What a great first week of baseball! The Cardinals are home again after a two-stop road trip. They’re sitting at 5-2. The pitching is starting to improve. The bullpen is rounding into form. Outfielders are suddenly getting a few hits. Things are looking up in Cardinals’ Kingdom.
My Saturday series “best of” is back for another year. I’ll run through some interesting stats and video highlights, giving you my take on the best things that we’ve seen this week. Some of these are obvious. Some can trigger conversation. Some are just me highlighting things I like because I can. Feel free to note your own “best ofs” in the comments below.
Best Barreled Ball of the Week
First, what is a barreled ball? A barrel is a ball hit within a certain range of exit velocity and launch angle to produce an expected batting average of .500 or over and a 1.500 slugging percentage. In other words, a barrel is a really hard hit ball that has a high chance of being at least a double.
The clubhouse leader in barreled balls is, not surprisingly, the team leader in home runs – Dylan Carlson. He has three. Six other players already have two barrels, including the hitless and very unlucky Matt Carpenter.
Neither of them has the best barrel of the week. I’m going to give that honor to Tyler O’Neill, who hit a nearly perfect home run off the Reds’ Cam Bedrosian in the 4th inning of the Opening Day blowout. O’Neill’s shot was clocked at 110.2 mph, 26 degrees, and traveled an estimated 391 feet. A few more degrees would have allowed that ball to travel quite a bit further, but who’s complaining? The 110.2 mph exit velocity was also higher than anything that the Cardinals saw from TON (Tyler O’Neill) last season. If you’re hunting for good signs with him, that’s one to look at. (It’s Saturday, so we won’t talk about his ridiculously high strikeout rate.) Here’s the homer:
Honorable mention goes to Nolan Arenado. He is the team leader in exit velocity on a barreled ball at 110.6 mph, just a hair faster than TON’s. At 16 degrees, it went for a double in a forgettable loss to the Reds.
Best Home Run of the Week
Didn’t we just do this category? Not really. There are statistically great home runs and then there are home runs that are just plain great, regardless of the measurements. There are several candidates for this category, but I’m focused on two.
The first was hit by the club’s intriguing rookie, Dylan Carlson. Miami is a big ballpark. Balls do not travel well there. On Wednesday, the team finally broke through with two runs in the 7th and another in the 8th. It was 3-0 heading into the ninth, and the Cardinals, with a tired bullpen, could use some padding to secure the sweep. Carlson, batting 8th (don’t get me started), came up with the bases loaded. He quickly found himself in the hole 0-2 before taking three sinkers in a row out of the zone. At 3-2, Marlins’ hurler Zach Pop left a fastball up and Carlson jumped on it for the club’s first grand slam of the season and the first of his promising career.
That homer was as a show of quality hitting. It was dwarfed by Nolan Arenado’s show of pure Hollywood drama late in the home opener. What should I even say here? Just watch the video for the thousandth time. Watch the swing. The power. The no-doubt drive. The fan reactions. The pure, childish glee from the players in the dugout. The coaches frantically trying to get Arenado to go out for a curtain call in front of the fans in Busch (for the first time since 2019). Just chills!
Best “I’m Not Crying! You’re Crying” Moment of the Week
Two of my “best ofs” are going to feature Brewers! This one comes in the first plate appearance of the game. I haven’t been able to confirm this, but on-location reports indicate that a whole truck full of onions overturned on Clark street just around the time of the first pitch. You can tell the smell was overpowering. Poor Kolten Wong, the Brewers second baseman (maybe you’ve heard of him?), got all red-faced and puffy while trying to bat. The smell got to Yadi, too, because he took a moment to wander in front of home plate before the first pitch. He was clearly confused. Waino was affected, too. He walked Wong on 4 pitches. Here’s video of the whole affair:
There are close-ups on the internet and you can see the tears in Wong’s eyes. I was crying. You were crying. Everyone was crying. I’m not sure whether Wainwright walked him on purpose. Probably not, but it wouldn’t shock me. Yadi set up outside on several pitches. Regardless, I’m fine with all of it. Wong was a terrific Cardinal. Underappreciated at times, but ultimately loved. He’s a Brewer for now but a Cardinal for life.
Best Pitching Performance
There are a couple of individual performances I could highlight here. Jack Flaherty looked sharper in his second start. Adam Wainwright was pretty good at the home opener. I wrote about Daniel Ponce de Leon’s first start of the season earlier this week – Ponce de Leon – Extreme Ground Ball Pitcher?
Have you seen what Gio Gallegos has been doing? He’s currently tied for third on the team in innings – 5.0 in 4 games. He hasn’t walked anyone. His FIP is -.38. Read that again. It’s NEGATIVE POINT THREE EIGHT! Somehow he’s pitched so well that the opposing teams had to give runs to the Cardinals. Thems the rules.
Bask in the glow of this stat: his K/9 is 16.20. In case you’re not familiar with newfangled sabermetrics, that means that if Gio threw all 9 innings in a start, he would strike out 16.2 batters. That’s Bob Gibson World Series stuff. He already has a .3 fWAR on the season. A .3 WAR is a decent season for a closer. Gallegos is on pace to throw 115 innings and have an MVP caliber 6.9 WAR.
Obviously, he won’t get to those totals, but this has been coming. With all due respect to Hicks and Reyes, who get a lot of attention for being awesome, Gallegos has been the club’s best reliever for three seasons. He’s still the Cardinals’ best reliever. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t remain the Cardinals’ best reliever. I’m also perfectly fine with him staying in a middle relief/fireman role. It’s the perfect use for him. His stuff is disgusting. And he commands it. You have to watch the games to see it, though, because MLB video search doesn’t have anything up for him from this season. Come on MLB!
Best Manager Decision of the Week
I said I would feature two Brewers. The best managerial decision of the week goes to Craig Counsell, Manager of the Brewers! I’m not even being that sarcastic. (Ok, maybe a little). Late in the home opener, with the Cardinals trailing 1-0, the Cardinals were finally able to get some action going with the brilliant Corbin Burnes out of the game. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Molina singled softly to right. Carlson then ripped a double into right for his first non-homer hit. That brought up lefty Justin Williams with a submarining right-hander, Yardley, on the mound.
Now, Williams has not shown much in the majors, but that seemed like a bad matchup for the Brewers. With runners on second and third, why not put on the lefty rookie on first, get a forceout everywhere, and let the sidearmer work to strike out expert Tyler O’Neill? In full disclosure, I advocated for this decision by the Brewers on Twitter, noting how terrible TON had looked all game. I think I said something stupid like “this is sure an indication of what the Brewers think about O’Neill if they’ll walk Justin Williams to pitch to him!”
TON proceeded to have what I think was one of his best all-around PAs of his season. He adjusted mid-swing to a breaking ball on the inside of the plate and hit a hard grounder back up the middle and into the shift. It was a tough play for the not-Kolten Wong second baseman on the shortstop side of the bag, and O’Neill is insanely fast. The fielder hesitated and TON raced down the line, beating the throw by a step. Molina scored. Tie ball game.
Man, did O’Neill need that. I’ve written about how BABIP – batting average on balls in play – might just be the key to TON surviving in the majors or being out of the league. Well, the BABIP gods smiled down on him in that spot, even though Counsell probably made a decent decision. Here are the full highlights:
The Cardinals look good. This should be a fun year. Enjoy your Saturday.