After a 10-day road trip, the Cardinals reappeared at Busch Stadium on Thursday night. It didn’t go well.
Shut out over the final eight innings, the Redbirds lost 4-2 to a Cincinnati team that came into the game with the worst ERA (5.01) in the majors. And before Thursday night, the Reds had lost 10 of their last 15 while getting hammered by opponents for 5.7 runs per game.
For some reason, the postgame-video Q&A session turned into a pity party. Except for the legendary Rick Hummel — who actually asked baseball (and strategy) questions — the media seemed obsessed with the Cards’ itinerary from Los Angeles to St. Louis. Of particular interest was the team’s early-morning arrival after a lengthy flight.
Apparently no Midwest-based team had ever completed a road trip on the West Coast by playing a night game — then boarding a chartered late-night flight to return home for a scheduled 7:15 p.m. ballgame the next day.
No. This had never been done before.
Actually it’s been done a zillion times.
So hold off on reporting this violation to Amnesty International.
The Cardinals were tired because teams travel a lot, play many games and sometimes play a lengthy sequence of games on consecutive days. In other words: The Baseball Season. You know, the 162-game marathon and all of that. Night flights. Less time to sleep. Play ball.
I mean, can you imagine?
After the clunker of a loss to the Reds, a sympathetic opening question was addressed to manager Mike Shildt. The word “impressive” was included by the media inquisitor.
That’s all Shildty needed.
He was off and running.
“Look, those guys answer the bell,” he said. “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.
“Bryan Eversgerd our bullpen coach has got a great saying. ‘Who you are is what you do when you’re at your most uncomfortable.’
“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.”
(Was I supposed to shout “Remember The Alamo” or something?)
Played their tails off. Huh. After scoring two runs in the first inning Thursday, St. Louis hitters went 3 for 25 (all singles) over the rest of the evening, with four walks and eight strikeouts.
But if a couple of media people want to set up a cockamamie narrative — “Our Valiant And Heroic Cardinals Fought The Reds To Their Last Breath” — to succor the manager and his mangs, then have at it.
Who am I to object?
Pardon me for being a bad human being by mentioning that the Cardinals have lost four of their last five games and are 13-14 in the last 27.
Hey, this offense wasn’t sleepy because of the late flight from LA.
This offense has been drowsy for a while.
I’ll be getting into that subject in short time.
WELCOME TO THE REDBIRD REVIEW FOR FRIDAY, JUNE 4
THE OVERVIEW: The second-place Cardinals (31-26) didn’t lose any ground to the first-place Cubs, who were beaten 7-2 at San Francisco on Thursday. But the third-place Brewers (30-26) are stalking, having gone 9-3 in the last 12 games. The Cards are just a half-game above the Brewers in the NL Central standings.
With the Cardinals logging a 13-14 record in their last 27 games, the Cubs have won 20 of 28 to take a 1 and ½ game lead over STL.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE RUN DIFFERENTIAL: It tells a story. It illuminates the arc of their season. Thirty games into the season the Cards had an 18-12 record and had outscored opponents by 23 runs.
That’s changed. Since their 18-12 opening rush into the season the Cards have been outscored by these margins:
- -35 runs in the last 27 games (13-14)
- -40 runs in the last 21 games (9-12)
- -39 runs in the last 19 games (8-11)
- -32 runs in the last 14 games (6-8)
- -24 runs in the last 5 games (1-4)
THE OFFENSE IS TRENDING DOWNWARD: During their current 13-14 stretch the Cardinals have averaged only 3.7 runs per game. If you want to narrow it down a bit, the Cards have generated 3.5 runs per game in their last 21, batting .224 with a .668 OPS.
MLB teams are averaging 4.36 runs per game this season through Thursday.
The Cardinals have scored four or fewer runs in 36 of their 57 games.
Only two teams, Seattle and Baltimore, have been held to four runs more often than St. Louis this season. And when the Redbirds score four or fewer runs in a game this year they’re 12-24. Ouch.
The Cardinals enter the weekend ranked 12th in the NL in batting average, 12th in OBP, and 11th in OPS. Their slugging percentage for the season (.390) is about league average. But that’s been going down. In early May, their slugging percentage reached .409. Since that time the Cards have slugged .368 in their last 26 games.
NO MATHENAGING! There was an unnerving flashback in the 9th inning Thursday. Shildty had Jose Rondon attempt a sacrifice bunt with runners on first and second with no outs. The result was a disaster. A 2-5-3 double play. This was Rondon’s second sac-bunt attempt in 305 MLB plate appearances. Then again, Rondon is a career .199 hitter in the majors and may have grounded into a double play, anyway. But this is the kind of thing that happens when a skipper gets the itch to give away an out by trying to play a lil’ small ball. In this case, the manager’s move gave away two outs. In the 9th inning. With his team down by two runs.
THE CARDS NEED A HEAT-UP FROM GOLDY AND NADO: To state the obvious, an offense tends to stall when the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters are struggling. In 119 combined plate appearances since May 19, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have combined for a .179 batting average with two homers and 14 runs batted in.
And since May 19, the No. 3 and the No. 4 spots in the St. Louis lineup are a combined 26th in batting average, 28th in OBP, 25th in slugging, 26th in OPS and 17th in RBIs. (In comparison to the other teams’ No. 3 and No. 4 spots.)
The Cardinals have hit 13 home runs in their 15 games since May 19. And nine of the 13 homers were thumped by Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Tommy Edman.
TYLER O’NEILL, HITTING TO ALL FIELDS: I looked at the O’Neill’s batted-ball profile for the season — and liked what I saw from the increasingly dangerous RH power hitter:
- 7 line drives to left, 9 to center, and 5 to right. Balance.
- 4 of his fly balls have been hit to left field, 9 to center, and 18 to right.
- Of his total batted balls, O’Neill has distributed 33 to left, 27 to center and 24 to right. That’s outstanding balance.
- Home runs: 4 to left, 5 to center and 3 to right.
O’Neill thrives when he hits the ball to the center, batting .577 with five homers and four doubles. And when he goes to the opposite field, he’s batted .417 with five extra-base hits. Because O’Neill worked hard in changing his approach, we’re seeing an impressive payoff when he goes oppo. Well done, sir.
O’NEILL IN THE RANKINGS: Among the 88 MLB outfielders that have at least 130 plate appearances, O’Neill ranks 2nd in Isolated Power (.326), 5th in slugging (.606), 8th in OPS (.915), and is tied for 8th with 12 homers. In runs created adjusted for league and ballpark effects (wRC+), O’Neill ranks 9th among outfielders at 48 percent above league average offensively.
O’Neill has one of the highest strikeout rates (35%) but the rate is 31% since April 10. The only MLB outfielder with a higher Isolated Power number than O’Neill is Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. (.339.)
THE BEST BASEUNNER IN BASEBALL? That would be Tommy Edman. According to Bill James Online, Edman leads the major leagues with a +20 net gain on the bases. That includes both stolen-base gain (+7) and baserunning gain (+13.) And that +13 on the bases is also No. 1 in the majors.
Other Cardinals have stood out for their net gain on the bases: Goldschmidt (+8), O’Neill (+5), Dylan Carlson (+5), and Paul DeJong (+4.)
Not so good: Edmundo Sosa (minus 5), Andrew Knizner (minus 4), Justin Williams (minus 3) and Yadier Molina (minus 3.)
ADAM WAINWRIGHT’S TOUGH-LUCK SUPPORT: Waino allowed three earned runs in 7 IP in Thursday’s loss. It was another fine start for Uncle Charlie; he’s given up no more than three runs in seven of his 11 starts this season. And in the seven starts Wainwright allowed only 10 earned runs in 49.1 innings for an excellent 1.82 ERA.
So why did the Cardinals lose five of Waino’s best seven starts? Because they scored only 11 total runs in the seven — meaning that when Wainwright was holding the other team to 10 runs in the seven starts, the Cardinals’ offense was being held to 11 runs.
Overall this season the Cardinals are 4-7 in Wainwright’s 11 starts. He’d be the first to acknowledge that he had a few stinkers in there.
Hey, it happens. But in explaining the 4-7 team record in Waino’s assignments, this is more on point: he’s received 3.1 runs of run support per start this season — tied for 8th-lowest among 128 pitchers that have made at least eight starts.
Run support makes a difference. Wainwright has made five quality starts this season; the team’s record in those games is 1-4. That’s surely not a reflection on Wainwright, because he gave up only six total runs in 39.1 innings in the five QS.
I SEE YOU, MATT CARPENTER: In his last 10 games (including four starts), Carpenter is batting .278 with a .409 OBP and .444 slug in 19 plate appearances. That’s an .854 slug. It’s barely a dollop of a sample, but the numbers are pleasant.
NEXT ON THE SKED: Kwang Hyun Kim vs. Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo at 7:15 p.m. Kim has contributed only 14 innings in his last three starts, allowing 11 runs (8 earned) for a 5.14 ERA. Castillo is 1-8 with a 7.22 ERA. Although his strikeout rate and swing-miss rate are considerably down this season, Castillo is also the victim of terrible batted-ball luck. The batting average against him on balls in play (.371) is the second highest among MLB starters.
Thanks for reading.
Have a great weekend!
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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.