Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: Yadier Molina Sours The Beer (Again) At Miller Park

I apologize for not being able to post a column on Tuesday.

Here’s The Daily Redbird Review.

FIRST PITCH: The Cardinals stayed as hot as a Miller Park tailgate-party bratwrurst on Tuesday night, defeating the Brewers 6-3. The Cardinals maintained their 3-game lead over the second-place Cubs in the NL Central, and the Brewers have plummeted to 6 and ½ games out.

FUN WITH FACTS:  Bird Bytes…

At 29-14 the Cardinals are tied with Houston for the best record in the majors since the All-Star break.

The Cardinals have won six in a row and nine out of their last 10.

The Cards are 15-3 since going 0-5 on that West Coast trip to Oakland and Los Angeles. During the 15-3 run the Cardinals have outscored opponents 112-54; that’s a run differential of plus 58.

The Cardinals already have clinched a series win in the current series at Milwaukee and will go for a three-game sweep of the Brewers today at 1 p.m. With this series in the bag, the Cardinals are 10-3-1 in their 14 series played since the All-Star break.

The Cards are 20-6 against their vs. NL Central rivals since the All-Star break. They have a winning record against each NL Central team since the break.

The Cardinals have won eight of their last nine games against Milwaukee.

BASEBALL HERO: Catcher Yadier Molina hit two home runs in this game, giving him three in the first two games at Miller Park. And these were important home runs. The first, struck in the fifth inning, tied the game at 1-1. In the seventh, Molina’s second launch of the evening, a two-run shot, gave the Cards a 3-1 lead. Molina also led off the Cardinals’ two-run ninth with a double. Molina tied his career high of 10 total bases in a single game.

After starting slowly in his return from the injured list, Molina has erupted offensively over his last nine games with a .451 batting average, three homers, nine runs batted in, seven runs scored, two doubles and seven walks.

TURNING POINT: The Brewers got a run off Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas in the second inning, and you wondered if this was going to be another road-show horror show for Mikolas. But the Brewers had three other chances to bring home a runner in scoring position — in the second, the fourth and the fifth — but Mikolas wouldn’t budge.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Here’s the list:

1. Molina, of course. In 103 regular-season games at Miller Park durin his career Molina has an .834 OPS, 18 homers, 25 doubles 51 RBIsand 52 runs scored. That, in 405 plate appearances (363 at-bats.) Since the start of 2016, Molina has played 30 regular-season games at Miller Park and has a .616 slugging percentage and .968 OPS with 10 homers and 19 RBIs.

2. Mikolas turned in an outstanding start: six innings, one run, four hits, no walks and 10 strikeouts. Mikolas threw 29 curve balls in this game; according to Brooks Baseball he had a strike rate of 76 percent and a swing-whiff rate of 24% on the curve. And after a 22-pitch second inning in which he allowed his only run, Mikolas breezed through his final four innings on only 63 pitches.

3. Center fielder Harrison Bader doesn’t have the long locks going anymore, but his hair is on fire. Bader went 3 for 4 Tuesday, driving in a run and scoring a run. In 32 plate appearances since returning from Memphis, Bader is batting .360 with a .500 onbase percentage and 1.140 OPS. He’s walked seven times, has four extra-base hits, has knocked in six runs, and has scored six times.

4. Just a swell pinch-hit at-bat by Kolten Wong in the ninth inning — an opposite-field double that scored the hustling Bader for a 5-3 STL lead. In 141 PA since the All-Star break Wong is batting .350 with a .432 OBP and .458 slug. That’s good for an OPS of .890. And based on park adjusted runs created (wRC+) Wong has performed 39 percent above league average offensively during the second half.

5. Very nice catch by right fielder Dexter Fowler, who jumped near the wall to apprehend a threatening fly ball for the final out. With the Cardinals up 6-3 and the tying run at the plate, the Brewers’ Hernan Perez caused instant anxiety among Cards fans and players with his swing for a game-tying homer.

6. Two more hits for Marcell Ozuna. In 94 plate appearances since returning from the IL on Aug. 3, Ozuna is batting .321 witha .415 OBP and .556 slug for a .970 OPS. And over that time he’s been 53 percent above league average offensively in wRC+.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: I’ll focus on a couple of important bullpen guys:

1. Carlos Martinez continues to convert save opportunities, and that’s his job. But he isn’t pitching very well:

–In 19 innings before the All-Star break, “El Gallo” had a 2.37 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, an 8.1 percent walk rate and allowed an opponent OPS of .551.

— In 16 and ⅔ innings since the All-Star break Martinez has a 4.86 ERA with a 1.68 WHIP, 11.5 percent walk rate and an opponent OPS of .743.

— Martinez allowed an opponent OBP of .274 during the season’s first half. That OBP has spiked dramatically — .385 — since the All-Star break.

— The Martinez strikeout-walk ratio has declined from 3.2 (first half) to 2.0 (second half.)

A bad run of batted-ball luck hasn’t helped him, either. But Martinez keeps walking into danger. Eventually this will lead to blown saves and games handed away.

2. Lefty Andrew Miller gave up another homer, with Yasmani Grandal jolting a two-run bomb in the bottom of the eighth Tuesday night to bring the Brewers within 4-3 of the Cardinals. In his first seven seasons as a reliever (2012-2018) Miller allowed 0.7 homers per nine innings and had a 2.21 ERA. This season Miller has given up 2.01 homers per nine innings and had a 3.63 ERA.

SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY: He could have stayed with RH Giovanny Gallegos in the eigth inning instead of bringing Miller into the game. Yes, the Brewers had a runner on and a LH batter, Trent Grisham, coming up. But as soon as Shildt brought in Miller, Brewers manager Craig Counsell tabbed RH batter Ryan Braun to pinch hit for Grisham. Braun flied out, and Grandal was next up. The switch-hitting Grandal is dangerous from both sides of the plate this season, slugging .455 vs. RHP and .488 vs. LH.

But let me try to keep it simple with three quick points: (A) Gallegos is a much better pitcher than A. Miller this season; (B) Gallegos is tough as hell against both RH and LH batters, so matchups aren’t a matter of concern; and (C) Gallegos  keeps the ball in the park. Grandal posed more of a home-run threat against Miller than Gallegos. So unless Shildt was trying to limit the Gallegos pitch count, he could have stayed in the game.

Shildt does an excellent job with the bullpen, so pardon the nitpicking.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: His lineup-card choices are clicking. The Cardinals are averaging 6.2 runs per game during their 15-3 surge.

ON DECK: The Cards go for a 3-0 series at Milwaukee, with Jack Flaherty leading the charge. Flaherty has MLB’s lowest ERA (0.80) since July 7. RH Jordan Lyles has pitched well since joining the Brewers last month (2.67 ERA in five starts.)

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie