WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S

Injuries are never a good thing for a team, but there can be benefits. When someone goes on the Injured List, his absence creates an opportunity for another player. And that can pay off.

Which brings us to Alec Burleson.

Since outfielder Lars Nootbaar strained an oblique muscle on May 29 at Cincinnati, Burleson moved up in status and importance. Since Noot’s injury, Burly leads all St. Louis outfielders with 88 plate appearances. And only Paul Goldschmidt has more PA than Burleson over that time.

Burleson wasn’t exactly sitting around.

The Cardinals – as is their custom – have had an outfield circus that’s produced a helluva lot more chaos than offense.

* Designated center-field starter Tommy Edman is still rehabbing from his offseason wrist surgery and has yet to play for the Cardinals in 2024.

* Batting only .155, second-year outfielder Jordan Walker flamed out early and was relegated to Triple A Memphis in late April.

* Dylan Carlson injured a shoulder during an outfield collision with Walker in the final exhibition game of spring. Since returning on May 5, Carlson had hit only .183 with a .207 slugging percentage in 94 plate appearances.

* Rookie Victor Scott II had a chance to take control of the center field job early on but hit .084.

* Nootbaar (fractured ribs) didn’t make his regular-season debut until April 12, then had to go into the shop for repairs a second time because of the damaged oblique. Nootbaar has started only 38 of the team’s first 75 games.

With the injuries and Walker’s demotion, Brendan Donovan became a regular in left field and prompted manager Oli Marmol to go with Michael Siani as a defense-first center fielder. Two good decisions.

And all of this carnage gave Burleson a chance to prove he deserves to be a starting-lineup fixture, and he’s passing the test.

Burleson’s bat is booming. Saturday he walloped two homers that netted five RBIs to power the Cardinals to a 9-4 picnic of a win over the SF Giants at Busch Stadium.

Burleson has started 20 times since Nootbaar had to withdraw from that May 29 game at Cincinnati. And since the start of June he’s come through for the offensively-challenged Cardinals with seven homers, a .279 batting average, and .570 slugging percentage for an .891 OPS. Per wRC+, Burly was 51 percent above league average offensively in June through Saturday’s blastoff.

Burleson went into Sunday atop the team’s month-of-June leaderboard in home runs, slugging, OPS and wRC+. And he was tied with Donovan for a team-high 12 RBIs this month. Through Saturday his seven June homers were tied for fourth among National League hitters.

As Burleson continues to improve and make substantial impact, it’s difficult to envision a scenario that has him plopped on the bench, watching other corner outfielders play. The Cardinals have been short on offense all season, and the big man is delivering the goods.

Defense isn’t Burleson’s strength, but there’s no reason to make a big deal about it. Based on Defensive Runs Saved, a trimmer Burleson has performed at a league-average level defensively based on Defensive Runs Saved. So when a guy hits like this and gives the team average defense in the outfield corners, there’s nothing to complain about.

Burleson’s left-handed swing is a force against right-handed pitching. In 177 plate appearances vs. righties this season he’s batting .311 with a .350 onbase percentage and .515 slug. He’s punished RH pitchers for seven doubles, nine home runs and 23 RBIs.

When the other side is starting a righty, you can’t park Burleson on the bench.

Among STL regulars, Burleson leads the team in batting average, slugging, and wRC+ when taking on right-handed pitchers — and he’s second among Cardinals in onbase percentage against them.

For the season – against all pitching – Burleson leads the Cardinals in slugging percentage (.468) and OPS (.865) and is second in batting average (.281) and home runs (12).

There’s a simple reason for Burleson’s rising in 2024. He’s more aggressive in attacking strikes … especially the strikes that come in over the heart of the plate.

Just a couple of quick numbers to show how Burleson has become a different hitters after modifying his approach:

2023: Burleson swung at 19.3 percent of heart-of-the zone pitches. When putting the ball in play against those pitches he batted .272 with a .400 slug and two homers. Those numbers may look OK, but they’re not. He wasn’t doing nearly enough damage against the meatiest pitches.

2024: Burleson is swinging at 24.8 percent of heart-of-the-zone pitches and has ripped his way to a .359 batting average and .699 slug with 10 home runs. There you go. He’s going after the sweet-zone pitches instead of watching them. And he’s crushing those meatball pitches for huge numbers.

The exceptional bat-to-ball skills have always been there for Burleson. But he didn’t maximize the results of making all of that contact. To use a golf analogy: instead of using a wedge to chip away for singles, as he’s done in the past, Burly is launching deep shots with his driver. He identifies pitches he can thump and swings with authority.

Oli Marmol has always believed in Burleson, and the manager’s faith has been rewarded. Marmol was smart to block out all of the mewling over Burleson. And Burleson had the intelligence to adapt. He’s figuring it out. So look out.

STANDINGS CHECK: The Cardinals were 38-37 after Saturday’s win and trailed first-place Milwaukee by 5.0 games in the NL Central. The Cards haven’t been this close to the Brewers since winning at Cincinnati on May 29 to move within 4 and ½ games of the Crew … the Cardinals have the NL Central’s best record (23-13) since May 12. That also gives St. Louis the best record in the National League since May 12 – ahead of the Phillies (22-14) and Dodgers (21-17) … STL’s 23-13 mark is third best in the majors since May 12, with only the Guardians and Yankees doing better than the Redbirds over that time.

WILD-CARDING: The Cardinals entered Sunday’s game in the NL’s second wild-card spot, a percentage point above the Padres. The Diamondbacks, Pirates, Nationals, Cubs, Mets and Reds were all within 2 and ½ games of the third wild-card position.

SOMETHING TO KNOW: At 38-37 through Saturday the Cards ranked 12th overall and 5th in the National League with a .507 winning percentage. Going into Sunday, the Cardinals had a better record on the season than Arizona and Texas, the two teams that played in the 2023 World Series. STL’s 38-37 mark is also better than four other teams that competed in the 2023 postseason.

The Cardinals are 4-2 in their last six games and have won seven of their last 10. This means nothing unless the team can continue winning on a consistent basis.

THE BULLPEN BRIGADE: In relief of starting pitcher Miles Mikolas, bullpen guardians JoJo Romero, Ryan Fernandez and Kyle Leahy were perfect in controlling the Giants. The three relievers faced nine hitters and none reached base. In the first two victories over the Giants in this series, St. Louis relievers worked 6 and ⅔ innings without allowing a run. (The only minus was Andrew Kittredge allowing two inherited runners to score in Thursday’s 6-5 win.)

This season Cardinal relievers have churned a 3.08 ERA from the start of the seventh inning through the end of the ninth inning; that ranks fourth best in the majors and is No. 2 in the NL to the Dodgers.

MILES MARCHES ON: The Giants got to Mikolas, the bewhiskered righthander, for three runs in the first and another in the third. But Mikolas rebounded nicely, allowing one run over his last five innings and no runs over his final three IP.

Mikolas has a 3.94 in his last 11 starts and the Cardinals went 7-4 in those games. He has a 3.17 ERA in his last eight starts, leading the Cardinals to a 6-2 record. Mikolas has given up three runs or fewer in nine of his last 11 starts.

DONNY DYNAMITE: Donovan, the Cards’ super-utility dude, has powered up for three home runs in his last four games – including back-to-back games against the Giants on Thursday and Saturday.

During his current six-game hitting streak Donovan is batting .423 with an .808 slug, a double, three homers and right RBIs.

In 167 plate appearances since May 4, Donovan came into Sunday hitting .299 with a .353 onbase percentage, .461 slug, 10 doubles, five homers and 21 RBIs.

Donovan has eight bombs on the season and leads the Cardinals with 37 RBIs. Until now, Donovan hadn’t homered in back-to-back games during his two-plus seasons as a Cardinal.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful Sunday.

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an analytical and opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 on Friday. Stream live or access the podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 The Fan app.

Please follow Bernie on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow @seeingredpod on X for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, and Cot’s Contracts 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.