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The Cardinals Are a Different Team, a Better Team, Under Mike Shildt

Mike Shildt has been on the job for a month.

Shildt was named interim manager on the evening of July 14, not long after the Cardinals were humiliated by the Reds for the second consecutive day, getting outscored 17-3 in two sad-sack losses. The Cardinals’ losing streak at Busch Stadium grew to five games, with the home team scoring only 14 runs and getting pounded for 44.

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball ops John Mozeliak finally opened their eyes, cleared them, and saw the incomprehensible mess being made by the increasingly ineffectual and insecure manager Mike Matheny.

The Cardinals were 47-46. They’d fallen to ninth in the National League — and 17th overall — with a .505 winning percentage. A once proud team was getting punked out at home, having lost five of its last six series at Busch Stadium. It was now routine for bad teams like Miami, San Diego and Cincinnati to come into Busch and slap Matheny’s moribund team around. An elite baseball team had turned into a clown show.

Matheny was sacked … probably about a year too late … and batting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller were thanked for their services and fired along with Matheny.

Shildt was promoted from bench coach to interim manager, and led the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory over the Reds on Sunday afternoon, July 15.

Over the last month the Cardinals have played 26 games under Shildt.

How is he doing?

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Well, here’s one way to assess Shildt’s performance: 

Top 5 NL Records, July 15 through Aug. 13

St. Louis,  17-9 ….   .654

Atlanta,  15-9 ….  .625

Pittsburgh,  14-9 … .609

Chicago,  14-11 …. .560

Colorado, 13-10 …. .542

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⇒ Or we could begin the job review by inspecting the standings… 

NL Central,  July 15 through Aug. 13

St. Louis,  17-9 …  .654  —-  +37 run differential

Pittsburgh,  14-9 ….  .609 ….   1.5 GB …. +32 run differential

Chicago,  14-11 ….   .560    ….  2.5 GB  …. minus 18 run differential

Milwaukee,  12-12 …. .500  ….. 4.0 GB  …. minus 24 run differential

Cincinnati,  9-15 …. .375  ….. 7.0 GB   ….. minus 38 run differential

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⇒ How about bringing the other league into this? 

Top 5 MLB Winning Percentages, July 15 through Aug. 13 

Boston  .783

Oakland  .739

Cleveland  .667

St. Louis  .654

Atlanta  .625

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So far, we’d have to say that Shildt is doing a swell job. I’m sure that everyone reading this would agree … unless, of course, they dislike smart baseball … and dislike baseball played with energy and urgency … and dislike baseball played with a sense of joy … and and dislike teams that play the game with pride and purpose.

In other words: If you were and are a devotee to Matheny Ball — then yes, I can see why you would despise watching these Shildty Cardinals.

They’re intelligent. They care about winning. They have fun. They’re entertaining. They’re playing a sharper form of baseball. Shildt has them moving, getting after it with hit-and-run calls. Shildt is the quiet man who likes his baseball played boldly and with an attitude. With edge. The Cardinals have improved on offense, defense, pitching, and base running.

Other than that — having the best record in the league, pushing their way into legitimate postseason contention, winning five consecutive series, restoring the home-field advantage, and getting better in virtually every way — the Shildt-birds have been been a disaster.

Let’s bring in one of the players.

“I’ve got to lay a lot of the credit to Mike Shildt,” said NL home-run leader Matt Carpenter, who was a guest on Tuesday morning’s Bernie Show with Michelle Smallmon. “Shildt has done just an unbelievable job of pulling this group together in what could have been an uncomfortable situation, filling a manager’s responsibility after another one gets let go. That can go one or two ways for you. He’s done a great job … every day we go to the ballpark, there’s an expectation that he puts on us. There’s a preparation that’s as good as any in the game.”

How have the Cardinals improved under Shildt, new batting coaches Mark Budaska and George Greer, and new bench coach Ron “Pop” Warner?

Let’s cite some of the ways: 

* The Cardinals have won their last six games, longest win streak of their season to date.

* They’ve won five consecutive series for the first time in more than three years.

*  They’ve won 13 out of their last 17; since July 27 only one MLB team, Boston has a better winning percentage than STL’s  .765

* Matheny won only five of his last 20 series as manager; Shildt has won five of his first seven series as manager.

* Shildt has a 7-2 record at Busch Stadium so far; Matheny had gone 5-12 in his last 17 home games.

* After the completion of games on July 14, the Cards trailed the first -place Cubs by 7.5 games, and the second-place Brewers by 6.0 games. Today (Tuesday, Aug. 14) the Cardinals are 5.0  games behind the Cubs and 2.0 games in back of the Brewers and have moved by Colorado and Los Angeles and into the third spot in a race for two NL wild card spots. The Cardinals are 2.0 games out of the second wild card.

* The Cardinals scored 4.37 runs per game with Matheny and his batting coaches, 20th in the majors.

* Through 26 games they’ve scored an average of 5.12 runs per game, No. 3 in the majors, with Shildt and the new batting coaches.

* Batting average: .245 (Matheny), 16th in MLB … .280 (Shildt), No. 1 in MLB.

* Onbase percentage:  .315 with Matheny (18th MLB),  .353 with Shildt (No. 2 MLB)

* Slugging percentage:  .399 with Matheny (19th) … .454 with Shildt (No. 8.)

* Onbase+slugging percentage (OPS):  .714  Matheny (No. 19) … .808 Shildt (No. 7)

* Strikeout rate:  22.8% with Matheny (20th) …. 17.7% Shildt (No. 3)

* Walk rate:  8.4% Matheny (17th) … 8.9% Shildt (10th)

* wOBA:  .310 Matheny (20th) … .346 Shildt (6th)

* Park adjusted runs created (wRC+): Matheny Cardinals 6 percent below league average offensively (15th) … Shildt Cardinals 16 percent above league average offensively (4th overall, No. 1 in NL.)

* Two-out RBIs:  Ranked 17th under Matheny … rank 3rd under Shildt

* The Matheny Cardinals’ batting line with two outs:  .239 / .313 / .394 / .704 OPS

* The Shildt Cards’ batting line with two outs:   .281 / .360 / .471 / .831 OPS

* Two-strike RBIs:  25th under Matheny … 1st in the majors under Shildt

* Two-strike batting average:  .176 with Matheny (17th) … .234 with Shildt (2nd MLB)

* Two-strike slugging pct:   .262 Matheny (25th) …   .382 Shildt  (1st MLB)

* Two-strike OBP:  .243 with Matheny (24th) …   .298 Shildt (2nd MLB)

* Two-strike OPS:   .504 with Matheny (24th) … .680 with Shildt (2nd MLB)

* In park adjusted runs created on two-strike counts, the MLB average is a wRC+ of 46.  Matheny’s Cardinals were ranked 23rd with a 39 wRC+ … Shildt’s Cards are No. 2 with 86 wRC+ on two-strike counts.

What about the defense? 

— In 26 games since Shildt became the interim manager, the Cardinals have made steady improvement in defensive efficiency. As of Tuesday morning, the Cards were ranked 6th in the majors in park adjusted defensive efficiency, 5th in the majors in ground ball defensive efficiency, and third in the majors in fly ball defensive efficiency.

Baserunning blunders: up or down? 

— Still some klutzy plays, yes. But using the baserunning metric at FanGraphs, the Cardinals ranked 11th in the majors in BsR in the before the All-Star break. (Matheny managed every game in the first half except for the last contest before the break; that was Shildt’s first game.) But over the past 30 days, a time frame that covers all of Shildt’s games as manager, the Cardinals rank 5th in BsR.

A look at the pitching 

— In Matheny’s 93 games the Cardinals’ overall ERA of 3.84 ranked 11th in the majors.

— In Shildt’s first 26 games the Cardinals’ team ERA of 3.55 ranked 4th in MLB

— The starting-pitching ERA was slightly better under Matheny (3.44, ranked No. 3).  That rotation ERA is 3.66 in Shildt’s first 26 games, which ranks 9th.

— There’s a stark difference in the bullpen work. Under Matheny the Cardinals ranked 24th in the majors with a 4.52 bullpen ERA.  Since the change was made at manager (and in bullpen personnel) the Cardinals rank 5th in MLB with a bullpen ERA of 3.39.  And they have the best bullpen ERA (1.55) since July 27.

By any objective measure,  Shildt is off to a terrific start.

And the players are happy.

And they are playing better.

And those two areas are connected.

It’s been a big change.

“It’s a lot of fun to go out there and play,” Carpenter said. “It’s hard to come up with another word other than just ‘Fun.’ Guys are just having fun.”

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Does the Cardinals’ Rotation Have Its Own Secret Sauce? Maybe So