Tag Archive | "Jake Westbrook"

Masterson Deal Stays In Line With The ‘Cardinal Way’

After many days of non-stop prognosticating regarding what direction the Cardinals would order their steps heading into the trade deadline, the club finally made its move, acquiring pitcher Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians. And while the days leading into today’s deadline saw them be associated with every big name arm either potentially or actually available, in the end John Mozeliak returned to the low road to solve what could potentially be a major need.

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It is not a move that is an unfamiliar either, as it echoes loudly of the last time he did business with the Indians while in a similar situation. It was 2010 when the club approached the deadline in need of some sort of upgrade to steady a shaky rotation. It was done at the cost of Ryan Ludwick, who had downturned since the All-Star form he had displayed in years past. The answer to solving that situation was landing the veteran sinkerballer, who in turn went 4-4 in 12 starts down the stretch with a 3.48 ERA. What Westbrook’s job was to do was help be a low-cost bridge to the postseason, which he certainly did. While he did not appear in the 2010 playoffs, he did what he was charged with accomplishing initially.

The move to acquire Masterson echoes the same sentiment of that deal. Just a year removed from an All-Star campaign, he has struggled mightily most of this season. He will leave behind a 5.51 ERA in 19 American League starts this year, and a WHIP north of 1.653. He entered the season with a buzz that had him rumored to be pushing for a $100 million dollar pact with the The Tribe, who now 75% of the way through the summer had to be glad to just get something of value back in return for him.

What they netted was St. Louis’ 2012 first round pick in James Ramsey, who was just recently named to the All-Star Futures Game and projected as a solid fill-in option down the road in St. Louis. However, while Ramsey was far from an irrelevant part of the organization (he was ranked 8th among all Cardinal prospects by Baseball America earlier this year), he was not one of the premiere parts that had been rumored to be the cost of return for one of the premiere options on the market. Combine that with the fact the Cardinals are flush with young outfield prospects, it was simply the numbers game that worked in favor of moving Ramsey.

And trading from any part of the organization’s prospect/control year deck is something that once again Mozeliak proved to be hesitant to do, regardless of the return. However, with what could be seen as a concession to improve the rotation’s prospects, but to do so to a lesser extent than possible, a two-fold message is sent. Mainly, that he is dedicated to making an effort to quiet the grounds underneath the rotation since the injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia over a month ago.

However, this is something that was both evident and never in doubt. Yet but what is more clear than ever is Mo’s commitment to the homegrown talent that he has so tightly held onto over the years. The thought that a potential short-term addition would cost the team a great loss of controlled seasons, inflated payroll and burgeoning talent was too great of a cost, regardless of the return. What is affirmed is the belief that this team is in a strong enough position without anything rash that could alter what has long since been developed for the future.

Masterson does represent an acquisition with a chance to see a marked improvement with the change in his surroundings, due to the much greater defensively skilled Cardinal club. Cardinal infielders have worked to a +35 defensive runs saved mark this season, while his former club has been worth a -39 run

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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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Jake Westbrook start a nice gesture, but not worth losing home-field advantage

The St. Louis Cardinals have starting pitcher Jake Westbrook to thank for helping them win the National League Central Division this season and make the playoffs in each of the last three years, but an attempt to recognize him for those contributions could cost them dearly in October.

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Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced before Saturday’s game that Westbrook would start the final game of the season Sunday because the organization wanted to honor him for his Cardinals career, which is likely about to end.

Westbrook was the first of several Cardinals starters to go on the disabled list this season when he went down with elbow inflammation May 12. He was 2-1 at the time of the injury and had given up four runs total in his first five stars before a May 8 loss when he gave up four runs in 5.1 innings in his last start before the injury.

He returned to the rotation June 14 and won five of his next eight starts, but his performance dropped precipitously in August when he gave up 24 runs in four starts, and then the Cardinals put him back on the disabled list, citing back soreness.

Westbrook came back from that injury Sept. 6 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowed three runs in 1.1 innings and has not pitched since.

Still, Matheny plans to use him to start Sunday with the best record in the National League on the line instead of Joe Kelly, who will be the first pitcher used in relief.

Westbrook might pitch well in his first appearance in nearly a month and the Cardinals will cruise to a win over the lowly Cubs, but Matheny is taking a large risk with an important achievement left to get.

In the best-case scenario, the Cardinals will enter play Sunday with a  one-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage in the National League Championship Series if they make it that far.

But the Braves would get home-field advantage if the teams finish with identical records because they own the tiebreaker since they beat the Cardinals in four of their seven games during the regular season.

The location of those games was a significant factor in those games. The Braves swept a three-game series from the Cardinals in late July at Turner Field in Atlanta, but the Cardinals won three of four games against the Braves about a month later at Busch Stadium.

Plus, both teams have played exceptionally well at home compared to their performance in away games. The Braves were 31 games above the .500 mark heading into their final two home games against the Philadelphia Phillies but had just a 40-41 away record. The Cardinals were 25 games over .500 at home heading into play Saturday compared to five games above .500 on the road.

Based on their overall records and head-to-head games, home-field advantage would figure to be vital in a matchup between the Braves and Cardinals in a seven-game series.

The Braves will send rookie Julio Teheran, with his 13-8 record and 3.09 earned-run average, to the mound Sunday to try to clinch home-field advantage.

The Cardinals will rely on a veteran with a 7-8 record and 4.67 ERA who has not pitched in nearly a month.

A lot still has to happen for the Braves and Cardinals to meet with a trip to the World Series on the line, but one of the keys to that potential series could be decided Sunday simply because the Cardinals want to honor one of their pitchers.

It’s a courteous move, but the game is too important to leave open the possibility of a loss because it could lead to a much bigger loss a couple of weeks later.

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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.

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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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Bird’s Eye View: The Showdowns Begin

For the first time in almost a month, the St. Louis Cardinals will enter a series as the division leader in the National League Central.  They are currently tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates and sit 2.5 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds.

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As if the schedule makers of Major League Baseball knew ahead of time what would be happening, the next few weeks will test the three teams at the top of the National League Central division like no other.  The Cardinals open a three-game series with the Reds tonight in St. Louis before heading on a road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  They will then return home to face the Pirates once again, completing a 13-game, 14-day stretch that could very well decide the division.

Over the last ten games, the Cardinals are the hottest of the three teams, winning seven of their contests while the Pirates and Reds have both won five.  It has given the Cards a little cushion over the Reds and allowed them to catch the Pirates after chasing them for 23 days.

The series: Cincinnati Reds (74-57) at St. Louis Cardinals (76-54)
Standings: The Reds trail the Cardinals by 2.5 games in the NL Central.  The Reds hold a seven game lead in the Wild Card.
National Coverage: ESPN will carry the Monday night game while MLB Network is scheduled to carry the game on Tuesday night.

Game 1 – Mike Leake (11-5, 3.12 era) vs Tyler Lyons (2-4, 5.09 era)

The Cardinals head into this week in somewhat familiar territory this season, missing a pitcher.  Jake Westbrook found his way to the disabled list and his turn in the rotation marks the start of the series with the Reds.  Tyler Lyons will take the ball for the spot-start against Reds’ hurler Mike Leake.  Lyons has been under-whelming on the mound as a starter this season, posting an earned run average over five and only earning a victory twice.  The first game is the biggest challenge from a pitching standpoint for the Cardinals and they will need Lyons to return to his early-season production on the mound.  The first two starts of the season for Lyons were victories that seen the southpaw go seven innings and yield only one run in each contest.  On June 8th, Lyons took the mound against the Reds and lasted just over five innings and gave up four runs, earning his second loss of the season.

Mike Leake has not done well against St. Louis this season, though he does enjoy some moderate success over a few of their hitters.  In two starts this season against his division rival, Leake taken a loss in both games, lasting just five innings in each.  He gave up three runs on June 7th and seven runs on August 4th while allowing a total of 14 hits over both contests.  Leake looked impressive in his most recent outing, at least he did until the fifth inning when he surrendered four runs.  He managed a win and six innings pitched before the day was through and now looks to change his luck against the Redbirds when his team needs him most.

Game 2 – Mat Latos (13-4, 2.93 era) vs Joe Kelly (5-3, 3.09 era)

The biggest concern with Joe Kelly is how deep he will go into the game.  The Cardinals win when Kelly pitches, having won seven of the eight contests that Kelly has started, but the starter seldom sees action past six innings.  He keeps the team in position to win, though he tends to play with fire a bit and has to work his way out of jams often.  We have seen before in St. Louis that you cannot keep putting runners on base and expect to always find your way out of trouble.  If Kelly can keep the base runners to a minimum, you may see seven or eight innings out of him in the process.  For now, the team keeps winning when he takes the mound and the Cardinals will hope to continue that streak on Tuesday night.

The Reds counter with their most successful pitcher this year, sending Mat Latos to the mound to try and get the team rolling in the series.  Latos is riding a hot streak of going late into ballgames and defying the odds to do so.  His most recent start in Arizona saw him go eight innings while battling the flu and reportedly throwing up three different times over the course of the game.  Latos has taken the mound three times this season against the Cardinals and the Reds hold wins in all three of those games, Latos himself earning the victory in two of them.

Game 3 – Homer Bailey (8-10, 3.71 era) vs Adam Wainwright (15-7, 2.58 era)

It is hard for a team to arrange the starting rotation well when you play two divisional opponents for two straight weeks.  That puts staff ace Adam Wainwright on the mound in the final game against Cincinnati and missing the entire series against the Pirates this coming weekend.  Wainwright takes the mound on the heels of his major-league-leading fifth complete game of the season.  During his last outing, fans were witness to his rise in the rankings of all-time Cardinal pitchers.  Meanwhile, he won his 15th game of the season and improved his K/BB rate to a league leading 7.28.  He has currently walked fewer hitters than games he has pitched in and continues to develop into a more dangerous pitcher.  During Wednesday night’s game, he will pass the 200 inning mark for the season.

Homer Bailey will line up to take on the Cardinals for the third time this season where he will also be looking for his first win against the team.  His April 10th start against the Cardinals resulted in Bailey allowing seven runs, one of two times this season that he has allowed that many runs in a game.  Bailey has won four of his last five contests and continues to put together impressive numbers from time-to-time.  Consistency is what the Reds are hoping to start gaining from Bailey and he will look to build on his recent success in the Wednesday game with the Cardinals.

Final Notes

The Pirates will enter a three game series with the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.  The Brewers, who took two games in a three game set with the Reds this past weekend, are in a unique position to play spoiler in this division race.

Don’t be surprised if Carlos Beltran sits in the Monday game due to the matchup with the starting pitching.  He hist Latos and Bailey much better than he does Leake.

Kolten Wong continues to earn playing time despite leadership insisting that he is not here to shake things up.  His speed and defense have been impressive to this point, here’s to hoping we see his bat come around into the discussion soon.

Jon Jay is silencing his critics lately and helping lead the Cardinals back into the hunt.

My name is Bill Ivie and you can find my work at Yahoo! as well as on i70baseball, which is a member blog of the United Cardinal Bloggers.
Give me a follow on Twitter and talk some baseball with me from time to time.

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St. Louis Cardinals will be fine, maybe better, without Jake Westbrook

The St. Louis Cardinals have used 10 different starting pitchers in the first four-and-a-half months of the 2013 season, and they will now likely have to play the rest of the season without Jake Westbrook, who started the pitching carousel when he originally went on the disabled list in May with elbow inflammation.

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However, the Cardinals have shown they can withstand injuries to just about any position outside of catcher, where Yadier Molina has an incredibly large influence on the team, and they should be able to make it through the rest of the season and playoffs without Westbrook.

In fact, there’s a decent chance they could be better.

Westbrook has been the Cardinals worst starter by far in the second half of the season. He won his first two starts after the All-Star Break, but then the proverbial wheels fell off. Westbrook allowed 28 runs in his next five starts, all of them losses except the final game against the Milwaukee Brewers when the Cardinals won 8-6 even though Westbrook nearly gave up a 7-0 lead in fewer than five innings.

Now Westbrook is on the disabled list again, this time with a back injury that could keep him out for the rest of the season and end his career with the Cardinals, because his contract has a mutual option for 2014 the Cardinals might not pick up.

Westbrook’s injury is not nearly as blatant of an excuse to remove a struggling pitcher as when Jason Isringhausen supposedly injured his pitching hand in 2008 by punching a television in the clubhouse, but it could have similarly unexpected, positive consequences.

Isringhausen had struggled to a 5.70 earned-run average with just 12 saves through 42.2 innings that season before he went on the disabled list in August, which led Ryan Franklin to the job, and he went on to save 65 games the next two seasons, including a trip to the postseason in 2009.

The 2013 Cardinals are probably in an even better situation to replace a struggling veteran because they have a pool of talented young pitchers that would easily surpass any of the team’s minor-league reserves during the Isringhausen Era that lasted from 2001-08.

Second-year pitcher Joe Kelly has already become a force in the rotation since manager Mike Matheny finally released him from bullpen purgatory and let him start July 6 against the Miami Marlins.

Kelly allowed four runs through six innings that day against Miami, but he has allowed more than two runs in a start just once since and has improved his record from 0-3 to 5-3 after another stellar performance Thursday against the National League East Division-leading Atlanta Braves when he held them to two runs through six innings as the Cardinals won 6-2.

Rookie starter Shelby Miller has also pitched well, going 11-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 24 starts, and second-year starter Lance Lynn has been in the rotation all season, posting a 13-7 record with a 3.97 ERA.

But now the Cardinals will need one more inexperienced pitcher to exceed expectations as the team enters the final month of the season in a three-way race for the NL Central title with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

Its first option will be rookie left-hander Tyler Lyons.

The Cardinals first called up Lyons from Triple-A Memphis in May to fill in for injured starter Jaime Garcia, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Lyons was good in his first two starts, but his ERA exploded from 1.29 to 5.51 in his next four starts before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors.

Lyons came back to pitch the second game of a doubleheader July 30 against the Pirates and allowed three earned runs through six innings in a 6-0. It wasn’t a bad outing, and the Cardinals were in the middle of a seven-game losing streak at the time, but Lyons will get his third opportunity of the season when he takes the mound to start Monday against the Reds.

Plenty of uncertainty will surround that start and probably each of the rest of his starts through September, if the Cardinals stick with Lyons and don’t move to Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha, but he now has both positive and negative experiences as a big-league player that should help him this time around.

And if he pitches well, he could add his name to the list of pitchers that includes Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller who turned late-season call-ups into steady jobs at the top of the Cardinals rotation.

If nothing else, Lyons at least might be able to say he became a large contributor to a team that has a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs.

It might be an unlikely scenario, but as Tony La Russa learned in 2008, the decision to put Westbrook on the disabled list might be the best one Matheny could have made for the long-term health of his team.

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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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Difficult Start To Second Half Could Help St. Louis Cardinals In October

The St. Louis Cardinals have unquestionably played their worst baseball of the season the past three weeks, going 4-11 against the four best teams in the National League, but that rough stretch could be a large dose of the medicine the team needs to be ready for the playoffs.

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Despite the awful finish to July and start to August, the Cardinals still entered play Saturday in the first wild-card spot and 6.5 games from falling out of a playoff position. Therefore, they have little reason to stress over making the playoffs, but a little frustration could add an edge any team needs to succeed in the postseason.

Sure, the Cardinals had their fair share of injuries during the first half of the season. Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter never recovered from his arm injury, closer Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, Jaime Garcia had season-ending shoulder surgery in May and Jake Westbrook missed significant time while on the disabled list, but none of those problems were big enough to keep St. Louis from jumping out to the best record in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals cruised to a 57-36 record in the first half while primarily playing teams that are not going to come anywhere close to making the playoffs. Their combined 28-11 record against the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants largely accounts for why the team was more than 20 games above .500 by the All-Star Break.

They began the second half of the season 5-1 in six games against the lowly Padres and Philadelphia Phillies, who were each 11 games under .500 heading into play Saturday, but then they went out to play the good teams in the National League.

And they got smoked.

The Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers would fill out the postseason bracket along with the Cardinals if the season ended anytime soon, and those teams won 11 of 15 games against St. Louis.

Of course, catcher Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a sprained right knee less than a week into that stretch and that has certainly affected the offense considering he was second in the league with a .330 batting average when he got hurt.

Yet, the Cardinals’ problems have been bigger than just Molina’s absence. The team has hit .260 since the All-Star break, which is 16 points lower than it hit before the break.

The pitching staff’s earned-run average has ballooned from 3.40 to 3.98 in the second half as the team struggles to mix and match starters to fill in gaps left by an intense schedule and more injury problems such as Shelby Miller’s sore elbow that could cause him to miss a start after he took a line drive directly off it on the second pitch of his outing Wednesday against the Dodgers.

But more than anything, the team needs to relearn how to win, particular against good teams it will likely face in the playoffs.

Remember, the 2013 Cardinals are a young team. They have a second baseman (Matt Carpenter) and shortstop (Pete Kozma), who are in their first seasons at those positions at the major-league level, and they have used 11 rookie pitchers. All but four of those 13 players were on the postseason roster in 2012 and many had never spent a day in the big leagues until earlier this season.

Also, every team, good or bad, goes through a rough patch in their season. The 2006 World Series championship Cardinals team lost eight games in a row in late June, and the 2011 world championship team lost seven in a row in early June, along with a 3-8 stretch in mid-August before it caught fire through the rest of the season.

The 2013 team had not had a losing streak of more than three games in a row at any point before the seven-game losing streak a couple of weeks ago. The team had battled around injuries, but it had yet to develop the resilience that only a stretch of losing baseball can provide.

Plus, the team now knows the level of play required to compete with the best teams in the league.

It certainly isn’t fun for Cardinals fans to watch their team struggle, but the recent run of losses seemingly night after night could help the team develop the mental and emotional toughness it will need to make a run at the 2013 World Series championship.

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The Shelby Miller Conundrum In St. Louis

The St. Louis Cardinals should seriously consider whether they should ever host another “Star Wars Night” at the ballpark after the results on August 7th.

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They lost the game.  They almost lost another pitcher.  Another pitcher stepped in on short notice and the rotation is now in shambles.  The Force was not strong with this one.

Read more about Star Wars Night and which Cardinals match up with Star Wars characters over at CardsConclave.

The conundrum now comes due to the fact that the Cardinals dodged a bullet.  It now appears that Shelby Miller, after taking a line drive off his pitching elbow on the second pitch of the game, will not be headed to the disabled list and may not even miss a scheduled start.  That’s good news.

But it leaves the team in a pinch.

The Cardinals promoted Carlos Martinez to make the start tonight in place of Jake Westbrook, who admirably took over the game from Miller yesterday.  They have also promoted Sam Freeman while sending Brock Peterson and Keith Butler.  The potential problems break down with the following scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Miller heads to the disabled list

Should the Cardinals decide that Shelby would benefit from a 15-day disabled list visit, the team is in pretty good shape.  Martinez would stay and assume Miller’s rotation spot and Peterson could be recalled immediately without having to wait for the 10-game window of time to pass.  Players sent to the minor leagues have to remain there for 10 days unless they are promoted to assume the roster spot of a player going to the disabled list.

In this scenario, the team would only work with a short bench for a day or two and not be concerned with the need for the extra arm in the bullpen.

Scenario 2 – Miller is fine, does not miss a start

It is strange to say that this may be the hardest scenario for the team.  Due to the lack of a long-reliever on the team, they effectively burnt two starters, Miller and Westbrook, in last night’s game.  Martinez will make the start tonight but then be unavailable for five days.  The team would, most likely, send Martinez back to the minors for a relief pitcher after his start in this scenario.  The problem is, since no one is going on the disabled list, the options for relievers become a bit more limited.  A short bench is one thing but a short bench and a short bullpen is another.

The Cardinals are starting to test their depth in pitching this season, which I covered in today’s piece for Yahoo! Sports.

It may be time for John Mozeliak to see what is available on the trade market and be willing to deal a prospect or two.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
He is a freelance writer that publishes work for InsideStl and Yahoo Contributor Network as well.
Follow him on Twitter.

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St. Louis Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist having success as if he’s Yasiel Puig

Away from all of the excitement and attention directed toward Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig, the St. Louis Cardinals have a rookie who has arguably had an even better start to his career.

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Cardinals left-handed relief pitcher Kevin Siegrist appeared in his 13th career Major League Baseball game Friday against the Chicago Cubs and finally became like every other pitcher in the game, one that has allowed at least one run.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro homered off of him in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Cardinals’ lead from 3-1 to 3-2, but Siegrist recovered in typical Siegrist fashion: He struck out the next three hitters.

Siegrist, now with a 0.69 earned-run average, has been simply dominant in his brief career. He has struck out 20 hitters while walking just three and giving up three hits in 13 innings. He also became the first Cardinals player since 1900 to not allow a run in his first 12 appearances.

Viewed through the narrow lens of the 2013 season, Siegrist’s performance as a big-leaguer came at nearly the perfect time for the Cardinals. The team called the 23-year-old up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds on June 6 in exchange for Maikel Cleto, who had 2.1 horrid innings when he gave up five runs in his only appearance of the season the night before against eh Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Cardinals pitching staff was in strong need of a boost at that point in the season. Yes, the team was 18 games over .500 and had the best record in baseball, but the pitching staff was in the midst of major changes.

Right-handed starter Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 12 with elbow inflammation, and left-handed starter Jaime Garcia succumbed to shoulder inflammation the next day. Then, left-handed replacement starter John Gast went on the DL with a shoulder strain two weeks later.

In the meantime, the Cardinals called up seven rookie pitchers, including Siegrist.

By and large, those pitchers did a fine job. Left-handed starter Tyler Lyons got rocked a few times before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors, but Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Keith Butler, Michael Blazek and Michael Wacha each made positive contributions to the team.

But none more than Siegrist, who could’ve made a case he should have been an all-star if the fans had voted Puig into the game as the Final Vote winner.

The Dodgers called 22-year-old Puig up to the big leagues just five days before Siegrist, and Puig set the baseball world aflame with dramatic plays in the field and at the plate, which caused a large segment of the baseball community to say Puig should be an all-star even though he has only been in the league for six weeks.

Well, so has Siegrist. Puig has a .397 batting average with eight homeruns and 19 runs batted in during his brief career, but Siegrist has arguably played even better.

It is difficult to compare the two players because they play different parts of the game. Puig played in 37 games from June 3 through Friday while Siegrist appeared in 13, but each has surpassed even the greatest expectations for a rookie at their respective positions.

Had the National League Final Vote included middle relievers, as the American League Final Vote did, Siegrist would’ve had a strong case to be a candidate.

Nonetheless, he figures to be a vital part of the Cardinals bullpen in the second half of the season.

The Cardinals haven’t used left-handed specialist Randy Choate much at all (he’s pitched just six more innings that Siegrist although he’s been on the active roster since Opening Day), and they sent left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the minor leagues April 29 for ineffectiveness.

That decision left a gaping hole in the bullpen that Siegrist has filled as well as possible, although he has done much of his work in anonymity up to this point.

The pressure will increase when he ends up in a tight situation late in a ballgame against the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds in the pennant race, but right now he should be the Cardinals go-to reliever when they need to shut down an opponent’s rally even though he received absolutely zero consideration as a potential all-star candidate.

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