No preliminaries. Let’s get started with an updated review following Saturday’s 6-1 loss at Philadelphia.

WHERE DID THE OFFENSE GO? I don’t know, but this offense isn’t the same when the Cardinals are missing Willson Contreras, Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan at the same time. They can cover for one injury, just as they did by winning 12 of their first 17 games after losing Contreras to a broken arm. Covering for two injuries to good hitters is even more challenging, but it’s certainly more difficult for the Cards to put up good numbers when three key hitters are missing.

Contreras remains on the IL and is healing up, but there’s no clear timetable for his return. Nootbaar is on the IL with a strained oblique and will miss several weeks. Donovan has missed the first two games of the Philadelphia series because of a stiff neck. Perhaps Donovan will return in Sunday’s series wrapup in Philadelphia. If not, then we’ll see if Donovan can return for (or during) the three-game series at Houston.

Contreras, Nootbaar and Donovan are above the league average offensively in OPS+. With the three out of the lineup, that leaves the Cardinals with just three above-average OPS+ hitters still in place: Masyn Winn, Nolan Gorman and Alec Burleson.

All of the other active St. Louis hitters are below league average in OPS+ for the season. The list: Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Michael Siani, Ivan Herrera, Dylan Carlson, Matt Carpenter, Brandon Crawford, Jose Fermin and Pedro Pages.

This season the nine hitters are collectively batting .221 with a .293 onbase percentage and .322 slugging percentage. And collectively they’ve homered every 45 at-bats.

Per wRC+, the Cardinals are ranked tied eighth in the majors and fifth in the National League for offensive performance against right-handed pitching. It’s tougher to do that effectively without the benefit of two important left-handed batters (Nootbaar and Donovan) in the lineup. And Contreras was crushing RH pitching before suffering the injury. These absences also diminish an already weak bench.

During the Cards’ 12-3 run that led into the Philadelphia series, Nootbaar and Donovan ripped right-handed pitching for a combined .359 average, .474 onbase percentage and .547 slugging percentage for a 1.021 OPS. During the 15-game stretch Nootbaar and Donovan collectively walked 12 times, pounded seven extra-base hits, drove in 10 runs and scored 14 runs.

Is this an excuse for the offense crashing? No. All teams have injuries. And even with Nootbaar and Donovan and Contreras in the lineup, the Cardinals very easily could have lost the first two games at Philly. When Contreras, Nootbaar and Donovan are in the same lineup this season, the Cardinals have lost nine of 15 games.

So this isn’t an attempt at a cover-all justification for a poor showing on offense. It is, however, the reality. And refusing to acknowledge that is daft. The Cardinals lack quality depth and their outfield is a large pile of mess.

As a group St. Louis outfielders are batting .210 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs ranking last in the NL in all three categories.

Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado are slugging .358 and .371, respectively. They’re collectively averaging one home run for every 35 at-bats. In 2022, they both slugged over .500 and homered every 17 at-bats.

The Cardinals can’t rise above all of their problems on the position-player side. The loss of multiple productive hitters makes it worse.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: The Cardinals have a losing record (2-3) through the first five games of their nine-game road trip. In their three losses the Cardinals averaged 1.3 runs per game, batted .138, struck out 34 times, and went 0 for 9 with runners in position to score … the consecutive losses to the Phillies shoved the Cardinals to a full seven games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central … The St. Louis streak of five consecutive series victories ended with Philadelphia’s win on Saturday evening … the loss left the Cardinals with a 5-10 record this season against opponents that currently have a winning record.

THE SIGN OF THE TIMES: The Cardinals (27-29) have had a losing record after 48 of their 56 games this season, and they’ve been at .500 seven times. They had a winning record only one time through the first 56 games.

This next stat is amazing – but for the wrong reasons. Since the start of the 2023 season the Cardinals have been above .500 only twice during 218 games played. They were 2-1 on April 3 of last season after defeating the Blue Jays in the opening series. And the Cardinals were 5-4 after beating the Marlins on April 6 of this season.

IT ISN’T ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: In the first two games at Philly the Cardinals had eight hits in 62 at-bats for a .129 average and .478 OPS. The Redbirds had a 33.8 percent strikeout rate in the two losses. They struck out 22 times and walked only twice. Competitive at-bats? No. Big fail, there. In the two games the Cardinals took 48 called strikes and whiffed on 25 percent of their swings.

PHILLY PITCHING DOMINATES: The Cardinals managed two runs in 8 and ⅓ innings against Phillies starters Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez in the two losses. But Suarez faced only six batters in two innings before leaving the game after being struck on the pitching hand by a line drive hit by Alec Burleson.

The Philly bullpen covered the final seven innings left by Suarez and allowed one run and five hits with a scorching 47 percent strikeout rate. In the first two games the Phillies bullpen dominated the Cardinals with a 40 percent strikeout rate and one run yielded in 9 and ⅔ innings.

The Phillies are second in the majors and first in the NL with an overall 3.04 ERA. And the Philadelphia starting rotation leads MLB with a magnificent 2.67 ERA. Philly’s yield of 3.54 runs allowed per game is third best in the majors.

YOU KNOW IT’S BAD WHEN … Shortstop Brandon Crawford is leading the charge. He got the start Friday and went 2 for 2 with a solo homer. Through the first two games of the series the other Cardinals were a combined 6 for 60 (.100) and struck out in 35.4 percent of their at-bats. Crawford is the only Cardinal with more than one hit in the series so far. Alec Burleson, Matt Carpenter, Masyn Winn and Jose Fermin are a combined 0 for 24 this weekend going into Sunday night’s game (6:10 p.m.) on ESPN.

SONNY GRAY: He has the “ace” title but hasn’t been consistent over his recent outings, absorbing an opponent .470 slugging percentage with a 4.98 ERA in his last four starts. In his first five starts of the season Gray crafted an 0.89 ERA and held opponents to a .250 slug. For the season his ERA sits at 3.00.

On Saturday the Phillies got to Gray for three runs in the first inning and another in the third, and realistically the Cardinals had little chance of winning after that. Gray lasted five innings. On the plus Gray struck out 10 of 23 Phillies faced. And his 33.35 percent strikeout rate for the season ranks third in the majors among 75 starters that have worked at least 57 innings.

NOLAN ARENADO’S DEFENSE: The third baseman was charged with a throwing error Saturday that led to two unearned runs that gave the Phils a 6-1 lead. It was Arenado’s fifth error in 52 games at 3B this season. In 2023, Arenado wasn’t charged with his fifth error until his 77th game of the season.

Arenado is a minus 7 defensive runs saved below average this season. Among the 20 MLB third basemen that have played at least 300 innings there this season, Arenado and the Cubs’ Christopher Morel are at the bottom of the rankings with minus 7 defensive runs saved.

In his first two seasons as a Cardinal, Arenado ranked second among third basemen with +25 defensive runs saved. But in his last two seasons Arenado is tied for 49th among 61 major-league third basemen at minus 6 below average in defensive runs saved.

SUNDAY. WILL IT BE A FUN DAY? The Cardinals can avoid a sweep by grabbing a win in the series finale before jetting off to Houston. If the Cardinals can win this one, they’ll be 3-3 on the road trip. A loss would make them 2-4 on the first two legs of a three-city itinerary. The Cardinals haven’t been swept in a three-game series since being taken down by Milwaukee on April 19-21.

Sunday’s pitching matchup pits Lance Lynn (3.45 ERA) vs. Taijuan Walker (5.51 ERA). The Phillies are 4-2 in Walker’s six starts this season but left-handed hitters have pummeled him for a .379 average, .440 onbase percentage and .606 slug. Perhaps the Cardinals can get something going on offense, but I offer no predictions. I’ll offer this: over 90 percent of the money on public wagers has been placed on the Phillies to prevail again. Lynn has a very good 3.13 ERA on the road this season. Is that due for a correction? I ask because the big guy had a 6.07 road ERA in 2023.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your Sunday …


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.