THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The popular Tommy Edman was the hitting hero in two straight wins over the Padres, giving the Cardinals lightning-strike hits for walk-off wins. Tuesday, it was an RBI single in the 10th for a 6-5 dubya. Thursday, Edman cracked a two-run homer in the ninth for a 5-4 knockout.

In both instances Edman victimized imposing San Diego closer Josh Hader. That isn’t easy to do. Hader had a 0.79 ERA in his first 48 relief appearances this season before Edman rescued the home team and punished the Padres on consecutive games.

“You don’t want to lose games like that,” Padres outfielder Juan Soto told San Diego media. “We want to be on the top at the end of the game. All those losses are painful.”

Before Edman’s two-day intervention, the Cardinals hadn’t scored a run off Hader since Sept. 16, 2019. In 13 appearances he’d held them scoreless through 13 innings, allowing only four hits and striking out 40 percent of his 47 batters faced.

And then Edman happened, jacking Hader’s season ERA from 0.79 to 1.16 with two swings of the bat.

“You just tip your cap,” Hader told reporters. “He had a good at-bat. (Tuesday) he got me on an inside fastball that was in. And up and away he got me on that one (Wednesday.) At the end of the day, you tip your cap to a guy who has good at-bats up there.”

Edman’s sudden-victory swings provided – I’m sort of channeling The Temptations here – sunshine in a cloudy season. The smallish crowd at Busch Stadium went bonkers on both days. The jubilant Cardinals had a chance to gallop onto the field and hop up and down in celebration.

And Edman’s big moments prompted the usual enthusiastic outbursts over his value to the Cardinals. There’s a lot to like about Edman. There’s his speed and base running. And his non-stop energy. His impressive defensive versatility now includes his positive run as the center fielder. And the switch-hitting Edman has a career .500 slugging percentage and .825 OPS against lefty pitchers. (Just ask Hader about that.)

The St. Louis media and many fans root hard for Edman, and that leads to the occasional overreaction. The Athletic, for example, wrote that Edman is “still incredibly clutch.”

I certainly overreact to things so I know all about writing this way. But if “clutch” is actually a tangible skill and quality – a dubious proposition – then Edman passed the test against the Padres.

In addition to his winning two-run homer off Hader, Edman stole three bases Wednesday. How rare is that? Well, according to my quickie search of the StatHead database, Edman is only one of four Cardinals to hit a homer and steal three bases in the same game. The others were Edgar Renteria, Vince Coleman and Lou Brock. Not bad!

For the 2023 season, Edman is eight percent below league average offensively with runners in scoring position. For his career, he’s right at league average with runners in scoring position – and nine percent below average against right-handed pitchers in RISP situations. In the big picture, does that warrant the “clutch” designation? No. Sorry.

Here’s another concern about Edman. His platoon-split issue can be problematic. Based on wRC+, he’s 17 percent above league average offensively vs. lefties over the last four seasons – and 11 percent below average against righties. Edman is 18 percent below average against RHP this year.

That aspect of Edman’s hitting profile can’t be dismissed; MLB hitters have taken 73 percent of their plate appearances against right-handed pitching over the last three seasons. Anyone who is truly objective about this will conclude that Edman is a liability against RH pitching.

Edman is respected and loved by his teammates and manager Oli Marmol. He’s under contract control until he can become a free agent before the 2026 season. His salary of $4.2 million this season will increase in each of the next two years.

Candidly speaking, it hasn’t been a great 2023 season for Edman. His defense – while mostly good – has been a little off when playing infield. And among the 10 Cardinals that have at least 300 plate appearances this season Edman ranks 7th in WAR (1.9), eighth in OPS (.712), eighth in batting average (.241), eighth in slugging (.413) and ninth in wRC+ (94). That wRC+ is six percent below league average offensively. Edman, however, has motored to a team-leading 20 steals in 22 attempts. He may have a chance to match or exceed his career-high of 32 steals in 2022.

If the Cardinals are serious about trading for an upmarket starting pitcher in the coming offseason, they may get some calls about their two super-utility dudes Edman and Brendan Donovan.

Donovan is a higher OBP guy than Edman and developed more power before an elbow injury ended his 2023 season. Edman is considerably faster than Donovan and generally has more skill defensively. Edman can play center field and plays it well — and Donovan does not play center.

Edman has better numbers against lefty pitching than Donovan – but Donovan has a substantial edge over Edman against right-handed pitching. That’s especially true of their respective career onbase percentages against righties: .316 for Edman, .381 for Donovan.

Three questions:

A) Are the Cardinals willing to move Nolan Gorman, age 23, if that’s part of the demand in a trade for a premium starting pitcher? Based on comments that I see online, fans are vehemently opposed to trading Gorman when the big guy is on a home-run spree. But when he slumps – or has another round of back pain – the same fans are quick to fire up the “trade him” opinions.

B) Why do some folks out there, including the media, seem to believe the Cardinals can acquire a premium starting pitcher based on a package that features some combination of outfielders Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill and Alec Burleson? And the Cardinals front office really, really, really likes their position players. Mozeliak and his staff like the position players too much. Well, they can’t keep all of them. And there won’t be much of a trade market for St. Louis castoffs. It hurts to trade good players. It’s also necessary to trade ’em if the right offers come along. That includes Edman.

C) If the Cardinals view Edman as untouchable in the trade mart and are determined to make him their center fielder in 2024 — will he hit enough to justify playing CF? For whatever reason, Edman’s offense has suffered when deployed in the outfield. In 407 career plate appearances as an outfielder, he has a .241 average, .291 OBP and .366 slug. And as an outfielder he’s been 21 percent below league average offensively per wRC+. In 119 plate appearances as the team’s center fielder this season Edman is hitting .176 with a .252 OBP and .296 slug. And he’s 48 percent below league average offensively when utilized in center.

Let’s face it: the St. Louis front office has a chronically bad habit of overrating its own players. And the baseball minds have made too many mistakes in evaluating players/pitchers on the roster.

We’re looking forward to the Cardinals’ most important season of 2023 – the next offseason – to see what president of baseball operations John Mozeliak comes up with in the effort to transform the team’s starting pitching.

BIRD BYTES

JORDAN WALKER, ON THE OFFENSIVE: The rookie right fielder was having a quiet August before erupting with a blast of offense in the three-game set against the Padres. Walker banged San Diego pitching for 7 hits in 10 at-bats with a walk, double, homer, four RBI and only one strikeout. In his first 21 games in August, Walker had a slash line of .206/.301/.356.

To cap a wonderful 4-for-4 day, Walker crushed a three-run homer off lefty Rich Hill in Thursday’s fourth inning – a huge adrenaline shot that instantly erased a 3-0 deficit.

This season among major-league rookies that have a minimum 300 plate appearances Jordan ranks 10th in batting average (.267), 11th in OBP (.335), 14th in OPS (.766), 14th in wRC+ (112) and 15th in slugging (.431.) Walker’s offensive performance is a little disappointing – and the Cardinals organization deserves some blame for that – but he does have the best OPS among big-league rookies that are no older than 21.

AGONY IN AUGUST: The Cardinals are off Thursday, so we can close their books for August. The Redbirds went 11-16 for the month for a .407 winning percentage. It could have been worse; 10 teams have (or had) a lower winning percentage than St. Louis for the month. And a losing record is hardly a surprise considering the deadline deals that offloaded starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty, shortstop Paul DeJong and relievers Jordan Hicks and Chris Stratton.

AUGUST PITCHING: The Cardinals ranked 25th for the month in overall ERA (5.28) and 27th in starting-pitching ERA (5.67). The standout for the month was Zack Thompson, who had a 3.50 ERA in four starts and a 1.80 ERA in relief. And three relievers did well: Drew VerHagen (0.93 ERA), newcomer John King (1.93 ERA) and JoJo Romero (2.51 ERA with a 37% strikeout rate.)

AUGUST HITTING: The Cardinals scored 3.6 runs per game, their lowest average in a month this season. The hitters were middle-of-the-pack in the standard categories such as batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS. But the team managed to bring home only 98 runs in 27 games; only the Giants, Marlins and A’s did worse.

NO CLUTCH: The team’s most damaging August weakness was a terrible performance in situational hitting. For the month the Cardinals batted .125 with the bases loaded, .183 with runners in scoring position, .205 with runners on, and .203 in high-leverage scenarios. The Cardinals had only three sacrifice flies all month. Eleven of their 21 home runs were solo shots. They didn’t hit a three-run homer in August until their last game in August, when Jordan got it done Thursday.

The Cardinals left a staggering 205 men on base in August. The injury-related absences of Donovan and Lars Nootbaar didn’t help. But the injury excuse only goes so far. The Cardinals took too many horrible at-bats in August when given a plethora of opportunities to produce more runs.

Among Cardinals that had at least 10 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in August, only Paul Goldschmidt, Willson Contreras and Walker came through with above-average performances in RISP situations per wRC+. The team’s worst hitters with RISP for the month were Nolan Gorman, Alec Burleson, Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill and Andrew Knizner. Edman was exactly at average and Nolan Arenado was 10 percent below average (wRC+) in RISP at-bats.

NOLAN GORMAN, TOUGH TIMES: In five games since returning from a lower-back strain on Aug 25, Gorman is 1 for 13 with 11 strikeouts in 15 plate appearances. That’s a strikeout rate of 73.3%. In August, Gorman batted .192, slugged .315 and had two extra-base hits (both homers). And he struck out in 45.5% of his 55 August plate appearances. Among 293 major-league hitters with at least 50 plate appearances in August, only Joey Gallo had a worse strikeout rate (47.3%) than Gorman.

CARDINAL COMEBACKS: Before ambushing the Padres for winning rallies on back-to-back days, the Cardinals had only 20 comeback victories in their first 132 games. At that point only Kansas City had fewer comeback wins (17) among MLB teams. In the updated totals, the fewest comeback triumphs among MLB teams this season belong to the Royals (17), Yankees (21), Padres (21), the A’s (21) and Cardinals (22).

BLOWING (AWAY) IN THE WIND: On the other end of the spectrum, the Cardinals have blown 37 leads this season; only the A’s (39), Rockies (42) and Royals (43) have given away more leads.

WALKING IT OFF: Until stunning the Padres for two walk-off wins in a row, the Cardinals had only two walk-off victories all season. The Redbirds did it to the Pirates on April 16 and the Marlins on July 18.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Before the final two games of the series vs. San Diego, the Cardinals were 2-64 this season when trailing after seven innings but pulled it off two times in less than 24 hours by toppling the Padres 6-5 and 5-4. That gives St. Louis a 4-64 record when losing after seven innings. With the two close wins the Cardinals are now 12-23 in one-run games this season.

PROTECTING THE BIRD SANCTUARY: In winning two of three from the Padres the Cardinals seized only their second series at victory at Busch Stadium since sweeping the Marlins July 17-19. The Cards had dropped four of their previous five home series before edging the Padres.

BREATHLESS THOMAS SAGGESE UPDATE: I remain obsessed with the righthanded-hitting infielder that came over from Texas in the trade for starter Jordan Montgomery and reliever Chris Stratton. Saggese came to the St. Louis organization with a rep of hitting, hitting and more hitting. In 26 games for Double A Springfield since the trade, Saggese is hitting .347 with a .424 OBP and .713 slug. He’s cannonaded 16 extra-base hits — including NINE homers — in only 101 at-bats. The Cardinals are mostly using Saggese at second base, but he’s played a few games at third base. He’s 21 years old.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus 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.