WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S

After getting a two-game break from his severe slump and troubling season, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt returned to the lineup Friday and went 0 for 4 in the team’s depressing 11-2 loss at Milwaukee.

The box-score blank left Goldy hitless in 27 at-bats in May. This season he has five extra-base hits in 156 plate appearances and ls laboring with a career-worst strikeout rate.

Among 170 hitters that had a sufficient amount of plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, here’s where Goldschmidt ranks No. 160 among the 170 with a  wRC+ that’s 40 percent below league average offensively. That wRC+ is the poorest among STL lineup regulars. His batting average is down to .195, he’s slugging just .255, and the OPS has crashed to .535.

Goldschmidt turns 37 on Sept. 10 and his statistical collapse is part of an age-related decline. It just happened so quickly.

Goldschmidt’s numbers were down in 2023, but he still ranked 38th among qualifying hitters with a 122 wRC+ that was 22 percent above average.

Goldschmidt didn’t come close to matching his 2022 league MVP campaign. But the Goldy we watched last year was a good and highly capable hitter who generated ample power with 25 homers and a .447 slug.

Except for an uprising during his final eight games in April, Goldchmidt has been lost at the plate. Nothing looks right. I don’t think this is a slump. I think it’s the new reality.

The downturn actually began late in 2022, when Goldsmith didn’t get much done in the final month of the season when he batted .200 with three homers in his final 108 plate appearances.

We didn’t realize it then, but this was the start of a trend that’s continued through the team’s first 38 games of 2024. Goldschmidt recovered from his late–season quiet period of 2022 to put up solid numbers in 2023, but more factors are working against him.

So far this season Goldschmidt ranks in the bottom 21 percent of MLB hitters in barrel-rate percentage, the bottom 17 percent in swing-whiff rate, and the bottom 15 percent in strikeout rate. Based on quality of contact, Goldschmidt ranks in the bottom 30 percent of big-league hitters in expected slugging, and that’s only slightly better in his expected batting average.

He’s been overpowered by four-seam fastballs, has a swing-whiff rate of 43.6 percent on sliders, and his contact rate on strikes is just about 10 percent below his career average.

When Goldschmidt swings at the fattest pitches – thrown to the heart of the strike zone – he’s batting .196 with a .304 slugging percentage. In those attack-zone servings he’s had 35 swing-whiffs and has barreled only three balls. In 2022 his batting average on attack-zone pitches was .360, and he slugged .699.

This is a long way down from then.

Since late 2022, Goldy has fewer home runs than Lane Thomas, fewer doubles than Thomas, fewer RBIs than Thomas, a lower batting average than Thomas, a smaller slugging percentage than Thomas and the same OPS as Thomas. I’m not using Thomas to taunt the Cardinals for trading him to Washington for pitcher Jon Lester. The trade made perfect sense at the time. For perspective, I just wanted to use a familiar name that Cardinals fans know about.

This sickly STL offense can’t ignite unless Goldschmidt ignites. The aging curve can be mean and cruel, and Goldy (36) and Nolan Arenado (33) are aging.

The Cardinals figured they were set when acquiring Arenado from Colorado before the 2021 season to pair with Goldschmidt, who came over in a deal with Arizona in time for 2019.

From 2021 through 2023, Goldschmidt and Arenado combined to hit a homer every 19 at-bats, cashed in piles of RBIs, and posted slugging percentages that were as high as .578 and never lower than .447. They finished first (Goldschmidt) and third (Arenado) in the 2022 MVP voting

This season Arenado is slugging .385, Goldy is slugging .255 and both are stuck on two homers. As a tandem they’ve homered every 70 at-bats so far in 2024.

Arenado is struggling against four-seam fastballs, going 8 for 44 (.182) with a weak .250 slugging percentage. He isn’t as effective at pulling pitches into the air, and that used to be his primary power source.

Goldschmidt is 1 for 17 (.090) on offspeed pitches and is 8 for 42 (.190) on breaking balls. The sweeper-slider type of pitch is a big problem (.147) for him, and he’s hitting .111 on cutters.

The Cardinals are 0-3 in the postseason with Goldschmidt and Arenado in the lineup. And this doesn’t look like a postseason-bound 2024 team in St. Louis. If the Cardinals miss out on the playoffs, they’ll be 2 for 4 in making the postseason in the Goldschmidt-Arenado years.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go for the Goldschmidt-Arenado ‘Era.’ Since the two All-Stars teamed up in St. Louis in 2021, the Cardinals rank 14th overall and eighth in the NL in winning percentage. Their offense is tied for 18th in average runs scored per game over that time.

To quote a long-ago song by the Rolling Stones: what a drag it is getting old.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: The Cardinals (15-23) have lost six straight, eight of nine and are 6-14 since April 17 … their .395 winning percentage ranks 25th overall and 13th in the National League … after Friday’s beatdown, the St. Louis run differential of minus 50 is 27th in the majors, better than only the Rockies (-74), Marlins (-85) and White Sox (-85) … last season through the first 38 games the Cards had a run differential of minus 21, and after getting swept in three games at Wrigley Field, their record was 13-25.

UGH: RUNS SCORED BREAKDOWN. The Cardinals have been held to three runs or fewer in 24 games, the most by an NL team and tied with the White Sox for the most in the majors. STL is 6-18 when scoring three times or fewer. They’re 9-5 when scoring at least four runs in a game. The problem: the Cardinals have scored for or more runs in a game fewer times (14) than any team in the majors.

ONGOING BREWERS DOMINATION: In their two losses to open the series at American Family Field, the Cardinals were outscored 18-3. The Redbirds are 0-5 against the Brewers this season and have been outscored 34-9. Good grief. Someone call the medics to stop the bleeding. Going back to the start of last season St. Louis is 5-13 against Milwaukee and has lost seven in a row and 10 of its last 11 games against the Crew. Can the United Nations intervene?

STL OFFENSE VS. MILWAUKEE: In their 0-5 failure against the Brewers this season the Cardinals have averaged 1.8 runs per game and batted .173 with a .241 slugging percentage. On top of that, the Cardinals are 2 for 33 (.061) and plagued by a 33.3 percent strikeout rate when batting with runners in scoring position. That includes an 0 for 7 showing with the bases loaded.

CHECK ON STARTING PITCHING: In their last six games, Cardinals starting pitchers have been punished for a 7.31 ERA in 28 and ⅓ innings. In three of those starts Miles Mikolas, Sonny Gray and Lance Lynn were dynamited for 16 earned runs in 13 and ⅔ innings.

The overall performance? Not great. Going into Kyle Gibson’s start on Saturday, St. Louis starting pitchers had a 4.51 ERA that ranked 27th among the 30 teams. They were also ranked 27th in opponent slugging percentage (.445) and home runs allowed (30). And their collective strikeout rate (20.5%) was 22nd.

THE LANCE LYNN REPORT: He has a 3.79 ERA and 4.29 FIP in his eight starts but trouble is brewing. Lynn couldn’t make it through five innings Friday in Milwaukee and was stung for four earned runs while getting only 14 outs.

* In his two May starts Lynn has averaged 4.8 innings and gotten ripped for a 7.45 ERA.

* In his last five starts Lynn has averaged fewer than five innings, has a 5.49 ERA and has been thrashed by opponents for a .276 average, .367 onbase percentage and .434 slug. His walk rate in the four starts was a way-too-high 12.2 percent. His FIP in the last four assignments (3.71) looks fine, but he didn’t pitch all that well.

* Lynn was smoked for three home runs by Miami in his second start of the season. But he’s given up only two total home runs in his other seven starts of 2024. Lynn had a terrible home-run rate last season, allowing 2.2 HRs per nine innings. He’s cut that in half this year so far with a yield of 1.1 homers per nine innings.

* Lynn is vulnerable when facing the opposing lineup for the third time in a game. In this scenario he’s faced 35 batters and been roughed up for a .370 average, .514 onbase percentage and .778 slug.

* Lynn has limited the damage with runners in scoring position this season, yielding a .256 average and .618 OPS. His strikeout punch (33.3% rate) makes a difference in RISP situations.

* Lynn has gone over five innings in just one of his eight starts. He has only one of the staff’s 13 quality starts on the season. Lynn’s quality-start percentage (13%) is tied for 23rd among 27 National League pitchers that have made at least eight starts.

* The most positive development for Lynn in 2024? His four-seam fastball has more quality. And compared to 2023, the improvement is dramatic. Last season Lynn had a terrible negative run value of minus 10 on his four seamer. This season, the run value on the four-seam is plus 6. Opponents are batting .218 with a 27.6 percent strikeout rate against the pitch this season.

REFLECTIONS ON THE MONTH OF MAY: The famous Ralph Waldo Emerson described May as a time when “the earth laughs in flowers.” May is a gorgeous month. But so far this May, the most laughable thing in our baseball hamlet is the Cardinals’ offense. (OK, I forced that, but at least I worked Ralph Waldo Emerson into a baseball column.)

The Cardinals are 1-7 in May. In the eight games they averaged 2.6 runs and batted .198. Through Friday, they’d scored three or fewer runs in six of their eight May dates. For the noodle-bat Redbirds, May has also brought a .140 batting average and 28 percent strikeout rate with runners in scoring position.

“May is the month of expectation, the month of wishes, the month of hope,” wrote the late Emily Brontë, the novelist and poet.

Yeah, well, that’s a wonderful thought. But around here May is about something else, at least so far. May is about Willson Contreras going down with a broken forearm. May is about Paul Goldschmidt, Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, Masyn Winn, Brandon Crawford and Pedro Pages combining for 15 hits in 148 at-bats for a .101 average. And the emptiness includes a 1 for 25 performance with runners in scoring position.

Final sentence: welcome back, Matt Carpenter.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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.