WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S

I don’t believe in curses.

That said, the St. Louis outfield is cursed.

Even by the established standards for this organization’s outfield in recent years – notoriously awful personnel decisions, frequent injuries, failed prospects, rotten luck and hideous karma – the 2024 Cardinals are under an evil spell.

There’s a hex on their outfield. This could be the work of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

The planned St. Louis opening day outfield would have put Lars Nootbaar in left field, Tommy Edman in center field, and Jordan Walker in right.

It never made it to the starting gate.

Edman has been on the IL all season after undergoing wrist surgery. Nootbaar (ribs) was hurt late in spring training. Walker was demoted to Triple A Memphis in late April. So the original STL starting outfield hasn’t played a single game together this season.

And the situation has only gotten worse.

+ The Cardinals had Dylan Carlson set to go as their fourth outfielder, but he injured his left shoulder near the end of spring training in a crash with Walker in pursuit of a fly ball in the gap.

+ So with Carlson, Edman and Nootbaar on the IL, the Cardinals opened the regular season with only one of their top four (planned) outfielders available.

+ That would be Walker, a presumptive rising star going into his second big-league season. But the hex got to Walker, too. He played in 20 games, batting .155, before being demoted to Triple A Memphis in late April.

+ Next move: rookie speedster Victor Scott was installed as the opening-day starter in center field. But after 20 games the Cardinals pulled the plug on his .085 batting average and redirected him to Memphis.

+ Carlson has returned and done nothing.

+ Nootbaar returned, only to be taken down by another injury.

Had the outfielders been healthy, Michael Siani would have been on the big club at the start of the season. But with the Cardinals so short-handed, Siani made the 26-man roster as a sub, but the Cardinals turned to him after Scott’s reassignment to the minors.

The plan was for Alec Burleson to have a role as a backup at the two corner outfield spots and first base, and he’d get some swings at DH. But amid the extreme chaos, Burleson took on a more prominent role along with Siani and both players took advantage of the opportunity. Burleson earned substantial playing time because of his hitting, and Siani became a vital defensive presence in center field.

Super-utility asset Brendan Donovan was always going to be part of the outfield picture for 2024, but he pretty much became a regular in left field. He has started 35 games there compared to seven starts at second base, five starts at DH, and four starts at third base.

What else could the Cardinals do for offense? During the early weeks of the regular season the Redbirds had three outfielders on the IL and two others struggling to regroup in the minors.

Through April 19, Scott made 90 percent of the team’s plate appearances at the center field spot. Through April 23, Walker had 66 percent of the plate appearances among the team’s right fielders.

Using their combined stats, in 35 starts Walker and Scott had 14 hits in 117 at-bats for a .120 batting average. And they were two-thirds of the starting outfield over the first three-plus weeks. Sheesh.

Siani and Burleson weren’t playing all that much early on but their workload increased. Nootbaar returned from the IL on April 12, immediately homered and drew some walks. But he batted only .216 in April. Donovan hit two homers but batted .228 in the first month.

With so many things going afoul – injuries, slumps, demotions – St. Louis outfielders had the fewest home runs and RBIs among National League outfield groups in March-April.

In the opening month, Cardinal outfielders collectively ranked 29th in the majors in batting average, 29th in slugging percentage, and 28th in OPS.

Carlson was reactivated from the IL in early May but is batting .132 since coming back to the squad.

Burleson played a big role in recharging the offense during the team’s 12-4 run to end May, but he’s 1 for 17 in his last four games.

Nootbaar was a leading man in the revival of the Cardinal offense in May, batting .311 with a .436 onbase percentage and .511 slug in his final 13 games before suffering a strained oblique on Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati.

Given the way that Nootbaar was performing – hitting for average, drawing walks at a high rate, and producing plenty of power – his injury is a huge blow to the St. Louis attack.

And it’s frustrating. Since the start of last season, Nootbaar has been placed on the IL five times. He missed 15 days with a thumb injury, 20 days with a lower-back contusion, 15 days with an abdominal strain, 14 days with two fractured ribs – and now he’s out again because of the oblique.

Including the new injury, Nootbaar has missed 66 days since the start of 2023, and the meter is running. By the time he’s able to play again, Nootbaar’s days-missed count over the last two seasons will reach 90-plus games. This is the Tyler O’Neill saga all over again.

Nootbaar has played in only 72 percent of the team’s games since the beginning of ‘23. For perspective, consider that Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have competed in 95 percent and 91 percent of the Cardinals’ games (respectively) since the start of last season.

With Nootbaar out of action, the Cardinals will try to make do with Burleson, Siani, Donovan and Carlson. And maybe we’ll see infielder Jose Fermin get a little outfield time at some point.

As if on cue, Donovan, scheduled to play left field, was a late scratch Friday at Phllly with a stiff neck. Manager Oli Marmol had to scramble to reset his lineup.

This would be a good time for Carlson to show he belongs in the majors and is deserving of playing time. His weak .132 batting average does not include an extra-base hit in 44 plate appearances. Based on wRC+, Carlson is 74 percent below league average offensively this season.

As much as we admire Siani for his defense, speed, and small-ball touch, he’s gone 2 for 22 (.091) since homering on May 20. For the season Siani is batting .206 average with a .528 OPS.

The outfield has been a ridiculous puzzle for Marmol all season. He’s doing what he can =in dealing with a horrible situation.

Through Friday’s loss at Philadelphia, the Cardinals had gone with 13 different outfield combinations in the first 55 games.

The most frequent alignment – used 17 times – featured Donovan in left, Siani in center, and Nootbaar in right. The second most frequent combination (nine times), had Donovan in left, Scott in Center and Walker in right. No other combination has been utilized more than four times.

There’s been a lot of piecing together of assorted parts based on availability and matchups. It’s been rather hectic. And the consequences are severe.

Entering Saturday’s game at Philly, here’s where the St. Louis outfield ranks offensively among the 30 MLB outfield assemblies:

Batting average: .210, (28th)
Onbase percentage: .286, (24th)
Slugging percentage: .323, (29th)
OPS: .609, (28th)
Home runs: 10, (29th)
RBIs: 53, (30th)

Per wRC+, the Cardinals outfield has performed 21 percent below league average offensively in 2024.

I don’t believe in curses. But if curses did exist, then some supernatural source of evil has slapped some serious hoodoo on the St. Louis outfield. There’s a bad moon rising.

BIRD BYTES

1) In Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Phillies, St. Louis outfielders went 0 for 9 with a walk and two strikeouts.

2) The first four spots in the Cardinals lineup went 0 for 15 with a walk and five strikeouts. We’re referring to Matt Carpenter, Burleson, Goldschmidt and Gorman. And Fermin pinch hit for Carpenter late in the game.

3) The Cardinals had only one at-bat with a runner in scoring position. The solo home runs by Brandon Crawford and Arenado were nice, but other than that the Cardinals did little against Phils starter Aaron Nola and three relievers.

4) Miles Mikolas wasn’t bad. It was pretty much a typical performance: 6 innings, five hits, three earned runs, a walk, and five strikeouts. Mikolas has a 3.91 ERA in his last four starts.

5) The Phillies scored all three of their runs off Mikolas in the second inning. The damaging blow was a two run homer by former Cardinal infielder Edmundo Sosa.

6) Here’s a list of former Cardinals that have homered against the Cardinals since 2017: Patrick Wisdom, Marcell Ozuna, Jason Heyward, Tommy Pham, David Freese, Albert Pujols, Brad Miller, Adolis Garcia, Randal Grichuk, Jed Gyorko, Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss, Tyler O’Neill, Mark Reynolds and Sosa. Also homering against the Cardinals: former Triple A Memphis outfielders Nick Martini and Rafael Ortega.

7) The Cardinals, back under .500 again (27-28), finished May with a 13-12 record. They were 14-16 in March-April.

8) The Redbirds ranked 21st with a 4.23 ERA in May, and were 22nd in runs scored. But for the month St. Louis was seventh in the majors batting average, sixth in OPS, seventh in OBP, eighth in slugging and tied for 10th in homers.

9) I was happy for Brandon Crawford, who had a two-hit night against Nola. I can’t hate on Crawford just because he’s the guy who plays shortstop when Masyn Winn doesn’t play. Crawford had two of STL’s three hits Friday night.

10) Jose Fermin was doing exceptional offensively at Triple A Memphis this season: .346 average, 1.076 OPS. I look forward to seeing what he can do with his latest shot in the majors.

11) After Friday’s defeat, the Cardinals have now scored three or fewer runs in 30 of their 55 games this season and are 7-23 when doing so.

12) The Cardinals are doing terribly against left-handed pitching this season, batting .211 with a .622 OPS and a wRC+ that puts them 19 percent below league average offensively vs. lefties. And the visitors from St. Louis will be facing an outstanding lefty Saturday in Ranger Suarez. Among left-handed starters that have pitched at least 50 innings this season, Suarez has the best ERA at 1.75. Suarez has held RH batters to a .176 average and .502 OPS. He’s striking RH hitters out at a rate of 27.6 percent. And he’s allowed RH only three home runs in 217 plate appearances. Sonny Gray goes for the Cardinals in this one.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac 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.