THE REDBIRD REVIEW
After Tuesday’s dispiriting 6-4 loss at Texas, manager Oli Marmol summed up the bewildering state of the 2023 Cardinals.
“It’s frustrating for sure,” Marmol told reporters on site. “On nights that we hit, we give up more runs, and on nights that we don’t hit, our pitchers have done a nice job. It just hasn’t lined up in a way where it equals a win. So, we have to show up tomorrow and take our best shot again. But is it frustrating? Absolutely. It’s incredibly frustrating.”
The Cardinals have skunked their way to a 25-37 record. Their .403 winning percentage is the most barren in the National League and 28th in the majors. The Cards are visiting the low places, a bleak territory filled with chronic losers that occupy last place and can’t see the postseason from there.
With one game remaining on the six-game road trip to Pittsburgh and Texas, the Cardinals are 0-5. Wednesday’s finale at Globe Life Field is their last chance to snatch a win before coming home for a weekend series against the Reds.
The Cardinals have lost eight of their last 10 and are 10-14 since the 11-3 stretch that represents their only display of impressive baseball this season. Other than that fun trip to make–believe baseball, the Cardinals are 14-34.
Marmol is correct; the Cardinals haven’t had all parts of the team functioning with synchronization in enough games. Lately the No. 1 problem is a frigid offense. Earlier this season, the offense scored plenty of runs but the starting pitching was dreadful. When the offense and the starting pitchers do well simultaneously, the bullpen implodes and an imminent victory gets vanquished. Too many close losses have been subverted by defensive lapses and/or blundering baserunning.
As we already know, this disaster has many parts, many faces. The responsibility is shared by chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., a stale front office led by John Mozeliak, an inexperienced manager, a less capable set of coaches – and of course the players themselves. Pick a name and you have a good chance of correctly identifying a problem.
This roster is representative of DeWitt’s team-building philosophy that puts a lid on payroll and won’t spend big to land a high–caliber starter. A lot of those No. 1 starter types get hurt, yes. There’s an obvious risk, yes, but what about the ace-type starters who stay relatively healthy?
Marmol isn’t getting the best from his roster, but this roster was put together by front-office operatives that constantly overrate the team’s talent. But Marmol already has disrupted his own team’s harmony twice this season, igniting controversy in episodes centered around outfielder Tyler O’Neill and catcher Willson Contreras. And certainly some of his more questionable decisions are a factor in the team’s 6-14 record in one-run games.
It’s such a strange season.
We’re seeing things that make us wonder “What the hell is going on here?” That was a popular question among fans on Twitter last night.
We saw a brief example on Tuesday night when rookie Jordan Walker blasted a monstrous 430-foot solo homer that cut the Texas lead to 6-4.
The TV camera focused on the dugout for the entertaining instant-reaction shot, but only one Cardinal, Andrew Knizner, showed any visibly animated enthusiasm by banging on a dugout railing. The rest were standing or sitting and didn’t put on the happy face until Walker made his way to the dugout entrance for high fives, back pats and cheerful shouting. Why didn’t that dugout come alive the instant Walker’s rocket landed in the second deck?
Again: what’s going on here?
That was a bad look. But to this point of 2023 this is a bad team with bad juju, so I don’t know why I expect more from them.
ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: After 62 games the Cardinals have scored 289 runs and allowed 289 runs. They’re averaging 4.7 runs per game (11th in MLB), and are giving up 4.7 runs per contest (20th) … with Tuesday’s loss the Cardinals are 16-28 this season against opponents with winning records … the Cards are 13-21 on the road, which includes their 0-5 record on the current road trip. They’ve lost seven of their last eight on the road and are 3-9 away from Busch Stadium since May 22 … the Cardinals homered three times Tuesday’s but lost for only the third time this season when doing so. They’re 10-3 when hitting three or more homers.
STANDINGS CHECK: The last-place Cardinals trail the first-place Brewers by 8.5 games and the second-place Pirates by 8 games. That’s quite a tumble for a team that was only four games out of first as recently as May 27. The Cardinals haven’t been 8.5 games out of first place since being 9 games out on May 7. The 2022 division-champ Cardinals were never more than 4.5 games out of first place. The 2021 Cards were 15 games out as late as Sept. 12, but that’s irrelevant. By then they were playing for an NL wild-card spot and had no realistic chance of catching the first-place Brewers.
GLOOMY HISTORY: Since 1901, the 2023 Cardinals are one of only 14 teams in franchise history to have a .403 winning percentage or worse after the first 62 games of a season. Most recently it happened in 1995, and 1990. And, before that, 1980 and 1978. The previous 13 teams all finished with a losing record. The best of the lot were the 1980 Cardinals who ended up 74-88 for a .456 winning percentage.
TRACKING NOLAN GORMAN: He’s hit just one home run since May 22. In 57 plate appearances since then, Gorman is hitting .177 with a .246 onbase percentage, .275 slugging percentage and a .520 OPS. More concerning is his rising strikeout rate. Through May 16, Gorman had struck out in 23.6 percent of his plate appearances. But in his last 18 games since May 17, Gorman’s strikeout rate is 33.7%.
DROUGHT-LIKE CONDITIONS: In eight games from May 14 through May 21, a lively STL offense scored 9 or more runs four times. But in their 14 games since then, the Cards have averaged 3.2 runs, batted .207 overall, and hit .184 with runners in scoring position while going 4-10. The Cardinals have scored three or fewer runs in 10 of their last 12 games.
THE FIFTH SPOT IS A PROBLEM SPOT: The Cardinals haven’t received much production from the No. 5 slot in the lineup. Wilson Contreras has been Oli Marmol’s preferred choice to bat fifth; Contreras has taken 60 percent of the plate appearances there. When batting fifth Contreras has a .212 average, a .307 slug and a .617 OPS. (With two homers and 13 RBI.) Including all hitters that have batted fifth the Cardinals 24th in the majors in onbase percentage, 25th in RBI, 27th in batting average and 28th in slugging at the No. 5 spot. Per wRC+, the Cards are 28 percent below league average offensively from the five hole.
AN OPINION ON CONTRERAS: He has impressive numbers in his hard-hit rate, barrel rate, and average exit velocity. All virtually match his career norms. No doubt, he’s feeling pressure in his transition to a new team, succeeding the retired legend Yadier Molina. And the transition was made even more difficult after Contreras was displaced as the starting catcher in a stupid move earlier this season. The offense will come. Perhaps he’ll get going after hitting a solo home run on Tuesday night.
RANDOM STAT: This season the Cardinals are 5-20 in games started by left-handed pitchers. The Redbirds are 2-10 when Jordan Montgomery starts, 2-8 when Steven Matz starts, and are 1-2 in Matthew Liberatore’s three starts. Inadequate run support is part of this, but still …
THE ROOKIE WATCH: With one game to go in the six-game road trip to Pittsburgh and Texas, Cardinal rookies Alec Burleson and Jordan Walker collectively have 4 hits in 30 at-bats (.133) with four walks and one RBI on Walker’s solo homer. Another rookie, Luken Baker, is 3 for 8 (.375) but has struck out four times in eight plate appearances (50%.) In 264 plate appearances this season St. Louis rookies are batting .240 with a .667 OPS. They’ve collectively produced minus 0.9 WAR, which is the worst in the National League and tied for 29th overall.
TOMMY EDMAN: He’s played only 47.1 innings in center field but has been credited with one defensive run saved. For perspective, that is as many runs saved as Lars Nootbaar has in 193 innings in center. And Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson have combined for a below-average minus 5 defensive runs in center in their 292 innings there.
QUICK NOTE ON DEFENSE: Between 2019 and 2022, the Cardinals ranked no worse than third in the National League for defensive runs saved. They were third in the NL in 2019, first in 2020, first in 2021 and second in 2022. This year the Redbirds are 14th among 15 NL teams in defensive runs saved at minus 17.
1. The first-place Brewers have been working without injured starting pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Wade Miley and Eric Lauer. Not only that, the Crew lost depth starters Aaron Ashby and Brandon Rogers as well. Desperate to plug in a starter, Milwaukee signed right-hander Julio Teheran, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2021. He was available after opting out of his minor-league contract with the Padres. Teheran, 32, signed for $1.5 million, and can earn another $1 million through incentives. Smart move by the Milwaukee front office; Teheran has a 1.56 ERA in his first three starts.
2. Through 63 games, the STL outfield ranks 14th among 15 National League outfield groups with a .693 OPS – and has the worst slugging percentage at .370. St. Louis outfielders have homered only 17 times in 681 at-bats for a ratio of one home run for every 40 at-bats. These numbers don’t include plate appearances taken at DH or any other non-outfield position.
3. Speaking of outfielders, the former Cardinal Lane Thomas is batting .281 with a .337 OBP and .455 slug in 252 plate appearances for the Nationals this season. His stats include 11 doubles, nine homers and 28 runs batted in. Excluding Edman, who is filling in at center field, no St. Louis outfielder has more than four homers or 21 RBI. Thomas has a 121 OPS+ that’s 21 percent above league average offensively. That’s better than any STL outfielder. The best is Lars Nootbaar’s 114 OPS+.
4. The Cardinals traded Lane Thomas for pitcher Jon Lester at the 2021 trade deadline. Thomas had crashed offensively as a Cardinal, and the Redbirds were desperate for a rotation upgrade. Lester was valuable down the stretch. The trade was a smart, common-sense move by St. Louis and still rates as such. That said, why do so many former Cardinals do better after they leave here?
5. It’s Jack Flaherty vs. RHP Jon Gray tonight at Arlington as the Cardinals try to avoid coming up empty on the road trip. Flaherty has a 2.48 ERA in his last five starts and the Cardinals are 4-1 in those games. Gray has a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts, but his 4.44 fielding independent ERA indicates at least some vulnerability.
6. The Rangers are 14-3 since May 19 with a 3.00 ERA over that time. Their 14-3 blitz includes their current streak of eight consecutive wins at home, and they’ve averaged 8.5 runs in those games. In that context the Cardinals have done relatively well in limiting Texas to an average of 5.0 runs in the first two games.
Here are a couple of excerpts from Katie Woo’s lengthy interview with John Mozeliak for The Athletic:
— “Candidly, we’re all looking for the right tools to get ourselves back, but we haven’t chosen the right ones yet. We have to keep trying. The reminder to everyone right now is there are still 10) games left. This isn’t mid-August … it’s early June. So you can right this, but the way you feel today, it feels very daunting to get yourself back to where you can feel that success. But we still believe in this roster, still believe in our staff and I certainly feel there are better days ahead, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we’ve got this figured out.”
— Mozeliak on Oli Marmol: “This is always a tough question to answer, because people will say we’re not winning. But I think he’s done an amazing job. I think he has the trust of the players. Unfortunately he wasn’t dealt the hand he thought he was going to get. You have to make adjustments, those things happen. I do think he does a really good job, and I think most importantly, he has the trust of players.”
— Mozeliak later added this about Marmol: “Anytime you’re in turbulent seas, things get tested. From my standpoint, I trust him, I believe in him and I stand by him.”
(To read the full interview please subscribe to The Athletic. I’m a longtime subscriber and The Athletic is a bargain for the all-encompassing content and quality of reporting, commentary and analysis. Go to TheAthletic.com for more information.)
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.