THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals can’t establish traction and keep moving forward, keep moving up. The gravity of losing always pulls them down. That’s part of their identity in 2024. And that’s a big part of the problem.

This is who they are. Win a few, lose a few. Get to .500, fall under .500. Two steps ahead, two steps back. Stand up and fall. Winning and slumping. Confidence restored, confidence deflated. Love this team, hate this team. The loop never seems to end.

The word “momentum” should be banned from any discussion of the Redbirds when they’re enjoying a successful, encouraging spell. If there is such a thing as momentum, it doesn’t last for the Cardinals.

I’m happy to praise the Cards when they thrive, but if you read these columns regularly, you know that I’ll almost always include a disclaimer: I don’t trust them, and it’s wise to remain skeptical.

By now we’re familiar with their routine. The Redbirds will get going, sizzle through a warming trend, piling up some wins, generating some positive buzz. And then they’ll return to normalcy, which means returning to mediocrity.

The Cardinals are like the football team that reaches the red zone time and time again, only to turn the ball over or settle for a dinky field goal. Many opportunities but few touchdowns. It’s like that with these Cardinals; their version is putting runners in scoring position then leaving them stranded.

Here’s their monthly records so far:

March-April: 14-16
May: 13-12
June: 9-9

The Cardinals averaged 3.6 runs in the opening month, went wild (sarcasm) by scoring 4.3 runs per game in May, and are averaging a mundane 4.0 runs in June.

There isn’t much variance. Nothing dramatic, anyway. Some aspects of the 2024 Cardinals will change during a 10-day or two-week stretch. Pitching will carry them for a while. The hitters will perk up for a time. And then there’s the inevitable downturn. But in terms of bottom-line results, basically it’s the same team every month.

Never better than a game over .500 in a month.

Never worse than two games below .500 in a month.

And as of Thursday morning, exactly at .500 this month.

They’re consistently inconsistent, and their path always leads back to .500. Whether hot or cold, the temperature will change, and the Cardinals find their level. And that level, at best, is right around average.

The Cardinals went 5-1 against the Red Sox and Orioles this season. Boston is five games over .500, and Baltimore is 48-25. Impressive work, Redbirds!

Err, not so fast. These same Cardinals are an embarrassing 6-7 this season in games against the White Sox, Marlins and Rockies … the three worst teams in the majors.

The White Sox, Marlins and Rockies are horrendous; they have a .305 combined winning percentage this season in games that do not involve the Cardinals.

And it was no problem for these three baseball stooges to beat the Cardinals. In fact the three losingest teams have won six of the last 10 games they’ve played against St. Louis. That’s all we need to know, eh?

After going 5-1 in a run of good ball that put them a game above .500, the Cardinals gave away the final two games of their series at Miami. I could sit here and type up a few sentences about how the two consecutive losses were a disgrace, a joke, and unacceptable. But really, what is the point?

The two one-run losses to Miami – which terminated their “momentum” and were utterly abysmal – actually reminded us of something we must always try to remember: this is who the Cardinals are.

HELP ON THE WAY? The Cardinals can tell us the offense will improve and become a more capable attack when injured regulars Willson Contreras, Lars Nootbaar and Tommy Edman return to the lineup.

Contreras will help. Absolutely. And president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told MLB Network he believes Contreras (fractured forearm) can be back with the Cardinals next week. But Mozeliak didn’t offer a timetable for Nootbaar (groin) and isn’t sure about the timing of Edman’s return. Edman hasn’t played this season after making a slow recovery from wrist surgery.

“The over-under we should use is the All-Star break, so perhaps he can beat that and show up somewhere in early July,” Mozeliak of Edman. “If not, worst case, he’ll be ready to go after the All-Star break.”

The All-Star break begins July 15 and the Cardinals will return to action with a series at Atlanta that starts July 19. If Edman can be ready by then, he’d be in the position of giving the Cardinals an offensive boost at the center field spot. But Edman hasn’t taken an at-bat in the majors since Oct. 1 of last season, so we can’t assume that he’ll be fully ready to go when returning from the IL. It may take him some time to sharpen his timing and get comfortable at the plate.

As for Nootbaar, who really knows? He struggles to avoid injuries and stay healthy. The IL is Noot’s second residence. Nootbaar has played in only 66 percent of the team’s games since the beginning of 2023.

And then there’s the forgotten man, Jordan Walker. The highly hyped right fielder remains in Memphis, working on his hitting approach and swing. He’s not crushing Triple A pitchers, so … who knows?

MIAMI’S BULLPEN OWNED THE CARDINALS: The Marlins had a bottom-five bullpen in the National League before that swashbuckling team from St. Louis came to town, fired up by winning a series at Wrigley Field.

But in taking two of three from the Cardinals, Miami’s relievers dominated the proceedings. They had a 2.25 ERA over 16 innings. The Cardinals batted .170 with a sickly .510 OPS against the Marlins’ pen and struck out 26 percent of the time.

In Miami’s back-to-back wins that won the series, Marlins relievers handled 10 innings over the two games and gave up only four hits, all singles, and two unearned runs. Miami’s bullpen held the Cardinals to a .121 average and .310 OPS in the two victories and struck out 30 percent of the STL hitters that came to the plate. Moreover, the Cardinals went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position against Miami relievers in the two losses.

Yes, the Cardinals took some of the worst, non-competitive at-bats you’ll ever see from a team. Any team. When the Miami bullpen renders you helpless, it says a lot about the state of your offense. Speaking of which …

THE STATE OF THE STL OFFENSE: In Wednesday’s 4-3 loss, the Cardinals scored three runs or fewer in a game for the 37th time this season, tied for the seventh most in the majors. The Cardinals are 9-28 for a .243 winning percentage in those games.

Last season the 71-91 Cardinals were held to three runs or fewer in 46.2 percent of their games. This year’s team has scored three or fewer runs in 50.6 percent of their games.

The Cardinals have scored four runs or less 45 times this season – which amounts to 61.6 percent of their games – and are 15-30 for a .333 winning percentage when it happens.

A LOOK AT JUNE SO FAR: The Cardinals had a solid month offensively in May but have receded through the first 18 games in June.

Through Wednesday the Cards were 11th among 15 NL teams this month in batting average (.241), 14th in onbase percentage (.286), 10th in slugging (.389) and 12th in OPS (.675.)

JUNE PROBLEMS: The Cardinals haven’t taken many walks. Their 5.3 percent walk rate ranks 14th in the NL this month and is a significant factor in their awful OBP in June.

Other June concerns:

– The leadoff spot: It’s bad. When batting first in the lineup this month, Masyn Winn and Brendan Donovan are batting a combined .213 with a .229 onbase percentage and .325 slug. The leadoff men have walked only 2.4 percent of the time and have a 28 percent strikeout rate.

– A team’s offense will drag when its leadoff spot is failing to draw walks and get on base at a reasonable rate. Winn has more plate appearances (69) batting leadoff this month than Donovan (14.) When utilized as the No. 1 hitter this month, Winn is hitting .227 with a .246 onbase percentage in June. Per FanGraphs, that’s 41 percent below league average offensively. This month Winn’s offense from the leadoff spot is the second worst in the majors among the 13 No. 1 hitters that have at least 65 plate appearances.

MORE ON MASYN WINN: I brought this up the other day and want to hit it again: is it best for manager Oli Marmol to put Winn at the leadoff spot? Consider

When Winn has batted leadoff this season he has a slash line of .238/.253/.369 and is 26 percent below league average offensively per wRC+.

When Winn has been slotted in any other lineup spot this season, he has a slash line of .324/.380/.455 and is 38 percent above league average offensively.

ALL OR NOTHING? This month Nolan Gorman (6) and Alec Burleson (5) have combined for 11 homers. But when they don’t homer, they’re collectively 18 for 131 for a .137 batting average.

KUDOS TO THE BULLPEN: Cardinals relievers had to cover 13 innings in the final two games at Miami. They picked up for Lance Lynn after he went only 5 and ⅓ innings Tuesday. And with scheduled starter Kyle Gibson scratched from Wednesday’s game a few minutes before the first pitch, reliever Matthew Liberatore had to scramble to get in a very short warm-up and open for the Cardinals.

Given the unique situation, Libby and relievers Chris Roycroft, John King, Kyle Leahy and Ryan Fernandez did a heck of a job under difficult circumstances. Liberatore gave up two solo homers right away – not a shocker, because he didn’t have the proper time to warm up – but retired his last 10 hitters faced. The Marlins scored two runs over the final eight innings.

It was enough to get the home team a victory, but we can’t blame the St. Louis bullpen. Wednesday’s game was lost because of an inept and ineffective Cardinal offense that struck out 12 times without a walk and went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. It was a travesty to lose that game and waste the fine work turned in by the bullpen emergency crew.

It was a lost day in Miami. It was typical of the Cardinals’ season.

And the Cardinals lost third baseman Nolan Arenado after he was struck on the right elbow by a pitch in the eighth inning. Arenado was really hurting. Hopefully he’ll rebound soon. It was just that kind of day in the ballpark filled with empty seats.

NEXT ON THE SKED: The Cardinals will start Andre Pallante against the Giants tonight (6:15 p.m. STL) in a very special game at the legendary Rickwood Field in Birmingham. MLB is honoring the Negro Leagues and the death of the great Willie Mays adds poignance and prestige to the occasion. Rickwood Field is where it all began for the remarkably talented teenage baseball prodigy who arguably became the greatest all-around player in major-league history.

In a separate note, rookie righthander Adam Kloffenstein will likely make his MLB debut in Thursday’s game, coming on in relief of Pallante. Kloffenstein — acquired from Toronto last summer in the deal for Jordan Hicks — has been coming on at Triple A Memphis. In his last four starts, the 6-5 Kloffenstein had a 1.64 ERA and 28.3 percent strikeout rate. He’s been especially tough on left-handed hitters this season.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream live or access the podcast on 590thefan.com or the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Threads @miklaszb

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.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.