(This story was published Monday afternoon on STLtoday.com)
Here's a Take 5 on the Cardinals:
1. It's time for the Cardinals to start taking care of business against teams with losing records. Not that the Cardinals, at 19-19, are anything special to this point. But their mediocre record against losing teams is a factor in their .500 season to date. Going into this four-game home series against the Cubs, the Cardinals are 12-13 against losing teams. That winning percentage (.480) ranks 10th in the NL and 23rd in the majors. Compare that to last year when the Cardinals had the NL's best record (58-29, .667) against losing teams.
Obviously, one way to get back on track is to beat the teams that you should defeat. The Cardinals opened the just completed nine-road trip by losing two of three games at Wrigley Field, and they're 3-3 against the Cubs this season. That can't continue.
2. Another problem -- still -- is the Cardinals' record in one-run games so far. They're 7-8 in games decided by a run. But the truth of the matter is this has been an issue during Mike Matheny's time as manager. Since Matheny took over in 2012, the Cardinals are 48-50 in one-run games.
The total breaks down this way: 21-26 in 2012 ... 20-16 in '13 ... 7-8 this year. That 48-50 mark ranks 10th in the NL and 18th in the majors since 2012.
Matheny's Cardinals are 32-24 in one-run games vs. losing teams in his three seasons -- but only 16-26 in one-run games vs. teams .500 or better. In the NL only the Cubs have a worse record since 2012 in one-run games against losing teams.
I wouldn't go as far as saying that Matheny is wholly responsible for the lousy record in one-run games; those things tend to be random. Tony La Russa had some bad one-season records in one-run games, too. But it's fair to say that Matheny's bullpen management is a factor. He also has a tendency to use the sacrifice bunt in tight games when the Cardinals already have a runner in scoring position.
2a. In case you were wondering: how does Matheny stack up to La Russa and Whitey Herzog in one-run games? Here's your answer, and I only counted Herzog's full seasons as the Cards' manager:
Herzog (1982-1989) ... 229-190, .547 ... ranked 1st in MLB.
Matheny (2012-2014, in progress) ... 48-50, .490 ... ranked 18th in MLB.
La Russa (1996-2011) ... 365-382, .489 ... ranked 23rd in MLB.
Additional notes: the numbers were pulled from the "Play Index" fact-finding system on BaseballReference.com ... TLR's record is surprising, no? ... Herzog had a 118-108 record (.522) in one-run games vs. teams .500 or better ... La Russa had a 164-196 record (.456) in one-run games vs. the .500 or better opponents.
3. We've all fixated on the Cardinals' batting average with runners in scoring position; it's .233 right now compared to their MLB-record .330 in 2014. But what about their batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs? In many ways that's more critical; two-out RBIs just feel more special to the teams that deliver them. And I'd think that two-out RBIs would be demoralizing to the pitcher and the other team; you're one out from being out of trouble and into the dugout and then ... another run is crossing the plate.
Here's the Cardinals' two-out RISP story over the last two seasons:
2013: They led the majors with a .305 BA, but also had a preposterously good onbase percentage (.397) and a fine .424 slugging percentage. That OPS of .821 was the best in the majors.
2014: the Cardinals currently rank 15th with a .210 BA with RISP/2 ... with a .299 OBP, .350 SLG and .650 OPS that ranks 15th. That's a pretty big drop.
As for overall two-out RBIs, the Cardinals rank 11th in the majors with 58. They produce an RBI for every 7.34 two-out at-bats. Last season the Cards were fourth in the majors with 287 two-out RBI. And delivered an RBI for every 6.33 two-out at-bats.
4. In a related note, the Cards' lack of RBI production from the cleanup spot is glaring. Their No. 4 hitters have come through with only 12 RBIs in 158 at-bats so far. And in the majors only Cleveland (11) and Houston (9) have fewer RBIs from the cleanup spot.
Matt Adams or Allen Craig have taken all but five of the total plate appearances in the Cardinals' No. 4 lineup spot. Adams is 4 for 34 (.118) with runners in scoring position. Craig is 7 for 30 (.233) with RISP.
Adams (69) and Craig (53) have combined to leave 122 runners on base.
There isn't much cleaning up going on in Aisle 4.
Last season the Cardinals ranked sixt in the majors with 115 RBIs from the No. 4 slot.
5. Shelby Miller certainly has an interesting pitching profile so far this season. Frankly, his peripherals are flat-out awful.
Miller has the second-worst fielding independent ERA (5.81) among NL starters. He also has the second-worst strikeout-walk ratio (1.22) among NL starters. He has the worst walk rate (5.44 per 9 innings) by a NL starting pitcher. His WHIP (1.48) is the eighth-worst. And compared to last season, Miller's strikeout rate (5.44 per 9 IP) is abysmal. This mix of numbers would normally lead to blowups and a demotion to the minors. Seriously.
But then you look up and see that Miller is 5-2 with a standard 3.22 ERA, and it looks pretty good. Those baseball-card stats are enough to convince many observers to believe that Miller is doing fine; no worries.
So what explains the difference between the terrible peripherals and the solid baseball-card stats?
This: with runners in scoring position Miller has allowed only two hits in 34 at-bats. He's been cornered so many times but battles his way out of it. I give Miller a lot of credit for holding it together and getting those tough outs when he's in trouble to prevent disaster. But eventually, the randomness of RISP will get to him unless he can improve those strikeout-walk numbers.
There are two prominent birthdays today, May 12:
* Happy 89th to Yogi Berra, proud son of The Hill neighborhood in St. Louis, born there in 1925.
* And Busch Memorial Stadium opened on this day in 1966.
Berra was such a great catcher and hitter for those dynastic Yankees teams. The Hall of Famer finished his career with 358 homers, 1,430 RBIs and three American League MVP awards. He played in so many All-Star Games, I couldn't count them up correctly. And between 1947 and 1963, Yogi played in 14 World Series, with the Yankees winning 10 of the 14. A spectacular career. And a great guy.
As for Busch: World Series titles in 1967 and 1982 ... six NL pennants, in 1967, 1968, 1982, 1985, 1987, 2004 ... the home field for Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bruce Sutter. The workplace of Hall of Fame managers Herzog, La Russa and Joe Torre. Plus, Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst managed the Cardinals to their triumphs in '67 and '68 there. Busch is where Roger Maris finished his career. It's where Albert Pujols spent the first five seasons of what will be a Hall of Fame career. Other Hall of Famers played for the Cardinals there: Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda, Dennis Eckersley. It was the baseball home of Curt Flood, the historic figure who sacrificed his career by challenging MLB's reserve clause ... it was the scene of Mark McGwire's 70-homer season in 1998 ... Ken Boyer ... Ted Simmons ... Ozzie's 1985 NLCS home run and the "Go Crazy Folks!" call by Hall of Famer Jack Buck ... Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Bob Forsch, Chris Carpenter.
Heck, I could go on for hours. And that's just a partial listing of all the great players, achievements and memories that made Busch Stadium such a special baseball theater until it closed for good following Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS.
Thanks for reading ...