Hello again. The Cardinals are now 1-3 against Chicago teams this season.

Things will get better, right?

Yes, we think so. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

I believe Abe is telling president of baseball ops John Mozeliak to fix the incendiary St. Louis bullpen. I could be wrong. And the bullpen isn’t the only problem.

The list is growing: Injuries. An artic offense. The vulnerable rotation depth. Cockamamie decisions that have Matt Carpenter in the lineup, playing first base and batting sixth. The struggle to defeat quality opponents. And yeah, for sure, a bullpen ablaze.

Chinese Proverb: “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”

OK, well … that would be correct.

It’s a long season. Peaks and valleys and twists and turns and ups and downs and happiness and sadness and frustration and jubilation. And all of that can happen during one week.

And after several weeks of prosperity, the Cardinals are enduring the tough times.

How long will it last? That depends on the front office, stable roster health, smart decisions by the manager, and more consistency from the hitters.

Here’s your REDBIRD REVIEW for Tuesday, May 25. Enjoy.

THE OVERVIEW: The Cardinals were taken down 4-1 by the White Sox on Monday night and are trending downward. The Cards have lost six of their last nine games and are 8-9 in the last 17. St. Louis is: 6-11 on the season against teams with a winning record, 11-11 on the road, and 6-18 when scoring three runs or fewer in a game.

The Cards led the NL Central by 3.5 games on May 19. The lead is down to 1.5 games, with the Cubs creeping closer by the day. On the plus side the Cardinals (26-21) have resided in first place for the last 20 days. So that’s good. For now. Right?

This road trip has two more games on the South Side of Chicago, four at Arizona, and three at Dodger Stadium. The White Sox are 21-11 in their last 32, the Diamondbacks have a terrible overall record (18-30) but are 9-9 at home, and the Dodgers (29-18) have won 11 of their last 12 going into Tuesday’s action.

INJURIES ARE WRECKING THE OUTFIELD: Center fielder Harrison Bader was removed in the third inning Monday after diving to make an attempted catch and hurting his right rib cage. He’ll miss some time; the Cardinals will update the situation before Tuesday’s game. This is just the latest disruption for the planned starting outfield for 2021.

Mostly because of injuries, projected starters Tyler O’Neill (LF), Bader (CF) and Dylan Carlson (RF) have started only 13 of the team’s 47 games as a threesome.

When O’Neill, Bader and Carlson have started together the Cardinals are 9-4.

The other negative: the lack of continuity has rookie Justin Williams playing a lot more than anticipated. Williams, the projected fourth outfielder, is being deployed as a regular starter as he fills in for injured teammates. Since O’Neill went back on the IL on May 17, Williams has started five of six games and played in all six.

Williams has as many starts this season (28) as O’Neill and Bader. Not good. In his 28 starts this season Williams is batting .149 with a horrid .471 OPS and 35.3% strikeout rate. He’s driven in only six runs in 99 plate appearances as a starter.

With so much turmoil, Lane Thomas obviously becomes more prominent in the outfield alignment, but the Cardinals are short on options. At Triple A Memphis outfielders Austin Dean and Scott Hurst are on the 7-day IL. Dean hasn’t played since May 15; Hurst last appeared on May 16.

Is it time to look at John Nogowski in left field? (He’s currently at Triple A Memphis.) Or will manager Mike Shildt use Matt Carpenter at second base and shuttle Tommy Edman to the outfield?

Another option could be rookie Lars Nootbaar, 23. He’s off to a terrific start at Memphis, batting .300 with a .426 OBP and .600 slugging percentage. In 50 at-bats Nootbaar has homered four times and knocked in 14 runs. He’s been an above-average hitter at every minor-league level but isn’t on the Cards’ 40-man roster.

GRATUITOUS, CHEAP-SHOT EX-CARDINALS UPDATE: In 161 plate appearances for the Texas Rangers, Adolis Garcia has smashed 14 homers, delivered 38 RBIs and is batting .297 with a .603 slugging percentage and .932 OPS … in 203 plate appearances for Tampa Bay, Randy Arozarena is hitting .277 with a .446 slug and .816 OPS. He’s lashed nine doubles, hit seven homers, and plated 25 RBI.

(Yes, I’m being devious. Can you blame me, mang?) 

NO OFFENSE, BUT THERE’S NO OFFENSE: Well, not much. The Cardinals have scored 7 total runs while going 1-3 in their last four games. They haven’t scored multiple runs in an inning since last Wednesday’s 8-5 win over the Pirates. As I mentioned earlier, the Cardinals are 8-9 in their last 17 games and their static offense is a major reason.

In the last 17 games the Cardinals are averaging 3.4 runs per game, have hit only 15 homers, are slugging only .358 and have a .667 OPS. And the slump is compounded by a .181 average with runners in scoring position and only nine extra-base hits (RISP over that time).

MLB teams are averaging 4.4 runs per game this season. The Cardinals’ average per game is down to 4.3. When they score fewer runs than the league average in a game, the Cardinals are 10-19. Only two NL teams, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, have scored four runs or fewer in a game more times than St. Louis.

With the injuries and the slumps, the Cardinals are now below league average for the season in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.

THE HOME-RUN COUNT IS DOWN: In their first 30 games the Cards homered every 24.5 at-bats. In their last 17 they’ve homered every 37.2 at-bats.

The Cardinals have a record of 4-12 when failing to homer in a game. Home runs are an important source of runs for this team; the Cardinals have scored nearly 50 percent of their 200 runs via the homer this season.

Remember when the Cardinals bashed a healthy number of 3-run homers? Me too. In their first 29 games St. Louis clubbed eight 3-run homers and two grand slams. But in the last 18 games they have one 3-run homer and no grand slams.

MATT CARPENTER, OH MY: He’s started 16 games this season including Monday’s game at Chicago. Shildt had Carpenter playing first base and batting sixth. Paul Goldschmidt was used as the DH. A couple of things jump out there: (1) Why bat him sixth? (2) Unless some physical issue made it prudent to limit Goldschmidt to the DH role, why play Carpenter at 1B instead of Goldy?

Let’s do a quick fact-check:

Carpenter has 38 plate appearances this season as the No. 5 hitter or the No. 6 hitter in the lineup. Result: 2 for 33 (.061) with a 34% strikeout rate and .309 OPS. And he’s 0 for 9 (four strikeouts) with runners in scoring position in those lineup spots.

Carpenter has 86 plate appearances this season. And this is where Carpenter ranks among the 281 MLB hitters with at least 86 PA:

  • No. 281 in batting average, .114
  • No. 234 in onbase pct., .267
  • No. 278 in slugging pct., .243
  • No. 272 in OPS,  .510 
  • No. 237 in strikeout rate, 30.2% 

Carpenter (minus 0.3) and Justin Williams (minus 0.7) are below the replacement level in WAR. And they’ve been given a combined 203 plate appearances so far.

EXPLORING THE SECOND GUESS: Shildt is probably catching some heat today for his decision to stick with Kwang Hyun Kim in the sixth inning Monday. The Cardinals were up 1-0, but trouble was in the air. 

The batter was Andrew Vaughn, who crushes LH pitching (1.217 OPS) and is weak (.532 OPS) vs. RH pitchers. And then you have Kim’s relatively short MLB history of facing the other team’s lineup for the third time in a game: First time through the lineup, .535 OPS. Second time through, .632 OPS. Third time through, .818 OPS.

Vaughn hit a two-out, two-run bomb off Kim to give the CWS a 2-1 lead.

Under normal circumstances the Shildt would have brought in RH reliever Daniel Ponce de Leon to face Vaughn. And Ponce was warmed up and ready. But Shildt isn’t operating under normal circumstances.

Shildt — or was it catcher Yadier Molina? — wanted to get six innings from Kim, go to Ponce for a clean entry as the start of the seventh and then turn the lead over to a combination of LH Genesis Cabrera and RH Ryan Helsley for the final two innings. (Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes were unavailable.)

OK, the bullpen was shorthanded. But if Shildt was set to put Ponce de Leon in the game for the seventh, then why not just give him a chance to bag the last out of the sixth — then head into the seventh? Was it a such big deal to ask Ponce to get four outs instead of three?

Ponce gave the Cardinals 1.2 innings of strong relief in Saturday’s win over the Cubs. He had faced three Cubs batters in Friday’s game. And after just coming off the IL (shoulder), Ponce would be asked to pitch for the third time in four days. That’s a little dicey.

And as it turned out, Ponce de Leon didn’t have much to throw at the White Sox. He came in after the Vaughn homer and it went like this: walk, hit batter, two-run double by Tim Anderson. (The third out came on the bases, with Anderson failing to make it safely to third.)

Yeah, Shildt could have gone at this another way, but It’s a fragile situation. The Cardinals are low on reliable high-leverage options. The problem is obvious: The Cardinals desperately need relief help. The manager needs a more complete bullpen. The front office has put Shildt into a terrible spot. Other than Cabrera, Gallegos and Reyes, there isn’t one trustworthy reliever in the bullpen.

Some of you will say: hey, what about Helsley? Isn’t he trustworthy? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a reliable reliever in a guy who has a 5.59 ERA with an awful 16% walk rate. Moreover, Helsley has an ERA of 18.00 in his last four appearances.

If Shildt had more steady, dependable choices available to him he would have faced a much easier decision on Kim in the sixth. But this is a thin, horrendous bullpen right now. And it’s up to the front office to improve it.

BULLPEN SMOKE DETECTOR: In the last 12 games (45.1 innings) the STL relievers have a 5.36 ERA with a massive 17.3% walk rate and low 21.6% strikeout rate … for the season the bullpen rate for allowing inherited runners to score is up to 47 percent, the second-worst in the majors to Minnesota’s 69% … through 47 games the Cards bullpen ranks 19th in ERA (4.29), 23rd in strikeout rate (23.3%) and 30th in walk rate (15%.) 

HOW ABOUT SOME BIRD BYTES? 

Since moving in at shortstop on May 16 to replace the injured Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa leads the Cardinals in hits (11), runs scored (6), batting average (.500), onbase percentage (.560), slugging (.682) and OPS (1.242.) These numbers come with the obligatory small-sample warning. Really funny how so many people are now claiming that they knew Sosa would play very well if he finally got the opportunity. Sure. 

In his last 20 games Tommy Edman is batting .241 with a .297 OBP and .622 OPS. Among the 26 hitters that have at least 100 plate appearances at leadoff, Edman ranks 21st in onbase percentage (.325) and 23rd in OPS (.695.) The Cardinals rank 21st among the 30 MLB teams in adjusted runs created, with 96 wRC+. That’s four percent below the league average. 

Among the 140 MLB hitters with at least 150 plate appearances, Dylan Carlson ranks tied for 25th with an onbase percentage of .374. If you expand the minimum requirement to 180 plate appearances, Carlson’s OBP is tied for 18th among 73.

Via Statcast, Edman is tied for third among MLB fielders at any position with 7 Outs Above Average. And his 7 Outs Above Average rank first among second basemen.

Before going on the Injured List with a foot injury, catcher Yadier Molina was batting .323 with a .631 slugging percentage and a .997 OPS. And he had 5 homers and 14 RBIs. In his 13 games since returning from the IL, Molina is batting .245 with a .429 slug and .698 OPS. And he has 2 homers and 7 RBIs. 

Paul Goldschmidt batted .214 with a .340 slugging percentage and .597 OPS in April. So far in May, he’s hitting .308 with a .500 slug and .872 OPS. 

In his last five games, Nolan Arenado is 2 for 20 with one extra-base hit.

Since leaving the Cardinals as a free agent after the 2017 season, Lance Lynn ranks 9th among MLB starting pitchers in fWAR (11.9), is 10th for most starts, 12th in most innings pitched, 14th in quality starts, 9th in strikeouts and is tied for 7th with 37 wins. The Cardinals showed little interest in signing Lynn to a long-term contract. Lynn was very good in defeating the Cardinals Monday night.

NEXT ON THE SKED: An entertaining pitching duel featuring Jack Flaherty and Lucas Giolito — SoCal bros, high-school teammates, loyal friends, and exceptional talents. First pitch, 7:10 p.m.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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.