Welcome to The Redbird Review
The Cardinals (61-58) have lost the first two games of their series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Sad, but expected. The division rivals shall altercate again on Thursday night, with the Cards trying to dodge a sweep, and perhaps draw a few more customers, to a quiet and uninhabited Busch Stadium.
Where are all of the fans? I don’t know. Maybe they’re saving their sports dollars and enthusiasm for the St. Louis City MLS expansion franchise, which begins play in the spring-summer of 2023. The Cardinals have sold a lot of tickets to their home games this season, but a percentage of fans that purchased the tickets aren’t showing up to watch the game.
Perhaps their motivation faded a bit after St. Louis president of baseball ops John Mozeliak offered his inspirational “We’re Just Trying To Get Through 2021” message after the MLB trade deadline expired on the afternoon of July 30.
Pardon my sarcasm. But as rally cries go, this wasn’t exactly Winston Churchill throwing down at The House of Commons in 1940 after British and French forces evacuated Dunkirk.
(Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!”)
(Mozeliak: “We’re still trying to fight for something … hopefully we can make a little noise still in the Central.”)
(I’m trying to lighten the mood with lame humor.)
(I am failing to lighten the mood with lame humor.)
After Wednesday’s repulsive 6-4 loss in 10 innings, the rearward Cardinals slid to 12 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central. And by blowing a 3-0 lead, the Cardinals wasted an opportunity to snip San Diego’s four-game lead in the search for the NL’s second wild card.
The Redbirds also muffed an opportunity to sidle closer to the Reds, who lost again to the Cubs. Cincinnati is 2.5 games ahead of St. Louis in the wild-card, um, crusade. The Phillies lost their third in a row, but hung within a half-game of the not-so-opportunistic Cardinals.
No. 2 Wild Card Scorecard, Part One: San Diego leads the Reds by 1 and ½ games, the Cards by 4, the Phillies by 4 and ½ and the Mets by 5 and ½.
No. 2 Wildcard Scorecard, Part Two: According to FanGraphs, here are the probability odds for securing the second wild card: Padres 44.6%, Reds 39.1%, Cardinals 6.2%, Phillies 4.1%, and Mets 2%.
About Last Night …
Brewers 6, Cardinals 4.
SUMMARY JUDGEMENT: You can’t lose this game after taking a 3-0 lead after two innings. Can’t lose it on a night when terrific Milwaukee starter Freddy Peralta is bothered by a discomfort in his right shoulder and can only pitch two innings. Can’t lose this game because you don’t score a run from the third through the ninth inning.
Can’t lose a game because of closer Alex Reyes (A) surrendering the game-tying solo homer in the 9th; (B) committing a throwing error with a runner on second to start the 10th; (C) bouncing a wild pitch that brought in a run for a 4-3 Milwaukee lead.
Can’t lose this game because of Christian Yelich catching you off guard in the 10th with a RBI bunt to make it 5-3. Can’t lose this game because you go down 6-3 in a single allowed by Reyes and an ensuing error on the play by rightfielder Lars Nootbaar.
Stating the obvious: absolutely, this was one of the worst and most inexcusable losses by the Cardinals this season. A failure by the offense, sloppy defense, and an implosion by Reyes.
FROM THE MILWAUKEE SIDE: The Crew is 74-47 for a season-high 27 games over .500. Their 9 and ½ game lead over the second-place Reds is the largest of the season. After the Cardinals jumped to a 3-0 lead, the Brewers had a win expectancy of 19 percent at the start of the third inning. As Avisail Garcia stepped up to bat in the ninth inning — before he homered to tie the game 3-3 — the Brewers had a win expectancy of only nine percent. But they won. They won for the 17th time in their last 19 road games. This one felt special.
“This might be our best win of the season because everybody contributed,” Yelich said via postgame Zoom.
“Yeah, it definitely goes to the top of the list or close to the top of the list, for sure,” manager Craig Counsell said, on Zoom. “It was just a great team effort, more than anything.”
MIKE SHILDT’S “CONTROVERSIAL” DECISION: Social media — of course! — was ablaze with flamethrower criticism of the Cardinals manager because he declined to intentionally walk Yelich to load the bases and pitch to the next guy up, Jace Peterson.
I disagree with those who disagreed with Shildt’s decision. Why?
— Reyes has the fourth-worst walk rate (17.5%) by a qualifying MLB reliever this season.
— Jace Peterson has a 15.6% walk rate this season. He had a walk rate of 24.5% last season. He has a career walk rate of 14%. His walk rate this season against RH pitching is 16%. Peterson is having a better season than Yelich offensively this year, with a slash line of .275 / .392 / .438.
— Do you really want to intentionally load the bases when your reliever is a walking machine pitching to a batter that’s a walking machine? Peterson, who bats left, has a .398 OBP, .455 slug and .852 OPS vs. RH pitching this season. Yelich, who also bats left, has a .757 OPS vs. RHP this year.
— Sure enough, after Yelich’s bunt single Peterson joined the fun by singling sharply off Reyes. Nootbaar couldn’t handle the line drive cleanly, and the sequence produced Milwaukee’s sixth run.
Either way, Shildt’s decision didn’t work because Yelich AND Peterson ruined it. The way it turned out, it wasn’t much of an either/or choice because both hitters made the Cardinals unhappy and sent their small, Pittsburgh-sized crowd into the cars for the ride home.
YELICH’S KEY BUNT DURING HIS TEAM’S 3-RUN 10TH INNING: He was emboldened to try it because Cards third baseman Nolan Arenado was off duty. Arenado had been ejected — and rightfully so — by going too far with his hollering and emphatic gesturing at first-base umpire Allen Porter over two checked swings that were called strikes by Porter during the game.
Porter gave Arenado plenty of latitude to air his grievances and do so with a boiling temper, but Arenado wouldn’t let it go. After the second check-swing strike in the bottom of the seventh, Arenado shouted and gestured at Porter as he made his way to the dugout. And when it was time to take the field for the top of the eighth, Arenado walked out to bark and wave two fingers at Porter again.
I can’t be a homer on this, folks.
The Cardinals were clinging to a one-lead. It was late in an important game. Cards starting pitcher Jack Flaherty had worked hard to stake his teammates to an advantage.
Arenado can’t afford to push it and risk getting thrown out of that game. His team needed him at the plate, and at third base. No disrespect to Cards rookie infielder Edmundo Sosa, but Arenado is a six-time All-Star with eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards.
About his choice to bunt, Yelich said: “I was a little more comfortable with Nolan not out there.”
JACK FLAHERTY’S NIGHT: He was hit for two solo homers, but the overall performance was worthy of a victory. Flaherty went six innings, allowed four hits, didn’t walk a batter, and struck out eight. In two starts since returning from a long recovery period on the IL, Flaherty has a 1.50 over 12 innings with one walk and 13 strikeouts. His average Game Score for the two starts was 65.
(Sidebar: The Cardinals have 37 starts this season with a Game Score of 60 or better, and their record in those starts is 26-11. The Brewers have 59 starts with a 60+ Game Score; their record in those games is 43-16.)
Since July 1 the Cardinals’ 3.37 rotation ERA ranks fourth in the majors behind the Brewers, Dodgers and Yankees.
THE BREWER BULLPEN: During two evenings of baseball at Busch Stadium eight Milwaukee relievers have worked 11 innings without allowing an earned run. They’ve held the Cardinals to five hits, all singles, in 38 at-bats (.132 average.) They’ve walked five Cardinals, hit one, and struck out 29.5% of the 44 batters faced.
Wednesday’s bullpen performance was especially ruthless. With the starter Peralta leaving after two innings, the manager Counsell had to cover seven innings of regulation baseball — plus the extra frame in the 10th.
Taking advantage of the extra-inning format that puts a runner on second base to start the inning, the Cardinals got a run in the 10th on a single by Yadier Molina. (That type of run isn’t considered an “earned” run.)
Over eight innings the Brewers allowed only eight of 32 batters to reach base, held the Cardinals to a .111 batting average (3 for 27), and cranked a 28 percent strikeout rate.
The strength of the bullpen core — Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Brad Boxberger, Brent Suter and Jake Cousins — were augmented with relief appearances by Hunter Strickland, Daniel Norris, and Miguel Sanchez.
And if the brilliant Counsell isn’t the best manager in the business at running a bullpen, then he’s tied for first.
SOLID-GOLDSCHMIDT: Two more hits on Wednesday, both doubles. The Cardinals first baseman is hitting .345 and reaching base just under 40 percent of the time in August. And he has 14 RBI in 15 games. But this isn’t a new thang; since July 1, among 92 MLB hitters that have at least 150 plate appearances, Goldschmidt ranks seventh in batting average (.331), 11th in OBP (.399) and 19th in OPS (.922.) . His slugging percentage (.523) ranks 28th out of 90.
Since July 1 Goldy ranks 19th in park-and-league adjusted runs created and is 49 percent above league average offensively.
ALEX REYES UPDATE: Since the All-Star break Reyes has been tagged for eight earned runs in 13.1 innings for an ERA of 5.40.
Before the All-Star break the Cards closer allowed only seven earned runs in 41.1 innings for an ERA of 1.52.
Strikeout rate: 30.7% before the All-Star break and 21.8% since the break. (His walk rate has gone down since the All-Star break but is still a too-high 15.6 percent.)
Runners stranded on base: 89.8% before the All-Star break; 44% since the break.
Fielding independent ERA: 3.51 before the break and 5.72 after the break.
In seven innings this month Reyes has allowed five earned runs, two homers, and has an August ERA of 6.43. His strand rate for the month is 12.2%. That’s a long, long way down from his nearly 90% strand rate in appearances before the All-Star break.
GENESIS CABRERA: The dynamic young lefty is a real problem for hitters these days. Actually, it’s been that way for more than a month now. Cabrera hasn’t been charged with an earned run since July 9. In 14 appearances covering 13.2 innings since then, Cabrera’s perfect (0.00) ERA is accompanied by an opponent batting average of .070 (3 for 43) and a strikeout rate of 28.5%. Cabrera has allowed two of seven inherited runners to score. Cabrera, who has faced 24 batters this month, hasn’t issued a single walk. Among MLB relievers that have pitched at least 12 innings since the All-Star break, Cabrera is one of only four that owns a 0.00 ERA. The others are Jose Alvarez (Giants), Tyler Matzek (Braves), and Blake Treinen (Braves.)
LUIS GARCIA: I’m late in offering praise, but after a bad start the veteran RH has settled in to deliver confident, admirable work for the Cardinals bullpen. After getting strafed for six earned runs in his first three appearances for the Cards in July, Garcia has provided 12.2 innings of scoreless relief in his last nine appearances. And with no walks and 11 strikeouts.
NEXT: Jon Lester vs. Brandon Woodruff tonight at 6:45 pm STL time.
Thanks for reading…
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.