THE REDBIRD REVIEW 

Here’s some deep analysis: the Cardinals are not a good baseball team.

The Cards have some terrific players. They still play fanciful defense and run the bases with impressive skill and intellect. But those qualities, while admirable, won’t put any champagne on ice.

The starting pitching has imploded. The offense is stagnant. The Cardinals continue to get pushed around on the road, and get smacked around by opponents that have a winning record.

I don’t know why people like me keep thinking St. Louis will win the NL Central. It can be done, yes. The Cardinals trail first-place Milwaukee by only three games (how lucky), the remaining schedule is mostly frozen custard, and the front office (yawn) has time to wake up and make roster repairs and enhancements before Tuesday afternoon’s MLB trade deadline.

The Cardinals play in the sorriest division in baseball, and through 98 games they have a better record (51-47) than last season’s STL team (49-49) that surged to 90 wins and a wild-card spot in the NL playoffs.

So it’s hardly a crazy lunge to envision the 2022 Cardinals as a division champ, or a wild-card entry … even if they make it through on the last-chance plan, which I’ll label “Milwaukee Can Still Do Worse Than Us, Right?”

Jul 26, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (5) acknowledge applause from Toronto Blue Jays fans during his first at bat in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

But just because the Cardinals are capable of winning the division, it doesn’t mean they will. And with every passing day, they look less capable of punching and pitching their way out of this.

Tuesday night the Cardinals got whacked 10-3 in Toronto. The loss had little to do with the vax vacation taken by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. They don’t pitch. And though the Cardinals managed to score only three runs – and none after the third inning – we’ve seen the offense fizzle plenty of times in recent weeks with Goldschmidt and/or Arenado in the lineup.

Baseball gives struggling teams the opportunity to get right during a 162-game calendar. The Cardinals don’t reside in a powerhouse division like the AL East or NL East. The Cards get to hang around and creep along in the NL Central, a forgiving place with low standards.

But the trends are ominous.

To recap …

— The Cardinals are 1-3 since returning from the All-Star break. They’re 8-12 in July and their .400 winning percentage for the month ranks 13th in the 15-team NL.

— The Cardinals are 35–37 since May 7.

— They’re 14-20 since peaking at 37-27 and opening a 2 and ½ game lead over the Brewers on June 14.

— The Cards are a horrendous 6-15 on the road since June 7. That includes a 3-8 road record in July. Their overall record when away from Busch Stadium this season is 22-27.

— Since June 7, St. Louis has an overall 5.17 ERA in road games. That ranks 29th among the 30 MLB teams. And their 6.40 starting-pitching ERA on the road since June 7 is the worst in the majors. No wonder they’ve lost 15 of the last 21 on the road over that time.

— The Cardinals have a 5.07 starting-pitching ERA in July (ranked 26th) and a ghastly 7.94 starter ERA this month in road games (30th.)

Let’s turn to the offense …

— The Redbirds have a 18–27 record against winning teams, and a 19-29 mark against opponents that are .500 or better.

— After averaging 5.1 runs per game, batting .262 and slugging .427 over a two-month period (May-June), the Cardinals are averaging 3.8 runs per game, batting .236 and slugging .389 in July.

— In their last 21 games the Cardinals have been (A) shut out five times, (B) scored three runs or fewer 12 times, and (C) scored four runs or fewer 13 times. They’ve averaged 3.7 runs and batted .217 with runners in scoring position in their last 21 contests.

– Goldschmidt and Arenado have combined for nine home runs this month. The other 14 Cardinal hitters that have played in July have combined for 14 homers.

– The power drain is a factor in the NL Central race. The Brewers have hit two or more home runs in 39 games that have produced a 30-9 record. The Cardinals have two or more homers in 28 games with a record of 22-6.

– The inability to hit the ball hard continues to be a factor in the downturn on offense. Through Tuesday the Cardinals ranked 28th in the majors and last in the NL in hard-hit percentage, 20th overall and 10th in the NL in barrel percentage, and 27th overall and 13th in the NL in average exit velocity. Based on the quality of contact the Cardinals have an expected slugging percentage of .379, which ranks 21st in MLB.

We’ll discuss some individual hitters in a couple of minutes. But I’ll wrap up this part of the column by stating the obvious: John Mozeliak and associates have no choice. They have to acquire starting pitching. Not one starter … but two starters … at least. If management neglects the rotation crisis, then they might as well go into the “sellers” mode. Because no so-called contending team can be taken seriously when the rotation falls apart like this.

Fix it.

Or forget it.

No, I don’t think the Cardinals will become sellers at the trade deadline … but I’m just making a point here. If you aren’t going to make meaningful moves to reconstruct a collapsing, hazardous rotation, then why bother to pretend that you’re serious and sincere about winning?

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Tracking Tyler O’Neill: The big guy went 0 for 5 in the series opener at Toronto. The Cardinals have played 98 games, and O’Neill has only five home runs and a .352 slugging percentage on the campaign. Through the Cards’ first 98 games in 2021, O’Neill had 16 home runs and a .517 slug.

O’Neill’s current OPS is .647. Last season through the team’s first 98 games O’Neill was slugging .841. Sure, O’Neill has missed time because of injuries but that’s also part of the problem … again. Since the start of 2021 O’Neill has started only 69.6 percent of STL’s 260 regular-season games.

If you want to know why the Cardinals’ power-ball game is lacking, start with O’Neill’s substantial drop in slugging and homers in the aftermath of his breakout season of 2021.

Albert Pujols, Pretty Amazing: At 42 years old The Machine is still cranking and creating a buzz. He had another fine game Tuesday in Toronto, going 1 for 3 with a walk and an RBI single. Pujols has been one of the team’s best hitters in July. In 47 plate appearances this month Pujols is batting .310 with a .362 OBP and .524 slug for a .886 OPS. His July haul includes two homers, three doubles, five RBI and six runs.

Kudos to Toronto fans for giving Pujols such a warm and extended ovation before his first at-bat in Tuesday’s game. You could tell that the reception and the respect  meant a lot to Pujols. I think he thrives on this … as he should.

Nolan Gorman, Whiffing And Spiraling: The rookie went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts against the Blue Jays in Tuesday’s game. His problems at the plate have taken a serious turn:

— In his first 11 big-league games, Gorman batted .361, slugged .677 and had three homers, three doubles and 10 RBI.

— Since then, in his last 43 games, Gorman is batting .187 with a .338 slug, six homers, three doubles and 12 RBI. And a strikeout rate of 33.3 percent.

— In his last 11 games Gorman is 3 for 37 (.081) with 17 strikeouts. Even though he has two home runs during this stretch, Gorman’s slugging percentage over the 11 games is only .243.

For whatever it’s worth, Gorman’s name is being circulated as a prominent piece of a potential trade package for Washington outfielder Juan Soto.

OK.

You’ll have to forgive me for being burned out on the Soto/STL trade rumors. I’m interested in this, and am looking forward to seeing what the Nationals do. But I’ll pass on hyperventilating over every Soto trade rumor … all seven million of them.

Too Many Quiet Bats: I touched on this earlier this week, but it’s disappointing to see so many Cardinals laboring to generate offense this month. To repeat: these guys can’t expect to be carried all season by Goldschmidt and Arenado. It’s time to step up, boys. But the opposite is taking place. In July, here’s the list of Cards players that are performing below the league average offensively (through Tuesday: Tommy Edman, O’Neill, Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez, Andrew Knizner and Edmundo Sosa.

As The Rotation Turns: Andre Pallante has a 5.59 ERA in his last seven starts, and in those games opponents have batted .318 against him with a .844 OPS. In the team’s first four games in the second half, Cards starters have been torched for 18 earned runs in 19.2 innings. That’s a 8.23 ERA. As a group the Cardinal starters are tied for 26th in the majors with 3.8 WAR. (That’s the FanGraphs version of WAR.) The STL starters rank 19th in the majors and 10th in the NL in Win Probability Added.

Bad Night For The Bullpen: A 3-3 tie game went up in flames for the Cardinals and relievers Jordan Hicks and Junior Fernandez in the sixth inning Tuesday. The Blue Jays tore it up with a five-run inning that included a grand-slam finishing blow of a home run against Fernandez by George Springer. Of course, the instant flash reaction was something along the lines of THE BULLPEN SUCKS, AND IT HAS SUCKED ALL SEASON!!!

No, not really. This has been one of the better bullpens in the majors in July … and for most of the season.

Manager Oli Marmol didn’t give free-agent contracts to T.J. McFarland, Drew VerHagen, Nick Wittgren and Aaron Brooks. Marmol – stuck with them because of front-office misjudgments – had to use those inadequate arms and the four relievers had (or have) a combined 6.50 ERA this season.

All other St. Louis relievers have teamed for a 2.67 ERA, and that’s damn good.

Marmol’s Mistake: In last night’s game, Marmol made a mistake by staying with Hicks past the point of logic. After a strong fifth inning by Hicks, the manager went back with him in the sixth and allowed Hicks to pitch into deep trouble. With one out, the sequence went like this: single, single, RBI single, 4-3 Toronto lead, walk, walk. It made no sense. After a Monday off day, Marmol had a full bullpen, and this bullpen (and the team) will have another day off on Thursday.

Trying to use Hicks for two innings was OK in concept, but when the meltdown began in the sixth, Marmol had to intervene sooner than he did. Instead, Oli watched five consecutive Toronto hitters reach base on a hit or a walk. Why? Marmol had options. As it turned out, Fernandez wasn’t the solution – which is clear AFTER the fact – but that really isn’t the point. The miscalculation was giving Hicks too much leeway after the righthander wandered into danger. It didn’t have to be that way.

For a dude who throws so hard, Hicks has a low strikeout rate (21%) and a hideous walk rate (15.4%) this season. When Hicks can’t find the strike zone, a situation can burst apart in a hurry, and it’s up to Marmol to make a move to prevent or limit the damage.

Next On The Sked: Adam Wainwright vs. Kevin Gausman on a getaway-day Wednesday night. The Blue Jays are pleased, at least so far, by their five-year, $110 million free-agent investment in Gausman. In 18 starts the righthander has a 3.00 ERA, 1.98 FIP and a 28 percent strikeout rate. He doesn’t walk many (4.3%) hitters, either. Gausman does a good job of keeping the ball in the yard, giving up only five homers in 99 innings so far.

As baseball analyst Michael Ajeto noted earlier this season at FiveThirtyEight: “This year, Gausman has leveraged his fastball and splitter into a deadlier combination than ever while also using his slider more often. Hitters are chasing Gausman’s pitches out of the zone at an unprecedented rate, and this isn’t a one-off thing.”

Gausman has a reverse-split thing going. Even though he’s a RH pitcher, he’s done better against LH batters (.617 OPS) than RH batters (.755 OPS) this season.

As the Cardinals go into this game they have a 3-9 record this season against teams from the AL East. And the Yankees will be coming to Busch Stadium for a three-game series that starts Aug. 5.

Thanks for reading …

–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.

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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.