THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Considering that the Cardinals scored one lousy run in the first game, blew a 3-2 lead in the second game, scored only five runs in 18 innings for the day … OK, we’ll accept a 1-1 split in Tuesday’s doubleheader with the Mets at Citi Field.

The Cardinals could have lost both games, with Max Scherzer waiting to go against them Wednesday. This is not the scenario they wanted to have. So Tyler O’Neill’s happy little rolling, bouncing infield hit to third base that should have been scored an error was just as valuable as a rocket-blast RBI. Counts the same, right?

After a lame showing against the chronically mediocre starter NYM Trevor Williams and four Mets relievers in losing 3-1 loss in the daylight, the Cardinals dug in for a 4-3 victory in the ol’ nightcap.

The Cardinals pitched well enough to win both contests. They ceded only four earned runs and held the Mets to a 1.97 average and .604 OPS over 17 innings. Starting pitchers Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz combined for a 3.27 ERA in 11 strong-willed innings, and six relievers from the STL bullpen teamed to allow only one unearned run while covering six innings in the two games.

The bullpen crew issued too many walks (six) but prevented any serious damage by allowing just three hits and a .136 batting average. Ryan Helsley only gave up the tying run in Game 2 because of a passed ball on what should have been an inning-ending strikeout in the eighth.

You know most of this already … if not all of this already … So let’s jump ahead to some other related matters on my writing docket.

STANDINGS: The first-place Milwaukee Brewers (23-14) have gone 4-6 in their last 10 games. The Cardinals (20-16) have also gone 4-6 in their last 10 games and remain 2.5 games behind the Brewers. The Crew scored one run in 18 innings during the first two games of a three-game home set against Atlanta. The Baltimore Orioles could change divisions, they might win the NL Central.

THE CARDINALS IN MAY: They’re 9–6, which is OK. But I find something else that’s more fascinating. As you know the Cardinals like to go wilding every now and again, putting up ginormous runs-scored totals in a game. They’ve lifted their cudgels to score 35 runs in three of their May games including the 15-run uprising to fell the Giants on Sunday night. The Cardinals have scored 80 runs for the month so far … and 43.75% of the runs crossed the plate in the three big-bang games. Sure, the binge offense is fun. But could these guys spread the runs around a little bit? If so, they’d prevail in more games.

If you examine the STL offense in May, you can probably find what you’re looking for depending on what you want to see. The Cardinals had homered in 12 consecutive games until the streak stopped in last night’s game against the Mets. They have 19 homers in May, which ranks 8th in the majors. The Men Of Jeff Albert rank 4th in slugging (.440), fifth in OPS (.767) and sixth in batting average (.256) and onbase percentage (.328) this month.

Ah, but we know that those stats were inflated by the three isolated games of bash ball, and that adds perspective to our reading of the team offense in May. The May Cardinals have scored three runs or fewer in 50 percent of their games, and are only three games above .500 for the month despite giving up only 3.6 earned runs per game.

As I’ve noted several times already this season, the Cardinals are one of the best teams in baseball in the important responsibility of limiting runs. They go into Wednesday’s game at NY as the fifth-ranked team in MLB for run prevention, holding opponents to an average 3.50 runs per game. That provides a foundation for optimism, but the quest for a more consistent and reliable offense remains.

MORE RIFFING ON THE OFFENSE: The offense is improving in some ways – why hello there Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez! Paul Goldschmidt is having a beastly month at the plate, hitting .375 with a 1.203 OPS. Dylan Carlson seems to be back on track – hitting .294 with a .510 slugging percentage in his last 15 games. Yadier Molina is swatting .298 and slugging .489 in his last 12.

But the Cards still find it hard to get synchronized. Nolan Arenado has cooled down in May, batting .207 for the month and hitting .156 in his last nine games. Tyler O’Neill has struck out in 50 percent of his last 30 plate appearances. Tommy Edman is hitting .226 with a .669 OPS in his last 17 games and has a .219 average and .306 OBP in his last eight. Harry Bader has a .196 average and .536 OPS since May 2.

That hitters get hot and then blow cold is hardly anything new. But the Cardinals should have a more durable and stable offense. And the recent arrivals of impactful rookies Donovan and Yepez only reinforce the point. They’re making a difference, but the Cardinals need more steadiness from members of their established cast. And maybe we’re seeing some progress this month; their position plays rank third in the majors in May with 4.0 WAR.

But some underlying problems are still there. This team doesn’t hit the ball hard. I thought I’d find some improvement in the May data compared to the April metrics, but that really isn’t the case.

While the Cardinals have a slightly better barrel rate (6.0%) in May, it still ranks 20th in the majors. And this month their hitters are 27th in hard-hit rate (34.7%) and tied for 28th in average exit velocity (87.4%.) Those discouraging numbers are harmful to a team’s collective health on offense.

Only three MLB teams have swung at a lower percentage of strikes than the Cardinals this season. And the Redbirds are essentially tied with the White Sox for the worst “chase” rate – swinging at 35% of pitches out of the strike zone.

These patterns must change. These patterns must be fixed. This team must become smarter in its hitting approach.

APPRECIATING BRENDAN DONOVAN: He started both games of the doubleheader at Citi Field and had another impressive day in the batter’s box, providing two hits and four walks and scoring two runs. Let’s review all that Donovan has done since making his MLB debut for the Cardinals on April 25:

➤ Played 43 innings at shortstop, 33 innings at third base, 11 innings at second base, 11 innings at first base, and one inning in right field. Despite all of this moving around – and learning on the fly at some positions – Donovan has made two errors including one at shortstop in Tuesday’s first game.

➤ He’s batting .286 with a 1.016 OPS with runners in scoring position. And when he’s up with runners in position to score with two outs, Donovan is batting .333 with a 1.167 OPS. Very, very small sample sizes here. But Donovan doesn’t rattle.

➤ Since going 1 for 8 in his earliest at-bats for the Cardinals, Donovan is hitting .391 with a fat OBP (.563) and a large slugging percentage (.696) in his last 12 games. He has five extra-base hits, eight runs, and four RBI in his last dozen games.

➤ The Cardinals have problems against right-handed pitchers, but Donovan is in the process of doing something about that. In 34 plate appearances vs. RHP, this left-side swinger hitter has nine hits, seven walks, and a hit by pitch. Five of the nine hits have gone for extra bases. His batting average vs. righties is .346, he’s gotten on base against them 50 percent of the time, and his OPS is 1.115.

➤ I noted this the other day, but let’s update. This rookie has a terrific .278 average and .869 OPS on two-strike counts.

➤ Among Cardinal regulars, only Paul Goldschmidt has a better hard-hit rate (57.1%) than Donovan’s 41.7%.

➤ Plate discipline? You bet. Donovan has an excellent 22 percent walk rate that’s higher than his 17% strikeout rate. You don’t see that too often. His chase rate (25.4%) is the lowest (as in best) among Cardinal hitters. His overall contact rate (85.1%) is the best on the team. His swinging–strike rate (5.2%) is the lowest (as in best) on the team.

➤ In his 10 starts for the Cardinals Donovan is batting .360 with a 1.169 OPS.

➤ When he leads off an inning, Donovan is 4 for 12 (.333) with three walks for a .457 onbase percentage.

➤ Patient? Yes. Donovan has 18 plate appearances that have lasted between four and six pitches, and another four that have lasted seven-plus pitches.

➤ The better pitchers don’t bother him … at least not so far. When facing a pitcher that has a 3.50 ERA or less, Donovan is 5 for 19 (.263) with a .943 OPS. When he’s stood in against a pitcher with an ERA between 3.51 and 4.25, Donovan is 3 for 6 with a 1.071 OPS.

➤ Even though he’s played in only 18 major-league games, Donovan ranks fourth among Cardinal position players with 0.7 WAR. Only Arenado (2.1), Edman (1.7) and Goldschmidt (1.4) have more wins above replacement than Donovan.

You can’t say that I didn’t dish out a bunch of cool things about Donovan’s performance during his first three weeks in The Show. And he came up with a classy and photogenic marriage proposal during a Monday-evening walk with his girlfriend through Times Square in New York. He likes walks. He’s drawn a lot of them since joining the Cards.

It’s a long season, and Donovan will be challenged and tested. With opponents still trying to figure him out, they’re trying to entice Donovan to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. But Donovan isn’t taking the bait; he takes a lot of pitches instead. In fact, Donovan swings at only 35% of the pitches offered to him, and no Cardinal swings less often. Opponents will likely realize his approach and implement a new strategy by aggressively pounding the rookie with more strikes. And then he’ll have to adapt.

MONITORING TYLER O’NEILL: Six strikeouts in the two games against the Mets on Tuesday, but a (sincere) tip of the cap to O’Neill for at least putting the ball in play to dribble an infield hit that scored the winning run in the second game. That said, O’Neill is batting .138 with a 50% strikeout rate in his last eight games. And his staggeringly low .297 slugging percentage for the season ranks 10th worst among 121 MLB hitters that have at least 130 plate appearances. And his .552 OPS ranks No. 116 among the 121 batters.

NOLAN GORMAN UPDATE: The big man is reemerging from a tough stretch. Gorman was the DH for Triple A Memphis on Tuesday night at Gwinnett and went 3 for 5 with a homer and double. That’s 15 homers for Gorman in 33 games this season. His strikeout rate was out of control for a couple of weeks, but he’s starting to bring it down.

In his last 40 plate appearances Gorman has 10 hits, five walks, and four homers. The walks are important; it shows that Gorman is recognizing pitches and using better judgment instead of swinging at everything. His strikeout rate over the last nine games is 32.5 percent. That’s still too high, but it’s certainly less bothersome than his 40 percent strikeout rate during a nine-game downturn that preceded his current upturn.

In addition to the 15 home runs, Gorman is batting .295, slugging .674 and toting a 1.032 OPS in 143 plate appearances for Memphis this season.

UNFORTUNATE PAUL DEJONG UPDATE: Since his demotion DeJong is 2 for 17 at Memphis (.118) with five strikeouts, a double, a walk and four RBI.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and 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.