Tag Archive | "Jaime Garcia"

Measuring The Cardinals Starting Pitching Potential

The Cardinal starting rotation has been its hallmark unit over the past few years, as it has annually produced among the top starting staffs in all of baseball. It has progressed from a finesse based unit of veterans and corner painters under the watch of former pitching coach Dave Duncan, to a blend of that same ilk of hurler, mixed in with emergent young power arms capable of running up the strikeouts under current pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.


In the 2014, Lilliquist’s starters finished in the top five of the National League in wins (64—4th), ERA (3.44—5th), complete games (8—1st), shutouts (23—1st) and average against (.243—2nd). And these measures were met by a staff that experienced more than its share of obstacles that likely kept it from reaching its full potential. Injuries to Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha took away two of the team’s most capable weapons during periods of time, while the stop and go nature of Jaime Garcia impacted the rotation as well. Youngsters Shelby Miller, Marco Gonzales, Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez, while showing promise, all went through growing pains at one time or another. Only Lance Lynn and John Lackey, who joined the club at the trade deadline, offered what can be considered a regularly dependable slate of options in the 2014 season.

Yet despite that all, it still remained a fantastic unit that produced a top three finisher in the season’s Cy Young race in Wainwright, as well as a 15-game winner in Lynn. And entering 2015, there are many of the same signs of optimism for the Cardinal rotation – which has been one of the most effective spring staffs in the game – but there are also some of the same caution signs that are strung up around it as well.

So what is a realistic expectation for the Cardinals’ signature unit? And what should be expected from its inhabitants for the upcoming year? Let’s take a look around the Cardinal starting pitching staff.

(Stats from 2014 season)


Adam Wainwright: The club’s entrenched rotation leader enters the year both on the heels of both a career-best campaign, highlighted by a second 20-win season and a call as starter of the All-Star Game, but also a struggle through to the finish line as well as he battled his health into the offseason. In October, he had elbow surgery to clean up some damage from a June aggravation and then experienced a delay in the start of his spring as well due to brief bout against a sports hernia.

Yet all things considered, he has picked up right where he would be expected to be at by this time of the year. Waino is a warrior that takes the job of leading the rotation – and team in many regards – seriously, and he showed up and had a cunning outing last night that spoke to There should be expectation that he is once again one of the better starters in the game again, as he has begun to show the ability to be just as lethal as a “thinking man’s” pitcher, as he is one with pure “stuff”.

2014 Numbers: 20-9, 2.38 ERA, 227 innings, 179 strikeouts, 5 complete games, 1.03 WHIP

2015 Prediction: 18-8, 2.90 ERA, 215 innings, 182 strikeouts, 3 complete games, 1.07 WHIP


Lance Lynn: He was perhaps the most important pitcher on the team last year, finally shaking off his habit of struggling through the second half and carrying the team while the rest of the rotation was in flux. At the end of it all, Lynn had established himself in the position that he carries into 2015: the team’s second biggest gun and the strong #2 guy that every elite rotation needs to have aboard it.

Lance shook of an early camp hip flexor injury already this spring and returned to his pre-existing strong form already. He has been the third winningest pitcher in the National League behind Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw over the past three years and was awarded with a three year contract extension as validation of his importance to the team both now and going forward. With there still being some question marks on the health of his other rotation mates, it would not be surprising to see the sturdy right-hander be rode even tougher this summer.

2014: 15-10, 2.76 ERA, 203 innings, 181 strikeouts, 2 complete games, 1.26 WHIP

2015 Prediction: 17-10, 3.20 ERA, 210 innings, 195 strikeouts, 2 complete games, 1.25 WHIP


John Lackey: He was brought aboard to provide depth and stability to the Cardinal rotation at a time when both were needed severely last August. And now entering his first full season with the club, it is his presence that is his most vital function to the team, as he provides stability at the core of a staff that needs it between its All-Star caliber front end and youthful second half. Having Lackey on hand to be a plus option in comparison to the mid-rotation options that many other clubs boast is a understated strength for the team if he can stay healthy.

2014: 14-10, 3.82 ERA, 198 innings, 164 strikeouts, 1 complete game, 1.27 WHIP

2015 Prediction: 12-10, 3.70 ERA, 190 innings, 162 strikeouts, 1 complete games, 1.31 WHIP


Michael Wacha: It was a tail of two years in one for Wacha a year ago, as he both at times showed the ability that made him one of the top sensations in the game in late 2014 but also struggles with a mysterious shoulder injury as well. If Wacha is truly able to get past the injury woes that slowed down his first full season and is able to get back to where he was early last season, then he is the key to potentially making this rotation go from just deep but to truly being excellent.

He was the best Cardinal hurler in the spring this year, showing that same dominant arsenal that made him the most dangerous pitcher on the team during its World Series run in 2013. But there should be an expectation for his exposure to tempered, if not on a strict innings limit, this season in order to both ease him into the rigors of an uninterrupted season and to be preventative against forcing the issue of any potential return of the shoulder injury shelved him for most of the second half.


2014: 5-6, 3.20 ERA, 107 innings, 94 strikeouts, 0 complete games, 1.19 WHIP

2015 Prediction: 14-7, 3.10 ERA, 182 innings, 175 strikeouts, 1 complete game, 1.15 WHIP

Carlos Martinez: He emerged victorious in the spring’s race for the fifth rotation spot, after an injury to Jaime Garcia arose and the club decided to let Marco Gonzales incubate a bit longer in Memphis. It is the greatest opportunity that the young righty has had thus far to prove that he permanently belongs in the starting rotation, and it will be one where every start counts. Yet he definitely earned his keep during the spring, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and showing much improved command and control. His potential is clear as is the fact that he possesses perhaps the top raw arm in the organization. If he can take the inevitable bumps that he will face in stride, stay healthy and work consistently, it will be very difficult to pull away the spot that he has earned entering Opening Day.

2014: 2-4, 4.03 ERA, 89.1 innings, 84 strikeouts, 0 complete games, 1.41 WHIP

2015 Predicition: 9-7, 3.50 ERA, 140 innings, 130 strikeouts, 0 complete games, 1.35 WHIP


The Other Guys: It is impossible to predict what comes from Garcia, as his availability is so subject to change. It was just a month ago that he appeared ready to crash into the Opening Day rotation and then in just a matter of a week he had faded into the backdrop of camp casualty again. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is confounding difficult to predict medical condition and it has proven, as it did with Chris Carpenter just a few years ago, makes the recovery window from it a crap shoot to predict. It is likely that he still makes his way to St. Louis at some point during the season, but the when and how long are to hazy to confidently predict.

After a very encouraging and sometimes dominant spring, Gonzales will open the season in Memphis with a chance to continue building momentum for an inevitable return to the big leagues. Whether it be as a reliever for the time being or in the starter role he is destined to inhabit eventually, the 22-year-old lefty will make an impact for the Cardinals this year as a plus weapon in reserve.

Others such as Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons and Zach Petrick could be called on if there are multiple damages done the rotation at once that are beyond being able to be plugged by the top candidates for the rotation, while Nick Greenwood and John Gast could also be involved as well.

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For Cardinals, All Things Are Not Created Equal For Final Rotation Slot

Not much more than a month or so ago, it all seemed so simple when it came to evaluating the Cardinals’ fifth rotation slot. It was time for the young guns, Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales, to battle it out for best supporting actor in the Cardinal starting staff. The club had stressed that it was not interested in joining the big name free agent market to round out its staff because it had faith in their two sub-25 year old internal options; a fact that turned out to be 100% true.


However, somewhere along the line, things changed due to the quiet return of a veteran stalwart that had been cast off to the desert of indefinite return status, Jaime Garcia. And while the specter of Garcia did loom, it seemed far from reality that he would be able to contribute by the beginning of spring training. Even John Mozeliak was operating in hearsay when it came to the 28-year-old lefty’s condition, because he had not seen nor heard from him since the season came to close.

Garcia stressed that he would be ready to contribute, despite the apathetic atmosphere around his status. All things considered, doubters were right: his health record has been spotty, when put very kindly. He has been enigmatic in the way he has gone about being available, where he true health is at and what his plan is regarding it. Considering the fact that the last time the team made an official statement about him, it was Mozeliak delivering the news that Garcia himself had decided to shut it down for 2014 and undergo surgery on his ailing shoulder. A procedural decision he had not consulted with the club to gain their insight on beforehand. It was a tense way to end a year, and a fashion that clearly could have closed the door on his career in St. Louis, as he only has a single season of guaranteed contract remaining.

Yet, the ever benevolent organization thawed the ice on its handling of its petulant hurler and gave him a chance to prove himself in the condition that he billed himself as being in. Not quite the standard BSIML of the spring, but strong enough to contribute on the same par as any other pitcher.

And all things considered equal thus far, he has. Garcia has had no setback in conditioning, nor lack of precision on the mound. On Thursday afternoon he made his second start of the spring, working allowing only one run on two hits and a walk, while striking out five over four innings. Overall for the spring, he has made two starts over the past five days and showed his usual mix of deft off-speed offerings, setup by a precision fastball. He is scheduled to remain in the Cardinal rotation has the spring moves forward, and there has been no discussion about limitations to his workload going ahead.

What does this all mean? For one thing, means that Garcia has firmly changed the entire outlook of race to be #5….the time being at least. His track record of false starts and quick finishes over the course of seasons cannot be ignored. But it does complicate things for both Martinez and Gonzales, both of whom are having impressive spring showings thus far as well.

Martinez is off to another impressive start to the year as a starter over a reliever. Martinez has been overpowering in his two outings thus far, showing the type of elite stuff that has made him such an enticing property over the past few years. Thus far he has run up six strikeouts while walking none, while showing an increased command of his non-fastball arsenal.

However it has been Gonzales that has been the most effective of all thus far. He is fresh off the heels of allowing a single hit in four innings of work against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon, continuing to show the precocious development curve that he took off on late last year. He has allowed only four of 22 batters faced to reach base against him thus far this spring, and the organization’s 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year has made it clear that he is ready to carry the load with the big league club as well.

But the reality is that while it could be a very tough call to sort out on a performance basis, it final slotting decision is one that has a clear outcome as well if the scene stays as it is now. Simply put, if Garcia is healthy, he starts. This is by virtue of the fact that it is really the only place for him to go. Mozeliak and Matheny both have stated they do not see him being a reliever, and such a predictable slate of work is probably not what is best for business in handling Jaime.

This would of course be an outcome that would relegate Martinez and Gonzales back to more particular roles as either bullpen presences or starters in Memphis. It is not very likely that Martinez would go back to the minors; his experience in the bullpen makes it possible –albeit likely a personally disappointing one for him.

Gonzales’ future is a bit more undeterminable as is, due to the fact the team could very well decide to incubate him in Memphis as is, in order to keep him functioning as a starter.

But perhaps the most interesting sidebar of the spring is the return of Garcia in any form. Yet the most undeniable impact of it is that by simply showing up yet again, he stands to change everything as it stood to be just a month ago.


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Cardinals Face Variety Of Options For Rotational Depth

As the calendar has officially turned over to January and with spring training much closer than it may seem, the Cardinals are in what appears to be mostly ready for camp condition. The club has been able to address issues of upgrading its everyday lineup, as well as adding both bullpen and bench depth. Yet is the offseason quickly winding down, there are still a few edges that could afford to be smoothed off regarding the team’s depth, and general manager John Mozeliak has plenty of options to consider in addressing his most prominent area of need: starting pitching depth.


Adding another veteran pitching presence to the fifth starter picture is an admitted area of intent for Mozeliak. While Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and John Lackey have their roles set in stone, the team has thus far been content to allow Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales compete for the final rotational spot. With the team’s devotion to growing from within from both a financial and talent base perspective, this is not a surprising situation, nor is it a non-desirable one. Martinez represents the most electric arm in perhaps the entire organization, while Gonzales was the club’s 2014 minor league pitcher of the year, while climbing from through four levels of the organization during his first full professional year.

Both are obviously enticing options that stand to represent a significant part of the team’s pitching future and are enviable options to have available to pick between in the present. However, as is the case with many younger hurlers, there is always the chance for growing pains. Martinez, 23, and Gonzalez, 22, are both at the point in their respective careers where they are acclimating to the chance of being full-time Major League starters, and meeting the grind that such a role carries. As well, there is the already admitted factor that there will be protective innings limits in place for either of the duo in play. Add that into the ever-present chance that injuries besiege any part of the staff as well and change the dynamic of the rotation instantaneously, and the need for there to be more depth available capable of starting games.

That is where the existing free agent market comes into play. While the easy-to-align locational value of Max Scherzer remains, it is a possibility that remains a solar system’s length away from being a realistic add for the team. The same goes for James Shields, who’s been involved in more recent speculation as well. In all actuality, the type of low profile addition that Mozeliak has discussed would be able to swing between adding a third dimension to the starting pitching competition, as well as become a viable option has a long reliever as well.

This type of option would be an arm looking to rebound its stock from a down year, returning from injury or simply is sliding through the cracks some as the winter progresses. A low cost option that has high value return on investment in the type of way that Pat Neshek did a year ago. Looking at the available options remaining on the market, there are a number of suspects that fit this description.

Among the stock bounce back group, veterans Scott Baker, Franklin Morales, Kyle Kendrick and Alexi Ogando stand out. Baker, who battled arm injuries for the better part of 2012-13, rallied to make 25 total appearances for the Texas Rangers a year ago, eight of which were starts. Overall, he posted a 3-4 record with a 5.47 ERA in 2014. In his heyday as with the Minnesota Twins, he won over 10 games three times and the 33-year-old has won 66 career games.

Ogando’s effectiveness took a severe downtown in 2014, as he turned in an dreadful 6.84 ERA as he battled a mixture of shoulder and elbow injuries that sent him to the disabled list three times in 2013 and limited him to 25 innings last year. But the 31-year-old former All-Star has diverse resume of being able to spot start and contribute in multiple capacities out of the bullpen. As far as reclamation projects go in regards to filling needs for the Cardinal staff, his versatility makes him a very intriguing—and likely low cost—alternative.

Morales, soon to be 29, is a recovering member of the Colorado Rockies staff. In his first season as a majority starter, he posted a 5.37 ERA over 142 innings to contribute to a 6-9 record a year ago. For the majority of his career he was a reliever that carried a 4.51 ERA out of the pen in Coors, and has the always welcomed benefit of being a left-hander that misses bats (7.3 k’s/9) is successful versus left-handed hitters (.213 career average vs LHB).

Kendrick has seen his stock slide substantially over the past two years. He has gone from being a promising component of the Philllies’ rotation, posting back-to-back campaigns of sub-4.00 ERA while making 15+ starts, to struggling to two losing seasons and ERA’s north of 4.60 in each of the last two years. However, he has decent control and is in need of the type of season where he can prove his mettle and does have some experience in the bullpen (despite most of it being due to relegation).

There are also those that have to re-establish their stock and at the head of that class sits Brandon Beachy and Chad Billingsley. Both have considerable risk, has Beachy has twice undergone Tommy John surgery since 2012 and Billingsley has been sidelined since September of 2012 with a mixture of tendon injuries, but was one of the NL’s most electric pitchers when healthy. Both bring considerable risk, but if the goal is to simply obtain potential upside for a battle in camp and have a high upside presence, they fit the bill.

Other currently available options in these veins include lefties Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders and Brad Mills, as well as right-handers Carlos Villanueva, Chris Young and former Cardinal killer Ryan Vogelsong.

However, the option could remain simply to sit pat and let the homegrown guys sort it out. From a depth perspective there are plenty of internal options besides Martinez and Gonzales that have either moonlighted before or are coming on strong for a chance to prove themselves as well. Tyler Lyons has spent parts of the last two years with the club. Tim Cooney and Zach Petrick will be knocking at the door this year from Memphis, as could top prospect Alex Reyes, who is slotted to begin at Double-A Springfield.

There is also the presence (however ominous it may be) of Jaime Garcia to account for, who will be entering his likely final season with the club and will be pushing to get healthy to advertise himself of the open market next winter.

In addition, there could be the potential for another rapid rising prospect in 2014 first round pick Luke Weaver. With the club’s recent history of fast tracking polished collegiate arms, he should not be ruled out for a second-half appearance either if his development mirrors that of his first round processors in Wacha and Gonzales.

The possibilities are numerous and the actual outcome is yet to reveal itself. But as the team looks towards making finishing touches over the next month the direction that starting pitching offering will go, there are no shortage of routes that can still be explored.


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Wacha, Garcia Injuries Put Cardinals’ Back Against Wall

The Cardinals were dealt a combination of rolling punches on Sunday when the team sent 40% of its starting rotation to the disabled list on one afternoon, yet for a sole reason. Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia will both begin stints out of action on Monday due to shoulder complications, and the team faces an uncertain run of time with a depleted edition of its lone source of dependable contribution this year.

Michael  Wacha

General Manager John Mozeliak shared the news with the public after Sunday’s 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, which sealed a 7-3 homestand. The final game was started by Carlos Martinez in the place of Wacha, who was scheduled to start but bumped due to what was initially labeled as a move to conserve innings on the young right-hander, who has pitched 90.1 innings on the season thus far and was on pace for 194 over his first full campaign before being placed on the DL. Wacha stated that the injury had been bothering him over his past 4-5 starts, but took a turn for the worst headed into what was to be his upcoming outing on Sunday.

The idea that Wacha has even  been allowed to work through what has apparently been a lingering (and intensifying) plague—labeled as a stress reaction—is odd considering how much the long-term value of Wacha has been heralded. There is the line between working through an injury and holding back from worsening it is a thin one, but would have seemingly been jumped ahead completely to avoid such a dubious outcome. Yet, here it is and now the team is faced with a rather frightening proposition of managing its immediate fortunes with an uncertain future from one of its most valuable properties in Wacha. While a stress reactions are manageable, they are bothersome and potentially regularly reoccurring events, and with this being Wacha’s first encounter with the injury, it would not be surprising for him to be sidelined for a longer than expected timeline while the options around rehabbing the cause and damages are evaluated.

While the effects of the injury manifested itself over time, it evenly became what Wacha himself labeled as ‘unbearable’, and the decision to shut him down became obvious.

Yet also became only a half of the immediate problem facing the club, as Garcia also showed a downward turn. Recently returned from a shoulder injury that curbed him for 366 calendar days, Garcia had been solid since returning in early May, running a 3-1 record and striking out 39 in just over 43 innings in seven starts. The primary concern of further injury to Garcia is obviously further damage to the shoulder, which had already experienced one setback this spring which delayed the start of his year. Garcia himself has been less forthcoming about nature of his injury, but the fear of another long-term loss is not out of the question for the oft-injured lefty.

The complete severity of the issues for either starter was not made in entirely by Mozeliak when making the announcement, but was framed under the context of Wacha’s being lesser than that of of Garcia’s (a ‘yellow’ light over ‘red’ light scenario, per the GM). Yet in either case, the team will be without both for an indefinite run of time and are faced with the frightening proposition of potential long-term loss of one of its most valuable properties in Wacha. Garcia has battled his balky shoulder for multiple years now, and while it is an unfortunate situation, the general theme of the year concerning him as been one of a strong contribution from him being a bonus for the year.

However, that perspective was set both before he effectively returned and before the Cardinal roster had been stunned by both the repeated loss of starting pitching options and its season-long offensive outage. Pitching is the only binding factor holding the team in the midst of the race, and more specifically, it’s starting pitching impact. Cardinal starters currently lead the National League in rotation ERA (3.05), lowest batting average against (.228) and shutouts (14). This has offset an offense that has yielded only a .249 team average and sits at 13 out of 15 NL clubs in runs scored.

Superb starting pitching is a must for the sustained survival of the club, and the first order of business is finding suitable bookmarks—or potentially replacements—for the fallen duo. The obvious answer is that Martinez will stay a part of the rotation long-term and in the slot of Wacha most likely. In two starts, Martinez has been effective, yet developing as he reacquaints himself to the durability and demands of the role. However, it is the role that was becoming increasingly clear that he would need to have the opportunity to undertake and despite it coming under unfortunate auspices, it is here.

Yet after Martinez, finding both an immediate and long-term answer for Garcia’s role is a bit more complicated. His next turn in the rotation looms on Wednesday in Colorado, and there is no absolute clear option to take his place. Of options currently clear on the 40-man roster, Joe Kelly is going out for the beginning of his minor league rehab stint this week, and is likely weeks away from being an option. Likewise, Tyler Lyons is recently returned from the DL and is at Memphis, where he has made a pair of rehab starts with no negative reaction in the injured shoulder that sidelined him since May 12th. He would be the logical, yet perhaps premature, call up to take Garcia’s place.

Any other move would necessitate a change to the 40-man roster and dropping a current member of it to make room. The likely outcome is that Martinez will continue to work into starters shape via a limited workload (his pitch limit increased by 10 tosses in Sunday’s start), while Lyons takes Garcia’s place until Kelly is ready if all pans out well in his return.

Regardless of the outcome, the Cardinals find themselves in a precarious place looking ahead, where the best case scenario is being leaned on far too heavily for a team that is trying to keep its head above water in a divisional race. With the trade deadline just five weeks away, perhaps the buyers sign will have no choice but to go into the Cardinal yard if it is to see the season change into the fall this summer. And the long-debated need for another veteran arm finally gets too loud to ignore. At any rate, time is of the essence, as internal options and fortunes are thinning out rapidly.

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Timing Is Everything For Martinez, Kelly

Mike Matheny rounded out the only major “competition” that they had taking place in camp this year, by naming Joe Kelly the fifth starter going into the season and sending Carlos Martinez to the bullpen where he will resume the late inning work that solidified his place with the club last October. And despite Martinez’s clearly superior spring as a starter, it was ultimately the best move for the team.


In many regards, it was never really a competition that was meant to favor Martinez, and that is not a bad thing. Martinez proved that he had grown as a pitcher, showing everything imaginable that could be asked of him to make the rotation if all things were created equal. Across four starts, he surrendered only three runs in 15 innings, including a one-run, 5.1 inning outing against the Twins last week. While his raw arm strength has never been in question, he proved that he can maintain it over extended innings with solid control and an expanded secondary arsenal to create outs. Basically, he proved that he can pitch, over just blow away batters in a short time span, has he did last October, when he struck out 11 in just over 12 innings pitched over three rounds.

Conversely, Kelly’s numbers have not been as impressive (7.71 ERA, six strikeouts to four walks in just over nine innings before yesterday’s 5+ innings of no-hit ball versus Houston), but it is not as much about outcome for him, as he has proven himself capable of holding a rotation spot in parts of the past two years. However, once Jaime Garcia went down with a continuation of the shoulder injury that has hampered him for nearly year it became more of a showcase chance for Martinez versus a chance to solidify his position for Kelly.

And both of those ends were achieved, despite it being packaged as a race for a rotation spot. The reason being that the most useful place for Martinez to be is at the end of the bullpen, due to the overhaul of late-game options. Gone are Edward Mujica and John Axford, whom despite playing lesser roles than Martinez last fall, represented the only experienced options in either the eighth or ninth inning on the club. Likewise, Jason Motte will not be ready for Opening Day, which left a glaring need in the bridge to the ninth inning that only Martinez could adequately fill. As Trevor Rosenthal proved last year, taking a role outside of the rotation—even for a career starter—can create a major strength for the team, as it shortens the window to hang in with the Cardinals before the organization’s two liveliest arms take over for the final six outs.

On the other side of the coin, Kelly fits the bill best for the rotation. A versatile option with 35 career starts under his belt (including the postseason), he is just a few months removed from being an integral part of the rotation down the stretch last year and has proved his starting chops. Despite the strong showing from Martinez, it is a situation where “rocking the boat” is not necessary. Kelly is better than a fifth option for a great deal of other teams and is a matchup asset in the role, the same way that Martinez is in the bullpen currently.

As all things are, this will continue to be a fluid situation. The returns on each as the season progresses will indicate how each continues in the roles they have been assigned currently, as will the dominoes of potential comebacks from Motte and Garcia and how that could alter the staff’s pitching alignment.

But one thing that is for certain, the versatile Cardinal staff continues to find beneficial roles to actively use the surplus of pitching wealth that it has at its disposal. And if history is any indicator of what is to come, as it always is, having options is never a bad thing.

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Despite record, St. Louis Cardinals have excellent start to spring training

The St. Louis Cardinals won just twice in the opening week of their 2014 spring training exhibition schedule, but wins and losses matter little in spring training, and the Cardinals, with a 2-4-2 record, have excelled in the aspects of camp that truly matter.

Trevor Rosenthal - photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Trevor Rosenthal – photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Through seven games, the Cardinals players who know they’ll be with the big club on Opening Day have played well, with few exceptions, and those who drew mild concerns have already had a couple of positive moments to potentially give them a comfort level through the balance of March.

As with the regular season, the first week of the spring training schedule typically draws much more scrutiny than any other because people pay more attention since they are excited to have baseball back before the monotony of the season begins and games start to blend together in memory.

The Cardinals have survived with extremely few problems. Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia’s shoulder injury flared up again in the opening week of camp in February, but otherwise the Cardinals have been injury-free with the exception of closer Trevor Rosenthal, who pitched his first inning Saturday and held the Washington Nationals scoreless after he suffered a minor groin injury early in camp.

Elsewhere, the Cardinals have only players who are at or near the end of their rehab from more serious injuries.

Relief pitcher Jason Motte continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery to repair his injured right elbow in 2013, and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras made his much-anticipated first start of the spring Friday against the New York Mets in his return from right ankle surgery, and he promptly doubled on a ball to deep right-centerfield.

Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong also alleviated some fears about his offensive potential with a 3-for-4 day Friday in a 5-5 tie with the Mets.

The Cardinals vaunted young pitching staff has also made it through the first week with only minor road bumps.

Possible No. 5 starter Joe Kelly walked two Detroit Tigers hitters and allowed two runs in 1.2 innings Tuesday, but he also had two strikeouts and figures to be a stable pitcher for the Cardinals in 2014 no matter how they use him, whether as a starter or out of the bullpen.

Probable No. 4 starter Lance Lynn allowed five runs in 1.1 innings Friday in a split-squad game against the Miami Marlins, but any other Cardinals pitchers who allowed more than two runs total through the first week have been minor leaguers or non-roster invitees.

At this point, there is not much drama in Cardinals camp at all. All of the core players have performed well, especially Matt Holliday with his eight hits in nine at-bats, and newly signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who hit two homeruns Tuesday against the Tigers.

Those types of performances gives Cardinals management to focus more on the players on the fringe of a spot on the 25-man roster and those who it expects to remain in the minor leagues for at least the 2014 season, if not more.

But that situation also gives those minor leaguers an opportunity to play earlier in games and they therefore get more innings against opposing players who are already established in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals have built an incredibly strong foundation that is now able to help the group of future Cardinals develop more quickly and maintain the level of excellence the organization has now sustained for four years.

It’s a cycle that builds upon itself, and the Cardinals currently have it as finely tuned as any team in the game.

They can’t get comfortable with what they’ve built, of course, but right now the only storms in Jupiter, Fla., come when the traditional mid-afternoon rain clouds pass over.

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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.


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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St. Louis Cardinals need Lance Lynn in starting rotation despite struggles

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn may have saved his spot in the starting rotation with a solid six innings Wednesday when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to one run in a game the Cardinals eventually won 5-1.


But his spot in the rotation should have been safe regardless, even if he might not have deserved it with his recent performances.

Lynn has a 13-10 record but had been awful or close to awful in his five previous starts before Wednesday as the second half of his season fell apart for the second consecutive season.

He began the season nearly the same way he did his rookie year in 2012. He won 10 of his first 12 decisions in 2012 and won 10 of his first 11 this season, but what happened next is what keeps Lynn from being a force in the rotation.

Lynn went 3-3 after the All-Star Break in 2012 until the Cardinals sent him to the bullpen in late August to rest and work on his mechanics.

That decision helped, as Lynn all four of his starts in September as the Cardinals made their push to qualify for the second wild-card spot. Of course, the Cardinals could afford to let Lynn regroup in the bullpen for a couple of weeks because they had a rotation that still had Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia, and Chris Carpenter was on the way back from the disabled list.

They had no such luxury this season when Lynn lost five of six decisions between Aug. 4 and Sept. 5 and saw his earned run average jump from 3.78 to 4.37.

Lohse signed with the Brewers in the offseason, Garcia blew out his shoulder in May and Carpenter never could get back from his arm injuries. Plus, manager Mike Matheny does not yet have enough confidence in Jake Westbrook to move him back into the rotation from the bullpen, which is where he’s been since he returned from a back injury.

The Cardinals also have two rookies already in the rotation with Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and their only other options are rookies Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, who have both been inconsistent in their first seasons in the major leagues.

So Matheny must continue to give the ball to Lynn every fifth day regardless of his performance. The pressure in this situation is not on Matheny; it’s squarely on Lynn, who must consistently pitch well for the Cardinals to maintain their slight lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division to avoid having to play in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, as they did against the Atlanta Braves in 2012.

Lynn often gets frustrated when his outing does not go perfectly. For example, he gave up three homeruns and four runs total in five innings Sept. 5 against the Reds in Cincinnati, and his body language after each was terrible.

It’s fine to be frustrated. The Cardinals certainly wouldn’t want their pitchers to be happy after they give up a homer, but they also need their pitchers to refocus immediately and get the next hitters out to avoid a bad at bat becoming a bad inning and a bad game. The Cardinals lost Lynn’s latest start against the Reds 6-2 in part because he struggled to bear down and push through the adversity that is part of nearly every Major League Baseball game.

He was much better Wednesday against a much weaker lineup. The Brewers don’t have near the quality hitters of the Reds, who could easily be a playoff opponent for the Cardinals this year.

But the Cardinals don’t necessarily need Lynn to be a postseason starter. They can find three pitchers to take care of the starts in October. They instead need Lynn to be at his best in September so they are positioned for success once the playoffs begin.

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Conversations With A Blogger: Mike Grabowski

The month of August is coming to a close which means the United Cardinal Bloggers have another assignment for their member blogs.  This month, the bloggers take time to get to know each other and share those thoughts with you.  It is everything you want to know about a blogger, even when you didn’t want to know us at all.


Mike Grabowski is the guy you’ll read about here on i70baseball as he took some time to answer a few questions for me.

It is important to point out, first and foremost, that Mike is a successful salesperson in the Chicago area who has a girlfriend and does not live in his parent’s basement.  Take that, stereotypes!  It is also important to note that whether or not Mike actually lives in his parent’s basement or has a non-imaginary girlfriend is based strictly on him telling me otherwise and no fact-checking has been performed, I’m taking him at his word.

Mike writes for “Red Birds, Yellow Bat” which is part of the Cards Conclave.  He relies on sabermetrics to drive his discussions, though he doesn’t weigh his articles down with statistical analysis.  His style is easy to read, humorous and timely.  It’s nice to see him putting that English degree from University of Iowa to work in the lucrative world of blogging.

My singular qualification for being here is a short-lived blog entitled St. Louis Perfectos, where I once suggested the Cardinals provide Jaime Garcia sedatives before pitching on the road.  –Mike in his introduction for the Cards Conclave.

I asked Mike some questions.  Mike provided some answers.  Now we’ve come to share them with you:

Why blogging?

It’s a way for me to have some fun during the season and force myself to write a bit. It’s also nice to interact with the UCB members and have people to share the ups and downs of the season with.

Why the Cardinals?

Actually, when I decided to start a blog, I wanted to pick another team to write about or just focus on MLB in general. My feeling was that I’m too invested in the Cardinals and would just end up writing a bunch of post that made me sound like a crazed fan. Ultimately, I couldn’t deny my love of the Cardinals, so I just own my “Kozma has to go” posts.

Earliest baseball memory?

It’s probably not my earliest memory, but I remember the first time I saw Ozzie do the back flip in person. That type of thing will stick with you.

Favorite twitter account to follow?

I get a lot of enjoyment out of the feeds from various UCB members. My favorite non-Cardinal related Tweeter is Grant Brisbee (@mccoveychron).

You can spend time with one Cardinal, any Cardinal at all, and talk baseball. Who and why?

Stan. That’s the only answer, right? If it can’t be Stan, then Mozeliak pumped full of truth serum. Not that I think he’s hiding anything, but I want him to reveal his 5 year plan.

What should fans expect when they read something with your name in the byline?

Most of the time I have no idea what to expect.

Favorite current Cardinal?

Yadi. Duh.

Give Mike a follow on Twitter @RealGrabowski

You can read Mike’s work at Cards Conclave weekly.  Also, make sure to drop by the official United Cardinal Bloggers website and check out all the interviews being conducted, including Dan Buffa’s discussion with me.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
You can find his work on Yahoo!InsideSTL, and here on i70.
Talk baseball with him on Twitter @poisonwilliam

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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.


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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