THE REDBIRD REVIEW

The Cardinals put on a Sunday-evening show for their fans and the national audience watching on ESPN.

It was Oldies Night at Busch Stadium, and three legends led the way to a 15-6 victory over the Giants for the Cards’ first series win since taking two of three at Cincinnati during the weekend of April 22-24.

Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols – average age, 40.5 years old – refused to act their age. As always. Maybe it was the total lunar eclipse that gave Sunday night an extra twist of peculiarity. Maybe it was just the enduring spirit of three of the most accomplished Cardinals in franchise history. But Pujols, Molina and Wainwright were cavorting like three overgrown kids on a playground out there.

And if you can’t enjoy this, then Scrooge you.

– The 40-year old pitcher, Wainwright, allowed two runs over his six innings to earn career win No. 188. Wainwright now has 101 individual career victories at the current Busch Stadium – and good luck to any young Cardinal pitcher who comes along and tries to make a run at that.

– The almost-40 Molina had two hits, a homer and cashed in four RBI. After a wearisome start, Molina is batting .333 and slugging .630 in May. Molina is resetting the clock again, somehow appearing younger after looking pretty dang old during the early weeks of the season. And he still’s climbing up on the list of career achievements offensively by a regular catcher. In recent days Molina has become only the 13th catcher to amass 1,000 RBI; after Sunday night’s win, he has 1,004. Over the weekend Molina passed Mike Piazza and moved into sixth place for most hits by a catcher. According to Baseball Reference’s StatHead, Yadi has 2,131 hits now – and with 20 more, he’ll move past Yogi Berra and into fifth place. Molina made another move during the Giants series, cracking the Top 10 list in career total bases, with 3,067.

– Wainwright and Molina teamed up to set an all-time MLB record for most wins (203) by a pitcher-catcher combo. This was their 311th start as two hearts connected by team success, history and a deep and lasting friendship. The pursuit of another MLB record took another step forward; Waino and Yadi now need only 14 more starts to go to the top of the all-time count for most starts by a pitcher-catcher bond.

– Pujols reached base five times on two hits, two walks and a Giants’ error. He knocked in a run. He scored a run. And to cap off a crazy-fun game, The Machine became a Pitching Machine in the ninth inning and the Cardinals up by 14 runs. Pujols lobbed 27 pitches in the ninth to get the final three outs and draw millions of laughs.

Pujols allowed three runs … and absolutely no one cared about that. We thought Pujols had done it all; he actually had one more wish remaining in his baseball bucket list. And smiling, giddy players on both teams stood at the dugout railing to watch one of the greatest hitters of all time, at age 42, pitch for the first time in a career after 21+ seasons and 2,987 games of doing everything else. Hey, when you’ve driven in 2,156 runs and scored 1,881 runs in the big leagues, it’s OK to give three runs back. This was some vision. Pujols had a ball on the mound, everyone was giggling, and these moments instantly formed one of the most memorable scenes of his final major-league season.

 

 

The critics that dismiss the Cardinals’ 2022 season as a “Nostalgia Tour” and whine that winning is a secondary concern … Well, on Sunday we learned (again) that you can treasure and honor the past and still play winning baseball. Wainwright pitched a quality start and Molina and Pujols combined for five RBI, four hits, two walks and three runs.

Molina is batting .304 and slugging .464 since April 20.

Wainwright has a 3.15 ERA on the season and a 2.37 ERA in his last three starts.

Pujols is one of the best hitters in the majors against RH pitching, and I’ll add more on that in a few minutes.

These guys aren’t hanging around to collect a paycheck, perform poorly and exist only so management can make money off their faded glory.

They can still help the Cardinals win baseball games.

And they spread the joy.

“Baseball is supposed to be fun,” Molina told reporters after Sunday’s festivities had concluded.

Thanks for reminding us.

For Cardinals fans, Sunday was all fun, all evening long, thanks to three distinguished Cardinals who very much remain young at heart.

Baseball has become less entertaining through the years. But Waino, Yadi and Albert made it a kid’s game again. At least for one night. And they try to do that every time they play. Hopefully there will be many more days like Sunday funday.

STANDINGS AND SUCH: The Cardinals (19-15) trail Milwaukee (22–13) by 2.5 games in the NL Central. But I took a closer look at each team’s schedule to this point and it’s revealing. Through Sunday the Brewers have played only five games against teams over .500, the fewest in the majors. And the Brewers have played 30 games – most in MLB – against opponents .500 or worse. The Cardinals have the ninth-fewest number of games (16) against teams that are .500 or less, and the 10th-highest number of games (18) against winning teams … the Cardinals are 10-11 since April 24 and went 3-3 on the six-game home stand against Baltimore and San Francisco. The Redbirds are 10-8 at Busch this season.

THE ST. LOUIS OFFENSE: STILL QUIRKY. With Sunday’s 15-6 romp added to the list, the Cardinals have now scored 10 or more runs in five games this season. Now, let’s freshen up a stat I gave you last week: these five high-scoring games have produced 55 total runs, and that’s 35 percent of the team’s 157 runs scored this season. The eruption against the Giants moved the Cardinals into 9th overall in MLB with an average of 4.62 runs per game. But as I wrote late last week, the rankings can be misleading. That’s certainly true in this case; the Cardinals have scored four runs or fewer in 19 of their 35 games and have been held to three or fewer runs in 16 of the 35.

That said, 19 teams have scored three or fewer in a game more often than St. Louis. And 17 teams have produced three runs or less more often than St. Louis. Offense is a widespread problem in MLB so far this season. Perhaps the bats are heating up. So far in May, the overall MLB batting average is up seven points from last month (.231 to .238) and the slugging percentage has increased by 18 points (.369 to .387.)

QUICKIE HITTING DIAGNOSIS: The Cardinals don’t swing at enough pitches in the strike zone, ranking 27th in the majors with a zone-swing percentage of 65.9 percent. But what about pitches out of the strike zone? The Cardinals are tied for the highest – as in worst – “chase” rate of 35%. This does not seem to be the best way to go about the difficult challenge of hitting.

PUJOLS: PERFORMING AS EXPECTED: When the Cardinals signed him, we knew that it was extremely unlikely to see him put up decent numbers against RH pitching. That part of his hitting profile has weakened to an extreme level. But we also knew that if Pujols was utilized properly and aimed at lefty pitchers, he almost certainly would produce.

That’s exactly how it’s playing out. Pujols is only two for 27 against RH pitching. But again, he should be used sparingly against righthanders, and that’s been the case for a while now. Over the last three seasons he’s batted only .182 with a .551 OPS vs. righties. But to criticize Pujols for his .074 average and .360 OPS against RHP this season … Well, that would be goofy. Manager Oli Marmol fills out the lineup card, so file a grievance with him.

Pujols has been outstanding against lefties – just as anticipated. Among274 MLB hitters that have at least 20 plate appearances against lefthanders this season, Pujols ranks third in batting average (.474), third in slugging percentage (.895), third in OPS (1.419) and fifth in onbase percentage (.524.) He’s nine for 19 with two doubles, two home runs, five RBI and six walks.

In 167 plate appearances against lefties since the start of last season, Pujols is batting .316 with a .359 OBP and .639 slug for a .998 OPS. He has 15 home runs in 155 at-bats – which means he’s averaging a homer every 10.3 at-bats vs. LH. Among MLB players that have at least 165 plate appearances against lefties since the start of last season, Pujols ranks third in slugging and third in OPS.

It’s a shame that MLB doesn’t have enough LH pitchers going to work on a frequent basis. Only 27.9 percent of all plate appearances have been taken against lefties so far this season – which is in line with recent seasons.

MORE ON HITTING AGAINST LEFTIES: Your Cardinals are the best in the majors at beating up on left-handed pitchers this season. They did it again Sunday night, clobbering San Francisco’s Carlos Rodon for 10 hits and eight runs in 3.2 innings. And Rodon had a 1.80 ERA through his first six starts.

The Cardinals had the No. 1 offense in the majors against lefties in 2021, and they’ve opened 2022 with a strong follow up. Through Sunday the Cards lead the majors in slugging percentage (.487) and OPS (.835) against lefthanders and are second in batting average (.276) and OBP (.347.) But only Toronto (258) has fewer plate appearances vs. lefties than St. Louis (259) this season.

Based on OPS, three Cardinals rate among the Top 10 hitters in the majors against LH pitching this season: Paul Goldschmidt (second at 1.469), Pujols (third at 1.149) and Nolan Arenado (10th at 1.146.)

When encountering lefties, Goldy, Pujols and Arenado have combined for a .400 average, .465 OBP, .876 slug and a 1.341 OPS in 73 plate appearances. The damage includes eight homers, seven doubles and seven walks.

TRANSITIONING AT SHORTSTOP: In the six games since Paul DeJong was demoted to Triple A Memphis, the Cardinals have thrived offensively at the shortstop position. Rookie Brendan Donovan started four consecutive games to open the week, and Edmundo Sosa started the last two games of the Giants series.

Here are the early results at shortstop with DeJong gone: .471 batting average, .571 OBP, .824 slug, 1.395 OPS. DeJong had 10 hits in 77 at-bats for the Cardinals this season; Donovan and Sosa have combined for eight hits in 17 at-bats since taking over for Pauly. DeJong had four extra-base hits in 24 games; since the demotion Donovan and Sosa have combined for four extra-base hits in six games.

THE VALUE OF BRENDAN DONOVAN: The more he plays, the more we see it. First, he bats from the left side, and the Cardinals need that. Second, he’s started four games at shortstop, two at third base, and one game each at first base and second base. Donovan has also played a little in right field. That versatility is something that managers crave. Third, Donovan has supplied an impressive flow of offense in his first eight major-league starts.

Here are Donovan’s numbers when he’s put in the starting lineup: 25 plate appearances, four walks, 7 hits in 20 at-bats (.350), four doubles, a homer, four runs, four RBI. He’s gotten on base in 48 percent of his plate appearances, and is slugging .700. Overall, Donovan already has more extra-base hits (five) in 26 big-league at bats than DeJong (four) in 77 at-bats.

JUAN YEPEZ: The Giants became the first team to play a second series against the Cardinals with Yepez in the lineup. What would he do after the Giants had a chance to see him and scout him during that weekend series at San Francisco? Though Yepez didn’t do any slugging against the Giants in the three-game set at Busch Stadium, he went 3 for 11 (.273) with two walks and a .385 OBP and had only one strikeout.

We haven’t seen any signs of anxiety/distress from Yepez during his first rookie voyage. In 11 games he’s batting .366 with a 1.020 OPS and five extra-base hits.

BEST TWO-STRIKE HITTERS: The two primary rookies, Yepez and Donovan, are not bothered by two-strike counts. Quite the opposite. They’re calm and professional. Yepez is 9 for 28 (.321) in two-strike counts. Donovan is right there with him with a two-strike batting average of .318 (7 for 22.)

Contrast that to some other two-strike batting averages on the Cardinals: DeJong .105, Corey Dickerson .167, Dylan Carlson .207, Tyler O’Neill .207, Tommy Edman .214, Andrew Knizner (.200) and Sosa (.200.)

On the plus side of two-strike batting averages  other than Yepez and Donovan: Paul Goldschmidt (.312) Nolan Arenado (.295), Molina (.288) and Harrison Bader (.268.)

SOLID GOLD GOLDY: The classy first basemen has been ridiculously fantastic at the plate since April 22. In 94 plate appearances since then, Goldschmidt leads the majors with a .393 batting average, .457 OBP and nine doubles and is second in slugging (.643), OPS (1.100) and RBI (19.) What a player.

NEXT UP: Four at Citi Field against the Mets beginning Monday night, followed by three games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. After an 18-8 start the Mets have gone 5-5. They had a 2.99 ERA in their first 18 games and have a 4.50 ERA in their last 10. Starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (scapula) already was on the IL but he was joined by another starter, Tylor Megill (biceps) over the weekend. The Mets are without starting catcher James McCann (fractured hamate) and injured relievers Trevor May (arm stress reaction) and Sean Reid-Foley (Tommy John surgery.)

The Cardinals will go against (in order) starting pitchers Trevor Williams, Taijuan Walker, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt in the series. They’ll oppose (in order) Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Jordan Hicks and Dakota Hudson.

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.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

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.

 

 

 

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.