Bernie’s Redbird Review: Can The Cards Beat Elite Teams? A Legit Question. The Answer Is Coming.

Here’s your Daily Redbird Review:

FIRST PITCH: After whomping the Reds and Pirates on the road, the Cardinals returned home for an inspection against the formidable Houston Astros. It did not go well, with the Cardinas losing two out of three games. After beating the Astros on Friday night thanks to a winning three-run homer from Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals dropped the final two games, getting outscored 14-4.

Meanwhile, the Brewers took two of three from the Cubs in Milwaukee over the weekend, so the NL Central remains knotted up. The Cubs and Cardinals — both 56-49 — are tied for first. Milwaukee, 56-51, trails by one game.

DRAWING CONCLUSIONS: The mighty Astros won two of three from the Cardinals, but what does it mean?

I’d hold off on the overreactions.

This series marked the beginning of an 11-game stretch against winning teams: Astros, Cubs, A’s and Dodgers. To me, if there’s a meaningful test here, it spans the 11-game block of games — and not one series.

To say that losing two out of three to a killer Astros team proves that the Cardinas are a flop against better competition … well, now.

When the Cardinals impressively swept a four-game series from the Dodgers earlier in the season, did you think it proved the Cardinals’ superiority? Speaking of the Dodgers, they played four games against the LA Angels this season and lost all four.

So I guess this means the Angels proved they were better than the No. 1 team in the National League? Did it show that the Angels were as good as any team in baseball? Of course not. Minus those four wins over the Dodgers, the Angels are 24-35 this season against teams with winning records.

Let’s take a look at something I noticed in Houston’s schedule for 2019. The Astros played six games against the Pirates and Reds this season — and lost five of the six. Yep, the Astros were 1-5 against the two bottom teams in the NL Central. Gee, I didn’t realize that the the Reds and Pirates were that much better than Houston.

Pardon my sarcasm.

But the point is, you can’t make sweeping conclusions  on a three-game series. It’s a 162-game season. And in any given series, it’s possible for a weak team to take down a powerhouse.

Having said all of that, the Cardinals do have to prove themselves against elite competition. Sunday’s loss gave the Cardinals a 26-30 record vs. winning teams this season. The Cards are 30-19 vs. losing teams. So the challenge remains. And if the Cardinals’ starting pitchers continue to spit out the bit — as was the case against the Astros — you aren’t going to win the series. You can get away with that against lousy teams… but not Houston.

No question, the Astros exploited the Cards’ weaknesses … the flaws that already were exposed.

But I think we’ll have a more complete look after the Cardinals complete this 11-game stretch.

And after the front office makes a move — or doesn’t make a move — for a starting pitcher.

CARDS KILLERS: Houston starting pitchers Jose Urquidy, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley combined to shut the Cardinals down, allowing only two earned runs in 18 innings for a 1.00 ERA. Cards’ hitters batted .197 against the three starters.

BASEBALL HERO: We didn’t know it at the time, but Goldschmidt prevented a series sweep by delivering that three-run homer in Friday’s eighth inning off Houston reliever Ryan Pressly. Goldy also went deep in Saturday’s loss, giving him a homer in six consecutive games. That streak ended Sunday.

In 93 plate appearances this month Goldschmidt has 10 homers, 26 RBIs and has a big-boy slugging percentage of .687.

BLAME GAME: In the Saturday-Sunday losses to the Astros, Cardinals’ starting pitchers Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson supplied only 6 and ⅓ innings combined and got pounded for 10 earned runs. That’s an ERA of 14.20.

TURNING POINT: Though the Cardinals were down 2-0 early in Sunday’s game, they still had a helluva chance to make a comeback. But after loading the bases
with one out in the third inning, the home team came up empty after a strikeout by Paul DeJong and a ground-out by Matt Wieters. And that was all, folks. You just had the feeling right then and there, that the Astros had this one sealed away.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Goldschmidt went 4-for-13 in the three games and was responsible for four of the nine RBIs produced by the Cardinals in the three games … Tyler O’Neill went 4-for-10, walked three times and did not strike out. Bro’Neill has a reasonable strikeout rate of 24.4 percent in July … relievers Andrew Miller, John Brebbia, Giovanny Gallegos, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Webb combined for 7 and ⅔ innings of scoreless relief during the series.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: The Cardinals’ rotation continues to be a drag on this team; getting strafed by the Astros for 12 earned runs in 12 and ⅓ innings. The Cards’ rotation is 14th in the NL in strikeout rate, 14th in walk rate, 10th in slugging percentage allowed, and 11th in fielding independent ERA (FIP) at 4.79.

In the series Cardinals hitters went 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position including an embarrassing 1-for-17 with RISP in the two consecutive losses.

Center fielder Harrison Bader is 3-for-26 since the All-Star break with 11 strikeouts.

Relievers Mike Mayers and John Gant struggled against the Astros, giving up four earned runs, six hits and four walks in a combined 2 and ⅔ innings.

When batting first in the lineup, Tommy Edman has a .281 OBP.

SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY:  The manager must be more careful with Gant. He’s been pushed hard. He isn’t the same pitcher.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: Matt Carpenter now 0-for-16 with six strikeouts in his minor-league rehab assignment, and Shildt has done a nice job of staying in contact with Carpenter, convincing the struggling third baseman to stay in the minors and get his swing going. I don’t know if Shildt will change his view on Carpenter’s rehab assignment … but so far, good work.

BREATHLESS: It is difficult for me to breathe anytime I recall that Cardinals’ management really thought the team was all set with starting pitching coming into the season …

CONTRADICTORY QUOTES: Well, this sure is interesting. You can read both quotes and decide who is right. Or at least more accurate.

It’s your call.

+ Here’s Mike Shildt after Sunday’s loss: “We had some opportunities that would have created a different ballgame for us. But I’ll say this. Those guys laid it out there today. I love this team. They absolutely laid it out. And I just really appreciate the way they went about it today. They got after it. All the way, they were in it.”

+ Here’s DeJong after Sunday’s loss: “For us, it’s about bringing energy as a group and feeding off each other and today I thought we were just a little flat.  And it kind of showed.”

UP NEXT: The Cardinals and Cubs are resting today. That’s good, because the energy — and stress — level will be elevated when the teams open a three-game series at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie