Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: Cards Off To A Positive Start In The Second Half But Must Keep Going

Here’s your Daily Redbird Review, back after an unplanned absence on Monday. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Cardinals are trying to establish traction and consistency. They’ve made some progress but must build on their modest gains in the early days of the second half…

FIRST PITCH: Trying to raise their game after a disappointing first half, the Cardinals are playing good baseball in the first patch of games since the All-Star break. The Cardinals won their third in a row Monday, trouncing the Pirates 7-0. The Cards are 3-1 since the break, which gives them a chance to get something going in a serious way.

With the win, the Cardinals moved into second place in the NL Central for the first time since May 7. They trail the division-leading Cubs by 2 games.

The slumping Brewers have slid into third place …

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG  WITH  MILWAUKEE,  ANYWAY? The Brewers are curdling, having lost 18 of their last 27 games. And we’re talking about some bad baseball.

Consider these nuggets:

  • The Brewers entered the new week having gone 3-9-4 over their previous 16 series. But all three series triumphs came over Pittsburgh, and the Brewers haven’t taken a series from a team other than the Pirates since winning three of four from Philadelphia in mid-May.
  • All but one game during this wretched 9-18 stretch has been played against teams with a losing record. The exception is Atlanta, which defeated the Brewers 4-2 in Milwaukee on Monday.
  • In going 9-18 in the last 27 the Brewers have averaged only 3.8 runs per game. And they’ve scored three runs or fewer in 14 of the 27.
  • The Milwaukee batting average with runners in scoring position over the last 27 games is .179, with a putrid .286 slugging percentage.
  • Milwaukee’s pitching is frayed. Their starters have a 4.87 ERA over the last 27 games. Their relievers have a 5.26 ERA over the last 27 and have allowed 32% of inherited runners to score.
  • In the last seven games the Brewer bullpen has been clobbered for 28 extra-base hits and 32 earned runs in 28 innings; that’s a 10.29 ERA. During this stretch enemy hitters have punished Milwaukee relievers for a slash line of .352 / .431 / .632.
  • The Brewers’ bullpen-heavy strategy has taken a big hit this season for two reasons: they lost closer Corey Knebel to a season-ending elbow injury and hasn’t pitch at all in 2019. RH setup man Jeremy Jeffress, who had a career-best season in 2018, isn’t the same this year. Jeffress has a 4.78 ERA in his last 23 appearances. And in his last 11 appearances the ERA is 7.15.
  • The late-inning troika of Jeffress, Hader and Knebel smacked hitters down last season. But Hader is the only true hammer in the Milwaukee bullpen. And while this may be just a random mini-stretch of struggle time, it should be pointed out that Hader has given up four runs (three on homers) in his last 4.1 innings over three appearances.

BASEBALL HERO: Easy call here. Cards starting pitcher Miles Mikolas rediscovered his pitching magic, crafting a complete-game, eight-hit shutout. The efficient Mikolas didn’t walk anyone and conserved pitches by getting 20 ground balls including two double-play grounders. And of his 100 pitches, 73 went for strikes.

The Pirates had eight at-bats against Mikolas with runners in scoring position and went 0-for-8.

Outstanding work by Mikolas, who gave a night off to his team’s hard-working bullpen.

This was the first complete game of the season for the Cardinals. There have been only 14 CG by National League starters this season.

TURNING  POINT: It’s often helpful when the other side screws up, and that’s what happened in the bottom of the first when Pirates left fielder Corey Dickerson muffed Tyler O’Neill’s two-out fly ball, allowing Paul Goldschmidt to score from first for a 1-0 lead. Tip of the cap to Goldy for drawing a two-out walk that made the run-scoring error possible.

DEFENSE  MATTERS: The Cardinals have taken advantage of bad defense by the D-backs and Pirates by scoring four unearned runs during their three-game winning streak.

On the other side of the field, the Cardinals have given up an unearned run only twice in their last 18 games. And they’ve allowed only one unearned run in their last 11 games, a span that covers 98 innings of pitching. Monday night we saw the Cardinals turn two infield double plays and enjoy a third double play that started with a superb catch by right fielder Dexter Fowler.

MORE  ON  DEFENSE! The Cardinals’ defense gives the team an edge on the rest of the division. The Cardinals rank fourth in the majors, and second in the NL, in park-adjusted defensive efficiency. Here’s where the other NL teams rank overall in the same category: Cubs 11th, Reds 12th, Brewers 23rd and Pirates 28th.

YO, EVEN  MORE  DEFENSE! The Cardinals’ primary infield starters have been remarkably consistent as of late. The counting of errors isn’t a reliable method for judging defense, simply because of the subjective, inconsistent nature of rulings made by official scorers in all 30 MLB ballparks. Having said that …

For whatever it’s worth:

1B-Goldschmidt last was charged with an error on June 11. He’s gone 27 consecutive games without being tagged with an error.

2B-Kolten Wong: last error was June 15. He’s played 22 straight without being charged with an error.

3B-Carpenter’s last charged error came on June 10. He hasn’t been assessed with an error in his last 17 games.

SS-DeJong has been charged with only three errors this season on 379 chances spaced over 779 innings. That’s impressive. The first error was April 19. The second error came on May 8. His most recent error was June 4. DeJong has gone 32 consecutive games without an error. That’s pretty special for a shortstop.

THE  ROTATION  IS  ROLLING: Mikolas became the latest starter to turn in a terrific performance, extending a five-game procession that began with Jack Flaherty in the final game before the All-Star break. Over the five games, STL starters have a glistening 1.01 ERA over 35 and ⅔ innings. And in the four starts since the All-Star break, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright and Mikolas have combined to allow three earned runs in 28 and ⅔ innings for an ERA of 0.94.

Since Hudson was touched for a homer in the fifth inning of Saturday’s win over Arizona, Cards’ starters have put together a streak of 17 consecutive shutout innings.

HEY,  YOU  DID  GOOD: Let’s go with a list here:

1. Tyler O’Neill muscled his way to two homers and four runs batted in. During the three-game winning streak O’Neill is 6 for 12 with three homers, two doubles and nine RBIs. In 43 plate appearances Bro’Neill is slugging .672 since being recalled from Memphis on June 26 as an injury replacement for Marcell Ozuna.

2. Dexter Fowler is quietly having a good season. I say ‘quietly’ because I don’t think he’s been getting much attention. In Monday’s win Fowler reached base twice, scored a run, and made the great play in right field. For the season Fowler has a .781 OPS that’s essentially the same as his career .780 OPS. His .358 OBP is the best on the team. He’s swatted 10 homers and 10 doubles overall. In 81 PA since June 15, Fowler has a .500 slugging percentage with four homers and 14 RBIs.

3. Do we see a Goldschmidt warming trend? Yes, I believe so. In the victory over the Pirates he had a hit, two walks and scored three runs. In his last 11 games, Goldy is batting .308 with a .400 OBP and .615 slug for a 1.015 OPS. He has three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs scored during this stretch.

LOOK,  YOU  NEED  TO  DO  BETTER: In 153 PA since May 30, shortstop Paul DeJong is slugging .331 with a .204 average and .255 OBP … Third baseman Matt Carpenter could miss some time after fouling a ball off his foot in Monday’s seventh inning. Carpenter contributed last night by reaching base twice and scoring a run. But he had two more strikeouts, and his OPS for the season is down to .693. And Carpenter hasn’t drawn a walk in his last nine games. Since the start of June Carpenter has a 9.4 percent walk wate, a 29 percent strikeout rate, a .220 OBP and .629 OPS. It’s been a rough year.

SECOND-GUESSING  SHILDTY: Batting leadoff, Dexter Fowler. Think about it, Shildty.

GOOD MOVE  SHILDTY: Don’t you love it when a manager stays out of the way when his starting pitcher is cruising along in a fantastic performance? Over-managing is an annoying problem in modern major-league baseball, so in that context it was swell to see Shildty let Mikolas go the distance instead of, say, bringng in five relievers to get the last six outs.

HOME/ROAD DISPARITY: The awesome start by Mikolas lowered the rotation’s home ERA to 3.00. That’s the second best in home ERA in the majors; only the Dodgers (2.40) are superior. The St. Louis rotation loves working at Busch Stadium — thrives at Busch — and that’s a big reason why the Cards are 27-19 at home this season. But here’s the ongoing mystery: the STL rotation is hideous on the road, ranking 28th overall (and worst in the NL) with a 5.49 ERA away from Busch. This also explains No. 1 reason for the Cards’ 20-26 road record. I realize Busch is a pitcher-friendly environment, but come on.

ON DECK: Tuesday night (7:15 first pitch)  it’s Jack Flaherty vs. Pirates RH Dario Agrazal who has a 2.81 ERA in three starts.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie