1892 On Through

While the 40-man roster is currently full, there will be at the very least one more change sometime between now and March. The Cardinals have stated that Carson Kelly will continue to see everyday work in Memphis which opens up a spot on the Opening Day roster for what should resemble the back-up catcher. 2016 ended as most campaigns do for the St. Louis catching carousel and honestly, does anyone think next season will be any different?

It will take plenty of time to figure out just how long Yadier Molina plans on holding down the fort behind home plate, and I am not going to be the one who pushes him towards the dugout. Molina has more than earned another contract in my opinion, but those discussions will surely come up in Spring Training between the front office and agent. There are two schools of thought on how best to fill the 25th roster spot for the Cardinals, but it will be a short-term fix no matter what. Could Kelly handle starting once a week and soaking up as much knowledge as possible? The obvious answer is sure – he kind of did that in September, right.

Instead it makes all the sense in the world to have the Memphis staff get even more familiar with Kelly, who has progressed faster than expected and will see many of those young hurlers before too long under the Arch. That means there will be either a reunion with a former Cardinal (see Fryer, Eric) or door #2 which is how I hope Mo fills the spot. Molina can serve as the back-up to Matt Carpenter at first base or just take some pressure off his knees while keeping the second catcher more involved. There will be plenty of opportunities to keep that .300 bat in the lineup plus provide a clearer picture of how Kelly fits in starting in 2018.

Molina and his agent surely have discussed how he wants to finish his career and can look at how Albert Pujols endures yet another rehab in hopes of extending his playing days. In order to catch the Cubs, St. Louis must upgrade the entire roster and that starts with the spot most fans would prefer not to see playing. That philosophy has worked for the last couple of decades but must be revamped when you look at the most recent World Series. Chicago utilized three catchers while Cleveland relied on a little known back-up all throughout October.

Giving Molina more starts at first base or DH on AL road trips also opens up more playing time for a catcher who normally wouldn’t think about signing with the Cardinals. It will definitely not be a timeshare situation but with plenty of quality catching options on the market, that is something to watch over the next month. Enjoy the holidays everyone as St. Louis finished their shopping early but that doesn’t mean a last-minute deal may show up under the tree.

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Changing of the Cards

Much has already been written about the shorter than expected October for the Cardinals, so that part of the story can be filed away with the other misses of recent memory. On the night when the NLCS continues on without St. Louis, one other team in recent memory also ended its season too soon but led to greater things.

It is hard to believe that Matt Holliday has been with the organization since 2009, but his stellar stretch carried the flawed squad to the first of many showdowns with the Dodgers in the playoffs. It was a disastrous series that ended before anyone knew what happened but certainly set the stage for the current run of success by the Birds on the Bat. Surprisingly, that may also be the other year that stands out for two reasons. The offense led those Cards to the NL Central crown but outside of a pair of aces and an All-Star closer, a complete 25-man roster was hard to construct.

The loss of Troy Glaus for all but September plus the end of Chris Duncan‘s time under the Arch were just a couple of the noteworthy issues, not to mention mid-season acquisition Mark DeRosa was never truly healthy enough to fill the gaps. Sound familiar? When you also factor in a starting rotation that featured Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer as well as a shell of what Kyle Lohse did the year before, you start to wonder how St. Louis managed to win 91 games.

As rough as the ending was that year, it mirrors the feelings many have heading into another long, uncertain Winter. The front office was able to secure the services of Holliday following his impressive audition, and that certainly will be  job number one for John Mozeliak in regards to Jason Heyward with plenty of resources at his disposal. My focus, however, happens to fall on the other 23 members of the roster who are not slated to occupy one of the corner outfield spots.

Typically the competition of sorts involves a rotation spot or possibly the long man out of the bullpen. Rarely do you find the Cardinals hurting for options on the mound, but that will be the biggest question mark right out of the offseason gate. Will the front office dive into the deep water and snag an front line starter? What a about a trade from the outfield depth to get a proven arm to clear up the questions?

One thing we now know for sure has been said by Mo himself and involves how the squad will be built moving forward. If you look at the remaining teams in the playoffs, each made key moves during the season as well as before it to strengthen the base. It is now up to St. Louis to replicate that philosophy and come out swinging in free agency. That doesn’t involve overpaying just to make a splash, but it wouldn’t hurt to show the rest of the Central that 2016 belongs to the Redbirds.

After getting the opportunity to watch some of the postseason, there are two similar veterans making many more friends in the game by making plays no matter the situation. They also will be free agents and just the type of player needed to add firepower from multiple positions. Daniel Murphy gets extra points for sharing a birthday with me (poor guy) and for being the type of glue guy who just wants to play. He would be a very nice complementary piece who has stepped up on the biggest stage and will get a nice deal out of his October.

The other guy on my radar will not come as a surprise, since I have been hoping to see Ben Zobrist wearing a St. Louis uniform going on at least five years now. He is the perfect weapon in my opinion, and the Royals have thrived since adding him mid-season. Kansas City was still in first place but much like the other Missouri team, there were question marks about the lineup as well as one spot in the field. Zobrist was brought in out of necessity when KC lost an All-Star, and he has since locked down second base for defending AL champs.

The Cardinals may not have very many holes coming off their 100 wins, so it is vital to add the right pieces to make sure the team chemistry continues to flourish. That won’t be an issue with either one of these players who aptly fills the role of super utility and then some. Having options never gets in that way and also frees up guys who may be struggling to get a breather without the team missing a beat. 2009 and 2015 may forever be linked as what could-have-been seasons, but the time to do something about it is right around the corner.

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Mozeliak Must-Do Memo

For the first time in five years, the Cardinal front office has a mission that involves catching a club from the same division. It isn’t just any team either, as the Cubs announced the beginning of a much different rivalry on the biggest stage possible. Wrigley witnessed the dawn of a new age if you will, and I honestly think St. Louis baseball will now be better for it.

Think back a decade to how great the competition was with Houston for what turned out to be a short window of time. Now fast-forward to the epic battles with the Reds, Brewers, and Pirates in that order. They were all great contests, but no one could stay on the same level as the Cardinals for long. Chicago showed up to the party a year early, kicked down the door and decided October 2015 certainly would be unlike anything we have ever seen.

Now that John Mozeliak knows the objects in the mirror are definitely closer than they appear, the real work is about to begin. No more surefire answers are waiting at Memphis and to be honest, the one thing that stood out to me more than anything else down the stretch was the age of the roster. Everyone keeps talking about the St. Louis core, but take a look at these numbers — 34, 35, 33. Those are the respective ages of Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina.

Plenty of answers will come in the next month or so, but the bottom line has to be about getting younger. That is truly the only way to stay competitive with the likes of Chicago, New York and everybody else in the National League. I know he has quite a bit on his plate already, so to help him out here are the pair of items in order of importance with even a timeline for Mo. And to think there are those fans out there drowning their sorrows in adult beverages or ice cream — ha!

Number one will be no surprise to anyone so let’s just get this out of the way, shall we. The easiest way to help keep the roster younger already wears the Birds on the Bat, and he just experienced what had to be the final piece of the contract puzzle. Jason Heyward enjoyed a remarkable season and made himself a very rich man in the process. He can not be allowed out of town under any circumstance, unless he wants an armored truck following him at all times. To put this into context, it would be more shocking for me to see Heyward donning the #22 elsewhere than when Albert Pujols left town.

After being right in the middle of a thrilling, yet short, postseason run, Heyward won’t need much pushing to get the deal done. Mozeliak should have this accomplished before Turkey Day, leaving plenty of time before the Winter Meetings to give every Cards fan one more present under the tree. Wainwright has been the pillar who rightly deserves his place atop the rotation. His amazing comeback was uplifting, and he looks poised for another Cy Young run in 2016. What he needs now more than ever is the true second starter to slot right behind him, but that won’t come easy or cheap.

The thoughts for this post actually started last month before Carlos Martinez unfortunately added his name to the list of the walking wounded. He actually possess the whole package of youthful energy, a willingness to improve as well as the wicked assortment of pitches that have left many teams drooling in the past. His name will come up this off season but don’t worry fellow St. Louis supporters, your local cup stacker won’t be going anywhere.

More than anything else, I was really at a loss for who should have been excluded from the rotation heading into the playoffs. Those worries have long since been replaced by the desire for a true ace, and those don’t grow on trees. They also cost a ton in free agency while rarely helping with the youth movement so best to avoid the David Price suite this December. It isn’t completely misplaced to want that southpaw but not for the crazy amounts of money it will take to reel in this year’s top catch. And while some will say the funds are worth it, my argument has always been the payroll can be better dispersed in a variety of other ways.

What has always fascinated me about building a roster also happens to be Mo’s biggest issue heading into 2016. You rarely see a Cardinal team swimming in the deep free agent waters anyway, but my deep sea expedition will impact the rotation in a number of ways. By my current count, you still have six and maybe seven names in play after removing John Lackey from the mix. It will be hard to see him go, and something tells me the NL Central may still be his home. Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn both become interesting names to consider as well, and I just don’t see both reporting to Jupiter next March.

The trade route gets expensive anytime prospects are mentioned, but that is the best way to ensure the rotation gets younger. Two other lefties have been on my radar for years, and this is the December where one needs to be looking for real estate in close proximity to the Arch. Chris Sale and Matt Moore have more in common than just team friendly contracts, but that is probably the best place to start for the pair of 26-year olds.

Sale still has Kershaw-like swing and miss ability, but this past campaign was arguably his least successful for the other Chicago team. The White Sox won’t be giving him away under any circumstances, so that means St. Louis will have to sweeten the pot. You can never have enough outfielders, however, so that is where the conversations would start as well as a nice landing spot for Indiana native Lynn as well. Yes, it is a reach to think the Cards will have to make an impact move for a pitcher after dealing away a few, and that is why the timing works.

No one else is going to take pity on St. Louis, and this may be one of the few winters left where a homegrown talent doesn’t need an extension. That means snagging a guy like Moore from the Rays would be cheaper as far as prospects go and also enables much more flexibility in the years to come. Tampa Bay once had high hopes for Moore until injuries derailed nearly all of the last two seasons. He will be fully recovered from his TJ and positioned to be a very nice addition to a staff so why not move from the once-dominant AL East to the imposing NL Central.

The Rays actually line up as possible trade targets in a few different scenarios, so they could actually be quite busy as well in the coming months. Garcia or Lynn have attractive contracts for Tampa and both can be mentors to a very young starting rotation. If everything was equal, the package of Heyward and Sale before Christmas would go quite a long way to helping everyone forget the less-than-storybook ending this evening. It is true you can’t win them all, but that has never stopped anyone from trying.

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Matheny May Never Learn

Look, I feel the same way about Game 2 that every other St. Louis fan does. It was a game that felt very winnable by the Cardinals and impacts pretty much every other decision going forward in not only this series but the other possible two as well. And while I’m really trying my hardest not to be overly dramatic, the last 24 hours only made the next 24 slightly less agonizing.

To put it simply, the Cubs enter a pair of contests at Wrigley with every intention of not returning to Busch until 2016. That is a less than comforting thought to anyone outside of Chicago who would rather not move to a non-English speaking country with no internet or any other form of media. Both squads have proven they belong but sadly, that isn’t going to cut it for either moving forward.

The ‘Loveable Loser’ tag has been disappearing from the North Side ever since they tabbed Joe Maddon to run point. He was the perfect man for the job and you know what else? Maddon would have looked awfully good wearing the Birds on the Bat as well. Mike Matheny can afford to learn a few things from the veteran skipper, the first and most important being when to call a player on their bluff.

Jaime Garcia won’t be the center of this piece as he was here, but he rates very highly on the you-know-what list. Maybe we were all wrong to put too much attention on the value of a manager, especially as Matheny was swiftly navigating through the minefield of issues this summer. The former Cardinal has learned quickly on the job and in any other city, that very well may be enough.

I was even finally starting to come around, as the additions to his staff over the years seemed to bring it all together. The four consecutive trips deep in October is an amazing story with surprising outcomes if you actually look at it. No one else honestly could have stepped in without missing a beat or wanting ‘their guys’ like Matheny did and have that kind of immediate impact.

What it comes down to then revolves around one key factor. As good as Matheny has become at getting the pieces to fit in the system (using younger players especially), he still fails to make the tough call in the worst spots. Game two was lost before it began, as Garcia was again not held responsible for a lack of communication. Yes, he wanted to give it a go and by all means, the Cards did need him. But they needed the very best he could offer, not the Spring Training version.

And while the news did come out that Matheny had a Plan B in place, we will forever be left with why him, why now no matter what happens in Chicago. Maddon, on the other hand, seems to be clicking at just the right time. He struggled early but just take a look at that roster from April to June to know why he will be the runaway winner of the MOY award. It wasn’t until the poster child of the Cubs’ past was relegated off his preferred position that the Baby Bears grew up in a hurry.

Starlin Castro in many ways mirrors some of the same issues found with Garcia. Multiple managers have tried and failed to get the best out of the gifted player, but he just seemed to operate on a different wavelength than those around him. Maddon found the right button to push, though, and Castro found only two doors left with neither labeled shortstop. He chose second base over a ticket out of the windy city and has not looked back.

Make no mistake about it, Maddon will be a thorn in the side of St. Louis well past the next two or even three games. He has Chicago playing with extreme confidence while cracks are beginning to show on the other side. Matheny rarely second-guesses announced decisions, but even that has changed after the trip up I-55.

No one can predict the outcome of October baseball, and we all will be watching with just as much hope and excitement in what is sure to be one wild pair of games. I’m just a little less confident that Matheny has finally figured out what his predecessor seemed to do all-to-well. Nope, I won’t compare a Hall of Fame manager to a guy who literally walked in from the booth to take over. He has fared quite a bit better than many of his counterparts but that’s not the issue, is it?

The window of opportunity in the National League closes with every passing month it seems, and the Cardinals are not getting any younger. Now it is time to see if Matheny really has any surprises left or if the questions start to get increasingly more difficult to answer.

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Can Cardinals Co-sign?

When all is said and done, the 2015 edition of the Cardinals will be deemed a success no matter how far they play into October or even November. People will talk about how good the rookies have been and that the future on offense is red hot. There will also be those in St. Louis who look at whether or not Jason Heyward is worth whatever amount of money gets thrown his way.

And while all those conversations are perfectly well-founded, they won’t tell the whole story about how the NL  Central was won. Two starting pitchers key to success under the Arch are front and center for the Chicago series and honestly, they both deserve to be back in 2016. Jaime Garcia takes the stage this afternoon as one of the ultimate feel-good stories in recent memory. Along with John Lackey, the Cards do not make it to 100 victories without him and have the opportunity to take a commanding lead over the Cubs in the NLDS.

Life in baseball hardly seems fair, however, so for one of the aces this run will be their last hurrah donning the Birds on the Bat. Garcia was the complete unknown coming out of Spring Training, but he again looks like the guy St. Louis needs at the top of the rotation. There also was a strong chance that his two option years were a mere formality because there was no way a competing team could afford the risk. Now the two extra seasons have become a bargain, quite a turnaround for both sides. But is that enough to ensure that Garcia takes the mound next Spring with the STL on his cap?

On the other side of the coin, Lackey became the forgotten man in a rotation that featured as many as four other prime time options from the right side. That quirky contract garnered more attention than the man himself, and it only added to the mystique surrounding one of the best big game pitchers around. Lackey knows how to win and because of that, his services will be in great demand once the postseason is over. As an impending free agent, the Texan who has played all over the map will not be (pardon the pun) lacking for options. The question now becomes how can St. Louis possibly let him go?

It is my completely biased opinion that of the two, both should stick around awhile longer so here is what must happen. The law firm of Wainwright, Garcia & Lackey gets key billing atop the rotation no matter what it takes to convince Lackey to hang his hat for a few more years. Based on the competition of the market, this won’t take more than a two or three year deal at a moderate rate. Garcia has that pair of options that are almost a laughable decision now for the Cardinal front office to make. There is almost no such thing as too much starting pitching, but a decision will need to be made in this scenario.

Impending starts in this postseason notwithstanding, Wacha won’t be leaving the rotation anytime soon. He is next in line to receive an extension and has there ever been a better 4th starter? That leaves one of two stalwarts also responsible for the historic run without their chosen role. Unfortunately, this call basically comes down to the future, and that fight will never be in Lynn’s favor. Martinez will only be a clean bill of health away from securing a place in the rotation, and that leaves a new destination waiting for Lance.

I type this with more sadness than initially felt given a fondness for the way Lynn goes about his craft. He does have a touch of Lackey in him, not afraid to show his emotion on the mound. The problem then, of course, becomes whether or not you try to flip the still cost-effective Lynn (and Adams but that is another story) to the American League after you keep Lackey from sauntering up the I-55. Because no matter what, nobody wants to see the old buddies reunited wearing any shade of blue. Time to strap back in for round two of the emotional tilt-a-world, hope everyone took their motion sickness meds!

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Trading TCU Teammates

It truly is a shame that the National League Divisional Series doesn’t have a story line to drum up interest. Or if there was an interesting plot twist to spice up the action, maybe those national media outlets would be paying attention? Ho hum, the Cardinals are back in the playoffs again…yawn. Remember when those were the days!

Tonight in St. Louis will be historic for any number of reasons, whether it is former rotation mates squaring off or the return of Adam Wainwright to Busch. You also have the Molina watch and that whole thing about the Cubs calling out Matheny’s gangster squad. It is true that Chicago has been on a tear, so that is where this whole thing started. Momentum and drive go hand-in-hand but for a duo on opposite sides, it seems there is something in the TCU water.

With all the talk about Jake Arrieta turning into Superman every five days, did the Cards catch a break in the DS format? Most importantly, with the eyes of baseball about to capture of glimpse of what could be the key NL match-up for the next decade, who will step up for the Birds on the Bat and crush everyone’s Baby Bear dream? My money is on the slugging third baseman who spent two years as Arrieta’s teammate a lifetime ago. Matt Carpenter‘s story has been well documented in baseball lore, and the video game numbers displayed by the former Frogs in 2015 have the pair on a collision course.

To say that both players have exceeded expectations would be putting it mildly, and the series will hinge on the pivotal Game 3 in Wrigley. Before they get to Arrieta’s spot in the rotation, though, Carpenter has the opportunity to put some distance between the long-time rivals. He is back atop his perch with possibly the strongest St. Louis lineup to date, and they will need to strike early and often to stop the Cubs.

Where the Cardinals have thrived most over the last decade has to be the draft success that begins with players just like Carpenter. Every team passed on the fifth-year senior until the 13th round in 2009, the year before Arrieta made his major league debut in Baltimore. One of my former co-workers is related to the hurler and since she is a devoted St. Louis fan, it was better that he was an Oriole.

After his third consecutive sub-par season, everything changed just before Independence Day in 2013. Arrieta was quite possibly the throw-in piece that Chicago received in the deal and well, the NL Central hasn’t been the same since. As we know all too well, that is the summer that Carpenter could not be stopped and fell one hit shy of 200. If last year was the coming out party that proved the extension was well worth it for St. Louis, this year’s dominance by Arrieta means the duo will be spending part of next July together as well.

The only difference then for both sides is it will be the one time everyone roots for the I-55 teams together. Since Arrieta should be starting the All-Star game with Carpenter playing behind him, thoughts of this weekend will be long forgotten, right?  Get ready for a crazy ride, because the next week may feel like a roller coaster with no place to stop. And for those of you like me who have family that pull for both sides, good luck since the fun is only beginning!

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Once the decision was made to wait and see who won last night, I knew the M & M boys (Mo and Matheny) would beat me to the punch. And as much as I was prepared for anything, credit has to go to the Cardinals for making the tough choices. Already posting a roster that possesses the most playoff experience of any club, St. Louis left two veterans off who were key contributors in past Octobers.

While the decision to keep Jon Jay surely will be debated based on usage, it really shouldn’t come as that big of a shock. Especially since Tommy Pham also is active, Jay doesn’t figure to see many chances against the Cubs. Yes, I’m prepared to be very wrong as Jay takes Arrieta deep twice in Game 3 but what I can say — you are welcome.

The other key reserve who also factors in at the expense of a known quantity, Greg Garcia earned his way on with the bat. Given that he will be the lone middle infield back-up, however, puts his chances at taking hacks few and far between. That’s okay since he will have Tony Cruz to keep him company now that the on-field manager is back.

If you are looking for the x-factor in what sets the Cards apart from Chicago, start and finish your search with Yadier Molina. Cruz filled in admirably down the stretch and quite possibly earned himself one more year as the understudy, but Molina someday will hang his #4 on the outfield wall at Busch. Of course no one knows how much pain Yadi will be dealing with either behind the plate or while taking his hacks against the Baby Bears, so that will tell the story.

St. Louis is far from the wounded club that desperately needed the expanded rosters for depth, and the break served to refresh a number of lingering concerns. Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk both battled timing issues as well as injury recover in September to solidify the roster. They join Jason Heyward and Stephen Piscotty  in rounding out a very impressive group of sluggers that looks to carry the Birds on the Bat to their fifth straight NLCS.

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NLDS Roster Roulette: Bullpen

With the match-up officially set, Friday’s Game 1 showdown pitting the Cubs and Cardinals will be hard pressed to live up to those backyard games my childhood best friend and I played each and every summer. Growing up in a split household and forced to watch the Chicago broadcasts was bad enough but now the entire nation outside of the Arch will be pulling for the Baby Bears.

It will be even sweeter then playing the role of spoiler and keeping those north siders on the outside looking in for yet another calendar year. And if the NLDS gets as crazy as we all expect it, there is no doubt in my mind that St. Louis wins because the battle of the bullpens favors the Birds on the Bat.

Setting the Table

Randy Choate and Jonathan Broxton could realistically play two very different roles this series. The veteran pair could be called upon anywhere from the second to the seventh inning and most likely not for more than a batter or two depending on how Maddon the mad scientist has stacked his lineup. Both have the postseason experience necessary to thrive in the fun-house that is Wrigley and most importantly, there is an insurance policy at the ready just in case.

Let’s Go for Two

How happy does the name Seth Maness make you when Matheny calls for him in the middle of an inning? There should be a written rule that Mike can not use the double-play bringer to start any inning, just in case the video has been lying for years. Maness just knows how to clean up other people’s messes and quite frankly, I expect him to be warming up pretty much all the time.

Remember Me

With all the weapons at his disposal, Matheny certainly will not be lacking for answers if and when one the games needs an audible. Especially during the first two games at home, an Adam Wainwright appearance in the bullpen may cause the umpires to pause the action. Second only to Yadi in current historical order, Waino’s return has been nothing short of magnificent for the Cardinals. The man did what he said he would do, and St. Louis will erupt when the manager makes the call for Uncle Charlie out of the pen.

Flip a Coin

While there should never be a doubt who the closer for the Cards will be for a long while to come, October does a funny thing to managers and bullpens alike. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist both possess an arsenal that can match any of the other shutdown duos in the game. It is very likely that depending on who is coming up in the 9th (looking at you Rizzo) and how the scoreboard reads, Siegrist easily gets a call to close it out.

The added benefit of having Wainwright in the mix can only serve to make the Matheny/Maddon dynamic all the more intriguing. And to be honest, raise your hand if you object to seeing Adam warming up for the 9th just one more time.

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NLDS Roster Roulette: Infield

One positive out of the dreadful final weekend was the ability to get some playing time for the rest of the expanded roster. In trying to maneuver the map of who makes it onto the 25-man NLDS roster, picking the hot hand honestly could use a legend for support. Where last night’s look at the rotation was straightforward, at least three of the infield spots can be written in semi-permanent ink, right?

First in the order and first in our hearts, Matt Carpenter won’t be moving on down the lineup in the near future. The newly-minted power hitter possesses the pop that can give any starter an early lead or just frustrate the living daylights out of even the stingiest staff. Carpenter truly does deserve MVP votes as well as credit for putting in time wherever the Cardinals need him.

The current third baseman honestly could play just about anywhere in the field and not miss a beat but as the back-up options for the hot corner are less than stellar, St. Louis relies on #13 to hold the line. It really doesn’t matter which NL Central foe wins the opportunity to face the Cards, since Carpenter will gladly greet them with a nine pitch at-bat just to set the tone.

Across the diamond truly becomes a carousel of sorts depending on how Matheny and company utilize the weapons currently at the ready. Before we dive into the deep water, however, there is a certain double-play combo who wishes not to be forgotten.  Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta have quite a few things in common entering October but mostly the extended break is its own reward.

Both of the middle infielders enjoyed better first half numbers by far, and they did it mostly by occupying the same spots in the lineup. Wong was an option in the top two spots before needing a breather and has settled in just fine in the lower third. His power numbers have drastically fallen off, again much like Peralta, so that will be something to watch.

Wong still has star potential in spades, so his spot on the roster was never in doubt. The very same can be said for Peralta as well, and no player on the Cardinals needed a week-long vacation more than the shortstop. Peralta was a warrior this season, and the All-Star carried the team for long stretches of the summer.

The Cubs surely haven’t forgotten just how much fun late-inning home runs can be at Wrigley, but only when St. Louis is doing the mashing. Unfortunately for Peralta and a few others, the power outage of late becomes the main reason for so much uncertainty at first base.

In a perfect world, a certain October celebrity from just last year would be anchoring down first base or at the very least providing one half of a powerful platoon. An injury to Matt Adams delayed any talk of starting full-time down the stretch and to be fair, it is easy to see him being left off the roster altogether. Adams is only an option at first, and that puts him behind two other players who have been healthy all year.

Mark Reynolds was brought in to be a part-time performer, but the Cardinals’ crystal ball could never have predicted just how much fun everyone was going to have. Reynolds was unable to continue his streak of 20 home runs, but he did hit some important bombs along the way and honestly played much better in the field than advertised. He was never in doubt to make the postseason for the first time since 2012 but shouldn’t be starting unless things get crazy again.

A mid-season addition to the infield is also someone who knows something about postseason heroics. Brandon Moss was secured for a bat that never really produced and as insurance that would be best served unused if you ask most St. Louis faithful. For a different opinion, though, just talk to anyone who still has nightmares about Moss trying for a third long ball in last year’s AL Wild Card game.

Moss won’t be seeing time in the starting lineup either but much like Adams and Reynolds, he gives the Cardinals some much-needed late inning weapons. There could be quite a bit of mixing and matching over the series, and it never hurts to have as many flexible pieces as possible.

With the sights on 14 position players expected to get the call, it is very likely all six of the offensive weapons are chomping at the bit for Friday. Now the real fun begins so stay tuned for the craziness that is sorting through bullpen arms aplenty as well as an over-sized outfield supply!

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Now that 162 have come and gone, the second season can officially start after another excruciating break. The Cardinals will host a very familiar opponent on Friday at Busch, as the National League Central represents over half of the playoff teams yet again. When we look back on this year’s adventures, there has been one single group that sets St. Louis apart no matter how you look at it.

Plain and simple, a third straight NL Central crown is not obtained without the stellar starting pitching group. This depth was a known quality way back in March but as the calendar turns to October, the names and order have certainly enjoyed a makeover of sorts. If anyone thought winning 100 games AND setting pitching marks not seen since the 1970’s without Adam Wainwright was possible, please draw my name in the XMas gift exchange.

We actually know very little about how the playoffs will play out this year, and that actually is refreshing for a change. Daniel made an excellent point earlier today, and I wanted to add that for a younger team the momentum factor would probably be a bigger deal. With all the veterans leading the way under the Arch, the Cardinals reached a high in Pittsburgh and understandably were mentally checked out for the most part in Atlanta.

But even though the offense was the main culprit for worried discussions over the summer, the revolving rotation never wavered even after losing another key piece last month. Carlos Martinez was certainly a strong candidate to take the ball in the NLDS, and his energy will have to be replaced for the Cardinals to advance. Look no further than the guy who was considered a Co-Ace coming into the season, as I present the ‘easiest’ group to pick for the St. Louis postseason party.

On the Rise

Lance Lynn was never even supposed to be a question mark entering the 2015 campaign. All the righty did was seemingly win while hurling 6.5 innings for 30+ starts so many, much like myself, were curious about his health once Wainwright went down. Lynn still managed to fight through a number of issues and actually the last three starts of the year yielded one earned run.

That’s not to say he didn’t have a roller coaster ride to get there, but Lynn certainly has earned his way on the four-man fun. He is a competitor and with his postseason pedigree, the Cardinals must have the good Lance in order to make a deep run into October. The other thing that I love to see this time of year is energy, and Lynn brings that in spades. The guy is never afraid to express the good or bad from the mound which will come in handy to fire up a stiff St. Louis club.

Maybe it is just me, but I have failed to think of any other team that actually calms me when they get behind early. One or two runs doesn’t seem to phase this group, and the stellar staff limits the damage better than most. It truly amazes me to watch late season games and NOT worry about the offense snoozing early. Will that still be the case next week? If Lynn and the next guy on the list perform up to their October standards, the Winter Meetings will be here before you know it!

Steady Eddy

With Wainwright and Lynn securely at the top of the rotation entering April, John Lackey became the forgotten veteran. I am the first to admit that last July’s trade left me underwhelmed about the prospects that Lackey had much left in the tank. He was true to his word about pitching for the minimum, however, and the Cardinals would be sunk without the Texan.

Lackey took the ball every five days, sometimes growled at everyone including Matheny, and endeared himself to all St. Louis fans happy to have that edge back on the hill. The postseason record speaks for itself, and I couldn’t be happier to be wrong about the guy entrusted to win a pair of games in each series if not throwing three times.

There will never be another Carp and with Waino relegated to an important bullpen role, Lackey quietly matches up with any team’s ace after putting together possibly his best showing over 13 illustrious season. The Cards would love nothing more than to help Lackey celebrate his third trip to the World Series before the veteran rides off to greener (and much more lucrative) pastures.

Never Left Out

The race for the final rotation spot back in March turned out much more exciting than anyone had initially planned. Martinez was perhaps the odds-on favorite simply because the team wanted him to win it. They didn’t trade Carlos last winter and were determined to have the electric fireballer as a future part of the core.

Out of the lefties to get a real look, Marco Gonzales arguably had the most upside after his quick ascent up the organizational chart. Almost no one was talking about the guy who surprisingly has appeared in parts of the last six St. Louis seasons but showed up in Jupiter on a mission. Jaime Garcia wanted everyone to remember the last time he was truly healthy and how filthy the movement is on all his offerings.

Garcia slots into any spot on the postseason order and honestly, he looks as dominant as ever before. Those two things together would have netted a lucky Cardinal fan any amount of money, as will the two option years the still only 29-year old has on his contract. Honkin’ for Jaime has never been sweeter than this summer, and you know he is one of many who can not wait to exorcise October demons starting Friday.

Combo Platter

If Garcia has something at stake going into the NLDS, Michael Wacha only wants the opportunity. The first time All-Star and staff rainmaker has had a whirlwind of 12 months that rivals anyone in the game. From the highest highs to ultimate lows, Wacha now has to battle questions about the stuff that carried him to a team high 17 victories.

The most consistent part of the rotation heading into September, Wacha stumbled down the stretch and now has to wonder if the Cards have the same faith in him going into must-win territory. No one doubts his pure stuff, but a game on the road in Chicago or Pittsburgh suddenly doesn’t look quite as promising.

Whether or not Matheny learned the quick postseason hook from his predecessor, Tyler Lyons will make the roster as insurance in case any of the four falter. It is hard to look at anyone else, including Wainwright, that has the ability to give multiple innings now that the roster appears slanted towards an increase of bench bats.

The final decisions are yet to be made, but it is very hard to any order that doesn’t have Lackey and Garcia at home followed by Lynn and Wacha. Much of that discussion will surely be dictated by how the first pair of games under the Arch play out, and I’m sure the coaching staff has dissected every possible outcome no matter which opponent survives the Wild Card battle royale.

Losing Martinez only clarified the other occupants but won’t provide the Cardinals clarity as another berth to the NLCS hangs in the balance. The record-setting staff has been there before and pushed each other to be considered the St. Louis stopper.

Now they get the opportunity to continue the magical run and further annoy the rest of baseball as long as possible. We don’t mind reading the hate mail so feel free to keep playing right up to say, Halloween, since asking for November would just be considered greedy!

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zeroHappy Kerry Robinson Day to all who have waited what seems like years instead of just a few short months for actual games that count! This was going to be a recap of the past 50 days that gave just a glimpse of the history dating back to 1892 for the Birds on the Bat.

As Daniel and I talked leading up to Opening Night, however, it was clear that this Countdown would not be complete without one more important note. Of all the quirks over the years, one Cardinal stands out above the rest in terms of the numbers. Maybe it is because I’m a fan of the NBA and have seen #0 worn more frequently, but I was stunned to learn that Robinson alone has donned the St. Louis zero jersey.

Will we ever see it again under the Arch? A quick bit of research showed how rare the digit is across baseball, but I have learned to never say never. Here’s to hoping everyone gets a chance to tune in this evening (or listen if that is more your thing) since the Cubs are welcoming the Cards for the first time in 24 years to kick off the season.

This project has a been a blast and already looking forward to finding more ways to get some past numbers in on the fun. Maybe a draft or trade deadline run? The magic #’s always seem to get the attention down the stretch, but as the picture below proves even zero doesn’t have to be lonely anymore.

kerry robinson

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Ozzie1

Days until Opening Night, Cardinals vs. Cubs on ESPN: 1

First player/coach to wear #1: Max Flack (1923)

Last player/coach to wear #1: Ozzie Smith (1996)

Player/coach to wear #1 in the most seasons: Smith (15)

Number of players/coaches to wear #1: 24

Last time not worn: 2014

Other interesting names tied to #1: Pepper Martin (1934-38), Whitey Kurowski (1941-49), Garry Templeton (1977-81)

(Information from Birdbats)

Ozzie Smith is the reason I’m a Cardinal fan.

That’s probably not entirely accurate.  After all, I live in an area that is dominated by the Cardinals.  My father was a fan of the Redbirds well before I was born and even without the Wizard, odds are I’d have trended toward the birds on the bat anyway.  Still, it was Ozzie that first captured my imagination and put me on the path to the obsession that you see before you today.

I still remember being jealous that my brother wound up with an Ozzie Smith baseball card before I did the year we started collecting.  (1987 Topps–he had the All-Star card.  I believe I was the first to get the actual card from that set.)  I still have a large collection of Ozzie cards and still remember how I came to acquire his rookie card, which sits in a frame right above this computer.

There’s always someone that grabs you, isn’t there?  Throughout this list, we’ve gone through a lot of great and not-so-great folks.  I bet almost everyone one of you has a different entry point, a different player that set you on the path to lifelong fandom.  Whether it was Bob Gibson or Stan Musial or Ozzie or Albert Pujols or Adam Wainwright, someone caught your eye and made you want to see more.  No matter what, that player has a part of you, a sentimental part that still holds them dear, no matter their flaws.

Every season gives the players another chance to grab the next generation and to make their mark on history.  Who will stand out in 2015?  Will we continue to see the run of Wainwright and Matt Holliday?  Will Matt Adams take another step forward?  Will Carlos Martinez burst on the scene and make us wonder why it took so long to give him a spot?  Or will someone new make the biggest mark?

I don’t know who, but I know someone will.  After all, we’ve got 162 games for magic to happen.  The odds are in our favor.

Tomorrow, baseball, real baseball, is here.  Let’s play ball.

 

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