Welcome to The Redbird Review
Doubleheader at Wrigley Field?
Wish I could be there.
But I’m in the mood to type words for you — as always!
Let’s start with this:
The Cardinals are RIDICULOUS.
You’re not supposed to win 12 in a row and 14 of 15 and do it in every way imaginable. Mugging opponents for early leads to take control. Staging comebacks and winning late, including Thursday’s 8-5 ambush win at Milwaukee, with the Cards making a five-run deficit vanish.
You can win with starting pitching, win with the relievers, win with a balanced lineup, win with timely hitting, win with situational hitting, win with power, win with baserunning and speed, win by resourcefulness, win with defense.
You can win with all of those characteristics and qualities — but you’re not supposed to be thriving in all of those areas, with every component of the team clicking and thriving simultaneously.
You’re not supposed to win with a rotation that includes three starters — Adam Wainwright, Jon Lester and J.A. Happ — with an average age of 38, and an average fastball velocity of 89.6 miles per hour.
You’re not supposed to be winning with a bullpen that spent much of the season setting stuff on fire with matches and kindling, only to turn it around by picking up two dudes that no one wanted, T.J. McFarland and Luis Garcia — and by coming up with a pitching GPS to finally locate the strike zone.
You’re not supposed to win with a lineup that’s truly capable from the No. 1 spot through No. 8. Here’s what I mean: during the 14-1 stretch the top four spots have combined for a .868 OPS and a .322 average with runners in scoring position. And the No. 5 though No. 8 slots have combined for a .768 OPS and a .400 average with runners in scoring position.
Of course, the top four spots have a higher average and OBP and slugging percentage. But even if we’re only talking about 15 games, your 5-8 spaces on the lineup card aren’t supposed to be turning in a higher level of offense than Francisco Lindor, Willson Contreras, Eloy Jimenez or Trey Mancini.
In the No. 2 wild-card race, you’re not supposed to trail the Padres by 8 and ½ games on Aug. 9 — then lead that same team by 8 games only 45 days later. You’re not supposed to be 5 games behind the Reds on Aug. 9, and lead that same team by 6 and ½ games only one month and 14 days later.
You’re not supposed to be 44-46 and holding MLB’s 18th-best winning percentage (.489) at the All-Star break, then go 39-23 and have MLB’s fourth-best winning percentage (.629) after the All-Star break.
You’re not supposed to be stalled at 52-52 as July turned to August — 15 MLB teams were better — only to have baseball’s best record, 19-7, since Aug. 27.
All of this is crazy … and real.
And with 10 games remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Cardinals have a 4 and ½ game lead over the Phillies for the second wild card.
After losing a 6-5 game to Kansas City on Aug. 8, the Cardinals had less than a one-percent chance to make the playoffs, with FanGraphs setting their postseason probability at 0.9%.
After sweeping a four-game series at Milwaukee before heading to Chicago, the Cardinals increased their FanGraphs playoffs probability to 98 percent.
This is bonkers, it is haywire, it is loco … and it is real.
THE BULLPEN ROCKS: In the four-game wipeout of the Brewers, St. Louis relievers pitched 14 innings and kept the Crew on lockdown with a 0.64 ERA and 31% walk rate. The Cards relievers had a relapse in one area, walking 14% of the 55 batters faced. But it can be forgiven. The Brewers batted .130 — and stranded 93 percent of their runners — against the STL bullpen. Milwaukee’s LH batters hit .063 with a 29 percent strikeout rate against the Cardinal relievers.
The highlight was Thursday’s impeccable performance. After Adam Wainwright had a rough start that lasted only four innings, Kwang Hyun Kim, T.J. McFarland, Luis Garcia and Giovanny Gallegos held Milwaukee scoreless over the final five innings and gave the bird bats a chance to rally from a 5-0 deficit.
In his last nine appearances Gallegos has a 1.04 ERA and 45 percent strikeout rate.
In the four games the Cardinals used nine different relievers, and only one, Garcia, gave up a run. And that’s all: one run scored against the STL ‘pen in 14 innings of at-bats.
SHOOTING STARS: Here’s a rundown of the most productive bats for the Cardinals in Milwaukee:
* Paul Goldschmidt: .353 average, 1.310 OPS, three homers, six RBI, six runs.
* Nolan Arenado: .333 average, a homer, four RBI, three runs.
* Dylan Carlson: .400 average, a double, a triple, a sac fly and three runs scored.
* Harrison Bader: .357 average, two doubles, two runs.
* Yadier Molina: 3 for 5 with runners in scoring position, with four runs driven in.
* Tommy Edman: despite a good 10 percent walk rate, Tommy had a low .250 onbase percentage. But he also had two steals, three runs, a sac fly, four RBI, and ran the bases like a demon … a speed demo, that is.
* Tyler O’Neill batted only .188 in the series, but he had a double, an important homer, four RBIs and four runs.
WE SEE YA, DYLAN CARLSON: He’s having a nice run of hitting during the closing stretch. In 24 games and 96 plate appearances since Aug. 28, Carlson is batting .299 with a .337 onbase percentage and .483 slug. His feast includes five doubles, a triple, 13 RBI and 14 runs.
SINCE THE ALL-STAR BREAK: The Cardinals are third in the NL in park-and-league adjusted runs created, are fourth in slugging percentage (.440) and have the top batting average (.281) with runners in scoring position. As for the pitching side. Since the break the Cardinals are fourth in rotation ERA (3.72) and fourth in bullpen ERA (3.47).
The bullpen has limited opponents to a .205 average with runners in scoring position since the break. And the bullpen walk rate, 9%, is tied for third lowest in the NL since the ASB. That’s great considering that the STL bullpen had the NL’s highest walk rate (13.6%) before the ASB.
TWO BIG REASONS WHY THE CARDINALS PULLED AHEAD OF THE REDS:
This matters. A lot.
Baserunning this season: the Cardinals have a net baserunning gain of plus 72, fourth-best in the majors. The Reds have a net baserunning gain of minus 59, which is near the bottom of MLB.
Defense this season: the Cardinals lead the majors with 82 Defensive Runs Saved. That’s 20 more than any NL team. The Reds rank 25th with minus 29 Defensive Runs Saved. (And another wild-card contender, the Phillies, are the worst team in the majors with a hideous minus 59 DRS.)
RANDOM NOTE ON ADOLIS GARCIA: The former Cardinals outfield prospect had a strong first half for the Rangers and was chosen for the American League All-Star team. Many Cardinals fans were obsessed with Garcia, and all but demanded imprisonment for members of the St. Louis front office for making this epic blunder to give up on Garcia via trade. From what I could tell, these good folks apparently believed Garcia was the second coming of Henry Aaron — or something like that.
(What these good folks never mention is that the Rangers also gave up on Garcia, designating him for assignment — then bringing him back when injuries opened room. And these good folks also decline to mention that all 30 teams could have signed Garcia at one point — and didn’t. Not until the Rangers called him back. Never mind the details, right?)
Since the All-Star break, Garcia is hitting .202 with a 32% strikeout rate, .365 slugging percentage, eight homers and .616 OPS. He’s also batting .123 with a 40 percent strikeout rate in 63 plate appearances with runners in scoring position since the break.
Garcia has 30 homers for the season; tip of the cap to him for that. But it’s interesting to look at his season OPS+ and see where it would rank among the starting St. Louis outfielders. Why am I using adjusted OPS? Because Garcia plays his home games in a ballpark that’s neutral for hitters-pitchers, according to Baseball Reference. Busch Stadium, on the other hand, is among the toughest places for a hitter in the majors this season.
Garcia has a .522 slug and .835 OPS at home this season. The numbers are weaker on the road: .401 slug, .662 OPS. So that’s why adjusted OPS is the fairer way to assess the hitting performances; among other things it accounts for park effects.
With OPS+, 100 represents the MLB average.
–Tyler O’Neill, 141 OPS+
— Dylan Carlson, 109 OPS+
— Harrison Bader, 103 OPS+
— Adolis Garcia, 101 OPS+
Thanks for reading — and I hope you have a weekend that’s as great as the Cardinals’ visit to Milwaukee.
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated 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.
The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available at 590thefan.com
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
* 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.