THE REDBIRD REVIEW

What a day. What a night. What a doubleheader at Busch Stadium. A notorious summer STL heatwave has settled in, and the Cardinals are trying to match the temperatures. According to the daily hottest-team rankings at Bill James Online, the Cardinals are sixth at 94 degrees.

Let’s recap Tuesday’s events at Busch Stadium:

➜ After winning on Monday, the Cardinals took care of business on Tuesday by sweeping the Pirates, outscoring the visitors 12-2 in the two games and taking a 2 and ½ game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central standings.

➜ Paul Goldschmidt went 6 for 8 with three homers in the two games and drove in eight of his team’s 12 runs. In the first game he homered and singled to knock in all of his team’s runs in a 3-1 victory. In the second game Goldschmidt smashed a two-run homer in the first inning and a three-run homer in the second as the Redbirds seized an early 7-0 lead. Goldy reached base five times in the second game.

➜ In the first three games of the series Goldschmidt is 9 for 12 with four homers, a double, six runs scored and nine runs batted in.

➜ This is the baseball equivalent of an excessive heat warning. This morning Bill James listed Goldschmidt as MLB’s hottest hitter at the moment with a blistering temperature of 113 degrees.

➜ There was this late Tuesday-night tweet from STATS: “Goldschmidt is the first MLB player to have 9+ hits, 9+ RBI, 6+ runs scored, 5+ extra-base hits, 4+ home runs and 0 strikeouts  over a two-day span since Ty Cobb did so from May 5-6, 1925.” My goodness.

➜ In his exciting pursuit of a no-hitter in the second game, Miles Mikolas was 8 and ⅔ innings and 26 outs into his mission before Pittsburgh’s Calvin Miller ruined the anticipated celebration. Miller, who came to the plate with a .203 batting average, struck a double over the mane of Cards center fielder Harrison Bader. The St. outfield was instructed to play shallow to reduce the possibility of a bloopy, dinky single – only to have Mitchell spoil the plan. The rookie connected with a Mikolas curveball that left the bat with an exit velocity of 101.4 miles per hour. According to Statcast, there’s an expected .550 batting average on balls hit like Mitchell’s double.

➜ Bozos raced to Twitter to throw diaper-baby tantrums …  blasting Bader, cursing Bader, spitting profanities at Bader, accusing Bader of not hustling. All of this foam-at-the mouth insanity ignored two pieces of information: (A) The manager and the coaching staff are responsible for positioning the outfielders; (B) the Statcast catch probability on Mitchell’s double was only 20 percent.

➜ In the first game Yadier Molina set an new all-time MLB record for most career putouts by a catcher. He passed Ivan Rodriguez with putout No. 14,865 … then added five more by game’s end for a total of 14,870. Molina ranks second among catchers in MLB history with 27.2 defensive WAR. Rodriguez is No. 1 with 29.6 defensive WAR.

➜ Brendan Donovan started both games and had five hits in nine at-bats with a walk, four runs scored, a double, and an RBI. This rookie is having a special season. Among NL players that have at least 149 plate appearances this season, Donovan leads the league in onbase percentage (.436), is third in batting average (.328), sixth in OPS+ (158) and ninth in standard OPS (.884.)

(Note: Paul Goldschmidt actually has a higher OBP and leads the NL among hitters that have a qualifying number of plate appearances. Donovan isn’t there just yet. But he does lead the league in OBP when we use a smaller sample size that’s relevant to his number of plate appearances so far.)

➜ Rookie second baseman Nolan Gorman made two superb plays defensively in the second game, protecting the Mikolas no-hit bid. Gorman left his feet for a diving stop in the fourth inning, then made a nifty backhanded catch behind second base in the sixth. Gorman is still polishing his defense as he learns the position … but even with some awkward moments he’s playing better at 2B than I thought he would.

➜ Tommy Edman didn’t play the first game. But he led off the second game with a first-pitch home run and went 3 for 5.

➜ Rookie left-handed starter Matthew Liberatore did a terrific job in the first game, aggressively attacking the strike zone and pitching five scoreless innings. In his first four MLB starts Liberatore is 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA. In his two wins – over Milwaukee and Pittsburgh – Liberatore didn’t allow a run in 10 innings and held the Brewer-and-Pirate batters to six hits in 36 at-bats (.167.)

➜ The Cardinals made a somewhat surprising announcement Tuesday: Jack Flaherty would come off the IL and return to the majors to make his first start of the season in Wednesday’s series finale against the Pirates. His presence adds a touch of excitement to the final game of the homestand.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

More on Miles Mikolas: I don’t get as fired up about no-hitters as I did during my earlier days as a fan. There have been too many of them in recent seasons, and that has reduced the prestige of the accomplishment. But that has nothing to do with Miles Mikolas. I really, really rooted for him to do it. Why? Because he was having fun out there. He always has fun out there, unless a start is going poorly and makes him frustrated. Mikolas never loses his spirit, his zest for life, and always brings a touch of his appealing eccentricity. There is a joy to his pitching, and these are the most likable kind of athletes.

And I pulled for Miles because of all he’s been through. He signed with the Cardinals before the 2018 season. He was fantastic in 2018. He was solid – not great – while laboring through a more difficult 2019 campaign. And then his career took a terrible turn with a problematic, time-stealing, long-healing forearm strain. Mikolas didn’t pitch at all in 2020, then threw only 44.2 innings over nine starts in 2021. He came back without really being back in ‘21 … really being back as in the 2018 version of Miles. He’s 33 now, and had to reestablish himself as a dependable, quality-generating starting pitcher. And after two lost seasons, we just didn’t know if Mikolas was still capable of being what he was before: an All-Star caliber pitcher who was essential to the rotation’s success, and the pitcher that we very much wanted to see again.

Jun 14, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Miles Mikolas (39) salutes the fans after pitching 8 2/3 inning and giving up one hit in a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the lens I used for watching his no-hit bid. He came up agonizingly short, but my lens gave me a different view. One that showcased the results of his dedication, persistence, and the desire to do what he loves. Pitchers break down, and a percentage of them never recover. A higher percentage of them can never find their way out of pain, rehab and mediocrity to reach their peak-level performance again. Thankfully, Miles Mikolas is one who made it back .. made the long climb up the hill  – on top of the mound, on top of his game. It was really a beautiful thing to watch. This no-hit bid was more than just a no-hit bid. The performance reaffirmed something deeper and more important: Miles Mikolas survived a threat to his career and is healthy and happy and whole.

Mikolas ranks 7th among NL starters with his 2.62 ERA. He’s second in the league with 82.1 innings pitched. He ranks 12th among NL starting pitchers with 1.5 WAR. His Bill James Game Score Average in his 13 starts – 59.5 – ranks 9th.

Over the last week, Mikolas started games against the Rays and Pirates and had a 1.08 ERA in 16.2 innings. The artist is at the canvas again, and we get to enjoy his work.

Jack Is Back: This is huge for the Cardinals. Granted, we can’t assume anything about Flaherty in this situation. Will his rehabbed shoulder stay strong? Can he consistently pitch at a high level? Will there be setbacks? How long will it take Flaherty to hit his stride, and go deep into games? It’s great to have Flaherty in this rotation again … but it’s also a nervous time, because we can’t be sure of what to expect. We haven’t seen him pitch in a long time. And we haven’t seen him pitch much at all since the end of his brilliant 2019 season; he’s made only 24 starts and pitched 118.2 innings over the last three years.

If Flaherty is truly himself again, he’ll make a substantial difference. He will strengthen the St. Louis rotation, and give the Cardinals a strong front four of Adam Wainwright, Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Flaherty. Until Steven Matz returns – who knows when? – the Cardinals have fine options among their young pitchers for the fifth spot in the rotation: Andre Pallante, Zack Thompson and Liberatore.

Unlike the June 2021 disaster, the has cultivated internal depth from their player-development system to cover rotation holes. It’s not ideal – but it’s enough. And if Flaherty looks good and stays that way, the Cardinals can move Pallante back to the bullpen, or repurpose Thompson as a reliever, or commit to Liberatore as the fifth starter. Flaherty’s presence can deepen the bullpen, and give manager Oli Marmol more quality in the middle-innings relief.

Good luck to Jack. Welcome back.

The Daily Accounting: The first-place Cardinals lead the Brewers by 2 and ½ in the NL Central. The last time the Cardinals had the lead in the NL Central by more than two games was May 22 of the 2021 season, when they were 3 games ahead of the Cubs … the Cards are 5-1 on the current homestand which closes with Wednesday night’s game against the Pirates … the Cards are 8-1 in their last nine home games and have gone 10-2 in their last 12 at Busch …

The Cardinals are 17-9 in their last 26 games. That’s the second-best record in the NL since May 20, with only Atlanta (19-6) doing better … The Cardinals are 6-0 against Pittsburgh in the teams’ last two series, with St. Louis outscoring the Pirates 47-18 in the six wins … going into Wednesday’s game the Cardinals are 8-1 vs. Pittsburgh for the season and have outscored the Pirates 66-29.

The St. Louis Offense: Defying The Whiners. There are 30 teams in MLB. The Cardinals rank 6th among the 30 in runs per game (4.8), OPS+ (108), batting average (.254) and onbase percentage (.322.)

They’re 13th in slugging percentage (.398) which puts them seven points above the MLB average. STL is fifth in the majors with a .274 average with runners in scoring position.

The Cards are second overall and first in the NL with 47 stolen bases, and they’ve been caught stealing only 10 times for a success rate of 82%.

The Cardinals don’t receive enough attention or credit for reducing their strikeouts. Their strikeout rate (19.2%) is best in the NL and second overall. Their batting average on two-strike counts (.197) is the third best in the majors. And their strikeout rate on two-strike counts (35.6%) is second best in the majors. To put that in context, 19 MLB teams have a strikeout rate of 40% or worse on two-strike counts. The Cardinals salvage two-strike situations just about as well as any team in the majors.

Paul Goldschmidt Is Ridiculous: After the dynamite doubleheader, his OPS+ went up to 207. That means he’s 107 percent above league average offensively. Among qualifying NL hitters, Goldy leads the NL in batting average (.349), onbase percentage (.431), slugging percentage (.642), OPS (1.073) and park-and-league adjusted runs created. He’s also second in RBI (56) and tied for third in homers (16.)

Back to the OPS+ … since joining the Cardinals in 2019, Goldschmidt has an OPS+ of 140. And that’s close to his 145 OPS+ that he had during his years with Arizona. In his last four seasons as a Diamondback. He hasn’t lost a thing. At age 34 he’s as formidable as ever.

Albert Pujols: I don’t know why Oli Marmol started Pujols in both games of the doubleheader against RH starting pitchers. But I do know that Pujols went 1 for 7 in the two games and is now 9 for 68 (.132) vs. righthanders this season. He’s 3 for his last 25 vs. RH for a .120 batting average.

Milwaukee Snoozes And Loses Again: The Crew’s offense did not recharge during Monday’s off day. In the first of three games against the Mets at Citi Field, the Brewers on Tuesday were shut out 4-0. They had only three hits and a walk off NYM starter Chris Bassitt and reliever Drew Smith, grounded into three double plays and had only two at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The Brewers are 1-9 in their last 10 games, averaging 2.4 runs and getting shut out four times during the wretched stretch. Milwaukee pitching has been battered for a 5.83 ERA over the 10 games.

“I don’t think any of us are really pressing,” Milwaukee first baseman Rowdy Tellez told reporters after Tuesday’s defeat. “Yeah, we’re in a little bit of a funk but every team is gonna go through that, everybody’s gonna have that stretch so you might as well get it out of the way earlier than later. We’re just trying to get traction again and keep going, but it’s tough when you’re not swinging it well and your big guys in the middle, including myself, aren’t playing up to standard. It’s just one of those things right now where we’re just trying to roll with the punches.”

After sweeping the Cubs in a May doubleheader at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee was 32-18, had the NL’s third-best winning percentage and led the second-place Cardinals by 4.0 games in the NL Central. But since then the Brewers have the NL’s worst record at 2-11 and now trail the first place Cardinals by 2 and ½ games.

Milwaukee’s biggest lead over the Cardinals this season was 4 and ½ games on May 26. But the rivals have gone in dramatically different directions since that point, with the Brewers losing 13 of 18 and the Cardinals winning 13 of 20 for a seven-game swing in the standings. This happened fast.

In Other NL Central News: the Cubs haven’t won a game since topping the Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader on June 4. Chicago has lost eight in a row, with Cubs pitchers getting punched for a 7.03 ERA and the offense averaging 2.6 runs during the bad streak. The fourth-place Cubs (23-38) are just barely ahead of the last-place Reds (23-39) in the division standings.

Poor Pirates: After sweating through two more losses in Tuesday’s steamy doubleheader, Pittsburgh has lost nine in a row, drooping to a 24-37 record on the season. During the nine–game losing streak the Pirates have been outscored 49-21, batted .190, averaged 2.3 runs per game, and gotten pounded for a 5.59 ERA.

It hasn’t been a fun visit to St. Louis for the Bucs. In Monday’s series opener the Pirates blew a 5-0 lead and lost 7-5 In losing both ends of the doubleheader to the Cardinals the Pirates were outscored 12-2, had only eight hits, and committed five errors. The visitors have been outscored 19-7 in the first three games of the four-game set, and Pirate pitchers have a 6.38 ERA during this visit to The Lou.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie 
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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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.