Bernie Bits: Kolten Wong Trusts His Manager, Christian Yelich Is Wrecking the Cardinals, Luke Voit Is Rocking New York

Bernie Bits…

1. It was good to see second Kolten Wong jump out with a two-homer, three-RBI game on the first afternoon of the Cardinals’ new season. Wong’s offensive game has largely depended on his confidence level. So a strong start can help him.  Wong, who had a 109 OPS+ (nine percent above average) in 2017, posted a below-average 97 OPS+ last season. He’s capable of giving the Cardinals another legitimate lineup threat, and can reinforce the lower half of manager Mike Shildt’s lineup. In the 5-4 season-opening loss at Milwaukee, No. 7 hitter Wong and No. 8 hitter Harrison Bader combined to go 4-for-6 with three homers and drove in all of STL’s runs.

2. Nearly as good was seeing Shildt make the right call to pinch-hit for Wong with two outs in the ninth inning and the Cardinals down by a run. With left-handed destroyer of hitters Josh Hader trying to close it out, Jose Martinez gave the Cardinals their best chance to produce a run, or at least a scoring opportunity. Going into the game, the RH-swinging Martinez was 2-for-3 against Hader, with a homer. Wong, who bats left, was 0-for-3 against Hader with a walk and two strikeouts.

3. Small sample? Doesn’t matter. Martinez made the final out? Doesn’t matter. He nearly ripped one out of Miller Park, with Milwaukee CF Lorenzo Cain intervening with a great catch at the top of the wall. Martinez over Wong versus Hader is the right decision every single time. Shildt didn’t get caught up in the sentiment of the day. Shildt didn’t feel that he owed that at-bat to Wong, as a reward or good-faith gesture, just because Wong was the team’s star of this particular game. Nope. Shildt put the BS aside to make an obvious, and smart, decisions. That’s something new for the Cardinals; for the longest time the dugout decisions weren’t always smart — even when obvious.

4. If Shildt is moving the Cardinals out of the high-school mentality “He’s my guy,” process of decision-making —  if Shildt is moving the Cardinals away from the damaging habit of giving preferential treatment to select favorite-son players — then this is a positive development. But it was also only one at-bat. One game. Shildt has many tests — in this specific area — to pass during this season. But if the manager will abide by this guiding principle — the priority is doing what’s best for the team — then it’s necessary and welcome change. After the game, Wong told reporters that he’d agreed with Shildt’s decision to go with Martinez.

“When you have somebody like Jose Martinez on your bench, you’ve got to understand that,” Wong said. “Put your pride aside. I have no problem with it.”

4a. Wong had decent success against lefties early in his MLB career … but not lately. In 435 plate appearances vs. LH pitching since the start of the 2015 season, Wong’s stats are poor: .242 average, .304 OBP, a .307 slugging percentage and .612 OPS. He’s 32 percent below league average offensively in park -adjusted runs created (wRC+) vs. LH pitchers since the start of 2015.

5. Here’s an important  and relevant word: trust. Wong trusts his manager. Completely. Why? Because Shildt has made sure to show Wong respect through steady communication and a willingness to explain decisions. And by assuring Wong that he will play, and play and play. Wong won’t be benched on a whim, or because of some 1-for-9 batting performance in back to back games.

As Wong told Mark Saxon of The Athletic St. Louis: “I’ve been constantly put in this situation (in the past) where I’ve been told one thing, then the season starts and I get the boot. It’s one of those things where now there is no guessing or trying to figure out what my role is.”

READING TIME, 5 MINUTES: 

— The top five batters in the Cardinals’ lineup went 1 for 19 with 10 strikeouts in Thursday’s 5-4 loss. That’s Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina. What does that mean? Nothing. But it was disappointing to see 10 strikeouts from the top five spots, and 11 overall. Shildt and new batting coach Jeff Albert have prioritized the need for STL hitters to make more consistent contact to cut down on whiffs this season…

— Since joining the Cardinals before the 2018 season, Miles Mikolas has allowed only 19 total home runs. But six of the 19 have flown out at Miller Park. Last season, in his first-ever start for the Cardinals, Mikolas was bopped for three homers. And this year, in his first start of the season, Mikolas gave up three homers — again. Weird stat: As a Cardinal, Mikolas has allowed a home-run rate of 7 homers per 9 innings at Miller Park — and 0.62 HR/9 at all other venues combined.

— The Cardinals cannot handle Christian Yelich since he put on the uniform of the Milwaukee Brewers. Frankly, it’s embarrassing the way Yelich — the reigning league MVP — continues to pound the St. Louis pitching staff. He was at it again yesterday, cranking a three-run homer to give the Brewers a 4-3 lead after the Cards had gone up 3-0.

— In 17 games for the Brewers against the Cardinals, Yelich has 75 plate appearances, with 62 at-bats. He has a .400 onbase percentage, a .694 slugging percentage, three doubles, a triple, SEVEN homers, 17 runs, 18 RBIs, and 12 walks. That adds up to 82 percent above league average offensively in park-adjusted runs created (wRC+.) Yelich has five homers against the Cardinals in 11 games at Miller Park.

— In case you were wondering: Marcell Ozuna has put up robust numbers against Milwaukee since coming to the Cardinals before the 2018 season. In 81 PA against the Brewers over that time, Ozuna is batting .296 with a .362 OBP, .451 SLG, two doubles, three homers, eight RBIs. And Ozuna is 23 percent above league average offensively against the Brewers. That’s good. But in this tale of the two former Marlins who were traded to NL Central teams after the 2017 season … advantage … HUGE advantage … to Yelich/Brewers.

— Former Cardinals first baseman Luke Voit, the Lafayette High School alum, hit a three-run homer and added a fourth RBI in the Yankees’ 7-2 Opening Day stomping of the talent-impoverished Orioles. Voit has been nothing short of phenomenal since being traded by the Cardinals to the Yankees at the 2018 trade deadline. The Cardinals received two relievers — Giovanny Gallegos and the recently demoted LH Chasen — in what has turned out to me an immensely one-sided trade that’s provided tremendous value and benefit to the Yankees.

— In 40 regular-season games and 152 plate appearances as a Yankee, Voit has hammered 15 homers, driven in 37 runs, scored 29 runs, batted .338, gotten on base 42 percent of the time, slugged .714, and has a 1.135 OPS. As a Yank, Voit is a preposterous 106 percent ABOVE league average offensively in park-adjusted runs created.  “It is unbelievable,” Voit told the media after Thursday’s big day. “Who would have thought I would be here on Opening Day?” I thought I would do it in a Cardinal uniform.”

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend…

-Bernie