WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S

The Cardinals blew a 4-0 lead on Friday at Busch Stadium and found themselves trailing Colorado 5-4 through five innings. For cripe’s sake. Could this be a second consecutive mortifying loss to the Rockies, the woebegone team that lurched into town with a five-game losing streak and 8-23 road record?

The home team rebounded for an 8-5 victory and can take a 3-1 series win by prevailing on Saturday and Sunday.

As has often been the case for the 2024 Cardinals, the difference between winning and losing was their performance when batting with runners in scoring position.

In Thursday’s lamentable 3-2 loss to the Rockies, the Cardinals flubbed numerous scoring opportunities by going 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

In Friday’s win, the Cardinals built a 4-0 lead by producing four hits in five at-bats with runners in scoring position over the first four innings.

And after their lead was lost, the Cardinals rallied by scoring four runs from the sixth through the eighth innings. The Redbirds made it happen by going 3 for 7 with four RBIs with runners in scoring position.

Consider:

* This season when the Cardinals bat at least .250 with runners in scoring position in a game, their record is 17-7. And in those 24 games, they’ve averaged 4.1 RBIs with runners in position to score,

* When batting below .250 with runners in scoring during a game, the Cardinals are 13-25 and have averaged 1.4 RBIs in RISP tests.

Friday night the Cardinals were a smashing 7-12 with RISP. And that factor – combined with the fantastic job by the bullpen – was the reason why a potentially pathetic loss was flipped to a face-saving triumph.

ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT: The Cardinals are 30-32 overall, and 14-13 at Busch Stadium. Through May 11 the Cardinals were 15-24 with a .385 winning percentage that ranked 13th among the 15 NL teams. Since then, the Redbirds are 15-8 for a .652 winning percentage that ranks second in the NL. Among NL teams, only the Phillies (16-7, .696) have been better than St. Louis since May 12. The more recent trends aren’t as positive. The Cardinals are 3-5 in their last eight games and 5-6 since May 27.

DYLAN CARLSON: He was the offensive star of the game for the Cardinals. His sixth-inning, two-out RBI single on a 3-2 pitch gave the Cardinals a 5-5 tie. In the eighth inning and the Cards holding onto a 6-5 lead, Carlson stroked a two-run double that made it 8-5. He essentially put the Rockies away.

Including his first two at-bats in Friday’s game, Carlson was 6 for 49 (.122) on the season with no extra-base hits and no runs batted in.

And after that he went 2 for 2 with his first extra-base hit and first three RBIs of the season. So this was a turnaround game for the enigmatic Carlson. The question is, can something like this lead to Carlson turning around his season?

We can’t answer that now, and no should feel guilty for having doubts over him. Heck, even his two-run double was a hit on the ground down the line that left his at-bat at a lowly 84.5 miles per hour. (Though he did hit a couple of balls hard in this one.) For now, all that mattered for the Cardinals and Carlson were the three runs he drove in to save the team from a horrid loss.

The switch-hitting Carlson got both of his hits off right-handed Rockies relievers. That gave his timely hits some extra meaning because of his glaring weakness vs. righties. Before Friday, Carlson had gone 1 for 18 with seven strikeouts and two walks when stepping in against RH pitchers.

Since the start of the 2022 season, Carlson has hit an abysmal .201 vs. righties with a .291 onbase percentage and .322 slugging percentage. His wRC+ against righthanders over the last two-plus seasons is 25 percent below league average offensively.

Carlson can’t be a more serious presence in the St. Louis lineup until showing a reasonable level of success against righties.

The Cardinals should keep playing Carlson for a while in an attempt to find out if Friday’s positive performance can trigger a sustainable response. Carlson, 25, obviously needs positive reinforcement to boost his confidence.

I think back to the second half of Carlson’s 2021 season when it seemed like he was set for the kind of career that the Cardinals and their fans envisioned.

In 249 plate appearances after the All-Star break he was 25 percent above league average offensively with a ledger that included a .277 average, 15 doubles, 11 homers and a .505 slugging percentage. Does Carlson still have that in him, or is it gone for good?

What’s next? This is a classic example of wishful – and probably unrealistic – thinking. But if Carlson can regenerate, think of what it would mean at a center field position that’s been a blight on the St. Louis offense.

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Cardinals rank last in the majors in batting average (.171), onbase percentage (.224) and slugging (.223) from the center-field spot. The position has contributed one homer and 17 RBIs in 215 plate appearances. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

BULLPEN BULLET POINTS: After starter Lance Lynn’s fuel spill in the fourth inning he was done for the night, and that left the bullpen to take care of the final five innings. Not ideal. But the relievers had the armor for the job.

* Overall the bullpen was dinged for one run, four hits and a walk in five innings while striking 38 percent of the 21 batters faced.

* After Kyle Leahy gave up the go-ahead run in the fifth, manager Oli Marmol turned to the highly effective procession of John King, Andrew Kittredge, JoJo Romero and Ryan Helsey. The four relievers chained the Rockies over four scoreless innings, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out 37.5 percent of the 16 batters faced.

* This season the Cardinals are 22-7 when Kittredge works, 24-6 when Romero appears, and 25-3 when utilizing Helsley. Don’t overlook King; since May 13 the Cardinals are 11-2 after he’s brought into a game.

* Helsley leads the majors with 21 saves, two more than Cleveland’s Emmanuel Clase.

* During the expansion era (1961-current) Helsley’s 21 saves are tied for second among Cardinals who had at least 20 saves through their first 23 or more games finished in a season.

Lee Smith in first 25 games finished, 1993
Ryan Helsley, 21 saves in first 26 finished, 2024
Jason Isringhausen, 21 saves in first 23 finished, 2005
Isringhausen, 21 saves in first 23 finished, 2006
Tom Henke, 20 saves in first 26 finished, 1995
Trevor Rosenthal, 20 saves in first 23 finished, 2015

LANCE LYNN: Through his first 13 starts, Lynn’s 3.58 ERA is good. His 3.98 fielding independent ERA is fine. But I’m surprised that he doesn’t pitch deeper into starts. Lynn started against the Rockies on Friday, and lasted only four innings for a second consecutive assignment. This season he’s gone 6+ innings three times, exactly 5.0 innings five times, and less than 5 innings 5 times. (Rain delays were a factor in two of Lynn’s shorter starts.)

This season the average start for a major-league starting pitcher lasts 5.3 innings. Three St. Louis starters are above that average: Kyle Gibson (5.9), Sonny Gray (5.6) and Miles Mikolas (5.3.) Lynn is below the MLB average at 5.0 innings per start.

IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING: As I was … here’s the average innings per start turned in by the five 1968 Cardinals who made at least 21 starts that year:

  • Bob Gibson, 9.0 IP average
  • Nelson Briles, 7.4
  • Ray Washburn, 7.1
  • Steve Carlton, 6.9
  • Larry Jaster, 6.4

That’s right … Gibson averaged 9 innings per start in his In epic 1968 season, dominating hitters with his major-league record 1.12 ERA in 34 starts.

That season Gibson never pitched fewer than 7 innings in a start, and that happened only twice. He pitched exactly 8 innings six times, went exactly 9 innings 21 times, and pitched longer than 9 innings five times. Four of Gibby’s starts went for 10 innings or more, with the longest being two 12-inning starts.

What about quality starts? Gibson gave the Cardinals 32 quality starts in his 34 assignments. (Is that good?) He never gave up more than four earned runs in a start that season. That happened only twice, with one coming in an 11-inning start. Gibson had 13 shutouts in 1968. One of the shutouts was a 12-inning job, and another spanned 10 innings. Gibson allowed no more than an earned run in 24 of his 34 starts.

NL CENTRAL CLOGGING: The Brewers (37-26) lead the NL Central by 6 and ½. The interesting thing is a three-way tie between the Cardinals, Reds and Cubs for second place in the division. All three teams are two games under .500 and have a .484 winning percentage. And the Pirates (30-33) are only a half-game in back of the Cardinals, Reds and Cubs … the Reds are the hottest team in the NL Central; after losing a three-game series to the Cardinals in late May, the Reds have gone 7-1 against the Cubs and Rockies. Cincinnati has won six in a row … the Brewers got swept (three games) at Philadelphia earlier this week but have won their other six games played before and after the sweep …

THE CUBS ARE REELING: The Cubs are perhaps the biggest developing story in the NL Central. Through April 26, Chicago was 17-9 for the third-best winning percentage (.652) in the NL behind Atlanta and Milwaukee. But since April 27 the Cubs are 14-24 (.368) to rank last in the NL and 29th overall in the majors over that time. The Cubs are 4-11 since May 22.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your Saturday.

–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.