1) I’m looking forward to watching Albert Pujols dig in against Kansas City’s lefthanded starter Daniel Lynch tonight at Busch Stadium. This is the first opportunity for The Machine to plug in and do the thing he was signed to do wallop LH pitching. Last season Pujols had 146 plate appearances vs. the lefties and batted .294 with a .939 OPS. His slugging percentage (.603) was fearsome. And though Lynch has a lot of talent, he’s still navigating his way in the majors. Last season RH batters hit .313 with a .889 OPS against him. Can Pujols still bring the firepower when he sees a lefty on the mound? I believe so. But having a chance to see Pujols in his sweet spot was worth the wait. How about career home run No. 680?
2) If we can’t have fun with Cardinal baseball, then what’s the point of being a fan? If we can’t be silly and overreact to three games, then when are we allowed to get giddy or ticked off? What that in mind … of course Nolan Arenado can win the National League MVP award. But hold everything. How do we know he’ll deserve the league MVP more than Paul Goldschmidt? Or Tyler O’Neill?
3) The state of major-league pitching in 2022 is … unusual. Because of the short spring, I understand why teams are using the expanded April roster of 28 players to load up on pitching. Starters have to build stamina and be drawn out. Through Monday the average MLB start has lasted only 4.4 innings, and only four of the 30 teams have received at least five innings, on average, from their starters. That’s why we’re seeing these 15-man, or 16-man pitching staffs.
OK, now that I’ve gotten out of the way …
I find it strange to see some teams already have concerns about covering innings. That despite having bullpens that go 11, or even 12, arms deep. The Cardinals are a good example of what I’m talking about … though I must say there’s no panic or the sound of alarms going off. Manager Oli Marmol and pitching coach Mike Maddux aren’t freaking out. They’re calm.
Adam Wainwright pitched six innings Thursday on opening day. The Cardinals were off on Friday. They played Saturday and Sunday, and were rained out on Monday. Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz combined to pitch 6.2 innings in their weekend starts, and that shortage put the bullpen to work for 11.1 innings over the two days.
By the time the Cardinals return to action against visiting Kansas City on Tuesday night, their bullpen will have pitched 14.1 innings over five days. Not a big deal. In fact, 24 MLB bullpens had handled more innings than St. Louis through Monday.
After three games in five days, should we really be worried about the bullpen being overworked because of two abbreviated starts by Mikolas and Martz? Look, I’m guilty of making a fuss over this; Monday I wrote a piece here on Scoops about Dakota Hudson and how he must step up and give the Cardinals five, maybe six, innings in his first outing of 2022. If Hudson couldn’t do that, the bullpen was at risk of being worn down. The rain-out lessened the concern, and Hudson will start tonight’s game against the Royals.
Jordan Hicks was originally slotted to start tonight, but the postponement changed the plans. Hicks will be in the bullpen tonight. He’ll be on track to start Saturday’s game in Milwaukee. But how far can he go in that start against the Brewers? If you count Hicks as a starter, the Cardinals still have 10 relievers in service. But I’m not sure why Hicks has the “starter” title when he can’t provide starter innings for a while. Which means short starts (from Hicks) and an increase in the bullpen’s workload.
For a team that has a 15-man pitching staff with a deep bullpen, I don’t see why two short starts last weekend should result in any commotion. And just think about what would happen if the Cardinals lose another starter to injury.
Yep, this is the state of pitching in 2022. Can never have enough … even if you have plenty. MLB managers would have 20 pitchers on staff if you let them.
4) Ryan Helsley was very impressive in his first two relief appearances of the season. I don’t know if this rates as a modified approach, but he threw more sliders (47.2%) than four-seam fastballs (41.6%) in the two gigs. That’s different. And both pitches were nasty. His fastball averaged just under 100 mph and he bedeviled hitters with an 89 mph slider that made them tilt in the box. Helsley got five outs on the slider, two of which were strikeouts. The Pirates had a 60% whiff/swing rate against the Helsley slider. Helsley’s slider was great last season, too. His four-seamer was just OK. But sequencing may be the key here. Last season, when ahead of RH batters in the count, Helsley threw the slider 37 percent of the time. When ahead of RH batters in his first two appearances, he went with the slider 88% of the time. It’s way early, but perhaps Helsley is trying to be less predictable. Hitters can’t look for fastballs when they’re ahead, or behind, in the count. Not when Helsley is being so aggressive with his slider.
5) Switch hitter Dylan Carlson struggled against RH pitching during the first half of the 2021 season but made progress after the All-Star break. And Carlson’s improvement continued in the season-opening series vs. Pittsburgh with four hits in 10 at-bats against Pirates’ righthanders. Carlson’s haul included two sacrifice flies, two doubles and two RBIs. Since last year’s All-Star break Carlson has a .462 slug and .790 OPS against RHP. Before the 2021 All-Star break Carlson slugged .380 with a .712 OSP vs. righties.
6) The Milwaukee Brewers were a popular choice to win the NL Central again in 2022. But they lurched out of the gate by losing three of four games to the Cubs and Orioles.
– After combining for a 2.76 ERA last season Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser were popped for 15 earned runs on 17 hits and 13 walks in 16.1 innings during their first turn of the new season. That’s a 8.27 ERA.
– The offense is averaging 2.25 runs per game, last in the NL and 29th overall. As a team the Crew is batting .202 with a .303 onbase percentage and .331 slug for a .634 OPS. And they have three homers in 124 at-bats – and have grounded into six double plays.
– Runners in scoring position: 2 for 22, or .091.
– Key offseason acquisition Hunter Renfroe is 1 for 14 (.071) with five strikeouts. This comes after a spring training in which the outfielder batted .231 with no extra base hits in nine games. Renfroe slammed 31 homers, 33 doubles and drove in 96 runs for the Red Sox last season.
7) The Cubs took two of three from Milwaukee at Wrigley Field and are happy with their start. The early highlights include starting pitchers Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman combining to allow only two earned runs in 15.1 innings. A more patient hitting approach cultivated 17 walks in the first three games and a .374 onbase percentage. Expensive outfield recruit Seiya Suzuki displayed plenty of skill in his first three games, batting .375 with four walks, a .538 OBP, and .750 slug. He drove in six runs in the three games vs. the Brewers.
8) Despite an icy offense the Reds did well in Atlanta, splitting a four-game series with the defending World Series champs. The Reds batted .200 with a .543 OPS and 27% strikeout rate in the four games. Tommy Pham went 0 for 13. Mike Moustakas was 1 for 10 with five strikeouts. Joey Votto went 3 for 14. Jonathan India, the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year, had two hits in 18 at–bats. Nick Senzel went 2 for 14. And so on … but Reds pitchers had a 3.71 ERA in the series including a 2.08 ERA from their relievers … hard-throwing top prospect Hunter Greene made his MLB debut and struck out seven Braves in five innings – though did give up two homers and three earned runs. No. 1 starter Tyler Mahle shut down the Braves in his first start of the season, allowing an unearned run in five innings.
9) Left-handed hitting outfielder Alec Burleson is teeing off at Triple A Memphis, batting .357 with a 1.257 OPS plus two homers and a double … in his last two games at Memphis second baseman Nolan Gorman is 4 for 8 with two homers.
Thanks for reading …
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.
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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.