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No One Is Giving Up, But the Cardinals Can’t Keep Giving Away Games

Bird Bytes…

As the Cardinals try to rebound from the worst loss of the season, 6-4 to the Brewers on Monday night, it’s probably a good idea to remember that the Cards still lead the Rockies by a half-game in the dash for the NL’s second wild card playoff spot.

And before the Cardinals and Brewers reconvene on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, It’s probably a good time to remember that the Cards are 6-2 in their last eight games. And that St. Louis owns the league’s best record (40-24) since Mike Shildt rescued the team from the previous manager. And let’s take a deep breath — this lousy typist included — and note that the FanGraphs projections give the Cardinals a 61.1 percent chance to make the postseason … with the Rockies at 42.4 percent. Of course, the Baseball Prospectus computerized simulations give the Cardinals a smaller shot (55.8%) of reaching a Red (bird) October.

For those and other reasons, I’m not giving up on the Cardinals. That would be premature, and foolish, and an obvious example of overreacting to a horrendous loss.

But I’ll say this:  “Giving up”  on the Cardinals has nothing to do with me. Or you. Or anyone who is experiencing an intensifying feeling of doubt on this Tuesday afternoon. No, this decision isn’t up to us.

It’s up to the Cardinals.

Absolutely, positively, 100 percent on the Cardinals.

The Cardinals will determine when it’s time to give up.

Simple reason: They entered the week 1.5 games ahead of the Rockies with only six games remaining on the schedule. Which means — and choose your preferred cliche — the Cardinals controlled their own fate, controlled their destiny,  as they approached the final two series of the regular season. Win all six games, and there isn’t a damn thing the Rockies can do about it. Win five of the six games, and the Cardinals finish with 92 wins. That’s a safe number. Win four of the six games, and the Cards are a 91-win team. And so on.

The Cardinals not only control their fate — they control our emotions.

It isn’t time to give up on the Cardinals, but let me put it this way: If they keep  giving  games  away,  as they did Monday, the fellows leave us with little choice but to give up. It’s their call, not mine.

Monday’s loss was a sad showcase of the many ways a contending team can blow up its opportunity to get an opportunity to compete in the postseason. Monday’s loss was a jarring flashback to the jarring late-season collapses of the 2016 and 2017 Cardinals. But I’m not saying that the 2018 Cardinals are an extension of the stumbling, wheezing, weakening ’16 and ’17 versions.

First of all, it wouldn’t be fair. Second, the ’18 Cardinals have many different players — rookies and newbies — who had nothing to do with the fade-outs of September past. If anything, these rookies and young veterans brought a confident personality and attitude to St. Louis after winning championships at Memphis or lower levels of the system. This season would have been lost — long ago — without the talented young Birds swooping in with their brashness, freshness and energy.

There’s a simple way to do away with the outside skepticism, and predictions of a third collapse in three years: Don’t collapse. If this team doesn’t collapse, there’s nothing to fear. And no reason to grow rabbit ears to pick up “negative” signals from the diabolical media.  Pro tip: Worry about beating the Brewers. And then the Cubs. Don’t worry about the STL media. You lucky dudes have the easiest media ride in MLB.

What I’m saying is …

The Cardinals can’t have another Monday performance against the Brewers tonight, or against the Brewers on Wednesday night. The Cardinals can’t pull another Monday-night stinker and soil Wrigley Field in Chicago  when engaging the Cubs on Friday-Saturday-Sunday afternoon.

With that in mind …

1. From the start of the season through August, Jack Flaherty had a 3.49 ERA  and 4.04 FIP, with a 30 percent strikeout rate, and a walk rate of 8.6%. In five September starts, Flaherty has a 4.50 ERA and 4.81 FIP, with a 26.3 percent strikeout rate and terrible 13.2% walk rate. Before September, Flaherty’s K-BB ratio was 3.5. This month it’s 2.0. I don’t know if this means the superb rookie is fatigued. But the alert level should be raised. So why allow Flaherty to walk two Brewers and hit another to load the bases with one out? Have to be proactive there. Have to make the move sooner than that.

2. It’s not a shrewd move to bring rookie Dakota Hudson into a bases-loaded situation. Not when it was possible to summon Hudson with Brewers on first and second base. Hudson can still get a ground ball move the Cardinals out of the tight spot. But when the kid comes in with the bases full, he has no wiggle room. And this matters … really matters … because Hudson has an awful 15% walk rate in the majors. Sure enough, Hudson walked in a run to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead. And he allowed a sac fly to make it 3-1 Brewers. Hudson’s ground-ball rate is dropping. It was 66 percent in August. It is 48% in September.

3. This is a reasonable opinion: John Brebbia should not be wasted in a 7-2 game that became a 9-2 victory over the Giants on Sunday. Brebbia is too valuable. Brebbia should be held back for usage in a more crucial situation — you know, a tense but winnable game against a team that you’re trying to catch in the standings, and with Colorado busy beating the hell out of the Phillies to narrow the Cards’ wild card lead. Brebbia has a 38.7 percent strikeout rate since the All-Star break. He has a 46.3% strikeout rate since Aug. 1. And Brebbia has a terrifying (for hitters) 48.4% strikeout rate this month. Among MLB relievers that have pitched at least 8.1 innings in September, Brebbia’s strikeout rate ranks No. 3 on a list of 114 relief pitchers.

4. Let’s play a little game here, OK? 

— In his last 71 plate appearances, “Player A”  has a .347 slugging%  and .629 OPS

— In his last 85 plate appearances, “Player B” has a .539 slugging%  and .857 OPS.

— This month, “Player A” has a 33% strikeout rate and 3.8% walk rate.

— This month, “Player B” has a 37% strikeout rate and 11.1% walk rate

— For the season, “Player A” is minus 5 Defensive Runs Saved in right field.

— For the season, “Player B” is a plus 4 Defensive Runs Saved in right field.

— That’s a difference of nine runs saved defensively, in favor of Player B.

— And Player B is a much faster and better base runner than Player A.

Of course…

“A” is Jose Martinez.

“B” is Tyler O’Neill .

5. Considering that the only place Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas will be running to is the nacho stand — that’s where you’ll find me, and my girth exceeds that of “The Moose”  — there’s no reason to signal to reliever Bud Norris to throw over to first base to keep Moustakas close. It ended in a disaster, of course. Set up the Brewers’ winning run.

6. And what was the urgency to get Bud Norris into that game? Honestly, I don’t understand why manager Mike Shildt and pitching coach Mike Maddux can’t process what most observers are seeing. Norris isn’t the same pitcher that impressed everyone earlier this season.

Bud was simply terrific in before the All-Star break with a 3.05 ERA and 2.68 FIP.  He had a 33% strikeout rate and 4% walk rate for a K-BB ratio of 8.3. Opponents slugged .329 against him. Before the break, Norris allowed 0.9 homers per 9 innings. Opponents had a .265 wOBA against him.

Now, here’s Norris since the All-Star break: 4.66 ERA and 6.41 FIP … 18.7 % strikeout rate; 15.4% walk rate; K-BB ratio of 2.1 … and 1.9 homers per 9 innings, with an opponent slugging percentage of .459. Opponent wOBA, .353.

Not the same pitcher.

7. Jordan Hicks had a soaring walk rate (15%) during the first two months of the season. But he settled in and lowered his walk rate to 7.3 percent in June-July. And he struck out hitters at a rate of 26.6% in June-July. But since the beginning of August, Hicks’ walk rate is 15.8%, and his K rate is 23.8%.

7a. The rules allow MLB teams to deploy their closer before the ninth inning, and in non-save situations. This applies to Carlos Martinez.

8. After taking a 4-3 lead with two outs in the sixth by getting to Brewers’ relief ace Josh Hader, the Cardinals’ offense shut down Monday. Starting with the Matt Adams fly out to end the sixth, STL batters went 1 for 11 (an infield single) with six strikeouts. And that was against Milwaukee’s lesser relievers. Hader had already pitched, and Jeremy Jeffress was unavailable.

9. Marcell Ozuna’s stats this month:  91 plate appearances,  7 homers,  18 RBIs,  16 runs,  .330 OBP,  .571 slug%,  .901 OPS. Ozuna is 40 percent above league average offensively in park adjusted runs for the Cards in September.

10. The Rockies smashed the Phillies 10-1 Monday night at Coors Field. The Cardinals and their fans shouldn’t count on help from a Phillies team that’s searching for a good, comfy place to nap after going 25-36 since the All-Star break — including 6-16 this month — to fall out of contention. The Rockies and Phillies have three more games left in their four-game series and won’t have to deal with Aaron Nola, Philadelphia’s legit Cy Young candidate. He’s scheduled to pitch against Atlanta this weekend. The Rockies probably will go against Washington’s Max Scherzer this weekend when the Nationals play a Coors. Scherzer is hunting for what would be his third consecutive Cy Young award and the fourth of his career.  …

10a. Rockies shortstop Trevor Story returned to the lineup Monday night after missing several games with a sore elbow. He went 2 for 5; both hits were doubles. After a 1-5 stretch, the Rockies have won four in a row.

Brewers and Cardinals on Tuesday night:  Go get ’em, Austin Gomber.  Milwaukee’s starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez has pitched quite well for the Brewers in his three starts since coming over from the Nationals.

Thanks for reading …

Bernie

More: The 2018 Cardinals: Six Games to Go. Hold On Tight.