THE REDBIRD REVIEW

After a downbeat period of baseball – a show of mediocrity that included fragmented starting pitching, cringeworthy losses and low spirits – your St. Louis Cardinals are aloft. They are winning and warbling and tied with Milwaukee for first place in the NL Central.

The ascent of the Redbirds happened fast. The team smiled its frustration away while wiping out Milwaukee’s four-game lead in only six days. The trade-deadline acquisitions of starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery changed the mood and the rotation.

“It’s meaningful,” manager Oli Marmol said Thursday night, speaking about the emotional impact of the trades after the Cardinals finished off their three-game sweep of the Cubs. “It really is. Because the club is sitting there and you’ve identified what’s needed, and then when you go get the pieces, not just get pieces but the right pieces, how they fit personality-wise in that clubhouse and their skill set is going to add a ton of value to what we’re doing. We didn’t go get guys just to get guys. We got the right guys.”

Quintana was excellent in his St. Louis debut, mesmerizing the Cubs in the second game of the doubleheader with ringlets from his curveball. Quintana customized his new home with six innings of one-run, one-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout craftsmanship.

Montgomery will make his first start for the Cardinals in Saturday’s game against the Yankees, the team that traded him here for center fielder Harrison Bader. This should be interesting. On Friday Ken Rosenthal (The Athletic) offered an explanation for the trade. After noting Montgomery’s improvement this season, Rosenthal wrote: “Yet from the Yankees’ perspective, he still wasn’t good enough.”

Trailing the Cubs 3-0 in the seventh inning on Thursday afternoon, the Cardinals won the first game 4-3 on a walkoff-style comeback special. In the late edition, the Cards staved off the Chicagoans by scoring the game’s final five runs to pull away for a 7-2 takeover.

The Cardinals have won four straight games and six of their last seven. They’re 12-6 since July 10, with only the Dodgers and Mets having better records among National League teams over that time.

The Yankees are in town with their 70-36 record, best-in-show offense, Bronx Bombers power, and pugnacious pitching. The sweep was nice, but the Cubs are a Triple A team compared to the Yankees.

This series has prompted much talk about the Cardinals needing to prove themselves against a mighty opponent. I don’t think a three-game sample proves anything. But OK, fine, I’ll go with your drama-infused narrative. It has some validity for a simple reason: the Cardinals have thrived against losing teams this season (38-21) but frequently get pushed down by the big fellas (19-27.)

The Yankees vs. Cardinals is a cool matchup, enriched by history. The Yankees have won the most World Series (27) in MLB history, and the Cardinals are a far-away second with 11 World Series titles.

Since the start of the 2000 season New York ranks first in the majors with a .584 winning percentage; the Cardinals (.558) are third overall. (The Dodgers, .561, are second.) And from 2000 through 2021 the Yankees led the majors with 17 postseason appearances; the Cardinals are second with 15.

The Yankees come in with a 12-15 record in their last 17 games but lead the majors with 5.35 runs per game and are first in homers, slugging and OPS+. On the pitching side NY is third in MLB in fewest runs allowed per game (3.41) and ranks third in ERA (3.25). The Yankees are outstanding on defense, leading the majors with 67 defensive runs saved. And they’re a resourceful team, ranking third in MLB with 69 stolen bases.

Given the history, the Yankee prestige, the Cardinals’ boost in confidence, and STL’s real-time charge for first place in the NL Central, this should be an entertaining series.

Hello, Matt Carpenter.

The Best Things That Happened In Thursday’s Doubleheader: (1) Quintana’s impressive St. Louis debut; (2) Lars Nootbaar’s first-game hero ball, highlighted by his tying sac fly and winning single in the 4-3 win; (3) Tyler O’Neill’s soaring three-run homer in the 7th inning of the second game that broke open a 2-2 deadlock and wrecked the Cubs; (4) Strong, scoreless bullpen work in the tight 4-3 victory, with Robert Naile, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley combining for 2.2 innings and allowing only one hit with no walks and three strikeouts; (5) Tommy Edman’s 3 for 6 day that included a stolen base, one run scored and the two-run double late in the second game; (6) Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado each played in both games and collectively went 5 for 14 with four walks, two homers, a double, five runs scored and three RBI; (7) Miles Mikolas hanging tough and keeping the Cardinals close despite the disruption caused by a goofball home-plate umpire; (8) Nolan Gorman’s 12th home run of the season that cut the Cubs’ lead to 3-2 in the first game.

The Accounting Department: After their three-game sweep of the Cubs, the Cardinals are 32-20 at Busch Stadium and have the seventh-best home winning percentage (.615) in the majors and fourth-best in the NL … the Cardinals are 21-9 at home in games against teams that have a losing record – and 11-11 at home vs. winning teams … The Cards are now 28-16 vs. NL Central teams this season (.636) but are 29-32 (.475) in games played outside the division … after taking on the Yankees the Cardinals will play 14 of their next 17 games against teams with losing records: 3 at Colorado, 3 at home vs. Milwaukee, 3 at home vs. Colorado, 3 at Arizona, and 5 at Wrigley Field against the Cubs … the Yankees have MLB’s fourth-best road record at 29-21 (.580).

A Good Stat That I Want To Share: This season only four teams in the majors rank among the top six in both average runs scored per game and fewest runs allowed per game. In alphabetical order, the four are the Cardinals, Dodgers, Mets and Yankees. The Cardinals are tied for sixth overall with an average of 4.65 runs per game, and are tied for sixth in fewest runs allowed (3.90) per game.

Resurgence On Offense? During their 12-6 streak that began June 10, the Cardinals are averaging 5.4 runs per game and rank second in the majors in onbase percentage (351), .slugging percentage (.477), OPS (.829), Isolated Power (.209), and park-and-league adjusted runs created (35% above the MLB average.) The Redbirds are also tied for third in the majors over that time in homers (30) and rank fourth in batting average (.269.)

The Power Of The Home Run: The Cardinals have homered in 13 consecutive games – their longest HR streak of the season to date. In the 13 games they’ve homered 24 times and have launched at least two homers in a game 10 times. In fact the Cardinals go into the weekend series with two-plus homers in each of their last seven games.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the magic number for home runs in a game is two.

+ When the Cardinals don’t homer: 16-19 record.

+ When the Cards hit one homer: 13-22 record.

+ When they hit two homers in a game: 18-6

+ When they hit three or more HR in a game: 10-1.

To look at it another way, when the Cardinals fail to hit at least two homers in a game this season they’re 29-41. But when they smash two or more home runs in a game, they’re 28-7. Huge difference.

During their 12-6 run the Cardinals have clouted 30 homers in 18 games for a robust average of 1.66 per contest. And they’re averaging two homers per game over their last 10.

Nolan Gorman Is Having A Better Season Than You May Think: Sure, the strikeout rate is on the high side (31.5%) but we expected a bunch of rookie-year whiffs after his promotion from Triple A Memphis on May 20. But overall Gorman is having an above-average season offensively.

By the numbers:

Gorman’s park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) is 20 percent above MLB average offensively.

He has 12 homers in 197 at-bats. That’s a HR every 16.4 at-bats.

Gorman has homered in 5.5 percent of his plate appearances this season; among Cardinals that’s second-best this season to Paul Goldschmidt (6.0.) Nolan Arenado is third with a home-run percentage of 5.1%.

Prorating his current stats over 162 games, Gorman would have 32 homers in a full 2022 season.

There are 19 major-league rookies that have played in more games and have more plate appearances than Gorman. So his 1.3 WAR – which ranks 8th among rookies – is better than it seems. Among 23 rookies with at least 200 plate appearances Gorman is fifth in slugging (.457), fifth in homers, sixth in OPS+ (119) and seventh in standard OPS.

Gorman has posted above-average numbers in three of his first four months in the big leagues. Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) as the reference point, Gorman was 24 percent below average in June. But he was 123 percent above average in May, 17% above average in July, and is 95% above average in the early days of August.

So yeah, June was a down month for Gorman. And If you ask me, that isn’t a big deal. If we put together his hitting profile for his other three months, Gorman has a combined May-July-August wRC+ of 152 … which is 52% above the MLB average offensively. And in his three strong months (combined) Gorman has a .527 slugging percentage and .889 OPS.

Gorman is still trying to figure out the vagaries of Busch Stadium, and his home-ballpark numbers aren’t great. But Gorman has thrived on the road with seven homers, a .510 slug, and a .850 OPS in 31 games.

Gorman’s defense at second base is fine. I was expecting a below-average performance, but he has stayed right around the “average” level in defensive runs saved.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

1. The Cardinals Aren’t As Inconsistent On Offense As I Assumed. I ran a check on this earlier in the season and discovered that the STL offense was more consistent than I believed. A couple of months have passed, so I went in and looked at it again.

Granted, STL has been shutout 11 times this season and that’s too many. But that’s the only real minus in the consistency check. The Cardinals have scored three runs or fewer in 41 games, which may seem like a lot. But it isn’t. Among MLB teams only the Dodgers and Yankees have scored three or less fewer times than the Cardinals. And only the Dodgers and Yankees have been held to four or fewer runs in a game less often than the Cards.

St. Louis has scored five runs or more in 53 games; that ranks third in the majors. And they’ve scored six-plus runs 37 times which ranks fifth.

The obsessive Jeff Albert haters won’t like these numbers. But when you’re scoring more runs per game than all but five MLB teams, and you rank second to the Dodgers in the NL in OPS+, and your offense is among the most consistent in the majors … Well, it doesn’t appear that Albert has destroyed the St. Louis Cardinal franchise as we know it. But what do I know? I’m just using facts here.

2. The Cardinals Continue To Hit Well At Busch Stadium: The fellers struggled offensively at home last season, but that’s changed in 2022. Going into the weekend the Cardinals rank fourth in the majors in home performance at 19 percent above average in park-and-league adjusted runs created. They’re in the top nine in MLB in home batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS.

3. What’s Wrong With The Brewers? They’ve lost four in a row and are 10-13 since July 5. Their four-game lead over the second-place Cardinals vanished in less than a week, and the teams enter the weekend tied for first place with identical 57-48 records. The No. 1 problem is the bullpen – a development that surfaced long before Milwaukee traded All-Star closer Josh Hader on Aug. 1. Since Hader was shipped to San Diego the Brewers are 0-3 – all losses to Pittsburgh. – and have a 6.30 bullpen ERA during their four-game losing streak. But during this 10-13 downturn that began July 5, Milwaukee has a bullpen ERA of 5.74 that ranks 29th over that time.

Before the Crew moved Hader to the Padres, he’d gotten blasted for a 12.54 ERA in 11 July appearances. In the 11 relief outings opponents rocked Hader with a .364 average, .818 slug, five homers, three doubles and a 1.258 OPS. And 44 percent of his 50 batters faced reach base.

This will surprise some folks, but Milwaukee has lost 26 times this season after leading at any point in the game. And the Cardinals have lost only 18 times after leading in a game. In the terrible series at Pittsburgh, the Brewers led in all three games and couldn’t lock it down – losing all three.

The Brewers traded Hader for financial reasons; the lefty can become a free agent after next season and will have a substantial salary jump, to around $18 million, in 2023. Hader’s trade value won’t be higher next year as it is now, so president of baseball operations David Stearns made the deal with San Diego.

Stearns believed he’d effectively covered Hader’s absence by acquiring relievers Taylor Rogers, Matt Bush, Trevor Rosenthal and Dinelson Lamet. But Stearns curiously designated Lamet for assignment, and Rosenthal, who hasn’t pitched since the 2020 season, is healing from his latest injury (strained hamstring.) Rogers and Bush each flubbed their first high-leverage relief spot as Brewers, and new full-time closer Devin Williams gave up a game-winning homer in a loss to the Pirates to terminate a 30-game scoreless streak.

If Cardinals president of baseball operations inflated his team’s morale – which he did – by trading for Quintana and Montgomery, it appears that Stearns deflated the Crew’s morale by sending Hader away.

“We’re a first-place team; we want to win the World Series,” Milwaukee starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff said. ““That’s why when I saw it, I didn’t believe it at first but as I sat down and thought about it some more, sometimes that stuff’s just hard. Those decisions in the front office, sometimes they’re hard things to do. You may not understand it but it’s just part of it.”

4. The Lars Nootbaar Watch: After another good day, he’s batting .362 with a .448 OBP, .617 slug, 1.065 OPS, nine walks, three homers and 11 RBIs in 58 plate appearances. Since July 10 only Paul Goldschmidt has more RBI (17) than Nootbaar’s 11 among Cardinals. During this time Nootbaar has the team’s highest batting average and ranks second to Nolan Arenado (1.070) in OPS.

5. Tyler O’Neill vs. Aaron Judge: The Yankee slugger has a preposterous amount of homers this season, 43. That’s 37 more than O’Neill, who boomed his sixth homer of the season to beat the Cubs in the night game. What are the odds of O’Neill hitting more homers than Judge in the three-game set at Busch Stadium this weekend? Last season Judge had 39 homers to O’Neill’s 34. But if Bro’Neill gets into one of his blast-off modes, he can match home runs with anybody.

6. The Yankees Road Show: This powerful team has a home-ballpark haven in the Bronx, launching a prolific number of home runs in a homer-happy environment. But here’s the scary thing for opponents: the Yankees are just as intimidating on the road this season, averaging 5.34 runs, homering every 21 at-bats, and ranking first in MLB in road slugging (.446) … plus they are second in road OPS (.781) and road OBP (.335.) Their raw-count home run total (123) away from Yankee Stadium ranks No. 1 in the majors in road homers this season.

7. Nolan Gorman Was Prominent In A Crucial Part Of Thursday Night’s Game. With the score tied 2-2 and a runner on base, Gorman pinch-hit for Albert Pujols to give the Cardinals a left-handed batter vs. right-handed pitcher matchup. The walk kept the bottom of the seventh inning alive and directly preceded O’Neill’s three-run moon shot. Judging by the TV camera view of the St. Louis dugout, Pujols was clearly displeased by manager Oli Marmol’s decision. But Marmol made the correct move. Pujols has a .590 OPS vs. RHP this season compared to Gorman’s .774 vs. RHP.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend …

–Bernie

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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

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.