Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: Cards Lose More Ground, Must Fix Starting Rotation

Good morning/afternoon.

Here’s your Daily Redbird Review, presented by our official sponsor, Bernie.

FIRST PITCH: After getting thumped 8-2 by the Kansas City Royals in the day-part section of Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Cardinals prevented a sweep by bombing four home runs and rolling to a 10-3 victory in the night-time rematch. The split caused the Redbirds to lose more ground in the standings; they trail the first-place Cubs by 5 games.

It isn’t that the standings are essential at this time of the season; this is a matter of simple math and logic. If the Cardinals aspire to win the NL Central, which they obviously do, it comes down to this: the large the deficit, the more ominous the challenge.

After winning in Washington on May 1, the first-place Cardinals led the Cubs by 3 games. But after losing 14 of their last 19, the Cards are looking up at five games out. That’s an eight-game swing in the standings between Chicago and St. Louis in only three weeks.

KC came into Busch Stadium with a 16-31 record. From a snotty St. Louis perspective, a split doesn’t feel right. Then again: the Royals, at 8-12, have a better May record than the Cardinals.

BASEBALL HERO: Marcell Ozuna powered up for a three-run homer in the bottom of the first last night, outlasting Homer Bailey in a 12-pitch at-bat to give the Cardinals an instant 3-0 lead. After the sleepy loss in Game 1, the home team needed a spark and Ozuna set it off. He had a muscular doubleheader: three hits, two doubles, two runs, a homer and five runs batted in. Ozuna is tied with Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell for the NL lead in RBIs (45.) And Ozuna is 16th in the league with a .533 slugging percentage. Ozuna is starting to pull his numbers up again after hitting .133 with a .188 OBP and .300 slug over a 15-day stretch that began May 2.

TURNING POINT: First, some context… I was looking for the Cardinals to sweep. So from that perspective, a realistic hope for two wins yesterday was swatted away when the Royals scored six runs on Cards starter Michael Wacha in the third inning of the first game, seizing a 7-0 lead.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Other than a misplay in right field in Game 1, Dexter Fowler went 3-for-6 with two walks, two runs, a double, and a solo homer. In 123 plate appearances since April 9, Fowler is batting .317 with a .439 onbase percentage and .505 slug.

Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Fowler and Kolten Wong had the home runs in the second game, with the homers generating nine of the Cardinals’ 10 runs.

Also, props to the bullpen in the night game. John Gant, Andrew Miller, Carlos Martinez and John Brebbia combined for four shutout innings, allowing only two hits with no walks.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: Michael Wacha had another bad start: 4 and ⅔ innings, seven hits, three walks, a homer and six earned runs. Among 109 major-league starting pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings this season, Wacha ranks 104 out of the 109 with an ERA of 5.59. And he’s 100th out of 109 with a 5.61 FIP. Adam Wainwright struggled in the second game but grinded out five challenging innings to limit the Royals to two runs. But for objective bird watchers, Waino’s start did nothing to raise the confidence level in his pitching.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE ROTATION AGAIN: The Cardinals’ starting rotation ranks 13th among the 15 NL teams with a 4.72 ERA, is 14th with a 5.02 FIP, is 14th in home runs allowed per nine innings, and is last in strikeout-walk ratio. The Cardinals’ rotation has only 0.8 Wins Above Replacement, which ranks 27th overall and 14th in the league.

The Cardinals’ rotation ERA on the road is the worst in the NL and 29th overall at 5.88. The road FIP for the rotation is 5.69 (ranking 28th.) And the Cardinals’ starters are being clubbed for 2.0 homers per nine innings on the road (27th.) The slugging percentage against Cards’ starting pitching on the road (.511) is embarrassing.

Truth is, the Cardinals’ starters aren’t great at home, either. The 3.73 home ERA looks fine until you realize that it’s only ninth best in the NL. And the rotation’s home FIP — 4.44 — is 22nd overall, 12th in the NL.

ABOUT M.  WACHA: According to Brooks Baseball, Wacha’s average fastball velocity this season is down to 92.9 mph. His cutter averages 89 mph. In 2017, Wacha averaged just under 96 mph with his fastball and 91.2 mph on the cutter… among MLB starters that have thrown at least 40 innings this season, Wacha ranks 104th among 109 with a 5.51 ERA and 100th among 109 with a 5.61 FIP. Moreover, his 13.5 percent walk rate is third-worst among MLB starters with a minimum 40 innings. (Wainwright’s walk rate of 10.1 percent is 18th worst among starting pitchers.)

I’m not sure what the Cardinals’ deciders are seeing in Wacha and Wainwright that others don’t see. Or maybe the Cardinals’ deciders aren’t seeing anything, preferring to look the other way and filing papers for residency in a state of denial.

THE GOLDY WATCH: Cards’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is still trying to get synchronized. He went 2 for 9 with three strikeouts in the doubleheader vs. Kansas City.  In 116 plate appearances since April 23 — one month of at-bats — Goldy has three extra-base hits, with a .238 average and .287 slugging percentage.

SECOND GUESSING SHILDTY: It isn’t any one thing, like a specific game decision. But I think some changes are in order. Not a blow-up, just some adjustments. The rotation needs repairs. But that’s mostly a front-office responsibility. And as I typed here recently, modifying the lineup construction isn’t a freak-out move by a manager. For instance: Houston has the best offense in the majors at 32 percent above league average in park-adjusted runs created (wRC+.) Without including the pitcher’s spot (interleague play) the Astros used 40 different lineups through their first 50 games. The Cardinals, excluding the pitcher’s spot, have used 15 different lineups in 40 games. I don’t think any fans or media in Houston are accusing manager A.J. Hinch of being panicky for using so many lineup variations.

BREATHLESS: At 25-24, the Cardinals have a worse record than they did a year ago at this time. The 2018 Cardinals were 27-22 through the first 49 games.

A PEEK AT THE NL CENTRAL: I think the run differentials are interesting:

Cubs, + 63
Reds, +25
Cardinals, +21
Brewers, +13
Pirates, minus 50.

ODDS OF FINISHING FIRST: Here’s the percentage of probability for each NL Central team for winning the division:

Cubs, 44% …
Brewers, 39.4%
Cardinals, 15.8%
Pirates, 0.6%
Reds, 0.2 % ….

ON DECK: Off today, and then a three-game weekend series with the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium. Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty are in line to start against the Braves.

Thanks for reading…

-Bernie