After Their Best Homestand In More Than 3 Years, Cards Take Revived Hope On the Road

Manager Mike Shildt has the Cardinals running, and moving, and thinking, and winning. The home stand was offered a rare and long overdue glimpse of quality baseball, entertaining baseball. The kind of baseball that used to be played around here, before the last two-plus summers turned into a long, agonizing brain drain.

The Cardinals won five of seven games from the Cubs and Rockies, turning Busch Stadium back into a home field that’s a tough yard for visiting teams. The home field edge had been lost under the previous manager, with the Cardinals getting soft and sloppy and easy to push around at Busch. It was disgraceful, watching this team lose 11 of the 19 home games between May 7 and July 14, until the change was made,  and Shildt began restoring the intelligence of the field operation.

Before management made the belated decision to install new leadership, the Cardinals had gone 2-7-1 in their last 10 series at Busch Stadium. Not only was the home team losing … but they were getting kicked around at Busch by lowly opponents such as the Twins, Royals, Marlins, Padres and Reds. The Cardinals lost all five home series against those teams — bottom-scraping opponents that are a combined  105 games  (!!!)  under .500 in Friday morning’s standings.

So yeah, it was a nice change of pace to see the Cardinals win two of three from the Cubs, who lead the NL Central with a record of 62-46. And it was reassuring to see the Cardinals take three of four from the Rockies, who came into Busch with the best record in the majors (19-5) since June 28. Better yet, four of the Cards’ five wins on the home stand were comeback jobs — including all three against Colorado.

Shildt is 9-7 as the St. Louis manager, but his 6-2 home record represents a pleasant reversal of a depressing trend.  Here are three little factoids I hadn’t realized until I did some research:

In the 67 home games before the change in managers, the Cardinals were 32-37 at Busch Stadium. That goes back to August of last season.

In beating the Cubs and Rockies this week, the Cardinals won consecutive home series against opponents with winning records for the first time since late in the 2015 season. I’m serious.  The Cardinals won two of three from San Francisco in a home series that began Aug. 17 of 2015, went on the road, and came back to Busch and took two out of three from Washington.

The last time the Cardinals won two consecutive home series against winning teams in the same week happened in June of 2015 … the Cardinals went 2-0 vs. Kansas City, had a day off, and went 2-0 against Minnesota. But you probably noticed that there were short, two-game sets.

So what about winning two straight series at home — minimum three games — against visiting teams with winning records? The answer: Pittsburgh came into Busch on May 1 of 2015 for a three-game series and got swept by the Cardinals — who then turned their attention to the next team in, the Cubs. The Cardinals won three of four from their rivals. That’s a 7-1 record in back-to-back home series against the Pirates, who won 98 games in 2015, and the Cubs, who won 97.

Really, we can make the case that this 5-2 Busch bash was the best one-week home stand for a Cardinals team since early May of 2015. That was a long time ago, eh?

Let’s get to some Bird Bytes: 

1. The more Harrison Bader plays, the better he gets. In his last 25 games (74 plate appearances), Bader is hitting .342 with a .432 OBP and .484 slugging percentage. He’s doubles six times, homered once, driven in six runs, and scored 16. The team has a 14-11 record in Bader’s last 25 games. And in his last 16 starts Bader (65 PA) is hitting .364 with a .462 OBP and .509 slug. And we’ve seen Bader’s elite outfield defense and speed make a difference.

2. The more Tyler O’Neill plays, the better he gets. How about those two catches in right field Thursday in the 2-1 win over the Rockies? O’Neill had three good games vs. Colorado after his recall from Triple A Memphis. He went 4 for 6 with two RBIs and a run scored. He walked once and struck out twice. And O’Neill was credited with the game-winning RBI in Wednesday’s 6-3 victory. In his 11 outfield starts for the Cardinals this season, O’Neill is batting .300 with a .318 OBP and .550 slugging percentage. He has a double, three homers, eight RBIs. He runs very well. He’s a plus defender. The athleticism and energy that Bader and O’Neill bring to the field is invigorating.

3. The more Dexter Fowler plays, the worse he gets. When Shildt became manager he committed to playing Fowler on a near daily basis; it was the only way to have a chance to get Fowler sharp, and hot, and in position to help the team. And Fowler looked good for a time; in his first nine games as Shildt’s right fielder Fowler didn’t have a handsome batting average (.233) but he rocked two doubles, two homers, slugged .500, drew five walks, had a .333 OBP, scored seven runs and drove in five runs. It looked like Fowler was bouncing back, and it was good to see. Until … splat. In his last six games, Fowler is 1 for 16 with six strikeouts. Not sure how much longer the Cardinals can insist they’re trying to win when they won’t use their best possible outfield combination. Marcell Ozuna in left, Bader in center, O’Neill in right.

4. The three-game series in Pittsburgh has a big-series feel to it, especially with Pirates’ prize acquisition Chris Archer making his debut for the Bucs tonight, in front of what should be an energetic home audience. John Gant goes for the Cardinals at 6:05 p.m. (CST) Friday.  Saturday at 6:05 p.m. it’s Austin Gomber vs. Ivan Nova (6-6, 4.33.) And on Sunday at 12:35 p.m. Jack Flaherty starts for the Cardinals against Pirates’ RH Trevor Williams (9-7, 3.89)

5. Changing divisions and leagues should be healthy for Archer’s earned-run average. The AL East isn’t friendly to pitchers. Since the start of the 2016 season, until he was traded by Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Archer had a 4.47 ERA in 39 starts against AL East rivals — including a jumbo 6.18 ERA in 25 road starts against the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles.

6. Said Baltimore manager Buck Showalter in an interview with the great Peter Gammons of The Athletic:  “There comes a point where playing 70-something games a year in the American League East beats pitchers down. That’s not to say that every year it is the best division in the game. But if you’re pitching in Baltimore, your team is playing 108 games in Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Rogers Centre. Four of the best hitters parks in the game. Most years, they are big crowds, the games seem big, there’s no letdown. It’s hard for young pitchers to develop. It’s hard to go from the NL Central to the AL East. And how often do we see pitchers get new lives going the other direction?” (Jake Arrieta was one. Baltimore to Chicago. A flopped prospect with the Orioles. A Cy Young award winner with the Cubs.)

7. Archer rejects the theory. No sale. Even though he has a 3.29 ERA in 21 career starts against National League teams …. and a 3.07 ERA vs. NL Central teams.  “It’s Major League Baseball, man,” Archer said. during his introductory press conference in Pittsburgh. “Anybody with a bat in their hands is dangerous. There’s no sense of relief. The Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers and Reds all have really good offenses. They might not have a designated hitter, but I’m never going to let my guard down, regardless of the park or league.”

8. Archer has made one start in his career against St. Louis; it came last August at Busch Stadium. And Archer was dominant for the Tampa Bay Rays, sizzling his way through 7 innings and allowing five hits and one run. That run came on a solo homer by Kolten Wong, who also had the only walk issued by Archer. Greg Garcia went 2 or 3 vs. Archer; one hit went for a double. Archer struck out eight. Here’s how the other current Cardinals have done against the RH Archer: Dexter Fowler 1 for 8 with two strikeouts; Marcell Ozuna 1 for 5 with four strikeouts; Matt Carpenter 0 for 3 with a strikeout; Paul DeJong 0 for 3; Yadier Molina 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

9. After a 13-1 rampage that included an 11-1 winning streak, the Pirates have leveled off, going 3-4 in their last seven games. This includes a four-game home split against a poor NY Mets team, and followed by a two-game split against the visiting Cubs. With the Pirates having a 3-4 week, and the Cardinals having a 5-2 week, the teams go into the weekend with identical 56-53 records. The Pirates and Cardinals trail first-place Chicago by 6.5 games, and are 4.0 games behind Atlanta for the second wild-card spot … but with Colorado and Arizona in the way, closer to the second WC.

10. In winning five of seven from the Cubs and Rox, the Cardinals benefited substantially from the  turnaround of a renovated bullpen: 28 innings, 1.61 ERA. And Cardinals’ rookies handled 19.1 of the innings, allowing three earned runs.

Finally, in closing… 

My favorite stats since Shildt became manager: 

 • Before Shildt replaced Mike Matheny:  38 hit-and-run attempts in 93 games.

• After Shildt replaced Mike Matheny:  25 hit-and-run attempts in 16 games.

• Before Shildt moved up to manager: 33 stolen bases in 55 attempts, a poor 60% success rate.

• After Shildt moved up to manager:  10 steals in 12 attempts for an excellent 83.3% success rate.

• Before Shildt became manager: Cards minus 1.1 Base Running Runs.

• After Shildt became manager:  Cardinals +3.3 Base Running Runs.

• Before Shildt:  Average of 0.62  runners thrown per game on unforced errors.

• After Shildt: Average of 0.25  runners thrown out per game on unforced errors.

Have a great weekend… and a fun weekend … and a safe and happy weekend.

Thanks for reading…


More: With the Cardinals Deep In Young Pitching, Yadier Molina Is More Valuable Than Ever