Welcome to The Redbird Review.
Will the Cardinals swoop in for the NL’s second wild-card spot?
Let me put it this way …
This would not be the formula for a playoff push:
1) Another loss, this time falling to the Detroit Tigers 4-3 on Tuesday night at a quet Busch Stadium. With a game to go, the Cardinals are 2-5 on the current homestand. Ugh. The Cards have lost 10 of their last 15 home games; that includes a 4-5 mark against teams with losing records. I have to say it again: the Cardinals are 5-10 at home since July 31. That’s an odd way of making a push for the playoffs.
2) For the season the Cards are 34-30 at home. Their home winning percentage (.531) ranks 18th overall, and ninth in the National League.
3) In the first seven dates of this Busch Stadium home stay, the Cardinals are averaging 3.1 runs per game, slugging a listless .343, and batting .200 with runners in scoring position.
4) Are the St. Louis hitters tightening under pressure? Maybe. Maybe not. But this may tell us something: with the bases empty during this homestand they’re batting .273 with a .763 OPS. With men on base, and a chance to drive in runs, the Cardinals have batted .203, slugged an anemic .280, and have a weak .554 OPS.
5) With Tuesday’s loss to the Tigers the Cardinals are 11-9 in August, 19-15 since the All-Star break, and have a 23-20 record since July 1. The 23-20 is the seventh-best record in the NL over that time.
JACK FLAHERTY: It was sad to see him struggle against the Tigers, his velocity fading on his four-seam fastball as he pitched to 13 batters before leaving with “shoulder tightness.” Flaherty exited in the third inning after giving up back-to-back homers to Robbie Grossman and Miguel Cabrera. He did not retire a Tiger in the third, finishing the halted starts with a pitching line of two innings, four hits, three walks, two homers and four earned runs.
On Bally Sports Midwest, longtime play-by-play caller Dan McLaughlin noticed it early; Danny Mac alertly noted Flaherty’s discomfort and change in body language. With obvious signs of distress — and a clear pattern of decreased velocity — I was surprised to see Flaherty stay in the game for as long as he did.
In the first inning, Flaherty reached a 94 mph maximum with his four-seam fastball. In a laborious second inning, 16 of 20 four-seam fastballs came in under 92 mph including three recorded at just over 90 mph. Before Jack departed in the third inning his three four-seam fastballs were clocked at 88.5 mph, 88 mph and 87.7 mph.
But Flaherty also tried to pitch through the trouble. He acknowledged his physical unease.
“It just got less comfortable as the game went on,” Flaherty said via postgame Zoom. “Tried to give everything I had and ignore it. We got through the first and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m good. We can keep it going.’ And just in between (the first and second innings), it stiffened up.”
Proud and competitive athletes rarely want to take themselves out of games. They try to shake off the pain, even as it intensifies. They try to deny pain, because they want to keep going — because they care about the team. But that attitude, while admirable in many ways, can lead to bad decisions. And pitchers can’t hide an alarming drop in velocity or their worrisome body language.
The pitchers aren’t in charge. They don’t get paid to make decisions on pitching changes. They aren’t the manager or the pitching coach or the trainer.
Manager Mike Shildt led a delegation to the mound to check on Flaherty; he assured them that everything was OK, and they left him in the game. This was a tough situation for all concerned. But Flaherty was making only his third start after a two-plus month recovery from a torn oblique. At the first sign of affliction, it seemed wise to exercise caution with Flaherty … make that extra caution.
In fairness, if the damage already was done, a more urgent reaction by the dugout staff may not have mattered, anyway. We’ll never know for sure.
As expected Flaherty was placed on the 10-day IL Wednesday morning with a strained right shoulder. “Imaging is mostly negative, which is positive,” Shildt said of Flaherty’s MRI result.
The Cardinals’ quest to reach the postseason just became a lot more difficult.
Are we having fun yet?
— The Cardinals didn’t lose any ground to the Reds or Padres. Both teams lost Tuesday night. The Cards remain 4.5 games behind Cincinnati and 3.5 behind San Diego in the chase for the No. 2 wild card. And the Cardinals maintained their half-game lead over the Phillies, the next team in line.
— Kwang Hyun Kim is the most logical and likely candidate to take Flaherty’s next start. That’s Sunday in Pittsburgh.
— In Tuesday’s loss the Cardinals got their first hitter on base four times in the first inning but couldn’t score a run. In the first seven innings the Cardinals went 0 for 12 with runners on base and 0 for 5 with men in scoring position.
–Fantastic work by the bullpen in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss. Daniel Ponce de Leon, Andrew Miller, Kim, T.J. McFarland and Luis Garcia combined for seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out six. The relief squad did walk four but it didn’t cost them any runs. According to Bally Sports Midwest a STL bullpen hadn’t pitched seven shutout innings in a game since Sept. 2016.
— The Cards bullpen has a 3.09 ERA in August; that ranks sixth in the majors and third in the NL.
— Despite his recent slump, difficulties against RH pitching and average numbers as a hitter at Busch Stadium, Nolan Arenado is batting .351 with a 1.041 OPS with runners in scoring position this season. He has a strong OPS (.852) with runners on base in high-leverage at-bats. And is slightly above the league average offensively with runners in scoring position in high-leverage situations. Arenado leads the Cardinals with 35 two-out RBI, and 29 two-strike RBI.
— Because of a series of injuries, Tyler O’Neill has started in left field in 96 of the team’s 124 games. It’s one thing after another.
— In his last three games for Triple A Memphis, No. 1 prospect Nolan Gorman is six for 10 with two homers. In 83 plate appearances in August, Gorman is batting .333 with a .398 OBP and .600 slug for a .998 OPS.
— Outfielder Dylan Carlson made a positive return to the lineup Tuesday with a double, hit-by-pitch and run scored. In 11 games this month DC is batting .357 with a .417 OBP and .524 slug. That’s a .941 OPS.
— In his last 28 games for the high Class A league team at Peoria, exciting Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker is batting .325 with a .379 OBP and .482 slug for a .861 OPS. At 19, Jordan is the youngest player in the league. And the average age for position players in the Midwest League is 22.5 years.
— The Reds scored four runs in six innings against Brewers ace Corbin Burnes to take a 4-1 lead Tuesday night at Milwaukee. But the Cincinnati bullpen imploded (again), with Michael Lorenzen, Mychal Givens, Tejay Antone and Luis Cessa getting strafed for six runs in 1 and ⅓ innings. And after a long stay on the IL, Antone returned Tuesday but suffered a serious elbow injury while facing his first batter. When healthy Antone is very good. But he may be out of the picture for the rest of the season. Despite the addition of multiple relievers to the staff at the trade deadline, the Reds bullpen has a 5.59 ERA since the All-Star break; that ranks 27th in the majors and 13th in the NL.
— The Reds trail the Brewers by 8.5 games in the NL Central standings. They’ll play two more in Milwaukee to complete the series — and will not face each other during the remainder of the regular season.
— San Diego lost (5-2) at home (5-2) to the Dodgers on Tuesday night; it was the Padres’ 10th defeat in the last 12 games. With three starting pitchers on the IL, the Padres have turned to their bullpen to go with an all-reliever pitching lineup to handle every inning six times in the past 20 games.
— After the Padres swept the Dodgers in June, they were 45-32 and trailed LA by a half-game, and San Francisco by 4 games. The Padres are 23-27 since that time, and now find themselves 11.5 games behind the Giants and 14 game in arrears to the Giants. And their six-game lead over the Reds for the 2nd wild card has frittered away to a one-game deficit. What a crash.
“We built ourselves a nice cushion as far as playoff position,” first baseman Eric Hosmer told reporters in San Diego. “We were fighting for the division. But that’s far gone. That’s not the case anymore. Every game is a must-win now. We’re fighting for our lives. Our playoffs have started,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said Tuesday afternoon. “Every game is a must-win. Every game is huge. It’s at that point in time where it’s now.”
— When the Padres acquired second baseman Adam Frazier from the Pirates near the trade deadline, he was second in the NL in batting average at .324 — and had a .836 OPS. But Frazier is batting only .233 with a .552 OPS for the Padres. He’s 9 for 51 (.176) in the last four games, and had struck out five times in his last 11 at-bats through Tuesday’s loss to the Dodgers.
Thanks for reading.
I’ll post another column today, on Yadier Molina, if you feel inclined to check back and give it a read.
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 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 available at 590thefan.com …
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.