THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals probably aren’t cursed, but they’re definitely leaving their fans cursing. A farce of a season became even more ludicrous Wednesday when closer Jordan Hicks, appointed to protect a one-run lead, shot an airball that floated over the head of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
This wasn’t as bad as China’s spy balloon that mysteriously hovered over sections of the United States earlier this year, but the visual was stunning. Two Marlins scored on the Hicks’ airborne debacle, and the sad-sack Cardinals found yet another preposterous way to stagger and fall, losing 10-9.
I guess that’s one way to put it.
Goldy isn’t as tall as, say, the late NBA center Manute Bol. So the Hicks lob pass went out of bounds and rolled for about half-mile. Or so it seemed.
The Cardinals have lost three in a row at Miami. They are 2-6 in their last eight games. They have won only four of their last 12. At least they are being creative — and full of surprises — while losing so many games.
At 35-51 the Redbirds are wallowing 16 games under .500 for the first time this season. They need a telescope to spot the first-place Reds, who are running and gunning their way to a mad rush of wins to lead the ramshackle Cardinals by 12 and ½ games in the NL Central.
How low can the Cardinals go?
Their latest loss was a Kubrick film.
This is what their season has come to:
A) According to FanGraphs, the St. Louis playoff odds are down to 5.4 percent, and their shot at winning the NL Central is 4.9%. Both are season lows.
B) Fans and media are busy concocting an endless assortment of fantasy trades as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak slouches into the “sellers” mode. Our friend R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports placed three Cardinals on his Top 20 list of the best trade candidates: starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery (3), shortstop Paul DeJong (5), and reliever Jordan Hicks (15.) Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty wasn’t included on the list of the 20 most appealing trade chips, but he’d likely be on the next level down if the Cardinals can make a worthwhile trade. Anderson rated Montgomery as the third-best starting pitcher on the potential trade market behind Max Scherzer and Lucas Giolito. (He’s presumably assuming the Cubs hang onto Marcus Stroman.) Another name to watch: reliever Ryan Helsey, if he’s healthy. His contract runs through 2024 which means the Cardinals could secure more value in a trade. In theory, anyway.
C) The search for historical evidence that confirms the abhorrent, shocking reality of their 2023 season.
Here’s an example.
The 10 worst winning percentages by a Cardinals team through the first 86 games of the season:
Your Redbirds have spent 62 days in last place overall this season, and have been stuck in the ooze for 31 straight games in a stenchy stretch that began May 29. I wasn’t around these parts in the 1970s, but I’ve gotten a sense of what the experience must have been like for Cardinals fans during that lost decade.
QUICK NOTE ON OLI MARMOL
Marmol won 93 games in his rookie season as Cardinals manager.
Based on the team’s current pace, Marmol is heading for 96 losses in his second year as manager.
1. In June-July the Cardinals have a 5.71 bullpen ERA that ranks 27th in the majors. And the bullpen’s 20.8% strikeout rate over that time ranks 26th. Opponents have battered Cardinals relievers for a .353 OBP and .448 slug over that time.
2. In the eight games since June 28 the St. Louis bullpen has been lacerated for 33 earned runs in 35 innings for a 8.49 ERA. The damage includes a .304 average, .429 OBP, .578 slug, 10 doubles, six home runs and three blown saves. And the relievers have struck out only 16.4 percent of batters faced while walking 15.8 percent of the hitters. This bullpen is broken.
3. Matthew Liberatore is failing, and it’s sad to watch. He lasted only seven batters (and 21 pitches) in his Wednesday start, with the Marlins scoring four runs on two doubles, two singles and a walk. Liberatore had a 6.39 ERA in eight starts. After a good performance against the Brewers on May 17, Liberatore has been dynamited for a 7.62 ERA in his last seven starts. And during the seven-game smackdown Liberatore has yielded a .345 average, .420 OBP and .540 slug. And he has nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (15.)
3a. Hey, that’s OK. Pitching coach Dusty Baker will show him the iPad and get him fixed.
4. Jon Morosi (MLB Network) says the Cardinals “will listen” on offers for their young position players if prospective deals would deliver starting pitching. But the starter(s) must have time remaining on their contracts that goes beyond 2023.
5. Brendan Donovan stands among the best hitters in the majors since May 21. After reaching his low point of the season for OPS (.646) on May 20, this is what Donovan has done in his 150 plate appearances:
* .339 average, 4th overall and 2nd in NL
* .440 onbase percentage, 2nd overall and 2nd NL.
* .512 slugging percentage, 26th overall and 20th NL
* .952 OPS, 11th overall, 8th in NL
6. More on Donny: In park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) since May 21, Donovan is 66 percent above the MLB average offensively. That leads the NL and is third overall to Shohei Ohtani and Corey Seager. (Rankings based on a minimum 150 plate appearances.) And people out there want to trade Donovan? That’s loony.
7. With Liberatore’s early breach Wednesday, the Cardinals have a first-inning ERA of 6.59 that ranks 29th in MLB. They’ve allowed the most first-inning runs (68) by major-league team this season.
8. With everyone fixating on the team’s first-inning vulnerability, I thought I’d point out that the Cardinals have a 5.23 ERA in the second inning, and a 5.24 ERA in the third inning. Combining the first three innings of games, the Cardinals have a 5.69 ERA (27th), have struck out only 17.5 percent of hitters faced (29th). And during the first three innings STL pitchers have been popped for the most doubles (74), five triples and 30 homers while getting busted for a .345 average and .754 OPS. The first-inning performance is awful, but the problems carry through the second and third innings as well.
9. Update on stuff you already know about: with Wednesday’s wicked loss, the Cardinals have squandered 27 leads this season, and they’re tied with the White Sox for the most blown saves (18) in the majors. The Cardinals have lost five games this season when taking a lead into the 9th inning. And they’ve gone down to defeat 10 times when handling a lead into the seventh inning. And of course, we must add another one-run loss to their misery index. Wednesday’s 10-9 travesty left STL with a 8-18 record in one-run games. Manager Skip Schumaker’s Miami team is 21-5 in one-run outcomes.
10. The Cardinals have won only 20 of 54 games this season – a .370 winning percentage – against opponents that are above .500. Good grief.
11. In their 13 series since May 21, the Cardinals are 3-7 with three splits.
12. Wednesday’s defeat was STL’s fifth loss of the season when scoring 7+ runs in a game. In terms of winning percentage when scoring 7+ in a game, only four teams have done worse than the Cardinals.
13. Willson Contreras is 8 for 12 (.667) in the first three games at Miami with three doubles, a homer and three RBI. In 59 plate appearances since June 16, Contreras has banged for a .385 average, .635 slug, 1.092 OPS, seven doubles, two homers and 7 RBI. Contreras plays really, really hard. I’m glad he’s settled in offensively.
14. All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado is in standout hitting form as he nears his starting appearance for the NL in next week’s midsummer showcase. In his last eight games Arenado has seven doubles and a homer with a .407 average and 1.211 OPS. In his last 31 games since May 28, Arenado has hit .322 with a .629 slug and .991 OPS. He has 20 extra-base hits over that time including seven home runs. Arenado has pulled his OPS+ up to 122 for the season; that’s just a smidge below his career 123 OPS+.
15. Jack Flaherty starts for the Cardinals in Thursday’s series-ender at Miami. It’s been an up-down season for Flaherty. He was terrific in his last start, pitching six scoreless innings (four hits allowed) in an 11-4 victory over the Yankees. The Cardinals need Flaherty to pitch as well as he can over the next three-plus weeks to enhance his trade value.
16. Trade Talk from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic: “To fully grasp the Cardinals’ futility, check out the final, embarrassing play of their 10-9 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday night,” Rosenthal wrote. “The Cardinals are in last place in the NL Central, 12 and ½ games out of first, and 5 and ½ games behind the fourth-place Pirates. Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty, both rentals, are as good as gone.”
17. Jon Heyman, New York Post, assessed the potential trade market and included the Cardinals among the teams that have goods to sell: “The Cardinals have three talented pitchers who are free agents-to-be — Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks — plus an obvious glut of hitters,” he wrote.
18. Through 66 games the Cardinals are allowing 5.08 runs per game, which ranks 25th overall and 12th in the NL. The Cards haven’t given up more than five runs per game in a season since yielding an average of 5.12 runs in 2007.
19. Skip Schumaker on his team’s zany, walk-off win over the Cardinals on Wednesday: “Our group, especially our hitting group, just preaches put the ball in play. Sometimes, there’s value to putting the ball in play.” His Marlins rank 23rd in the majors this season with 82 home runs.
20. What a damn shame to waste that wow-wow-wow two-strike, two-out, two-run homer by Jordan Walker in the top of the ninth that gave the comeback Cards a sudden 9-8 lead. Walker’s launch traveled 440 feet. Unfortunately, a few minutes later, Hicks’ lost toss traveled an estimated 445 feet.
21. I have two fervent wishes for the baseball gods: Please oh please keep Cards the talented and exciting pitching prospect Tink Hence healthy. And please, please don’t allow the Cardinals to screw him up. Thank you, baseball gods.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts a weekday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
The “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz is available at 590thefan.com, the 590 the fan app or 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, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus or Bill James Online.
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.