THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Next stop for the Cardinals: four games in Washington D.C. One thing to definitely keep an eye on is how much offense the Redbirds will generate against the Nationals’ scheduled row of starting pitchers.

The Cardinals will face four left-handed starting pitchers in this series. Patrick Corbin (5.49 ERA) on Friday, MacKenzie Gore (3.47) on Saturday, DJ Herz (4.67) on Sunday and Mitchell Parker (3.61) come Monday.

This looms as a tricky challenge for the Cardinals. St. Louis is one of the worst teams in the majors against left-handed pitching this season.

In theory the Cardinals should be able to punish Corbin, the veteran lefty with a mushroom-cloud ERA. This season opposing right-handed hitters have bopped Corbin for a .305 average and .539 slugging percentage. But the Cardinals have been handcuffed by quite a few mediocre lefty starters this season.

We watched a perfect example of this during STL’s Thursday’s 3-2 win at Pittsburgh. Pirates starter Martin Perez, a lefty, came into the assignment with a 4.77 ERA in 12 starts this season. It included an awful 6.80 ERA in his previous nine starts.

No matter. Against the Cardinals, Perez turned into (take your pick) Steve Carlton, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn or Lefty Grove. Perez allowed six hits and one run, unearned, in 7 and ⅓ innings. The Cardinals were a futile 0 for 5 against Perez with runners in scoring position.

We shouldn’t have been surprised.

The Cardinals have horrendous numbers against lefty pitchers this year, be it starters or relievers. Here’s where the rank vs. lefties among the 30 MLB teams in the relevant hitting categories:

.217 batting average, 29th
.281 onbase percentage, 29th
.334 slugging percentage, 29th
.614 OPS, 29th
— 77 wRC+, 29th

That 77 wRC+ means the Cardinals are 23 percent below league average offensively when encountering left-handed pitchers.

The Redbirds are substantially more effective when competing against right-handed pitchers: eighth in batting average (.250), ninth in onbase percentage (.318), 13th in slugging percentage (.397), 11th in OPS (.714).

Per wRC+, the Cardinals are six percent above league average offensively against RH pitching, and that’s 10th best in the majors. That represents a +29 swing from how they deliver against lefties.

There’s a big difference in STL’s home-power depending on the pitcher from the other side. Against right-handed throwers, the Cardinals have homered every 31.8 at-bats. Against LH pitching they’ve gone deep every 47.6 at-bats.

Some of the reasons for the team’s poor hitting against lefties is understandable, at least to a point. The Cardinals are stocked with a large supply of left-handed hitters and only Matt Carpenter has above-average numbers vs. lefthanders. (But Carpenter has only 14 at-bats against them.)

The other LH batters are below average against LH pitchers this season. Two of their lefty bats – Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman – have done some good things against lefty pitchers. (Especially Donovan.) But left-handed pitchers have held Alec Burleson to a .192 average and .530 OPS. And teams can use lefties against Burleson to largely neutralize one of the very best St. Louis hitters. The same is true with Lars Nootbaar.

Bottom line: as a group the Cards’ left-handed hitters have batted .198 with a .560 OPS against LH pitching in 2024. And that OPS ranks 26th among the 30 teams. And in the late innings, opponents have repressed the Cardinals with a 3.00 ERA from relievers who have limited the Redbirds to a .203 batting average.

The biggest problem in STL’s weakness vs. lefties is the shortage of impact from their right-handed batters. Only two – Willson Contreras and Masyn Winn – are well above the league average against LHP. Another, switch-hitter Dylan Carlson, is batting .214 with a weak .286 slug vs. lefties this season. He’s been effective against them in the past.

The most prominent issue is Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. They’ve been easily subdued by left-handed pitching this season, and that’s a grim development for the STL lineup.

In 172 combined plate appearances vs. lefties this season, Goldy and Arenado have combined for only three homers, a .246 average, .296 onbase percentage and .348 slug. Ooof.

In 2022, Goldschmidt won the NL’s MVP award and Arenado finished third in the voting. Along the way Goldy and Arenado hammered lefty pitchers that season for  a combined .330 average, .361 onbase percentage and .714 slug. They homered every 10.1 at-bats.

The difference in their collective performance against lefties in 2022 and 2024 is stunning. Just in slugging percentage alone, the two corner infielders are down by 366 points this season compared to their show of muscle in 2022.

Also: in 2022 Goldy and Nado collectively homered against lefties every 10.1 at-bats. This season their home-run ratio vs. lefties is a homer every 57.3 at-bats. This is another illustration of the heavy damage to the STL lineup caused by the severe decline of Goldschmidt and Arenado.

The 2022 Cardinals — with peak-form Goldschmidt, Arenado and Albert Pujols — destroyed left-handed pitching for a .465 slugging percentage, best in the majors. As a team the Cardinals were 29 percent above league average offensively vs. lefties with a wRC+ that ranked No. 1 overall.

Those days, sadly, are gone.

In less than two full seasons the Cardinals have gone from the best-hitting team in the majors vs. lefties to the next-to-last team in the majors when hitting against lefties.

How can the Cardinals improve vs. lefties during the second half of the 2024 schedule? There’s really only one answer: the front office must trade for a pitcher-breaking, difference-making right-handed hitter who can pulverize lefties. At this point it’s silly to expect Goldschmidt and/or Arenado to be as menacing vs. LH pitchers as we’ve witnessed from them in years past.

OK, now here’s some stuff that focuses on the Cardinals vs. left-handed starting pitchers this season.

This is even more relevant with the Nationals sending four left-handed starters against St. Louis during the four-game set.

Here’s a breakdown.

Lefty starting pitchers vs. St. Louis: 3.45 ERA.

Lefty starters vs. other 29 teams: 4.15 ERA.

Righty starters vs. St. Louis: 3.91 ERA.

Righty starters vs. the other 29 teams: 4.16 ERA.

St. Louis hitting line vs. lefty starters: .229 average, .289 onbase percentage, .347 slug, .636 OPS, 0.7 HRs per nine innings.

Compared to how they do against left-handed starting pitchers the Cardinals’ batting average vs. right-handed starters is 17 points higher, the OBP is 24 points higher, the slug is 71 points higher and the OPS is 95 points better.

And this applies to home-run rate. In homers clobbered per nine innings, the Cardinals’ HR rate in 2024 is 86 percent higher vs. righty starters than it is vs. lefty starters.

Compared to how the Cardinals perform against left-handed starting pitchers, the other 29 MLB clubs are collectively batting 24 points higher, have an OBP that’s 26 points better, a 62-point edge in slugging percentage, and an OPS that’s 88 points superior. And the 29 have a home-run rate against lefty starters that’s 57 percent above STL’s.

Finally, here are the ERAs by left-handed starting pitchers against the 12 major-league teams that currently hold a postseason spot:

* Guardians, 6.26
* Twins, 5.37
* Phillies, 5.16
* Orioles, 4.97
* Dodgers, 4.68
* Red Sox 4.28
* Braves, 4.16
* Brewers, 3.98
* Mariners, 3.91
* Yankees, 3.74
* Cardinals, 3.45
* Padres, 3.16

Need a bat.

Need a RH bat.

Need a strong RH bat.

The major-league trading deadline is July 30.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has provided informed opinions and perspective on St. Louis sports through his columns, radio shows and podcasts since 1985.

Please follow Bernie on Threads @miklaszb

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball Net, and Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.