Catching Up, In More Than One Way

Yes, I’m now back in the saddle.  I hope that you enjoyed the wonderful coverage of the rest of the Conclave writers while I was gone, although if you did you’ll probably find this blog more of a disappointment from now on.  It is good to be back in the land of the living, as it were, though of course it’s just in time for another off day.  I swear, they did that to me on purpose.

The Quick Hits will suffice for most of the games I missed (though I still need to update the Hero/Goat standings) so let’s take a look first at the Brewers series, then I’ll have some thoughts on the moves the Cards made while I was up in enemy territory, just a couple of hours from Cincinnati.

Friday (7-4 loss)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  2-4, plus a walk, and three RBI.  That’s a pretty solid day from anyone.

Goat: Adam Wainwright.  When the first place team comes to town and you throw your ace out there, the last thing that you want to see is him give up seven runs.  Wainwright gave a lot of credit to the Brewer hitters after the game, but that still wasn’t what we are used to from #50.

Notes: Matt Holliday has found his power stroke.  Another homer in this one and it wasn’t the last one he had this weekend.  Oscar Taveras with a double and a walk after starting two days in a row, showing that fatigue wasn’t an issue in his spotty playing time earlier in the year.  The bullpen did a good job, though Jason Motte is still not quite Old Reliable like he used to be (two walks).  And Aramis Ramirez is still a Sith Lord (three for five, home run, double).

Saturday (9-7 win)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  You know that Ramirez line right above?  That was Wong’s output in this one.  Wong’s homer quickly tied the game at 1, his single plated two in the next inning.  (His double was wasted, actually.)  Nice to see him come out of his recent slump in a big way.

Goat: Peter Bourjos.  0-4 on a night when everyone else contributed (only Carpenter was also hitless but drew a walk, scored a run, and collected an RBI).  Bourjos should still get some time as I understand Jon Jay is dealing with a nagging injury, but it’s been so long since we’ve seen him out there it’s a bit of a strange sight.

Notes: Justin Masterson made his debut and, well, it’s a good thing that the offense showed up for him.  Six innings and five runs is no way to go through life, kid.  That said, it was his first start for a new team in a new league.  There could be some learning curve there.  Hopefully it’s a short one.  Jhonny Peralta hit home run number 15 in this one.  It was his first blast since May 11.  Still, he’s been a very productive signing.  Taveras had a two-run double to help ice the game.  Three straight starts, three straight hits.  There might be something here.  Aramis Ramirez: 3-4.  Doesn’t matter who you are, as soon as you put on a Cardinal uniform, Ramirez can hit you like Mike Tyson in his prime.  (No, Baseball Reference, not THAT Mike Tyson.)

Sunday (3-2 win)

Hero: Can we say Matt Garza‘s oblique?  No?  All right, then let’s go with Oscar Taveras for his very solid at-bat that produced a go-ahead RBI single.  Taveras was down 0-2 in that AB but worked the count even by taking some close pitches.  It was a veteran plate appearance by the rookie and it paid off big time.

Goat: Top of the lineup was a combined 0-8, so we’ll use our typical tiebreaker and say Matt Carpenter gets the nod.  Cards bunched their hits together in the middle of the lineup and it wound up being successful.

Notes: John Lackey had a much more successful transition to the National League than Justin Masterson did.  Of course, he allowed an RBI single to Aramis Ramirez in the first, because, Sith Lord, and when he followed that up with a home run in the second, people started to wonder about this acquisition, I’d imagine.  After that, though, nothing.  If Lackey is going to go seven and allow just two every time out, I’m all for it.  Matt Adams had a great day, 2-2 and a HBP.  I missed seeing Big Fill In The Blank while I was gone.  Trevor Rosenthal didn’t make it smooth, but he did strike out the side and lock down yet another league-leading save.  Take your Tums, but Rosie usually gets it done.

Scorecard83

@Cardinal_50’s scorecard of yesterday’s win.

OK, let’s see if I can’t take some uneducated looks at the roster churn that happened in the last week.  Again, I was basically off the grid for most of this, so if there are arguments or facts that I’m not aware of, please leave them in the comments.  I’d honestly like to know.

A.J. Pierzynski: This might have come more out of the blue than just about any move.  I’m not sure what George Kottaras did or didn’t do in his limited time in St. Louis, because 1-5 with a walk (and an RBI) wouldn’t seem to be enough of a reason to make such a radical change.  Pierzynski was available before the Cards signed Kottaras, so why didn’t they just get A.J. in the first place?  Did they think Tony Cruz could handle the extra playing time and then saw something that made them think he was going to be overexposed?

Cruz went 5-31 (.161) from his first post-Yadier Molina start on July 10 to his last pre-Pierzynski start on July 25.  It’s possible–I guess even probable–that the Cards had expected Cruz to do a better job there and Kottaras could be his occasional breather.  However, when Cruz stumbled, John Mozeliak thought that Pierzynski would be more suitable to a starting role than either of the catchers he had on staff.  It’s still a strange way to handle the situation, but I guess when you look at it that way, it makes more since.  Pierzynski wasn’t going to be happy to play behind Cruz as a backup, but when Cruz couldn’t handle the exposure, they got A.J. to play every day.

To be fair to Tony Cruz, 31 AB isn’t exactly a great sample to be making big decisions on.  While the Cards know what they have with Cruz, what they know shouldn’t have been impacted so severely by 10 games.  Mozeliak is usually more long-term, less panicky-looking.  While we don’t know everything that went into the decision, jerking Kottaras around looks panicky.

Now, is the move itself a good one?  Well, Pierzynski has gone 6-22 (.273) since joining the Cards, though three of those hits were in his first game.  He’s had one double and one RBI, so he’s not necessarily just tearing the cover off the ball, but he has done more than Cruz did over a longer period.  As for the whole personality thing, I think it’s likely he’ll be fine as long as the team is winning and he’s the main catcher.  I saw his quick interview on FOX Sports Midwest after the game yesterday and he seemed like he had some humor and some self-awareness, which is always nice to see.  Is he who you’d expect to be wearing the Cardinal uniform?  Not necessarily.  Then again, if Will Clark could become a Cardinal, and a well-liked one to boot, then anything can happen.

Justin Masterson: For the third time in 12 years, the Cards sent away an outfielder to acquire a pitcher from the Cleveland Indians.  In 2002, Chuck Finley came at the expense of minor leaguer Coco Crisp to help fill the void left by the passing of Darryl Kile.  Finley did well for the club but then never played again after that season.

In 2010 (ironically, the last time I was out of pocket during the trade deadline madness), Mozeliak sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego as part of a three-team deal that brought in Jake Westbrook (and Nick Greenwood from the Padres, who as we’ve seen this year is now more than just an afterthought there).  We all know about Westbrook’s time with the Cards.  Westbrook, like Finley, was a free agent at the end of the season when St. Louis made the deal, but unlike Finley he re-signed with the club and pitched a couple more seasons wearing the birds on the bat.

Now we have Masterson, who was obtained at the cost of James Ramsey.  Ramsey, let’s be honest, was always considered a bit of a reach as a first-round pick, though he’d played well enough in the minors for that label to fade a bit.  He was a classy guy–the Cardinal magazine just recently profiled him and his amazing charitable works as well as his clubhouse reputation–but he was blocked by so many outfield prospects.  I hope he has a career like Crisp and is very successful, but it was a cost the Cardinals could afford.

What about Masterson, then?  Masterson–who, like the two before him, is a free agent at the end of the season–has had some solid seasons in his career and, indeed, was an All-Star in 2013.  That said, as we have seen with the current squad, 2013 means basically bupkis when it comes to the 2014 season.  Masterson has given up five runs or more nine times–ten, if you count his first start with the Cards–but he teases with a couple of games where he took a shutout through seven innings.  Against the Red Sox on June 2, for instance, he had seven scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts.  He walked more (four) than he allowed hits (three).  So there’s talent there.  Will the Cardinals be able to tap it?  That’s the question.  You’d like to think that the scouting and the coaching staff feel like there’s something that they can do to help Masterson thrive under the Arch.  I don’t think they are just expecting the switch to the NL to be all Masterson needs.  I sincerely hope there’s more to their plan than that, at least!

As Tara pointed out last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven, Masterson hasn’t really been much of an innings-eater this year either, so he doesn’t have that going for him for a “shoring up the rotation” argument either.  The Cards got deeper in the rotation, sure, but was it a quality depth?  We may have to wait and see.  Masterson goes next against Baltimore.  He’s faced them already this year–gave up five runs in 5.2 innings.  Maybe we can use that as a baseline to see if there are some changes he will be making to be more successful.

John Lackey: Here’s the big one, not as much for the name (though that is pretty big as well) as for what the club gave up.  Allen Craig and Joe Kelly were homegrown Cardinals who were well integrated into the team and the community.  (Wow, those Cardinal Glennon Homers for Health commercials are going to be awkward going forward, huh?  Wonder if they’ll shoot a new one or two.  They should get Matt Adams to take Craig’s spot, for numerous reasons.)  Kelly especially had the personality that folks liked and he was a pitcher that had some success in the rotation.  He always seemed to pitch better than his peripherals would have indicated, but you could either mark that down to some grit factor or worry they were going to catch up with him eventually.

As for Craig, it’s just three years since he could have been named World Series MVP for his big hits in the 2011 Classic.  He’s been a hitting machine for so long that this year’s slump was so inexplicable.  Was he hurt?  He had to clear a physical before he was dealt, so it’s not an obvious injury.  Did he change his approach?  Did the injury last year make him hesitant in some way?  Figuring out why Craig dropped off a cliff is something Cardinal fans will be bandying about for a long time to come.

That said, it’s hard not to see this as a shot across Mike Matheny‘s bow by Mozeliak.  He’ll deny it ever came into the equation, but he couldn’t have been happy with the way Taveras was so often riding the bench while Craig was given opportunity after opportunity to get back to where he once belonged.  Many referenced the scene in Moneyball where Billy Beane tells Art Howe, “You can’t start Carlos Pena tonight, I traded him to Detroit.”  That was the feel of it.  Matheny has control of the lineup, but Mo can modify that control by making sure the players aren’t available for him to use.  We saw him do that in the Mitchell Boggs deal last year and it really seems like we are seeing it here again with this move.

As for Lackey, in his two years since coming back from Tommy John surgery, he’s put up 3.50-ish ERAs in the AL East.  He’s a solid top-of-the-rotation guy that makes the playoff rotation (if the Cards can get there) even better when you add him to Wainwright and Lance Lynn.  If Michael Wacha does return (and I’ll be honest, I don’t expect the Cards make a move for two pitchers if they thought Wacha was going to throw again in 2014), that’s a foursome you can stack up with just about anyone in October.

If what we saw yesterday from Lackey is what we are going to get going forward, I think it was a good deal.  Honestly, it was probably a good deal no matter, given that Craig probably was going to need a change of scenery by now to get on track anyway.  The fact that Lackey will pitch for the league minimum for the Cards next year is just icing on the cake, really.

All in all, the feel of the clubhouse and the organization as a whole shifted a bit with these moves.  After all, we know Pierzynski’s reputation and Lackey was a part of that “chicken and beer” Red Sox implosion as well as someone that beat the Cards on the highest stage.  The family feel of the organization took some hits with these moves (and the whispers against Taveras and his work ethic, which Joe Buck talked about on the national broadcast Saturday, apparently–I never expected “unnamed sources” to come out of the St. Louis clubhouse) but, as we know, baseball is a business.  You are out there to win, not necessarily to create a home away from home.  While a comfortable clubhouse is probably a good thing, there can be benefits in shaking things up.  Whether that will be the case here, I don’t know.

I look forward to catching up on some reading of the blogs that I missed, seeing what everyone else’s opinion on these were.  I hope you’ve already done that and these are fairly redundant to you by now.

Cards, because of course, host the Red Sox starting Tuesday.  (Freakin’ off day.)  Lynn will take the mound for the Redbirds.  Basically, his only exposure to the Boston hitters came in last year’s World Series.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Mike Napoli 3 2 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 .500 .333 .500 .833 0 1 0 0 0
Daniel Nava 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
David Ortiz 3 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 1.500 2.500 0 0 0 0 0
Dustin Pedroia 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Xander Bogaerts 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Clay Buchholz 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 15 12 4 1 0 0 2 2 4 .333 .400 .417 .817 0 1 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/4/2014.

Really not much there. Though it’s going to be weird for him to have to pitch to Craig, I figure.  As long as he keeps David Ortiz from doing what he did last October, we’ll be pretty happy.

Red Sox, who basically cleared out their rotation at the deadline, will counter with Rubby De La Rosa, who came over in the big Dodger trade a few years back.  De La Rosa has struggled at times this season, but is coming off a six-inning, three-run loss to the Blue Jays.  The Cardinal hitters haven’t faced him before, so that could be an issue, but you’d like to think the hitters could score a few for Lynn in this one.

It’s good to be back.  Hope you feel the same.  We’ll talk again Wednesday!

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