Mike M

As you’re no doubt painfully aware, yesterday’s 9th inning started with a Francisco Cervelli ground ball up the middle.  Paul DeJong got to the ball but could not control it, and Cervelli reached on what was charitably called a ‘single’.  Two quick things on that: First, it should have been an error.  Yes DeJong had to go to his left, but it hit him in the heel of his glove as he was running.  Gotta make that play.  Second – Statcast scored that a ‘single to left’?  Really?  Ball didn’t leave the infield.

Eight pitches (and one no-pitch intentional walk) later, the Cardinals lost 4-3.  A painful ending on a day they’d fought back to tie the score twice, and taken the lead in the 8th on Yadier Molina’s solo HR.

After the game there was some chatter on social media blaming DeJong for the loss; to paraphrase, ‘hey if he makes that play they win.’  Not unreasonable. But wrong.

Here’s why – players make errors in the field all the time – be it physical errors like DeJong’s, or mental ones like throwing to the wrong base, taking a bad angle to a fly ball, that sort of thing.  Pitchers know this.  Pitchers need to push the miscue aside and make pitches.  Brett Cecil left way too many pitches up in the zone, out over the plate, with nothing on them, after Cervelli reached.  That’s why the Cardinals lost.

DeJong’s error did not help.  But after retiring Gregory Polanco on an OOPSIE ground-ball back to the box, Cecil had a guy on second and one out.  That’s manageable.  Leaving a pitch up to Jordy Mercer for a double to LF wasn’t in the manual.  The inning devolved from there.

Some folks also commented (again after the game) asking why Trevor Rosenthal didn’t pitch the 9th instead of the 8th.  Absolutely fair question.  Mike Matheny didn’t really address his thinking other than a vanilla quote about not giving out titles yet.  But, if I may:  Maybe Rosenthal worked the 8th because he’d pitched the two previous days, and the 8th is considered a lower leverage situation.  Or, maybe he worked the 8th because the Pirates’ two best hitters were due (in McCutchen and Bell). I think either reason is defendable.  Or maybe Matheny blacked out due to the heat.  After all he used Rosenthal with a 4-0 lead the night before.

Bottom line:  DeJong’s error hurt; but if Cecil makes his pitches, St Louis wins that game.

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Second Half Musings

Didn’t there used to be games on the Thursday after the All-Star Game?  Oh well.

Games in April count the same as games in September, but for the Redbirds the next 17 are critical:

  • 3 against a mediocre Pirates team
  • 4 against a mediocre Mets team
  • 3 against a mediocre Cubs team
  • 3 against a Rockies team that limped into the ASB (losers of 13 0f their last 18)
  • 4 against a Diamondbacks team that limped into the ASB (losers of 8 of their last 11)

The team has the talent to (a) get over .500 and (b) mount a serious challenge to Milwaukee, or the Cubs, or whichever NL Central team wakes up.  Now is when they need to exercise that talent.  Here’s hoping we’re playing meaningful games in September and don’t sell off assets at the deadline.

Other things to watch as the balance of the season unfolds:

  • Will Wacha move to the bullpen allowing Luke Weaver to start?
  • When is Diaz coming back to the majors?
  • How will Matheny manage the budding Dexter Fowler drama about playing CF?
  • Will the team ever settle on a permanent Second Baseman?  Is Tommy Herr still in playing shape?
  • Who closes if Oh (and Rosenthal, for that matter) continue to struggle?  Is Matheny agile enough to match up his best relievers with the situation regardless of inning (sources say no)?

Get ready for the stretch … run?

I won’t promise to write every day … life intervenes … but I am going to make the effort.  Hopefully that doesn’t drive down readership here. 🙂

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Old Habits Die

I didn’t plan to watch the All-Star Game this year.

But with Netflix on the fritz and a fidgety 5-year old next to me I flipped the TV over to cable.  I started looking at Honduras vs French Guiana but that looked initially like a Sunday game at my local park.  Over to FOX.  Carlos Martinez was on the mound; he’s worth watching.  Which led to the game staying on for the duration.  The game was well played and had some excitement to it.

So why would I not plan to watch it from the get-go?

The buzz isn’t the same as it was when I was a kid.  I remember quite clearly watching Dave Parker’s seed of a throw at the Kingdome to nail Brian Downing, Fred Lynn’s Grand Slam, and Fernando strike out 5 AL All-Stars in a row (and the subsequent comparisons to Carl Hubbell)..  But more than that, the ASG was an event – a big date in the middle of the summer.  It just isn’t anymore.  Frankly the HR Derby these past 2 years has been more exciting than the actual game.

Why that is could be due to several factors.

  • Baseball isn’t ‘America’s Past Time’ anymore.
  • Teams opt out of sending some of their best players now.  Injury replacements were always there, but pitchers who start on Sunday not going to the game is relatively new.
  • Interleague, but more than that,
  • I can watch every regular season game now on one device or another.

I really think the allure of the ASG centered around it not just being a chance to see the best players compete against each other.  It was a chance to see the other League’s players on the field versus your League’s best.  Prior to 1997 there were only 3 ways to do that – Spring Training (lol), the ASG, and the World Series.  If you lived in a town with 2 teams you could go to games for each League, but the rest of the country had to take advantage of one of those 3 opportunities.  The advent of Interleague meant you’d see the AL’s players on a rotating basis every year.  The current schedule ensures an AL team plays a NL team every night.

Then there’s local cable TV deals and MLB.TV.  I can watch any team at any time on my TV or mobile device.  I can even watch the local 9 on my phone via the Fox Sports One app (not that I really want to watch San Diego play without a COPIOUS amount of beer available).  I’m not seeing players in the ASG I haven’t seen already on TV, at the ball park, via a highlight package, etc, dozens of times.

Pandora is out of the box.  Time marches mercilessly forward.  The Baseball ASG was the one All-Star event that people would really watch – because even though it was an exhibition (and is again, thankfully), the mechanics of the game remained the same.  Guys competed to see which League was really better.  It wasn’t a glorified walk-through like the other major sports ASGs tend to be.  Now we know which league is better because we have interleague records to use as proof, and we can see guys in rival ‘leagues’ compete against each other any time.

I no longer mark my calendar and I don’t watch starting with the introduction of players.  When Baseball’s Mid-Summer Classic has to compete with a Gold Cup group stage game for my attention the shine is off the diamond.  It is, unfortunately, what it is.

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Oh. Hello.  It’s been a while. Hope you’ve been well.

The Cardinals are on a swing through San Diego, meaning it’s time for an annual trip to Petco.  Which contained more than the usual foreboding while watching St Louis on the west coast.  For some reason, the Cardinals have had lots of trouble handling the lowly Padres.  That, combined with an usually ugly start to the season, meant it could be a painful series to watch.

Andrew Cashner had been awful so far in 2016, but his awfulness was more than matched by Adam Wainwright’s crummy start to the season.  Which formerly good but suddenly mediocre starter would prevail?

Turned out it was Cashner.

Random thoughts on last night’s game:

  • St Louis put two on in the first, with one out, but Matt Adams struck out swinging.  This became a theme.  With two on and one out in the fifth – on second and third this time – Matt Carpenter struck out looking.  Hey at least Adams swung the bat.  Carp looked like he was guessing something other than a fastball on the 3-2 pitch.  St Louis didn’t have a hit with RISP.
  • Reuben Tejada has an interesting warm-up routine in the first inning.  He takes the throw from first, then writes something in the dirt behind short (at the lip of the OF grass), taps his thigh with his glove, and finally throws the ball back to first.  Not making fun of it; just have never seen something like that before.
  • Apparently opposing hitters are crushing Wainwright’s first pitch of the AB.
  • As if proving the point, Wil Myers took an 88-MPH fastball and drove it out to RC for a home run in the bottom of the first.  It was apparent the first time through the order Padre hitters were sitting on Waino’s opening pitch.  Then it became apparent the Padres were not only sitting on the first pitch, but Waino’s fastball.  He threw a lot of carly count curveballs in this game.
  • Wainwright never retired the side in order.  He did only face 3 hitters in the sixth, but walked the second man and was rescued by a great grab/tag/throw from Kolten Wong on Adam Rosales’ slow chopper.
  • Tejada didn’t look like he was a very fast runner in his first AB.  That said, the Padres grounds crew waters the crap out of the infield (which may include the first base line).  And, a couple of other Cardinal hitters didn’t look that mobile either (Matt Holliday for one).
  • Adams tried to bunt to beat the shift.  Good thought; sadly he fouled the ball off.
  • Cashner bunted for a hit, then Jon Jay hit one juuust out of Matt Adams reach (but close enough for Matt to get the top of his glove on it) that kicked into short RF.  Went for a single and sent Cashner around to third.  He eventually scored on Wil Myers’ line drive sac fly to deep RF.
  • I don’t understand why the Padres had Jay bunt with a man on second and no outs in the seventh.  Yadier Molina got the runner easily at third.  Thanks for the out, Padres.
  • St Louis also caught a break when Wainwright popped up a bunt in the fifth that landed, but Cashner never looked at third base.  He had Wong dead to rights, because Wong had to hold up just in case Cashner caught it.  Again, thanks, Padres.  Sadly Wong didn’t score.
  • Don’t fault Aldemys Diaz for getting cut down at home.  First, Matt Kemp threw wildly to second, and Diaz aggressively broke for the plate.  Give Rosales credit for alertly pouncing on the ball and firing a strike to the plate.
  • I saw someone steal third on Molina.  I don’t think I’d ever seen that live; not sure I’ve ever seen someone successfully do it (although I’m sure it’s happened).
  • Wong had 2 good swings, flying out to deep RF an lining a single to right, but Matheny pinch-hit for him in the seventh anyway.  Seemed odd.  Diaz was the pinch-hitter and was replaced by the new pitcher.  Jedd Gyorko pinch-hit later in the same inning but stayed in to play second.  In the ninth he pinch-hit for Tejada.  I was hoping the Cardinals would tie it just to see who was going to play shortstop, because all their middle infielder options had been used already.  Maybe Oh can play short.

The Cardinals really didn’t threaten that much, but they had their opportunities.  They didn’t produce anything with runners in scoring position and that killed them.  Wainwright settled down and pitched OK in the end. Seth Maness got hit pretty good in his first inning of work but got the ground balls working in his second inning.  All told it added up to a 4-1 loss. This was a winnable game but it didn’t happen.

Thanks for reading –

Post slightly delayed due to sleep needs and Little League responsibilities.

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Armageddon

I can honestly say, I would have waited a lot longer for this day to come.

The Cardinals playing the Cubs in the post season is something many in each fan base want.  I’m comfortable saying Cubs fans were/are more eager to see this happen than Cardinals fans.  Why?  Because it meant they were in the playoffs, something that doesn’t happen all that often.

As an aside, I found it hilarious the announcers Wednesday night felt compelled to tell us, ‘this is the first playoff series the Cubs have won since 2003!’  Enjoy your success Cubs Nation, we salute you winning something meaningful every 10 years.

This series is win-win for Chicago.  If they lose, well, they are the young upstarts who charged into the playoffs earlier than expected.  If they win, they knock off the Hated Cardinals – which, apparently, is a Capt Ahab-style quest in some quarters (looking at you, Deadspin).

This series is kind of lose-lose for the Cardinals.  Win, and that’s really what’s expected given regular season success.  Lose, and this fanbase will never hear the end of it. Even though we have DOMINATED this rivalry for 50+ years, a Cubs victory will become the trump card of all trump cards to end any argument.

“you guys haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945!”

“So?  We beat YOU in the playoffs, didn’t we?”

Normally I would put my faith in the battle tested team in these situations.  But I’m not so confident this year.  Why?

  • St Louis stumbled down the stretch against their main NL Central rivals
  • Jon Lester had a playoff hex placed on the Cardinals in 2013, which may not have been removed
  • The myriad of injuries this team is still fighting to recover from:  Holliday, Adams, Piscotty, Grichuk, MOLINA, da dum da dum da dum
  • Wacha’s control problems
  • No Carlos Martinez

And so on.

The best news – besides Wainwright making the post-season roster – is that we only have to face Jake Arrieta once in this series.  It is a LARGE comfort to know St Louis can win the series without beating Arrieta.

We will know right away how this series will go.  For the first time I can remember Game 1 is a must win.  It is absolutely essential St Louis holds serve at home.  If Lackey and Co can find a way to beat Lester our odds of winning increase dramatically.  Really Game 2 is must-win as well, but life gets a lot easier with one in the bag.  Put the pressure on that Savant Maddon, and the former San Diego Boston front office.

Really how Game 1 goes will determine whether I watch this series through my fingers or not.  And whether or not I post lookouts to warn of the Four Horsemen’s impending arrival.

Armageddon, indeed.

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Foreshadowing

If you ever wondered what it would be like to face the Small Bears in the playoffs, you’ll get a taste of it this week.

I think I can speak for everyone when I say I hoped the Cardinals would bury Pittsburgh for the rest of the regular season, when they played this weekend.  Alas, it was not to be.  I’d rather be 5 1/2 up than 5 1/2 back with 26 to play, but I’d MUCH rather the Pirates were staring up from a 9 1/2 game hole.  St Louis is still in good shape, but has lots of work to do.

Chicago can inject some more not-needed drama into September, especially if they take this series.  Old friend Dan Haren faces Lance Lynn today. Haren hasn’t pitched particularly well since joining the Cubs (5.87 ERA, 6.03 FIP, 4.63 xFIP) but has historically pitched pretty well at Neo-Busch (3 games, .265/.307/.361 slash line allowed). Jason Hammel faces Michael Wacha Tuesday.  Hammel’s ERA/FIP/xFIP are almost identical (3.55/3.65/3.46) and he’s been hot/cold all year.  Currently he’s cold, having allowed at least 3 runs in three of his last four starts.  He’s gotten a no-decision in his two starts vs STL this year, and the Cubs lost both games.

Playoff nemesis Jon Lester gets Wednesday’s game opposite Carlos Martinez.  Lester has pitched better than his 9-10 record would indicate (3.59/3.07/3.15), and the Cardinals have beaten him twice in three starts this year.  Curiously his lone win came in St Louis.

The biggest concern going into this series has to remain the Cardinals’ offense.  Chicago appears to be firing on all cylinders at the plate, led by Anthony Rizzo and presumptive NL ROY Kris Byrant.  Manager Mike Matheny did a good job stacking his two best pitchers for this series, because it will take guys with their kind of stuff to slow down the Cubs attack.  On our side of the ball, here’s wishing Matt Holiday was ready to go.  One wonders if Randal Grichuk will swing a bat in this series or if Steven Piscotty can keep his torrid hitting going.

Like the just-concluded series, it would be most appreciated if the Cardinals could win this series and formally assign Chicago to the Wild Card Game.  Let them slug it out with Pittsburgh to host that game knowing they can’t win the Division.

Mike’s been blogging about the Cardinals since 2006.  He still monitors Twitter occasionally @metzgermg

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Starting this weekend, St Louis will make their final foray to the West Coast for the regular season.  Since they start the road trip in my hometown, I had great designs on a 1200+ word essay about the Padres – what to expect, strengths and weaknesses; kind of a Bird’s Eye View reprise.

Then the Mrs. suggested we have margaritas after dinner.  What a great idea.  However, after I made it half-way through the second pitcher, I realized this post will probably not meet those lofty goals. So apologies in advance

San Diego started the season as a media darling.  New GM AJ Preller made lots of splashy trades in the off-season, including and culminating in a blockbuster trade the day before Opening Day to land Craig Kimbrel.  They started the year 10-5, and all that hype about a darkhorse for a playoff birth seemed well placed.

Then Wil Myers got hurt, Brandon Morrow‘s shoulder gave out, Odrisamer Despaigne got way way WAY too many starts, and the season kind of fell apart.  San Diego has been up and down all year.  Currently they stand at 59-62, actually closer to the NL West lead than the second Wild Card spot.  They are hot at the moment, having won 5 0f their last 6 and coming off a series sweep of the Atlanta Braves.

The Team:  Long-time manager Bud Black was fired 15 June, replaced with AAA manager Pat Murphy.  San Diego was 32-34 when Black was cashiered.  They are 27-28 since.  Hmmm. Seems like Black was fired for a reason other than performance.

Murphy has done a decent job, although his lineup decisions leave many scratching their heads.  Derek Norris is not allowed a day off under any circumstances, apparently, which is why future Padres catcher Austin Hedges has only 94 plate appearances in 3 months with the big club.  Murphy also has an obsession with Alexi Amarista starting at short, no matter how low his OBP and SLG numbers go.

Best Position Player:  Justin Upton.  He leads the team in every major offensive category, has a 122 OPS+ and a 121 wRC+.  He’s also been a very good defender – +17 by Dewan Plus/Minus (he’s especially good on balls hit deep).  Upton is really the first Padre to figure out how to hit HR at Petco since Adrian Gonzalez left.  If there’s anybody in the order you don’t want to beat you, it’s Justin Upton.

Best Position Player you’ve never heard of:  Yangervis Solarte.  He hits the ball, like, really hard.  Solarte was characterized as the left-over platter when San Diego got him after shipping Chase Headley off to New York.  He’s since turned himself into the everyday 3B for the Padres.  He’s not real good defensively (-1 on the plus/minus scale), but he’s hit well this year (.268/.326/.422) all over the lineup.  He led off Wednesday against the Braves and went 3-3 with a HR.

Biggest Strength:  San Diego enjoys a well-deserved reputation for bullpen excellence and 2015 is no exception.  Although they struggled to start the season, Shawn Kelley and Kimbrel have returned to their dominant ways.  After a disastrous first month, starting on 25 May Kelley has handcuffed the League to a .191/.220/.227 line.  Kimbrel started off slowly as well, but since losing to Anaheim on an Albert Pujols walk-off single (also 25 May) he’s limited hitters to an even more ridiculous .150/.238/.195 line and saved 24/25 games.  Kelley manages the seventh, and eighth-inning set up guy Joaquin Benoit had the best WHIP in baseball until Wednesday (2 hits resulting in a run).  They are good.  Cards don’t want to be down late this weekend.

Biggest Weakness:  Shortstop.  Amarista hits about as well as you do.  Clint Barmes hit well the first half of the season, and flirted with .300 as late as 28 June; since then he’s hitting .167 on balls he puts in play, in limited action.  The team has tried Cory Spangenberg and Jedd Gyorko there in recent games.  Those two are normally second basemen (although Gyorko came up as a third sacker).  Recently the Padres inducted Garry Templeton into their Hall of Fame.  Some fans on Twitter wished he was starting that night at SS.

Projected Lineup:  Manager Murphy has not been shy about moving guys all around the order, but for argument’s sake here’s probably what he’ll throw out there.  The only true constants are Matt Kemp will hit 3rd and Upton 4th.

  1. Solarte 3B
  2. Alonso 1B
  3. Kemp RF
  4. J. Upton LF
  5. Norris C
  6. J. Gyorko 2B
  7. M. Upton CF
  8. Amarista SS
  9. Pitcher

Starters:  Andrew Cashner (4-12, 4.20) starts Friday against John Lackey.  Andrew beat the Cardinals 2-1 on July 3rd, and got a no-decision in his last start at Colorado last Saturday.  He remains a primary fastball pitcher, pumping it in there at 94.9 MPH (average). He can still reach back and touch 98 when needed.  He also throws a slider and the occasional changeup.  He is only 2-6 this year at Petco.

Ian Kennedy (7-11, 4.20) will face Carlos Martinez Saturday.  He’s 5-3 at home this year. He lost his last start in Colorado last Sunday.  Kennedy also lost to the Cardinals 3-1 on July 5th.  He’s a primarily fastball pitcher with three secondary pitches; He favors the curve ball and change up almost equally (about 16% of the time).  Over his career the Cardinals have manhandled him; he’s 2-5 lifetime against them, 1-2 at Petco.

Colin Rea (2-0, 4.22) will go against Michael Wacha Sunday.  Rea was called up last Tuesday to replace Despaigne.  His fastball sits 91-92 and he spots it pretty well.  In his first start, he left several pitches up that guys like Brandon Phillips didn’t miss.  Luckily for him, the Padres destroyed Cincinnati in his major league debut so it didn’t matter.  He’s still raw, which should make Sunday an interesting start.

Prediction:  Given the pitching matchups, the Cardinals should win this series and have a good shot at a sweep.  Given the state of St Louis’ offense, however, and that the Padres are hot at the moment, this could be a much tighter  series than the records would suggest.  Remember the Cardinals struggle at Petco; they lost 2 of three here last year and are 16-18 lifetime next to the bay.  That said, quality should win out.  Cards take 2 of 3.

Mike has written about the Cardinals since 2006, although less often recently.

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Get Checked

This will have nothing to do with baseball.

A close friend of my family died Tuesday of breast cancer. She was 49. This hits home because she was my friend; she was about my age; and her youngest daughter is the same age as my oldest son. They were classmates once upon a time.

She suffered a lot the last few months, and there is a feeling of relief now because that pain is over. However, for me, there is also frustration at how the last two years went. After she was diagnosed, I learned she had been in pain for a while but just put up with it. Not days; not weeks; but months (and possibly a year or longer). Never went to the doctor to try and figure out what was going on.

By the time she did finally relent and go see someone, the cancer was Stage 4.

I truly wish things had played out differently.

For me – and I suspect, for most of you – going to the Doctor isn’t one of life’s pleasures. But it’s absolutely necessary, especially as you get older. No one is handing out medals for how long you go between Doctor’s visits, or how much pain you can tolerate. That nagging pain you can’t explain? Find out what’s causing it. We pick apart transactions and starting lineups, things we have no ability at all to influence. Turn that intellectual curiosity to yourself, and find out what’s going on with your body.

I implore you – GET YOURSELF CHECKED. Forty-nine is far, far too young to move into the next phase of life; especially thanks to breast or prostate cancer, when early diagnosis brings with it a very high survival rate.

Now there’s an empty hole where my friend should be, and in the lives of her family and her friends.

GET YOURSELF CHECKED. Watch your kids graduate from High School. Walk your daughter down the aisle.

Don’t find out you have cancer too late and spend your remaining days living with regret. Who needs that?

This post also appears at Padres Public.

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Hope is not a Plan

I’ve tried to write this post for over an hour.  And like most of my attempts to write this year, I can’t coherently tie the various ideas swirling around into a post with a common theme.  So I’ve just devolved into bullet points.

  • That the Cardinals ultimately lost this series doesn’t bother me, but the way they lost does – especially games 4 and 5.  I completely agree with the sentiment expressed by others that Mike Matheny lost Game 4 in the third inning, when he didn’t remove an obviously struggling Shelby Miller.  At the time they were down 2 games to 1 with on with Madison Bumgarner looming and uncertainty about Wainwright’s health.  Every game in the post-season is must-win.  In a short series, I believe teams need to be ready to throw ‘the regular season book’ out the window if the situation dictates.  We all remember the 2011 run, when for most of the playoffs the Cardinal bullpen threw more innings than the starters did.  That’s extreme, but it does represent the mental flexibility needed when the fluid in-game situation demands it.
  • Realistically we should have seen the puzzling bullpen usage in Game 4 (and 5) coming based on how Game 3 ended.  Did Choate get squeezed on the 3-2 pitch to Crawford?  Probably.  Why leave Choate in to face Perez?  If you put your faith in the small sample size lack of production from Perez in the NLCS, instead of the larger sample size that shows RHH hitting .396 off Choate in 2014, OK.  I don’t agree but OK.  If you put your faith in that small a sample size, why leave him in to face Blanco who was 3-for-6 off Choate lifetime? A smart man once told me, ‘Hope is not a Plan’.  I saw a lot of hope in the late innings at ATT Park.
  • Do the Cardinals win if Molina doesn’t strain an oblique?  I don’t know; Molina is good, but he can’t throw the pitches for his staff. Too many deep counts, too many walks, too few clean innings from the bullpen.
  • Too much, in my opinion, has been made of the Giants ‘winning ugly’, scoring runs without benefit of a hit.  What was more frustrating, it seemed whenever San Francisco needed a key hit they conjured one.  From the way they tied up Game 2, to Posey’s and Pence’s big hits in Game 3 (third inning), to the HR’s last night.  STL could not close out Giant hitters in high leverage situations.
  • Maybe next time the Cardinals make the playoffs they’ll go to battle with a 25-man roster, not with a pitcher hopelessly buried on the bench like Wacha was.  Until he was asked to perform in the highest of high leverage situations – keep the game tied, season ends if the Giants score, no margin for error.
  • It was a disservice to Michael Wacha for Matheny to not use him until backed into a self-inflicted corner.
  • I truly hope this wasn’t the last time we see Miller or Oscar Taveras in a Cardinal uniform, as BJ Rains prognosticated on Twitter after the game ended.

There’s no question this is a Golden Age of Cardinal baseball.  They’ve made the playoffs in every year this century except 2003, 2007, and 2009.  That doesn’t make losing in the playoffs any less disappointing.  There are roster questions and, frankly, management questions that need to be addressed this off-season.  Based on how they played for most of the season this team did, ultimately, overachieve in the playoffs.  Given the wealth of talent on that roster, however, they should be still playing.

At least St Louis won’t be Kansas City’s foil this time when the Royals win the World Series.

How to move past this series and make any fixes needed so next year they don’t come up 3 victories short of the World Series is the next challenge.

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Let’s Not Get Carried Away

I think we can all agree, what the Cardinals have done to Clayton Kershaw over the last two post-seasons defies explanation.  The tale of 2+ innings:

  • B3, 18 Oct 13 – 4 runs, 5 hits, 3 LOB, 48 pitches
  • B5, 18 Oct – 3 hitters, 3 hits, Kershaw KO’d, all three runners score, 7 pitches.
  • T7, last night – 8 runs (6 charged to Kerhsaw), 7 hits, 29 pitches.

Really there are more similarities between the onslaught last night and that which knocked Clayton from the NLCS Game 6.  In both instances, St Louis hitters aggressively attacked what he was throwing and started stringing together hits.

Kershaw is now 0-2 in the playoffs against the Cardinals, and LA would have lost all 3 of his post-season starts against STL if Matt Holliday catches the ball.  Including those 2 losses he’s 5-7 lifetime against St. Louis, one of only 2 teams he has a losing record against (the other is Philadelphia, since you asked).

So we’re good, right?  Kershaw has no hold on the Cardinals?  Bring on the NLCS?

Much like negotiating new contracts for free agents, or buying stock, past performance is not a good indicator of future success.  In Kershaw’s case that logic kinda stands on its head.  Here past struggles are not a good indicator of future struggles.  Sure, the Cardinals have mauled him twice under the bright lights.  But last night, between Randal Grichuk’s solo shot and the 7th inning uprising, Clayton dominated this lineup.  While he’s not going to retire 16 in a row every time, that type of artistry is more representative of how he pitches; not 3 horrible innings at the worst possible time of the season.

As we saw with the Puig nonsense, this LA team is highly motivated – much more so, I think, then they were in 2013.  They were expected to win the league last season by the ‘experts’ but were eliminated by the best team in the NL (based on regular season record).  This time round LA holds the better record hammer, and so they’re expected to win by virtually everyone. They’re also a better team this year – Ramirez is healthy, and their lineup is cooking, as we all saw while biting our fingernails off in the 8th and 9th innings yesterday.

The Cardinals put a serious chink in their armor by rising from the dead and beating the presumptive NL Cy Young Awardee and possible MVP.  It’s hard to say Game 2 of a 5-game series, when up 1-0, is a must-win game, but I believe this one is.  Head back to Busch up 2-0 and you can sweep the Dodgers away.  Go back 1-1 and you guarantee another date with Kershaw.

It’s unrealistic to expect they’ll hang 4+ on him again.  He’s too good.  STL needs to win tonight.

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End It

What a difference two weeks makes.

St Louis finds itself 4 games ahead of Milwaukee as they start play tonight.  Yadier Molina is back; Michael Wacha looked pretty good in his 3 innings of work; the team has won six games in a row.  Granted, the Brewers’ extended losing streak has helped; teams don’t typically gain 6 games in the standings in 6 days.  Doesn’t matter.  That’s what’s happened.

In the climatic scene of ‘The Patriot, Lord General Cornwallis drives the Continental Army back off the field of battle.  The following exchange then occurs:

Cornwallis:  “Army Reserve into the Center.”

Colonel Burwell:  “But sir, you’ve taken the field!”

Cornwallis:  “And now we shall take their spirits.  Send the entire Army over that hill and crush them!  It ends today!”

The season does not end today, and it is certainly a huge task to ask this Cardinals team to take 3 more at Miller Park.  Milwaukee boasts the best home record in the National League (44-28, tied with STL). However a cursory review of the pitching matchups finds they favor St Louis over the next 3 games.

  • John Lackey vs Mike Fiers – Lackey is battle tested and has pitched with his usual bulldog intensity since coming over from Boston.  Fiers is very good but has only thrown 64 innings at the major league level the last 2 years.  He is a great story – his right arm was broken by a line drive last June, and he’s back in The Show – but I’ll take Lackey hands-down in this game.
  • Lance Lynn vs Kyle Lohse – Lynn has been arguably the best Cardinal starter since the All-Star Break. Milwaukee has lost 4 of Lohse’s last 6 starts, and he was pounded by St Louis at Busch a month ago.  Kyle is battle tested but I’ll ride the hot hand here.
  • Adam Wainwright vs Jimmy Nelson – The Cardinal Ace versus a rookie right-hander.  St Louis beat Nelson on 12 July for his first major league loss.  Yep – going with the Ace here.

I may be an unabashed homer, but the Cardinals can certainly win the next three games.  Seven ahead of Milwaukee with 19 left is an almost insurmountable lead.  That, coupled with the suddenly nasty Chicago Cubs hosting Pittsburgh, means with a little help from the small bears St Louis can for all practical intents and purposes end the pennant race in the Central this weekend.

We’re playing well and Milwaukee is not.  Now’s the time to take their spirits.  End it this weekend.

The Patriot was an entertaining movie with characters based on historical figures from the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War.  It must be pointed out, however, it is a film chock-full of historical inaccuracies and thus best viewed for its entertainment value only.  Most of the key plot events depicted in the movie are completely fictitious.

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Right of Center

Gonna squeeze one in here….

What a difference a homestand makes.

Last Wednesday the Cardinals had lost 4 of 5, about to limp out of Miami, and barely hanging on to a Wild Card slot.  Today they head to Philadelphia, winners of  7 of their last 8, and with some space in the WC race. They lead SF by 2 and ATL by 4 for the right to host the Coin Flip Game.

The biggest thing on my mind this week was the recent erratic performance by Trevor Rosenthal. Tara, however, covered his status so intelligently I can only detract from that by trying to pile on. Instead I’d like to write about our outfield for a minute.

Trading Allen Craig to Boston cleared the logjam of OF on this roster but there are still major decisions to be made by the Cardinals front office before the 2015 season.  On the current roster there are five outfielders – Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, Oscar Taveras, Jon Jay, and Shane Robinson.  I think we all agree Holliday is the everyday LF through the 2016 season.  Shane Robinson fills the ‘interchangeable AAAA player needed to fill out the bench’ role; you could just as easily pencil Steven Piscotty or Randal Grichuk into that slot.  There are really 3 players vying for two every day spots in Bourjos, Jay, and Taveras.  I’m going to cede RF to Taveras and focus on the other two.

Contract-wise, it’s interesting.  The club controls all three.  Bourjos and Jay will enter their second year of arbitration in the off-season; Taveras is obviously a ways away from his first arbirtation negotiation.  FWIW Robinson enters the arbitraiton window this fall. I don’t think money will be the lever driving a decision on any of these guys. Bourjos won’t get a large pay spike based on his play this season; Jay may get a modest bump if he continues to hit like he has since the All-Star break; Taveras will likely play for the league minimum next year.  So money isn’t an issue.

Other things to consider:

  1. Defense – Jay has saved the Cardinals 2 runs with CF defense (#16 on Dewan’s list) this season.  Bourjos has saved 6 (#12). 
  2. Offense – Jay is currently slashing .313/.385/.407, good for a 127 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR.  Bourjos has posted .230/.296/.364 (86 wRC+ and 1.5 WAR).  If we expand that over their respective careers, Jay is the more accomplished hitter.
  3. Speed – Maybe only I find this interesting, but Jay has a better stolen base percentage (85%, 6/7) than Bourjos (80%, 8/10) in 2014.  They’re both at least 80%, so I suppose this is like arguing which is better, the petite or standard cut prime rib (I’ll go with the lasagna).

Bourjos is 27, Jay is 29.  At this point, they are who they are as players.  There may be a career year lurking in there but probably not sustained improvement at the plate.

Bourjos is a plus defender with a slightly below-average bat; Jay is a good defender with a slightly above-average bat.  Seems to me the best way to slay this particular beast is to keep Jay as the every day CF, continue allowing Taveras to grow in right, and use Bourjos as the late innings defensive replacement (when needed), or base stealing threat, or spot starter. If Taveras struggles the team then has options.

My intent with this post was to try and determine, between Peter and Jon, which one wouldn’t be here in 2015.  After review I think there’s room for both on next year’s roster.

—————————

The UCB is doing a team post today – the Cardinal Blogger Lineup.  This is a really good idea from Dan, and has brought out multiple thoughtful, well-written posts from the membership on the subject.  I was not planning to be a part of it but, things opened up a little bit today, meaning I had more time than expected, so:

Why post that. Well, it’s a homage to a great Bugs Bunny carrtoon, brilliantly analyzed in this post from USS Mariner.  If you’ve never read that article, you should.  Reading the other UCB lineup posts today brought into stark relief how far I’ve moved from my roots, and how much things change with time.  Of all the writers listed, Dan and Nick are really the only two I still know.  The vast majority of the people listed I don’t know.  I have work to do.

Also with one obvious exception that’s the most often-used lineup from one of my favorite Cardinal teams.  Kudos if you know which team it is.

Pardon the Airplane! reference embedded above.

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