Tag Archive | "Joe Kelly"

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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St. Louis Cardinals should choose Jorge Rondon for final bullpen spot

Now that St. Louis Cardinals management has decided which pitcher it wants to begin the season in the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation, its focus can shift to a similar dilemma that exists for the last spot in the bullpen.

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Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced Sunday that Joe Kelly would begin the season in the No. 5 spot in the rotation, while rookie Carlos Martinez would move back to the either-inning setup relief role he had at the end of the 2013 season and postseason.

The Cardinals decided to reward Kelly’s experience rather than Martinez’s stellar spring training numbers. Kelly has a 6.28 earned-run average in four starts, while Martinez posted a 1.76 ERA in his four starts.

Despite those contradictory numbers, the Cardinals made a sound decision to go with Kelly instead of Martinez.

Kelly has the experience of two Major League Baseball seasons where he showed the organization he could be a consistent contributor, given his 3.08 career ERA.

Plus, Martinez proved to be a dynamic setup reliever during the 2013 playoffs when he had 11 strikeouts in 12.2 innings during a run that ended in Game 6 of the World Series in a loss to the Boston Red Sox.

However, the Cardinals should make the opposite decision when they determine which pitcher will receive the last open spot in the bullpen.

Jorge Rondon, Keith Butler and Scott McGregor are the three candidates, and the two losers will likely begin the season with the Triple A Memphis Redbirds.

Butler is the pitcher with the most major-league experience. He pitched in 16 games with the Cardinals in 2013 and had an ERA of 4.08, with 11 walks and 16 strikeouts, but the team sent him back to the minors after he pitched Aug. 7 and he did not make the postseason roster.

McGregor and Rondon have never appeared in a big-league game, but Rondon has been far superior in spring training. McGregor has allowed three runs in four innings of work with two walks and two strikeouts. Rondon has yet to allow an earned run in 8.1 innings, and he has three walks compared to seven strikeouts.

Each of those three pitchers is in competition to likely be the right-handed option for the Cardinals in the seventh inning of games in which they have a lead.

That is certainly an important role, and the Cardinals would have nearly as complete of a roster as they ever have if the winner of this three-way battle excels once the regular season begins.

Rondon would figure to be in the lead to win the spot because he has shown the most potential, even though Butler has the most experience.

Rondon throws harder than Butler, but he too has struggled with his command during his seven years in the minor leagues, as he has racked up 230 walks compared to 338 strikeouts and had 37 walks to 42 strikeouts in 2013 at Memphis.

Still, Butler’s potential appears to be limited if he can’t locate his pitches because he does not have the electric action on his pitches that several of the Cardinals top young pitchers do, and McGregor has not done much with his limited opportunities.

The Cardinals need a middle reliever who can consistently throw strikes more than anything, and they might not need the winner of this battle for long anyway.

They already have groundball-specialist Seth Maness penciled into a bullpen spot, and former closer Jason Motte is on schedule to return to the big-league team in late April or early May, and he could take the spot of Rondon, McGregor or Butler because he has the experience and the ability to consistently throw strikes.

Still, the team needs a reliever to fill in during the meantime because the Mitchell Boggs disaster of April 2013 showed how important a reliever is even in the first few weeks of the season.

The Cardinals have a dynamic duo to finish games with Martinez and closer Trevor Rosenthal, but they’ll need someone to carry leads the starter gives them and hand them off for the eighth and ninth innings.

As of now, Rondon looks to be the man for that job.

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St. Louis Cardinals’ Bullpen Battle Takes Center Stage for Roster Decisions

The St. Louis Cardinals came to spring training with very few roster decisions to make.  Most of those decisions have been reached in the last few days.

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Kolten Wong appears to be the starting second baseman, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos will share time in center field, Joe Kelly will be the fifth starter, Carlos Martinez will serve as the eighth-inning reliever and Pat Neshek has seemingly made the club.  That leaves only one decision to be made: Which pitcher will join the bullpen as the seventh reliever?

The competition comes down to three young hopefuls: Jorge Rondon, Scott McGregor and Keith Butler.  Those three arms head into the final week of spring training hoping to win a spot on the roster of players heading north to Cincinnati for Opening Day.

Butler is the known commodity of the group, having pitched 20 innings over 16 games for the Cardinals in 2013.  His performance was far from dominant, walking 11 hitters while striking out 16, but it is enough to earn him consideration yet again.

His spring performance does not look that great either, having thrown just over eight innings and surrendering eight runs.  His five walks this spring may raise a flag concerning control.  His minor league stats from 2013 do not seem to suggest it is a long term problem, as he only walked 11 hitters over 41 innings.

Rondon is another in the long line of power arms the Cardinals seem to be able to produce from their farm system.  The difference with him is that he may not have full control over the lively stuff he pushes across the plate.  He has only walked three hitters this spring while striking out seven.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that Rondon has yet to surrender a run.  Rondon did pitch in Memphis last season and did well despite the control issues he faced.  In just under 68 innings, he walked 37 hitters while striking out 42.  He may need a little more time in the minors to prove he has his control settled before making the team.

Manager Mike Matheny shared his thoughts on Rondon with Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

With Rondon, you’re looking at stuff and someone who has improved.  We gave him a task of pounding the strike zone and simplifying his approach. He’s done well and seen some results.

The long shot of the group is McGregor, who is a non-roster invitee to camp.  His four innings over three games this spring have yielded three runs, two walks and a pair of strikeouts.  McGregor spent 2013 as a starter in the Cardinals’ minor leagues and is seemingly being looked at as a long relief option.

While he struggles for consistency as well as playing time, his placement on the team would also require a subsequent roster move to make room on the 40-man.

Rondon and McGregor may have taken advantage of the situation to get their names in the minds of those in charge.  Unfortunately, it may come down to experience and the product Matheny already knows.

The final relief position likely belongs to Butler unless something goes horribly wrong.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.

Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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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.

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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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Although injured, Jason Motte might hold key to St. Louis Cardinals bullpen

The man who closed out the 2011 World Series championship for the St. Louis Cardinals and saved 42 games for them a season later has not pitched in a competitive situation in more than a year, but he might turn out to be one of the most important pitchers on the 2014 team’s staff.

JasonMotte

Jason Motte tore a ligament in his right elbow during spring training in 2013 and had Tommy John surgery to fix it, but that operation requires about a full year of rehab before a pitcher can return to the mound in a Major League Baseball game.

Motte has thrown bullpen sessions and batting practices in spring training camp this year, but he had the surgery May 7, 2013, so the Cardinals will most likely be about one month into their 2014 regular season before Motte is available.

Indications are Motte will become the eighth-inning setup reliever for closer Trevor Rosenthal once he is fully healthy, and that should make the back end of the team’s bullpen extremely dangerous, if not dominant.

However, the Cardinals likely have to get through the first month of the season, which includes 12 games against their top divisional opponents, the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates.

Those first several weeks of the season are certainly important, even though the team survived the Mitchell Boggs disaster in April a year ago, and the Cardinals have potentially better pitchers set to again try to fill an April void left by Motte, but those options carry nearly as many questions.

The pitcher who starts the season as the righthanded setup reliever in the bullpen could easily be the one who loses the battle for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation that has waged between rookie Carlos Martinez and third-year big leaguer Joe Kelly.

Martinez has had an exceptional spring training with a 1.76 earned-run average with nine strikeouts in four starts, while Kelly struggled in his first two starts before he settled down for 5.1 innings Saturday when he allowed one run and struck out three in a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez has made a Shelby Miller-like impression on the spring training mounds this year, but he still might be the better choice to start the season in the bullpen than Kelly.

For one, Martinez shined as the eighth-inning pitcher during the 2013 postseason with 11 strikeouts in 12 appearances, while Kelly started four games, including a 5.1-inning outing in Game 3 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox to lead the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory and one of their two wins in the series.

Kelly was also not particularly stellar as a bullpen pitcher during the first half of the 2013 season after he lost the race for the No. 5 spot in the rotation to Miller in spring training. Kelly’s ERA was at 6.75 through 16 appearances before he got his first start of the season June 5 and gave up one run in 5.2 innings in what turned out to be a 10-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Much of that debate won’t matter on the bullpen side when Motte comes back because he should be able to fill the eighth-inning role and take some pressure off of Martinez, Kelly or anybody else Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wants to use in the meantime.

The challenge then will likely be to get enough appearances in middle relief for whichever pitcher does not get the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

And if that is the biggest problem the Cardinals have once May begins, they will probably be off to a pretty good start.

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Carlos Martinez could follow Shelby Miller path to starting rotation

St. Louis Cardinals righthanded starting pitcher Shelby Miller had to beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the rotation through somewhat of a spring training-long duel between the two pitchers in 2013, and Kelly faces a similar challenge that could produce a similar result in 2014.

JoeKelly2

Miller has a lock on a starting job for the 2014 season, so righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez has taken his spot as the rookie on the verge of a spot in the rotation and in competition with Kelly, who could easily fall victim to another young Cardinals pitching sensation.

Martinez has done plenty to impress through roughly the first half of camp. He is 1-0 after a four-inning, two-hit performance Wednesday in a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets. That was his third start of the spring, and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 to go with five strikeouts.

Kelly, meanwhile, struggled his first two starts of the spring. He allowed seven runs and walked four batters in a combined four innings before he settled down for a 5.1-inning winning performance Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves when he allowed one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts.

Kelly did not pitch particularly poorly during the 2013 spring training camp, but Cardinals management obviously thought Miller was capable of a strong rookie season that started with him in the rotation on Opening Day, even though Kelly ended up in the rotation in the postseason while Miller sat in the bullpen unused aside from one inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Division Series.

Miller still set the bar high for Martinez or any of the other young Cardinals pitchers after he went 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average and finished third in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting, but Martinez has the talent to have a comparable first full season in Major League Baseball.

Martinez pitched in 21 games for the Cardinals in 2013 and became the eighth-inning setup reliever toward the end of the regular season and in the postseason, where he posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings.

Still, the Cardinals were cautious in how much they used Martinez in 2013. They first called him up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in May but sent him back to the minor leagues in June and late July to try to keep his arm fresh, as well as let him start at Memphis to maintain his endurance in case an injury befell one of the other starting pitchers with the big-league club.

They would obviously take care of Martinez again in the upcoming season, and he could very well move start the season back in the eighth-inning role because the Cardinals have few options for that spot, particularly if righthanded reliever Jason Motte is not yet fully recovered from the elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of spring training a year ago.

Martinez has all but guaranteed himself a roster spot for when the team opens the season March 31 against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, but he has pitched so well in his first three starts of the spring that he will await his first appearance from the dugout rather than the bullpen, just the way Miller did the year before.

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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 Cardinal Caravan Is Headed To A Town Near You

While the Cardinals will host the annual Winter Warm Up event this weekend in downtown St. Louis, they will also take to the road for the first time this calendar year via the Cardinal Caravan. This is the annual event where players both current and past take to the road throughout the area and come see fans that may not be able to get to St. Louis for the season’s inaugural event.

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This year’s Caravan will feature stops in 18 cities across four days throughout Missouri and Illinois, and will feature a mix of prominent names of today and to come. The Cardinals will split into five different groups, each of which will spend time signing autographs (for children 15 and under), taking pictures and mingling with fans throughout each stop, along with prize drawings as well.

The first 400 children at each event will receive an autograph ticket, which is good for a signature from each player in attendance.

Current Cardinals scheduled to be a part of each Caravan are Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Kolten Wong, Seth Maness, Shane Robinson, Tyler Lyons and Kevin Siegrist. The minor leaguers currently slated to join the trip include top prospect Oscar Taveras, Minor League Pitcher of the Year Zach Petrick, Greg Garcia, Keith Butler, Stephen Piscotty, Jermaine Curtis, Eric Fornataro and new acquisition Randal Grichuk.

Among the Cardinal alumni to join the event are hitting coach John Mabry, former All-Stars Ryan Franklin and Andy Benes, as well as Danny Cox, Cal Eldred, Tom Lawless, Alan Benes, John Costello, Kerry Robinson and Jason Simontacchi. Al Hrabosky, Mike Claiborne, Tom Ackerman, John Rooney, Ricky Horton and Dan McLaughlin will represent the play-by-play members that will serve as emcees for each event.

For more info on what pairs are headed where and when, as well as what you need to do to be a part of your local Cardinal Caravan, head to Cardinals.com for more details.

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In Game 4, Mark One Down For Matheny

While wins go to the team and are created by the players, there are games where a manager can set a scene so precisely; they deserve a share of the victory as well. And Mike Matheny deserves credit for setting the scene for the Game 4 victory.

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It is easy for everybody to look good when a game is delivered like what Michael Wacha authored on the mound. Saying he made the most of his first postseason game would be a gross understatement, as he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and ran his total of no-hit innings in his last two starts up to 15.1. But unlike his first brush with perfection, this was not at home against a team that had just been eliminated from the postseason as the Nationals were. Rather, this was a game on the road in front of a crazed, 20-year postseason starved city of Pittsburgh that were urging their team on to close out the Cardinals in front of them.

But instead of feeling the pressure, Wacha fed on it and pitched the Cardinals back to another day in their season, having home field favor and into the hands of Adam Wainwright. Yet coming in, there was no shortage of second guessers on Wacha even taking the ball in the situation. It was seen as going against the grain, with his lack of starting experience and Shelby Miller being available as well, perhaps Wacha was not the guy.

But Matheny saw what he needed to in the 22 year old pitcher, from both a match up perspective, but more importantly, a makeup standpoint. It was that composure that won out in the end, and it has to be enhanced by the confidence that Matheny has shown in not only him, but the team in general. After his stuggles at the end of Game 4, the manager went to another of his rookie sensations in Carlos Martinez and let him know he was sticking with him in those same situations. Martinez responded by running up a big strikeout to end the eighth inning, quell a Pittsburgh uprising and deliver the game to Trevor Rosenthal with the slim lead intact.

The key to grooming a young pitching staff with the type of talent the Cardinals have isn’t just find room to utilize them. But inspiring them to be natural and trust in their talent to become the players they can be is the real task. In that lane, Matheny has already won the race for the season, as he has put much of the singular success of the season in the hands of his rookie arms. When there were grumblings to add a more experienced arm or to make safer (aka more experienced) moves on the mound, Matheny has stayed the path of letting talent win out, and has empowered them to not only be great prospects, but to be a part of carrying the Cardinals themselves.

Nothing more could inspire confidence than the victories in the situations that have faced the team down the stretch. Whether is giving Seth Maness the chance to be the double play magnet he is, sticking with Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly throughout their peaks and valleys or turning Rosenthal into a fearless relief machine, Matheny’s confidence has grown these 22, 23 and 24 year old group of players beyond just their age.

The kids (in years at least) are alright.

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In Pirates, Cardinals Face Path of Proven Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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