Bernie’s Redbird Review: After A Winning Series In Washington, Let The Fun Begin at Wrigley Field

Good afternoon.

(Sorry for the delay.)

Here’s the Daily Redbird Review.

FIRST PITCH: The Cardinals came up short in a frustrating, rain-delayed game yesterday in Washington, losing 2-1 on a day when manager Mike Shildt rested several of his key lineup pieces. But even with the loss the Cardinals took three of four games from the Nationals, have won 10 of their last 12 games overall, and have won four series in a row. At 20-11 the Cardinals lead the Cubs by 2.5 games in the NL Central.

CARDS KILLER: Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg gave up only one run in 6 and ⅔ innings, striking out nine Cardinals to reach 1,500 strikeouts for his career, reaching that milestone faster than any pitcher in major-league history.

BASEBALL HERO: Rookie Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson had his best start of the season to date, allowing four hits and one earned run in six impressive innings. What I liked best was Hudson’s aggressiveness, which led to a confidence-boosting seven strikeouts and only two walks. Hudson is definitely making progress, judging by his 3.78 ERA and 51 percent ground-ball rate over his last three starts.

BLAME GAME: Yairo Munoz doesn’t get a chance to play much, and it isn’t easy to make a rare spot start at shortstop in place of Paul DeJong, but his error on a potential double-play grounder with two on and no out in the bottom of the fourth led to an unearned run and a 2-1 Washington lead.

TURNING POINT: Just one guy’s opinion. But the Cardinals had a chance to get to Strasburg and at least tie the score in the sixth. But with two runners on and one out, Marcell Ozuna and Tyler O’Neill struck out. This was one of several missed opportunities by the Cards offense in this series.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: We’ve tipped our cap to Hudson. But relievers Dominic Leone and Tyler Webb followed Hudson and turned in three scoreless innings to give the Cards offense a shot at winning this games the St. Louis bullpen had an outstanding series in Washington. In the four games the bullpen pitched to 42 batters, worked 11 and ⅔ innings, didn’t allow a run, and had a strikeout rate of 33 percent.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: I know that the lineup was missing Paul Goldschmidt, Pauly DeJong, Jose Martinez, Dexter Fowler and Yadier Molina, who didn’t start. (Most of the guys were used late, as pinch hitters.) But we’ve praised the Cardinals all season for their quality depth, and I think it’s reasonable to expect more than one run in Thursday’s game. But the Cardinals struck out 13 times and went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals stranded eight runners on base over the final four innings. It was a lost day in the box for Tyler O’Neill, who struck out four times. And two of his strikeouts came with runners in scoring position.

SECOND GUESSING SHILDTY: I guarantee you that some fans are complaining because Shildt rested so many key pieces in his lineup … but there will be no growling from me. Why is that?

Well, let’s start with this:

1. I trust Mike Shildt. He knows his team. He’s a terrific manager. I may disagree with some of his in-game moves — that’s baseball — but not decisions on resting players.

2. This is baseball, not football. You know, a 162-game schedule and all of that.

3. The Cardinals are in a stretch of playing 17 consecutive games — and 23 games games in 24 days.

4. The Cardinals had already won the series in Washington and still had multiple opportunities to capture Thursday’s game — and with some of their best hitters up at the plate — but failed to get the key hit.

5. Because they Cardinals are heading into Wrigley Field for an important series against their rivals, and the Cubs are playing great. If some guys are dragging, then give them a break. The Cubs had a day off — no game — on Thursday. I’d like to see the Cardinals be at full capacity for this series.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: He deployed Paul Goldschmidt at the right time, pinch-hitting Goldy with the bases loaded and two out in the 8th against Nationals’ lefty Sean Doolittle. Goldy was all over Dolittle’s fastballs, and rocketing foul balls including one that had home-run distance. Goldschmidt had Doolittle timed up and escaped only through the mercy of first-base umpire Quinn Wolcott, who called Goldy out on a checked-swing strikeout. It was a bad call by an umpire who apparently had a flight to catch. But that was the perfect spot for Goldschmidt. It’s a shame that an umpire intervened.

BREATHLESS: Cardinals at Cubs, three games, first meeting of the year, what else is there to say? The Cubs have won 15 of 21 since starting out 1-6. The Cardinals have the best record in the National League. Kris Bryant called St. Louis “boring” last offseason. Yadier Molina countered with a reference to Bryant and retired Cubs pitcher/comedian Ryan Dempster as “stupid” and “losers.”

Let’s do this.

NL CENTRAL: Cardinals 20-11 … Cubs 16-12 … Brewers 17-16 … Pirates 14-14 … Reds 13-18.

ON DECK:

Friday, 1:20 pm: Jack Flaherty (3-1, 4.06) vs. the Kyle Hendricks (1-4, 5.33.)

Saturday, 3:15 pm: Michael Wacha (2-0, 4.78) vs. Yu Darvish (2-3, 5.02.)

Sunday, 6:05 pm: Adam Wainwright (3-2, 3.73) vs. Jose Quintana (3-1, 3.48.)

CARDS QUOTE: “We’re obviously looking to make a lot of noise when we go in there,” said starting pitcher Miles Mikolas, speaking to ESPN. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun. We’ve got guys that are just scratching the surface of what they’re really capable of. Once we start hitting on all cylinders, I think we’re going to play some really special baseball.”

MY QUESTION FOR THE CARDINALS:  From the 2015 NLDS through 2018 the Cardinals went 11-20 at Wrigley Field. Isn’t it about time to change this trend in?

LOOSELY SCOUTING THE CUBS-CARDINALS… 

♦ Goldschmidt will be facing the Cubs for the first time as a St. Louis Cardinal. Playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt played 43 games against the Cubs, with 187 plate appearances. He homered 14 times, went deep every 11 at-bats, scored 37 runs, knocked on 39 runs, batted .353, had a .471 onbase percentage, slugged .699 and had a 1.170 OPS.

♦ In 22 games and 97 plate appearances at Wrigley, Goldy batted .337 with an OBP of .433 and a .578 slug for a 1.011 OPS. And he launched a homer every 16.6 at-bats.
Using the FanGraphs version of WAR (wins above replacement), here are the top five sets of position players in the National League so far: Dodgers (7.9), Cardinals (7.3), Braves (6.8), Cubs (6.0), Phillies (5.3.)

♦ Since Mike Shildt became manager last July 15, the Cardinals are 61-39 (,610). The Cubs are 57-42 (.576).

♦ Fewest runs allowed per game, NL: Reds (3.23), Padres (3.84), Giants (3.97), Pirates (4.07), Cardinals (4.16), Dodgers (4.21), Cubs (4.36.)

♦ Cardinals are ranked first in the NL in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. The Cubs are 8th in the league in PADE. That, according to the metrics at Baseball Prospectus.

♦ From Bill James Online: the Cardinals are No. 1 in the NL in Net Gain (Base-running) at +26. The Cubs are third at +16.

♦ Cubs have played only 11 home games this season (7-4 record) and have gone 9-8 on the road.

♦ Cubs are 11-6 vs. winning teams, and 5-6 against losing teams. The Cardinals are 14-8 against winning teams, and 6-3 against opponents below .500.

♦ Cubs are No. 1 in the NL in runs per game (5.71) which is a slight edge over the Cardinals, who are third at 5.29.

♦ Cubs rely on the home run more than the Cardinals. The Cubs have scored 43.13 percent of their runs on homers this season, which is the 14th-highest rate in the majors. The Cardinals (36.8%) rank 23rd and have created plenty of other ways to score.

♦ Cardinals are second in the NL with an adjusted OPS of 112; the Cubs are fourth with a 110 OPS+.

♦ In all games, Cubs’ starting pitchers rank 9th in the majors with a 3.66 ERA. But over the last 20 games, since April 7, the Chicago rotation has the best ERA (2.51) in the majors.

♦ Cardinals’ rotation is 17th overall with a 4.36 ERA. But over their last 14 games STL starters have a 3.38 ERA.

♦ The bullpens loom prominent in the three-game series at Wrigley this weekend. The St. Louis bullpen has evolved into a team strength, with a 3.54 ERA overall (8th in the majors) and a 3.29 ERA over the last 23 games.

♦ And despite the considerable fears of Cubs fans, the Cubs have the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors (2.64) since April 6. Overall the Cubs rank 15th with a 4.22 bullpen ERA.

Thanks for reading … have a great weekend.

– Bernie