Welcome To The Redbird Review

The Cardinals are on a roll! The Birds are ready to fly!

Not really. But the fellers have to start somewhere in their renovation of a problem-plagued season. And if it means stepping on the pitiful Arizona Diamondbacks to lift themselves up, the Cardinals have to win all three games of this series.

I don’t think it’s being greedy to demand three positive outcomes in this set with Arizona. If you can’t sweep a home series against the current opponent, the shortfall would go down as a missed opportunity.

This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.

Go get some Ws.

The Diamondbacks are 22-58 overall this season.

They are 7-45 since May 4.

They are 10-34 on the road this season.

And have lost 26 of their last 27 road games.

The Cardinals can’t fail to max out against Arizona by tripping themselves. Fortunately for the home team, a tense 1-1 struggle was ended by a six-run frenzy in the bottom of the 7th.

There were a couple of abnormalities in Arizona’s pursuit of an upset, but manager Torey Lovullo had a stripped-down and exhausted bullpen so he decided that the team would stand or fall with reliever Alex Young.

Arizona fell.

Again.

Lovullo had Young bat for himself with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth. (Strike one, strike two, strike three.) He kept Young in the competition to keep chucking pitches, and the poor guy ran out of gas, was riding on rims, had no headlights, and smoke was billowing from his engine.

The umpires should have called time to give Young some Spider Tack — on the house. But even a 10-game suspension would have seemed like a vacation to the laboring lefty.

If the Cardinals had to collect this 7-1 win by blowing up a fried reliever’s ERA, well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Mike Shildt had a reason for Happy Talk, and he should have taken the boys out for some ice cream. The Redbirds scored seven runs against a worn-out batting-practice machine, and Jeff Albert was suddenly the greatest hitting coach on the planet. The Cardinals’ pitchers walked only three, and pitching coach Mike Maddux had a chance to give his mound-visit “claw” a rest.

The Cardinals were smiling and bouncing in the dugout, delighted to gain relief from their hideous run of bad baseball since mid-May. This is what happens whenever the 2021 Arizona D-backs come to your town. Batting averages go up, earned-run averages go down, and village becomes a happier place.

Now, gentlemen it’s up to you to go out there and battle your tails off and leave your hearts out on the field and win two more games from this desert version of the 1962 Mets. This is your obligation.

Since May 14 the Cardinals are 15-26, and Arizona is 5-37. To avoid becoming the Diamondbacks, you have to beat the Diamondbacks.

As is, the Cardinals are 38-41 on the season and still trail Milwaukee by 8 games in the NL Central ward. It’s a long way back, but contrats on the first step of the rest of the season.

And guys, you have Carlos Martinez on the mound at Busch Stadium to make Tuesday night’s start. What else could you want? What possibly could go wrong?

AN APPRECIATION OF WADE LEBLANC: If you judge his Monday start by traditional standards, the reaction might be along the lines of, “What are you getting so excited about?” Good point. But here’s what the Cardinals needed after enduring extensive rotation carnage in June: a competent, composed, and intelligent performance by a starting pitcher who doesn’t have the nickname “Waino.”

In his first start as a Cardinal, LeBlanc gave his new team 4.1 innings of veteran professionalism. And don’t be too hard on him for lasting fewer than five or six innings; LeBlanc is acclimating after time spent in the bullpen.

In calmly getting 13 outs Monday, LeBlanc had a strike rate of 66.1 percent, held the D-backs to four hits (one a solo homer) and walked only one. He has a career first-strike percentage of 61.8, and that’s been even higher in recent years. Monday LeBlanc got 11 strikes looking, five swinging, and induced seven ground balls.

FANCY-PANTS STAT: ‘GAME SCORE’ MATTERS. I’ll use the Bill James Game Score for starting pitchers here because it’s easy to understand: all you need to know that the average Game Score is 50.

LeBlanc came in with an above-average 52 on Monday. And in the 20 June games started by someone other than Adam Wainwright, this was only the 8th above-average start for the Cardinals in the 20 games.

Wainwright has an average Game Score of 64 in his five June starts. Very strong. In addition to LeBlanc’s one above-average start, the other seven this month came from Kwang Hyun Kim (two), Johan Oviedo (two), Carlos Martinez (two) and John Gant (one.)

How does a 50+ Game Score translate into success?

When the Cardinals receive a Game Score of 50 or higher from a starting pitcher this season, they’re 31-13.

And when a starter misfires and posts a below-average Game Score, the Cards are 7-28.

Let’s boil it down to June — a dreadful month for the Cardinals, who are 8-17 through Monday. When they’ve been boosted by a 50+ Game Score this month, the Cards are 8-4. And their record when a starter spits up a below-average Game Score in June: well, that would be 0-13.

I think you get the general idea here.

LEBLANC HELD THE LINE: He gave up one run in his 4.1 innings, and that’s meaningful. After the Cardinals lost Sunday’s game to Pittsburgh, manager Mike Shildt fussed (and rightfully so) over his team’s pattern of  pitching problems early in games. The Cardinals found themselves in too many deficit positions in the early innings, and that’s a big negative considering the (mostly) dormant state of the Cardinals offense.

In their previous 26 games before Monday’s series-opening victory over Arizona, the Cardinals trailed 17 times at the end of the 4th inning, led five times at the end of the 4th inning, and were tied four times at the end of the 4th.

The final outcomes:

  • Leading at the end of four: 4-1 record. 
  • Tied at the end of four, 1-3 record. 
  • Trailing at the end of four, 2-15 record. 

During the 26 games, the Cardinals were outscored 90-35 in the first four innings.

No wonder. Over the first four frames the St. Louis pitchers had a 7.44 ERA and allowed an opponent slash line of .280/.384/.390. That’s a .874 OPS. Moreover, Cards pitchers walked 12.6% of batters faced and gave up 40 extra-base hits including 22 homers.

And how did the Cardinals offense do during the first four innings of those 26 games? As you undoubtedly surmised, they did poorly, with a slash line of .209/.274/.346 for a terrible .620 OPS. They had 30 extra-base hits including only 10 homers. They walked only 7% of the time and struck out at a rate of 24%. Opposing pitchers crafted a 3.03 over the first four innings of those 26 games.

The 7-19 record wasn’t exclusively the fault of the Cardinal pitchers. In six of their 19 losses the Cardinals were either tied at the end of four, or losing by just one run at the end of four. In two other losses, the Cards trailed by two runs at the end of four, and a win was still within reach.

Monday, the Cardinals led 1-0 after four innings. And even though LeBlanc gave up the tying solo homer with one out in the top of the fifth, he held the line through 4+ innings. The Cardinals didn’t have to recover from an early-innings pitching collapse this time.

And LeBlanc worked fast.

Put his strong defense to work.

Take notes, other pitchers.

A ROOKIE IS LEADING THE WAY AT LEADOFF: We’re talking about Dylan Carlson, of course. And it’s been only five games, but the rookie center fielder is off to a favorable start in his role as the team’s new No. 1 hitter. In 22 plate appearances batting 1st, Carlson is hitting .300 with a .364 onbase percentage and .600 slugging percentage.

Carlson has a double, triple, homer, four RBI and five runs scored in five games at the top spot. Here’s the interesting part of that: in his first 20 games in June, while still batting 2nd in the lineup, Carlson had only three RBI and six runs scored.

In the first 20 games in June, Carlson had a .268 average, a .750 OPS and had struck out in 28.4% of his plate appearances. In the first five games at leadoff he has the .300 average and .964 OPS with a strikeout rate of 13.6 percent.

The Cardinals have scored 18 runs over the last five games and Carlson has scored or driven in nine of the 18. Small sample, yes. But encouraging just the same.

BONUS NOTE ON CARLSON: “DC” continues to stand as the team’s best hitter with runners in scoring position this season. In 73 plate appearances with RISP Carlson has an impressive slash line of .296/.425/.481 for a superb .906 OPS.

Among Cardinals that have at least 30 plate appearances with runners in scoring position this season here are the top five in OPS: Carlson .906, Nolan Arenado .874, Justin Williams .869, Tyler O’Neill .826 and Paul DeJong .816.

YADIER MOLINA, STILL RESTLESS: He turns 39 next month. And though he’s missed games with minor injuries for two brief stretches this season, Molina has started 57 of the Cards’ 79 games this season and ranks 6th among MLB catchers for most innings caught, with 474. Of the five dudes ahead of him on the innings chart, the oldest is Houston’s Martin Maldonado, age 34.

Molina has started 21 of his team’s 25 games this month including 18 of the last 19. Does Andrew Knizner still work here?

The heavy-duty workload has raised Molina’s career innings-caught total to 17,139, which ranks 5th among catchers during the post-expansion era (1961-present.) And in this post-expansion era Molina is fourth in most games started at catcher, with 1,981. And that’s just the regular season.

Fun fact: with 25 more starts this year, Molina will reach 2,006 career starts in the regular season. OK, so what’s significant about 2,006? Molina’s brothers, Bengie and Jose, combined for 2,005 regular-season starts in their regular-season careers. More MLB games caught for the baby brother than both of his older brothers, combined? Yes. Coming soon.

The wear and tear of catching could be slowing Yadier Molina down offensively. In June he’s batting .176 with a .493 OPS, three doubles, no homers and seven RBI.

TRUE STORY, THE BULLPEN IS SETTLING DOWN: In Monday’s win, the Cardinals kept the Diamondbacks collared with 4.2 innings of scoreless, three-hit, one-walk relief from Ryan Helsley, John Gant, Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller and Brandon Waddell.

This continued the bullpen’s positive trend. In the last 15 games in which at least one reliever has been summoned, the St. Louis bullpen has a 2.43 ERA and has held opponents to a .218 average, .300 OBP and .373 slug. The walk rate over the 15 games was still too high (9.9%) but better than usual. And Cards relievers have stranded 90.7 percent of runners on base during the 15-game upturn.

The St. Louis bullpen had a 3.94 ERA in April, a 4.82 ERA in May, and is sitting at 3.52 for June with only two games remaining this month.

Here’s the monthly walk rate by the bullpen: 14.1% in April, 15% in May, and 10.3% in June.

Another telling statistic is the strand rate, or percentage of runners left on base. Here’s the bullpen’s monthly strand rate: 72.4% in April, 66.1% in May, and 81.8% in June.

HOW ABOUT SOME BIRD BYTES: 

1) A stirring: In his last four games (three starts ) Paul DeJong is 4 for 9 with two homers, 4 RBI, two walks and only one strikeout.

2) DeJong. Edmundo Sosa and Tommy Edman have combined for 8 defensive runs saved at shortstop this season; only two teams have more runs saved at the position than St. Louis. Sosa has saved 4 runs in 225 innings at shortstop, followed by DeJong (3 runs saved, 434 innings) and Edman (1 run saved in 26 innings.)

3) Tyler O’Neill had two hits and scored a run Monday and did not strike out. Perhaps that will get him going. In his previous 16 games before Monday, O’Neill batted .180 with no homers, a .260 slugging percentage, and a strikeout rate of 31.1%.

4) Here are the best records in MLB since May 22: Milwaukee 25-10 (.714), San Francisco 22-11 ( .667), Houston 22-12 (.647.) If the season started on May 22, the Brewers would lead the Cardinals by 13 games in the NL Central. St. Louis is 13-22 since May 22.

5) The Cubs are batting .185 in June.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is also available at 590thefan.com.

 Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

 

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.