The Cardinals will be working the western territories for the next 10 days, playing three games at Seattle, four at San Francisco and three in LA at Dodger Stadium.
Much like the 8-11 Cardinals, their next three opponents are trying to put an end to a mediocre start to the season. The Mariners are 8-11, the Giants are 6-12, and the Dodgers are 10-11. The three teams have a combined home record of 13-19.
In terms of MLB rankings, the Dodgers are among the top ten in runs scored per game, run prevention and run differential. The Giants are below average in all three categories. The Mariners are average in scoring runs, below-average in preventing runs, and rank 20th in run differential.
While there’s obviously no guarantee that the next three series will go well for St. Louis, there is seemingly an opportunity to grab some wins before the Mariners, Giants and Dodgers heat up.
As for the Cardinals, they’re 12th in average runs per game, 19th at preventing runs, and rank 16th in run differential.
So what is a realistic wish list for the Cardinals as they hop around in three cities and two states? Here’s my outlook:
1. Wins, obviously. If the 8-11 Cardinals come home with a 5-5 record after their travel is completed, that’s actually an improvement. A 6-4 mark for St. Louis would be solid. Anything better than that would be swell. What can’t happen is a debacle … say, a 3-7 record record or poorer. The Cardinals trail first-place Milwaukee by six games. After a triumphant 7-3 road trip to Arizona, San Diego and Seattle, the 14-5 Brewers are home for the next nine games.
2. This would be a nice time for the Cardinals’ starting pitchers to put together something good: an impressive string of performances during this 10-game block of the schedule. How can a team go off on a lengthy and successful hot streak when their pitching staff has allowed five or more runs in 11 of 19 games? This weekend at Seattle, the Cardinals will start Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty. They have an opportunity to get the rotation turned around. And if the three pitch great, it will help the Cardinals set the tone for a successful road trip.
3. The Cardinals can’t relapse and freeze when trying to push home runners in scoring position. This vital area of the offense has a tremendous impact on winning or losing.
4. The St. Louis outfielders have been too quiet over the last five games and need to crank up the offense.
5. I’d like to see more power from the STL offense. The Cards have improved their slugging percentage, now ranking fifth overall. But they’re 18th in the percentage of hits that go for extra bases. And they can do better than hitting a home run every 29 at-bats – their rate over the first 19 games.
Just say no to Madison Bumgarner. He’s burnt pie. I don’t know why so many people nearly faint with excitement whenever a brand-name pitcher is out there. Look at the numbers over his past three-plus seasons. Brutal. And, yo, this isn’t a Jon Lester situation. Why? Because after Lester was traded here late in 2021, he was willing to listen and learn and make some changes to his pitching approach. And he pitched well. Bumgarner? He’s notoriously hard-headed and has rejected recommendations on how to improve his awful pitching. And why the hell would the Cardinals want to put this toxin in their clubhouse? Terrible fit. Horrendous idea.
Tip O’ The Cap to Giovanny Gallegos: It would be pretty difficult for a reliever to top Gio’s early-season performance out of the Cards bullpen. He’s pitched 5 scoreless innings. He’s faced 16 batters and allowed one hit but no walks. And he has a strikeout rate of 50 percent.
Positive indicator: St. Louis hitters have shown significant improvement in hard-hit rate during the opening month. Last season they ranked 17th in the majors with a 37.4% hard-hit rate. Three weeks into the 2023 season the Cards rank sixth in the majors with a H-H rate of 43.8. If the fellers can sustain this, it bodes well for the offense.
The three most pleasant early-season surprises for the Cardinals: (1) righty reliever Drew VerHagen, who has a 1.72 fielding-independent ERA with 10 strikeouts and only two walks 8.2 innings. (2) the 38.5% strikeout rate of lefty reliever Zack Thompson, who hasn’t given up an earned run in 9.1 innings. (3) Nolan Gorman having the second-best walk rate on the Cardinals, and that he’s tied for 1st with Brandon Nimmo for most Win Probability Added by a NL hitter.
The three most unpleasant early-season surprises by the Cardinals: (1) Their 5-8 record at Busch Stadium. (2) Their 5.60 starting-pitching ERA that ranks 25th in the majors – personified by an 8.10 ERA for Miles Mikolas after four starts. (3) Dylan Carlson’s slow start that includes a .227 average and an OPS+ that’s 31 percent under league average.
Fun with small samples: Manager Oli Marmol moved catcher Willson around during the Pirates series. Contreras batted 3rd in the first game, 4th in the second game, and was back in his usual 5th spot for the third game. When he batted 3rd or 4th, Contreras had four hits in nine at-bats with two homers, two doubles and four RBI.
Most Quality Starts by an NL Central rotation in the young season: Pirates 12, Cubs 9, Brewers 8, Reds 5, and Cardinals 2. The Pirates with 12? I didn’t see that one coming, but they rank 12th in the majors with a 4.17 starting-pitching ERA.
A look-in at old friends: Starting pitcher Johan Oviedo has a 2.22 ERA for the Pirates after four starts … Rockies starting pitcher Austin Gomber – part of the Nolan Arenado trade – is 0-4 with a 12.12 ERA this season and has a 5.51 ERA in 60 games since heading to Denver … After being traded from Milwaukee to Seattle, second baseman Kolten Wong is 5 for 51 for an .089 batting average as a Mariner … In 34 plate appearances for Philadelphia, infielder Edmundo Sosa is batting .344 with two homers, three doubles and a .625 slug. What an awful trade by the St. Louis front office … Matt Carpenter is batting .167 with a homer and .361 slugging percentage for the Padres … Patrick Wisdom (Cubs) ranks second in the NL in home runs (8) and slugging percentage (.708.) … Tommy Pham (Mets) has a .231 average, two homers and a .736 OPS in 16 games. … Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader – out since spring training with a strained oblique – is set to begin a minor-league rehab assignment this weekend … pitcher John Gant signed with Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. He’s 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA and has walked 15 hitters and given up four homers in 9.2 innings.
Thanks for reading and have a fantastic weekend!
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.