THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Note from Bernie: When the Cardinals play a day game on a weekday, I almost always file the Review before the first pitch. I wasn’t able to do that today, Thursday, because of family-related obligations. So I’m writing a shorter version of the Review, to account for Wednesday’s loss and other trends. The stats you’ll see here do not include Thursday’s game at Cincinnati. Thank you!
The Cardinals were thumped 10-3 by the Reds last night and need to win Thursday to salvage a four-game split in the series. After coming into Cincinnati with an 11-3 record in their previous 14 games, the Cards disappointedly dropped two out of the first three games at Great American Ball Park and lost ground in the NL Central standings. Entering Thursday, the Redbirds (22-29) trailed the first-place Brewers by six games, and were five behind the second-place Pirates.
WHY THE CARDINALS LOST
1. Horrendous starting pitching. Lefty Steven Matz gave up four first-inning runs to put his team in a deep crater. In an awful four-inning start Matz was strafed for 11 hits and six earned runs while walking two. In 10 starts this season Matz has a first-inning ERA of 10.80. The only starting pitcher (minimum 10 starts) with a higher first-inning ERA is Pittsburgh’s Johan Oviedo, the former Cardinal, at 12.60. Former Cardinal Lance Lynn has a 10.80 first-inning ERA for the White Sox.
2. Dull offense. Yeah, the St. Louis hitters had to deal with a large early deficit because of Matz. But the Redbirds didn’t score until a solo homer by Brendan Donovan in the fourth, and another solo shot by Lars Nootbaar in the fifth. Nootbaar singled home a run in the ninth. That’s it. In an evening filled with lousy at-bats, the Cardinals made Reds starter Ben Lively (who) look like Mario Soto in his prime. STL went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, struck out nine times and left nine men on.
3. The bullpen. Any chance of a Cardinal comeback was made extra difficult by relievers Chris Stratton and Genesis Cabrera who combined to give up seven hits and four earned runs in four innings.
STAR OF THE GAME
Lars Nootbaar went two for five with the solo homer and RBI single to drive in two of his team’s three runs. Nootbaar went into Thursday’s game with five hits in 12 at-bats (.417) and five RBI in the first three games in Cincinnati.
BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME
Matz. He has a 5.72 ERA in 10 starts this season and the Cardinals are 2-8 in his games. In 19 starts for the Cardinals since signing a four-year, $44 million deal before the 2022 season, Matz is 4-9 with a 5.71 ERA, and has been pelted for a .481 slugging percentage. In 191 plate appearances against right-handed hitters, the lefty has been clobbered for a .353 batting average, .408 onbase percentage, .549 slug, and a .958 OPS.
Among 73 MLB starting pitchers that have worked at least 50 innings this season Matz ranks 70th in ERA, 73rd in batting average against (.324), 70th in slugging percentage against (.505) and 72nd in onbase percentage against (.384.)
And this is the best the Cardinals can do for a starting pitcher? It’s embarrassing. Matz is looking like another pricey free-agent bust for the St. Louis front office led by John Mozeliak
Matz needs to spend some time in the bullpen. If Matthew Liberatore had 10 starts for the Cardinals this season, I’m sure the team would be better than 2-8 in his starts. But the front office has no urgency. You’d think the Cardinals were 29-22 instead of 22-29 through Wednesday.
Still stinks. After a brief spell of quality, the Cardinal starters had a 5.80 ERA in their last seven games through Wednesday. The starter ERA in May is 5.42, which ranks 26th in the majors for the month. For the season the St. Louis starters rank 24th with a 5.74 ERA.
There are no issues with Miles Mikolas. After a bumpy start he’s been excellent, and we saw that again Thursday when he crafted seven scoreless innings against the Reds. At present he’s the team’s only effective and reliable starter but the Cardinals won’t go all-in with Liberatore and make him a full-time rotation piece.
I’ll ask again: where have all the smart people gone?
Through their first 51 games, Cardinal starting pitchers were credited with only 11 wins (tied for 24th) and were 26th in the majors in quality-start percentage (20%.) The Redbirds received only starts of 6+ innings in the first 51 games.
— In his last 10 games through Wednesday, catcher Willson Contreras was 5 for 40 (.125) with a .300 slug and .505 OPS. And when serving as the DH over that time, Contreras was 1-11 for a .091 batting average.
— Cardinal starting pitching has a 5.55 ERA in the first three innings of games, which is fourth-worst in the majors.
— Alec Burleson hasn’t provided much offense this season, and some of the key indicators are going in the wrong direction. I’m talking about an increased chase rate; not swinging at enough pitches in the strike zone; a decreasing hard-hit rate, a lower barrel rate, a decrease in exit velocity, and a significantly lower rate in swinging at the most hittable pitches – also known as “meatballs.”
— Burly only strikes out 11 percent of the time, which is great, but that doesn’t offset the other problems. Last season Burleson took strikes at a rate of 20%, and this year that’s up to 31%. Translation: the big man is letting too many good pitches pass by, and that makes it too easy for opposing pitchers. This season he’s batting .167 against pitchers that have an ERA of 3.50 or lower, and .176 vs. pitchers that have an ERA between 3.51 and 4.25.
— Here’s Ben Clemens of FanGraphs, on the changes made by young Cards slugger Norman Gorman to strengthen his weaknesses – mostly against high fastballs.
“This year, he’s been one of the best five hitters in the game,” Clemens wrote. “Overshoot or no, hot streak or no, he’s found a way to turn what used to be a debilitating weakness into a minor flaw. This is what great major league hitters do: adjust their approach to minimize their weaknesses and accentuate their strengths. And oh, by the way, Gorman only turned 23 two weeks ago. Not that the Cardinals needed more offensive firepower, but it looks like they’ve found some.”
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.