If you remember from earlier in this series, I’ve taken the Cardinals in Out of the Park Baseball 21 and am simulating the season, with minimal interference, just to see how things are going to go. At the end of May, these Cardinals were in last place, seven games behind the Reds, and struggling. So what did June bring? A bit of hope….and some big moves that got virtual fans buzzing.
While it doesn’t have anything to do with the current incarnation, early news of the month does have a former one involved, as Kansas City traded Trevor Rosenthal to the Astros. Rosenthal was having a better season in 2020 than his terrible 2019, but he had two saves and a 4.88 ERA. Not exactly tearing it up, but worth something to Houston I suppose.
The first game of June saw Jack Flaherty take on the Blue Jays in what was an indicator of the hard luck he was going to have coming. He went 6.1 innings against Toronto, striking out 12 and allowing just two runs, but Giovanny Gallegos blew it in the ninth, allowing three runs on two homers for his first blown save of the season.
The next day, Dexter Fowler was key in getting a split with the Jays, hitting his seventh home run. At this point, he was hitting .276 and had driven in 31.
Just like in the big leagues, June brought the draft to this simulated MLB. I kept an eye out for the players the Cardinals actually signed but I tended to go with the best player available (at least, until I hit auto-draft to finish it up). There were some differences from the real draft. Austin Martin went first instead of fourth, while Spencer Torkleson went 9th. The Cards first pick, Jordan Walker, went fourth to the Kansas City Royals.
When it came to the Cardinals, I selected Dylan Crews over Drew Romo, who was Randy Flores‘s selection (and went to the Rockies in the real deal) and Heston Kjerstad, the Arkansas outfielder that went second in reality but was still available at this selection. Crews was a highly regarded high school outfielder that wound up withdrawing from the draft when the shortened rounds and deferred money became official. For those interested, here’s how the fictional first round came out if you want to compare it to the real thing.
Moving on, in the second round I took Reese Albert, who also forewent the MLB draft and continued playing outfield for Florida State. In the third round (I didn’t get all the extra picks the real Cardinals did) we took Masyn Winn, who you know the Cards took in the second round in reality. The fourth and fifth rounds saw Nelson Berkwich, a high school lefty who is going to Vanderbilt in actuality, and Elijah Cabell, another Florida State outfielder.
We actually had no problems signing any of my draftees, as their demands were well under my pool. I even gave more than they asked to make sure the negotiations were short.
Right after the draft the first All Star voting update came out. The only Cardinal on the list was Kolten Wong, who was third in the National League at second base.
As the Cardinals continue to try to find their way, a trade offer came in from Toronto. They wanted to send Matt Shoemaker to St. Louis for Malcome Nunez and Jake Burns. I looked into this one a bit, but with Shoemaker having a 6.68 ERA, giving up three homers per nine, and having a K/9 less than double of his BB/9, it seemed reasonable to pass. (Pitching really hasn’t been the issue anyway.) Later in the month, Toronto was able to find a taker, sending Shoemaker to Washington. By that time, his ERA was closer to 8.
Luken Baker was the Player of the Week in the Florida State League the first week of the month. He hit .375 with two homers and 4 RBI and, if I was planning this to be a long-term thing or was really tinkering with it, I’m pretty sure I’d have found a way to get him up to Springfield.
The first power rankings of the month show the Cardinals 21st in the majors. They went and split a four-game series with Pittsburgh, with one of the losses coming in a Flaherty start where he struck out eight in five innings, but allowed three runs.
One thing about OOTP, you never go too long without a trade offer. On the 11th, Texas wanted to send Jose Leclerc to the Cards for none other than Dylan Carlson. Even though Carlson was slashing .253/.388/.399 with five homers in 46 games in Memphis, that one got shot down real quickly, about as quickly as the Cards lost a series to the Mets.
Two days later, the White Sox came calling, wanting Luis Rodriguez, Henry Gomez, and Kyle Reis favorite Brendan Donovan for Alex Colome. Colome had some reasonable numbers (4.56 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9) but with pitching not really being an issue, I passed on this as well.
The Cards went to London–well, I don’t know that they did in the game, but it was what was scheduled as the London Series on the real calendar–and split with the Cubs. They lost a heartbreaking first game, as Flaherty went 8.2 innings, struck out nine, and allowed just one run but that was more than Yu Darvish and the Cubs bullpen would allow. The Redbirds pounded the baby bears in the second game 11-4, with Fowler mauling his former team (3-4, home run, 4 RBI).
A new All-Star voting update but still Wong was the only person on the list. The Cards sit 20th in the power rankings.
We mentioned last time that Matt Wieters was apparently very confused about what team he was playing for, wanting more playing time instead of realizing he was behind Yadier Molina. On the 17th, he demanded to be traded and so I put him on the trading block. As of the end of the month, there had been no takers.
The next All-Star voting had no Cardinals in it at all, as Wong slipped out. However, the team was up to 17th in the power rankings after a bit of a run. They had been swept by the Rockies but swept the Reds. Flaherty finally got a win and, of course, it was an unFlaherty-like four earned in five innings pitched. It was only his second win of the season.
As we reached the halfway point, I got a note from Bill DeWitt, talking about my progress or lack thereof toward the preseason goals he had set out. One was making the playoffs, which was in trouble since the Cards were under .500. The next was to upgrade third base, then to extend Adam Wainwright, then to find a power hitter. Wanting to keep my job, I decided to get proactive.
Wainwright was easy enough. He just wanted a one year, $4.6 million extension. His numbers were fine and if the boss wants it, the boss gets it. I didn’t even bother negotiating, just accepted his request.
I received a trade offer around this time from Oakland, who wanted to send Yusmeiro Petit for Justin Toerner and Hansel Otanendi. While maybe I could have tried to work a deal to get Matt Chapman from them, I didn’t think it’d be very likely. Besides, I had something else in mind.
After taking three of four from the Marlins, I picked up the virtual phone and called Colorado, seeing what it would take to get Nolan Arenado. I started with Dakota Hudson, which was laughed at. I added Austin Gomber, which didn’t move the needle much. Then I tossed in Harrison Bader and I got a surprising message. “I like that offer, that’ll do.” I hit submit and what we’ve been wanting for so long became a reality.
Nolan Arenado was a Cardinal.
Suddenly, three of my goals from ownership were now checked off. Getting to the playoffs would be the hard one, as there was a hill to climb, but there were some signs of momentum. And, while I was making big moves, I went ahead and promote Carlson to the big leagues as well.
The voters were starting to recognize the club as well. The latest All-Star update had Paul Goldschmidt third among first basemen and Gallegos fifth among relievers. Arenado was second and suddenly the best chance for the Cardinals to have a starter.
The Cards went to Boston for their first series with Arenado. He must have gotten there late because in his first game, he came in to replace Matt Carpenter at DH and went 0-2 in a game the Cards won. His first start came the next night in what was a wild one. The Cards were down 5-0 after the first inning as John Gant and Tyler Webb both only got one out in the first. Brett Cecil came in to get the final out and went a total of an inning, as did Junior Fernandez and John Brebbia. Andrew Miller went 1.1 and Gallegos went the last four, getting the win as the Cardinals rallied to down the Red Sox 10-7. They couldn’t pull the sweep off the next day, but two out of three in Boston was nice to see and it moved them to 15th in the power rankings.
My final move for the month was to designated Tyler Webb for assignment, given that he had an ERA around 8 and was really struggling. Genesis Cabrera came up to take his place.
The Cards ended the month 40-45, not great but just 5 1/2 behind the Cubs for the division lead after going 7-3 in their last 10. Arenado wasn’t the reason for the surge, going 1-14 with a walk since the trade (and apparently not happy about the deal) but it’s exciting to think about this team going forward.
Here’s the hitting and the pitching stats. It’s the current roster but their numbers for the whole year. I don’t know if we’ll update for July, given we should be back to real baseball by then, but I may play it out and see how it goes!