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2015 Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up Progressive Blog – Day 2

Day 2 of the Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up, the unofficial kick-off event to Cardinal baseball season, will get underway shortly at the Hyatt Regency in downtown St. Louis. The fan fest is the largest fundraiser of the year for the team’s community outreach program, which has contributed $11 million in grants to over 800 non-profit youth organizations in the area.

Bitter cold weather and snow hit St. Louis area

On the baseball side, it is also the return of the players and team personnel to their baseball battlegrounds as well, and throughout the day they stop in the media area to discuss their off seasons, goals for the year and other various items as well.

Once again, we will be reporting those sessions as they happen, with the second day of the Winter Warm-Up Progressive Blog. During Saturday’s first entry in this year’s PB, Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos, Stephen Piscotty, Mark Reynolds, Randal Grichuk and more spoke, and today will feature even more of the team as they make their through the WWU.

So follow here for up to the moment information and both @i70baseball and @CheapSeatFan on Twitter for photos, comments and more.


Adam Wainwright made his way to the podium first today, to talk over a plethora of issues about the end of his 2014 and the surgery that followed this winter….

After having forearm surgery in October, Wainwright stated he began playing catch at the same point that he did last year despite his surgery and that there have been no alterations to his off-season preparation.

The injury that eventually necessitated the surgery rooted from when he hyper-extended his knee in a game against the Mets. Then he altered his approach some which resulted in a muscle injury in his forearm.

Wainwright explained the onset of the injury  also stated that it tremendously his ability to grip a baseball during the late portion of the year. In addition to that restriction, his ability to extend his arm was effected as well. “Extension was the problem. You saw me throwing a lot of cutters and curveballs because I could get my to a certain point fine, but not to pronate all the way through.”

Expanded from there, he talked about the impact of that lack of extension on his ability to use his complete arsenal of pitches. “This was okay because I’m not really a power pitcher, so I was okay to get through with that for the time being. But you saw the difference in the first part of the year when I was a complete pitcher and I was able to do all of the things I wanted to do, and then in the second half when I couldn’t.”

“The thing I do really well is be able to pitch inside to righties and lefties. I can sink the ball inside, which opens up the outside corner. I totally lost the ability to do that.”

“So when I hit Yasiel Puig in the playoffs, I knew it was the right pitch but I just couldn’t execute it. So Adrian Gonzalez was right when he said I don’t normally hit people like that, but I’m not normally hurt either.”

Outside of the baseball related ramifications, he expressed experiencing everyday difficulties due to the injury and rehab even to levels that affected simply household tasks. He said that he could not twist the lids off of jars due to the injury and the surgery afterwards. “My masculinity took a hit at the end of last year,” he joked regarding the need for the simple assistance from his wife.

Going forward, Wainwright does not anticipate any change in how he either prepares for the season or how he is used. “I have four more years (on his contract), and this team doesn’t need me at half speed. There are guys better than me if I’m half speed, but if I am going full out I don’t think there are many better. So I’m going all out until they tell me to stop.”

On a decreased amount of starts throughout the year in order to stay fresh for the postseason, he was enthusiastic in refusal about the concept:

“I don’t think my October track record speaks to me getting real tired. I was injured last year, but in 2013 I pitched great in October. I had one bad start in game one of the World Series, but other than that I have pitched against some really good pitchers that don’t give up many runs.”


Matt Holliday followed Wainwright in….

On Jason Heyward’s Addition

Regarding the addition of Jason Heyward, Holliday sees a number of ways that he can help the team. “He will add a lot offensively and defensively, as well as on the bases. It depends on where Mike (Matheny) hits him to get the best out of out of him,” he said.

However he does see a clear way that Heyward can amplify the lineup in an area it struggled in a year ago. “He is a potential 25 home run guy and I think that is more of what we need than someone batting leadoff and trying to get on base.”

On the subject of the offensive power outage that plagued the team for the duration of last year, Holliday was as miffed as anybody else on pinpointing the reasoning. “There has to be some kind of reason, but maybe it was just one of those years. But nobody was really able to consistently get the home run swing going and the more you try to hit them, the less it seems to happen. So hopefully we come in with a good approach and home runs really happen by getting those good swings.”

Looking ahead, he sees it as more of an exception than a new rule that will continue into this season. “I think our lineup will score a lot more runs this year. It would be crazy not to think that most of our guys will not be back closer to what they average in their career.”

On the subject of nagging injuries as he gets older, he played down the impact that could have on his production and availability. “I feel really healthy. I played 150 plus games a year ago, so I feel like I have done a great job of working that out and making sure it doesn’t flare up.”

He also expressed feeling a returned excitement on the Winter Warm-Up experience along with the fanbase. “This is something we look forward to. We as players enjoy this because we get to see teammates we haven’t seen in a while and get to interact with the fans for a good cause.”

2013 organization Minor League Pitcher of the Year Tim Cooney steps in next…

Regarding the experience and learning curve of a full year at the Triple A level, Cooney said “I think I learned a lot about what kind of pitcher I am, especially the importance of command when facing more experienced hitters. Hopefully I come into the spring even better than I did last year.”

The benefits of starting the year competing at the Major League spring training level was something he was enthusiastic about as well. “It was a good experience facing some experienced hitters, and mentally that helps when facing minor leaguers because you think ‘Okay, I can get the big league guys out too’, so it definitely helped.”

Headed into the year, his focus is on refining his touch, but also expanding his offering as well. “I want to throw harder, but not at the expense of my control. A big focus is my change-up. Most dominant lefties have a good change up because they are facing so many right-handed hitters. It is coming along pretty good too.”

Lefty Sam Freeman followed Cooney up….

In regards to looking back at his 2014, Freeman was honest in his assessment: “The year went pretty well. There were parts of the season where the consistency was not the same, but other than that it was pretty okay. There were parts of the season where my command was where I wanted it to be and parts where it vanished a little bit. But I am more aware of what I need to do to keep it consistent.”

On facing repeated left-handed hitters, he does not see a pronounced difference in facing them. “Lefties have done better off of me, so I wouldn’t say I have a better rapport against them. Last year I gave up more extra base hits against lefties than right-handed hitters. I don’t think that they are crushing me, but I am not doing a good enough job of eliminating them when I have the opportunity. I need to do a better job of finishing them off.”

Southpaw Sunday continued with Tyler Lyons

Regarding in what capacity he could see action in, Lyons was open for all business: “For me it is about getting ready for the season, whatever role that may be. I don’t have much say or control over that, so I’ll just be ready to go.”

“Over the past couple of years I have had a little bit of experience out of the bullpen, but it is not anything really different for me. Mentally once you get out there to pitch its all the same, but it’s kind of about how you prepare day in and out.”

The biggest differences in the role in his opinion come from a preparation standpoint, but it is not something that he sees as being a difficult transition for him: “I’ve never had a problem getting ready quickly. Even as a starter I feel like I get ready too quickly and have slow myself down, so I have never had a problem getting ready quickly.”

“The biggest difference is as a starter you pitch on a particular day and then have a certain amount of days in-between. As a reliever you have to find a way to get ready every night, and then you may pitch or may not pitch. So you just have to figure out how to be ready every day.”

When asked about if he feels he is overlooked in regards to placement among the pitching staff, he is quick to diffuse the scenario: “I’ve had opportunities, so I try not to concern myself with that too much. You’re kind of in a weird situation here because you have so many guys and there are a lot of young guys and a lot of competition.”


Michael Wacha stepped in next to discuss the end of the National League Championship Series, his return from injury and optimism on the year:

Looking back at the infamous relief appearance in Game 5 of the NLCS in San Francisco, Wacha said he said he felt fine physically despite the layoff from actual game action at the time and had been working in the bullpen, despite having not had in-game action in some time.

“I wanted to be out there in that situation. As a competitor, that’s where you want to be and Mike put me out there because he trusted me. And I told I appreciated it and wanted to be out there in that situation, and it just didn’t work out like we wanted to in the end. I just made a bad pitch.”

Regarding moving on past the series-ending home run: “It took a little while, but baseball is a game where you have to be able to forget. Usually you have a game the next day to move on to, but it just gives you a little bit more motivation in the offseason.”

On the health of his shoulder, Wacha said he does not anticipate having to adjust his mechanics at all due to avoiding a repeat of the injury and that all scans of the shoulder and muscle group are showing good returns. “With my workouts and weight training, everything has been feeling good. It’s an exciting time and I’m feeling good and strong.”

He has not thrown off of a mound yet. His throwing program started later due to the season itself beginning later, but nothing drastic due to the injury. He anticipates starting to throw off a mound in the upcoming weeks. States that staying on top of his conditioning is the top priority and that he does not anticipate any further MRI’s going ahead. He joked that he thinks he will “start glowing” if he goes through many more scans.

Wacha stated he does not have an innings goal for the season, nor is he aware of any potential limits the organization may put on him. The expectation personally is to make every start currently. “I don’t want to be that guy that has to get shutdown at a certain point,” he stated. “I want to be the guy that they lean on every fifth day for a win.”

Reflecting back on the trade of friend (and neighbor) Shelby Miller, Wacha said the entire scenario set upon him rather quickly. He stated he was with Shelby working out near their homes in Houston (they live about a half block apart from each other) when the news broke that he was traded.

“It is definitely pretty different. He is a good friend of mine and we work out together and we hang out together quite a bit, it will be different not having him around. I think he is excited about a new start, but we are just as excited about having Heyward and Walden with us as well.”

He is enthusiastic about the chance of matching up against Miller at some point down the road as well.

“Yeah, that’d be fun. I always give him some crap about being ready for some chin music if he gets up there and digging in on me. But it would be pretty fun to get to face him.”

Lefty Marco Gonzales was next up….

Reflecting on his 2014, he said he could imagine a better outcome: “I look back at all the experiences and there’s nothing like being thrown in the fire. I couldn’t have had better people to learn from as well, so it was a good time.”

Looking at what at the ways that he could make an impact in St. Louis this season, he is open for any and all business:


Marco Gonzales

Reflecting on his 2014, he said he could imagine a better outcome: “I look back at all the experiences and there’s nothing like being thrown in the fire. I couldn’t have had better people to learn from as well, so it was a good time. “I’m optimistic about an opportunity. Frankly, opportunity I get I will excited for it, whether it’s in the Major League rotation, in Memphis or in the bullpen, I’m okay with any of those options,” he said. Jokingly, he continued “Even if it’s at shortstop, I don’t care. Being able to play baseball every day is a blast and I’m blessed to do it.”

Regarding the possibility of filling all of those roles, he reiterates that he fine with any capacity: “That just comes with the preparation of being ready for everything. Just keeping the mentality of fine tuning my pitches, working on my command, strengthening my body and doing what I can to be ready for anything.”

About whether he will be more prepared for the possibility of pitching out of the bullpen, due to spending some time there last year, he gives credit to the end of 2014: “Nothing prepares you better than doing it, especially pitching in the postseason. The big stage and bright lights, I took so much away from it and it will help me down the road for sure.”

He said he was at full strength in the postseason due to the adrenaline of the situation, and he didn’t feel fatigue from the repeated work.

Up next: reliever Seth Maness

On his early season struggles, he still cannot pinpoint the exact reason why he got off to such a rocky start a year ago: “I don’t think I have really put my finger on it. Mentally preparing and not getting down on yourself is important. That’s the biggest thing, not getting down on yourself, fighting yourself and hurting your performance.”

“Last year was the most adversity that I have experienced in the game. It was a true challenge. I believe the more you starting thinking about it and listening to other people, it turns into a whirlwind.”

While acknowledging the shift of the bullpen personality dynamics with Jason Motte and Pat Neshek both departing, Maness gives credit to Randy Choate for being the veteran that many younger components of the bullpen go to for guidance.

“I’m still learning as a reliever. That’s why it’s important that I can go to Choate and ask him. Relieving every day you have to be ready in regards to keeping your arm in shape and being ready to go every day. It is a big adjustment, going out having a rough outing and having a few in a row, so I am still learning.”

He states that he would be open to looking to return to the starting rotation one day if needed, but it is not on his radar right now.


Rehabbing lefty Kevin Siegrist….

Regarding his health and rehab progress from the forearm muscle strains that curbed his season, he was on a regime of rest being the most important element. He explained he was not sure about the source of the injury and that he was actually relieved when there was an injury diagnosis.

“It was a very frustrating season for sure. I didn’t have the explosion at the end of my pitches. I could just tell I wasn’t throwing the ball the same way.”

When attempting to pinpoint sources for the injury, he returned back to the 2013 World Series. “I think part of it was the World Series before. I had such a short break that I didn’t know how to prepare myself going into the season,” Siegrist explained.

On things he is focused on working on, continuing to develop a secondary pitch is his focus. “Last year before I got hurt, I was really working on my slider and getting its velocity up so it appears like a cutter. I thought I was showing improvement with that, and I definitely have a better feel for it going into this season than last.”


All-Star third baseman Matt Carpenter took to the podium next…

About being entrenched at third base for the year and knowing his role ahead of time, he says it is “a good feeling knowing you have a position,” and he does not anticipate preparing for any other spot. He feels third base is a natural fit for him.

About finding a more consistent groove this season at the plate, Carpenter doesn’t anticipate doing anything any differently in his preparation for the year. Rather it would be some changes in his approach that he would embrace instead by becoming more aggressive at the plate.

“This last year was kind of a grind for me mentally and I never really felt like I got on a real hot streak that I could prolong like the year before. I think last year was a good learning experience overall.”

He continued on that he did find a different zone in the postseason: “I did finally come and it was in the postseason and I will take that ten times out of ten.”

“I took more of an aggressive approach in the postseason. Part of that was from the experience I had gathered from the year before. It sort of opened my eyes that it was something that over the course of a season could have some benefits as well. That was a good learning experience for me.”

Carpenter was enthusiastic about the possibilities that Heyward brings to the Cardinal offensive approach. “I’m excited. Certainly we know what kind of player he is and the ability he has to get on base. I don’t know what our lineup is going to look like or how it is going to unfold, but I sure am excited to know he’ll be in there somewhere.”

About his role in the lineup potentially changing, Carpenter says that while he will hit anywhere in the lineup Matheny places him, however he is open to moving wherever fits best.

When accessing the potential of being paired with Heyward at the top of the lineup, Carpenter sees it as a chance for the team’s offensive approach to get far more diverse. “I think this group can be really dangerous. You would think that between me and Jason, we would be at the top of the lineup. While I don’t want to speak for him, would say that (Heyward) hasn’t really tapped into his potential as a power hitter, and I would like to put myself in that category as well. So you have two guys at the brink of finding out their power threshold and meanwhile doing a really good job of getting on base as well.”

Regarding the increasing competition level in the NL Central, Carpenter sees it as an across the board challenge. “This is going to be as tough of a division as it has been since I have been around, and that’s pretty hard to imagine because this has been a really tough division already,” he evaluated. “With the emergence of the Pirates , how good the Cubs look on paper and the Brewers are always there, its going to be a tough go.”

“But the good news is that they are sitting on the other side thinking the same thing about us, and I feel good about the group we’ve put together.”

And finally, Matt Adams steps in to round out a busy day at the Winter Warm-Up.

About the high spot home runs he had in the postseason against two of the game’s best left-handed pitchers, Adams relays that “It was a huge confidence builder for me, especially doing it against Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner.”

His focus on his swing has been in continuing to work with hitting coaches throughout the offseason and taking swings against sliders in the batting cage. Soon he anticipates introducing curveballs and change-ups as well.



That’s it for day 2 of I-70’s coverage from the Cardinal Care Winter Warm-Up. Come back tomorrow for final day coverage, as well as some exclusive content from the first two days as well.

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Is The Price Right….or Wrong?

The rumor mill regarding the Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price is spinning at a nearly 24 hour a day pace now as the trade deadline approaches. And has always with potential blockbuster deals, the true reality and details regarding them are always tough to gauge at face value. However, one thing is for certain: the team has not had a clearer and more present need to swing a major move than it does now in several years.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays

More so than any other team that is in the ‘Price Sweepstakes’, the Cardinals have the ability to deal from the top of the deck of their prospect pool, with little impact to their long-term Major League forecast. While any such trade would certainly require them to move some portion of their everyday talent, such a move could feasibly be made without blowing too many crucial bricks out their considerable foundation and still remaining an immediately competitive Major League team.

Yet that is what John Mozeliak and company has to negotiate internally (and have shown resistance too in the past): is it finally time to move potential for a quick, impact return? And is this the year where there is no other option to create needed distance, regardless of how promised the future is with that acquisition…yet again?

For months now, the relationship between any potential Price/Cardinals match has simply been a game of connect the basic dots. Small-market team with big money player has to make move to get value for soon-to-be untenable asset. The Rays value prospect value in return, and all of the low-budget control years such properties bring.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, there is a team with expectation that is only met by winning its recently elusive, yet within grasp, World Series ring. It is an organization stocked with the type of young, yet ready to contribute talent that is the hallmark of the Rays’ organization and can afford expenditure without gutting itself in the process. All things considered, it is a reasonable and realistic match that is the simple type of situation that can get even the most one-sided fan stirring (and even banking upon).

Yet it was not until this past weekend that it seemed to really gain momentum to the point where the word around both clubs from officials, columnists, beat writers and even Price himself began to match what fan bases have been rumbling about for months. Along with the Dodgers, Mariners and Giants, the Cardinals have been placed firmly in the midst of the potential acquisition buzz for the biggest in-season pitcher swap since the Cliff Lee deal of nearly five years ago.

But it is no surprise that the Cardinals would find themselves here. They approach the deadline with a talented, but uncertain rotation. Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn are mainstays; they are the lone safe bets in stock. Joe Kelly is returning from injury, while Shelby Miller has struggled and is currently on an R&R stint in the bullpen. Carlos Martinez has been up and down in the returns he has given since joining the rotation and Michael Wacha will not be cleared to attempt to comeback from a bone spur issue in his shoulder for another two weeks. All things considered, if the Cardinals want to pull themselves away from the pack in the NL Central, a power move that adds to the rotation is becoming increasingly clear as the only way to do so.

It was not too long ago that the club found itself in a similar place as well. In August of 2009, with a talented, yet top heavy, lineup in need of a boost to pull away from the pack, the club swung a 3-for-1 deal to bring the year’s top free agent to be bat to town in the form of Matt Holliday. Holliday responded by turning in a .355 average for the club down the stretch and helping them win the NL Central by nine games. A gamble for sure, yet goal was to do what it took to win then, which they achieved concisely.

The situation this summer mirrors that one. The team is solid, yet not much more than any other team within their own division. There is a clear area to upgrade in and to gain an upper hand. Price is without a question the best player on the market, and a member of a team that is running out of time to get a return on him before he is forced out of their expense range. Unlike in 2009, the Cardinals stash of minor league-to-young Major League talent is a treasure trove that they can deal from without the worries of leaving themselves completely bare down the line. Sure, they would lose some of the precious cost-controlled assets that this team has been smartly constructed around, but they have all of their impact players either under long-term deals or within arbitration control range as is, so the risk is not as severe of being left exposed, even if they fail to resign Price long-term if a deal is able to be reached.

Yet the economics of making a potential win-now move have to be respected, as does the concern about if he is worth it as well. It seems asinine to consider the chance to pair together two of the game’s top arms in Price and Wainwright as a bad thing, caution should be observed, because as there is with everything, every action has a cause and ripple effect.

Price’s next deal will certainly be greater than any deal that the Cardinals have ever underwritten before. Currently, Adam Wainwright’s $97.5 million extension pays him at a rate of $19 million per season, which is a steal on the pitching market today, yet is still the largest deal in club history. Holliday’s seven year, $130 million deal that he took to return to St. Louis was a mind numbing deal at the time, and stood as significantly the largest deal in club history. And as was the case, it essentially made the team pick make some very tough choices down the road (Pujols, Lohse). This time around, a $150 million deal over six or so years is completely reasonable for Price, but that would impact the ability to retain some combination of Wacha, Miller, Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal or Matt Adams over time. The last time the club by passed on a massive deal that was before them, the rewards down the road included extensions for Wainwright, Molina, Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig—essentially, a bulk of the core of the team was enabled to be retained.

There is a decision to make—which sum is greater?

The Holliday pact came after a period where the team rolled the dice and won in the open market—which seems to be something the club wants to avoid this time around. It has been said that the team would want certain financial assurances that Price would agree to an extension as a contingency of any deal, which seems to be both an awkward request and potentially a stopping gap in a deal being reached while time is ticking down towards the deadline.

The Dodgers and Mariners both especially would seem less inclined on such a safety belt arrangement. Because money is power at all times, whether it is in the moment or down the road. And both clubs have more spending power than the Cardinals do to potentially retain the star that should command a very substantial deal that comes in the wake of the Clayton Kershaw landmark deal, as well as the forthcoming contract that will find Max Scherzer, another former 20-game winning, Cy Young winner like Price.

Yet on the same accord, there comes a time where living in the moment also overrules living for an uncertain future. Basically, a calculated risk that pushes the limit and changes the face of the team is taken. That is certainly what the Cardinals have the ability to do in a swap for Price, which would give them one of the most intimidating starting rotations in baseball, regardless of the status of Wacha, Miller or Martinez going ahead. And that is certainly an alluring scenario.

But the reality of the other edge of the sword is there as well too. If 2014 has shown anything, it is that nothing is forever. The slump of Craig, the slow start of Oscar Taveras, the less-than desirable returns from Peter Bourjos, the injuries to Molina and Wacha and even the unpredictable nature of Rosenthal, all of these issues have dawned at different times throughout the season and due to the depth of talents of all sorts the club has at its expense, it has been able to take the scenic route back towards the top of the NL this year.

So the simple science of it all is what’s worth it? If winning the 2014 World Series is the absolute goal, and the idea is that paramount over everything else, go all in and worry about the rest later. But the great strength of the team has been its practiced patience over the years with its assets. All things considered, this season needs a booster shot and Price certainly is a perfect fit with the team, but there are plenty of other elements to consider as well. Too large an asking price is possible, and while it can be met if decided, could it all be for nil if his reward for his talent too large a ransom for the team to meet later…or within a comfortable timeline.

As it always, blockbuster are far from hastily, or small magnitude developments.


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Cardinals Winter Warm Up Progressive Blog, Day 3

The third and final day of the Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up is about to begin shortly, and in suit is the I-70 Progressive Blog, chronicling the media sessions for players, management and event announcements at the WWU.


As has been the previous two days, content will be available on four platorms: via Twitter (@I70Baseball & @CheapSeatFan), Instagram (CheapSeatFan), Facebook at I70 Baseball and of course here on the site.

New updates will be provided periodically between player appearances. Scheduled to appear today are Matt Holliday, Michael Wacha, Mike Matheny, Peter Bourjos, Zach Petrick, Sam Freeman and John Mabry


Matt Holliday—10:06

Regarding his offseason workout, he spent the winter with Trevor Rosenthal working on strength training, which consisted of sled pushing, tire flipping and even fireman carries, which even saw the Trevor pick him up over his shoulder for a 20 meter carry. Regarding Rosenthal’s preparation, “It’s been fun to watch his discipline and effort. He wants to be the best, and I admire that.”

As a noted opponent of performance enhancing drugs, the acquisition of Jhonny Peralta, brought up a flurry of interest. In regards to whether he had insight on the club’s interest before he was signed, he acknowledged he knew about it beforehand. While he declined to specify on the details of the convo, he is looking forward to seeing what he can do firsthand.  “Mo just called and said this is what we are going to do, it’s not like he asked me for permission or anything.”

Continuing on, Holliday clarifies “I am against PEDs and always will be. But I am also a forgiving person and he served his suspension. That’s the rules of the game and I’m happy to have him as a teammate.” He does not believe he needs to justify anything to Cardinal clubhouse about the suspension. “He had his suspension, served it and his teammates in Detroit welcomed him back. If does and he wants to address it, that’s his prerogative. But it’s nothing we expect.”

Despite the exit of Carlos Beltran, he feels no new pressure of leadership this season, citing the depth of veterans with the club. “Leadership has been part of my role since I got here. Obviously, Carlos was a big part of our leadership and David (Freese) as well, but we’ve got Yadi, Adam and myself and lot of guys that have been around the organization and team for a while.

On the addition of Peter Bourjos and his impact on the dynamic of the club’s offense, he feels it is yet to be determined how his elements fit into the lineup. Yet he cautions that discounting Jon Jay would be an error. “I think Jon Jay’s ability to be a really good player in this league is being a big overlooked. I think Peter and Jon will compete for at-bats.”

About working with the younger Cardinals, he is especially excited to work with the young outfielders within the system. “I’m excited to work with (Grichuk), Peter and Oscar Taveras. So it will be good to see those guys and watch to see how they handle things.”

Sam Freeman—11:33

On the adjustment between his 2012 and 2013 stints with the team: “Just mentally. When I came up I knew what I needed to do, and I just needed to continue to execute. The same thing that gets outs in Memphis it ultimately works up here too.

Michael Wacha—11:38

He was reserved on his personal goals for the season, but did reveal he began throwing around the top of the year and while he doesn’t anticipate any additions to his repertoire, focusing on location consistency. “I feel if I can do that, spot everything up and changing speeds everything will be pretty good.”

On managing the expectations that he set late last season, he is measured in his approach and attempting to leave it within himself. “There’s going to be some high expectations that are put on me, but you can’t really pay much attention to that. I have some high expectations for myself as well that I try to live up to, and if I can do those things it will be pretty good. Even going back to the postseason, the job is to try not to do too much.”

About his role on the pitching staff and the competition to make the starting rotation, he does not assume anything, regardless of how last year finished. “My mindset is to go into Spring Training to try and win a job. It’s going to be a competition, but it’s also going to be a fun competition because they are my teammates.”

Mike Matheny—11:56

(More on Matheny’s vision for the organization in a piece to come)

On the ending to the previous year, he expressed that it was more difficult to move on from than he could have anticipated. “I was surprised how long it took me to move past the World Series and reflect on the rest of the year.”

Regarding the impact of instant replay on this year’s season, he approves on the level that has been settled upon and sees it has taking the game in a fresh direction. “I think that everybody understands that with the level of technology we have right now that we need to do something moving forward. Is there a perfect system? No. But is this a step in the right direction, yes.”

Continuing on, he sees the impact of replay as a common sense portion of quality control on the game. “To not use the technology that everybody else in the stadium can use is a mistake. So now trying to put a system into place is for the best of the game and the integrity of it.”

He characterizes the competition for the starting rotation as “fierce” and wants for everyone to show up with the mindset that they have to show up to earn their jobs. “That is something that we have been very blessed to have around here, is that even our best players show up with the mentality that they have to earn their jobs.”

Matheny characterizes that he likes for pitchers to prepare as starters, so that they can develop their entire repertoire, because backing a pitcher off is much easier than ramping them up from reliever to starter. “The whole concept that ‘I’m going to compete, but it’s about the team’ is important, and if we are going to be consistent and win, we have to buy into that.”

While Trevor Rosenthal will absolutely be in the ninth inning role this year, a possibility of him returning to the rotation later is not ruled out. “Trevor is very important right now, and solidifying the back end of the bullpen is crucial.”

While the rotation candidates get much of the shine, Matheny lauded the ability of the bullpen and its success at the end of last year as well. “I think that at the end of the season, not too many people wanted to see the back of our bullpen.” He cautions that the health of Jason Motte and whichever pitchers fall outside of the starting rotation will impact the ability to duplicate that success again.

He expects for Jaime Garcia to arrive and be on the same pace as the rest of the starters.

Despite Carlos Beltran being gone and Peter Bourjos, Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong being in the fold and introducing a new tool set to the lineup; he cannot predict yet what the lineup would be and how exactly he plans to utilize the skills in the everyday mix.

He sees the secret strength of the organization as the ability for the team to integrate all levels of its operation seamlessly, via a shared trust for each. “We work very well together, seeing what the ideal situation would be and then looking at the market to see what’s available. While keeping with the long-term vision of the organization to be able to grow within and be able to promote guys from inside the organization, which is extremely rare but I think you see an organization now where each group trusts each other.”

Regarding his involvement in the push to reform rules around home plate collisions, he is encouraged by the steps that the MLB is taking. “I think there has been so much information we have gained from the other sports about the long-term damage to athletes, and I think we would be crazy to not take that information and move it forward.”

He feels that baseball is taking a proactive, instead of reactive, stance on the collateral damages of player collisions. “The way the system is set up, it is asking for major trouble,” he expressed, yet says the culture of the players approach has to shift also. “I guarantee that football and hockey would do anything to reverse these traumatic brain injuries to players, and I think baseball took a bold look forward for the health of the game and the health of the players.”

Peter Bourjos—12:25

He expressed that Albert Pujols reached out to him and gave a major endorsement to him regarding St. Louis when he was traded. “He called me the day that I got traded and was really happy for me. He couldn’t say enough things about playing in St. Louis in front of the fans.” Continuing on, he said that he was excited to be traded here, citing the team’s recent success as the major reason why.

He did not feel that he would be back in Anaheim entering the offseason, and that he anticipated a trade of some sort.

About his full-speed approach in the outfield, he doesn’t see him recent injuries as a result of that. “I pulled my hamstring in the 14th inning on a cold night in Oakland, then returned and got hit on the wrist by a baseball.” He sees last year as a ‘fluke’, and that it doesn’t tell an accurate story of his durability.

About a potential timeshare in centerfield, he is open to it and doesn’t have an expectation but to contribute.

Regarding the National League and the playing time options it provides, he sees it as a way to make a more regular impact in the game, even if he isn’t starting that day. “It’s a different game and is managed differently. “You may pinch hit or pinch run in the ninth, where you could be in the game by the fifth inning in the National League if you don’t start.”

He anticipates having to change his approach at the plate, even if he is at the bottom of the lineup due to taking walks in front of the pitcher spot and getting more balls to hit there.

He sees his goal level of stolen bases as in the 30-40 stolen base level, considering he gets the at-bats to do so.


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Cardinals Create Own Misfortune In Game One

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matt Holliday and Measuring the Moment

For all that can be said about Matt Holliday, one thing that can’t be taken from him is his flair for the moment. On Tuesday night, for the second time in this season’s playoff run, he delivered a decisive and momentum swinging blow for the Cardinals, and has once again delivered them to brink of moving to the next round.


Yet when looking at his plain performance, it is easy to see why he receives some of the criticism he does. Despite being leaned on to be the main producer for the struggling Cardinal lineup, he has more often than not failed to live up to that billing. In the NLCS, he is hitting .125 and hadn’t had a hit in over 10 at-bats before his massive fourth inning home run against Ricky Nolasco, which drove in Matt Carpenter and was a resounding moment in reviving a Cardinal offense that seemed to be on the verge of an early hibernation for a second year in a row.

The motivation of this big statement was very familiar, because it was the same thing his Game 4 home run in Pittsburgh did just last week. With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, he provided the support to make Michael Wacha’s masterful performance stand up, via a two-run seventh inning home run. And now, as a revived Cardinal team finds itself awakened and with three chances to advance itself to the World Series, the team’s fortunes have been pulled in place by the most incorrectly criticized player in recent Cardinal history.

The image of Holliday is tarnished by the shadows it stands in, as well as the image it is supported by. From day one, there was the idea that he was rental player, which cost the team too much to land (the now laughable expense of Brett Wallace and two other minor leaguers who never made it far). Yet in his first postseason, it was one dropped fly ball in Game four of the NLDS during the Cardinals last October trip to Los Angeles which remains the highlight of his first campaign in St. Louis. Much more than the .353 average he hit once coming over from Oakland which provided much needed non-Pujols created offense and helped the team win the NL Central by a runaway 7.5 games.

He was John Mozeliak’s first blockbuster acquisition, as well as his first big dollar contract dealt out. The purpose of Holliday’s acquisition was to be the second half of a potent heart of the lineup along with Pujols, but to also be security in case he was not able to be retained. Ultimately, the latter became reality, albeit after the Cardinals won a World Series in a season where Holliday put up a .296 average, All-Star effort. At this point Holliday replaced the then irreplaceable hitting third in the Cardinal lineup. But he also carried the tag of being the “highest paid player in Cardinal history”, which became more curse than reward in the court of public opinion. This was fueled by his pay grade was not deemed as necessary stroke of foresight, but rather being a prime reason why Pujols couldn’t stay, for financial reasons.

Holliday’s career thus far has been better than it has been bad. In St. Louis, his career numbers during the regular season have been the most consistent of any player on the team during his four-year tenure, averaging .306/23/90 split as a Cardinal. Despite the notion of not being “clutch”, he turned in a .390 average with runners in scoring position this season, which increased to .426 in same scenario, but with two outs.

Those numbers are a pretty fair regular read out of his “clutch” tendencies, as well as a showing of regular value.

However, the postseason struggles have happened and cannot be denied. A team needs its power conduit to be churning at the highest points of the year, and Holliday has let the club down in those scenarios over the past two years. In most situations, a season is not made by the moment, but the postseason is an exceptional time, and the same rules do not apply. While consistency is still not his ally this October, he has made amends in many regards by showing up when most needed. And that is not a presence that should be glazed over lightly, even if that has been the trend for many of his greatest contributions thus far.

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Déjà vu Threatens Cardinals All Over Again

Down 2-1, and faced with nothing elimination games ahead in their Divisional Series match up with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cardinals find themselves in a familiar place. But not the type of “they’ve been behind before” postseason rhetoric that has been tagged to the club so often recently, rather it directly correlates to the way their season ended last time around. While the pitching alignments get the buzz, it is the lineup that is once again failing the Cardinals.


It has now been two full games since the Cardinals had a lead at any point versus Pittsburgh. Along the way, the Cardinals have been buried by the same type of timely hitting from the Pirates core that the Cardinal collective has been prided on. Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin and Marlon Byrd have collaborated to drive in more runs (16) than the Cardinals have combined for as a club (11).

Basically, they are being beat at their own game. After a season where the Cardinals were the second most productive team offense, hitting for a .269 average, they have torpedoed to a .219 average through the first three games of the series. Carlos Beltran’s once again outstanding October effort aside, as well as solid showings from Yadier Molina and Matt Adams, the rest of the lineup has brutally underperformed. Highlighted by a 1 for 11 (.091) spin by Matt Carpenter, a 2 for 12 effort by Matt Holliday (.167) and a pair of 2 for 10 showings from Jon Jay and David Freese, the same type of large scale outage that sunk the team over the last three games of 2012 has made an untimely return.

There is a huge difference in the 2012 postseason Cardinals than any past incarnation however, and it is a simple see: it is not a deep team. Whereas in years past there were Allen Craig, Lance Berkman and Matt Carpenter among others to supply hits off the bench, there is no such presence of that sort this year. Look no further than the final two batters in yesterday’s game, Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, who, respectively, hit .217 and .238 on the year. It’s a striking showing that their were no other bats available to take those opportunities, and proves resoundingly the depth the team lost when Craig was lost for what looks to be the season. The bottom line is simply, what starts is what has to produce, and the group failings to do so (a .192 average from the starting lineup over the past 18 innings) is creating a brutal case of déjà vu.

Over the past the last three games of last season’s National League Championship Series, the Cardinals mounted one run across three games, which unfolded in the same home, then road-road sequence. While the team is guaranteed to score more runs than last with yesterday’s output, there is still simply too much pressure put on the pitching staff to win games.

Game four sees a continuation of yesterday, with Michael Wacha going to the mound for his first postseason appearance of his career. While he has been effective against the Pirates, and is the best available option to start this game, even with his best efforts will be for nil if the team continues to leave runners on base

In a most poetic situation in how the year has unfolded, it is the young arms that have been leaned on to pitch in high leverage situations, and while the rookie staff as performed impeccably throughout the year, they still are young. The postseason is made for veterans to deliver, and for all of the strides the team took this season, it finds itself on the verge of ending in not only the same fashion, but at an earlier clip if it cannot work out the order of things by 5:00 this evening.

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Edward Mujica eerily similar to Ryan Franklin for St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2009 playoffs with a closer who barely reached 90 mph with his fastball after years of a closer who threw in the mid-to-upper 90s yet had a nearly perfect season before the Cardinals faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.


Ryan Franklin had replaced Jason Isringhausen when Izzy got hurt, or got too ineffective, late in the 2008 season and saved 38 games in 43 opportunities.

The situation at the back end of the Cardinals’ bullpen four years later is nearly exactly the same. The Cardinals lost their flame-throwing closer, Jason Motte, to elbow surgery during spring training and eventually gave the ninth-inning job to Edward Mujica late in April.

Mujica’s fastball tops out around 91 mph, but as was the case with Franklin, he has masterfully induced dozens upon dozens of groundballs on the way to 37 saves in 41 chances with nine games left in the regular season.

And the Cardinals are set up to again play the Dodgers in the National League Division Series if they hold on to win the NL Central over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

The last time the Cardinals and Dodgers met in the division series is when Franklin’s almost magical run came to an end and never returned.

Dodgers first baseman James Loney hit a line drive to left field in Game 2 that Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday dropped. Franklin then walked two hitters and gave up two singles, the final one to pinch hitter Mark Loretta to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the series that ended in a sweep two days later.

That playoff series was the beginning of the end for Franklin, who had been an All-Star in 2009. He saved 27 games in 2010 but he blew four of his first five save opportunities in 2011 and did not make it to the end of June before the Cardinals released him.

Obviously, the Cardinals hope the matchup against the Dodgers ends a little differently this time around, but the lesson from 2009 is clear. Mujica has been terrific for the Cardinals so far this season, but he is not an overpowering pitcher and not a long-term answer for the team at the closer position.

Thankfully, the Cardinals have a more solid backup option this time than they did two season ago, even though it is the same person.

The Cardinals tried seven different pitchers in the ninth inning in 2011 before manager Tony La Russa settled on Motte in September. Motte saved nine games in the regular season, closed out the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers and the World Series against the Texas Rangers, but he had a total of three career saves before that season.

Motte now has a world championship ring and 54 career saves to his name, and manager Mike Matheny will likely give him every possible chance to take back the job when he returns healthy to spring training in 2014.

Until then, Mujica has a lot of work to do, and he has shown some weaknesses lately. After he converted 21 consecutive save chances to start the season and was a perfect 9-for-9 from July 19 through Aug. 26, Mujica has blown two of his four save chances in September and has given up 12 hits in his last 6.1 innings.

Mujica is one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals are in a solid position to make the playoffs, but the team will need more of his first-half performances than his September outings if it is going to beat the Dodgers this time around.

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St. Louis Cardinals better without designated hitter

The St. Louis Cardinals lost one a spot for one of their many sluggers Friday when they mercifully returned to Busch Stadium to face the Miami Marlins.  The loss of the designated hitter in their return to National League play might actually help the team.


The Cardinals 6-5 Independence Day loss on Thursday to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finished the worst two-week stretch of the Cardinals’ 2013 season.

They went 2-8 against nearly the entire American League West Division. The Texas Rangers swept the Cardinals at home, the Houston Astros split a two-game series in Houston, and the Cardinals lost two of three on the road to the Oakland A’s and the Angels.

The Cardinals had the designated hitter available for all of those games except the three against Texas since the rest were played in American League ballparks, but the Cardinals were actually worse with the extra hitter. They lost a key bat off the bench, and the DH created an unbalanced lineup that disrupted what had been the National League’s best team.

The Cardinals scored four or fewer runs in six of the recent 10 games against the American League teams, but the larger factor was how much the designated hitter disrupted the team’s lineup, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny still couldn’t get all of his hitters regular at-bats.

For much of the season, the pitcher’s spot appeared to be a roadblock that simply didn’t allow first baseman Matt Adams to play every day. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 260 pounds, Adams has the look of a designated hitter. He could walk up to the plate four times a day, hit a homerun, get a base hit and his team would get a win more often than not.

But that wasn’t how interleague play worked out this season. Adams went 7-for-30, including six starts, in those 10 games, but rightfielder Carlos Beltran, first baseman Allen Craig, third baseman David Freese or leftfielder Matt Holliday were often placed in the DH role while Adams played first.

Holliday had a pinched nerve in his neck during the series against the Angels, and Matheny surely wanted to give the other hitters half a day off while he could, but the disjointed lineup showed on the field as the Cardinals made seven errors in those 10 games, or nearly one-third of the 36 errors they have committed this season.

Plus, Matheny shuffled the batting order to try to fit in the extra bat. All of a sudden catcher Yadier Molina was a regular sight in the No. 2 spot and Holliday dropped to the No. 5 spot.

Second baseman Matt Carpenter was about the only hitter not moved from his regular spot atop the lineup, and he mashed during the 10-game stretch, hitting .340 with eight hits for extra bases and 10 runs batted in.

The Cardinals lineup returned to normal Friday outside of a day off for Beltran to rest. Centerfielder Jon Jay filled the No. 2 spot, and the team broke out for four runs in the first three innings to establish their lead for a 4-1 win.

The lineup felt comfortable again, and it will be even more so with Beltran as a regular presence near the top of the order. Yes, Matheny will still have to be creative to get Adams enough at-bats, but the Cardinals played 20 games above .500 with that problem. They were six games under .500 when American League rules allowed the team an extra hitter.

The Cardinals have enough good hitters to produce an American League lineup, but as a whole they are still a National League team. Perhaps they can get back to their dominating ways now that they’re back in their own league.

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The Great Matt Holliday Debate (with myself)

I have always been flummoxed by Matt Holliday.

MLB Chicago vs St. Louis

On one hand, there are the numbers. Those numbers tell me things like this: Holliday has compiled a park-adjusted OPS+ greater than 120 every season he has played since 2006. His average OPS+ of 137 is 12th among active players. In his 10-year career, Holliday has averaged 29 home runs, 109 RBI, 107 runs scored, and a .533 slugging average.

Statistical comparisons at Baseball-Reference list the following players as comparable to Holliday: Larry Walker, Lance Berkman, Fred Lynn, Bernie Williams, Hack Wilson. Pretty good company, no?

He has played over 150 games five times and is on pace to do it again – at age 33, when many players start to break down. But day in and day out, he’s out there, a reliable rock in the lineup for one of the better teams in baseball. Just this past Sunday night, he belted a grand slam in extra innings to help boost the Cardinals to a big win over Cincinnati.

When Albert Pujols left St. Louis after the 2011 World Championship season, the role of 3-hole hitter passed to Holliday. While he did not replicate Pujols’ numbers (and was not expected to), his usual numbers were right on target by season’s end. He was not out of place in that spot in the order.

In 2012, he hit the longest recorded home run at Busch Stadium III, a towering blast that sailed past the “Big Mac Land” sign into the second deck in left field. The bomb was estimated at 469 feet and was determined to be the fifth-longest home run hit by anyone the entire season. In August of that season, he got his 1,500 career hit.

The man has been consistently productive. In 2013, he is on pace for 24 homers, 90 RBI, 112 runs scored and a park-adjusted OPS+ of 119. Still an above-average hitter.

That’s Matt Holliday – on one hand.

On the other hand, Matt Holliday is, without a doubt, one of the most infuriating players I have ever watched in my entire life.

MattHollidayDodgerCatchRemember the fly ball to the, ahem, midsection in the 2009 Division Series against the Dodgers? That still image of the ball squirting free instead of being the game-clinching out that would have tied the series 1-1? Oh, I still get agitated thinking about that one. I know, I know. It was several batters later that the Dodgers actually won the game, but that hideous error opened the floodgates nonetheless.

How about the botched pop-up in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series? Or getting picked off third base later in that same game? Gah! There was a bright side to the pickoff incident – he exited the game and set the stage for Allen Craig’s heroics later in Game 6 and again in Game 7. To this day, I remain convinced that the Rangers win the World Series in St. Louis if Holliday had stayed in the game. So I can let that one go much easier than 2009.

In last season’s NLCS, Holliday was Public Enemy #1 in San Francisco. His takeout slide against Marco Scutaro energized the listless Giants and they rallied to win Game 2 of the NLCS at home (thanks in no small part to another fielding error by Holliday). By the way, it was Scutaro who hit the ball that Holliday butchered, leading to a bases-clearing double. Karma came around in a BIG way that day.

Heck, Holliday even booted his first chance in the field, as a rookie left fielder for the Rockies in 2004 (in St. Louis, ironically). Watching him in the field was reminiscent of another Rockies left fielder, Dante Bichette. He was a productive hitter, at home mostly, and a butcher in the field. Some Rockies fans referred to him as “Skates” Bichette because his footwork often resembled an uncoordinated roller skater. The nickname suited Holliday as well. Every fly ball was an adventure.

His swing has never been described as a thing of beauty, either. The contrast between Pujols and Holliday in the 2009-11 seasons was fascinating. After watching watched Pujols’ balanced, powerful stroke, with that beautiful follow-through, Holliday’s violent, twisting swing would almost looked like he was throwing the bat at the ball, hoping to make contact. And some of the at-bats he takes….good grief, are they ever horrible. How many times over the years does it seem as though Holliday comes to the plate with runners in scoring position and the Cardinals in need of a run, and he grounds into an inning-ending double play or tap weakly to the pitcher? So frustrating (but to be fair, probably no more frequently than with any other player).

Even his baserunning wasn’t immune. Although he was a quarterback in high school in Oklahoma, he often ran the bases like a linebacker lumbering after a runaway QB. Rockies fans will forever remember his game-winning slide to end the 2007 play-in game against the Padres. His faceplant in the Coors Field dirt left a nasty red raspberry on his chin (and became a running joke the following season, when he lampooned it in a team commercial). You can still find Padres fans who insist Holliday never touched the plate on his “slide.” It became part of Holliday’s legend: the man could hit, but as a fielder and runner, well, he was a heck of a hitter.

After Holliday hired Scott Boras as his agent, it became apparent that the penny-pinching ownership of the Rockies were not interested in paying market price to keep him. Instead, they began quietly bad-mouthing Holliday to certain local media members who served as team mouthpieces. Before the 2009 season, Holliday was dealt to Oakland for a package of players that included Carlos Gonzalez. Then, at the trading deadline, the A’s flipped Holliday to the Cardinals. Like so many trade acquisitions before him, Holliday was sensational in his initial stint in a Cardinal uniform. Well, until that NLDS Game 2 disaster. That left a bitter taste in many a fan’s mouth (myself included, as I have mentioned).

Was Holliday worth the $100 million-plus contract Boras was demanding? Pujols was due to be a free after the 2011 season, and Adam Wainwright’s free agency loomed on the horizon as well. How would the Cardinals afford those guys if they gave a nine-figure deal to a guy who would probably end up as a DH? Many people (me included) had to pick up their jaws off the floor when the Cardinals signed him to a seven-year, $120 million deal. He’s not worth that much, I remember saying to anyone who would listen. They’ll regret this deal. Are they (Cardinals management) really ready to hitch their wagon to Holliday instead of Pujols?

We know how that one turned out, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

As a teammate, I have never read or heard anything negative about Holliday. The Rockies’ attempted character assassination prior to trading Holliday failed. Instead, they came out looking like petty cheapskates who were afraid of Scott Boras. Through all the costly fielding blunders, Holliday’s teammates have defended him vigorously. Holliday drew the wrath of Giants fans (and a couple of blabbermouth ex-players like Will Clark), but Scutaro himself never spoke an angry word to the media about Holliday. He reminds me of Darryl Kile in the way he seems to be universally liked and respected by his peers. Holliday, meanwhile, quietly spoke after the game about how he has never intentionally injured someone and he expressed repeatedly expressed regret. As it turned out, Holliday had far more serious issues weighing on him at that moment.

In May, an article on MLB.com appeared about Kathy Holliday, Matt’s mother, being diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2012. The story (which was marvelously written by Jenifer Langosch) detailed how Matt got the MattHollidayAndMomphone call while the Cardinals were battling Washington in the Division Series. While the Cardinals were playing the Giants in the NLCS, Holliday was also dealing with what must have been agonizing fear for his mom’s health. I can tell you first-hand that that kind of worry can be paralyzing and all-encompassing. You see, during that same month, my wife underwent a double mastectomy due to breast cancer. There were days I was able to go to work and do my job reasonably well, but there were also others where I was understandably preoccupied and, therefore, unproductive. My job doesn’t involve anything approximating the pressure of October baseball. Holliday didn’t play very well, but in my mind, the fact that Holliday was able to take the field at all in front of millions of TV viewers is pretty damned remarkable.

Holliday was nominated by the Rockies in 2007 for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to a player who best exemplifies community involvement in addition to his contributions to his team (aside: Holliday was robbed of the MVP award that year). They don’t nominate jerks for that award. In addition to his charitable work in the Denver area, he has an extensive history of doing good things since moving to St. Louis, including Homers for Health (with teammate David Freese) in 2012, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and others. He doesn’t always come off well in TV interviews, but so what? Albert Pujols often looked like a surly drudge during interviews and few people cared about that. If Holliday treated fans or teammates that way, then it would bother me. So he doesn’t get enthused about yet another round of pre or post-game interviews; I probably wouldn’t, either. Big deal.

Let’s get back to some numbers: specifically, the $120 million-dollar contract Holliday signed before the 2010 season. After making $16.3 million in 2011-12, he will receive $17 million for the remaining five years. Let’s look at what Fangraphs has determined his actual value to be thus far:

• 2010: $25 million (158 games, 28 HR, 103 RBI, 95 runs, .312/.390/.532, 149 OPS+)
• 2011: $21.7 million (124 games, 22 HR, 75 RBI, 83 runs, .296/.388/.525, 151 OPS+)
• 2012: $20.9 million (157 games, 27 HR, 102 RBI, 95 runs, .295/.379/.497, 137 OPS+)

So, to answer my question from above: yes, team management knew what it was doing when they signed Holliday. The decision to let Pujols go a year later was a completely separate matter (and even more wisely handled). Holliday has been everything the Cardinals could have expected – a durable, productive player who handles himself with class on and off the field. In case you’re wondering, my choice at the time for an outfielder was Jason Bay. He had been traded from Pittsburgh to Boston at the 2008 trade deadline and put up a sensational 36-119-103 season with a 134 OPS+ for the Red Sox in 2009. I was convinced that he would come cheaper than Holliday, yet be nearly as productive. How’d that work out? Well, in his three years with the Mets, Bay was worth a COMBINED $2.8 million (including negative $4.4 million in 2012). Obviously, I was 100% wrong. But so were the Mets and many national baseball analysts, so that’s some consolation.

Compared to other sluggers (Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Ryan Howard), Holliday has been a bargain. Often, a bargain comes with some sort of caveat (“it wasn’t the exact color I wanted, but the price was so good”). With him, the caveat is that he will botch plays in the field or take a terrible at-bat at a bad time. But, as he has repeatedly proven over the years, he will deliver the numbers by season’s end. He is not irreplaceable, but he is reliable. In sports today, I think that’s good enough.

I wonder how much longer he can keep this up. Time will tell, of course, but he has already defied my expectations. As for the rest of it, I am no longer flummoxed. Maybe it’s because of that ugly C-word that was affecting his personal life and mine at the same time. Maybe he’s the same person/player he has always been and it’s me who has changed. I don’t know. Whatever the case, I have gradually become a fan of Matt Holliday, as a player, but even more so as a person. I reserve the right to mutter a profanity or two when he makes a bad error or bounces into a rally-killing double play, but I would do that regardless of the player. He’s become one of the guys I root for, instead of that guy who plays with the guys I root for. And the best part (at least to me)?

His mom is in remission, as is my wife. Maybe that’s all the reason I need.

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Cardinals/Brewers: Three thing to walk with

The Cardinals completed their most dominant weekend in recent years over the weekend, completing the rare four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers. The potential of the team has never been in doubt, yet the reality of it had been. The team put that to rest for the moment, as the offense woke up in a major way, cranking out 48 hits across the series, while surrendering only 12 runs across the series. These runs surrendered actually came from the starting rotation mostly, as the bullpen, propelled by some new additions, became a strength for the team, holding the lead in a way that has been uncharacteristic far too often this season.


All in all, the team leaves for the next stop on its current NL Central road spin, firmly ahead in the division and tied with the Boston Red Sox for the best record in baseball. The current six-game win streak the club is on is its second longest in the last four seasons, and also gives them four more road wins than any team in the National League. Here are three of the major factors that have played into the series that was.

1. Heart of lineup wakes up: Many of the struggles of the offense getting started this year has come at the heart of it. Matt Holliday has hit at a rate much lower than his average career output, and Allen Craig was a cleanup hitter than couldn’t hit the ball over the fence…or do much else of anything unless there was already somebody in place. And quite often, Holliday’s issue spilled into Craig’s, and it was just as frustrating to get them started as watching somebody try to bite their own ear.

Well, the power source of the club got to their job over the weekend, and it was no coincidence at all that the team had its best production of the year thus far as well. Holliday stepped into his usual role as a hammer, rocking the Brewers to the tone of a .333 average, 5 RBI and two home runs, including a monstrous 460 foot shot on Friday. Cardinal left fielder also scored seven runs in 3 games, and Craig is the cause of several of those. Craig had a prolific series, driving in seven runs on eight hits, including a double, triple and his first home run of the season. Overall, he hit .470 for the series, and got his clutch-hitting stats up to 22 RBI and a .412 average with runners in scoring position.

2. Baby Birds Hatched: The two most shocking moves of the season were both the comings and goings from the bullpen. In mercifully moving the struggling Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski to Memphis to work out their issues, the club brought up two of its best minor league starters to boost the pen. Seth Maness and, more shockingly, Carlos Martinez came up and immediately showcased why they have the billing they brought with them.

Maness, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2012, made two appearances, and quickly earned his stripes. He induced a bases-loaded double play in the eighth inning in his second appearance to hold off the Brewers and set up the club’s third win of the series. Martinez made a stunning impact, showcasing the high-90’s fastball that made him a Top 25 prospect in all of baseball a year ago. Both showed that the potential of the much-hyped Cardinal system is living up to the eye test standard as well.

3. Thawing Out: After entering the series in the worst stretch of his career, David Freese joined the break out party as well. He had three multi-hit games to start the series, and looked much more comfortable than he had all season. It was an encouraging effort from the laboring Freese to come to life and beginning to bring the much needed balance to the lower half of the Cardinal lineup.

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