It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals have been playing games for over a week and a half already, isn’t it? Three weeks from Sunday will be Opening Day, meaning that spring training is more than half over. Time waits for no one, it seems.
Colin from The Redbird Daily posed the question yesterday in the ongoing UCB roundtable asking how our thoughts and feelings about the 2017 Cardinals might have changed through this run of spring training games, which finds the St. Louis squad sitting at 9-3-1 and tied with Pittsburgh for the best record in the spring. I’ll leave most of that for when he publishes the transcript later today, but I do think there’s probably a little less angst now than there might have been when the club started the spring. Things were a little rough around the Alex Reyes injury and there were (and, frankly, still are) legitimate questions around this team. However, so far in the spring, the answers to those questions have been answered in the affirmative. We’ll see if that carries over to when the games really count.
For instance, we saw another good outing from Michael Wacha yesterday. Wacha threw three scoreless innings yesterday against the Nationals and still has a 0.00 ERA this spring. The Post-Dispatch headline says that he’s “answering all the questions,” but I (and a number of people on Twitter) don’t believe that is the case. Because the biggest question is “how long can this last?”
If Wacha came to spring and was having physical issues and was struggling, there’d rightly be a lot of concern because after an offseason of rest and work, he should be doing well. As Zach Gifford reiterated on Twitter yesterday, Wacha’s usually had more velocity after significant layoffs. The fact that he’s strong and able now does not mean that he can be relied on for the entire season, which is the biggest question folks had about him coming into the spring.
Again, let’s not take anything away from the good start, because it is much, much better than the alternative. We expected Wacha to be good after the rest, though. We’ll see how long he can keep it up during the season. That said, the longer he can go with good results, the later any replacement needs to be considered, which allows people like Marco Gonzales to recover from injury and some of the lower level prospects to maybe make some noise at Springfield and get into the conversation. I think most folks would say that if Wacha’s still healthy and effective after the All-Star Break, that’s a definitive positive answer to all the questions.
Speaking of Reyes (as we briefly were above), he says he’s going to take this year of rehab as an opportunity to grow mentally, which is an amazingly mature approach to take to this enforced time off. We’ve worried in the past about what this injury means to Reyes’s future, whether he’ll be able to have all the pitches and the movement and the velocity that he had when he made his debut last year. I don’t think many of us have really considered the mental side of things. If Reyes really can pick people’s brains while not having to focus on preparing for his starts and all that goes with that, it really can be a great learning experience. You still wouldn’t want to go through it, but it’s possible that this year could be what gets Reyes to become a fully developed pitcher, which is a remarkable thing to think about.
Matt Carpenter isn’t going to play for at least another week with this back problem that he’s having. While he seems to be making slow progress, the team isn’t going to rush him because they don’t want to risk another oblique issue. It remains to be seen how missing a good chunk of spring will affect his preparation and his timing going into the season. We know that Carpenter struggled after having that oblique last year, hitting .229/.316/.410 in the second half of 2016. (He did hit a little bit better in his last 15 games, the furthest away from the injury, but that was still .245/.344/.415.) If he can heal completely from the back injury, perhaps he can be more like the Matt Carpenter we are used to. However, if it lingers in any form, I’m a little concerned that we’re going to see some struggles from the guy that will be written in as the third hitter every day no matter what.
Back to the pitching. I know we’ve hammered in the point that you don’t worry about spring training results and you don’t get too excited about them either, but it was very nice to see Adam Wainwright throw some scoreless frames Tuesday. Wainwright’s first inning this spring, you’ll remember, was a three-run, two-homer affair. He threw a scoreless inning after that, then the work on Tuesday. It would give credence to the hope that Wainwright will be more in line with what we expect Wainwright to be this year if he can keep that up. We’ll see how his next outing goes before getting our hopes up on that, though.
Seung-hwan Oh is on his way back to the Cardinals after the Korean team was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, which was probably not exactly what Oh expected. I think many people would have pencilled in the Korean squad to at least the next round, but there were some surprises in that pool play. Oh did well (at least, from what I saw) in the WBC and it’ll be good to get him back on the Cardinals to get that one appearance (where he allowed two homers) out of our minds.
It’s nice to see some veterans having good springs. The idea that Aledmys Diaz would be a one-hit wonder is tempered by his .474 spring average. Dexter Fowler has been exactly as advertised, hitting .462 but still having more walks (seven) than hits (six). Jedd Gyorko is hitting .375, but Jhonny Peralta is hitting .294 with three extra base hits. So far, it seems like everything is clicking and it’s been a good camp. While you shouldn’t expect the Cardinals to become this juggernaut because they are playing .750 ball in the spring, it gives some hope for the season, which is what spring is all about.
I’ve had a chance to talk with Jamie Pogue for our yearly chat and that Conversations should be up in the next day or so. As always, for podcast information, be sure to check out our site that will give you all the links you need to stay an informed Cardinal fan. We’ll play Pepper with the Dodgers today, so be sure to check back in for that!