West Coast Redbird

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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A Quick Word

St Louis suffered through a tough road trip, dropping 4 of 6 to Baltimore and Miami.  They come home to face the Padres 4 times, a team they’ve traditionally toyed with and then beaten along the shores of the Mississippi River.  Despite boasting the only lineup worse at scoring runs than the Cardinals, San Diego is currently hot, having just swept hapless Colorado and set a franchise record for strikeouts by pitchers (37) in a 3-game series.

Oh goody.

If you don’t have a sense for how the rest of the season will go, it may be crystal clear following tonight’s game.  Newly acquired John Lackey faces Eric Stults.  Per Fangraphs, Stults is the worst starting pitcher in the Majors this season (-0.6 WAR).  He has an outside chance to be the first Padre to lose 20 games in 40 years.  But, he’s a junkballing lefty – the type of pitcher that has tormented St Louis for as far back as I can remember.

Stults is not very good, and even this depleted Cardinal lineup should pound him into early submission.  However, as I am still scarred by memories of Barry Zito mesmerizing St Louis in the 2012 playoffs, anything is possible tonight.  Not being able to beat the worst starter in Baseball will not bode well for St Louis to make the playoffs this season. Yeah, that’s a helluva extrapolation, but if I can’t make sensational claims on a blog where can I do it?

Beating Stults means there’s hope.  I’m rooting for Hope tonight.

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UglyBall

I haven’t watched, talked, tweeted, or written much about Cardinals baseball this season.  I won’t bore you with the roll-call of excuses.  This week’s series in my adopted hometown provided a good opportunity to hit the reset button.  The team’s annual trip to Petco is always circled on my calendar, and I look forward to the three days in May – or, in the case of this year’s schedule, July – when St Louis comes to town.

After watching the last two games, I’m wondering if I should have stayed home.  Oh who am I kidding – I couldn’t stay home.  Some random thoughts about the first 2 games of the Padres series. 

Lineup Woes

Matt Carpenter is still a beast.  Matt Holliday still hits the ball hard.  Matt Adams hits everything hard.  Maybe the Cardinals need to go with an all “Matt” lineup.  Outside those 3 guys, there isn’t anyone in the order that scares me. Jhonny Peralta has been a definite upgrade offensively from last year but he’s not a guy you circle in the order saying, ‘we can’t let this dude beat us.’  Everyone else can be pitched to effectively at present.

You could say the Cardinals hit into some bad luck.  Adams missed a HR in the first game by that much, Allen Craig by a little more later in the same game.  Except it’s hot in San Diego this week, and the ball typically carries well this time of year when it’s hot, so I’m not sure those flyouts failing to reach the seats can be blamed on Petco National Park.

This team misses Yadi’s bat, and really misses Allen Craig.  We ought to put Allen’s picture on a milk carton (Have You Seen My Offense?  Call 1-314-HIT-HELP). Some drop-off was expected after he hit .454 with RISP last year, the best rate in almost 20 years, but not this big a regression.  Others are either still trying to figure it out at the ML level or just having bad years at the plate.  Tough to watch.

Defense

St Louis ranked 1st in MLB in defense coming into the series based on Dewan Runs Saved.  One wouldn’t know it from watching these two games.  They’ve had a miserable series in the field.  Peralta with a throwing error (although, to be fair, Adams didn’t do much to try and corral that ball – looked like Roger ‘don’t give me that OLE B**LS**T’ Dorn on the play).  Kolten Wong airmails a throw that led to the Padres first run Tuesday.  The ‘Husband and Wife’ (beach volleyball term) play last night between Wong and Oscar Taveras.  Peralta’s error that was generously scored a double. From Someone In The Know: the drawn-in infield, sharply hit ball, and Jhonny’s having to move to his right led to the scoring decision.  In case you wondered.  These Cardinals struggle to hit; relying heavily on their pitching and defense is how they’ve stayed in the playoff race.  When the hitting and defense struggle, we get games like the last 2 nights.  The lapses are at least fixable in short order.

Pitching

Lance Lynn deserved a better fate, Joe Kelly probably got what he deserved, given he couldn’t command his fastball, and the bullpen got smoked.  All over the map.  Again, given St Louis’ offense and a surprisingly competent Padre bullpen (even with Street now in Anaheim) the Cardinals probably weren’t coming back from 4-1 down last night; getting torched removed all doubt, didn’t it?  I was equal parts surprised to see Carlos Martinez struggle like he did, and amazed he can throw pitches that break away from left handed hitters while his whole body moves towards the first-base line.  I didn’t notice that last year.

Some of the damage taken last night would not have happened if the infield was normal depth.  With the Cardinal infield either in or half-way, San Diego went 3-3 with an intentional walk, driving in 3 runs.  Venable’s single doesn’t get through and Smith’s ‘double’ probably doesn’t get through with the infield back.  I’m not disputing Matheny’s decisions to play the infield in for any of those at-bats, just pointing it out.  Hat-tip to the Padres for successfully exploiting those situations.

Everth Cabrera was pretty upset he got hit by a pitch.  Two thoughts on that.  It appeared to me he made very little effort to get out of the way of Seth Maness‘s errant fastball. Next time try a little harder not to get hit in the calf, Everth.  Why won’t umpires enforce the ‘reasonable effort to get out of the way’ rule?  Keeping your feet in the same place while turning your body a little bit is not reasonable effort IMHO.  Then again, I haven’t stood in to face 90+ heat in a while so maybe I’m out of line here.

The Cardinals have hit 3 Padres so far.  None of the HBP struck me as deliberate, and Maness certainly isn’t trying to put more runners on down 11 in the seventh. With the other HBP as context maybe his reaction is less over the top?  Just throwing it out there. Descalso also got drilled Tuesday, perhaps appeasing the Baseball Gods of Unwritten Rules.  No, I’m sticking with my original opinion – that was a stupid reaction by Cabrera.

Matheny called last night’s game ‘ugly’, an assessment I totally agree with.  Tuesday’s game wasn’t much prettier.  The Cardinals will try to salvage one of these three games this afternoon.  Odrisamer Despaigne is the kind of pitcher that gives St Louis fits, with a variety of speeds and arm angles coming at you, so don’t be surprised if they get swept.

Yes, West Coast Redbird still exists.  Expect posts on a more frequent basis moving forward. That’s not a threat; it’s a promise.

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Descalso Switch

This post won’t try to explain why Mike Matheny insists on subbing Daniel Descalso in late in close games.  But, seeing as Matheny double-switched Descalso in last night, and Daniel got an at-bat, I was curious on his success rate.  To wit:

  • He has finished 15 of the 34 games he’s appeared in; 16/35, counting last night.
  • Four of those games went extras.
  • Six times he pinch-hit.  He’s 4 for 6 in those situations.
  • Ten times he’s come in for defense.  He has 13 plate appearances and is 0 for 11 with two walks.  That previous walk was over a month ago against Chicago(N).
  • The Cardinals almost always lose when he comes in late.  St Louis is 2-14 in games where Descalso comes off the bench and finishes the game.  Overall they’re 14-21 when he makes any appearance.  Don’t worry – they are 3-5 when he starts, so he won’t be starting more.  The rest are pinch-hitting appearances.

He’s a pretty horrible hitter this season, unless he’s pinch hitting.  As a starter he’s hitting .161/.161/.194.  As a sub, he improves to .190/.261/.286.  As a pinch-hitter he’s been pretty good (.333/.385/.500).  Mike should let him PH and then send him out for Ted Drewes or Dominos.

Oh, he’s a defensive specialist?  Not really, not this year.  Overall he’s cost the Cardinals a run – and that includes his stint on the mound.  Last year he saved the club 4 runs while playing third, and cost them 10 runs when playing second or short (Runs Saved comes from Bill James’ Fielding Bible site).

What we have here is a somewhat serviceable back-up third baseman who’s pinch-hitting well so far in 2014.  For the record, in his career he’s a .200/.238/.263 PH in 88 PA, so he’s going to regress.

It’s a good thing this post wasn’t trying to explain why he comes into games late, because based on the above I have no earthly idea.

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