Cardinal Cameos

The year was 2001. I was 11 years old; I was just starting to really become a diehard Cardinals fan. That season I fell in love with a baseball player by the name of Albert Pujols. That year Albert was unanimously named the NL Rookie of the Year after setting an NL rookie record with 130 RBIs (fifth in the league) and becoming the fourth MLB rookie to hit .300 with 30 home runs, 100 runs, and 100 RBIs.

I along with the rest of Cardinal Nation watched Pujols dominate the MLB for the next 11 seasons. We got to watch Albert win 3 MVP awards in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and we even got to celebrate 2 World Series wins in 2006 and 2011. Albert was the first Cardinal superstar that I got to watch from the time he was a rookie until he was a grown man.

At the end of the 2011 season and one of the greatest post season runs ever for the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols left St. Louis for California. At the time I thought I was devastated. Albert had been my hero and favorite player in the history of baseball.Little did I know, my next Cardinal love lay just a few seasons away. Prior to the 2012 season, Baseball America named a young stud with the name of Oscar Taveras the Cardinals’ third-best prospect. This was the first I had heard of Oscar and I was intrigued. I began to watch video and instantly fell in love with his swing. There was just something to that swing that looked oh so beautiful to the eyes.

Oscar spent his time in the minor leagues and dominated for the majority of it and I kept an eye on him the whole time. After suffering an injury in 2013 and having surgery, the Cardinals wanted to have Oscar be in the MLB for 2014 but they had a difficult time getting him to fully trust the ankle in performance and with the hamstring injury that followed, the Cardinals optioned him to the minor league camp on March 14, 2014. I was saddened because I wanted my new favorite Cardinal to be in the Majors but I understood why he could not…Yet!

Then Saturday, May 31, 2014 came along. Oscar day as I and many from Cardinal Nation called it. It was finally time to see Oscar Taveras play in the majors! I was so excited to see what he could do. Of course Oscar delivered as only Oscar could. Taveras launched his first hit and first career home run in his second career at bat with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning against San Francisco Giants’ starter Yusmeiro Petit. He became the youngest to hit a home run in his major league debut for the Cardinals since Eddie Morgan in 1936. It also started to rain during his at bat which made the moment even that more awesome! The home run proved to the game-winning run. For myself, this moment made me realize exactly how special this man was. His major league debut was talked about for years and he delivered perfectly!

When Matt Adams came off the DL on June 19th, Oscar was sent back to AAA after having struggled a bit at the plate but he showed that he could hit major league pitching. His contact rate of 92.3% on pitches outside of the strike zone surpassed the MLB average of 65.7% and his miss rate of 2.5% on swinging strikes was significantly lower than the MLB average of 9.1%. Most fans could see this kid could swing the bat and just needed more time to adjust to MLB pitching. Exactly one month after his first call up, Oscar was recalled from AAA and he spent the rest of the 2014 season with the Cardinals. All season long I cheered on Oscar and looking forward to watch him become an all-star in the future.

Oscar made the 2014 postseason roster and had 4 hits in 7 at bats. One of those hits was another magical Oscar moment. With the Cardinals trailing in the 7th inning, Oscar stepped to the plate and launched a game tying homerun, a game the Cardinals went on to win. Sadly this would be the last hit of Oscar’s life. Oscar came in like a hero and went out like a hero.

I mention the Pujols departure because I thought the departure of Albert was the worst feeling I could have as a Cardinals fan. I was wrong, I was 100% wrong. The death of Oscar (my new favorite Cardinals player) hurts in a way that is not even comparable. It hurts worse than any Cardinals loss I have ever had to watch. The death of Oscar hurts because Oscar was larger than life. His swing and his smile both were big and beautiful. We as fans will never know how good of a player Oscar could have been but more importantly Cardinal Nation lost a son.  My heart goes out to Oscar’s family and the family of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo. I recently communicated with Edilia on twitter and she was as sweet as her boyfriend’s swing. Earth lost two amazing human beings yesterday. Death is impossible to understand and Cardinal Nation will never be able to get over this death and I hope we never do. Please remember Oscar forever. Remember Oscar for his smile and that sweet, sweet swing!

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Years. I thought I’d have years and years to enjoy the always smiling, extraordinary talented new member of our Cardinal family. I am heartbroken.

On a warm spring day in May, Twitter almost blew up with Card fans spreading the news. Rumors were flying that Oscar was called up. At last! Finally! Our most anticipated Baby Bird since Pujols, was coming home to Busch. I distinctly remember the excitement of his first game in the majors. That magical, smooth, long, but lightning quick swing. A homerun that made Busch shake. All of us proud. A well deserved curtain call. The first of many, we assumed. He had us. He was ours.

Bookmarked remarkably by his pinch hit homer in the NLCS to help keep our post season alive. Another curtain call. That huge smile. So glad we had no idea it would be his last. That amazing final catch he made, moving quickly in the outfield, beating out Jay. Working to show us that he was no defensive deficit. I want to see more. Not enough. Not nearly enough.

Oscar Taveras

Oscar Taveras


He wasn’t given enough time. Not even close to enough. I’m sad. I’m angry. Why was this exuberant, polite, full of life with an unlimited future 22 year old kid taken? Taken away from his loving, proud family. Their loss is unspeakable. Taken from his friends, his fellow Cardinals, his native and adopted countries. His Cardinal family, and that of course, includes all of us. His untold number of fans, young and old. We all are simply heart broken. I’m nostalgic for what little we saw and all that will never be. God speed, OT. May you and your lovely girlfriend go with the angels. May both your grieving families find solace and comfort in the love from all of Cardinal Nation. I grieve for your family and for us. For all the games, all the curtain calls, all the years we won’t have you. You will remain forever young, forever smiling, forever a Cardinal.

Jacqueline Conrad

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By Kevin Reynolds, www.stlcardsnstuff.com

Joe Kelly tried to explain it to Stephen Strasburg while playing golf a few weeks ago — how the Cardinals’ have “a good problem to have” with all the “young studs” in competition for a rotation spot.

Strasburg was amazed, not only at what Kelly had done as a starter — both in the second half of the season and in the postseason — but by the fact that Joe may not even make the 2014 rotation out of camp.

“Wow, that’s crazy,” Strasburg reportedly said (via Kelly),  “I figured that with you pitching well, you would know where you would be at.”

But with at least seven pitchers vying for five starting slots, it’s fair to say that no one beyond staff ace Adam Wainwright knows where he’ll pitch.

“I’m just gonna’ go out there and pitch as best as I can and see what happens,” Kelly said. “It’s not up to any of the players. Just go out there and perform and see what happens.”

That doesn’t mean Kelly’s not aiming high, though.

“I’m not gonna’ cut myself short. I’m gonna’ go out there and do my best — and hopefully take Waino’s spot.”

Joe targeted Adam Wainwright in jest, but that doesn’t mean he’s not feeling good about his chances heading into camp. In fact, Kelly said his success last year absolutely taught him something.

“That I could be pretty good,” he said. “It just gives you confidence, knowing that once you’ve done something it’s not a fluke and you can go out there and do it again. That’s what I had in that string of good outings that I had. I just carried some confidence and some swagger out there and knew I was better than my opponent. [I] just try to go out there and try to dominate him as best I can.”

It also taught him that where a pitcher starts the season may not be where he finishes it. In Kelly’s case, he’s become used to starting the season in the bullpen only to rescue the rotation in the second half.

“It’s very rare to see any team in Major League Baseball with the same five guys end up being the same five guys at the end of the year.”

In Kelly’s case, that’s meant an opportunity to show what he can do in high-leverage games — games in a playoff race, the postseason, and even the World Series. He’s excelled nearly every time out, and yet the opportunity to start the season in the rotation rather than jump on mid-way through has eluded him.

“It’s not like I’m gonna’ say I’ve earned anything,” said Kelly. “I’m gonna go out there and just keep pitching and do what I can and see what kind of decision they’re gonna’ make.”

Additional Notes:

– Kelly, interestingly enough, said he is so against dwelling on the past that he didn’t even remember what he did in the World Series. “I had to go back and watch it with my family”

– Kelly said he gets the “where are you guys finding these guys?” and “how are you guys doing this?” questions regarding the young talent in the Cards’ system from players with other organizations all the time. He attributes it to smart personnel in the Cardinals’ draft and development department as well as a little bit of luck. “Something we have here is special.”

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By Kevin Reynolds, www.stlcardsnstuff.com

Adam Wainwright signed a 5-year, $97.5 million contract. He finished second in Cy Young voting in 2013.

Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young award…and then signed a 7-year, $215 million contract.  One could be forgiven for seeing the difference between first and second place as roughly $117.5 million.

Adam Wainwright knows there’s more to it than that.

“He’s also 25-years old,” said Adam. “Compared to him, I’m an old man.”

But don’t think for a minute that Wainwright regrets signing his own contract.

“That was the deal I wanted to sign,” said Wainwright. “I didn’t have to sign it.”

True. In fact, as Wainwright and Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak articulated, had Adam reached the open market, he would have made “a lot” more (Mozeliak) — “absolutely” (Wainwright).

But Adam had an answer to that as well.

“Can’t buy happiness — I’m not gonna’ be happier anywhere else than where I am right now. I love the city, I love going to work every day, I love pulling up to the stadium and seeing the arch — I think that’s just a treat every day.

“Red’s my favorite color now. I feel like I bleed Cardinal red — there’s no other color I wanna’ wear.”

Notes:

– “If you end up being the ace of the staff, you’re gonna’ be really, really good ’cause I’m not going anywhere.” – re: competition for “No. 1” on the staff

– Comparing pain between losing to Giants in NLCS and to Red Sox in World Series, Adam said losing to the Giants was “a lot more painful cause we let them off the hook” with a 3 games to 1 lead.

– Wainwright discussed a later than usual start to his throwing program as a result of both more innings and a longer season. In previous years, he started throwing January 1st. He went on to say he doesn’t think his work this spring training should be pushed back much more than one or two starts, adding that spring training is probably longer than they really need anyway.

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By Kevin Reynolds, www.stlcardsnstuff.com

John Mozeliak took the podium early Saturday morning at the Cardinals’ annual Winter Warm-Up event and addressed a wide range of topics, perhaps most intriguing, the role of Jaime Garcia.

Garcia has been a staple of the St. Louis rotation — a rotation that has historically valued the presence of a left-handed hurler — since 2010. But injury forced him to the disabled list last season and could impact how he starts this one.

With multiple starters for just five spots, it could also affect his role on the Cardinals’ roster.

When asked if Garcia is a “starter only or is he fighting” for a job in the rotation, Mozeliak said, “That’s a great question. The real answer is we gotta’ optimize.”

It seems the influx of hard-throwing, mystifying arms in line for a Cardinal rotation spot has left Jaime’s spot at least up for debate. Perhaps the REAL, real question is this: If Jaime Garcia isn’t a starter, is it a better allocation of assets to move him in a deal later this season instead of burying him in a crowded bullpen?

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By Kevin Reynolds, www.stlcardsnstuff.com

Winter Warm-Up media sessions got started with a “no questions about…” request this morning. Daniel Descalso, utility infielder and last year’s eventual starting shortstop for the Cardinals, took the podium and immediately informed the media he would not be taking questions regarding the arbitration process, choosing instead to “leave that between Mo and my agent.”

As one scribe in the room put it — “Deal.”

With the signing of Peralta in the offseason, there was still plenty to talk about.

Peralta gives the Cardinals their answer at shortstop for the next several years. It’s an answer that’s eluded them for quite some time, resulting in a virtual merry-go-round at the position that saw Pete Kozma start there at the beginning of 2013 only to offensively fade and give way to Descalso late in the season. Now, Descalso’s future role is uncertain.

“We’ll see where I fit into that equation. I haven’t talked to anybody about what to expect going forward,” said Descalso.

Of course, that’s nothing new for the Cardinals’ glove man. In multiple seasons with the Redbirds, he’s found himself in the discussion for a Gold Glove award at third base, sometimes-starter at second base, and eventual starter at shortstop in the 2013 postseason and World Series.

Perhaps, then, it’s just more of the same for Descalso.

Notes:

– Descalso also got married in the offseason, proudly flashing his ring at the podium.

– Descalso mentioned a few lessons he’s learned since his debut years back. For one, regarding hitting as early as November to prepare for the coming season, he said he’s realized, “No need to do any of that so early.”

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Baseball fans, the day has finally come.

The 2013 World Series commences tonight at 7:07 PM CST for Game 1 against the Boston Red Sox in the historic Fenway Park. If the Cardinals want to bring home their 12th World Series title, they better hope for a better World Series performance from Matt Holliday–who struggled mightily at the plate against the Texas Rangers in 2011.

In six games played in the 2011 Fall Classic, Holliday had just three hits in 19 at-bats for a .158 batting average. Though he had a solid .385 on-base percentage, he had just one extra base hit–a double–and had zero RBI. He also grounded into three rally-killing double plays.

Luckily for Holliday and the Cardinals, the slugging left-fielder has relatively decent numbers against the majority of Red Sox pitchers–excluding John Lackey who has gotten him out in all seven at-bats in his career. Holliday is also much healthier this year compared to 2011–a postseason in which he fought through a finger injury that eventually made him unavailable for Game 7 of the World Series.

Matchups for Games 1 and 2:

While playing for the Oakland Athletics, Holliday had two hits in three at-bats with one RBI against Game 1 Starter, Jon Lester. However, while with the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series, Holliday was held hitless in four at-bats against Lester in Game 4 and failed to get the ball out of the infield.

Surprisingly, much of Holliday’s production came against right-handed pitchers this season, not lefties. His .279 batting average against left-handed starters was 28 points lower than his average against right-handed starters. He also had only two of his 22 home runs against left-handers this season. Thus, look for Holliday to shoot the ball the other way against Lester to get on-base and let the other bats in the lineup drive him in. Also, unlike his hitless Game 4 in 2007, the stakes are much different for Game 1 in 2013. The Cardinals are evenly matched with the Red Sox, while the Rockies were simply over-matched and were just trying to stave off a sweep.

In Game 2, Holliday will face right-hander John Lackey. Like I said earlier, Holliday has zero hits in seven at-bats against Lackey in his career. However, only one of those seven was a strikeout, and Holliday is too good of a hitter to remain hitless for much longer against a pitcher like Lackey. Lackey no longer over-powers hitters and has turned to his slider more and more–throwing it just over 30% of the time in 2013. His fastball comes in just over 92 MPH–so this combined with the possibility of hanging a slider could result in a monster home run like this one in the Game 4 of the NLCS.

That’s all I have for individual pitcher matchups for Holliday–largely because I do not really believe in matchups at this point in the season. Why? Well, there are certain players that just live for the “October Moment” regardless of who they are facing on the mound. Is Holliday ready to add another yet another achievement to his already illustrious career? I sure hope so.

Concluding Thoughts:

Given how close this series could be, I strongly believe that Holliday’s bat will play a key role in outcome of the World Series. Everyone, including the Red Sox, knows how good Carlos Beltran is in the playoffs, and Boston pitchers will plan accordingly. This plan may even involve walking Beltran to get to Holliday in key situations throughout the series. This is not necessarily recommended, but it will definitely be an option that they explore.

If Boston pitchers do choose to pitch to Beltran, they will have to bear down and apply complete focus to the matchup in order to get him out. By doing this, there may be a slight chance that they “ease up” just enough against Holliday for him to make them pay. This is not likely considering Holliday is a daunting hitter himself, but all it takes is one poorly-located pitch for Holliday to deposit a homer over the Green Monster in left.

Go Cards!

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

This was a guest post for The Cards Conclave, make sure to follow them on Twitter: @CardsConclave

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