Welcome to The Redbird Review
First things first.
The Albert Pujols home run was FUN.
It stirred a familiar passion, warm feelings, and an appreciation of his leading-man role in the revival of St. Louis baseball for a dominant run. The franchise is trying to get back to that place in time.
The HR was the highlight of the Cards-Dodgers series so far.
And a reminder of the way things used to be at Busch Stadium.
A time when the Cardinals were great.
Thanks for the memories, Albert.
MOVING ON …
I’ve recently stumbled onto a discovery that I’d like to share with you.
Here goes: The Cardinals ain’t that good.
How’s that for brilliant analysis that you can only find right here?
OK, my lame kidding aside …
How much time have we spent talking about the Cardinals, and the good and the bad, and the positive and hopeful trends, and the strengths and weaknesses, and the disappointments and the potential solutions?
How many days have we looked at the NL wild-card standings, and analyzed the difficulty (or ease) of each team’s schedule? I check the Playoff Odds at FanGraphs on a daily basis. It doesn’t give me anything new. Cardinals: still a long shot.
How many times have we overreacted to a brief spell of success? How many times have we been wrong in assuming that an extended hot streak was inevitable, because surely the Cardinals had to be better than this?
And that explains the first two paragraphs to this column. The Cardinals just aren’t that good. It’s as simple as that. And I realize that many or most of you knew that already. But that’s not how it works in sports; fans want to see the best in their team and find sources for hope. And I’m not trying to mean; I’d love the Cardinals to be great again. And to see them playing deep into October.
But in this instance, the amount of hope comes down to one thing: will one of the other wild-card contenders awaken from their lethargy and string together a winning streak that will put the Cardinals out of their misery?
From the St. Louis standpoint, that’s the race. And going into Wednesday’s game vs. the Dodgers, the Cardinals are 3 and ½ games away from grabbing a wild-card pass. It’s possible because other flawed teams have allowed the Redbirds to loiter. The Cardinals haven’t earned their spot in this race; they’ve survived through the carelessness of others.
Here’s what I mean …
Records since Aug. 17 through Sept. 7:
And then there are the Braves, who lead the Phillies by 2.5 games in the NL East, have left an opening for the Phils by winning only five of their last 13 games.
There is no runaway train here. Either the Dodgers or Giants will take the No. 1 wild-card spot. That’s a lock. The No. 2 spot is up for grabs, and none of the so-called contenders can stay on their feet long enough to reach up and snatch it.
This contest is a lyric from a damn nursery rhyme: “We All Fall Down.”
One team will prevail. The others will fall. The Cardinals are part of the pack. Therefore, they have a chance. But if you are like me, and constantly seeking new and enlightening ways to explain the Cards’ normal pattern of results — well, suspend the search, and abandon the search engine.
The Cardinals aren’t a good baseball team.
— They are 51-56 in their last 107 games, going back to May 5.
— They are 46-53 in their last 99 games.
The Cards have some good hitters and good pitchers. Guys that are having good seasons. But the team’s season record (69-68) is the only accounting that really matters.
The Cardinals reached their peak of eight games over .500 on May 29. Their record was 30-22, the fourth-best in the NL behind the Padres, Giants and Dodgers. At that point the Cards were only 3.5 games worse than the top team in the NL. They were only one game behind the Dodgers.
Since then St. Louis is 39-46 for a winning percentage of .459 that ranks 10th among the 15 NL teams — ahead of only the Nationals, Cubs, Marlins, Pirates and Diamondbacks.
Sorry, that’s not a good team.
In matchups against opponents that would be in the 2021 postseason as of now — plus those vying for the second NL wild-card spot — the Cards have won only 24 of 63 games this season for a winning percentage of .381. The nine opponents are the Braves, Giants, White Sox, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres, Reds, Phillies, and Mets.
Sorry. Not a good team.
And that’s been reaffirmed by STL’s current streak of four consecutive losses, a 1-5 record in their last six games, and the unsightly 8-12 mark that immediately followed a six-game winning streak vs. the Pirates and Royals.
As of Wednesday morning, according to FanGraphs, the Cardinals had a 2.8% chance of making the postseason. That seems about right. And if one of the teams (Phillies or Reds) that have an absurdly soft schedule the rest of the way can go on a strong run, the Cardinals are doomed.
1) The Cardinals are 1-4 against the Dodgers this season and have been outscored 37-13.
2) Remember when Mike Shildt complained about a late-night flight from Los Angeles after the third and final game at Dodger Stadium to get back to St. Louis in time for the next day’s series-opener vs. Cincinnati? That opener vs. Cincinnati was a night game, by the way. The Cardinals weren’t exactly sleepless when they took on the Reds.
Shildt was very proud at the way his fellers scratched and clawed in a 4-2 loss.
“Look, those guys answer the bell,” he said after the first game against the Reds. “They’re pro’s pros. I have a ton of respect for our clubhouse, the way they compete, the way they go about it regardless of circumstance. It’s a tremendous trait, it’s a winning trait, it’s a trait of winning teams. You know, give no quarter.
“You know, 10-day road trip, long flight, get in at daylight, and then show up. But you know, the bell rings you gotta answer it. And the guys answered it. They played their tails off. And played all the way right to the end. It was frustrating we couldn’t bring it home.”
3) Three things: (A) The Cardinals lost all four games to the Reds in that series; (B) the Dodgers flew through most of the night after Sunday evening’s important game at San Francisco, caught a few hours of sleep, and appeared for a day game to whup the Cardinals 5-1; (C) the Dodgers didn’t whine about having to travel to St. Louis and play a day game on short rest. Why? Because that’s a part of baseball and the rugged schedule and isn’t even remotely uncommon.
4) Speaking of scratching and clawing: The Cardinals have only 22 comeback wins this season. In the majors only the Nationals (19) and Orioles (20) have fewer comeback victories than St. Louis.
5) Unfortunately It’s much the same story with letting leads slip away. The Cardinals have 33 blown leads this season. And in MLB only five teams have squandered more leads than the Cardinals: the Orioles (43), Twins (41), Cubs (36), Blue Jays (35) and Nationals (34.)
6) A very low count on comeback wins, and an excess of blown leads: not a healthy recipe for winning.
7) Great to see Tyler O’Neil bounce back from a difficult July in which he batted .239 with a .352 slug and .669 OPS. He had only two homers and four RBI in 79 July plate appearances. Since Aug. 1, O’Neill has 12 extra-base hits including six homers, and he’s driven in 14 runs. That goes with a sweet batting line of .317 / .415 / .558. In his last nine games O’Neill is 12 for 32 (.375) with three homers, a .719 slug and six RBI.
8) Yadier Molina has absorbed a lot of punishment behind the plate. I don’t know how he manages to catch as often as he does. It must be extremely difficult for Yadier to perform up to his desired standards. After a strong April and May, he’s struggled at the plate.
9) In 262 plate appearances since June 1, Molina is batting .225 with a .279 onbase percentage and .275 slug. And his .553 OPS over that time ranks 157th among 159 MLB hitters that have a minimum of 250 plate appearances. But as always, he competes to the max, and his value can’t always be measured by the simple math of baseball.
10) Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals against the Dodgers tonight. In his last 17 starts Waino has a 2.24 ERA in 116.1 innings. And hitters have managed to hit only .203 against him, with a .571 OPS. Since June 1, the Cardinals are 13-4 in Wainwright starts. Otherwise, they are 21-30. This is a profoundly valuable pitcher.
11) The Reds come to town after the Dodgers leave, spending the weekend at Busch Stadium for a three-game series. Cincinnati seemed to be well on the way to that No. 2 wild-card before losing nine of their last 14 games. They’re 3-7 in the last 10.
“There’s another level of baseball that we’re capable of playing,” Reds manager David Bell said earlier this week, via Zoom. “That’s why we’re in this position. Our players, everyone in here, is doing everything we can to get back to that point as quick as possible. That’s really all you can do. Just keep playing, keep working and that’s just never, ever a question about the players on this team. That’s kind of where the focus is.”
12) According to FanGraphs the Reds still have a 48.9% chance to make the playoffs. That’s still the best shoot among the wild-card contenders. The Padres are next at 32.6%, followed by the Phillies at 31%.
13) The Cardinals won’t have to deal with Reds outfielder Jesse Winker this weekend. He remains on the IL with a strained intercostal and hasn’t played since Aug. 15 and had a setback in his recovery. The Reds hope Winker can begin a rehab assignment next week. They miss his offense. Winker was hitting .304 with a .955 OPS, 24 homers and 71 RBIs at the time of his injuries.
14) From Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times:
“The Cardinals expected a huge crowd and charged atmosphere for one of Albert Pujols’ two scheduled starts in the four-game series. But Busch Stadium wasn’t even half full at first pitch. The atmosphere was underwhelming. The ballpark filled in some more over the next few innings and the Cardinals announced an attendance of 34,500, but that number seemed exaggerated.
“The scene failed to match the electricity waiting for Pujols when he first visited as an opponent with the Angels in 2019. That weekend, Pujols received resounding standing ovations from sellout crowds before every at-bat. He homered in the second of the three games.”
Thanks for reading …
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 “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
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
* 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.