Wrapping Up 2017

Regular readers of the site may remember (but likely don’t) that the beginning of October is a tough time for me to blog.  My day job–well, my only job–takes me out of town and getting up early to blog runs the risk of me fighting sleep on the drive there and back.  When they are in the postseason, that’s as huge of a drawback, but when the season ending press conference happens in that same first week, you have to find a time to write.  Before we get into that, though, let’s quickly hit those last three games with the Brewers that meant nothing to the Cardinals and wound up finally ending Milwaukee’s season.

Friday (5-3 loss)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  Three hits, including a solo homer that was the only tally until the ninth, when he scored on Jose Martinez’s homer.  After worrying that DeJong had hit a wall playing deep into September for the first time, he went .429/.455/.762 in his last six games, the last of which was a pinch-hit appearance.  If the Cardinals could have done something this week, it might have been DeJong pushing them there.

Goat: Tommy Pham.  0-4 with two strikeouts.

Notes: John Gant gave up four runs in five innings plus, with the two batters he faced in the sixth reaching on a walk and a double and scoring when Josh Lucas gave up a couple of grounders that plated them.  For a fifth starter and a guy that’s been in AAA all year against a team fighting for their playoff lives, it wasn’t bad.  Not intriguing or anything, but not bad.

Sandy Alcantara pitched a scoreless eighth, then allowed two runs after getting the first out in the ninth.  Seeing what they are going do with him next year should be interesting.  Do they move him back to the rotation?  Does he go back to Springfield to start with an eye on a quick promotion to Memphis?  I’m sure it’ll depend on what the roster looks like between now and then but it should be interesting to see.

I know that the Cardinals needed to field a competitive lineup given the fact Milwaukee was still technically alive facing Colorado, but it still was pretty surprising that Stephen Piscotty started both Friday and Saturday, especially when Dexter Fowler did not.  You have Randal Grichuk (who, in fairness, did start in this one as well), you have Harrison Bader and you have Magneuris Sierra.  While there are degrees of competitiveness in any of them, all of those have been starters at one point in the season.  Perhaps you hold out Sierra, but Bader easily could have started.  Perhaps Mike Matheny was looking for something good to send Piscotty’s season on and, in his blessed way, he wound up with it Saturday.

Saturday (7-6 win)

Hero: Greg Garcia.  Two hits, including one that opened up the decisive eighth inning.

Goat: Luke Weaver.  While it didn’t matter and it wound up not being the deciding factor, seeing Weaver go out there and allow six runs in 4.2 was pretty disheartening.  Weaver allowed nine hits and four walks in this game and after such a great run during August and September ended the season with a 16.43 ERA in his last two starts.  It well may be that he got fatigued and he’ll be able to be stronger next season, but you really hate to see him go into the winter with such a bad taste in his mouth and with a few extra questions surrounding him.

Notes: Down 6-4 in the eighth, Piscotty came up with the bases loaded and delivered a two-run single that tied up the game, then he scored when Harrison Bader singled him in a batter later.  Thankfully he came through because he was riding a 0-19 going into that at bat.  This is a positive note to end the season on, it’s true, but you’d have liked to seen more than a .184 average the last two weeks of the season.  There’s so much up in the air with Piscotty for next year and I don’t know how you really can feel confident about what he’ll be.

I don’t know if it means anything or not that Fowler didn’t play at all in this series.  I mean, he’s a vet and he’s earned the right not to be in a lineup like that, but still, it’s a little different that he didn’t pinch hit or anything.  Maybe he had an injury, but they were overt in shutting down Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Tyler Lyons, and Adam Wainwright, so I don’t know why they couldn’t have said Fowler was out as well.  That said, Fowler did battle a lot of injuries this year, so it’s probable they weren’t going to risk any more.

The bullpen went 4.1 and allowed no runs and just four hits.  While Zach Duke probably won’t return and it’s still debatable that Juan Nicasio will, at least John Brebbia and Ryan Sherriff give a little hope for next year’s pen.

Sunday (6-1 loss)

Hero: Randal Grichuk.  His home run was the only thing that kept the club from completely shutting down.  One of only three hits by the Memphis Redbirds lineup.

Goat: Jack Flaherty.  The lineup didn’t help him much and he actually battled after a rough first, but getting down 4-0 on the last day of the season before you even get to bat has to get everyone in the mindset of getting this game over as soon as possible.  It seems pretty clear Flaherty needs some more time in Memphis–that 6.33 ERA tends to speak pretty loudly–but there’s no reason that he can’t be a solid option even by midseason next year.

Notes: Nobody hit.  Alcantara let up a couple more runs.  Everyone went home.

So that’s the way the season ended.  83 wins, just as our friend Corey Rudd predicted at the beginning of the season.  A really blah couple of weeks after a push that got them close.  We’ll look more at the season at some point in time, but let’s talk about the press conference from today.

First off, the biggest news was that the pitching coaches weren’t being retained.  Derek Lilliquist and Blaine Illsey were let go as the Cardinals wanted to try a different approach.  This is really interesting because, as many have noted, Lilliquist was a holdover from the Tony La Russa era.  What hasn’t been as noted (at least, I haven’t seen it but again, I’ve been busy) is that this severs the connection to Dave Duncan, widely regarded as the best pitching coach of his generation.  While there’s no doubt that Duncan’s influence will still be felt in the organization, there’s nobody in his old job that has learned directly from him or from someone who learned from him (with Illsey also going overboard).

Perhaps that’s the new approach that the Cardinals want to try, but that seems a little strange given that Dunc was one of the first to chart pitches, to analyze results, etc.  Maybe there was still some old-school gut in there, but for the most part the reason Duncan was so good was that he was prepared and he was knowledgable, things that you’d figure would have been passed down to Lilliquist.  Perhaps Bryan Eversgard, who is at Memphis and was in the organization as a player in 1998 when Dunc was around, is the keeper of that flame, but it’s less direct than it was.  Again, that may be a minor detail, probably is.  But it’s an interesting one to me.

I don’t know how much to assign to coaches, both hitting and pitching, and it’s hard to know exactly what Lilliquist was or wasn’t doing besides wearing his uniform without a pullover.  (Seriously, does anyone ever remember seeing his number?)  However, the pitching results have been solid for a while.  I don’t know how much blame you can assign the pitching coach for over-usage of bullpen arms or the slow hook that the manager tends to have.  Maybe they were lockstep with Mike Matheny on these issues and this is the organization’s way of trying to again manage the manager.  Maybe they all didn’t see eye to eye and this is John Mozeliak’s way of getting folks in line.

Whatever the case, this is the most direct shakeup that the club has had since Mark McGwire left after the 2012 season and perhaps even since TLR left, since McGwire left of his own volition.  When you couple that with what happened in June, you have a lot of folks being moved around the guy that many would suggest is the actual problem.  Again, the club wasn’t going to get rid of Matheny for a number of reasons (and you could argue that there are issues that don’t tie directly to him) but the line of defense between him and the abyss is getting smaller.  There’s not a lot else you can do.

Humorously, Matheny said something about being still new to the job in this press conference.  Mike Matheny has the fifth most games managed in Cardinal history and he will pass number 4, Billy Southworth, in game 10 of 2018.  While it is true that many of the other managers had experience elsewhere or in the minor leagues, he’ll have 1000 games managed before the end of April next season.  That excuse doesn’t fly anymore.  And I don’t believe that the rope is that long for him going forward either.

Other than that, the only really notable fact–besides the fact that he made mention that he’d only guaranteed Dexter Fowler “a lot of money,” not where he’d play–was the fact that this is still clearly John Mozeliak’s show.  There was at least an idea that once the season was over, more transition of roles would be held, but that obviously hasn’t happened yet.  I believe Michael Girsch only had two questions directed to him and went a significant amount of time without speaking.  Maybe he’ll still grow into the GM role, but as long as Mo is casting that long of a shadow, it seems unlikely we’ll see much of it.

That’s probably not everything we could discuss now but my time has grown short.  I would still encourage you to fill out the Top Cards on Twitter ballot/survey so we can have a good sample of opinions there.  Otherwise, I’ll be with you again when I can!

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