Pitchers Hit Eighth

Today’s offering has been percolating for quite awhile now, as it is time to come clean on a few matters. The lack of moves at the trade deadline caused things to take a sinister tone via social media. It was time to unplug from Twitter as well as breaking my sleep schedule in hopes of catching the turnaround. A seemingly lost series in Cincy made all the difference and now everyone hopes the tank can be refilled.

No one who follows the Birds on the Bat can argue that not losing for over a week is anything but a blessing. With the 2017 Cardinals, however, it could very well count as a miracle.

Yes, not losing has to be more fun but are we just getting our hopes up for an eventual September stumble to remember? Initially, the calendar seemed to smile on St. Louis after the grueling August schedule although that could merely be a mirage on the horizon. Any West Coast swing proves daunting, especially when you are facing a pair of teams with nothing to lose.

The Cardinals will need a San Francisco treat in order to take that series before jetting down the coast to Petco Park for a Labor Day matinee that I had previously marked as a do-or-die spot around the trade deadline. San Diego offers much more than just nice weather, but that four game stretch offers the final chance to make up any ground outside the National League Central.

Twenty-three straight divisional games fill out the remainder of the schedule, with four teams fighting for the postseason and the Reds playing the spoiler role. Any timeline allowing for wiggle room between now and September has been outdated with the standings proving just how crucial even a two-game swing can make a difference this week.

The pit-stop in Boston is fun for the fans and even more vital given how well the Red Sox have been playing. One nice break for St. Louis will be no Chris Sale and also no chance of playing short-handed. The front office has enough weapons stashed away in Memphis to field another team, so that 10-day disabled list surely will come into play if Jedd or anyone else needs a breather before the calendar flips.

Most of the attention has been on the two NL Central front runners this summer and for good reason. Chicago and Milwaukee are going to be solid competition for years to come with their youthful rosters and smart GM’s calling the shots. That’s why everyone has all but written off the Pirates, and they are the team that everyone should not discount. Including the all-important four game set this weekend, Pittsburgh only sees the Dodgers next week outside of the division for the next month.

Playing 27 of your next 31 games against divisional opponents can turn the race upside down in a hurry, something the Pirates are no stranger to in recent memory. They would love nothing more than to catch the Brewers and then the Cardinals by Sunday and build up plenty of momentum before hosting LA. With the standings as close as ever, the only team St. Louis fans can actually root for are the Reds who can become everyone’s best friend very soon.

With the playoffs right around the corner for Memphis and Springfield, time will tell how the final chapter gets written for the Birds on the Bat. Oh, there are so many literary works that could be used so choose your favorite and keep both hands and feet inside the ride at all times – this roller coaster is just beginning!

 

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So this is going to be a great baseball day, right? The Cardinals can’t win or lose on the field, but 24 hours from now what makes the headlines in St. Louis? A better question may just end up being was it enough depending on how you look at the National League this silly summer.

The Cards technically have made a deal already, and it wouldn’t come as a shock to see very little done in the next six hours. It matters very little that the Baby Bears are gutting their farm system, since winning without dealing off your 25-man roster is how the Birds on the Bat stayed relevant a decade ago.

No, the only question that matters now and honestly for the next two months has to be this — can any deal help put St. Louis in position to make noise in October? Surely the optimist would argue that a move can always be found to help the team. This probably is true for the Cardinals as well, especially for that yearly bullpen arm or possibly a bench bat.

Now as I am not someone who is overly pessimistic, the past 18 months of following the club under the Arch have been anything but pleasant. There have been good moments of course with more to come but for the first time in recent memory, the only smart play is to sell. There won’t be a massive rebuild and does anyone really think there should be?

Alex Reyes will be a force next season and sets up for a more imposing rotation that should bring fear to anyone in the Central. Yes, that means a spot needs to be opened but look at the ready-made option already in place. Lance Lynn has always been a good soldier and deserves his payday, end of story. The money just won’t be coming from St. Louis as there are plenty of options and other needs.

Let other teams fight it out to lose to the Dodgers, Astros, or hot team to be determined. Lynn can make a difference down the stretch and has the playoff pedigree to help his future income even more. It makes too much sense for the Cards to capitalize and flip the starter before only getting back a second-round draft pick.

At the same time, there is a much more crucial position that needs clarity before things get put in Mike Matheny’s hands. Stephen Piscotty at last check was due back tomorrow, and Dexter Fowler in a couple weeks unless they are very cautious. While Harrison Bader can go back to Memphis for the playoff run, the elephant in the room goes by the initials of RG.

This situation has all the familiar tones of another deal that was also made to bring the needed ‘culture change’ that the front office has brought up on a few different occasions. When Craig and Kelly were moved at the deadline in 2014, it was to make room in the outfield. The same problem needs to be addressed today, and Matheny has proved to be incapable of making those calls.

Buckle up and stand by as the rumors will be flying in every direction this afternoon, as the dominoes fall into place. It is an exciting time for sure, but really we fans just hope to have something to cheer about other than what the Redbirds are doing in the PCL.

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I’m absolutely fascinated by the physics of baseball.  Talk about spin rate, multi-axis movement, and moment-of-inertia, and I’m here for it.  I’m equally fascinated by how easily the physics of baseball can become distorted or misrepresented by people who don’t actually understand much about them.   The Statcast era provides ample data for both intelligent discourse and not-so-intelligent discussion.  Too bad most broadcasters excel only at the latter.

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Confused by the Cardinals

The days of having to check to make sure I got the Gonzales part right with Marco are officially over. In what can only be described as an interesting first deal this month, the Cardinals acquired the one thing they seemingly didn’t need. Tyler O’Neill represents yet another top-100 type prospect who provides power for a Memphis outfield that was already stacked.

In dealing Marco to the Mariners, however, it does free up a spot on the 40-man roster while returning Gonzales to a place he knows well. And after his last hurrah in St. Louis all but spelled the end of the line under the Arch, it was time for the former first round pick to get a real look. Injuries played a role in keeping the southpaw out of the rotation, but it really came down to other options taking away opportunities.

The Cardinals did well on paper with the return, since O’Neill has done nothing to hurt his reputation in the Seattle system. Rated as the #29 prospect by MLB heading into the 2017 campaign, the Canada native has put his slow start in the PCL behind him with a torrid stretch that caught the attention of the Birds on the Bat. While this deal opens up the ability to make other moves, it really just raises more question marks.

If the theory of more is better plays out for Memphis, scouts need to plot their GPS starting this weekend. Harrison Bader was already knocking on the door, but that creates more issues on the big league roster. At last count playing more than three outfielders seemed like an odd strategy so what’s next for the St. Louis front office?

By my quick count, there are already a pair of Redbirds outfielders and a trio in Springfield fighting for promotions. It seems to reason another move would be made sooner rather than later then to capitalize on one or more teams trying to get younger. The obvious target with plenty of unanswered questions shares a home every March with the Cardinals. But to be honest, no one has a clue what the Marlins are up to which makes for a tricky dance partner.

While I wish O’Neill well as with every new addition to the St. Louis family, it sure appears as if it could be a short stay. Look for another transaction or three as the craziness kicks into full gear as soon as the all-important series with the Baby Bears concludes Sunday night.

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When the Cardinals aren’t clearly the best team in baseball, the BFiB quickly regress into a petulant child resolutely demanding the return of a favorite toy they’ve accidentally tossed through a second story window.  Much like that child can only focus on the assured destruction of that toy due to the incomprehensibility of object constancy, the BFiB hive mind narrows the possibilities with predictable haste.  The only solutions are to trade for a superstar, promote a small sample size All-Star from the minors, or designate someone (anyone) for assignment.

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Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to find a meaningful baseball statistic related to team performance that indicates the Cardinals aren’t doomed to mediocrity this season.  You may have to ignore small sample size issues and suspend disbelief to do this. We’re talking about data mining a mountain of data with a spork here, so good luck with that.

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When someone gets traded for a bucket of baseballs and proceeds to blow up bigger than Cee-Lo Green on The Voice, it raises a few eyebrows.  With no consideration for circumstance, it’s hard to blame the Cardinals for handing Matt Adams to the Braves for a player whose name probably escapes you.  But after you consider the sequence of events, it may be really hard NOT to blame the Cardinals for the long game domino effect that got them to this point.

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My favorite day of the season is finally upon us, and it could not come at a better time. No, it is not the doubleheader that intrigues or even seeing Marco Gonzales back with the big club. To steal a line from a football movie I watch way too much — “It’s Draft Day!”

Most years there would have been months of discussions on Twitter and posts about who might fall to the Cardinals at the end of the first round. There is no reason to go into great detail about all the factors that contributed to not having any picks yesterday which was technically the first day. Although my interest hasn’t peaked nearly as early as in the past few years, bringing new talent into a crowded St. Louis system only makes the competition that much greater.

For those curious on options heading into the Round #3, check out both this post as well as another great source. One key factor that simply can not be stated enough centers around money, as most things seem to these days in baseball. That’s not to say ‘for love of the game’ is dead and gone but try to temper your enthusiasm about snagging a top prospect this afternoon. The front office has a plan in place, and it will be fascinating to watch unfold over the next two days.

Basically, just about any player with a strong college commitment or any leverage should be all but ignored as the Cards can only afford sure things at this point. They are working with the smallest budget imaginable so any miss will handcuff them that much more. Yes, that would seem to limit the excitement a bit although I feel the opposite could end up being true three years from now. This will end up being a historic draft for so many reasons, however, with two story lines concerning the Birds on the Bat coming full circle.

The biggest reason to watch how scouting director Randy Flores navigates the deep waters today has zero to do with anything in this draft or the next. It is possible St. Louis finds another free agent worth getting this winter, but the smart money is on the monster class of 2018. That means next year a decent first round pick (and more pool money) could be possible with a return to budgeting for 2019. Why worry about something so far away?

As most of us have witnessed, the farm system can only take you so far with the trade market unpredictable at best. As even Mo alluded to the fact over the weekend with my UCB brethren, if you can’t produce em, better to buy em (my words). This year is a solid test run to see how a draft can be built on a budget while allocating money elsewhere. The Cardinals used up their international leverage as well for the next two years, so today is just step one of the 3-point plan. How different the team looks on August 1st as well as January 1st of next year will complete the cycle in the biggest game of chicken to be seen in any professional sport.

The three loyal readers still with me might be thinking this is about the Chicago team who flourished by tanking but in fact Houston has more similarities than previously discussed. Yes the Astros are run by a former St. Louis exec and turned it around by embracing the tank-system. They also were given the two extra picks by MLB to end the scandal so those comparisons in a few years are sure to be discussed. But none of that matters nearly as much as the fact that there will be a time in the near future when both playoff-hunting squads are fighting over the same free agent.

While any trade talk between the two clubs surely is minimal, I am curious how free agents will view both destinations in the next couple of seasons. Lance Lynn is a guy who Houston would love to have and might be available this winter so the first test could come sooner than expected. Grab your popcorn and beverage of choice and settle in for a long day in front of the computer or TV as draft day (plus a doubleheader) may never happen again!

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Mo:  “Mike?  It’s Mo.  Saw that Volquez no-hitter the other night.  Looked like a good time.  We haven’t had one of those since Bud Smith.  Haven’t even seen one recently.  The stat nerds tell me the last one against us was some pudgy guy for the Dodgers back in 1990.  Heck, I didn’t even know Lasorda was a pitcher!”

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Dex In A Box

When the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler to 5 year / $82.5M deal, he was presented as a lasting solution to a myriad of deficiencies.  In theory, he checked several boxes for a team that needed a CF, a lead-off man, and a big name free agent signing to silence the Ballpark Village People clamoring for upgrades.  Thus far, he’s failed to perform up to expectations, and I’m beginning to wonder if those expectations were misaligned from the start.

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I Blame Brett Cecil

I blame Brett Cecil for pretty much everything now.  Stub my toe?  Blame Cecil.  Accidentally trip the house alarm?  Stupid reliever.  Diaz strikes out?  It’s somehow Cecil’s fault.  Yet another long Tim McCarver tale about Tim McCarver?  Yeah, that’s Cecil too.  The bullpen seems to be in shambles, and Cecil deserves no less than 104% of the blame.

Cecil is the face of a Cardinal bullpen that owns a record of 5-10 record (blame Cecil), and that tidbit does not get nearly the same attention as the underwhelming offense, atrocious baserunning, or subpar defensive play.  It should.  Better relief work could cover up a multitude of sins.  Push just 3 of those 15 decisions to the other side of the ledger, and we’re talking about an 8-7 bullpen record and a 29-24 overall record.  That’s good enough to lead a rather sad looking NL Central division even with Cecil.

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So surely this is just the match-up that ESPN envisioned for Sunday night to go up against some basketball game. Cubs and Cardinals riding high on their way to October, Wrigley as the perfect place to showcase the best in the Senior Circuit. And all kidding aside, didn’t we feel the same way? Nothing has worked out as planned, but the last couple of games at least give a glimpse of hope that the puzzle may only need a tweak or two.

St. Louis has wisely made some notable transactions this week that limit some of the options for Matheny, and that must continue over what has the makings of being a monumental stretch going forward. The Cards have to decide if they are ‘all-in’ this season which could impact the future much more than the present. I am typically against dealing prospects unless the return is crazy good, but this year may have to be the exception to the rule.

This trip up the I-55 will be very telling as Chicago also finds itself with more questions than answers, so the price of doing business this summer can not be a deterrent. Both NL Central clubs will be making many of the same calls looking for that missing piece soon so the time is right to look at just how stacked the Cardinal cupboard might be. Multiple sites offer up prospect info, but I will be utilizing MLB’s chosen home for at least today.

With the draft right around the corner, two things have become very clear to me already in 2017. The past few Junes have produced many that would be considered fast-risers and thus, the upper levels are thinning themselves out in a good way. No matter how you look at it, St. Louis won’t be left behind because both Memphis and Springfield are absolutely stacked. There has already been more turnover than in years past, and the overall strength of the system puts the Cards’ front office in an enviable position.

Not counting Alex Reyes who most likely would have seen some time for the Redbirds, five of the top prospects in the system have called Memphis home now that Jack Flaherty has been promoted. The timing makes sense as Flaherty destroyed the Texas League, and he will now be on display as one of the youngest weapons in the PCL. Along with Carson Kelly and Harrison Bader, the trio form likely targets this summer for opposing GM’s.

In the search for a big bat, tough decisions will need to be made about what is best for the Birds on the Bat going forward. Luke Weaver and Marco Gonzales also offer controllable starting pitching, and that is just from one team! Palm Beach has a couple of hurlers due for a promotion but only so many innings to go around, and it makes sense to package a few arms to make way for the next crop. The same can be said for the glut of outfielders that seem redundant to the point that at least three could be dealt as others are ready to step up to the challenge.

The NL Central race currently resembles a bunch or snails but is due for a change of pace. One team is surely about to break out, and the Cardinals are well positioned to make a run or turn it over to the kids. That would certainly be different but not necessarily wrong depending on just how expensive it will be on the trade market. All St. Louis faithful are becoming increasingly curious with every Paul DeJong and Mags Sierra that shows up ready to make a difference. I still feel an experienced power bat can get the Cards back to the postseason, but the acquisition cost must be a factor.

Enjoy the friendly confines this weekend and remember one thing – it could always be worse, just ask the Royals.

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