Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: Cardinals Keep Rolling With A Winning Weekend In Cincinnati

Presenting your Daily Redbird Review for this Monday, July 22.

The MLB Trade Deadline is a week away.

FIRST PITCH: The Cardinals are playing the best baseball since the first month of the season. After taking three of four games in a long weekend series at Cincinnati, the Cardinals are 7-3 since the All-Star break and have won 10 of their last 15.

Since the break the Cards have defeated the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Reds to win three consecutive series for the first time since taking four in a row from the Mets, Brewers, Reds and Nationals from April 19 through May 2.

With the Reds and the Pirates both spiraling, there’s been some separation in the NL Central standings. While the Cardinals still trail the first-place Cubs by 2 and ½ games — and are a half-game behind the Brewers — your favorite baseball team is five games clear of the Pirates and 6 and ½ games above the Reds.

At the All-Star break the Cardinals were only a half-game better than the Pirates and just 2 and ½ ahead of the Reds.

UPDATED PLAYOFF ODDS: According to FanGraphs the Cardinals chances of winning the division are 10.4 percent. Their chances of making the playoffs are 30.4 percent. Six NL teams have better odds than St. Louis to make the playoffs: Dodgers (100%), Braves (98%), Cubs (85.6), Nationals (79.4), and Brewers (44.5.)

OBLIGATORY WARNING: After their next four games at Pittsburgh, the Cardinals begin a 15-game stretch that pits them against the Astros, Cubs, A’s and Dodgers.  No soft spots there.

BASEBALL HERO: The Cardinals don’t capture the series at Cincinnati without two more rounds of excellent relief work turned in by right-hander Giovanny Gallegos. He was paramount in the Cards’ wins on Thursday and Sunday, going 1 and ⅔ innings in both appearances. In his 3 and ⅓ innings Gallegos struck out six of 11 batters faced and allowed only two to reach base. In Sunday’s 3-1 win, Gallegos entered the game to handle a bases-loaded threat with one out in the fifth. No problem. Gallegos protected the Cards’ 2-0 lead by striking out Josh Van Meter and Scooter Gennett. Gallegos has struck out just under 39 percent of the batters faced this season. His ERA over his last 21 appearances is 0.69. This is one of the best relievers in baseball, folks.

TURNING POINT: The turning point for the series came during Friday night’s crazy 12-11 win, with the Cardinals erupting for a 10-run sixth inning to eradicate the Reds’ 7-0 lead. According to the Baseball Reference game log, the Cardinals went into the sixth with only a two percent chance of winning the game. Ten runs later, they closed the top of the sixth with an 82 percent shot at winning. Friday’s big win gave the Cardinals a 2-0 series lead and put them in position of having to win only one of the final two games to leave Cincinnati with no worse than three victories.

In Sunday’s 3-1 win, which also assured a series triumph, the turning point arrived in the top of the second inning. The Cardinals used one of their best attributes, base running, to synthesize two runs. Tyler O’Neill singled, swiped second base, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on an infield hit by Yairo Munoz. After a single by Andrew Knizner, Munoz and Knizner pulled off a double steal. That put Munoz at third and in position to score on a Reds error to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Outstanding work, men.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: I’ve been saying it all year, and I’ll say it again: the Cardinals are a better team with Yairo Munoz in the starting lineup. He was terrific on Sunday, going 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs. After singling in a run, and then tripling in the seventh, Munoz walloped a solo homer in the ninth to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead — this coming after the Reds had closed to within 2-1.

Others:

1. Infielder Tommy Edman went 5-for-18 in the Cincinnati series with two doubles, a homer, four runs and seven RBIs.

2. Pauly DeJong heated up against the Reds, slamming two homers and a double with four runs and seven RBIs. Important. Need him to be an impact bat.

3. Jose Martinez launched the Cardinals to a 10-7 lead with a three-run homer in Friday’s sixth inning.

4. Catchers Matt Wieters and Knizner combined to go 5-for-15 with four runs, two RBIs and a steal. Wieters had a homer. Knizner had the steal.

5. It wasn’t always smooth, and the ballpark in Cincinnati is a tough yard for pitchers, but the Cardinals’ bullpen had a commendable 3.31 ERA over the four games. The hard-working relievers combined to cover nearly as many innings (16.1) as the STL starters (18.2) during the four-game set.

6. Don’t forget Michael Wacha’s valuable contribution in Friday’s win. He relieved Adam Wainwright (3.1 IP, seven earned runs) and gave the Cardinals 1.2 innings of scoreless work. If the Reds get to Wacha in that situation, they almost certainly would have won the game.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: After clubbing the winning three-run homer to beat the Pirates on Wednesday, Paul Goldschmidt was a mess at the plate against the Reds, managing only two hits in 12 at-bats with seven strikeouts.

Also:

1. Wainwright has made 18 starts this season. Nine at home, nine on the road. After Friday’s beatdown by the Reds, Waino had a 7.16 road ERA in 44 innings this season. His home ERA this year is 2.33 over 54 innings.

2. Cardinals’ starting pitchers had a 6.27 ERA in Cincinnati over the four games. Their road ERA this season (5.55) ranks 28th overall, and last in the NL.

3. Dexter Fowler is 1-for-16 in his last five games with nine strikeouts and one walk. It seems that every time I campaign for Dexter Fowler to bat leadoff, he goes into an arctic phase. I’m not taking it personally, Dexter.

SECOND GUESSING SHILDTY: I know the bullpen was worn out, and because of that I’m probably being just a tad unfair, but the manager should have been more proactive by removing tiring starter Miles Mikolas on Saturday before the Cards’ 1-0 lead turned into a 3-1 deficit.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: Brilliant decision to remove Jack Flaherty after 4.1 innings Sunday, summoning Gallegos with the bases loaded and one out. And I agreed with Shildt’s move even begore Gallegos threw a pitch. The team’s objectives matter a helluva lot more than a pitcher collecting individual “wins.” And the STL media needs to shut up about how Flaherty doesn’t have a “win” in his last 11 starts. Over the 11 starts he’s posted an above-average Game Score seven times. He gave his team a chance to win most of those games. He pitched great in some those starts, only to starve by a lack of run support. Shaddup about “wins.” The only win totals that matter can be found in the standings.

BREATHLESS: It’s a lot of fun to watch Munoz, Edman, O’Neill, Knizner and some of the young (or at least inexperienced) pitchers combining to carry the Cardinals through a winning stretch.

ON DECK: The Cardinals move onto Pittsburgh for a four-game series that begins Monday night, 6:05 first pitch STL time. In order the Cardinals’ four scheduled starters in the series are Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson, Wainwright and Mikolas.

TRACKING THE PIRATES: The Bucs have fallen hard since the All-Star breaking, losing seven of nine games. They’ve averaged only 2.8 runs per game with a .346 slugging percentage during this stretch — and have scored three runs or fewer six times in the nine contests. Pirates’ starting pitchers have a 5.44 ERA in the last nine.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie