Tag Archive | "Carlos Beltran"

Cardinals Master Moment to Fight Another Day

Stopping the Boston momentum was the most important job the Cardinals had to do entering game two. And all things considered, there was no better man available to do the job than Michael Wacha. The rookie continued his sensational October run, but this time all the breaks did not fall to him, and finally the odds caught up.

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For the Cardinals, the early series stakes couldn’t be higher. Coming off a blowout where they lost in basically every facet of the game, against an energized club riding high on confidence and home crowd fuel, , there were not many factors on the Cardinal side—except for its young ace in the making.

Unlike the night before, when runs and miscues came in waves, game two was a much tighter affair. It was one defined by both an early pitching duel between the October veteran and the undeniable efforts of the rookie hurler

Throughout the team’s playoff run, Wacha’s flirtations with perfection have been the biggest story of the late year. Yet, while turning in sterling outings once after another, he has done so out of necessity, as the he has received only the necessities in regards to run support. Save for the two big inning outbreaks in game six of the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals bats had mustered just three runs of support for him, while he embarked on a club-record tying 19 consecutive innings of scoreless frames. The law of averages said that was due to change, and it was done so in a very sudden fashion on Thursday night.

After masterfully working through the potent Red Sox lineup for five innings, Wacha left one of his now signature change ups a bit too high, and David Ortiz used it to build a new floor on his own personal October legend, hammering it over the Green Monster for a two-run homer that humanized Wacha for the first time this fall. While Wacha’s night ended after six innings, the Cardinals hung into fight for a few more decisive rounds, and showed the type of fight that is only bred from being cornered.

On the other side of the field, John Lackey portrayed the role of grizzled veteran perfectly. While he was not as awe-inspiring as Wacha appeared at times, matched him take for take on the mound, in a style that should have come as no surprise. Eleven years after his initial rise to prominence as a member of the Anaheim Angels, where he won the decisive seventh game of his first World Series, Lackey turned in an effort that proved worthy of his pedigree, albeit one that did not stand up as well as his previous effort did.

While the big moment was oft in the demand, it became the small ones that defined the game. In the wake of Ortiz’s gargantuan tide-changing home run, the Cardinals rallied behind a series of plays, as well as fate, falling in their favor. After getting Lackey out of the game after a walk to David Freese and a Jon Jay single, they continued to roll with the jabs before delivering their knock out punches.

A gutsy double steal call put pinch runner Pete Kozma and Jay into scoring position and after a walk-by-inches to Daniel Descalso, Matt Carpenter delivered a sacrifice fly to left field scored Kozma, but then an errant throw home advanced Jay to third. It was then that the game one and two tables turned and misfortune swapped dugouts. Pitcher Craig Breslow, in an attempt to cut down Jay, threw the ball over third base which scored Jay and let Descalso make it around to third. It was then, in a nearly on-demand fashion, that Carlos Beltran delivered in the big moment, putting the Cardinals up 4-2, and lining them up for a 1-1 series tie with three home games to come.

Supported by the equally timely pitching of another two rookies in Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, the game ultimately became the best possible win the club could ask for. Through a blend of all of the defining elements of their season: timely hits, overpowering rookie pitching and topped it off with gutsy execution, as well as a bit of the type of assistance they consistently supplied and buried themselves with the previous night.

It is the moment that reverbs the most in the playoffs; how a team both limits and capitalizes on them alike. While there is still much to be revealed regarding if they can enforce their will upon Boston to take and hold control of the series, a tough win on the road is always encouraging. Thursday was a both a proving ground evening for the club, in a fighter’s win.

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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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Legend of the Fall: Beltran Continues His Quest

The heroics of Carlos Beltran in the month of October are nothing new. He ranks in the top 10 nearly every major postseason category that an individual can find himself in. However, in last night’s game one of the National League Championship Series, he had his signature effort as a Cardinal during the season’s final month. In the process he single-handedly carried the team to series-opening victory, as well as continued to make an increasingly convincing case for how his legacy will be rewarded.

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Beltran took the world on his shoulders, as his two-run third inning double started the offense, and remained the entire output until his RBI single ten innings later earned a grueling win to a grueling start to the NLCS. In a matchup that saw just three lead changes scattered across 13 pitchers for both sides, it was the two defining hits by Beltran that made the complete difference in the Cardinals 3-2 victory.

Yet, the moment of the game came in the top of the tenth inning, when Beltran showcased why the team leans on him so heavily at this point. After Jon Jay misplayed a Mark Ellis line drive into the right center field gap, which resulted in a one out triple, the club found itself in about as big of a bind as possible. After intentionally walking Hanley Ramirez to reach Michael Young with a double play situation in play, Trevor Rosenthal found himself in a do or die scenario.

Young did exactly what he has supposed to do, which was put the ball in the air to the outfield. The ball he hit would have been Jay’s to take in any other scenario, but this was far from that; it was the game on the line. With this crossroads clear and evident, Beltran moved over from right to overrule his outfield mate, and uncorked the type of throw which helped make him a Gold Glove center fielder three times over, cutting down Ellis at home plate and giving the Cardinals another life.

Helping to make good on a dominant, seven scoreless inning collaboration from the Cardinal bullpen, poetically, the game came back around to Beltran came back to the plate again in the thirteenth inning and capped his legend securing evening. With two on and one out in the 13th, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly finally unleashed his closer Kenly Jansen, owner of one of the most dominant fastballs in the game. But Beltran worked the count in his favor so he could face that pitch on his terms, which resulted in him lining a base hit in right field, which brought in Daniel Descalso (who had a clutch flare hit to start the inning) and closed out a hard-fought win to start the series.

For Beltran, his reputation simply grows at the highest peak of the season again. It has been nine years since his record-setting eight home run October debut with the Houston Astros. In the time since, he has grown his career, seemingly lost his peak to injury and then rebuilt it in a new role. All along, he’s become a new player in the season’s final month, the type of postseason legend that is rightfully mentioned along the lines of Jeter, Jackson and Ruth.

There are a few things each name in that group has in common, and it is that their efforts evenly resulted in a World Series victory. Despite reaching the NLCS four times and reaching the seventh game of each appearance, he has yet to be able to breakthrough to game’s final level. The debate continues on whether Beltran is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but one thing that is a consensus is that the conversation starts, and finishes, with the efforts he turns in during this point in the season. And when it comes time for that discussion to ultimately be decided on, the game he began this season’s NLCS with will be remembered as a strong indicator of just how exceptional he truly has been. But where the season ends, and how much further he can fuel this particular Cardinal team, could ultimately be the decider.

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The Top Seven Cardinal Coming Attractions

Youth has been served this season for the Cardinals, as the prophecy of their top ranked minor league system was fulfilled. From near perfect games and no-hitters to home runs and shutdown bullpen efforts, the fortune of the club has been decided in large part by its least experienced components.

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While some comings are more heralded than others, many aren’t that difficult to see coming. The depth of the Cardinal system has left even more talents that have a chance to make a breakthrough impact next season. The rules for determining these players is simple: it is not a look at the “top” prospects for the team currently exclusively, but rather players that will be rookie-eligible in 2014, that are within reasonable reach to push through to the Majors next spring.

 

1. Oscar Taveras: The most obvious choice is perhaps baseball’s best talent to not see the Majors yet. While injuries kept his season from making his debut this season, the 21-year-old outfielder still put forward an exciting .306 mark at the plate. While the roster is packed with both veterans and youngsters alike, Taveras will receive a chance to give the club every reason possible to keep him with the team in some capacity. His talent is such that it has put the status of Carlos Beltran’s future with the team in doubt, who has been an All-Star in both of his St. Louis seasons thus far. While the popular idea is that he can contribute in center field, he is a right fielder all the way in skill set, but has the type of bat that plays wherever room can be made for it…and his glove can be tolerated.

2. Carlos Martinez: Maybe the greatest enigma in the Cardinal pitching picture is Martinez, but not for any questions about his readiness. Rather, it is about where to fit him in the roster as soon as possible. With a starting rotation that could have no less than three completely open spots, and the likes of Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, John Gast, Jaime Garcia, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Tyler Lyons and Kevin Siegrist vying for it, Martinez still could be the best option of that entire group, and that is saying something. Yet, with his plus fastball and developing arsenal, he could easily bring to back of the pen yet another presence like what Rosenthal has done this year.

3. Kolten Wong: Wong hasn’t torn the cover off of the ball in his initial appearance with the Cardinals this year, but then again, neither did Matt Carpenter. But what he has made clear is that he can bring the team speed like it has from no other, as well as an instant improvement defensively. While his exact place is yet to be seen, due to the presence of Carpenter and Freese, Wong should be considered a favorite to not see minors again when camp breaks next spring, one way or another.

4. Greg Garcia: Wong’s college and both Triple and Double A teammate up the middle in Garcia could be the next option in the ongoing auditions at shortstop. After hitting .271 and showing improved range, he could get a chance to figure into the big picture for no other reason than playing the right place at the right time.

5. Stephen Piscotty: Versatility could be his friend, but hitting .295 over his first two professional seasons while playing three different positions is encouraging as well. The 22-year-old was drafted as a third baseman out of Stanford in the first round of 2012 as a compensation pick, but has built up a .362 on-base percentage and learned the ropes as a corner outfielder in a hurry. With the likely move to Memphis coming in 2014, he could be a candidate to be a nice utility option in the model of a 2010 Allen Craig or 2012 Matt Carpenter going ahead.

6. Boone Whiting: One of the most consistent arms in the Cardinal system since joining in 2010 as a 18th round pick, Whiting could be on the verge of seeing his chance to breakthrough. In 21 starts this summer, he posted a 4.09 ERA and struck out 99 in 105 innings. He could emerge as a dark horse candidate to fill into the long-reliever role that plagued the team at times this year, as well as be the Tyler Lyons spot start type.

7. Marco Gonzales: The team’s first round pick this year was on a short leash after a college season that saw him throw over 120 innings, as well as play in the field as well, but next summer could see him fully unleashed. The lefty got better as he moved up this year, posting a 1.62 ERA across four starts after moving up to Palm Beach, striking out 23 in 23 innings. It would be a stretch, but if he rapidly succeeds as expected once put into a rotation next year, the string of fast-rising former college hurlers (Wacha, Maness) could continue for the organization.

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Carpenter, Beltran and the Cardinal’s Pandora’s Box

The big question regarding the Cardinals going ahead is how will all of the assets they have fit into one roster. While there is no clear solution to that question yet, one thing that is for certain is that the biggest variable is the team’s most versatile player, Matt Carpenter.

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Whenever the 2013 season comes to a close, the season’s steadiest question will quickly become its loudest: what is going to happen with Carlos Beltran? The club’s most high profile free agent-to-be has made no secret of his desire to return with the team next spring, but while admitting that it is on the club’s radar of decisions to be made, John Mozeliak has not public committed to what extent the team would be willing to go to in order to pursue a continued relationship between player and team.

The reasons for this are simple; despite an unquestionably strong tenure in the Cardinal uniform, including two All-Star Games and 55 home runs, neither age (he will turn 37 next year) nor positional alignment fit easily into the picture going ahead. Reasons for this have included most prominently the presence of Oscar Taveras at Memphis, but perhaps more quietly the price tag of a potential part-time presence in the outfield. Add in the urge to find more at-bats for Matt Adams, while not sacrificing Allen Craig’s presence in the lineup as well, and there are a plethora of optimal situations that make a Beltran return a tough situation to imagine.

But on the other side of the equation, there is the question of if the team can afford to let him go as well. He has been a dependable power threat in a season where they have been few and far between for the team. And the issue of if Taveras both returns healthy from the nagging ankle issue that ended his 2012 early, as well as how he transitions to the Majors, loom as well. If either of those issues looms, an absence of Beltran could create quite a hole for the team, which could have been avoided.

However, the presence of Carpenter could alleviate any and all of these issues. While he has risen to his call as a second baseman in a resounding fashion, he is only a year removed from being the team’s ultimate utility man. In the upcoming years, the everyday lineup of the Cardinals has the potential to fluctuate on nearly a matchup-to-matchup basis, due to the meeting of the veterans and emerging farm system at the MLB level.

A regular feature of this mix will be Carpenter, who Mozeliak made it abundantly clear the team will be pursuing a long-term pact with soon. However, his position going ahead could best be considered being deployed again as an everyday utility weapon, in the style of how Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist has been used over the years.  The best starting spot for this could prove to be right field, where alternating Carpenter in a few times a week gets a chance to use himself, David Freese and Kolten Wong together, in addition to allowing Allen Craig or Matt Adams to stay in a first base. A move back to second or third gets the uber, “Coming Atractions” duo of Wong and Taveras on the field together as well.

While the possibilities of the Cardinal lineup are very diverse in the next few years, there is a chance that the full potential is oddly not reached by keeping one of its current All-Stars in the mix, while maximizing the abilities of another showcases more of the team’s full potential can currently being imagined.

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Jay Reignites Cardinals While Quieting Critics

It was not too long ago that the mere mention of Jon Jay’s name sparked a conversation about every way that he could be replaced. But within the last few weeks, nobody has been more responsible for the turnaround of the Cardinals than him. And now, with the Cardinals back to a comfortable 20 games over .500 and firmly on the heels of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jay continues to be the most unlikely, occasionally most undesirable, catalyst of the year.

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From the beginning, Jay has been a bit of a stepbrother. He slid into becoming a full-time part of the lineup two years after Colby Rasmus was hastily escorted out of Busch Stadium boundaries. And starting then and since, he’s proved his worth as a stabilizer of sorts for the team. Whether it has been as a leadoff or bottom of the order bat, or making the quick transition from plug in corner outfielder, to major landowner in an outfield devoid of much range otherwise, Jay has been a glue stick for the Cardinals over the past three years.

But despite all of this, there has been no player that has been outwardly yearned to be replaced more than Jay has over the past two years. He’s the most pedestrian of the regular Cardinals, and an era of Trouts, McCutchens and Harpers, the public opinion search for more in middle of the outfield has singled out Jay as the odd man out. Whether it is idea that Carlos Beltran could have something left in the tank to take to centerfield, a trade needs to be made or that Oscar Taveras is already much better suited for the team already, there are no shortage of reasons of somebody, anybody, else should be in his place.

But in the month of August, there’s been no more impactful of a player on the roster. For the month, his 26 hits are tied for the most in the National League, and he leads the Cardinals with a .377 average and 15 RBI in 18 games. The bottom-line: when Jay got going, the team started looking like it had a clue again. July was the worst month of the season for the team, and it wasn’t until their season-worst losing streak hit seven games, that an understated two hit game by Jay got at least one part of the lineup moving.

It was the first of what are now nine multi-hit games Jay has accumulated over the past 20 days. And it seems that the multitude of hits have all come at just the right time. He scored three runs and drove in two more in the 13-0 win in Pittsburgh which ended the club’s slide on August 1st. Then next night he turned in his second three RBI night of the season, contributing to second straight 13 run night for an offense that had scored just 10 runs over the previous week. The next week, he turned in three, three-hit games before plating a career-best four hit effort versus the Pirates back at Busch, which included him scoring the game winning run in the bottom of the 14th inning in a tight slide continued the club’s recent run of tough wins over their immediate superiors in the Central. In the last two days, he’s even added power to his recent show, notching home runs in back-to-back games for the second time in his career.

It’s been a tedious process, but Jay is quieting the bad-tempered mob against him. While has had a year that’s mostly been below the standard he’s set at the plate, his timing has once again been impeccable. He’s now at a career-best 54 RBI, and his on-pace for new high marks in runs scored, doubles and hits. And in a season where on average, four All-Stars are in the daily mix, it’s been the ultimate role player that’s stepped up the highest when nobody else could answer the call.

Sometimes, less truly is more.

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St. Louis Cardinals will go as far as young players take them

The St. Louis Cardinals called up their latest, greatest prospect Friday when they brought second baseman Kolten Wong to the major leagues. That move, combined with another poor outing from 35-year-old starting pitching Jake Westbrook, signaled just how important the young Cardinals will be in the final six weeks of the 2013 regular season.

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Young players have been a vital part of the Cardinals success that had them in a wild-card position as of Friday. First-year players from Matt Adams to Carlos Martinez to Seth Maness to Michael Wacha to Kevin Siegrist and even Tyler Lyons have kept the Cardinals afloat during both good and bad times this season.

When Westbrook and fellow starter Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list in May, rookies Lyons and John Gast came up to fill their spots, and they performed admirably. Lyons won his first two starts before faltering in June. Gast also won his first two starts but injured his left shoulder in his third start and recently underwent surgery for repairs.

The Cardinals bullpen got off to a horrendous start with projected closer Jason Motte out for the season with an elbow injury, Mitchell Boggs struggling to a 12.66 earned-run average through May 2 as he tried to be the closer and lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski pitching only slightly better with a 7.88 ERA, although he was demoted to Triple-A Memphis at the end of April.

With the bullpen in disarray, Martinez, Maness, Siegrist, Keith Butler and Michael Blazek all came to the big leagues and provided stability. Some were terrific (Maness has allowed just 11 runs in 45.2 innings and Siegrist has allowed two in 23 innings pitched) but more importantly, none got torched. Blazek has the worst ERA of the group, at 8.13, but he held opponents scoreless in six of his first eight appearances.

Offensively, Adams has provided ample support at first base when right fielder Carlos Beltran needs a rest and regular first baseman Allen Craig has to play the outfield. Adams has hit nine home runs with a .277 batting average.

But all of those young players, and now others such as left-handed rookie reliever Sam Freeman who was called up Aug. 8, will have to keep playing at that same level, if not higher, if the Cardinals are going to maintain a playoff spot or more optimistically compete for the National League Central Division crown.

By and large, the Cardinals established veterans have been consistent throughout the season. Catcher Yadier Molina has been rock solid behind the plate and is among the league leaders with a .325 batting average. Second baseman Matt Carpenter isn’t far behind with a .315 average, Beltran leads the team with 20 home runs and left fielder Matt Holliday is hitting his typical .291 with 15 homers.

Those players will likely continue to produce as they have through the first three-quarters of the season. Third baseman David Freese and center fielder Jon Jay will still hit about .270 with rare flashes of power, and shortstop Pete Kozma will struggle to raise his average above .230.

So, that leaves any variables to young players such as Wong and the rookie pitchers. The Cardinals still have enough time to blast away from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the division race if the new major leaguers play superbly, or they could fall into another tight race just to make the playoffs if those same players falter in what’s left of August and September.

Molina, Beltran and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright might be some of the well-known faces of the organization, but it will likely be the newcomers who determine how long the Cardinals’ 2013 season lasts.

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Picking the Biggest Bird on Bat isn’t Easy

Picking the best player in a particular league is never an easy task, but picking who is the most meaningful Cardinal is arguably and even tougher one. Between Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig, the team has three very viable MVP candidates, all of which could make a claim for the real deal by season’s end.

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More so than any other team in baseball, the Cardinals lean on the total team approach at the plate. There’s no one contributor that’s leaned on to carry the weight of the club individually. This delegation of responsibility is what makes determining just who’s the most valuable portion of the lineup that much more difficult this season. Even with the contributions of Carlos Beltran and Adam Wainwright, it is a three headed race for who is the Cardinals’ biggest regular impact this year. Each has been an irreplaceable catalyst in the timeliest lineup in baseball.

The Glue: The favorite in the clubhouse for most of the season has been Molina, and with good reason. The perennial Gold Glover and face of the organization has had his finest summer to date, on the heels of a 2012 season that carried that same honor. While his league-best (…) average is the most noticeable headline of his year, without a doubt he is perhaps the best intangibles player in the game today. He has guided the club’s young pitching staff to an outstanding year thus far, and has continued to change the way that teams approach attacking the Cardinals on the bases. In terms of most differences made, it is tough to make a case against Yadi.

The Catalyst: However, the biggest change in the team came when Carpenter truly took off out of the leadoff spot, solving a long-standing uncertainty for the club. And he the windfall of his production has spread throughout the entirety of the lineup beneath him. He leads all National Leaguers in doubles (31) and runs scored (75), while his 120 hits come in at second in the league as well.

While he is not the traditional leadoff man in a speed sense, the most important job of a lineup lead is to get on base, and he has that down pat. His .399 on-base percentage is the best on the club, and third best in the NL, and since moving up to the order in May, his .410 OBP has been the second best mark in the NL overall.

For a guy that started the calendar year with a new glove at a position he’d never played exclusively in his life, to find himself in his first All-Star Game just six months later, his impact combined with growth has been the most remarkable transformation the club has seen in years.

The Wrench: Craig’s impact has been predictable in a situation where it shouldn’t be. Simply put, he’s the most dependable player in baseball at the absolute best time to be that. While his 77 RBI overall are impressive, the fact that 67 have come with runners in scoring position is unreal. The batting average he carries in this position is a surreal .489 this year, which is nearly 50 points better than next most efficient producer in the situation. Digging even deeper into his clutch prowess, with runners in scoring position and two outs, Craig has produced 30 of his 77 runs driven in and carries a .467 average as well.

Timely hitting has been the Cardinals calling card, as they carry a .338 average as a team with runners waiting to be driven in, but Craig’s efforts go over and above. It’s truly one of the most efficiently productive years in recent history.

In the end, it is very possible that Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez or another rising candidate from a contender takes the MVP crown for himself completely. It is also possible that another situation such as took place around the Cy Young Award in 2010, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter cancelled each other out on the ballots, takes place and knocks each Cardinal down a notch. However, regardless of outcome, 2013 has plenty of potential to go down as one of the finest overall efforts of any offering the franchise has put forth, across the board. Where everybody gets their due…yet nobody can claim too much credit.

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Grading the Cardinals at the Half

To say the first half of the season for the Cardinals was good would be a gross understatement; they set a club record for first half wins and go into the break with the best record in the National League. Yet, to get to this point, it took a complete effort from not just the organizational mainstays, but also a coming of age of the youth movement throughout the entire organization.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks

Overall, 38 players have worn the birds on bat at some point during the year, including six All-Stars and a club-record 12 rookies, already. But in the end, the parts create the sum, and here is the rank of the how each portion of the club played into the first half, 1-38.

  1. Yadier Molina: Basically, he’s the best player on the club because he’s been the best player in the league as well. He’s leading the National League in hitting, as masterfully directed the Cardinal staff to a club record in first half wins.
  2. Adam Wainwright: With a NL-best 12 wins and top 5 totals in strikeouts and ERA as well. Waino is having his finest year, and would have been a legitimate candidate for adding a third Cardinal All-Star starter, if he was eligible.
  3. Matt Carpenter: The team’s offense took off when Carpenter was moved to the top of the lineup in May. He is leading the National League in doubles with 28 and runs with 72, and has hit over .320 since moving to the leadoff spot.
  4. Allen Craig: The RBI machine is up to his same tricks from last year, coming in second in the league with 73. He’s been the biggest part of the Cardinal assault with runners on base, with an insane .480 average with runners in scoring position.
  5. Carlos Beltran: If it is his farewell tour, it’s a greatest hits collection for sure. Headed into his 8th All-Star team, he’s the only Cardinal to top .300, with 15 home runs and 50 RBI, and among only five NL outfielders to meet the level overall.
  6. Edward Mujica: Last season’s seventh inning fireman moved back to the ninth with the same results. He cashed in on his first 22 save opportunities and sits at second in the NL with 26 overall. A last second selection to the All-Star Game to “replace” Wainwright was made his late Sunday night.
  7. Trevor Rosenthal: He’s settled in as the club’s eight inning stopper nicely, striking out 65 in just over 43 innings on the season, and posting 22 holds, second in the NL.
  8. Shelby Miller: The rookie righty has exceeded expectations in many ways in an equally young season. He leads all rookies in wins (9) and strikeouts (112).
  9. Matt Holliday: His totals have not been up to the accustomed levels he’s set over the years, but his 47 RBI and 13 home runs keep him at the heart of Cardinal production. If injuries don’t curb his second half much, he’ll be in range for his usual total of 90+ RBI.
  10. Lance Lynn: He’s posted another typical Lynn effort: upheld leads and racked up the wins (11), in a somewhat up and down effort. But he’s been consistent and is on pace to yet again push close to 20 wins.
  11. Matt Adams: The odd man out has made the best of his opportunities. He’s punched out seven home runs in just over 120 at-bats and 40% of his hits have been of the extra base variety.
  12. Jake Westbrook: An injury interrupted what was off to a phenomenal first half for Westbrook, but he has posted a 2.88 ERA across 12 starts and has continued to steady the boat around the up and down young starters.
  13. Jon Jay: His bat has been down tremendously this year, but his defense has stayed top tier. He set a Cardinal record with his 227th consecutive errorless game. He’s been a nomad in the lineup, but has shown life over the last few weeks.
  14. Seth Maness: More credit should be paid to what Maness brought to the club for half of the season thus far. He’s won five games out of the bullpen, but not of the vulture variety: he’s been a seventh inning fireman, producing nine double plays in 30 innings.
  15. David Freese: He’s off to his toughest start at the plate in his career. His numbers are down across the board, and health has been an up and down battle again, but he hasn’t shown much life in his swing this season.
  16. Pete Kozma: The value of Kozma has continued to be debated, but for what it is worth, he’s been what he was supposed to be: a solid glove, with an adequate (at times) bat. Not too great, not too bad.
  17. Randy Choate: He’s been exactly what he’s supposed to be as well: a situational lefty that does what he’s called on to do, and that’s win matchups. Left handers are hitting .202 against him.
  18. Daniel Descalso: The idea of him being in a platoon with Matt Carpenter was put to sleep quickly by no fault of his own, but he’s done well around the infield where needed and has rediscovered his swing as well, hitting .275 on the year.
  19. Kevin Siegrist: One of the season’s biggest revelations thus far has been this hard throwing lefty. Against the former 41st round pick, batters have just three hits in 42 at-bats, an .071 average against.
  20. Jaime Garcia: He pushed out as much as he had left to make it through nine starts, but ultimately his shoulder gave out and he finally had to give in to surgery.
  21. Joe Kelly: He’s spent much of the year as a nowhere man, and there’s no guarantee that couldn’t continue again soon. But his has been willing to step up to every role asked of him, regardless of how sporadic, and it has been commendable.
  22. Michael Wacha: The hype was huge, but the result was more realistic of a guy that made it to the Majors in under a calendar year. He showed promise (1-0 record, two quality starts out of three), but needed more seasoning.
  23. Shane Robinson: The light-hitting Robinson didn’t bring his huge spring bat with him to St. Louis, but has continued to be a solid fill as a defender at each outfield spot.
  24. Tony Cruz: He didn’t get many opportunities to contribute early in the season, but performed well at the end of the half when Molina was injured, and stands to get more at-bats in the second half.
  25. Carlos Martinez: His talent has been too tempting for the Cardinals to leave in the minors. And they have twice brought him to the St. Louis bullpen, where he has shown why, striking out 11 in ten innings.
  26. Kevin Butler: He started off has a fill in fresh arm, but has become a very solid part of the middle of the bullpen. He’s posted a 1.98 ERA in his first 13 MLB innings.
  27. Fernando Salas: Taken out by injury and seemingly relegated to the minors since, Salas may be finding himself lost in the shuffle of young arms making their way to St. Louis.
  28. Tyler Lyons: A tale of two stories: Lyons won his first two starts after being promoted, but then lost the next three before being chased in under two innings in his final start in June and returning to Memphis.
  29. John Gast: The finesse left-hander was the first call to replace the injured Jaime Garcia, but then fell victim to a shoulder injury himself. Results were varied, return is uncertain.
  30. Michael Blazek: The promise is there (1.38 ERA in 26 games between Memphis and Springfield), but the chance for regular work hasn’t manifested yet in St. Louis.
  31. Rob Johnson: The call up when Ty Wigginton was let go, and he made the best of his return to the Majors in a hurry, hitting a tripling and scoring a run in his second day on the job.
  32. Ryan Jackson: He’s been among the most consistent performers in Memphis, but hasn’t gotten the call back to St. Louis since the second series of the season.
  33. Mark Rzepczynski: Was too hittable, and really replaceable to hold off the brimming young arms in the Cardinal system, and hasn’t done much to regain favor since being demoted in May (44 hits, and 15 walks in 41 innings in Memphis).
  34. Ty Wigginton: The season’s biggest reach consequently his biggest headlines when he was signed, and then released. The Cardinals waved the white flag on Wigginton after he showed, well, not much at all.
  35. Victor Marte: The Triple-A mainstay didn’t show much in his brief return to St. Louis again this season (6.00 ERA spread across four games).
  36. Jermaine Curtis: Two spot plate appearances don’t equal much, coming or going, for Curtis.
  37. Maikel Cleto: The Brendan Ryan era completely came to an end when Cleto, the return for him three years ago, was released in June.
  38. Mitchell Boggs: One of the most rapid and remarkable falls from grace was Boggs’, which saw him fall from closer to two unceremonious exiles to the minors, and eventually a trade for the rights to spend more freely in the international market down the road. No one had a rougher year than Boggs did, in barely three months time.

 

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St. Louis Cardinals got 5 all-stars, but Edward Mujica also deserves honor

St. Louis Cardinals fans haven’t had much to gripe about so far in the 2013 season and should be thankful five of the team’s players made the National League all-star roster, but they can also make a strong case the Cardinals should have one more representative.

EdwardMujica

Catcher Yadier Molina, rightfielder Carlos Beltran, right-handed starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, second baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Allen Craig were named to the National League all-star team Saturday, but closer Edward Mujica deserved to join them for the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y.

At least his omission wasn’t the fans fault.

Fans throughout the game had their say in which position players start the game, and they deemed two Cardinals players worthy of a spot in the lineup. Molina received the most votes of any National League player and will start behind the plate, and Beltran will start the game in right field.

Wainwright’s 11-5 record and 2.36 earned-run average heading into play Tuesday might have been good enough for him to start the game, except Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recently shuffled his rotation around so Wainwright will start the final game of the first half Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

Wainwright will still have the honor of being on the roster, as will second baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Allen Craig.

Carpenter was a lock to make the team. He has been arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball this season with a .316 batting average to go along with 25 doubles and 37 runs batted in. His 106 hits are also tied for the ninth-most in baseball.

Craig, on the other hand, has one of the more unique resumes of any all-star. A first baseman with 10 homeruns usually doesn’t make an all-star roster, but Craig has a .325 batting average and his 69 RBIs are second in the National League. Plus, he leads all of baseball with a .476 average when he comes to bat with runners in scoring position.

Those three Cardinals hitters certainly deserve their spots on the all-star roster, but they are the only three. Traditional powers such as leftfielder Matt Holliday and David Freese are hitting .270 or below and don’t have more than 12 homeruns or 43 RBIs heading into play Tuesday. Matt Adams is hitting .319 and has seven homeruns in 49 games, but his limited playing time has him qualified as nothing more than a bench player, yet. His time will come.

On the pitching side, right-handed starters Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller each had an outside shot of making the all-star team, but they have both had too many rough outings in the last month.

Lynn is tied with Wainwright with 11 wins, which is fifth-best in baseball, but he also has the highest ERA among National League pitchers who have 10 or more wins. Plus, he gave up four or more runs in four of his last six starts.

Miller started the season as well as any pitcher in the game. He had five wins by Mother’s Day and carried an ERA under 2.00 into mid-June, but he never made it past the sixth in any of his next five starts while his ERA rose to 2.80. That’s still a good number, but similar to Lynn, Miller has given up four or more runs in three of his last five starts.

The only Cardinals player who could legitimately earn the “all-star snub” tag is Mujica.

Mujica has been as good as any closer in baseball aside from Oakland A’s closer Grant Balfour, who has yet to blow a save in 23 opportunities. Mujica has converted 23 of 24 save opportunities and posted a 2.41 ERA. He’s allowed at least one run in just eight of 37 appearances.

It is difficult to make an all-star roster as a closer partly because starters receive so much more attention. The National League will have 10 compared to three closers.

Jason Grilli, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Craig Kimbrel, of the Atlanta Braves, and Aroldis Chapman, of the Cincinnati Reds are the National League’s only relievers, while starters such as Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez and Chicago Cubs lefty Travis Wood made the team largely because their teams didn’t have another worthy representative.

So Mujica unfortunately won’t be rewarded for his terrific first half with an all-star selection, but maybe he’ll receive the ultimate team reward, the Commissioner’s Trophy, after closing out the 2013 World Series.

That would ease any lingering disappointment.

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