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It’s become a familiar question: Where would the 2021 Cardinals be without Adam Wainwright?
We have the answer. And we can provide it without relying on fancy-pants numbers.
Without Waino, the Cardinals would be the Colorado Rockies, or maybe the Detroit Tigers.
It’s all about winning, right? It’s the purpose of this game. It’s the goal of any sports competition.
This is what Wainwright means to the 2021 Cardinals:
➨ When Wainwright starts a game for the Redbirds this season, the team is 18-10 for a winning percentage of .642.
➨ When Waino doesn’t start a game for the ‘21 Cardinals, they’re 52-58 for a winning percentage of .472.
The disparity is more glaring — and laughable — since May 29:
➨ In Wainwright’s 19 starts over that time, the Cardinals are 15-4 for a winning percentage of .789.
➨ In their other 68 games since May 29, the Cardinals are 26-42 for a winning percentage of .382.
How ridiculous is that?
And how much fun is it to watch Wainwright do his thing? Just my opinion, but he’s the most entertaining player in a Cardinal uniform this season.
We absolutely know where the Cardinals would be without Wainwright in 2021. They’d be well south of .500. They would have drifted away, and out of postseason contention. They would be on the way to the worst finish by a Cardinals team since the unsteady 2007 model went 78-84 for a .481 winning percentage. Or maybe even worse than that, in the range of the 1999 Cardinals (.466 win percentage) or the 1997 version (.451.)
And to put a sharper point on this, Wainwright has been at his best since Jack Flaherty tore an oblique on the final day of May. Wainwright’s first starting assignment with Flaherty on the IL came on June 3. After Flaherty rejoined the rotation on Aug. 13, he made only three starts before returning to the IL with a strained shoulder.
➨ Since June 3, the Cardinals are 14-4 — for a .777 winning percentage — in Waino’s 18 starts.
➨ In the other 64 games since June 3, their winning percentage is a sad little .390. That’s a 25-39 record.
➨ Wainwright has a 2.38 ERA since June 3. The team’s other starters have a combined 4.95 ERA.
With Flaherty all but inactive over the last two-plus months, Wainwright has carried his team on his right shoulder. He’s fulfilling the expectations of a No. 1 starter. And he’s the No. 1 reason why the Cardinals are still within range of a wild-card spot.
Without Waino’s outstanding work since early June, the Cardinals are the Colorado Rockies or Kansas City Royals. If you are frustrated over the team now, just imagine how you’d feel about the Cardinals minus Wainwright. You’d be apoplectic or deeply depressed
Wainwright responded to the emergency call on Wednesday night, subduing the Dodgers for 8 and ⅓ innings until tiring in the ninth. Giovanny Gallegos came in to close out a 5-4 victory over the Dodgers. Wainwright got his 15th individual win of the season, and terminated a four-game losing streak.
The Cardinals desperately needed healing.
Wainwright came through. Again.
With Waino pitching to a 2.17 ERA in 11 assignments since the All-Star break, the Cardinals have a 9-2 record in his starts. Otherwise they’re 17-20.
Notice a trend?
As Derrick Goold helpfully noted in the Post-Dispatch and on STLtoday: “For the 10th consecutive time when starting the game after a loss, Wainwright pitched the Cardinals to a win.”
Since Wainwright entered the rotation in 2007, the Cardinals have a winning percentage of .645 when he starts a regular-season game.
Wainwright’s 180 individual wins total ranks sixth since 2007; only Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw have more. And Waino’s personal .634 winning percentage ranks No. 8 among MLB pitchers with at least 200 starts since 2007.
“The best leadership is by modeling, and Adam Wainwright has shown our entire pitching staff and our team how to compete,” Cards manager Mike Shildt said after last night’s win.
Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina (two-run homer) led the way Wednesday and gave the Cardinals a chance to split the four-game series with the vastly superior Dodgers. We’ll see how it goes — with no Waino — during Thursday’s 12:15 game.
WAINO IN THE RANKINGS: If voters are paying attention, they’d see Wainwright strengthening his case for a prominent finish in the 2021 NL Cy Young balloting.
Let’s take a look:
2nd in the NL with 15 wins
2nd for most innings pitched, 184.1
3rd with 19 Quality Starts
10th in ERA, 2.98
7th in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), 3.8
Wainwright is still one of the best fielders at his position. This season he ranks 9th among MLB pitchers with three defensive runs saved.
Since June 3, Wainwright is 12-3 with a 2.38 ERA. The 12 wins are three more than any NL starter has since June 3, and his ERA ranks second to Walker Buehler’s 1.99. Wainwright’s 3.3 WAR since June 3 is tied with Zack Wheeler for second among NL starters, trailing Corbin Burnes (3.7). Wainwright is fourth among NL starters in strikeout-walk ratio since June 3.
MORE FROM THE WAINO FILE: Wainwright has a 2.43 ERA in his 15 wins, and a 1.54 ERA in his six no-decisions … Wainwright hasn’t allowed a run in 153 of the 189 innings that he’s started this season. He’s allowed only one run in 16 other innings that he started … opponents are hitting .215 vs. Waino this season; that would be the lowest batting average against him in any full season of his career … and the .619 OPS against him would be the third lowest in his career in a full season, topped by the .580 in 2014 and .604 in 2010 … the .271 on base percentage against Waino would tied for the lowest in a full season, matching 2014 … the .348 slugging percentage yielded by Waino would be the third lowest against him in a full season behind 2014 (.310) and 2010 (.330.)
TYLER O’NEILL IS STRONG: His booming solo homer in the 8th inning Wednesday proved to be the difference when the Dodgers scored two runs in the ninth to make it 5-4. O’Neill is off to a torrid start in September, going 10 for 28 (.357) with two doubles, three homers and a 1.223 OPS. Since returning on April 23 from his first stint on the IL, O’Neill is batting .289 with a .543 slug, .906 OPS, 21 doubles, 23 homers and 52 runs batted in.
That makes him one of the NL’s best hitters since April 23. He’s 44 percent above league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created since that date — which ranks seventh in the NL among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances during that time.
O’Neill has hit 13 of his 24 homers to center field this season, with seven to left field and six to right field. He’s batting .522 on balls hit to center this year.
ONE MORE ON BRO’NEILL: Among MLB regulars that have played in at least 75 percent of their team’s games this season, O’Neill is one of only eight hitters to put together this combination: an OPS of .875 or higher; 24 or more homers; a .524 slugging percentage or better; and at least 11 stolen bases. The other seven are Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, Jose Ramirez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Marcus Semien, Cedric Mullins and Kyle Tucker.
THE FABULOUS EDMUNDO SOSA: He started at shortstop and had two more hits (with an RBI) in Wednesday’s 5-4 win. So it’s time for me to update one of my favorite stats of the Cards’ season. Sosa has started 62 games this season. And in 234 plate appearances as a starter, he’s batting .312 with a .384 onbase percentage and .454 slug for a .837 OPS. Sosa cooled down in June and July, batting .214 with a .538 OPS over the two months. But that didn’t cause Sosa to lose his confidence. Since Aug. 1 Sosa is batting .364 with a .433 OBP and .584 slug. In 90 plate appearances he has two doubles, three triples, three homers, 14 RBI and 14 runs scored.
AH, AND THE DEFENSE: For the season Sosa ranks 6th among MLB shortstops with six defensive runs saved — yes, he’s that high on the leaderboard even though 31 big-league shortstops have played more innings than Sosa this year. We saw the value of his defense in the first inning Wednesday, with Sosa throwing Mookie Betts out at the plate to deny a run and prevent the Dodgers from taking an early 2-0 lead on Wainwright.
HARRISON BADER CAN PLAY DEFENSE: I’m a little late on this, but Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader was chosen as MLB Defensive Player Of the Month for August by the esteemed Sports Info Solutions. As analyst Mark Simon pointed out, the Cardinals had a 3.30 ERA in August, 4th-lowest in MLB. But they also averaged 7.5 strikeouts per 9 innings in August, the 4th-fewest of any team. In other words, the ball was in play — a lot — but the STL defense prevented a considerable amount of runs.
Bader had 11 defensive runs saved, the most of any MLB for August, and no one else had more than eight. Bader also led MLB center fielders with 10 Good Fielding Plays. Bader has 16 defensive runs saved so far this season, second to Michael A. Taylor among MLB center fielders. Taylor, however, has played 377 more innings than Bader this year.)
Here are the top three defensive outfielders in the majors since the start of the 2018 season. This includes defensive runs saved at all three outfield positions. Bader, for example, played center field and right field in 2018.
1–Mookie Betts, 54
2–Harrison Bader, 48
3–Kevin Kiermaier, 48
(I placed Bader second because he’s played fewer innings than Kiermaier since 2018.)
Bader had a poor August offensively. But as Mark Simon noted, there is value in defense — especially for a team that doesn’t have a high strikeout rate,
“It sounds odd to say that a player who hit .152 with a .421 OPS in 26 games in August played a notable role in keeping the Cardinals in the hunt for a wild card spot,” Simon wrote. “But Bader’s defensive play has more than made up for his offensive shortcomings.”
Thanks for reading.
And enjoy the baseball …
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.
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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.