On Friday night the Cardinals encountered a Boston pitching staff that has the best earned-run average in the majors this season. The Red Sox know how to frustrate hitters, so this figured to be a tough matchup for a St. Louis team that’s been searching for offense.

The Cardinals were relentless in thumping their way to a 10-6 victory. In this double-digit spree of runs scored, the home team had 14 hits against three Boston pitchers. The barrage included four home runs and two doubles. Eight Cardinals had a hit. Five Cardinals had two hits. Seven drove in runs. The homers were sent into the sky by Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, Alec Burleson and Masyn Winn.

It was just one game, and we’ve certainly been teased before. The Cardinals must earn trust as hitters. That said, each game should be graded as an individual test, there was a lot to like about what we saw Friday.

I want to focus on three things:

1) The Cardinals didn’t flinch when pressured. The Cards took an early lead on Nootbaar’s two-run homer in the first inning. After the Red Sox tied it, the Cardinals responded with another run in the bottom of the second for a 3-2 lead. When the visitors answered for a 3-3 tie in the third inning, the Cardinals scored a total of four runs over the next four innings to increase the lead to 7-2. When Boston rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh to make it 7-5, the Cardinals counterattacked with two runs in the bottom half of the seventh to increase the lead to 9-5. The Cardinals were up for the fight. They were calm and confident.

2) The younger Cardinals took over this game. Six players age 27 or younger – and four of them no older than 25. Five of the six are in their third major-league seasons (or fewer) with Nootbaar being the most experienced of the group at three-plus seasons. For this offense to be formidable, these are the dudes who must step up and take charge. They can’t just wait for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to take the lead all the time; the younger birds have to do it themselves.

This is what Nootbaar, Burleson, Gorman, Winn, Brendan Donovan and Ivan Herrera did collectively in Friday’s game: nine hits in 20 at-bats, reached base 11 times, feasted for eight RBIs, and scored nine runs. They also had all six of the team’s extra–base hits and were a combined 3 for 8 with four RBIs when batting with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals need more of this. This can’t be a good offense unless this younger core becomes more assertive.

3) The Cardinals were aggressive in the strike zone and punished Red Sox pitchers. In eight innings of at-bats the Cardinals fired away on 58 of 92 strikes thrown. They fought off 20 strikes for foul balls. They whiffed at only 10 strikes. And when the Cards connected with a strike and put the ball in play, they were 13 for 28 (.419) with an .871 slugging percentage. The 13 hits consisted of seven singles, two doubles and four homers.

The Redbirds did extensive damage when Boston starter Brayan Bello fed them strikes, going 6 for 15 with three homers, two doubles and a single. The Cardinals had only five swings and misses on Bello’s 48 strikes, and fouled off nine pitches off. The Cardinals were 7 for 21 against Bello with two doubles, three homers and an .857 slugging percentage. They struck out four times in Bello’s 4 and ⅔ innings, but that didn’t matter because they beat him up.

Overall it was an impressive display of hitting. The Cardinals looked at a few more called strikes than we would have liked, and Bello got them to chase out-of-zone pitches a little more than they should have. But there are two teams on the field. He has talent and his pitches move. When a pitcher has good stuff, he’ll keep hitters off balance and control them at times. That’s baseball.

But all in all the Cardinals did a muscly job of attacking strikes thrown by all Red Sox pitchers. Their .433 batting average and .900 slugging percentage on strikes represented the team’s second-best performance of the season when contacting pitches in the strike zone. And this has been a problem for the Cardinals for much of the campaign. Any team can do this in one game. The Cardinals must do it more frequently, and that’s their challenge – for the rest of this season and over the remainder of the season.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: The Cardinals (19-25) are 4-1 in their last five games. They gained some ground by winning Friday because the Brewers, Cubs and Reds lost. St. Louis moved up to fourth in the division, a half-game ahead of the Reds. The Cardinals trail first-place Milwaukee by seven games and second-place Chicago by five games. The Cardinals remained 2 and ½ games out in the early jockeying for the NL’s third wild-card voucher. Friday’s victory terminated the Cardinals’ four-game losing streak at Busch Stadium.

BINGING: In their current 4-1 upturn the Cardinals have averaged 6.6 runs per game. And they’ve batted .304 with a .396 onbase percentage and .489 slug for an .885 OPS. The bender includes 10 doubles, eight homers and a healthy 12.6 percent walk rate. In Friday’s win the Cardinals were 5 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

BURLY BALL: In his last nine games Burleson is 13 for 33 (.394) with a .788 slug and 1.182 OPS. And his power is becoming a valuable resource. Burleson has four doubles, three homers and seven RBIs in his last eight starts. In 84 plate appearances since April 9, Burleson is batting .329 with a .570 slugging percentage and .931 OPS. Burleson isn’t some “role player.” He’s the second-best hitter on the team. His 125 OPS+ is topped only by Willson Contreras (172 OPS+.) Burleson was 25 percent above league average offensively heading into Saturday’s game.

BURLY-BALL STAT: In 2022-2023 combined, Burleson had nine homers in 363 at-bats. That’s an average of one homer every 40.3 at-bats. This season Burleson has five homers in 112 at-bats. That’s an average of one homer every 22.4 at-bats.

IMPROVEMENT? In March-April the Cardinals averaged 3.6 runs, had a .639 OPS, and were ranked 27th in the majors with a wRC+ that made them 14 percent below average offensively. In May the Cardinals are averaging 4.1 runs, have a .718 OPS and their wRC+ (10 percent above average) is tied for 10th best in in MLB. After hitting only 20 homers in 30 games during the opening month, the Cardinals have 16 in 14 games in May.

Comparing March-April to May:

Batting average, up 27 points
Onbase percentage, up 23 points
Slugging percentage, up 57 points
OPS, up 80 points
wRC+, up 24 percent

Of course, the Cardinals could lapse into another inexplicable slump-rut phase. This group is getting better offensively but has much to prove. I just wanted to issue a progress report.

THE OLD GUYS: Arenado and Goldschmidt combined for five hits in nine at-bats Friday and each had an RBI. Goldy has a six-game hitting streak that includes a .333 average, .400 OBP and .556 slug.

STARTING PITCHING: Kyle Gibson was charged with five earned runs in six innings Friday. He allowed eight hits and walked three. I’m not going to say it was a good start. But through six innings he was charged with three runs and had blanked the Red Sox from the fourth inning through the sixth. He was in the quality-start range, but manager Oli Marmol sent Gibson back out for the seventh inning and the first two hitters got to the righty for a walk and double. Gibson was replaced by JoJo Romero, who allowed both inherited runners to score – and that made Gibson’s official pitching line look a lot worse.

Gibson has given the Cardinals at least six innings in eight of his nine starts this season. His average of 6.1 innings per start is tied for fifth best among National League starters – and tied for ninth overall. Among NL starters only Tyler Glasnow, Zack Wheeler, Logan Webb, Ranger Suarez and Aaron Nola have pitched more innings than Gibson.

HOWEVER … NOT GOOD: After Friday’s game the Cardinals have a starting-pitching ERA of 4.79 that ranks 13th among the 15 NL teams and is 25th overall. Through their first 14 games in May, the Cardinals have a 6.07 starter ERA that’s the worst in the majors this month. And the Cardinals will start Miles Mikolas and then Matthew Liberatore in the final two games of the Boston series.

In 11 combined starts Mikolas and Lberatore have been knocked around for 38 earned runs in 55 innings for a 6.21 ERA. And in the 55 innings they’ve been pelted for 69 hits and struck out only 17 percent of batters faced. Just a reminder that Steven Matz was injured on April 30 and this organization still doesn’t have anyone in the minors deemed worthy of starting a few games in the big leagues. Embarrassing. As for Mikolas, he did a terrific job of holding the line after yielding three runs in the first inning at Milwaukee last Sunday and that gave the Cardinals a chance to come back and win 4-3.

Thanks for reading …


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.