THE REDBIRD REVIEW
The Cardinals are hammering and chipping away to get out from under the rockslide that has them down by 11 and ½ games in the NL Central standings.
The Redbirds are actually on the plus side of winning and losing over the last month. Beginning with their three-game set against the Mets at Citi Field on June 16, the Cardinals have won five of their last seven series while splitting another. Their record over that time is 13-11. Here lately, the Cards are 4-1 in their last five games and 5-2 in their previous seven contests.
There’s nothing thrilling about this. When your team has lost only two of its last eight series, they should emerge from the stretch with a record of better than 13-11. But progress is slowed when the starting pitchers have a 7.88 first-inning ERA over that time and the bullpen can’t be entrusted to preserve leads.
The St. Louis offense did what it could, batting averaging 5.2 runs, batting .276 and slugging .460 with 35 homers and 43 doubles during the 13-11 phase. Problem is, it’s difficult to go off on an extended winning streak when your team has a 5.00 ERA, even as you’re winning 13 of 24 games. With solid pitching, that 13-11 record could have been more like 17-7.
With the 2023 Cardinals, it’s almost always about the pitching and defense, and the team is still paying for the glaring front-office failure to strengthen the run prevention last offseason. And unless Cardinals management gets serious about assembling a good and deep pitching staff going forward, we’ll see something like 2023 again. You just can’t pitch this was and hope to have lasting success. It’s pretty much futile.
It’s a frustrating set of circumstances that could have been avoided with a more proactive front office. But here’s an example of the repercussions:
— Before starting the series at Citi Field a month ago, the Cardinals were 8.0 games out of first place in the NL Central.
— Despite their subsequent 13-11 record since then, the Cardinals have lost ground, dropping to 11 and ½ games out of first.
That’s a tough way to go.
The Milwaukee Brewers are showing us how it’s done.
The Crew is 18-8 with a 3.68 ERA in their last 26 games. They just finished winning four in a row from the Reds, with Milwaukee pitchers holding precocious Cincinnati to three earned runs in 36 innings. Supported by exceptional pitching, the Brewers have zoomed into first place with a two-game lead over the Reds.
Don’t ever forget this or become distracted by relatively meaningless side issues: it’s almost always about the pitching, and for some reason the St. Louis front office has largely ignored the obvious reality. St. Louis, allowing 5.01 runs per game, is having its worst run-prevention performance since 2007, and second worst since 1999.
That’s the No. 1 reason why the Cardinals (40-53) rank 13th in the NL in winning percentage and can’t climb their way up in the standings. The pitching pulls them down.
JACK FLAHERTY: In Sunday’s 8-4 victory over the Nationals, Flaherty held the visitors to one run through five innings before yielding a two-run triple in the sixth. All in all it was a good day for Jack, who allowed only six of 24 batters to reach base. He struck out seven of the 24 for a strikeout rate of 29%. In his last three starts Flaherty has a 1.45 ERA in 18 and ⅔ innings.And in his last 11 starts, his ERA is 3.22. I’m not sure what will happen between now and the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but with so many contenders angling for starting pitching, Flaherty’s value figures to rise, but his impending free agency is still a factor.
STAT THAT BUGS ME: The Cardinals have 26 quality starts this season, ranking 25th overall and 13th in the NL. And when they’re gotten a quality start the Cardinals are 22-4. That’s outstanding. Think about what this team’s record would look like if St. Louis filed more quality starts.
In 2015 the Cardinals led the majors with 106 quality starts and had .868 winning percentage in those games. That’s why St. Louis won 100 games in ‘15 despite ranking 22nd in the majors with 4.0 runs scored per game. Pitching, baby.
ST. LOUIS OFFENSE: The Cardinals mashed the Nationals for an average of 7.33 runs per game during the weekend series. The damage report includes seven homers, five doubles, a triple and a .582 slugging percentage. The Cardinals batted .327 overall during the three games and hit .323 with runners in scoring position and posted a .306 average with a .985 OPS on two-strike counts. Well done.
BRENDAN DONOVAN: After another good series, Donovan is batting .328 with a .409 onbase percentage and a .496 slug since the start of June. That includes 10 extra-base hits, highlighted by five homers. And his improved power has become more of a factor in the STL offense.
Since May 23, Donovan’s .327 batting average is tied for fifth among MLB hitters that have at least 150 plate appearances over that time. He also ranks fourth in onbase percentage (.416) and is 10th in OPS (.930) and sixth with 159 wRC+. plate appearances over that time. For the season, the only Cardinal that has more WAR (2.8) than Donovan (2.1.)
CHRIS STRATTON, LONG-LASTING BATTERIES: The veteran righty reliever has the durability that any manager is looking for. This season Stratton has worked 47 and ⅔ innings out of the bullpen, which ties him for 10th among MLB relievers. In his last seven games he’s been charged with one unearned run in 7.2 innings, giving up two hits and a walk with a 26% strikeout rate. Because of his ability to handle a busy workload, Stratton should be a popular name when MLB front offices scramble for relief help before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. Since the start of the 2021 season only eight big-league relievers have thrown more innings than Stratton.
PAUL DEJONG: He was lost at the plate for a while, a downturn that put his hopelessly unhinged haters in a heightened state of arousal. Dejong is 8 for 20 (.400) in his last five games with two doubles and three RBI.
Even locally, DeJong is one of the more overlooked performers on the 2023 Cardinals. For more than a month – since June 11 – he’s batting .266 with a .447 slug. For the season DeJong is five percent above league offensively (per wRC+) which is slightly better than his 30-homer campaign in 2019.
DeJong has 1.6 WAR, tied with Philly’s Trea Turner for 12th overall among MLB shortstops. DeJong’s .438 slugging percentage is No. 8 among MLB shortstops. In about the same number of plate appearances DeJong’s 12 homers match Corey Seager’s total, and DeJong has more HRs than Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Wander Franco, Dansby Swanson and Jeremy Pena.
According to Baseball Savant, DeJong is tied for 10th among MLB shortstops in Fielding Run Value.
By any objective measure, Pauly is having an above-average season offensively and defensively. Yes, even with a 29 percent strikeout rate.
NOLAN GORMAN: After enduring his way through an extensive slump, the second-year second baseman is powering up again – with three doubles, two homers, seven RBI and a .563 slugging percentage. Unfortunately, Gorman has a 46% strikeout rate in his last six games.
Gorman is still learning. But this season, among MLB hitters aged 23 or younger, Gorman and Arizona’s Corbin Carroll are tied for the MLB lead with 18 home runs. And Gorman is fourth in slugging percentage (.469.) If you go back to Gorman’s rookie season (2022) he has 32 home runs in 571 at-bats – same as Vlad Guerrero. And the only dudes (age 23 or younger) with more home runs than Gorman over the last two season are Julio Rodriguez (41) and Bobby Witt Jr. (36)
I’m on Team Gorman. His second-base defense has improved this season and second basemen that have this kind of power are rare birds. If the Cardinals trade Gorman, they’ll regret it.
ALEC BURLESON: He’s doing well in July, going 9 for 29 (.310) with three walks, a homer, five RBI and four runs scored. The developing lefty bat has pulled his OPS vs. RH pitchers up to .702.
QUESTION: Whatever happened to Zack Thompson?
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts a weekday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
The “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz is available at 590thefan.com, the 590 the fan app or 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, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus or Bill James Online.
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.