THE REDBIRD REVIEW
After a downer, buzzkill weekend and a series given away to the Cubs, the Cardinals had themselves a happy good time playing baseball on Monday night, flogging the visiting Miami Marlins by a 9-0 count.
Adam Wainwright pitched like an ace.
Paul Goldschmidt hit like an MVP.
Rookie Juan Yepez presented a tribute to Albert Pujols with a two-homer, five-RBI display of power ball.
No pyromaniacs came out of the St. Louis bullpen.
And James Naile, a 29-year-old rookie reliever from small-town Missouri, activated a dream and did himself and his people proud by pitching a scoreless inning in his big-league debut.
Read on …
Plenty of Happy Talk ahead!
The Daily Accounting: With Monday’s win the Cardinals moved within a half-game of first place in the NL Central … after scoring nine runs Monday the Cardinals rank 5th in the majors with an average of 4.80 runs per game. And with Monday’s shutout, the Cardinals moved up to 6th in the majors with an average of 3.89 runs allowed per contest … the Cardinals have climbed to No. 4 in the majors and No. 1 in the National League with a 110 OPS+ … and the STL offense ranks among the top 10 in the NL in batting average, onbase percentage and slugging … after defeating the Marlins the Cardinals are 20-20 this season against teams outside the NL Central. Much of the success comes from their 9-2 record against the Marlins, Royals and Padres … the Cardinals are 3-1 vs. Miami this season. No wonder. In the four games between the teams St. Louis pitchers have allowed only six runs (five earned) in 35 innings for a 1.29 ERA. The Marlins have a .219 batting average against the Cardinals and are only 2 for 25 (.080) with a 40.7 percent strikeout rate when hitting with runners in scoring position. In two starts against the Marlins this season Wainwright has been scratched for one earned run in 12 and ⅔ innings (0.71 ERA) while striking out 29.4 percent of batters faced.
Adam Wainwright, Winner: The Cards are 10-5 in games started by Wainwright this season. The Redbirds went 22-10 in Waino’s starts last season, and they’re 57-31 in his starts since the beginning of the 2019 season. That’s a .648 winning percentage. Since the beginning of June 2021 the Redbirds are 28-9 with Wainwright as the starting pitcher for a marvelous winning percentage of .757.
Since Wainwright became a rotation fixture in 2007, the Cardinals are 240-133 in his starts for a winning percentage of .643. And they’ve won 126 of his 193 starts at Busch Stadium for a home winning percentage of .653.
Wainwright has made 21 regular-season starts since turning 40 years old on Aug. 30 of 2021. The Cardinals are 16-5 in Waino’s starts since his 40th birthday, and he has an individual record of 10-5 with a 3.17 ERA.
The word “impressive” is grossly insufficient.
Based on the Bill James devised Game Score, Wainwright had his third-best start of the season Monday. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowed seven hits and one walk, and struck out nine. For me the highlight was seeing Waino get 13 swinging strikes.
The Paul Goldschmidt File: Lawdy, he’s He had four hits Monday night including a home run and a double with four RBI.
– Goldschmidt has 19 home runs overall, and 15 have come at Busch Stadium. Last season Tyler O’Neill led the Cardinals with 15 homers at Busch Stadium, and Goldschmidt already has matched that with 43 home games to go. Goldschmidt had 17 homers at Busch in 2019, the most since Carlos Beltran swatted 20 at home in 2012. Albert Pujols has the single-season Busch Stadium home-run record with 24 in 2006, and he also powered for 22 homers at home in 2009.
– Goldschmidt is putting up humongous numbers at Busch Stadium this season, batting .409 with a .490 onbase percentage and .811 slugging percentage for a massive 1.301 OPS. In addition to the 15 homers he has 41 RBI and eight doubles. In park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) that bundle of stats computes to 163 percent above league average offensively. If the numbers hold up, Goldy’s current marks in batting average, OBP, slug, OPS and wRC+ would be the best by a Cardinal since the opening of this Busch Stadium before the 2006 season. His current total of 15 homers already put him tied for 9th for the most hit by a Cardinal in a season at the “new” Busch. And he’s moving up the charts with his 41 home RBI.
– You could say that Goldschmidt’s National League MVP campaign is gaining strength. He leads the NL in batting average (.347), onbase percentage (.429), slugging (.642), OPS (1.071), WAR (4.3), OPS+ (205), total bases (176), hits (95), extra-base hits (43), times on base (137), offensive WAR (4.4), wRC+ (199), Runs Created (79), Isolated Power (.296) and Runs Produced (101). And he’s second in doubles (24) and RBI (64) and is third in homers (19.)
– Goldschmidt now has a 143 OPS+ in his three-plus seasons as a Cardinal. That’s 43 percent above league average offensively. And he’s close to matching his career OPS+ (145) with the Arizona Diamondbacks in eight seasons there. But Goldschmidt put that 145 OPS+ together from his age 23 season through his age 30 season. His 143 OPS+ in St. Louis has been constructed from his age 31 through age 34 seasons.
– Since becoming a Cardinal, Goldschmidt ranks fifth in the majors (minimum 1,500 plate appearances) in OPS+, trailing only Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge and Nelson Cruz.
– Goldschmidt is tied with Freddie Freeman for the best OPS+ by a qualifying big-league first baseman since the start of the 2019 season. Over that time Goldy is second in batting average, second in OBP, third in slugging percentage, third in standard OPS, tied for fourth in homers and ranks fifth in RBI among major-league first basemen.
It’s Fun To Be Juan Yepez: I still remember being in the press box on May 20, 2017 when the Cardinals announced a trade: first baseman Matt Adams goes to Atlanta for someone named Juan Yepez, a kid of only 19 years old at the time. Was he a prospect?
No one really had a clear answer. We were told things like “he hits the ball hard,” and “there’s a chance he can develop.” The media reaction? A collective shrug.
But you wouldn’t find Yepez on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list for 2017 – the rankings sprinkled with names like Ozzie Albies, Aaron Judge, Lucas Giolito, Walker Buehler, Rafael Devers, Michael Kopech, Willy Adames, Cody Bellinger, Ian Happ, Josh Hader, Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Kyle Tucker, Josh Bell, Nick Senzel, Tyler O’Neill, Jesse Winker, Hunter Renfroe, Gleyber Torres, Dansby Swanson, Alex Reyes, Victor Robles, Carson Kelly, J.P. Crawford, Tyler Glasnow, Ian Happ, Delvin Perez, Clint Frazier, Albert Almora Jr. and Matt Chapman.
Heck, you wouldn’t have found Yepez on a Top 200 list, or a Top 300 list, or any list that had the prospect pundits excited. But the Cardinals took a flier on Yepez, and for that we owe a nod of gratitude to manager Mike Matheny. In 2017 Matheny came up with this cockamamie idea to play Adams in left field. And from spring training into the early part of the season the big fella really struggled out there. But Matheny was determined to keep going with it.
After watching only six games of Adams in left, GM John Mozeliak intervened and made the trade with Atlanta. Mozeliak knew that this was the only way to prevent Matheny from using Adams in left field, so he swapped “Big City” for some dude named Yepez. Whatever.
Well, look at the dude named Yepez now. Monday night the rookie slugger pounded Miami pitching for two homers that produced five RBI. In 47 games Yepez has eight doubles, nine homers, 24 RBIs and 21 runs scored. He has a good .282 batting average, is slugging .506, has a .834 OPS and is an impressive 37 percent above league average offensively in OPS+.
Among NL rookies that have at least 150 plate appearances this season, Yepez is No. 1 in slugging percentage, second in homers, tied for second in RBI, and second to teammate Brendan Donovan in OPS and OPS+.
What a journey this has been, with Yepez growing from a going-nowhere prospect to one of the top rookies hitters in the majors.
“If you had told me this would be happening, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Yepez told reporters after Monday’s victory.
Yepez, 24, is the picture of happiness and youthful enthusiasm. He loves to smile and laugh and gab about baseball. He’s an emotional player, savoring every moment, his big eyes wide open in a perpetual state of wonder. And my goodness … he has Albert Pujols as a teammate, a friend, a mentor, a Papi. The rookie follows the 42-year-old icon around like a puppy that wants to be with the big dog and cure his curiosity about hitting and defense and being a big-leaguer.
Pujols and Yepez together at the dugout railing is enchantingly endearing – a wonderful image every time we see it.
“I called him Albert-cito — ‘Little Albert’ — yesterday because they’re always stuck together,” said Wainwright, speaking about Yepez to reporters after Monday’s win. “This is amazing for Yepez. It’s the greatest thing that could ever happen for Juan Yepez, with him hanging out every day with Albert Pujols and asking him questions. He’s getting to sponge off one of the best hitters of all time, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Matheny’s experiment with Adams in left field was a success, after all. A huge success. A success in ways that no one could have predicted.
A Night To Remember Forever: James Naile, good on ya. You loved the Cardinals growing up in Charleston, Mo. Now you know what it’s like to be a Cardinal, to live as a Cardinal, to pitch a scoreless eighth inning for the Cardinals, all capped by a diamond-in-the-dirt double-play grounder in front of 200 delirious family members and friends at Busch Stadium.
This was a soul-warming, joyful scene that enraptured everyone who watched from inside the ballpark, or in front of a TV, or while holding a smartphone or tablet. Naile’s big night at Busch wearing the birds on the bat was his dream, and he shared it with anyone who has carried dreams with them. Naile’s dream never exhausted and faded away during his baseball odyssey that took him to Alabama, Vermont, Nashville, Midland (Texas), Stockton (Cali), Beloit (Wisconsin), back to Midland, back to Stockton, back to Nashville, back to Midland, to Las Vegas, back to Midland, back to Las Vegas, onto Memphis and then through the Gateway Arch and to St. Louis for his major-league debut and the fulfillment of a lifetime fantasy.
It was a long time coming for this persistent and personable 29-year-old big-league rookie. Two seasons of college baseball, two stints in rookie ball and seven minor-league seasons in pursuit of a dream that finally came true. Naile never packed up and quit; he just kept working on that dream.
Naile earned this heavenly Monday night on the mound in St. Louis, standing tall and proud, doing a good job for the Cardinals, and feeling the good vibrations from the crowd. Only 147 miles separates St. Louis and Charleston, but it took Naile thousands and thousands of miles to make that trek from all of those minor-league ballpark lights that illuminated the pathway to St. Louis. Making it to the majors wasn’t easy, but that only made his entrance more special and sweeter.
In the words of Walt Disney, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
I hope we see more of James Naile. There should be room for a smart veteran pitcher who has a 55 percent ground ball rate, an ability to get outs, and a deep resilience that got him to the majors.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
1) Rookie catcher Ivan Herrera needs to play … a lot. The more we see, the more we like. He just looks like a guy who will grab the future behind home plate and make it his own.
2) Don’t be shocked if the Cardinals call on prospect Gordon Graceffo to fill a role in the middle innings, or at the back end of the rotation. The timing depends on the team’s pitching needs, warranted by circumstances.
3) Of the 26 players on the Cardinals’ 26-man roster for Monday’s game, 12 have played for the Triple A Memphis Redbirds this season: pitchers Zack Thompson, Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo, Packy Naughton, Junior Fernandez and Naile – plus position players Nolan Gorman, Herrera, Donovan, Yepez, Lars Nootbaar and Conner Capel. Five of the hitters were in Monday’s starting lineup: Donovan, Yepez, Gorman, Nootbaar and Herrera, and Naile and Woodford covered the final two innings in relief of Wainwright.
4) Dakota Hudson, you’re next up. Good luck against the Marlins on Tuesday night. Please do not walk any Marlins. And pitch at a quick pace so we can all get to bed at a reasonable hour. Thank you. In his last two starts Hudson pitched only 9.1 combined innings, had a highly inflated 18.2 percent walk rate, allowed a .340 batting average and got lit up for a 6.75 ERA. He’s better than that. The Cardinals need to win Tuesday because it won’t be easy to defeat Miami super starter Sandy Alcantara in Wednesday’s series finale.
5) St. Louis hitters are doing better against RH pitching this season. In 2021 the Cardinals ranked 21st in the majors with a .706 OPS vs. righthanders. This season they’re 14th with a .718 OPS. Using adjusted runs created (wRC+) the Cardinals were eight percent below league average against RH pitching; so far this year they’re six percent above the league average. That’s a 14 percent improvement. And their wRC+ against righthanders is tied for 10th among the 30 MLB offenses.
6) Dylan Carlson’s slugging percentage dropped to a faint .238 after an 0 for 4 game against Arizona on May 1. In 133 plate appearances since that low point Carlson has a .305 average, .384 OBP and a .525 slug for a .909 OPS. His bounce-back numbers over this stretch include 12 doubles, 14 walks, four homers, and 14 RBI and 17 runs scored. Carlson doubled and tripled against the Marlins Monday to push his season slugging percentage to .409. And his OPS+ increased to 110. After a poor opening month, he’s back to being an impactful, above-average hitter. And there’s much more to come.
7) The Cardinals have promoted outfield prospect Moises Gomez from Double A Springfield to Triple A Memphis. Gomez, 23, had 17 doubles, 23 homers, a .705 slugging percentage and a 1.106 OPS for Springfield – but he also struck out in 35 percent of his 257 plate appearances.
Thanks for reading …
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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.
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.