1892 On Through

What an Encore for Reyes

Hard to ask for anything better out of the Memphis game, which will leave people talking all summer. In another of those where were you type of outings, Alex Reyes displayed everything that makes him a difference maker in the NL Central race.

Reyes did much more than get his work in for the Redbirds, thrashing the top PCL team in the process. Oklahoma City offered the perfect chance to showcase a ready Reyes, who was nearly perfect thru seven innings. He allowed one walk and only one hit against a lineup that featured a trio of .300 hitters at the top.

Out of 90 pitches, 62 went for strikes including 13 strikeouts. So if the question was how to proceed next week, Reyes just put the St. Louis rotation and Brewers on notice that he will be showing up to the Miller Park ready to toe the rubber – no questions asked.

As for the rest of the roster equation, it can’t be a bad thing to have too many good (and healthy) arms. It would be nearly impossible to trade for the type of arsenal Reyes brings every 5th day, so the creative answer will be fun to watch unfold.

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Strikeouts are not Boring

Reyes has shared the wealth, as every spot in the OKC lineup has now gone down swinging or looking, with Memphis leading 5-0 thru six.

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Reyes is Rolling

Only a pair of Dodgers have reached against Alex Reyes, who has mowed down OKC thru four shutout innings with 7 K’s.

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3 Up, 3 Down

Alex Reyes just continues to keep rolling, this time setting down OKC in order on just 10 pitches. Oh, and the three outs were via swinging K’s!

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All Eyes on Memphis

Typically a Thursday evening contest between the top affiliates of the Dodgers and Cardinals wouldn’t garner national attention, but it is fair to say Memphis has received an extra amount of media credentials leading up to Alex Reyes night at the ballpark. And instead of a bobble head giveaway or autograph session, the fans of the Redbirds are being treated with something much better.

Already staked to an early lead, Reyes looks to put the finishing touches on what can only be described as a dominating return from missing the entire 2017 campaign. The story has been told many times, but this time it includes a number of factors that impact a certain 25-man roster under the Arch.

Look for updates this evening that chronicle how ready the best pitching prospect in years is to helping the Birds on the Bat and after a 16 pitch first inning, let’s just say it could be a very long evening for the OKC Dodgers.

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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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