16th with a yield of 4.27 runs allowed per game. When measured against the Brewers, the St. Louis defense provides a lot more security for their pitchers. Milwaukee may have the better overall pitching staff, but because of defense STL is more rigid at preventing runs.

–– Sports Info Solutions rates the Cardinals 5th in the majors with a net baserunning gain of plus 66. The Brewers have a net baserunning gain of plus 22.

How could the Cardinals justify losing this division when they have the two best position players in the National League? Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the NL with a combined 12.9 WAR. That’s a massive foundation to build on and gives STL a significant advantage in the race with the Crew.

— Injury issues: Through Thursday Milwaukee players had missed 864 in-season days on the Injured list. With the Cardinals, that days-missed number is 677.

— The Cardinals have gotten more offense than expected from their oldest player, Albert Pujols, and their rookie players including Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and N. Gorman.

The Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedule in the National League. That should matter … unless the Cards continue to screw up on the road. The Cardinals have 25 road games to play; the Brewers have 22.

THE COUNTDOWN: 15 THOUGHTS ON THE CREW-CARDS SERIES

1) In the only other series between the teams at Busch Stadium this season, the Cardinals had a chance to win the four-game set 3-1 but got clobbered by the Crew 8-0 in the final game to settle for a 2-2 split. In fact, both four-game series in Milwaukee earlier this year went the same way: St. Louis failing to win 3-1 by losing the series finale. Enough already. If the Cardinals go into Sunday after winning or splitting the first two games, they have to finish the Brewers off instead of heading for the hammock.

2) Saturday’s pitching matchup is a dandy: Corbin Burnes vs. Adam Wainwright. Wainwright has a 2.69 ERA in 52 starts at Busch Stadium since the beginning of 2019. Burnes, who won the NL Cy Young award last season, has a 1.00 ERA and a 36.3 percent strikeout rate in six starts against STL over the last two seasons. And in three starts and 19 innings pitched at Busch since the start of last season, Burnes hasn’t allowed a run and has limited the Cardinals to five hits and a .079 batting average.

3) The Cardinals will face left-handed starters on Friday (Eric Lauer) and Sunday (Aaron Ashby.) On the surface that should favor the home team. This season the Cardinals are right there with the Yankees as MLB’s best-hitting team against facing lefties – ranking 1st in onbase percentage (.346), 2nd in OPS (.790), 3rd in slugging (.444) and 3rd in batting average (.273.) In park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) the Cardinals are 2nd in the majors at 24 percent above league average. At 26% above league average, the Yankees have the best wRC+ in the majors.

4) In order the Cardinals will go with starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Wainwright and Miles Mikolas in this series. This will be Monty’s second start since coming over from the Yankees, and he pitched five scoreless innings last Saturday in the 1-0 win over his former team. In 23 combined starts at Busch this season Montgomery, Waino and Mikolas have collectively pitched to a 2.38 ERA.

5) If the Cardinals can win this series it sets them up for a stronger position in the NL Central standings. That’s because the Brewers will play seven of their next 10 games against the Dodgers after leaving St. Louis.

6) Update on remaining strength of schedule: The Cardinals have the second-easiest schedule overall – and the easiest in the NL. Their remaining opponents have a combined .459 winning percentage. Only 10 major-league teams have a tougher remaining schedule than the Brewers; their opponents have a combined .507 win percentage.

7) The Brewers are 3-5 with a 3.95 bullpen ERA since trading deluxe closer Josh Hader to the Padres. Opponents have batted .270 with a .339 OBP and .460 slug since Hader moved on. But in fairness to the Brewers, Hader’s struggles have continued in San Diego; he has a 10.12 ERA in his first three appearances (2.2 innings) for the Padres. Hader has a 8.82 since June 7, and a 13.09 ERA (with five homers allowed) since July 4.

8) The Brewers have been decent on the road this season, going 31-28 for the 10th-best road winning percentage (.525) in the majors.

9) Milwaukee definitely has a power-based offense. The Crew ranks 3rd in the majors with an average 1.38 home runs per game, and 4th in at-bats per home run at 24.2. The Brewers have scored 52 percent of their runs this season on homers. They’ve hit two or more homers in a game 46 times and are 33-13 when they do it.

10) The Cardinals have scored 43% of their runs via home runs. The Cards have clubbed two or more homers in 38 games and are 30-8 when they do it. St. Louis ranks 11th in MLB with an average of 1.15 home runs per game.

11) Since the All-Star break Milwaukee’s hottest hitters (based on wRC+) are Kolten Wong, Rowdy Tellez, Hunter Renfroe, Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen and Luis Urias. Four of those guys – Wong, Tellez, Renfroe and Yelich – have performed at least 40 percent above league offensively since the break. Even though the Crew continues to rip homers, they’ve become a more diversified offense, generating runs with good situational hitting and by dabbling in some small ball. I sincerely believe that Milwaukee’s offense is underrated and, to an extent, overlooked. Manager Craig Counsell was (as always) brilliant in his deployment of personnel. In June he moved Yelich to the leadoff spot. And among 37 leadoff hitters that have at least 200 plate appearances at the No. 1 spot, Yelich leads the majors with a .409 OBP.

12) The Cardinals’ best hitters since the All-Star break are Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, Lars Nootbaar and Nolan Gorman. All are at least 32 percent above league average based on wRC+. Arenado is an astonishing 130 percent above league average offensively since the break, and Goldy isn’t far behind at 124% above average. DeJong is 110 percent above the league average since his promotion from the minors on July 30.

13) Lars Nootbaar is becoming an increasingly valuable asset. He had another outstanding day Thursday, reaching base three times on a double and two walks while batting leadoff for the first time this season. Since July 1 “Noot” is hitting .333 with an excellent .437 onbase percentage and a rising .594 slug. That’s a 1.031 OPS, my friends.

14) Rookie Nolan Gorman is up to 22 percent above league average offensively based on his 122 OPS. He’s slugging .531 since the All-Star break. In 40 plate appearances since July 27, Gorman has four homers, two doubles, a .700 slug and 1.122 OPS. Over that time he’s batted .333 with a .400 OBP.

On the season the left-swinging Gorman is slugging .472 against RH pitching with a homer every 15 at-bats. All of Gorman’s homers (13) have come against right-handers. He hasn’t had many at-bats against lefties (only 16) but hasn’t embarrassed himself, hitting .250 with a .743 OPS.

One more quick note on Gorman: He’s crushed it on the road with nine homers, a .533 slug and .877 OPS. But he hasn’t hit it off – yet – with Busch Stadium. In home games Gorman is batting .212 with four homers, a .394 slug and .681 OPS.

15) The Cardinals can make this race a lot easier for themselves in this duel with the Brewers but need a lot of help from Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. Since July 14 O’Neill is batting .172 with a .297 slugging percentage. And in August O’Neill is hitting .143 with a .286 slug. O’Neill went 1 for 13 in the Colorado series and struck out four times Thursday. As for Carlson: he was given the day off Thursday after having only five hits in 47 at-bats (.106) with a .177 onbase percentage and .389 OPS during an 11-game collapse while batting leadoff. O’Neill and Carlson are holding this offense back. That must change.

QUOTES

Milwaukee’s Andrew McCutchen on the Cardinals-Brewers series: “We’d be lying if we said we weren’t looking at it. “Everyone looks at it. You can’t help but see it. I’m a big baseball fan so I’m always watching baseball, always following what’s going on. I see (what the Cardinals do), of course. I also understand we have to take care of business, take care of whatever is in front of us.”

Nolan Arenado on the Brewers: “I know who their starting pitchers are. “They’ve got great starters, and they’ve still got a great bullpen. I don’t look into that, I try not to. I know Josh (Hader) is a great pitcher and arguably the best closer in the game, but the Brewers are just good. But we’re good, too. It’s always been tough against them, neck-and-neck. (This weekend) I don’t expect anything less.”

Thanks for reading and I hope y’all have a wonderful weekend …

Please pardon my typos …

–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.

“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.

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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, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

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.