Are The New-Look Cardinals Different Than the Old-Look Cardinals?

There are busy weekends and then there is what the Cardinals did this weekend.  Busy didn’t really begin to describe it.  We’ll have to wait and see if successful does.

There’s so much to talk about since our last get-together, so let’s just take it in order.  We’ll mix in the moves and the games.

When last we spoke, we were talking about the fact that Dakota Hudson seemed to be making his way to the major leagues, having been pulled out of a game on Wednesday night to smiles and hugs.  Friday afternoon, that became a reality but as did so, so much more.  Allen and I tried to break this down as the news was breaking on Meet Me at Musial but let’s go over it again here with a little more clarity.

First off, we have to give a tearful farewell to the Patron Pitcher of the BlogTyler Lyons has proudly worn #70 for his entire Cardinal career and done so, for the most part, successfully.  Last year, he was a dominant force out of the bullpen.  However, he lost the last part of 2016 to knee surgery and had to have more at the end of 2017, missing the last week of the season after missing the postseason was guaranteed.  Whether it was from overuse last year (Lyons appeared in 50 games, 20 more than the year before), not being completely healthy (he’d been on the DL once this year), or just the randomness of relievers, 2018 was a year he wanted to forget.  It’s nice to know that his FIP was significantly lower than his ERA, but even that was over five.  His best seasons were when he didn’t walk folks but this year he walked one batter every two innings.  His WHIP was close to 2.

There’s no doubt the Cardinals needed to do something with Lyons.  I expected another DL stint, like they did with Brett Cecil here in all of these moves.  Instead, they let him go, sending him through the DFA processes.  It’s possible that Lyons would clear waivers and be able to stay in the organization, but a lefty with some major league experience both starting and relieving can be valuable to some teams.  Jon Doble said if he was a team out of it, he’d claim Lyons and stick him in the rotation for the rest of the year, see what he can do there.  That’s not a terrible idea, because I’ve said that I didn’t care for Lyons being used as a situational reliever at all this season.  I don’t know that starting is where he needs to be, but getting him more innings to try to get right when there’s no pressure to win isn’t the worst thing.

Anyway, we say so long (at least for now) to the Patron Pitcher.  He was the only pitcher ever to wear the #70 and only the second player to do so.  (Baseball-Reference says Lyons was the only one, but the BirdBats number reference site–which seems to be gone now–listed another player in 1996 or so.  Maybe Miguel Mejia?  B-Ref says he had 35 but could be that was his main number.  I don’t know.)  Given the way that the Cardinals use players and with so many numbers retired or off limits, it probably won’t be too long before another #70 arises and we have another Patron Pitcher or Patron Player.

That was the biggest part of the bullpen shakeup to me.  It was almost a foregone conclusion that the Cardinals were going to release Greg Holland.  He had just two months remaining on his contract, they weren’t going to be able to trade him (while Holland says he’s going to join a contender, it’s hard to see that happening), and the person that was such a strong advocate of the front office signing him is no longer in the organization.  When the Cards signed Holland, I thought it was overkill, that he wasn’t needed because they already had a very solid bullpen with plenty of closing options.  Turned out I was right that they didn’t need Holland but for completely wrong reasons.  If you want to say you are going to try to salvage this season, removing Holland was the easiest and most obvious way of going about it.

Losing Sam Tuivailala was a surprise, given how well he had pitched this season.  It feels like Tui was just a victim of them wanting to have more roster flexibility.  With him out of options, he was taking up room that could be better utilized with folks that could go up and down from Memphis.  Tui was doing well but he wasn’t dominating or anything and they seem to have gotten a good return in him with Seth Elledge, who could provide help next year or the year after but isn’t taking up room on the major league or the 40-man roster right now.  Tui gets to go to a pennant race, joining Seattle as they are four games behind Houston for the division lead and a couple of games up on Oakland for the last wild-card spot.  Hopefully he’ll be able to contribute there and we’ll get to see him in October.

Hudson, Daniel Poncedeleon, and Tyler Webb came up to quickly remake the bullpen.  They haven’t made a huge impact yet but at least there’s not this feeling of dread right now when a starter leaves the game, especially since Mike Shildt is quite aggressive about replacing pitchers.  We’ll see if these guys have better luck than the ones they are replacing–they’d just about have to, wouldn’t they?–but at least it’s a clean slate, a fresh look.

Friday (5-2 win)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  DeJong had three hits in this one, including a triple that tied the game in the third and a two-run single in the fourth that provided the final runs.  It’s hard to say that DeJong is completely back from his hand injury, but this marked the third straight game he had an extra-base hit, so the power seems to be returning.  He’s been consistently getting at least one hit, with Sunday night being only the fifth time in 19 games since he’s returned that he’s gone hitless.  Having DeJong going is pretty key to this offense, especially since he’s currently batting third.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  I think the salsa is starting to wear off–or, more likely, there’s a bit of a correction to him having been hotter than fire the past week or so.  Carpenter got two hits in the first game of the Cincinnati series.  Since that time, through Sunday, he’s 3-20 (.150) with four walks and five strikeouts.  It’s nothing to be concerned about and it’s barely a slump.  It’s just more noticeable when you put it up against Player of the Week numbers and a stretch where he was homering every day.

Notes: The Cards scored in two different innings in this one, which is more than they did the rest of the series.  (Neither of those innings was the first, which is another difference.)  There have been some good signs with the offense, but it still needs some work to be a consistent engine that spits out runs.  I’m not sure it’ll get there this season but I think there are a lot more reasons to believe it can be passable than there were a few weeks ago.  If nothing else, Shildt’s willingness to put runners in motion has a good chance to help provide more runs.

Yadier Molina had three hits, two of them doubles, an RBI, and scored two runs.  There can’t be that many 36-year-old catchers that have hit .300 but he’s real close, currently hitting .293 which would be his highest average since his .319 in 2013.  Catchers aren’t supposed to get more productive as they age, especially not ones that play as much as Yadi does.  He continues to put up reasons why, eventually, he’ll probably be in the Hall of Fame.

Luke Weaver had been bedeviled by the Cubs all year long but was able to keep them in check in this one, going six innings and allowing just the two runs.  That was a huge game for Weaver personally and it has to be a good feeling and some encouragement for him going forward.  Plus the Cards only see the Cubs for one more series, I believe, so he may be done with the baby bears for the season!  Five strikeouts and no walks was a great way to make sure they couldn’t do a lot of damage against him, with two solo homers being the only blemishes.

And, for all the talk of a new bullpen, it was Mike Mayers, Jordan Hicks, and Bud Norris closing this one out.  Seeing some new faces would have to wait.

Saturday (6-2 win)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  A three-hit day, including one really big hit.

It’s easy to bash on John Mabry here, but sometimes it really just does take someone with a fresh perspective coming at the problem, looking at it in different ways (ooh, sorry, no pun intended) to help solve things.  In Ozuna’s case, he was obviously able to hit the ball–he leads the team in hits–but was unable to get any power going.  Adjusting his stance and being able to see the ball differently seems to have helped, as his grand slam in the first inning here showed.  We’ll have to see if this lasts–we all remember that wonderful week in June where Ozuna was on fire, only to see him go cold immediately after–but it is nice to get reports and stories like this so we know what the hitting coaches are doing.  While I’m sure that Mabry and crew were also helpful at times, we never seemed to get stories about changes he’d made to a player.

Goat: Tommy Pham.  Pham and Dexter Fowler were the only starters that didn’t get a hit, though Fowler drew a walk and scored from first on a double by Yairo Munoz in the first after Ozuna’s slam.  Every time I think Pham might have it figured out, such as right after the manager change when he hit .533/.611/.800 in four games–he follows it up with another quiet spell (.130/.200/.174 in seven games–six starts–since).  He’s sort of alternated running hot for about five games and running cold for about the same all month long.  Not sure what it’ll take to get him into the groove but it’d be nice if he could find it.

Notes: All the scoring game in the first as Jose Quintana couldn’t get anything figured out, throwing over 50 pitches in the first frame as he went 3-2 to almost every batter.  It’s a good thing Miles Mikolas was opposing him, though, because six runs might not have been enough for some others on the staff.  Mikolas pretty much cruised, with his only hiccup a two-run homer to Javier Baez, who is quickly becoming my least favorite Cub (and that’s a pretty high bar).  Otherwise, Mikolas just let the Cubs put the ball in play–only two strikeouts–and got through six innings without incident.

Dakota Hudson was able to make his major league debut in this one, keeping the spirit of Daniel Poncedeleon and of Austin Gomber‘s first start by throwing a no-hit inning, striking out two in the process.  There is some talk about Hudson’s stuff playing up as a reliever and given his low strikeout rates in Memphis, maybe there’s something to that.  Of course, there was a lot of unfamiliarity there as well, which didn’t hurt his case.  No matter, it was great to see him make his debut and have such success.

Otherwise, it was the same old faces as Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris also closed this one out.  I was really surprised at that, given the fact there was a four run lead, but I guess Shildt really wanted to make sure to lock it down.  That pretty much put both of those guys out of commission for Sunday, though, which turned out not to matter but I wonder what Shildt would have done had a save situation arisen.  I’m guessing Norris could have gone three nights–especially if they are going to turn around and trade him in the next day or so–but I’d not wanted to see Hicks again.

After the game on Saturday night, the Cardinals continued Home Makeover: Bullpen Edition by sending Luke Voit out to the Yankees for two relievers.  Giovanny Gallegos is in the same vein as Seth Elledge, a reliever that can help in the future.  However, unlike Elledge, Gallegos did have to be added to the 40-man roster and, as such, we’ll probably see him at some time this season.  Chasen Shreve (that’s a name that would fit in a galaxy far, far away, I think) will be in St. Louis on Monday, adding another left-handed option to the bullpen.  While Shreve’s numbers aren’t overwhelming, they are better than anything the Cards have seen from the left side this year and there’s a lot of hope that getting out of the punishing AL East will be of some use to him.

The Cards made the trade but haven’t yet cleared room on the 25-man roster for him.  Shreve is expected to be active tonight and, given that Carlos Martinez is coming off the disabled list to start this evening’s game, there are going to have to be at least two roster moves today.  The easiest thing would be to send John Brebbia and Gomber down, with Gomber getting into the Memphis rotation to be available as starting depth if necessary.  Especially with Tyler Webb and Shreve, Gomber’s left-handedness isn’t necessarily needed as much out of the bullpen.  Besides, that ‘pen is starting to get pretty crowded.

Of course, that’s what they’ll probably do but it’d be a lot more interesting if they pulled off another trade to make room.  It is interesting that the Rockies have looked in on Norris, meaning that he could play on both sides of the field this upcoming series should the Cardinals want to go out and make that move.  Trading to the Rockies would seem to indicate they aren’t as concerned about this year, given that Colorado is one of those teams they’d have to climb over to make it into the wild card.  That’s OK, though–if the price is right, you really should move Norris.

Sunday (5-2 loss)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  For the second day in a row, Ozuna’s first inning home run provided most of the scoring.  The problem is, it was all the scoring in this one and it was only a two-run shot, not a slam.  (Though a slam wouldn’t have done the job either.)

Goat: It’s tough to assign a Goat tag to a guy that had a double and a walk on a night when the offense was quiet and made a nice play (according to my Gateway to Baseball Heaven cohost at the end of our show last night) a couple batters before, but it’s very possible Yairo Munoz‘s error was the difference in last night’s game.  If he makes the play, the two teams go to the bottom of the fifth still tied.  Instead, the Cubs scored there and put up two more when Javier Baez (I told you I didn’t like that guy) doubled immediately after.  That was the last of the scoring, but you wonder what could have been if Munoz retires Jason Heyward.

Notes: It was one of the quietest nights for the offense that they’ve had since Mike Shildt took over, putting up just five hits and the two runs from Ozuna’s bat.  It’s actually tied for the second-fewest hits we’ve seen in the Shildt era, trailing the two-hitter in the double-header in Chicago last weekend.  The club is hitting .266 since the change, which is 20 points higher than before.  There’s been 16 homers in those 12 games, though a lot of that was due to Matt Carpenter’s hot streak.  All in all, things may not be perfect, but I do think we are seeing some improvements offensively.

Shildt also continued being aggressive with pitchers, something that’s very good to see.  John Gant had gone four innings and allowed just two runs, but when the Cubs put a runner on in front of Anthony Rizzo, he didn’t worry about trying to get Gant through five innings or the fact that he only had thrown 62 pitches.  Trying to win the game right there, he went to Austin Gomber to try to neutralize the lefties that were coming up.  Gomber got Rizzo to ground out on the aforementioned good play by Munoz, then gave up a double to Ben Zobrist that Jedd Gyorko just couldn’t come up with and then the grounder that Munoz botched and Baez’s double.  It’s tough to say it was Gomber’s fault–being unable to watch at that time, I’m not sure if he could have made better pitches, etc. but if his defense works behind him, he probably gets out of that.

It was also interesting that Shildt didn’t stretch Gomber, going to John Brebbia in the sixth rather than keeping Gomber in the game.  Brebbia worked the sixth and seventh and Tyler Webb made his Cardinal debut by taking the eighth and ninth, so the new bullpen flexibility, with guys that can go multiple innings, did start paying off.  I have to think that played into Shildt’s thinking as well and we’ll probably see more of that over the next few weeks as he knows that he can usually go get a pitcher at a tipping point no matter of when it is in the game.

More moves have to be coming today and possibly some even tomorrow.  This should be an exciting time to be a Cardinals fan, possibly the most active deadline of the John Mozeliak era!

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