Intentional or Just Irresponsible

Not that either team needed it, but tensions were raised a notch as the final 2015 regular season series between the Cardinals and Cubs got under way in Chicago.   The first of two linked events occurred in the top of the fifth inning, when Cubs starter Dan Haren hit pinch hitter Matt Holliday in the head.  Holliday appeared to be OK but left the game immediately, for precautionary reasons.  The second happened with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the game was all but over.  Cardinals reliever, Matt Belisle threw behind Anthony Rizzo, just clipping his uniform behind the knee.  Belisle was immediately ejected.

Reading some social media comments both during and following the game have led me to an observation that I will call Bob’s Razor, in homage to the common interpretation of the famous Occam’s Razor.

With all other things being equal, a sports fan will look at 
any given play and see what they want to see.

Applying this to these two game events, Cardinals fans are convinced that Dan Haren intentionally threw at Holliday and Cubs fans are outraged at Matt Belisle’s retaliation.  It doesn’t really end there as Joe Maddon referred to the Cardinals as vigilantes with Tony Soprano calling the shots in the dugout.  Following the game, he offered this comment, “But you don’t do that under those circumstances. We don’t start stuff, but we will finish stuff.”

Anthony Rizzo piles on with this postgame gem,  “at that moment, I want to kill someone because I know it was intentional.

OK, let us all take a step back and take a deep breath.  Try to watch the two plays with as much detachment as you can muster and tell me what you see.  It is a fact that we don’t know what either pitcher was trying to do, on their own or following orders from the dugout.  All we have are our eyes and hopefully some common sense.

It is easy to overlook the previous batter that Dan Haren faced before hitting Matt Holliday.  An 0-1 pitch sailed high and inside to Tony Cruz, causing him to spin out of the way and step out of the batter’s box.


With that image fresh in your mind, what is the most likely scenario that led to Dan Haren hitting Matt Holliday – that it was intentional, hitting a player that has not had an at bat in a game since late July or that the pitch just got away from him, like the one thrown to Cruz ?  Unless Haren has taken acting lessons in the off season, his reaction to the pitch should tell us all that we need to know.

Sorry Cardinals fans, the most likely scenario here is that it was not intentional.   It was a careless pitch that probably should not have been thrown.  Oh, it is fine to be outraged over lack of control, but that is a different situation that needs a bit less venom.

Now let’s look in on Matt Belisle in the seventh inning.

RizAgain, what is the mostly likely scenario here ?  Yeah, that one was intentional.  But sorry Cubs fans, it is exactly the type of “retaliation” that you should have expected and not the type of thing to get your undies all in a bunch.   If you look very carefully at the next few frames of the video above, you will see that the ball does clip Rizzo in a part of his uniform behind his knee.  The lack of deflection of the ball’s trajectory tells you that Rizzo was just grazed, if anything.

Was it poor sportsmanship on the part of Matt Belisle ?  If Bob’s Razor was not in play here, no, it is not.    The same can be said of the Chris Coughlan slide a few days earlier that ended the season of Jang Ho Kang of the Pirates.

We often talk about old school retaliation and much of what is discussed is more folklore than actual history.  Pitchers like Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver had such pinpoint control, they could knock a mosquito off the uniform of an opposing batter.  When they wanted to send a message, it would be behind a player or at least heading towards the lower part of the hitter’s body.   Sandy Koufax refused to throw at hitters, causing his catcher, Johnny Roseboro to buzz Juan Marichal in the famous incident in August 1965.   When these guys hit a batter, it was almost always to regain control of the inner part of the plate, not some vigilante act of revenge.

The problem today is that most pitchers don’t have the control of a Gibson, Drysdale, Koufax, Seaver, Feller or even Bob Veale (who did have a bit of a mean streak).  Most have no business throwing inside even though the opposing batters are wearing more armor than the Knights of the Round Table.   When they do and hit a player, as happened to Matt Holliday 17 times last season, a bit of careful retaliation might prevent number 18 and perhaps a career impacting in jury.

As for Maddon and Rizzo’s comments, it all just

badwolfblowIf either team need comments like these to be fired up at this point in the season, they don’t belong in postseason.  The same should be said of the fans.

Posted in 2015 Season | Leave a comment

BFIB and the Myth of “The Cardinals Way”

The two phrases that will make a baseball fan’s head spin the fastest today might be “The Best Fans in Baseball” and “The Cardinals Way”.   With the Cardinals unexpected, and mostly unexplainable, success heading into the 2015 All Star Break, it is understandable how these words that Cardinals fans say with genuine pride are often linked to a deep loathing of the team.  Instead of being upset about this, Cardinals fans should embrace the angst because it means that the team, and by proxy, the fans are relevant.  I fear the day that nobody is talking trash about the Cardinals because that means they have fallen from the headlines to the forgettable.

But are the Best Fans in Baseball and The Cardinals Way a real thing or just something invented to give us comfort in the face of all this disrespect ?

Well, they are real, but maybe not in the way that you might think.  Let me explain.

The Cardinals Way

george-kissellThe Cardinals Way is very much a real thing, dating back to the days when the Cardinals minor league farm system was spreading faster than the latest Kardashian selfie on Twitter.  The phrase is often associated with George “The Professor” Kissell, a minor league infielder in the 1940s and then manager and later coach in the Cardinals system.  It may mean different things to different people over the years, but the essence is paying attention to details, execute the fundamentals, honor the game (written and unwritten rules), honor the uniform (those that came before you) and work together as a team. Nobody in baseball taught it better and to more players than George Kissell.

Is this unique to the Cardinals ?  No, that’s absurd.  But it is one of the few things that ties together the various managerial and ownship eras of the last half century, from Johnny Keane to Mike Matheny, the Busch family to the DeWitts.  Bill DeWitt, Jr. clearly understands how much Cardinals fans value The Cardinals Way as an identity and has made it a very public part of the team culture and marketing programs to this day.

That is not to say that everybody wearing the uniform has followed the code.  Those that didn’t were frequently shown the door, often in a hastily arranged deal.  Once such example was during the cocaine scandal of the 1980s.  That hit the Cardinals very hard and cost them fan favorites such as Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez and Joaquin Andujar.  But the Cardinals Way persisted and good times returned, albeit for just a little while.

The big misunderstanding here is that The Cardinals Way is no secret handshake ritual that is guaranteed to win a championship nor is it somehow unique to the Cardinals.  Over the long haul, it has been a recipe for success, and thanks to the stewardship under the current owners, it remains that way today.  It is also good to remember that it has not always been that way.

While an entire generation of Cardinals have have never experienced a time when the Cardinals have not been successful, the truth is that there have been many dark times over the last half century.  Woeful times in fact.  I am referring to 1965-1966, the entire decade of the 1970s, first half of the 1990s and curiously 2007-2009.  While those teams were abysmal, almost laughable at  times, they were every bit The Cardinals Way as the team that just swept the Cubs in some of the scrappiest baseball that any Busch Stadium has seen.   It just didn’t work for other reasons – a critical injury or two, players aging and not being replaced or the front office not spending the money needed to lock up or acquire key talent needed to compete.  It is hard to believe, but that is true, especially under the Fred Kuhlmann era.  Apparently it takes more than just “The Cardinals Way” to win – it actually takes some talent.   And a front office that cares about success.

Perhaps we should be talking more about “Mo’s Way” today as that probably has a bigger impact to the Cardinals recent success than the teachings of George Kissell, Johnny Keane,  Hub Kittle or any of the other legends from the Cardinals past.

Best Fans in Baseball

So what does The Cardinals Way have to do with The Best Fans in Baseball ?  If you have been following along, quite a bit actually.  Showing up every night cheering on a winning team is easy to do – ask the Washington Nationals or Atlanta Braves.   In October.

There are a number of aspects to the Best Fans in Baseball that should bring a touch of respect to Cardinals fans.  Sure, giving a standing ovation to Shane Robinson or Daniel Descalso is the kind of thing St. Louis is known for.  Again, the big stars are easy to cheer for, but Cardinals fans love their scrappy overachievers just as much, if not more.  It may not be logical, but it is so St. Louis.

albert-pujolsThe interesting truth is that the Cardinals haven’t really lost all that many impact players to free agency or unpopular trade deadline deals, so we sort of have to cheer for the little guys.  Albert Pujols is the only big name player in recent years that “took the money and ran”.  Larry Walker and Chris Carpenter retired as a Cardinal, Jim Edmonds was injured and in late career decline as were Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman.  I’m hoping that some of that is not lost on Jason Heyward as he ponders over his first free agency contract.  Of the current core of players, only Lance Lynn seems likely to take an early walk out of St. Louis.  Maybe that’s why we get so attached to the little guys.

But it’s more than that.  Cardinals fans gladly cheer for an opponent player when he makes a great play on the field.   There is no tradition of throwing back home run balls, though some careful observation shows that Cubs fans may actually be keeping those balls, throwing junkers back on to the field.  None of this is unique to Cardinals fans, it is just the rule in St. Louis and not the exception.  Oh, there have been times when Cardinals fans were poor sports – the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers was one such time, but those have been few and far between.   Heck, we even learned to embrace Will Clark though Brandon Phillips and Johnny Cueto still seem to rankle Cards fans.

I think the real essence of Best Fans in Baseball lies in remembering when times were not as good as they are now but treating the team with the same respect and admiration.  That certainly required some effort in the early 1990s when Joe Torre always seemed an inning too late in making pitching changes and Germimo Pena could not stay out of the hospital.

The other day, one of my Twitter buddies sent out this little reminder

In 1995, Rich DeLucia led the St. Louis Cardinals with 8 
wins. 8. Those were dark days. 

Mike forgot to mention that DeLucia was a relief pitcher!  Dark times, indeed.  Yet the memories of that era are fond ones, not downing in angst.  And the fans did not stay away from the ballpark as they have been doing in places like Houston.

Let’s also not forget the 1970s when Gussie Busch traded away Willie Montanez, Steve Carlton, Jerry Reuss, Bake McBride, Mike Torrez, Richie “Dick” Allen, Reggie Smith and Jose Cruz.  Yet we came back night after night to watch the ones that remained, such as Silvio Martinez, John Fulgham, Jerry Mumphrey, haplessly playing the game until Whitey Herzog came along and rebuilt the team into a new generation of winners.

Maybe it is during those bad times that you really learn to appreciate the beauty of the game and not just the outcome – the game within the game.  For a couple of decades, that’s all we had.

Best Fans in Baseball does sound a terribly pretentious, but it is sure easier to say than Least Bandwagonny Fans in Baseball.   At the end of the day, both are true.  Not that there aren’t great fans of every team – there certainly are and we members of The Best Fans in Baseball should remember that.   Red Sox Nation and Yankees fans are just as rabid, though perhaps more on the bandwagon side of things and certainly with a more abrupt vocabulary, but I would never question their enthusiasm.  Dodgers fans buy tickets and either show up late to the games or not at all.  Giants fans kill all others with their use of social media and swarming the All Star Voting system.  Perhaps they are worthy of the title of Best Fans of their Team, sure.   Of baseball as a game, maybe not as much.   As with The Cardinals Way, BFIB is not an exclusive club.  It is, though, an accurate description of the unique relationship between the fans and players in St. Louis.

77ec85d9169ba4690cd3c295ee57c281If George Kissell was the architect of the Cardinals Way, who turned Cardinals fans into the Best Fans in Baseball ?   That one is easy, thanks to a wonderful comment from Wayne Grote (thanks, Wayne!).  For decades, the broadcast team of Jack Buck and Harry Caray taught us how to be fans of the game, not just the home team.  Harry was the emotional fan, with his voice and word choice matching what he was seeing on the field while Jack was the technician, carefully describing every little detail and explaining why it was important. They were both quick to praise opposing players when they made a great play as they were to criticize the home team when they did something wrong.   As with The Cardinals Way, Jack and Harry were not unique to St. Louis.  Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Bob Prince, Harry Kalas, Jack Brickhouse and Vin Scully were legendary broadcasters and equally loved by their listeners, but there is something different about how the lessons stuck with Cardinals fans.

Once we can all admit that the Cardinals Way has not always worked and that there are fans of other teams that love their players as much, though perhaps differently, than in St. Louis, we can move past all of this silliness and get back to watching and appreciating the game of baseball.

Posted in 2015 Season | 5 Comments

April 21-23, St. Louis at Washington

Birds Eye View Header

The Cardinals start their second road trip of the 2015 season with a three game series against the Washington Nationals.  It will be the first time this season that the Cards face an opponent outside of their division.  Both teams were pre-season favorites to make the playoffs, so this could be something a preview of a divisional or league championship series in October.   In  the 13 regular season games since the 2012 NLDS, the Cardinals have an 11-2 record against the Nationals.

Nationals LogoWith a series win, the Nationals (6-7, 4 games out) can improve to .500 for the first time since April 8, the second game of the season.    After losing their first three series, the Nats are coming off a strong home series against the struggling Phillies, winning three of the four games.

It is a bit early to draw too many conclusions about Washington’s offense, except that they will strike out.  A lot.   That should help the Cardinals pitchers as they tend to be around the strike zone.   Ryan Zimmerman leads the team with 11 RBIs while Bryce Harper leads the Nats with 4 home runs.   As a team, they have already belted 14 long balls, compared to just 6 by the Cardinals.

On their pitching side of the game, it is something of a contrast of extremes.  New comer, Max Scherzer (1-1, 0.83 ERA) and former Tigers rotation mate Doug Fister (1-0, 0.69 ERA) have been sensational.   Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have been touched up for more than a few runs in their starts.   Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they will face both Scherzer and Fister in the series.

While the loss of Craig Stammen is a huge blow for the Nationals bullpen, they have been very effective in holding leads so far in the season.   Closer, Drew Storen, is 4 for 4 in save opportunities and has only allowed 1 run over 5 innings.   Felipe Rivero, a 23 year old left hander, will take Stammen’s spot in the bullpen, at least for now.

cardinalsFor the Cardinals (8-3,  1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs), the story is pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching.   The staff enters the series with an ERA of 1.91.  Only two pitchers, Seth Maness and Randy Choate, have an ERA over 3.   This is not a sustainable way to win games over a long stretch, but the pitching has carried the Cardinals in the early going.

Whether last weekends series sweep of the Reds was more the Cardinals bats finally waking up or the continued struggles of the Cincinnati pitching staff, Matt Carpenter made a huge impact as the catalyst at the top of the batting order.   For his efforts, he was named the NL Player of the Week (Apr 20).  Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta continue to hit with regularity.   Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Cardinals fans is that Yadier Molina is heating up after a slow start to the regular season.

Mitch Harris

Mitch Harris

For the second time this season, the Cardinals will have a player on temporary leave to attend the birth of their child.  This time it is  center fielder, Peter Bourjos.   The Cardinals have purchased the contract of Mitch Harris to take Bourjos spot on the active roster.   If you are not familiar with the Mitch Harris story, it is an incredible one.  The Cardinals drafted the hard throwing right hander out of the Naval Academy in 2008, but Harris served his military commitments.  The Cardinals held a spot for him and five years later, Harris began his professional baseball career with the State College Spikes (short season A).  Two years and nearly 100 innings later, Harris will on the major league roster. He features a fastball that can get into the mid to upper 90s, so don’t be surprised if we seen him often this season.

Speedy center fielder, Gary Brown, has been designated for assignment to make room for Harris.   Brown was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants a few weeks ago.

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, Apr 21 – 6:05 pm CDT

Lance Lynn (1-1, 1.64) vs Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.11)

Lance Lynn has given up just a single run in each of his first two starts this season.   If there is a criticism in Lynn’s game so far it is pitch count.  Lynn did pitch into the seventh inning in his first start, but pitch count limited him to just five innings almost a week ago.  This will be the 100th career start for Lynn (50-29, 3.43).

While the lefty dominated Cards batting order should give Gio Gonzalez an advantage, St. Louis has done well against him in his career.   Gonzalez was the starting pitching in the now famous (or infamous in Washington) Game Five of the 2012 NLDS.  Control still seems to be the big issue for the Nationals left hander.  If the Cardinals are patient, and can drive up his pitch count, it could be a short night for Gonzalez.

This will be the debut StatCast broadcast on the MLB Network.  StatCast uses a set of high resolution cameras to measure detailed items in the game, such as the speed of a baseball off a hitters bat.  For the stats heavy fan, this should provide a cornucopia of new information to absorb.  Since you will need there, here is a glossary of StatCast terms.

Key to the game: Lance Lynn going 6+ innings.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MASN, MLB Network

Radio: KMOX (1120 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Wednesday, Apr 22 -6:05 pm CDT

John Lackey (1-0, 2.77) vs Doug Fister (1-0, 0.69)

After a rough debut to start the 2015 season, John Lackey was a textbook on efficiency in his last start, going seven strong innings.

There is nothing much more to say about Doug Fister other than he has been brilliant so far in 2015.

On paper, this should be a low scoring game, which means it will probably be a 10-8 slugfest.   If John Lackey pitches as he did in his last start, this should be a thrilling pitching duel, decided by the bullpen in the late innings.

Key to the game: John Lackey keeping the game close

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MASN, MLB Network

Radio: KMOX (1120 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Thursday, Apr 23 -3:05 pm CDT

Michael Wacha (2-0, 1.35) vs Max Scherzer (1-1. 0.83)

Michael Wacha has been lights out to start the 2015 season.  Longevity and load will remain a question as he approaches 150 and then 200 innings, but when healthy, Wacha is one of the most exciting right handers in the game today.   Unfortunately for the Cardinals, he will be facing a veteran that is just as stingy and not likely to break down any time soon.   As with the Lackey/Fister game, this should be a thrilling pitching duel, decided by a run or two late.

Key to the game: Michael Wacha’s velocity

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MASN, MLB Network

Radio: KMOX (1120 AM),WJFK (106.7 FM)

Injury Update – Washington

Craig Stammen (RHP) – the 31 year old right hander had surgery to repair two torn flexor tendons (forearm) and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

Casey Janssen (RHP) – right shoulder tendonitis.  Janssen has recently started throwing again, but has not begun a minor league rehab program.   He is expected to return in late April or early May.

Erik Davis (RHP) – recovering from Tommy John surgery last spring.  No timetable for his return has been set.

Yunel Escobar (SS) – missed the last series and is listed as day to day.   He is expected to play in the Cardinals series.

Nate McLouth (OF) – may be activated soon.   He is recovering from shoulder surgery last August.  He has not yet started a minor league rehab assignment.

Anthony Rendon (3B) – sprained left knee.   Has just started throwing and light batting activities.  Should be starting a minor league rehab assignment soon.

Injury Update – St. Louis

Randal Grichuk (OF) – has been placed on the 15 day DL with a lower back sprain.   He is expected back in early May.   Infielder Dean Anna has been called up to replace Grichuk on the roster.

Jaime Garcia (LHP) – continues to recover from season ending shoulder surgery last May.   Garcia pitched effectively early in spring training, but had difficulty in recovering in time to make his next start.   He will remain in extended spring training for a while but is expected to start a minor league rehab assignment with a possible return to the majors in late May.

Tommy Pham (OF) – has recently been cleared to resume baseball activities following a left quad strain.  There is no timetable for his return.



This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2015 Season, Bird's Eye View, United Cardinals Bloggers | Leave a comment

X-Men Unleashed: Fixing the Cardinals Offense

I am reminded of a Tony La Russa interview in April 2011 when he asked reporters, “are you telling me Yadier is not going to get a big hit” ?   Yes, that was also the first week of the season and it was a fair question.  We also know how that story ended, with the Cardinals celebrating their 11th World Championship.

But if Mike Matheny were to ask that question in a post-game press conference today, the responses might be something like “yeah, Mike, that is exactly what we are saying.”   So what are a manager and general manager to do ?

The first thing is to admit that while this is the first week of the season, it sure looks a lot like long stretches of last season and most of the spring.   To be honest, the best parts of spring training were when kids like Charlie Tilson were on base, running and helping manufacture runs.  None of that seems to be happening now that the games count.

It is early, but not too early to make a couple of changes.  Let’s take a look at a few.

Mark Reynolds Stays on the Bench

We can argue endlessly about whether or not Mark Reynolds should have been signed this winter, but the fact is that he was and it is too early to give up on that decision.   At the same time, a long look at his numbers when playing regularly last season in Milwaukee (.196 / .287 / .394 in 433 plate appearances, 22 HR, 45 RBIs and 122 Ks) should convince you that he is not a realistic platoon partner for the struggling Matt Adams.  While this will probably end in the same way as the Ty Wigginton experiment, he has to be given a fair opportunity to produce.

ed note: Mark Reynolds is 2-3 in the current game and has just driven in his first run of the season.  Xavier Scruggs has driven in 9.

Call up Xavier Scruggs

As the Cardinals start play on April 16 (game number 8), Xavier Scruggs has the same number of home runs (4) as the Cardinals do as a team.  Some will be quick to point out that Scruggs is doing that in the homer friendly Pacific Coast League and completely miss that he has done that in 24 plate appearances where the Cardinals as a team have 275 (and add another dozen or so as the game is now in the sixth inning and no big flies have been seen yet).

In his minor league career, Scruggs has the typical power hitter splits, tearing up left handers and struggling against righties.  That would make him the ideal platoon partner for Matt Adams, keeping a power bat on the bench regardless of who is getting the start.

Who would be optioned to Memphis to make room for Scruggs ?  Easy.

Option Randal Grichuk

Oh, you can’t send Randal Grichuk to the minors ?

Why not ?

In this case, we do have some good comparison data between Grichuk and Scruggs and the results may surprise you.

Randal Grichuk  .259 / .311 / .493 (.805 OPS), 25 HR, 71 RBIs, 108Ks in  472 plate appearances.

Xavier Scruggs  .286 / .370 / .494 (.864 OPS), 21 HR, 87 RBIs, 114 Ks in 538 plate appearances

Scruggs out hit, out slugged, drove in more runs – basically outproduced Randal Grichuk last year.  This is on the same team, in the same ballparks and against the same pitching.  Most of the season, Grichuk hit second, Scruggs cleanup or fifth.  Grichuk did hit more home runs, but that’s it.   Scruggs is also 28, Grichuk is 23, so which of the two can benefit more from consistent playing time in the minors ?

Mike Schildt should play Grichuk every day in center field, giving him some much needed experience at the position.  If the Cardinals do sign Jason Heyward to a long contract extension, Grichuk will have to take center field away from Jon Jay or wait for Matt Holliday to retire.   Seeing him play for a summer in Memphis would go a long way in figuring out where his future lies, not to mention a ton of at-bats to improve his pitch recognition against right handers.

Swapping Grichuk for Scruggs is about a break even in the offensive production, based on last year in the PCL.   It doesn’t really leave the outfield short as Peter Bourjos is still available as is Pete Kozma.   It leaves the bench largely unchanged, but gives Mike Matheny a more balanced lineup against left handed pitching.

If I was the general manager, Xavier Scruggs would already be heading north on I-55.   What would you do, if anything, to get the Cardinals offense going ?   Let me know in the comments.   As always, thanks for reading.

Posted in 2015 Season | 1 Comment

What to do About Jon Jay ?

Now that the Lance Lynn contact has been taken care of, and both Tony Cruz and Peter Bourjos have avoided arbitration, we can turn our attention to the last piece of the Cardinals 2015 puzzle, Jon Jay.

The Good

Jonjay2014aThere may not be a more polarizing figure on the current Cardinals roster than Jon Jay.  There is no question that he is a likeable player and has developed a strong fan base just on his personality alone.  In addition, fans that favor offensive production first will tend to side with Jay and point to his consistency in batting average (career .295 without much deviation) and on-base percentage (.379 last year, .359 for his career).  They will also be quick to point out his lack of errors, some to the point of suggesting he is worthy of a Gold Glove.  Perhaps that is going a bit overboard, but Jon Jay does have a good glove and catches any ball that he can get to.


The Bad

The other side quickly dismisses those claims by using his slugging percentage to show (rightfully) that he is a singles only hitter as well as a lack of stolen bases (6, down from 10 and 19 the previous two seasons), proclaiming him a base clogger, thus not a good choice for the top of the batting order.   The persecution of Jay continues with a deeper look into his defensive performance, specifically below league average range and less than impressive defensive runs saved.  It is hard to argue with this after watching Billy Hamilton score from third on a short fly ball.  That video should come with a parental warning.

The fact is that all of this is true and just demonstrates the wide diversity of how fans look at and evaluate a player in the game today.  Perhaps it would be different with a more critical approach to broadcasting on television and radio, but that is not the product being offered at the moment.

The Ugly

How does this affect Jon Jay ?   Simple – of all the players on the roster today, Jon Jay should be the last to face an actual arbitration hearing.   All of the positives from his 2014 season (taking the every day center fielding job away from Peter Bourjos, an improved offensive year, better base running) will be shattered by a cold hard examination of his defensive performance, which will be the basis of the Cardinals case to the arbitration committee.

The two sides have not disclosed any numbers publicly, but we do have some information start forming a basis for a possible resolution.   Jay avoided arbitration last year by signing a one year $3.25M contract.   Based on his 2014 season, and both sides should agree with this, he surpassed the previous performance that earned him that contract.  As a result, he should expect some raise above the league inflation, and the Cardinals should be expected to do at least that.  That puts a number like $4.5M in play and will likely be near the midpoint of the two sides.

What to do ?

The proper play here is for a one year contract for $4.5M.   His fans can rejoice that they will have another season with the young man while his critics will wince at nearly $5M spent for a player that they don’t think should be an every day player and would rather see him not even on the roster.   The outcome of an arbitration hearing could make that a reality sooner rather than later.

The thing that should not happen is a multi-year deal, buying out Jay’s last two years of arbitration and any free agency years.   Unlike the Lance Lynn situation, the Cardinals have quite a bit of depth in the position, though nobody particularly stands out, including Jon Jay.  Right now, Tommy Pham can play better defense, though he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to hit major league pitching.  Peter Bourjos has a slightly better track record than Pham, though he can’t be viewed as anything more than competition to push Jay for another year.  Randal Grichuk remains a curious possibility, especially if Jason Heyward is up for a move to center (unlikely).   Stephen Piscotty squelches any thoughts about Jay as a long term play in left field.  Down in the minor leagues, Charlie Tilson continues to move up and could soon be pushing his way into consideration.   The point here is that the Cardinals do not have a clear cut answer for the center field situation, and that should keep the front office from offering an extended contract to Jay.   The upside here is that if viewed as a non-punitive course of action, that could be exactly the fire Jon Jay needs under his feet to prove his critics wrong.

A one year $4.5M contract is the answer that both sides should be able to live with.  That is what I would work to if I were the Cardinals front office or Jon Jay’s agent.   The next few days should be interesting as the deadline for submitting arbitration offers has passed.  Unless the two sides are finalizing some sort of deal, it appears as if Jon Jay will be the first Cardinals player to reach arbitration since Darren Oliver in 1999.  Oh, the Cardinals won that case – and non-tendered him at the end of the season.

What would you do about Jon Jay ?  Let me know in the comments or yell at me on Twitter

Posted in 2015 Season | Leave a comment

What to do about Lance Lynn ?

I knew it would take a special topic to get me blogging again, and this one is as good as it gets.   For the record, I have been an unapologetic Lance Lynn fan since his days with the Springfield Cardinals, way back in 2009.   He went 11-4 that year with an ERA just under 3 runs per game – in a very hitter friendly league and park.

The Cardinals Other Lance, Lance Lynn

What to do about Lance Lynn

The question of what to do about Lance Lynn brings out all sorts of responses, but they tend to fall into one of three categories.  Let’s look at each and try to figure out what the right answer is.

1. Trade him at peak value

I believe this is the stance from one of my favorite bloggers and sports buddies, Bill Ivie.  We have had many fun conversations about Kyle Lohse over the years, and this feels very much like one of those, for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the pro side of the argument.

There is no question that Lance Lynn’s value has never been higher.  In spite of posting records of 18-7 and 15-10 in his first two seasons as a starter,  there still seems to be some lingering doubt about how much of that was Lance Lynn and how much was the Cardinals offense blowing out opponents in his starts.  Some of those critics were silenced with another 15-10 record last year where the big guy shaved more than a run off his ERA, while others will point to his relatively unchanged FIP, suggesting he was just more lucky than actually good.

Perhaps more important than his wins and losses, Lynn has now gone back to back seasons with 200 or more innings pitched.  He pitched into the seventh inning in 14 of his 33 starts last year, including two complete games (one was a shutout).  The last Cardinals pitcher to have back to back 200 inning seasons, not named Adam Wainwright, is Chris Carpenter (2010-2011).    You have to go back to 2005 to find another name, and that was Jason Marquis.  No, really.

While all of this Lynning stuff might make for fun debate on Twitter or one of the various message boards, it really doesn’t matter.  The con side won this debate on Nov 17. 2014.  That was the day Shelby Miller was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jason Heyward.  The depth of the Cardinals rotation, once an almost embarrassing abundance, was impacted significantly by this deal.  So much so that Lance Lynn becomes nearly untouchable.  He is now one of the veterans in spite of just entering his first year of salary arbitration.  Even with the rumors of the Cardinals pursuing big name pitchers, such as Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer and David Price, those are all about adding depth to supplement the existing rotation, not to replace any of the core members (Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha).

Shelby Miller’s departure just means you can write Lance Lynn’s name in to the Cardinals 2015 rotation in ink, not pencil.

2. Let’s take it one year at a time

This should be a non-starter for a number of reasons, the foremost being that the Cardinals want to avoid salary arbitration at nearly all cost.  On one hand, it is a contentious process that the front office views as destructive to the relationship they have worked so long and hard to build with a young player.   It sends a message that the player is not a core member of the roster, but a commodity.   That is a sure way to push a player, such as Lance Lynn, into testing the free agency market at their first opportunity.

Another risk for the front office is lack of salary control in subsequent years.  The two sides could enter the process next year, differing by millions of dollars, dollars that the team would much rather spend courting new free agents early in the next signing period instead of holding in reserve should they lose in arbitration.

If that is not enough, there is even more risk on Lance Lynn’s side of this negotiation.  While he has made steady improvement in his first four seasons, he is also one pitch away from a season or career ending injury.   While fans may dismiss this rather quickly, this is Lynn’s career  and he has an opportunity right now to guarantee a lifestyle for his family that many fans can only dream about.

The end result is that both sides benefit by avoiding yearly arbitration.  So much that it leaves us with

3. Sign Lance Lynn for __________________

This is ultimately the right answer, though opinions on  “how long” and for “how much” vary significantly. Fortunately we have some examples in recent Cardinals history that should help us sort this out.

Just before the start of the 2008 season, Adam Wainwright signed a 4 year $15M deal.  It was structured as $750k signing bonus, $500K (2008), $2.6M (2009), $4.65M (2010) and $6.5M (2012).  It also included options for 2013 and 2013, valued at $9M and $12M respectively.  This was for a former first round draft pick (Braves, 2000) that had lived up to and probably surpassed many expectations.  In other words, Adam Wainwright was seen as a future top-of-the-rotation-face-of-the-franchise guy.

Midway though the 2011 season, Jaime Garcia signed a 4 year $27M deal.   Like Adam Wainwright’s, it bought out his last team controlled year as well as all of his arbitration eligible time.  It was structured as a $500k signing bonus, $3.25M (2012), $5.75M (2013), $7.75M (2014) and $9.25M (2015).  It also included two option years at $11.5M and $12M, respectively.   At the time of the signing, Jaime Garcia was 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA after a rookie season where he went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.  In other words, he was the left handed young stud to pitch alongside Adam Wainwright for the foreseeable future.

For the risks the Cardinals took in both of these deals, they were rewarded with what turned out to be discounts later in the later (free agent) years as salaries escalated pretty quickly, thanks to some gargantuan deals elsewhere.   The players got some security, which turned out to be bigger benefits than the team discount as both missed significant playing time.

Given where Lance Lynn is today, these two deals should serve as something of a floor for a forward looking deal, for two reasons.  First, and most significant, all of the years in a potential long term contract will be at arbitration rates, not the league minimums where Garcia and Wainwright started.  The other factor is overall rise of salaries in the major leagues, which makes Adam Wainwright’s 2008 deal look like a huge bargain.

The ceiling for such a deal could be Kyle Lohse’s contract from the end of the 2008 season.   In his case, he was already a free agent thus his contract extension reflected that escalated yearly salary.   He signed a 4 year $41M extension which was split out as a $1.25M signing bonus and $7.125M (2009), $8.875M (2010), $11.875M (2011) and $11.875M (2012).

Lohse is a particularly interesting case as he went to arbitration in his first two eligible seasons with Minnesota, winning both times.  He was traded to Cincinnati in the last of those as the two were unlikely to work out any long term deal.  That is not how the Cardinals would want to proceed with Lance Lynn, especially now with Shelby Miller in Atlanta and Michael Wacha not anywhere close to 150 innings, let alone the 200 mark that Lynn has turned in the last two years.

Any deal that the Cardinals make with Lance Lynn, other than a year at a time, will buy out all three years of arbitration.   In order to get something of a discount to compensate for their risks, it should also include his first year of free agency, some of which can be front loaded as an incentive.   Going beyond that, remembering that Adam Wainwright just signed a 5 year extension, would be in the way of options, protecting both parties.   Using the Lohse and Garcia deals as bookends, you get something that might look like $1M signing bonus, $5M (2015), $7M (2016), $9M (2017) and $14M (2018). Adjusted for salary differences, this is not all that far off Adam Wainwright’s deal back in 2008.  This would provide an incentive up front while not blowing out any arbitration comparisons for the next round of pitchers that will go through the process.

What will they actually do ?  Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Lance Lynn and the Cardinals announce a 4 year contract in the vicinity of $36M in the next few days.

What would you do ?  Please share your ideas in the comments.

Thanks for reading.  Go Cardinals.

ps: All contract information is courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Posted in 2015 Season | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

NLDS Game One – It is the Little Things

It always has been and it will always continue to be the little things that win baseball games.  In a matchup of two of the best pitchers in the National League, you expect the little thing to be a hanging curveball hit into the bleachers (Randal Grichuk) or someone laying out to make a spectacular play (Adrian Gonzalez, sort of), In a 10-9 slugfest you have to look hard to find the key little thing amongst many little things, but it is there for those willing to look.

Don_Mattingly_DodgersIn a season where Cardinals fans, me included, have criticized Mike Matheny for being three batters too late to make a pitching change, it was refreshing to see the same thing happen to Don Mattingly on the other side of the diamond.  But that is the little thing that might have a large impact to this divisional series.   It was certainly the turning point in Game One.

A few days before the series started, our friend, Dan Buffa, wrote a blog and started up a twitter conversation, urging Cardinals fans to stay engaged and optimistic in the divisional series.  Dan suggested that the two teams were a lot closer than some analysts have have you believe, and I completely agree.  Local sports writer, Bernie Miklasz responded with

... and what happened last year is irrelevant.

which is the right thing to say if you are being all cool and analytical about the game, forgetting that it is played by young men that have emotions.  And memories.

There was one rather Nostradamus like reply to Bernie that I am particularly fond of

tell me that if Matt Carpenter has another 10 pitch
at bat in a close game.

OK, so it might have been only 8 pitches, but I think the point was made.   The feeling of deja vu was eerily comforting when Matt Carpenter stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning, but let’s go back and set it up to see where Don Mattingly’s mistake happened.

With two outs in the sixth inning, and the Cardinals trailing 6-1, Matt Carpenter connects with a Clayton Kershaw fastball and deposits it in the seats to make it a 6-2 game.   That was the only the second Cardinals hit of the game.  There were no signs being stolen, Kershaw was not tipping pitches.  Carpenter knew first ball fastball and took an appropriate swing.  The problem was that Kershaw left it in the fat part of the strike zone, and Carpenter did not miss.   File this away for a few moments.

In the seventh inning, the shadows were no longer a factor.  It was the third time through the batting order for the Cardinals and it was a hot night in Los Angeles.  Sorry Harold Reynolds, there were no tipping pitches and nobody was stealing signs.   The answer was much less dramatic, Kershaw lost  his control and it compounded when he was forced to pitch from the stretch.

Look at the Matt Holliday at bat to see the inning unfold.  Kershaw missed on his first two pitches, and they were not close.  Holliday swings and misses a 2-0 meatball, but takes the next pitch to run the count to 3-1.   That, Harold, is how this inning happened.   Holliday sat on a 3-1 get me over fastball and ripped it for a single.   Unlike the 2-0 pitch, Holliday hit it squarely.

The same situation happened with Jhonny Peralta, though much quicker.  Peralta smoked a single on a 1-0 fastball, over the heart of the plate.   Yadier Molina smacked the first pitch he saw, also a fastball, also over the plate.   None of these pitches were tipped, they were just left over the fat part of the plate, like the home run last inning by Matt Carpenter.   This was not vintage Clayton Kershaw, this is a pitcher that was running out of gas.

Matt Adams singled on a 1-2 pitch that again caught too much of the plate.   There is no magic here.   Control is the issue, just as it was when Adam Wainwright was struggling earlier.

Kershaw made Pete Kozma look silly at the plate and just painted a called third strike on the outside corner for the first out.  With all due respect to Kershaw, my daughter could probably strike out Pete Kozma, and I say that as a big Kozma fan.   What Don Mattingly missed here is that this was no turning point for Kershaw, he was not righting the ship.  He just struck out a .200 hitter.

After the Kozma strikeout, Jon Jay singles home Jhonny Peralta to cut the lead to 6-4.  It was a good piece of hitting by Jay, the first time where the hit was not on a Kershaw mistake.  Left hander, JP Howell, was ready in the bullpen and should have come into the game at this point.

After striking out Oscar Taveras, Don Mattingly leaves Clayton Kershaw in to pitch to Matt Carpenter.  That is the little thing that we are looking for.   There are only two people on the planet that did not see this Carpenter at bat coming, Don Mattingly and Bernie Miklasz, though I kid about Bernie. As with Kozma, Don Mattingly overlooked the batter and just saw his pitcher being successful.  Taveras, a young slugger, was overly aggressive and swung at pitches he had no business swinging at.  That strikeout was more on Taveras, than Kershaw.  Bravado and support of your players is one thing, but managers are paid to look beyond this and make tough decisions at pivotal moments of a game, especially in the playoffs.

MarpIn what almost looked like a replay from 2013, Matt Carpenter laid off pitches outside the strike zone and fouled off the close ones, waiting for his pitch.   This time it would come on the 8th pitch, a 95 mph fastball that was in nearly the exact same spot as his home run in his previous at bat.  He jumped all over it and hit it to the base of the wall, clearing the bases and giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead.

Matt Holliday would cement the victory with a three run homer two batters later, but leaving Kershaw in to pitch the Carpenter was the turning point in the game.   With respect to Bernie Miklasz, sometimes what happened last year is still relevant.   And baseball can be just like that.

Credit the Cardinals for being aggressive and not giving up after trailing in the late innings.  On any other regular season game, they might have packed it in and started thinking about the post-game meal and a good night rest.  But this is the playoffs and you have to win one game on the road.  That means playing a hard nine innings, and they did.   Against one of the best.

This series is far from over, so we should take the Game One win in the proper context as a very exciting start to the NLDS.  There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but if you are a Cardinals fan, you have to love the way they battled in this game.  Maybe, just maybe, history will repeat itself and the Cardinals can win this series.

Posted in 2014 Season | Leave a comment

UCB September Project: Top 7 Cardinals Prospects

Though no longer a regular blogger and now just a “Friend of the UCB”, occasionally one of their monthly projects comes along that grabs my attention and makes me want to pick up the keyboard again.   The annual “Top 7 Prospects” is one of those.

1.  Oscar Taveras – OF

Taveras Home Run SwingThe 22 year old outfielder may have lost his rookie status this season, but Cardinals fans have yet to see what the young man is capable of doing.  For that reason, I am keeping him as a prospect and that makes him easily the top of the list.

In parts of six minor league seasons, Oscar Taveras has a career slash line of .320 / .376 / .516 with 122 doubles, 24 triples, 53 home runs and 324 RBIs.  No, that’s not why he is my top prospect.

In 1,860 plate appearances, he has struck out only 243 times.  That is a 13% K rate.   Very impressive for somebody with what can only be described as a violent swing.   Compare that to Matt Adams 17% (who is now an every day player), Randal Grichuk (19%, 23% this year in AAA) and Xavier Scruggs (28%, down to 21% this year).   Put all of this together and that screams future heart of the batting order clutch run producer.   But no, that’s not why Taveras is at the top of my prospect list.

Oscar Taveras, along with Greg Garcia, have won league championships at nearly every level that they have played – Johnson City in 2010, Quad Cities in 2011 and Springfield in 2012.  Along the way, he was joined by Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal, making a most formidable core of young and exciting players.  Barring a horrific mid-season injury and the callup of the those other players in 2013, they may have been able to add another championship in Memphis.

At some point in his career, and it won’t be in 2014, the coaches will finally realize that Oscar is best being just Oscar instead of molded into some other player that they think he needs to be.  When they do, his career will soar, and some of those clutch hits we have missed from Allen Craig, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will return to the Cardinals.  In bunches.   This young man is not a future All Star, he will be a Most Valuable Player.  The only questions are how soon, and sadly, which league.

kaminsky2. Rob Kaminsky – LHP

The just turned 20 year old has completed his second professional season in the Cardinals farm system, and what a season it was.  In 18 starts with the Peoria Chiefs, Kaminsky posted an 8-2 record and led all Midwest League starters with a 1.88 ERA.  He has a big league curveball, a more than adequate fastball and work in progress changeup.  Many pitchers have success in the lower levels of a minor league system, so what you want to see are improvements in the key indicators.  For Kaminsky, these are mostly bright green.  He has dropped nearly a walk per 9 innings and his 1.013 WHIP was fourth among starters.   That tells you that he is not only around the plate, but he is missing the fat part of the opponents bats.  For a left hander, especially if they keep developing him for the rotation, you won’t obsess too much over the drop in strikeouts.  A +7 K/9 IP rate is still pretty impressive.

Don’t be surprised of Kaminsky is fast tracked to Springfield (AA) very early next year.

3. Alexander Reyes – RHP

Here is the big right handed power arm to complement Kaminsky, and what an electric arm it is.   He is already in the mid to upper 90s on his fastball and has a very good curveball to go with it. Like Kaminsky, he also just turned 20.   What stands out were his 137 strikeouts in just 109 1/3 innings pitched, up just a bit from his numbers in rookie ball.   That was good for 6th in the Midwest league in K/9IP, second among starters.

The development area for Reyes is control, not uncommon among young flame throwers.  As he learns to repeat his delivery and get a bit more under control, the walks should come down, and when they do, his prospect watch number will skyrocket.

One word of warning here – There Is No Such Thing As A Can’t Miss Pitching Prospect.   I could easily write thousands of words about John Ericks, Brian Barber and dozens of others.   It is early days for both Kaminsky and Reyes, but they do seem to be the genuine article.  Though he won’t make my list for this year, a healthy Tyrell Jenkins could make this group of young pitchers the best we have seen yet.

4. Sam Tuivailala – RHP

Though his named seemed to confound some ESPN broadcasters,  we will all soon learn to pronounce TOO-ee-vah-lah-lah and marvel at the fire he unleashes at opposing hitters.

The date was June 20, 2012, the second game of the season for the Johnson City Cardinals.  Originally drafted as a shortstop in 2010, this would be the last time Sam Tuivailala would appear as a position player.  As the designated hitter, Tuivailala would go 1-4 on the day, the hit being a solo home run in the third inning.  Three weeks later, he would complete the transformation from position player to flamethrowing reliever.   He would collect 23 strikeouts in 13 innings with Johnson City, 50 in 35 1/3 with Peoria in 2013 and 97 over 60 innings in 2014, at the top three levels of the Cardinals farm system.

Cardinals fans that have only seen Sam pitch as part of the expanded September rosters need to remember that he only has 108 1/3 innings as a professional pitcher.   As a result of Rule 5 draft rules, Tuivailala must be protected this December by being placed on the Cardinals protected 40 man roster, and that’s why we have seen him in St. Louis.  We will see him again, and by what we have seen thus far, it won’t be long.

5. Stephen Piscotty – OF

Not Randal Grichuk, in spite of the mounting praise heaped on him from the local sports media, it is instead Stephen Piscotty.  As it turns out, Piscotty has benefited from the utter mess that the front office has made out of the Cardinals right field situation.  While Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk were driving up and down I-55, Piscotty was left alone to continue developing his bat.

Though he struggled a bit after the AAA All Star Game, Piscotty ended up with a very nice season in Memphis, confirming what many of us saw earlier – he is a right handed hitting Matt Carpenter.  He led Memphis in hits (114), doubles (32), and third in RBIs (67).  His .288 batting average is third among players with 300 or more plate appearances.     His 61 strikeouts (11%) shows impressive discipline for a production bat and his 43 walks gives his OBP a 70 point bump over his average.   All of these point to a very solid major league hitter.

His defense is good, his arm is very good.   His range may not be quite as great as Randal Grichuk, but he is just as quick to lay out for a line drive.  His arm is a plus and he was third in outfield assists with 4 (Grichuk 9, Robinson 5).

Because he had one more year of Rule 5 protection, Piscotty was not called up when rosters expanded in September.   He will be the Cardinals right fielder in 2016, if not sooner.

6. Jimmy Reed – LHP

This is really my committee pick here and it could easily have gone to John Gast, Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney.   What all of these guys have in common are that they are left handed, control specialists, have effective breaking balls and on any other team would be a lock for the 4th or 5th starter.   Gast cannot stay healthy, but if he does then I may want to rethink this pick.   Cooney is the most developed, leading the PCL in wins while setting the Memphis Redbirds single season record.   Marco Gonzales may have the highest upside, based on rapid rise through the farm system and Tyler Lyons may be the most under appreciated player in the organization.

So why Jimmy Reed over the others ?  One word – complete.   Reed was successful at each level he pitched this year, including a short emergency promotion to Springfield.  He split his 2 decisions at the higher level and did not look at all overmatched as so many young pitchers do in that situation.  He reminded me of Tim Cooney when he was promoted to AA last year.

Reed has a low 90 mph fastball, plus curve and a nice little cutter that he has learned to throw as an out pitch.  Throw in an effective changeup and a good repeatable delivery and there is suddenly a lot to like about Reed.   He doesn’t get the attention that Cooney and Gonzales do, but he might end up being the best of the bunch.

7. Tommy Pham – OF

My twitter followers should be expecting to see the name Tommy Pham somewhere on this list, and I won’t disappoint.   If Tyler Lyons is the most under appreciated pitcher in the Cardinals farm system, Tommy Pham may be the corresponding position player.  Those that have not seem him play will look at his age (26) and immediately dismiss him as too old, ignoring that parts of several seasons were lost to injury.   Others will see 9 minor league seasons and proclaim a AAAA ceiling, ignoring the fact that he was drafted out of high school, and as we have already mentioned, lost a lot of time to injury.

For Pham, the organization asked him to do two things in 2014 after shutting him down last year for shoulder surgery: (1) stay healthy and (2) show that he can play at the highest level of the farm system.   Not only did he accomplish both, he excelled.

Pham started the season as something of the forgotten outfielder behind Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty and newcomer Randal Grichuk.  When Shane Robinson was optioned, Pham dropped even farther back in the depth chart, but that is not the end of the story.  Far from it.

After a slow start, Pham started heating up, earning playing time here and there.   As players started moving up and down I-55, it was Pham that eventually took over in center field.   He also moved up from the scratch and dent part of the batting order to the leadoff spot, where his season took off, just as it did last year in Springfield.   He joined Tyler Lyons and Xavier Scruggs as consecutive winners of the PCL Player of the Week, the first time that has happened in Memphis franchise history.    He led the team in batting average (.324) which is the second highest in team history (Nick Stavinoha .337 in 2008).  His 6 triples and 20 stolen bases also led the team.   He was rewarded by being one of the last minor leaguers to be called up to St. Louis.

Next spring could be a very interesting time for Pham.  He is under team salary control and would seem to offer everything that Shane Robinson (arbitration eligible) does plus a little more, but at league minimum salary.  A bit of pop off the bench and plus defense could earn him a spot as the Cardinals fifth outfielder next year.  That would be, dare I say, Phamtastic.

These are my top prospects, what are some of yours ?  Please let me know in the comments and make sure to read some of the other UCB  member picks.

Posted in 2014 Season, United Cardinals Bloggers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sep 19-21, Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis

Birds Eye View Header

At this point in the season, there are only two things you need to know. (1) there are only 9 games remaining in the regular season and (2) the Cardinals are currently sitting on top of the NL Central standings with a 2 1/2 game lead over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates.  Clarity is a beautiful thing.

cardinalsFor this, the final series with their divisional rivals from Ohio, the Cardinals have three objectives.

First, and most important, lose fewer games than the Pittsburgh Pirates.  That may be something of a tall task as the Pirates are 8-2 in their last 10 games and they next face Milwaukee, where the Cardinals all but ended the Brewers playoff chances.   Here is a quick look at the remaining games for the Cards and Pirates.

Cardinals Schedule Head to Head Pirates Schedule Head to Head
Sep 19-21 Cincinnati (71-82) 10-6 Sep 19-21 Milwaukee (97-74) 5-11
Sep 22-24 at Cubs (68-85) 9-7 Sep 22-25 at Atlanta(97-74) 1-2
Sep 26-28 at Arizona (62-91) 3-0 Sep 26-28 at Cincinnati (71-82) 6-10

Don’t take much comfort in the Pirates losing record against their remaining opponents any more than you should already be proclaiming the Cardinals as NL Central champs.  There is a lot of baseball yet to be played.

The second mission may prove more difficult.   Of the three division leaders in the National League, the Cardinals have the worst road record (36-39).  OK, let’s play that more optimistically – they have the best home record (49-29).   That would seem to suggest they would benefit the most from having home field advantage.   Let’s take a quick look at the home field standings of the teams most likely playing in October.

Team Record Magic Home Number
Washington  88-64  –
LA Dodgers  87-66  9
St. Louis  85-68  7
San Francisco  84-68  7
Pittsburgh  82-70  5

Winning home field throughout the National League playoffs might be an unrealistic goal at this point, but securing that against the first round opponent may be within reach.  Should the Cardinals get the Dodgers in the divisional series, as it looks right now, forcing two Clayton Kershaw starts in St. Louis might be the difference in a series that on paper is too close to call.

The final thing to be settled over these remaining nine games is who will be on the post-season roster and in what capacity.  The outfield appears to be set with Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk in the strangest platoon you could imagine.  Catching also seems a no-brainer with AJ Pierszynski  in the backup role.  The last roster moves prior to the September callups lock in Pete Kozma in the final spot.  The two question marks are Tony Cruz and Xavier Scruggs.  At this point, it doesn’t appear that either will make the club, leaving the team with a weakened bench and lack of first base depth.  Though he scored the winning run in last night’s thrilling extra inning game, Matt Adams has been struggling at the plate lately.  Both Cruz and Scruggs have 9 games left to change some minds and kick somebody else off the roster.

The pitching situation is about as clear as water from the Mississippi River.  Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller have pitched well enough recently to earn not only a spot, but one where you expect a win each time out.  Marco Gonzales has also looked impressive and should get some consideration for post-season action, in some capacity.  That leaves John Lackey and Michael Wacha battling for the final  spot in the rotation.   The Cardinals gave up a lot of talent to acquire Lackey, and for one reason – pitching in October.  He has a big game reputation but has yet to put that on display in St. Louis.  Michael Wacha has perhaps a bigger reputation considering what he did in post-season last year.  But he is still in a rehab situation and hasn’t looked sharp in any of his recent starts.   Each will get a start in this series with the Reds.

The best case scenario for the Cardinals is that both step up with Lackey in the rotation and Wacha in the bullpen.  If either pitcher steps up in these final starts, it will be a huge lift to the Cardinals for October.  If both do, the Cardinals could go deep into the playoffs.

The bullpen is an embarrassment of riches in comparison to the rotation.  Trevor Rosenthal, Pat Neshek, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Randy Choate are all locked in (Choate due to his contract situation, the others for recent performance).  With options available on the remaining relievers, Mike Matheny can choose between Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales, Kevin Siegrist and Sam Freeman to fill out his bullpen.

reds-logoFor the Cincinnati Reds, injuries and a second half collapse has turned them into the role of spoiler.  They should not be taken lightly over this three game series.  While they will not be playing baseball in October, a few of their players might take great pleasure in extending that same courtesy to the Cardinals.   These three games in St. Louis will complete a nine game road trip for the Reds where they lost 2 of 3 to the Brewers and were swept by the Cubs.   The Cardinals have won the last 11 3-game home series against the Reds.

Probable Pitchers

Friday, September 19 – 7:15 pm CDT

John Lackey (13-9, 3.97) vs David Holmberg (1-1, 6.00)

For John Lackey, this is simple – pitch like they guy the Cardinals thought they were acquiring at the trade deadline.  Don’t get thrown out by arguing balls and strikes with the umpire and channel all of that emotion into seven or more strong innings.  With the early ejection in his last start, he should be well rested.   A 13 inning game last night might put a strain on the bullpen, even with expanded roster.  Lackey needs to go deep and pitch convincingly.

For David Holmberg, just standing on the mound may be enough.  He is a soft tossing lefty and that is the Cardinals kryponite.  He made an emergency long relief appearance against the Cardinals  two weeks ago when starter Dylan Axelrod had to leave with an injury in the first inning.   He threw 5 2/3 scorless innings, keeping the Cardinals bats off balance.  He followed that by a six inning win against the Brewers.  Maybe with some preparation and seeing him the second time, the Cardinals will do better against him than they did the last time.  They can’t do worse.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Ohio

Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW (700)

Saturday, September 20 – 6:10 pm CDT

Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.14) vs Mike Leake (11-12. 3.65)

Michael Wacha has two more starts to earn some sort of role in the Cardinals post-season.   With Shelby Miller looking sharp lately and a good outing from John Lackey, the urgency to throw Wacha into October could die down a bit, but he remains an important insurance policy.  When on, he has shown to be a force on the mound.  There should be no pitch limit this time out – it will be his game to win or lose on his own.

Mike Leake is 4-5 with a 4.73 ERA against the Cardinals in his career.   The Cardinals have historically hit him well, but he silenced those same bats in his last start.  Which Mike Leake will show up ?  And which Cardinals offense ?

20050430-8304 Kyle scratching his head

TV: Fox Sports One

Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW(700)

Sunday, September 21 – 7:07 pm CDT

Lance Lynn (15-9, 2.68) vs Alfredo Simon (14-10, 3.35)

In any other year, fans would be dreading a Lance Lynn start this late in the season.  But 2014 has proven to be either a breakout season for the big right hander, or an outlier for those that don’t yet have confidence in him.   Lance Lynn is currently 5th in the National League in ERA (2.68), just ahead of Zack Greinke’s 2.75.  Let that sink in for a few minutes.   He may even finish the season in the top 10 for Cy Young voting.   He will not hit 200 innings this year, but will end up very close.   The easiest job in baseball right now might be his agent.

Alfredo Simon, the 33 year old right hander, was thrown into the rotation due to the Mat Latos injury and pitched well in the first half.  Since going 4-0 in June, Simon has been under .500 and his ERA has taken nearly a 2 run a game hit.   The 185 innings he has thrown so far are the most of his professional career and may be taking its toll.   His numbers suggest he is best used out of the bullpen, but was just not an option for the Walt Jocketty and the Reds this season.

TV: ESPN (National)

Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW(700)


This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

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UCB Progressive Game Blog: Los Angeles at St. Louis, July 19, 2014

Each year, members of the United Cardinal Bloggers get together and publish a progressive game blog.   For this season, it is a Saturday afternoon meeting between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals in what could be a preview of a playoff series in October.   Before thinking too much about that, let’s get through the game this afternoon.

We pick up the action from Doug at Baseball Geek in Galveston as the game moves into the eighth inning.   The Cardinals are holding on to a 4-1 lead with all of their runs coming in the first inning.

Joe Kelly gave the Cardinals all they could ask for in his second start since coming off the disabled list.   For seven innings, he kept the Dodgers in check, allowing just one run back in the third inning.   For Kelly, this would be the seventh time in his career in which he worked into the seventh inning, but only the second where he would finish it.   The other time was a 6-4 loss in Milwaukee last September.   All he can do now is watch as hard throwing left hander, Sam Freeman (1-0, 1.42 ERA) , takes over in the eighth.   Allen Craig, who pinch hit for Oscar Taveras in the seventh inning, stays in the game and will play left field.   Jon Jay moves from left to right field.

Freeman, who just turned 27 a few weeks ago, has been something of an enigma over his six  professional seasons.   Freeman has always pitched well in the minor leagues, striking out nearly a batter an inning.   He was exceptional last year, posting a 7-2 record for Memphis, all in relief.   His ERA over almost 70 innings was 2.97, which is a good number for the offensively friendly Pacific Coast League.   While he has had great success in the minors, that has not always been the case in the majors.   If there is a weakness in Freeman’s game, it is control.  He has made a noticeable improvement in that this season as you can see in his strikeout/walk rate, finally sneaking above the benchmark rate of 2:1 (2.25:1).

That wildness would get to Freeman this afternoon.  He wasn’t missing by much, but seemed to have a hard time finding home plate umpire, Ron Kulpa’s, strike zone.  In defense of Freeman, it took both Joe Kelly and Zack Greinke a few innings to find it as well.  Freeman had just three batters in which to find it.

The first man Freeman would face is Dodgers third baseman, Justin Turner.  Turner came into the game as part of a double switch with reliever Paul Maholm, who would be batting in Juan Uribe’s spot in the order.   After getting ahead of Turner, a 1-2 count, Freeman misses on three straight pitches, yielding a leadoff walk.

That turns the dangerous Dodgers batting order over and brings up leadoff hitter, Dee Gordon.   Gordon was 2-3 with a stolen base and run scored in his previous three plate appearances.  Freeman needs to be careful here.   As with the previous batter, Gordon works the count full.   He slaps a high inside fastball into right center field.   A good play by Jon Jay cuts off the ball, keeping Turner from scoring.   Gordon ends up with a double.

That brings the tying run to the plate in Carl Crawford.   Crawford is 0-3 so far with a double play and strikeout.   On a 2-2 pitch, Crawford hits a fly ball to medium left center field.    It is deep enough to score Turner, but a good  throw by Peter Bourjos holds Gordon at second.   The Cardinals lead is now 4-2.

With a pair of right handed hitters coming up, Mike Matheny makes another pitching change, bringing in the right-hander, Pat Neshek (4-0, 0.69 ERA) .  This will be Neshek’s 45th appearance, leading all Cardinals pitchers.   If Neshek works out of this jam, Trevor Rosenthal will also make his 45th appearance in the ninth.   But that is a big if at this point in the game.

Matt Kemp will pinch hit for Yasiel Puig.  Puig was hit in the hand by a Joe Kelly pitch back in the third inning.   While it did not prevent him from playing in the field, a weak pop up in his last at bat suggests that his hitting may be a bit off as a result.   With the game on the line, Don Mattingly opts for Matt Kemp.

Neshek works Matt Kemp on both sides of the plate.  Kemp fouls off a couple of pretty good 1-2 pitches.   On a 2-2 pitch, Neshek floats an 82 mph slider over the plate that Matt Kemp swung through.   For most other pitchers, that one would have tied the game.  With Neshek’s deceptive delivery, it was just another frustrating strikeout for a right handed hitter.

Hanley Ramirez would provide much less drama in his at bat as he took a lot of big swings and came up empty.   Neshek works out of trouble and the Cardinals will take a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the inning.

The Cardinals go quickly in their half of the eighth inning.  With one out, Jon Jay lays down a perfect bunt for single.   Unfortuantely, pinch hitter, Tony Cruz, grounds into a double play.

After 8 innings, the Cardinals lead 4-2.    Into the ninth inning we go, and for that, I turn you over to Daniel Shoptaw at the Cards Conclave.




Posted in 2014 Season, United Cardinals Bloggers | 2 Comments