WELCOME TO THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Lede: It was another disappointing night of baseball for the sputtering Cardinals, who were downed 6-3 by the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks. The loss had a familiar look: a low-scoring offense, problematic pitching, another failure at home, and getting beaten in the opening game of a series for the sixth consecutive time. Sad.
THE MISERY INDEX
– The Cardinals haven’t started a season with a 7-10 record through 17 games since 2017, and before that it happened in 2007. Neither team made the playoffs.
– The Cardinals’ current .412 winning percentage ranks 23rd overall and 11th in the National League.
– They’ve lost six of their last eight games at Busch Stadium and are 4-7 overall at home. Their home winning percentage is 23rd overall and tied for 12th in the NL. Brutal.
— The Cardinals are 5-9 this season in games against winning teams. Is this a trend? Sure seems like it. Since the start of last season the Redbirds are 39-47 when facing winning teams for a .453 winning percentage.
– The Cardinals already trail the first-place Brewers by five games and have slipped back into last place in the NL Central. They’re three games behind the Cubs and Pirates and a half-game in arrears to the Reds.
— The other four NL Central teams have scored more runs per game than St. Louis. The Cubs are first in the NL with an average of 5.53 runs per game. The Reds are fourth in the league (5.12), the Brewers (4.94) are fifth, the Pirates are eighth (4.71) and the Cardinals are 11th with an average of 4.12 ruins per contest.
— Every NL Central team except the Reds have given up fewer average runs per game than the Cardinals, who have allowed 4.71 per contest.
— The Cardinals are 11th in the NL in run differential. They have the worst run differential in the NL Central. In order: Brewers + 32, Cubs +25, Pirates +6, Reds +2, and Cardinals minus 10. Embarrassing.
1. The St. Louis Offense Is Drooping. As we mentioned the Cardinals are averaging 4.17 runs per game which ranks 22nd overall and 11th in the NL. They’ve scored three or fewer runs in eight of their last 13 games. And over the last five games the Cardinals have averaged 2.8 runs, slugged .341, and homered twice in 170 at-bats. It must be Jeff Albert’s fault.
2. RISP Check: The Cardinals were 1-5 with runners in scoring position Monday. In their last five games STL is batting .212 with a 30 percent strikeout rate when hitting with runners in scoring position. For the season the Cardinals are batting .243 with runners in scoring position and rank 24th with a .676 in RISP situations. They have a 27% strikeout rate (25th) when hitting with RISP.
3. Percentage Of Runners Scored: The Cardinals put plenty of runners on base but they’ve come home to score at an alarmingly low rate. This, of course, is a direct result of the team’s poor performance when hitting with runners in scoring position. This season St. Louis has a run-scoring percentage of 25%, which ranks 29th. Only Oakland (22%) has done worse.
4. Jumpin’ Jack Flaherty: he was outstanding through six innings Monday, yielding only two hits and one run in his 19 batters faced. Trouble found him in the seventh inning, which opened with a sequence of homer, double, walk. At that point an ineffective Andre Pallante came in to relieve Flaherty with two runners on. He walked the first batter and then – kaboom – a grand-slam homer by Pavin Smith. Just like that the Cards trailed 6-1. Flaherty was charged with four earned runs in six innings and has a 2.95 ERA in his four starts.
5. Pallante Problem? It sure looks that way. Pallante, a right-hander, was tough on left-handed hitters last season, holding them to a .246 average and .619 OPS. He also limited left-side bats to an average of 0.6 home runs per nine innings. This season LH batters have a .292 average and .971 OPS against Pallante and have blasted him for an average of 3.4 homers per nine innings. Pavin Smith – who clubbed the grand-slam homer off Pallante – bats from the left side.
Coping with arm fatigue, Pallante hadn’t pitched for three consecutive days – and then manager Oli Marmol used him in back-to-back games Sunday and Monday. It didn’t go well. Marmol and Pallante both insisted that the pitcher was strong and good to go for working in two consecutive games, but the results suggest otherwise. Pallante has been drilled for a 7.56 ERA and .621 FIP in his 8.1 innings this season and isn’t an effective weapon against left-handed hitters.
Accordingly: Pallante was optioned to Triple A Memphis on Tuesday, and lefty reliever JoJo Romero was promoted to the big club.
6. Bullpen Check: The labor-heavy stretch has reduced the STL bullpen’s effectiveness. Over the last six games Cards relievers have a 4.15 ERA in 21.2 innings. The relievers faced 87 batters during this stretch, and have given up four homers, four doubles, 10 walks and a .434 slugging percentage. And as of this writing the front-office has passed on the idea of bringing up some fresh arms from Triple A Memphis. Such a shame.
7. Obligatory Rotation Update: Through 17 games the Cardinals rank 22nd in the majors with a 5.06 ERA. The starters have allowed a .300 batting average (28th), a .372 onbase percentage (28th) and a .476 slugging percentage (23rd.) The Cardinals have two quality starts in 17 outings; only two MLB teams have fewer quality starts than St. Louis.
Using the Bill James’ devised Game Score, which is different from the quality-start measure, the Cardinals are 4-2 this season when receiving a start that’s average or above average – and 3-8 in below-average starts.
8. Willson Contreras, Warming Trend: He had a really good game Monday, going 2 for 4 with two doubles, an RBI and a stolen base. Contreras put up a great at-bat in the sixth inning, lining an RBI double on the 10th pitch thrown by Arizona starter Merrill Kelly. The impressive sequence by Contreras tied the score at 1-1.
In his last six games, Contreras is 6 for 20 (.333) with three doubles. three RBI and a .841 OPS. In his last two games, he’s 4 for 8 with two three doubles and two RBI. Contreras is one of the team’s best hitters with runners in scoring position this season, batting .333 with five RBI and a .844 OPS.
Contreras has thrown out the five of nine runners that attempted to steal a base on him. His caught-stealing rate (56%) ranks first in the majors among the 16 catchers that have caught at least 100 innings. To put that in perspective, the overall caught-stealing rate in the majors this season is only 18 percent. That means Contreras’ throw-out rate is 38% higher than the MLB average.
9. Alec Burleson, Big-League Hitter: After hitting a late two-run homer Monday, the burly rookie has a .277 average and .532 slugging percentage in 51 plate appearances this season. Seven of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases. Burleson’s 47.5% rate on sweet-spot contact is second to Nolan Gorman among Cardinals. And Burleson has a superbly low strikeout rate of 13.7%.
10. Outfield Competition: I don’t see how manager Oli Marmol can keep Burleson out of the lineup when the Cardinals face right-handed starting pitchers.
Per park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) here’s how the outfielders rank against RH pitching so far. A 100 wRC+ is league average:
Lars Nootbaar, 148
Tyler O’Neill, 136
Jordan Walker, 80
Dylan Carlson, 29
Note: Nootbaar has only 16 plate appearances this season – but since the start of July in 2022, he has a 149 wRC+ vs. righties. Meaning that he’s 49 percent above league average when facing RH. I didn’t include Juan Yepez because he had only eight plate appearances vs. righties during his call-up from Memphis. And Carlson is 31% below average against RHP since the start of last season.
If this is a true competition, then it’s obvious who should start against RHP: Nootbaar, Burleson and O’Neill. Burleson can DH, yes. But the Cardinals are getting terrific results from Nolan Gorman as the DH against righties. Walker is struggling against righthanders and Carlson is pretty futile against righthanders. But if Walker is on the big club, he’s got to play regularly. So I don’t know if this is really a competition in the true sense of the word.
Cardinals baseball is a confusing place.
11. Jordan Walker: Since April 9 the talented rookie has received an education from MLB pitchers. Walker is 5 for 32 (.156) and his five hits have been singles. During this stretch he has one RBI and has struck out 33.3 percent of the time.
In Walker’s first eight games he had one of the league’s highest hard-hit rates at 60 percent. In his last nine games, his hard-hit rate is a glaringly low 23.8%. There’s a drop in Walker’s average exit velocity – 92.1 mph in his first eight games, and 85.8 mph in his last nine.
On the season, Walker’s ground–ball rate (58.7%) is the fifth-highest in the majors among qualifying hitters. And because Walker has walked only one time in 66 plate appearances, pitchers are finding it easy to get him to chase pitches off the plate. Walker’s chase rate of 41.1 percent puts him in the 15th percentile among qualifying hitters. (In other words: 85 percent of MLB hitters have chased fewer non-strikes than Walker.)
12. Brendan Donovan Is Back: After a slow start, Donovan is hitting .303 with a .378 onbase percentage and six runs scored in his last eight games. And in his last five games, Donovan has batted .381 with a .435 OBP and .524 slug.
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.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Statcast, 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.