Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening.
It’s all-day baseball on this Wednesday, with the Cardinals and Reds having back-to-back bouts in a doubleheader at Great American Ball Park.
The NL’s No. 2 wild-card spot is up for grabs, and the race tightened again on Tuesday night.
San Diego and Philadelphia each won. In a bid for relevancy, the New York Mets (65-67) have found their way to three consecutive wins.
After being rained out, the Reds and Cardinals walk into a potentially extra-large doubleheader for both teams. We’ll get to that in a minute.
WHERE THE RACE STANDS
* The Reds and Padres are tied for the lead.
* The Cardinals and Phillies are each 2 and ½ out.
* The Mets are lurking at 5 and ½ games out.
Here’s an update on the top four contestants …
ST. LOUIS (67-63) AT CINCINNATI (71-62)
1) In the first game, Miles Mikolas faces Reds lefty Wade Miley, who ranks sixth among NL starters with a 2.74 ERA. Miley’s ERA over his last 15 starts is 2.46. And pitching in Cincinnati’s small ballpark hasn’t been a problem for Miley; he has a 2.40 ERA in 12 home starts this season.
2) This will be an interesting start for Mikolas. Visiting righthanded starting pitchers have a 5.43 ERA in 66 starts at Great American Ball Park this season. And Reds hitters lead the majors with a .784 OPS vs. all righthanded pitching this season. That includes the NL’s best slugging percentage (.448) vs. RHP.
3) In the second game, it’s J.A. Happ for the Cardinals against Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray. Happ has a fantastic 2.22 ERA in five starts for the Cardinals. But Happ isn’t a formidable strikeout guy, and his fielding-independent ERA is 4.32. One thing to look out for: since coming to St. Louis, Happ has a fly-ball rate of 49.4 percent. And that was the 13th highest fly rate in August among 156 MLB starting pitchers who made at least three starts during the month. Fly-ball pitchers are not a great match for Great American Small Park. That said, the Reds have had trouble against LH pitching this season with a .678 OPS that ranks 28th in the majors. And in August LH pitchers held the Reds to a .185 average, .303 slug and .569 OPS.
As for Sonny Gray: he has a 3.91 ERA overall this season, but no earned runs (13 innings) over his last two starts. And a 2.67 ERA over his last six starts.
4) Cardinals pitchers have to keep Reds’ hitters in the slumber mode. In the last eight games the Reds are batting .187 and slugging .343 with a 31.4% strikeout rate. They’ve averaged 2.8 runs while going 3-5 in the last eight.
5) Going into Wednesday’s two-game set, here are the Reds’ most extreme slumpers in recent games:
- Joey Votto, 3 for 27 with 12 strikeouts.
- Eugenio Suarez, 1 for 20 with 7 strikeouts.
- Aristides Aquino, 0 for 23 with 11 strikeouts.
- Jonathan India, 7 for 45 with 14 strikeouts.
- Kyle Farmer, 6 for 33.
- Mike Moustakas, .170 average and 18 strikeouts in 53 at-bats since returning from the IL.
THIS IS A BIGGIE DOUBLEHEADER
A split would be OK today; it would give the Cardinals a 2-1 win in the three-game series.
But no question, the doubleheader raises the stakes for these two rivals.
The Cardinals have been playing better — yes, even with their stall at Pittsburgh. They won 15 of 26 games In August, scoring an average of 4.7 runs per game, and allowing only 3.6 runs per game. Their run differential for the month was +29.
The starting pitchers posted the second-best ERA in the majors (3.08) for August, and the offense clicked for a slash line of .262 / .341 / .428 for a .769 OPS that was their best in a month this season. St. Louis hitters ranked seventh in the majors in park-and-league adjusted runs created (110 wRC+) in August.
The Cardinals should have won more games last month but nothing can be done about that now — well, except for winning more games in September. And that challenge begins today in Cincinnati.
— If the Cardinals win both games, they’d be only a half-game behind the Reds before heading to Milwaukee for the weekend. The best-case scenario. Obviously.
— If the teams split today, the Cardinals will have missed out on a chance to maximize their stay in Cincinnati by grabbing all three games from the Reds. But it’s still important to win the series, and a split does that for St. Louis. The Cardinals came into Cincinnati with a 3 and 1/2 game deficit in the wild-card standings. So if the Redbirds get a split today, they will depart Ohio with a smaller deficit of 2 and 1/2 games.
— If the Reds win both games, they’d open a lead of 4 and ½ games over the Cardinals — with only 30 games remaining on the STL schedule.
— On top of that: no matter what happens in Cincinnati today, the Cardinals immediately will confront this imposing 20-game block of schedule:
3 at Milwaukee
4 vs. Dodgers at home
3 vs. Reds at home
3 at NY Mets
3 vs. Padres at home
4 at Milwaukee
Here’s some perspective from my friend Joe Sheehan, who writes a must–read baseball newsletter that’s chock full of insight, info and analysis:
Tuesday’s rainout in Cincinnati sets up one of the biggest days of the year in the NL wild-card race, and arguably the biggest day of the year for the Cardinals.
The Cards and Reds will play a split seven-inning doubleheader today at Great American Ball Park. The Cardinals, off a 15-11 August, have closed to within 2 1/2 games of the Reds and Padres for the second wild-card slot.
Usually, this next graf would explain why the team in question has played so well, but the fact is ’15-11′ doesn’t really lend itself to impressive statistics. The record is real — the Cards outscored their opponents 122-93 in August — and the Cards both scored more and allowed fewer runs in August than they had in any other month.
They were second in the NL in wOBA in August. Paul Goldschmidt hit .350/.402/.602. Tyler O’Neill’s breakout continued with a .304/.411/.506 line. A bench that had largely been an anchor all year made contributions, with Edmundo Sosa, Lars Nootbar, and Jose Rondon all hitting well.
THE (71-62) PADRES
The Padres on Tuesday won their second straight game at Arizona. Not that big of a deal, right? Agreed, but then again the Padres hadn’t won two in a row since Aug. 9-10. The rotation is slowly being restored. Blake Snell had a 1.72 ERA in six August starts. Yu Darvish and Chris Paddack have returned from the IL. Joe Musgrove has a 2.70 ERA since the All-Star break. Dinelson Lamet (elbow) has missed most of the season and is set to return from the IL as soon as today; he’ll be slotted into a relief role.
A San Diego bullpen that’s pitched the most innings in the National League may be wearing down. After grinding out a 2.94 ERA over the first four months the San Diego relievers had a 4.31 ERA in August.
THE (68-64) PHILLIES
They sure are stealthy. They’ve won five in a row, and no longer can be written off in the NL East. The Atlanta Braves seemed to be in firm control of the division but have lost five of their last seven games in a rugged stretch of games against the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers.
Suddenly the Phillies trail the Braves by only 2 and ½, and Philadelphia’s remaining opponents have an average record of 58-73. It’s the NL’s easiest schedule for September.
The Phillies have scored at least seven runs in six consecutive games for the first time since 1933. They’ve gone on the spree despite the absence of injured regulars Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius.
Philly outfielder Bryce Harper is the opposite of stealth; in August he batted .337 with a 1.231 OPS that was the best in any month by a Phillies hitter since Ryan Howard’s 1.274 OPS in September 2008. In booming to his most prolific month offensively since 2017, Harper had 22 extra-base hits (including 10 homers), drove in 25 runs, and scored 25. He also walked 22 times for an August onbase percentage of .455. Harper is making a case for league MVP but can’t fade in September.
The Phillies acquired starting pitcher Kyle Gibson and closer Ian Kennedy from Texas at the deadline. The results are mixed do far. Gibson is 4-2 and has a 3.19 ERA in six starts, but Kennedy has a 6.60 ERA and a blown save in 10 appearances. The Philadelphia bullpen remains vulnerable and often is a liability, ranking 12th in the NL this year with a 53% save percentage.
The Phillies have two starters on the IL: Zach Elfin and Vince Velasquez. That puts more responsibility on the left shoulder of Matt Moore, who has a 6.85 ERA in August. And what’s going on with RH starter Zack Wheeler? The touted Cy Young award candidate has a 4.59 ERA in his last 10 starts.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the baseball today.
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.