Tag Archive | "Adam Wainwright"

The Past Meets The Future—Matheny Extended, Carp Retires

It was a day of coming and going for the Cardinals. In the first major personnel announcements of the offseason, General Manager John Mozeliak announced that the organization was furthering its leadership on the bench with Mike Matheny, while also making official the retirement of Chris Carpenter.

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In the current, the decision to continue on further with manager Matheny was affirmed over the long-term—not that there was ever any question regarding it. In his second year, the Cardinals finished with a National League-best 96 wins, going to win its first National League Championship under his guide, before reaching Game 6 of the World Series. For these efforts, he finished fourth the voting for NL Manager of the Year and saw it come to a head today with a three-year contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2017 season. Before the 2013 season, his third year option that covers the 2014 season was previously picked up.

Matheny has played a pivotal role in keeping the organization afloat after future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retired two years ago. In a time where the team could have slipped into a minor rebuilding phase, under his watch it has instead returned it to the NLCS two consecutive years and won its first NL Central in four years. In his first two seasons on the bench, Matheny has a record of 185-139, which is the third best two-season start to managerial career in Cardinal history.

             HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Matheny has quietly climbed into elite company in Cardinal history in his first two years as manager. His 185 wins bring him in a third all-time in team history for manager wins over the first two seasons:

Billy Southworth (1941-42): 203-104

Frankie Frisch (1934-35): 191-116

Mike Matheny (2012-13): 185-139

Johnny Keane (1961-62): 177-147

Joe Torre (1991-1992): 167-157

Perhaps what has been most impressive has been the handling of the young guard of Cardinal prospects that Matheny has embraced. They have become an important foundation of the team, both now and in years to come. Armed with a ready to win, yet continually developing roster, the move to secure Matheny over the long-term is yet another strong early investment in continued Cardinal success.

 

Yet, while the club was securing its future, it also announced the newest part of its past. The biggest announcement of the afternoon was Mozeliak confirming what was long assumed to be coming: the retirement of Carpenter. Injuries curtailed the last two seasons for the 38-year-old pitcher, and he mustered only three starts since 2011. After mounting a final comeback attempt in mid-June, only to see it derailed in Memphis after the same nerve issues that ended his 2012 in Spring Training returned. Ultimately, it became clear there was nothing left to pursue in regards to continued attempts to return, and as his contract also expired with the club at the end of the season as well, it became clear that it was time to move on.

Injuries often kept Carpenter from being the regularly dominant presence at the front of the Cardinal rotation, but when he was there, he was among the best hurlers to ever wear the Birds on Bat. After beginning his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Carpenter signed with the Cardinals in December 2002, but missed his first season in St. Louis with an elbow injury.

But from the time he made his Cardinal debut in 2004, on through 2006, he was as good a pitcher as the National League had. Over that time span, he posted a record of 51-18, including winning the first Cardinal Cy Young in 2005 since Bob Gibson hoisted the award 35 years before. In 2006, he anchored a Cardinal staff that salvaged a failing season to win the team’s first World Series since 1982.

While he missed all but five games in 2007 and 2008 due to a second elbow surgery, he played an important role as mentor to the young Adam Wainwright, becoming a critical part of launching a career that has seen him join Carp among the elite Cardinal hurlers all-time. He returned to the top of his game in 2009, joining Wainwright in the top three of the NL Cy Young vote, a third such finish for Carp.

His final great hurrah was in the 2011 postseason, when he authored one of the great postseason games in history, winning a 1-0 dual with Roy Halladay. Overall, he posted a 4-0 record that October, including two World Series wins over the Rangers, including the decisive game seven victory.

Overall, he finished with a career record of 144-95, and a 10-4 postseason record, the seventh most wins in playoff history. With the Cardinals, his career record finishes at 95-44 with a 3.04 ERA and finished in the top ten in strikeouts, winning percentage, WHIP and postseason wins. He fought through a litany of injuries during his career: a torn shoulder labrum, torn ulnar-collateral ligament, and finally thoracic outlet syndrome, that led to the nerve and circulatory problems that ultimately brought his career to a close.

Due to time lost, Carpenter will not reach Cooperstown, but will loom large in the lore of his era. He is likely to be a quick inductee into the forthcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame when the Ballpark Village-based Cardinal museum is completed. Nobody will ever wearing his number 29 again most likely, despite the fact it is not eligible to be “officially” retired under current team rules. As for his future in the game, there has been continued dialogue between him and Mozeliak on finding a place for him with the club, most likely in a coaching capacity. Because, for one of the game’s great warriors, a suit-and-tie front office gig will not do. Rather, keeping him close to the dirt and the players that continue the legacy that he so intensely embraced is the only way.

As it has always been, its only goodbye for now for Carp.

 

Matt Whitener is a staff writer for i70 Baseball. He can also be found at The Sports Fan Journal and Cheap.Seats.Please, as well as on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and WhitenerCSP@gmail.com

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Cardinals Create Own Misfortune In Game One

In many regards, the Cardinals have been a max effort team throughout their playoff run. From a string of uncanny, timely pitching performances, to just the right hits to get by, they have found a seamless way to survive. However, on Wednesday night in Boston, those seams popped and the Cardinal chances quickly followed suit.

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There is not a postseason series that is devoid of “the moment”. Whether it be a critical defensive play, pitch placement or a hit find the right opening in the field, it is the turn of these plays that more often than not decides the turn of a series. Murphy’s Law was firmly rooted against the Cardinals in each and every one of these instances from onset of the Game One of the World Series, and they paid an instant price. Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester owned the corners in the top of the first inning, while Adam Wainwright uncharacteristically missed them. Boston made the best of the mini-slump from the Cardinal Ace, and the substandard Cardinal defense made sure they stuck.

The most notable play of the night will remain the first of this series of unfortunate events, where shortstop Pete Kozma’s moves without out the ball were executed more flawlessly than his ones with it. On a quick attempt at an inning-salvaging double play was initiated by Matt Carpenter, Kozma uncharacteristically missed the exchange at the base, a play that had its biggest impact to come after its completion. After the play was overturned by a rare umpire tribunal, it was made that even the runner coming into second was safe after Kozma never had control of the ball to record an out.

As such things always seem to unfold; this error was followed immediately by a definitive hit in the game by first baseman Mike Napoli in the next at-bat. He cleared the bases on a hanging Wainwright delivery and cleared the bases, putting the Red Sox ahead permanently.

Yet that moment was far from the only miscue of the day for the sloppy Cardinal defense. An inning that began with a miscue between Wainwright and Yadier Molina on a routine infield pop fly, it was Kozma’s second error in as many innings which blew things open yet again, which led the second time the bases were loaded in the young game. On the following play, Dustin Pedroia chopped a routine ball within range of both Kozma and David Freese at third, yet got past both and drove in the fourth run of the game, as well as kept the base loaded and the game alive.

Yet, it was the next at-bat that was the most ironic of the game, and could have the most resonating impact of the game. David Ortiz came within inches of his second grand slam of the postseason if not for a world-beating grab by Carlos Beltran at the right field fence. But in the course of making the grab, Beltran banged is open rib cage on the outfield wall, an outcome that forced him from the game at the close of the inning. While Beltran’s hospital returns were X-Rays and cat scans which showed no serious reasons for concern, in the same way that they benefitted from the injury to Hanley Ramirez in the NLCS, they could be forced to battle through for themselves now with a sore Beltran.

After this early string of misfortunes, the Cardinal momentum was sufficiently deadened. While they mounted a brief threat in the fifth inning, as well as broke up the team shutout bid in the ninth inning on a long Matt Holliday home run, their fate was long since decided, and largely by their own doing. The 8-1 loss gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the series, an edge that has resulted in a win in the last 24 World Series contest.

The Cardinals have been a team that has played at best when performing in concert, as Game Six of the National League Championship Series displayed. Yesterday’s game was a study in what happens when that same display happens in the contrary. Boston did the three things well that win baseball games on Wednesday: pitched well, played well at home and capitalized on mistakes. For the Cardinals to return to St. Louis tomorrow night with the series under control, they must do their part to assure there are fewer chances for the Sox to make good on the latter scenario.

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What Does The Future Hold – Cardinals Contracts and Scenarios

As the St. Louis Cardinals face the final weekend of the National League Championship Series, and the baseball year as a whole rolls into its final go around shortly, the show still goes on, regardless of outcome. Sooner or later, the tone of the year quickly turns to the personnel part and the future becomes the present. Free agency, retirements, trades and rumors will rule the roost for the next three months, and the Cardinals will be far from on the outside looking in.

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While the team has the rare pleasure of having the vast majority its entire core and active roster under team control for not only 2013, but 2014 as well, the business is safe to continue as is for the near future. But exactly how is the design of the team set up entering the winter? Here is the entire breakdown of the Cardinal roster, including what’s to come, what will cost what and how contract status works into the personnel decisions that could loom.

(Contract figures per Cots Contracts & Baseball Reference)

Guaranteed Contracts—$71.5M guaranteed in 2014

Adam Wainwright (32, $97.5M through 2018)

Matt Holliday (34, $51M through 2017 w/ $17M team option in 2018)

Yadier Molina (31, $44M through 2017, w/ $15M team option in 2018)

Allen Craig (30, $28.5M through 2017, w/ $13M team option in 2018)

Jaime Garcia (27, $17M through 2015, w/ $23.5M total in separate team options in ’16-’17)

Jason Motte (32, $7.5M through 2014)

Randy Choate (38, $6M through 2015)

The vast majority of the Cardinal veteran core is not only signed, but is contracted through the next four seasons at minimum. Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are likely on career carrying deals, while the team locked up young, quickly proven players such as Craig and Garcia early in their careers, and have control through their best years underway. Motte is the lone pending free agent on the 2014 team, and will have a show-and-prove year as he returns to the ninth inning from Tommy John surgery early in the season.

Arbitration Eligibles

John Axford (31, Stage 2, $5M in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

David Freese (31, Stage 2, $3.15M in 2013)

Jon Jay (29, Stage 1, $524,000 in 2013)

Daniel Descalso (26, Stage 1, $511,000 in 2013)

Fernando Salas (29, Stage 1, $512,000 in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

While Craig and Motte are locked up, the remainder of the formerly young Cardinal cast is in the midst of their arbitration years. At maximum, Freese, Jay and Descalso are under team control through 2015, but there will be a few tough calls in this tier of the team, and none harder to predict than Freese, who is due for a raise into the $5M range, but had his worst year of his career. Axford’s case will be the most interesting case, as he is a high-ceiling talent, but will carry a difficult price tag for what is likely a seventh inning bridge pitcher to carry.

Pre-Arbitration

Lance Lynn (27, Stage 3)

Matt Carpenter (28, Stage 3; Buy-out Candidate)

Tony Cruz (27, Stage 3)

Shane Robinson (29, Stage 3)

Shelby Miller (23, Stage 2)

Michael Wacha (23, Stage 2)

Carlos Martinez (22, Stage 2)

Pete Kozma (26, Stage 2)

Trevor Rosenthal (24, Stage 2)

Kevin Siegrist (24, Stage 2)

Seth Maness (25, Stage 2)

Matt Adams (25, Stage 2)

Joe Kelly (26, Stage 2)

Keith Butler (25, Stage 2)

Sam Freeman (26, Stage 2)

Tyler Lyons (26, Stage 2)

John Gast (25, Stage 2)

Kolten Wong (22, Stage 2)

Adron Chambers (27, Stage 2)

The core of the Cardinal team is its youth, as the group that was heralded as the top organization in all of baseball before the season has seen many of its jewels hit the big leagues. Of the 19 players in this section, no less than 12 are virtual locks to be on the Opening Day roster, and none will come in at cost of more than $525,000. This is where the cost control of youth, performing youth at that, shows it’s most advantageous asset. And with only Lynn, Carpenter, Cruz and Robinson on pace to reach arbitration status over the next two years, unless the team decides to up the ante on an early long-term deal to buy out any of this group’s arbitration seasons, this will be a strong asset on the side of the team’s purchasing power, if needed.

Free Agents

Carlos Beltran ($13M)

Jake Westbrook ($8.75M, $9.5M team option will be declined)

Chris Carpenter ($10.5M, will likely retire)

Rafael Furcal ($7M)

Edward Mujica ($3.2M)

Rob Johnson ($750,000)

There are a few ifs and a few certainties here. The certainties start with Jake Westbrook, who’s 2014 option is all but certain to be declined. Furcal and Carpenter will not return as well, with retirement on the horizon for Carpenter and Furcal missing all of the season with Tommy John surgery, and the team having moved on from him before spring training commenced. Mujica is due for a raise, despite his late season struggles, and will likely price himself out of returning for the capacity he would be needed in.

 

Post-2014 Free Agent Candidates

Motte, Axford, Freese

Post 2015 Free Agent Candidates

Garcia, Choate

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Seven Point Preview For Cardinals/Dodgers NLCS

Tonight, the National League Championship Series kicks off at Busch Stadium, in an ironic scenario. It pits the best team, by record, in the St. Louis Cardinals versus the best team, in the view of the odds makers, in the Los Angeles Dodgers. This could be seen as a slight to a Cardinal team that not only finished with the best record in the NL, but tied for the best in all of the baseball, but the Dodgers are a bit more than just their record.

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After a desperately terrible start, the Dodgers played insane baseball over the second half of the season, finishing with a winning percentage of .665 after June. They pulled from the bottom of the NL West to winning their division by 11 games, the largest margin of any in baseball. Yet, they find themselves facing four games on the road against the best October franchise in baseball over the last three seasons, and it is the type of series where intangibles and talent collide, to make for a narrow decision.

So who has the edge: the hottest team in baseball or the most proven team in it? Here’s how it shakes out:

Starting Lineup: The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored this season, owed mostly to the new high mark they set hitting with runners in scoring position. As a team, they hit .330 on the year, and had five batters drive in over 75 runs on the season. Save for the injured Allen Craig, four everyday Cardinals hit over .296, with high marks of .319 and .318 from Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter.

For the Dodgers, the production was spread around. Hanley Ramirez hit .345 in 304 at-bats between a series of injuries, while Yasiel Puig hit .319 on the year after debuting in June, adding in 19 home runs, 21 doubles and 11 stolen bases. From the Opening Day Dodgers, Adrian Gonzalez led the team in the Triple Crown categories, with a .293/22/100 split on the year.

The Cardinals have the best everyday ensemble left in the game, as well as a knack for finding hits when they are needed. LA conversely has more talent in the everyday lineup, but without Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp healthy, it simply isn’t a more threatening lineup as a whole. Advantage: Cardinals.

Starting Pitching: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are the best back-to-back duo of starting arms in the game, and are the greatest advantage the Dodgers have on their side. Throughout the year, they combined to go 31-13, with a 2.17 ERA and 380 strikeouts. But depth is also the Dodgers ally, as Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano all providing an intriguing matchup options as well.

Everything is based around Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals, but this time it won’t be able to start with him. There is a chance that he will be surrounded by three rookies in Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller in the Cardinals NLCS rotation. They are not average, but well-tested youngsters that won’t be intimidated in the moment, but will carry a heavy burden.

St. Louis is high on talent, but clearly outmatched against the two former Cy Young winners, which are slated to start four of the seven potential games in the series. Their best hope is to spring an upset against one, ride Wainwright’s opportunities and win the swing game that pits starter four vs. four. Advantage: Dodgers.

Bullpen: St. Louis relies most heavily on its young arms out of its bullpen, where no less than four can factor into any game, including the ninth inning, which has been inherited by Trevor Rosenthal (108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings, 29 holds). The presence of former closers-turned-fill in arms Edward Mujica (37 2013 saves) and John Axford give the Cardinals a solid group of mid-to-late game options, albeit with some risk.

The Dodgers rely on mix of proven specialists, closers and pure flame throwers. Kenley Jenson threw the second most pitches over 100 mph in the MLB this year after Aroldis Chapman, and closed out 28 of 32 save opportunities after moving to the ninth inning in early June. Joined by a resurgent Brian Wilson (0.66 ERA) and JP Howell (.164 average against by lefties) and they have a tough crew to crack.

The Cardinals pen has been solid throughout the year, but somewhat unnerving of late in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a bevy of options that miss bats easily, and instant outs are huge in the playoffs. Advantage: Dodgers.

Defense: Despite some notably limited players in Matt Holliday and David Freese in the starting lineup, the Cardinals can field. They tied of the least amount of team errors and the best fielding percentage in the National League this season. This is due in part to a strong quad up the middle of Molina, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma.

The Dodgers conversely were not a good defensive team. Puig’s insertion in the outfield provided some much needed range, and AJ Ellis is a plus backstop, but they finished with the second most errors in the NL and wait more for strikeouts than created ones. Advantage: Cardinals.

Bench: Andre Ethier’s availability to play in the field is in question, but he can swing the bat still and is joined by Michael Young, who was acquired to add needed depth to the bench. These veteran presences loom huge in the Dodgers ability to create mismatches on-demand. Dee Gordon is instant speed boost, while Nick Punto is a defensive plus at three infield spots.

The Cardinals bench is not an offensive stock hold, after Matt Adams was forced into everyday action after the injury to Allen Craig deemed it necessary. However, Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson are defensive bonuses that are an important part of the late game strategy for the offense-heavy Cardinal attack.

Despite the versatility of the Cardinal approach, LA’s ability to continue to create offense late in the game is major advantage that will be a factor throughout the series. Advantage: Dodgers

Manager: Mike Matheny’s major contribution in his second season leading the Cardinals has been to install the crucial team identity, as well as strategically groom the rookie base that much of the team is built around. However, he has grown as a strategist as well and uses his full roster to his advantage.

Don Mattingly has come a long way in just this season. He was one week away from losing his job when the Dodgers took off, and has become an essential part of holding together the big money, multi-personality team together.

With that said, Matheny holds an edge in the chemistry department, as well as the experience lane at this part of the calendar as well. He has already shown some positive adjustments from a year ago, and will take on a new personal distance mark in his career. Advantage: Cardinals

Injury Factor: There are two major injuries that holding both teams back from their full potential in the series. For the Dodgers, it is Matt Kemp, who only played only 73 games on the year. The team’s best player in name, but not much a part of the run the team took this season. Ethier’s foot injury is also compounding the Dodger situation, whereas he can’t be a part of the daily lineup, due to not being able to handle the demands of the field.

Conversely, the Cardinals are missing a major part of their success in Allen Craig. The run producing machine ran up 97 RBI and a hit a mind-blowing 59 for 130 on the year with runners in scoring position (.454). The absence of the All-Star first baseman has been padded by the presence of Adams, but he is an irreplaceable quantity in the steadiness of the Cardinal attack.

While the Cardinals are missing a major portion of their attack, the alternate option for the Cardinals is actually not as far of a step down as the Dodgers have faced without two-thirds of their best possible outfield. Advantage: Cardinals.

Intangibles: Momentum is everything in the postseason, and both teams come into the series with plenty. The Cardinals will be fresh off an inspiring effort from Wainwright to close out their NLDS series, and will be in front of the same home crowd buzz that it took place in. Conversely, the Dodgers will cross the country again after a similarly inspiring close out to their NLDS matchup, which concluded with Juan Uribe’s two-run, bottom of the 8th inning home run.

On the season, the Dodgers won the season’s seven game series, 4-3. Over the last month, including the playoffs, the Dodgers are 15-16, while the Cardinals are 22-10.

On the year, the Cardinals are 56-28 at Busch Stadium, and 44-39 elsewhere. At Dodger Stadium, LA is 49-34, while 45-37 on the road. Home games for the Cardinals are the biggest outstanding factor in the series for either side.

Summary: These are two teams with clear strengths, but close margins at the same time. Protecting home field advantage will be a task for the Cardinals, who will be confronted with Greinke and Kershaw in their own park, which is a powerful equalizer. Finding their groove in offense will be tough this way, for a team that has struggled to string together a consistent offering over the last week offensively, and they will need to get runs early in the game throughout the series to make it.

The Cardinals face an uphill battle from the start, but with two Dodger aces out of the way early, if they can split the first two games before sending Wainwright to the mound in game three, they have a chance to get a decisive advantage before the anything goes game four, and then the return of Greinke and Kershaw in games five and six. On paper it seems to be a long series ahead, but one with some very decisive pitfall chances early and often. The Cardinals take the edge in the head-to-head factors department 4-3, and have some important intangibles leaning in their favor as well. This bides well in their favor for a series that looks primed to go the full distance, and end in a Cardinal final advantage.

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Wainwright Joins Pinnacle of Cardinal Pitchers

It was no secret that the key to winning game five of the National League Division Series would require a strong performance from Adam Wainwright. However, what he ultimately delivered was far more than just that. It was an effort that removed any doubt about whether he belonged among the most exclusive class of Cardinal hurlers all-time, Waino delivered. And it is now clear that the Trinity of Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Chris Carpenter now needs be pulled to include #50 as well.

It is now a “Mt. Rushmore” of Cardinal pitching greats.

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Throughout his whirlwind year, Wainwright has steadily affirmed himself as being among the best pitchers the team has ever had. It was a year where he reaffirmed his intent to be a part of the team throughout the remainder of his career, climbed the up the team’s leaderboards to a few rare levels and once again led his league in wins. It would be deemed yet another in a steady line of affirmations of him becoming one of the better pitchers of his era.

But there is always the sense that such achievements are only along a regular day’s work for him. Being a great Cardinal requires being great at the highest levels; and those only come in October. For Wainwright, the situation that found him the Division Series, being an anchor on both ends of it, fed exactly what he desires most. And that’s controlling the series in a way that only the head of a staff can; being the unavoidable punishment for opponents, and a pillar of confidence for his club.

With one half of that equation affirmed via his dominant Game One outing last week, he turned for a chance at rarified Cardinal immortality by picking up victory in a win or go home game. It was the one thing that eluded his resume to be a part of the aforementioned Cardinal greats of the bump, and it was also a chance to avenge the biggest let down of his career to date, which came in the same situation a year ago in Washington. But it was clear that the past would stay where it was early on, as Wainwright set the tone with an especially devastating curve. He pitched through the tough spots, while relishing in an inspired defense, as well as overcoming some blunders from that same unit. He made the runs stand up, and he authored a masterful complete game to close down the year for the Cardinals’ most persistent foe, and push his club to a third consecutive National League Championship Series

It echoed of the same fashion that he made his first bones in Cardinal lore, via his game-closing strikeout (via a buckling hopeless curveball) to a hitter that had destroyed the team all year, this time being Pedro Alvarez. Yet while Wainwright would always be remember for his relief heroics in seven years ago, last night was the stamp on his resume as a starter of legend with the club. It was his equivalent of Dean’s complete game, six-hit shutout of the Tigers to win the 1934 World Series, or Gibson’s record-setting 17 strikeout opener to the 1968 Series. More contemporarily, it was his match to his mentor’s masterful three-hit clinching performance over Philadelphia to close out 2011’s NLDS.

Wainwright’s postseason big game confidence was already in place, but last night, the pedigree was set. As well as affirmation that a living legend, one of the vein that tosses the first pitch out years down the road, is now set in the midst of the Cardinal faithful, for how thoroughly he delivered the last one of yesterday evening.

 

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In Pirates, Cardinals Face Path of Proven Resistance

There is no doubt about the task that lies ahead for the Cardinals in starting their playoff push with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The margin of a difference between the two teams was rarely much further apart than three games at any point in the season, and for much of it, it felt as if the Pirates owned the Cardinals head-to-head. The numbers are what the numbers are, and while the playoffs do reset the standings, they do not reset the match up; a series which has turned 10-9 in Pittsburgh’s favor thus far.

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However, the Cardinals have had their usual late season swerve since much of the damage that was done to them by Pittsburgh. They were an NL-best 19-8 in September, which included a three-game sweep over Pittsburgh in St. Louis early in the month. Over the past two seasons, the Cardinals have played at their best the later the season has drawn, with a 42-27 mark in the months of September and October, including the postseason. Experience is their ally, and could be their greatest asset over the next (at max) five games.

Despite this, it would be fair to say that the general sentiment that the Pirates could be the arrow in the Cardinals Achilles is fair. They hold two pitchers that have been dominant against the St. Louis lineup all year. Nobody has had more success versus the Cardinals than Francisco Liriano, who in three starts is undefeated and carries a ridiculous 0.75 ERA and .127 average against. He is in line for the Game 3 start on Sunday in Pittsburgh, where they Pirates have won seven of ten games against the Cardinals this year. Another asset on their side takes to the mound today, in AJ Burnett, who also has three wins to only one loss on the year in the matchup, and carried a no-hitter into the seventh against the team early in the year.

Pitching has been a strength for the Bucs, and it is an upper hand that will have to be overcome by the Cardinals, who are countering with a less certain staff, but some definite strengths as well. Adam Wainwright is setup to be the alpha and omega of the series, throwing game one and in line to toss the decisive game five as well. Yet, outside of their ace, the Cardinals are primed to leave nothing off the table in taking down their most persistent foe.

Having the league-leader in wins for the season taking to the mound is an obvious strength, but there it is what is to follow him that has been the most debated element, but could be a smokescreen to much bigger strategy. The decision to start Lance Lynn in game two was rightfully questioned by both fans and media alike. Lynn is the most mercurial of all the Cardinal arms, and despite pitching much better down the stretch, with the club winning three of his final five starts and him posting a 2.12 ERA two of the victories for himself. Yet, the Pirates have hit him well, to the tone of 30 hits in 27 innings and a 5.60 ERA. However, he still carries two victories against the club this season, which is second to only Joe Kelly’s three victories against Pittsburgh.

Yet, winning in swarms is the Cardinals approach this year offensively, and it appears Matheny is looking to spread this approach the mound as well early in the Division Series. He is going all in with his arms, as he has made the decision to put his now-proven arsenal of young arms on full availability out of the bullpen. Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha will both join the mix of Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal in the bullpen early in the series. With Kelly primed to start game three on Sunday in Pittsburgh, one will move to the rotation later, but both of the prized rookies will be available to go if needed before that crucial, but as of now if necessary, date.

This decision proves one thing clearly: the Cardinals are going all-in and sparing no part of its depth to do so. While the Pirates are the most formidable opponent the team could face, the Cardinals have reached the summit of entering as the National League’s best team over the past six months by holding nothing back. An approach they are appearing to be willing to go into overdrive to keep their year moving.

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Best record important, but St. Louis Cardinals should have Adam Wainwright ready to start playoffs

The St. Louis Cardinals will be the National League Central Division champions as they enter the playoffs, but where they begin the postseason is still an important mystery.

Wainwright

The Cardinals took a one-half-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the National League into play Thursday when the Braves face the Philadelphia Phillies while the Cardinals wait to begin their final three-game series of the season at Busch Stadium against the Chicago Cubs.

As was the case in the Cardinals’ World Series championship season of 2011, they will face the worst team in the NL Central while the Braves play the Phillies. However, the Cardinals played the Houston Astros to close that season, and the Cardinals and Braves were fighting just to make the playoffs in 2011.

Now they are competing for the best record in the National League, which would guarantee them home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series.

The Cardinals don’t have Chris Carpenter to send to the mound in the final game of the season as they did two years ago, but they still have one of the best pitchers in the league ready to go in the final series, if necessary.

But here’s the thing. It is not necessary.

The Cardinals could pitch Adam Wainwright on Saturday, which would be his regularly scheduled day to start, or they could hold him back until Sunday if they need a win on the final day of the season to clinch the best record in the league.

However, if he pitches Sunday, that would put him on short rest to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series, and the Cardinals would almost certainly push him back to Game 2.

A third option would be to shut Wainwright down until the playoffs regardless, but that opens up a problem of too much rest if he goes from Monday until next Thursday between starts.

He will instead probably pitch Saturday or Sunday, and at this point Saturday would be the much better option.

Sure, the Cardinals might lost home-field advantage in the NLCS if they don’t win enough games against the Cubs this weekend, but with a playoff spot already in hand, the Cardinals would be more prudent to maximize their strategic advantages for the first round of the playoffs because there is no guarantee they will even make it the next round and be able to use what would be their home-field advantage.

At this point, Wainwright in Game 1 of the division series is more important than Wainwright on Sunday against the Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny can still use Wainwright on Saturday and then use a pitcher such as rookie Michael Wacha on Sunday. That setup would still give the Cardinals a legitimate chance to win and gain home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs, but it would more importantly position Wainwright to pitch the first game of the playoffs.

Plus, a winning performance from Wainwright against the Cubs is far from certain. Wainwright has struggled against the Cubs more than any team throughout his career outside of the Atlanta Braves, which would arouse another whole set of questions for later in the playoffs.

Anyway, Wainwright as a career 4.44 earned-run average and a 7-6 record through the seven full seasons he has pitched in Major League Baseball.

So a win from Wainwright on Saturday and Sunday is not nearly as likely as one might first assume, even though the Cardinals are 28 games better than the Cubs heading into play Friday.

The Cardinals would be smart to let Wainwright pitch Saturday on normal rest and be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs instead of having him pitch Sunday and risk losing that game while also losing him until Game 2 of the division series.

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Sorting Out the Cardinal Pitching Scene

The upcoming week is a crucial time span for the Cardinals as a team, but the starting pitching staff, it is also a chance to earn their keep. With the postseason looming, the team must make a decision about who it will have comprise its starting rotation, a decision that has become a crowded scene in recent weeks. Yet it could hold the balance of the season in the candidates that come from it.

Lance-Lynn-St-Louis-Cardinals

While it is far from certain that the team has a place in the series round of the postseason yet, assessing how it stacks up for one is an important element to the next few weeks of the season. It could shape who gets starts when and how the club will line up arms headed into the last series’ of the year.

The organization has what could prove to be a tough decision in assessing who is in line for the starts, if not for what each candidate brings, but what they haven’t. Outside of just rounding out the rotation, it also impacts the bullpen and how moves into an already deep mix there. After the absolutes in Adam Wainwright and the now undeniable Joe Kelly, the trio of Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller each offer not only a different dynamic, but also a unique set of conditions headed into the last few weeks of the season. And the time is already underway to show and prove for each.

In the case of Miller, he would seem to be the biggest shoe in, and he may very well be. However, it is worth noting that he has struggled with his motion as a result of a bad back over his last few starts. Much can be tied to reaching a new career-high in innings pitched each time out, which is something the team could chose to manage over the next few weeks. His previous high was in 2011, when he threw 139 innings between the High-A and Double-A levels.

Yet, as he sits at 149 innings currently, his effort at repeating his mechanics and finishing innings has been noticeably tough for him. Despite a very good seven inning, three hit victory over Atlanta on August 24, in his 14 starts since June 17th, he has managed to complete six innings only four times and has seen his walk-to-strikeout ratio fall by over 1.00 in the second half. Regardless, the 12-game winner will be a part of a postseason rotation, but it would not seem to be a far-fetched idea that the team limits his innings if at all possible.

Then there is Lance Lynn, who has once again struggled through a second half that has ranged from average to completely unimpressive. After his second consecutive first half of double digit victories, he has only managed to post a 2-6 record post the All-Star Break, with an ERA over 5.00.

It was this same type of effort that cost Lynn his spot in the rotation last September, and there have not been many outings that have inspired much confidence in his ongoing role in the rotation recently. Despite the fact that he did turn his year around late last season once he came from the bullpen, the decision to not add an outside arm at the trade deadline had much weight on Lynn being able to add that experienced third arm in the rotation down the stretch. Yet now, reeling off four consecutive losses currently, his start on Wednesday against Milwaukee could very well be his most important of the season for his ongoing direction with the team this season.

Then there is the youngest of the group, as well as the hottest hand, in Michael Wacha. In his second trip joining the ranks of starting pitcher, he has been markedly better. His control has improved, as well as his pitch execution and assortment and due to this, his success has matched his potential. In his two starts in the past week, he has thrown 13 scoreless innings against the Reds and Pirates, yielding only five hits total. Add in the four innings he threw in relief of Wainwright versus Cincinnati on August 28th, where struck out seven while walking one, and he has been the most lights out of any St. Louis arm over the previous two weeks. He presents an unknown quantity to many teams, which is an added bonus.

Yet with that said, the bright lights of October are a different beast, and there is the matter of workload for Wacha as well. He has thrown a total of 131 2013 innings thus far, the most he has thrown in his pro and collegiate career, and eventually fatigue could factor into him as well. He has electric stuff, and the decision to best utilize him could see a return to the bullpen and employing him in the same late-inning capacity Trevor Rosenthal was so successful deployed in a year ago.

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Avoiding a Red October for Wainwright

The struggles of Adam Wainwright have caused for a red alert about if the Cardinals rotation can hold up to the demands of the remaining pennant chase. Amid his worst back-to-back starts in his career, finding there is a common denominator to his struggles: the Cincinnati Reds. Finding an answer to his approach to facing the club on a collision course with the Cardinals this October is key to the immediate, and final, success of the 2013 Cardinals.

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There’s no easy to put it: the Reds have owned Wainwright in the past week. In two outings, he’s thrown a total of eight innings, but has surrendered a brutal 15 earned runs on 18 hits, five walks and 150 pitches. It has been a study of opposites in his usual habits, his location has been off, he has worked deep into counts and has had back-to-back starts with multiple walks, something that has only happened one other time this year.

Wainwright’s focus pitch is his curveball. It is the pitch he throws more than any other pitcher in the game, and with a success rate that favors why this is his weapon of choice. Yet, regardless of how often he uses it, no breaking pitch can be fully successful without a fastball to work off of. And in recent starts, the problem has been simple: he has not been able to get his fastball over and the Reds batters know this, and have been able to wait on it.

The mysterious part of it is how he has lost his location. Wainwright at his best lives in the bottom of the strike zone, and on either side of the plate. But has he’s reached to find ways to work for outs versus the Reds batters, he’s began to lose the ball inside and up, and the Reds batters response to it has been brutal. Just a sample size of their core versus Wainwright comes off like this:

Jay Bruce: 4 for 4, three doubles, home run, walk and four RBI

Shin-Soo Choo: 3 for 6, HR and 2 RBI

Joey Votto: 1 for 3, HR and two walks

Ryan Ludwick: 2 for 5, 2 RBI

Obviously, that will not suffice for success against the Reds. In light of his last two outings, Wainwright’s line on the season versus the Reds features a 1-2 record, with a 7.31 ERA and 13 runs in 16 innings, spurred by a .308 Reds batting average. These are all high marks on the year for an opponent he has faced more than once.

Considering the situation that the club finds itself in, it begins to beg the question of if Wainwright would be the right choice for a potential one game Wild Card playoff that the two clubs would be on track to face off in if the season ended today. On one hand, not pitching one of the best arms in the National League in a winner takes all scenario seems unreasonable, but considering what the match up as brought thus far, the idea that he is not the ideal option to take the ball if the club is pitted against Cincinnati is more than realistic, it should be deemed as likely.

There’s a month of season to go before that scenario becomes a potential reality, but the match up game is not a favorable one for the Cardinals when it comes to facing their divisional foes recently, and finding a way to separate Wainwright from the Reds for the remainder of the year would be more than just ideal at this point; it could be a matter of seasonal life and death.

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Matt Harvey Can Find Answers In Adam Wainwright

The following excerpt is from my latest article for Yahoo! Sports on the Yahoo Contributor Network.  You can read the entire article by clicking here.

MattHarvey

COMMENTARY | The New York Mets were delivered a substantial blow to their future when they found out that Matt Harvey has a partial tear of his UCL, an injury that may require the infamous Tommy John surgery. Surgery could put Harvey on the shelf for the entirety of the 2014 season and impact his effectiveness for even longer. The St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright can provide a solid road map for Harvey and the Mets to follow.

Wainwright has been down the road that Harvey now faces. A partial tear of the UCL does not ensure that Tommy John surgery is necessary. It can be handled through rehabilitation and surgery can be delayed. It is a slippery slope, but one that Wainwright’s career is familiar with.

The partial tear
Wainwright suffered a partial tear of the UCL very early on in his career. He was able to continue pitching at a very productive level for over five years from the initial diagnosis. Other pitchers have tried to go the route of rehab with little-to-no success but Adam Wainwright proves that it is not impossible. Harvey may not see any significant time lost beyond the 2013 season.

Recovery time varies
It was early 2011 when Wainwright realized he did not feel right and was headed for surgery. The typical diagnosis can project almost a year-and-a-half recovery time for most pitchers. Wainwright surprised everyone when his rehabilitation from surgery was moving forward at a pace that had him throwing from a mound by the end of 2011. He showed up to spring training in 2012 ready to go and opened the season as a member of the rotation, just over 12 months removed from surgery.

That first season back is different
Once Wainwright was back on the mound, expectations were high and Cardinal fans were convinced that their ace had returned. While Wainwright’s first season back was successful by most accounts, it was not the season he is capable of that we are seeing in 2013. In 2012, Wainwright was able to throw over 198 innings and strikeout hitters at a pace similar to his career numbers before the surgery. He walked more hitters than normal, did not work as deep into games, and struggled with his command occasionally. He was back on the mound but he wasn’t completely back to normal.

Finish reading how the Wainwright Road Map can help Mets fans know what’s ahead by clicking here.

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