THE REDBIRD REVIEW

After winning the first two games of the series against the Marlins, the Cardinals will try to complete the sweep on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

Standing in the way is a large and imposing obstacle. His name is Sandy Alcantara, and Miami’s righthander has the third-best ERA (1.95) among MLB starting pitchers this season.

Perhaps the Marlins can be sweet-talked into trading Alcantara back to the Cardinals? Do not cry another Mississippi river over the trade that sent Alcantara and Zac Gallen to Miami for left fielder Marcell Ozuna before the 2018 season. It made sense at the time.

And if we’re gonna slam the Cardinal front office for that trade, we have to give ‘em a couple of attaboys for subsequent deals that landed Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. And substantial praise is warranted for STL’s consistently effective draft-development system that produces impactful talent.

Despite the mistakes that have been made – you know, blunders similar to what the other 29 teams make – the Cardinals have a winning formula in place. They just have to crank it up to strengthen the roster to enhance the probability of a division title and postseason run. In the coming days and weeks the focus should be on the pitching.

Today I want to talk about the St. Louis offense. And with Alcantara starting for the Marlins tonight, I’m probably picking the wrong day. But even if Alcantara shuts down the STL lineup, it wouldn’t alter my premise.

The Cardinals have a good offense. It’s a lot better than perceived – no matter how many times the feverish, obsessed critics of hitting coach Jeff Albert will insist that he’s ruined the franchise … or whatever the hell it is they’re caterwauling over.

For the sane and rational readers out there – and a sincere thank you for existing, because your presence gives me faith in mankind – here are a few nuggets of information. And all statistics are through Tuesday’s slate of games:

➤ The Cardinals have the best OPS+ (110) in the National League and are 2nd in stolen bases.

➤ They rank 4th in the NL and 5th in the majors with an average of 4.81 runs per game.

➤ They’re 3rd in the NL in OPS (.730) and batting average (.255).

➤ They’re 4th in the NL in onbase percentage (.322), slugging percentage (.408) and extra-base hits percentage.

➤ The Cardinals have the NL’s third-lowest strikeout rate (20.3%), and the second-best batting average (.196) on two-strike counts.

➤ They rank third in the NL with a .271 batting average with runners in scoring position.

➤ The Cards rank 3rd in the NL in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+).

➤ After a relatively quiet April the Cardinals have averaged 5.05 runs per game since the beginning of May. And over the last two months they rank 1st in the NL in batting average (.261), 2nd in wRC+, 2nd in OPS with runners in scoring position (.821), 3rd in slugging (.428), 3rd in OBP (.325) and 3rd in OPS (.753.) These improved numbers are a direct reflection on Goldschmidt, Arenado, Tommy Edman and rookies Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman.

But aren’t they inconsistent? What about that? I covered this a little while back, and the problem wasn’t as serious as many assumed. That’s because of a simple reason: all 30 offenses have slumps and inexplicably terrible performances over the course of 162 games. And through 77 games the Cardinals have been more consistent offensively than most.

– The Cardinals have scored five runs or more in 39 games, which is tied with the Mets for the most in the majors.

– They’ve scored four runs of fewer in 38 games; only four teams have done that less often. Blue Jays (37), Red Sox (37), Mets (36) and Dodgers (36.)

– The Cards have scored three runs or fewer in 29 games – the same amount of times as the walloping New York Yankees. Only three teams have scored three or less runs in a game fewer times than St. Louis.

So how can we fuss about the Cardinals being too inconsistent on offense when the facts deliver the opposite conclusion? The 2022 Cardinals have improved offensively in their performance at home, and against right-handed pitching. And the return of Tyler O’Neill should increase their power capability. Yeah, at times they can be infuriating … the weekend home series against the Cubs, for example. But as a whole, this is a good offense. That part continues to be overlooked — even here in St. Louis or wherever Cardinals fans roam.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

The Accounting Department: Don’t look now, but the Cardinals have the third-best run differential in the majors at plus 71. Only the Yankees (+149) and Dodgers (+125) have a superior run differential … Milwaukee has a +20 run differential, which ranks 13th in the majors, but the Brewers still lead the Cardinals by a half-game in the NL Central … if the Cards (43-34) can defeat Alcantara and Miami tonight, they’ll get to 10 games over .500 (44-34) for the first time since sweeping the Pirates in a doubleheader on June 14 … the Cardinals are 15-13 in June and are assured of a winning record this month, no matter what happens Wednesday … with two straight wins over the Marlins the Cardinals are 24-15 at Busch Stadium this season … the Cardinals are 26-14 against opponents with losing records.

Ryan Helsley Is Hellish On Hitters: He’s pitched 11 innings this month without giving up a run, and we shouldn’t be surprised. Helsley earned his sixth save of the season Tuesday in the 5-3 win over the Marlins and strengthened his All-Star game credentials. In 29.2 innings this season Helsley has a 0.30 ERA and a 40 percent strikeout rate. He’s faced 105 batters and only 17 have reached base. Opponents are batting .083 with a .287 OPS against him.

Among 78 MLB relievers that have pitched at least 29 innings this season, Helsley ranks No. 1 in ERA, No. 1 in opponent batting average, No. 1 in opponent OBP, No. 1 in opponent slugging, No. 1 in opponent OPS, and No. 2 in strikeout rate.

Yep, that sure looks like an All-Star reliever. Just imagine the endless, breathless hype about Helsley if he pitched for Milwaukee.

Check In On Dakota Hudson: He was a little better in the matchup vs. Miami but I’m perplexed by the excessive praise out there. Hudson gave up six hits and three earned runs in five innings and put his team in a three-run deficit position. Yes, it was positive to see Hudson walk only one batter and get 10 swinging strikes. He was better, but let’s not get too pumped up here. Only 41.2 percent of Hudson’s pitches arrived in the strike zone, and the Marlins had a 92.3% contract rate when swinging at his strikes.

In his last three starts Hudson has a 6.28 ERA and 5.72 FIP after allowing 10 earned runs, 17 hits and issuing nine walks. His average Game Score in the three starts came in at nine percent below average. If you want to get excited because Hudson wasn’t flat-out awful last night, go ahead and have a ball. I’ll just go stand over there in the corner.

What’s up, Junior Fernandez! The big righthander is making his bid for a more prominent role and a more extensive stay in the majors. Granted, we’re talking about a small sample here. But Fernandez hasn’t given up a run in his 8.1 innings – allowing only two hits and a walk – for the Cardinals this season. Since his recent recall from Triple A Memphis, Fernandez has worked 6.1 innings without allowing a hit (and only one walk) with a strikeout rate of 26.3 percent.

Junior’s sturdy relief has come at the perfect time for a scarred bullpen that’s desperate to cover the middle innings without starting fires. Fernandez was outstanding in Tuesday’s victory, relieving Hudson and blanking the Marlins for two innings (the 6th and 7th) to hand a two-run lead to Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley.

Fernandez, 25, has pounded the strike zone with a sinker that averages 99 mph and a sharp slider that comes in at 88.6 mph as a nice offset to the heat. This season MLB hitters are 2 for 17 with a ground-ball rate of 73% against his sinker. And they are 0 for 8 with three strikeouts and a 56% whiff-swing rate on his slider. Fernandez has displayed true dominance, and if the Cardinals are smart they’ll give Fernandez more opportunities to show that he can keep it up.

Encouraging Trends In the Bullpen: The presence of Fernandez, lefty Zack Thompson and RH Johan Oviedo has led to a fresh look for the bullpen – and dramatically improved results in the middle innings.

In recent times Thompson has allowed one earned run and has a 27 percent strikeout rate in 11.1 innings of relief. Oviedo has given up three earned runs in 11.2 innings (2.31 ERA.) And as noted, Fernandez hasn’t been nicked for a run over his four appearances and 6.1 innings.

This, in the month of June: Thompson, Oviedo and Fernandez have combined for 29.1 innings of relief and pitched to a 1.22 ERA. If the three can hold form – and that is the question – there’s absolutely no reason for manager Oli Marmol to put his team at risk by turning to the likes of Nick Wittgren, T.J. McFarland and Drew VerHagen.

And with Jordan Hicks expected to be reactivated from the IL in time for the weekend series at Philadelphia, the Cardinal bullpen appears to be in stronger shape. Now it’s just a matter of reaffirming the optimism through the continuation of impressive performances by the new crew.

And if the Cardinals have a reason and opportunity to move rookie Andre Pallante from the rotation and back to the bullpen, keep in mind that he has a 1.63 ERA in 27.2 innings as a reliever this season.

Dylan Carlson’s Extra–Base Hit Parade: The switch-hitting outfielder is busy collecting doubles, and he’s even added a triple to the pile. Carlson had a two-hit, two RBI night Tuesday’s win over the Marlins, and his fifth-inning RBI double put the Cardinals ahead, 4-3. Seven of Carlson’s last 11 hits have gone for extra bases. Carlson is 6 for 14 in his last four games, with five of the six hits going for a double (4) or triple (1.) And if Carlson isn’t hauling into second base with a double, he’s taking a walk to first base –he recently had a streak of drawing a walk in eight consecutive games.

After a cold April, Carlson went on a warming trend that was only slowed by a strained hamstring and a stint on the IL. But since May 1 Carlson ranks 2nd on the Cardinals in slugging percentage (.516) and OPS (.892) and is 3rd in batting average (.302) and onbase percentage (.376.) Based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), Carlson was a ghastly 59 percent below league average offensively in April … but in May-June his wRC+ is 53 percent above league average offensively. That’s an impressive turnaround. And Carlson is still only 23 years old.

Hello Again, Edmundo Sosa: I forgot that the stylish shortstop still played for the Cardinals. (Kidding.) On Tuesday Sosa made his first start since June 14 and tripled in the Cards’ first run – then scored on a Tommy Edman RBI single to get the Cardinals within 3-2 of the Marlins in the fifth. In his 75 starts last season Sosa batted .294 with a .795 OPS. In 22 starts this season he’s hitting .208 with a .507 OPS.

Pauly DeJong Update: After a torrid, power-driven 12-game stretch at Triple A Memphis, the demoted STL shortstop has cooled considerably. After banging eight homers, driving in 19 runs and slugging .896 from May 31 through June 12, DeJong has batted .160 with a .509 OPS and 34 percent strikeout rate in his last dozen games. And before the hot streak DeJong batted .177 with a .506 OPS in his first 15 games for Memphis. His power surge caught the Cardinals’ attention, but the current fade isn’t helping DeJong’s chances of being recalled to St. Louis. It was nice to see Sosa get something going; that triple ignited his team’s comeback win.

Tracking The Crew: Starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff returned from the IL Tuesday to keynote the Brewers’ 5-3 win at Tampa Bay. In his first start since May 27, Woodruff went five innings, allowing two hits and a run with no walks and 10 strikeouts. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Woodruff threw his four highest–velocity pitches of the season in his comeback start and topped out at 99.2 mph … Milwaukee beat the Rays 5-3 on Wednesday afternoon to sweep the two-game series. The Brewers have won nine of their last 12 to move to 11 games over .500 (34-23) … During their 9-3 bounce-back streak the Brewers have clubbed 24 home runs and slugged over .500. They’ve homered in 13 consecutive games and hit two or more bombs in six of their last eight games … Rowdy Tellez has five homers during this stretch and Willy Adames has four… through Tuesday  Milwaukee ranked 4th overall and 2nd in the NL with an average of 1.33 home runs per game on the season … second baseman Kolten Wong returned from the IL Tuesday and went 1 for 3 with a walk. He’s hitting .230 with a .717 OPS on the season and is struggling defensively with a minus six OAA.

Next On The Sked: It’ll be Pallante vs. Alcantara tonight at Busch (6:45 p.m.) FanGraphs gives the Marlins a 55% win probability in this one. RH batters have a .525 OPS vs. Alcantara this season. LH batters (.581 OPS) haven’t done much better.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.