Given the bleak circumstances with their starting pitching, the Cardinals sure could use someone like Jordan Montgomery. If only the Redbirds could have a guy like that. Maybe they should look into it.
Oh, that’s right. Monty was a Cardinal. The Cards did have him. And then they traded him to the Texas Rangers at this year’s deadline in a deal for two prospects.
In parts of two seasons with St. Louis, Montgomery pitched to a 3.31 ERA in 32 starts. That was the team’s top ERA among the seven starters who worked at least 78 innings over the last two seasons. The next closest to Montgomery was Miles Mikolas, who had a 4.04 ERA in 2022-2023.
Montgomery has been manna for the Rangers. He’s been money for the Rangers. Montgomery had a 2.79 ERA in 11 regular-season starts with his new employer, but he’s become increasingly valuable in the Rangers’ pursuit of a World Series.
Late in the regular season Montgomery went 2-0 with an 0.67 ERA in four starts. So far in the postseason, the lefty has a 2.08 ERA in three starts, with Texas winning all three. In two of the three starts — one at Tampa Bay, the other at Houston — he didn’t concede a run in 13 and 1/3 innings.
Take Montgomery’s fantastic regular-season finish and add the postseason, and he has a 1.21 ERA in 44 and ⅓ innings in his last seven starts.
Sunday night at Houston, Montgomery won the individual pitching matchup against Justin Verlander, leading the Rangers to a 2-0 victory over the Astros in ALCS Game 1.
Montgomery kept the dangerous Astros off balance with an array of sinkers, curves, four-seam fastballs and changeups. He allowed five hits, all singles, in 6 and ⅓ scoreless innings while striking out six.
The highlight? Montgomery struck out Houston’s hulking and terrifying slugger Yordan Alvarez three times, once with the bases loaded. One swing by the big man could have changed everything, but Montgomery wouldn’t yield.
How important was this? Before being neutralized in the encounter against Montgomery, Alvarez had a .607 slugging percentage with nine doubles, nine homers and 29 RBI in his last three postseasons.
“He threw a heck of a game tonight,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Montgomery’s performance in Game 1. “He had a good fastball. He was throwing harder than I remember. We hadn’t seen him in a long time. And he had a curveball, pretty good changeup. We had him on the ropes a couple of times.”
True. But the Astros couldn’t land a punch that hurt. Give an assist to former Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux, who helped formulate the strategy to use against Alvarez.
“You know, they had a pretty good game plan,” Baker said. “Mike Maddux is one of the best at game planning. And he was throwing some high fastballs and throwing some breaking balls off the plate. And like I said, I don’t think (Alvarez) had one or two at-bats, if any, against him. And so if we face him again, I’m sure he’ll be much more equipped after seeing (Montgomery) already early in the series.”
The Cardinal factor is part of the ALCS. The Rangers have former Cardinals Montgomery, Maddux, power-hitting right fielder Adolis Garcia, and reliever Chris Stratton.
The Cardinal factor is present in the NLCS, with ex-STL prospect Zac Gallen starting Game 1 for Arizona at Philadelphia on Monday night. As you know, the Cardinals traded developing starting pitchers Gallen and Sandy Alcantara to Miami for outfielder Marcell Ozuna before the 2018 season.
Alcantara won the 2022 National League Cy Young award, and Gallen is among MLB’s finest starting pitchers. Over the last two seasons Gallen’s 3.04 ERA ranks third to Verlander and Kodai Senga among starters that have pitched at least 165 innings.
Gallen grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs (on the New Jersey side) and could drive to Citizens Bank Park in 20 minutes.
“I dreamed of pitching for the Cardinals,” Gallen told reporters on Sunday. “I was a Cardinals fan. Yeah, I don’t know. I wasn’t a Phillies fan as a kid growing up. Mark McGwire was my guy. But I think, yeah, the kid in me wanted to pitch for the Cardinals in the playoffs. But at the same time I wanted to pitch for anybody in the playoffs and be on that stage.”
The Cardinal factor is there in other ways this postseason. You see intimidating, high-velocity bullpens putting hitters away – and the Cardinals need more relievers like them.
From the 2021 postseason through the current tournament, 21 different teams have made the playoffs.
Twelve of the 21 had a postseason bullpen strikeout rate of at least 26 percent – and six were above 30 percent. The Cardinals ranked 20th among the 21 bullpens with a puny 13.4 percent strikeout rate. Yes, I know St. Louis competed in only three playoff games over that time, but that doesn’t change the overall point: this is not a strikeout-pumping bullpen.
You see some truly outstanding front-rotation guys that give their teams an edge. The Cardinals have no elite starters and are desperate to add them this season. Watching the postseason merely reinforces the obvious:
– Phillies Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have combined for a 1.75 ERA in five starts.
– For Texas, Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi have combined for a 1.73 ERA in five starts.
– Gallen and Merrill Kelly (Arizona) have a combined 2.07 ERA in three starts.
– Houston’s rotation is packed with proven big-game starters: Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy and Christian Javier. There have been a couple of clunkers mixed in, but the four have combined for a 10-2 record over the last two postseasons.
I have no idea if the Cardinals have a significant interest in signing Montgomery as a free agent. But Monty’s price has gone up. The timing of his first crack at free agency is ideal.
Teams that covet the higher quality starting pitchers will have to shop in a free-agent market that’s low on volume, giving the more attractive starters a tremendous amount of leverage. Montgomery is represented by agent Scott Boras, who will have a great time pitting teams against each other to drive up the bidding price.
This past season Montgomery said he wanted to remain in St. Louis. But he never said he’d take a discount – and there was no reason for him to do so. Boras doesn’t give bargain rates, and with rare exception he’s taken his free-agent clients into the marketplace instead of signing early. Boras pitchers have reaped extraordinary benefits through his approach.
That’s why it was naive for me or you or anyone to think the Cardinals were in a realistic position to extend Montgomery’s contract before he opted for free agency. It wasn’t going to happen. Not with Boras.
Montgomery’s time with Texas – and having the chance to perform on the postseason stage – will only make him more expensive. This is also true: if St. Louis ownership-management really wants Montgomery, they can make it happen by offering him the sweetest deal.
This can be said about all of the in-demand starting pitchers. Do you want him? Then take a deep breath, overcome your anxiety and pay whatever it takes based on the market rate. And depending on what other teams offer, you may have to go higher and higher to get it done. That’s how the system works. This won’t be a small-ball play, so the Cardinals have to think big, swing big, and spend big.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus 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.