Tag Archive | "Shelby Miller"

Prioritizing The Cardinals’ Holiday Shopping List

Black Friday is quickly approaching, which sits as the unofficial start to the Christmas buying season, but for the Cardinals, the seasonal shopping is well underway. With the addition of Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden, the St. Louis Cardinals have addressed two of their biggest outstanding needs in the young offseason already: an all-around upgrade in the everyday lineup and a back of the bullpen arm (that is a ‘break in case of emergency’ closing option as well). However, their work is not complete yet. In an offseason that is sending out vibes from the front office of being a very active one, where else could the team look to improve? And more so, what are the best possible routes to do so through?

St. Louis Cardinals wrap up season press conference

Here’s a look at the team’s current build and where it could be headed to address its most pertinent needs.

Issue #1: Reinforcing the infield

Situation: There is bound to be some turnover in the infield in at least two locations: finding a right-handed bat that is capable of playing the corner infield positions and upgrading up the middle. John Mozeliak has hinted at the team wanting to upgrade on the role that Descalso plays, and has even gone as far to name him directly as a candidate not to return. Meanwhile, Adams’ struggles to progress against left-handed pitching (.197 career mark in 203 plate appearances) has reached a point where he is almost a platoon candidate.

Solution: With Ellis out the door and Descalso potentially following him, it is a good situation for Kozma, who is more than capable when cast as a defensive reinforcement at second base and (more invaluably) at shortstop. That leaves open one more position that could be addressed through free agency, although the middle infield crop is not as impressive.Kelly Johnson and Alberto Callapso are versatile options on the open market, while Clint Barmes is a more limited possibility positionally, although he is close to Kozma in usage.

The best answer is likely Greg Garcia, who has been solid in his cups of coffee visits to the big league club. With the ability to play either spot up the middle, he can be a versatile option that could be a low-cost upgrade directly in Descalso’s lane.

The other infield issue is not as easily solved, as there is not an absolute successor in the system to step up and assume as large of a role as a potential first base platoon option could be. Add in the idea that such a player should also be able to play some third, and it becomes completely apparent that some shopping must be done to fill this role.

Once again, the open market is not very accommodating for this need this year. Mark Reynolds could be a player in this scenario, although he has not played third base since his Arizona days. Otherwise, there is not an easy fix here, so either a trade may have to be maneuvered or a pure first baseman will need to be acquired such as Reynolds, Corey Hart or potentially Mike Morse—if the team is really dedicated to spending and creating a true time share—at the spot. Otherwise, the team may have to continue to bear Adams’ struggles and perhaps give Xavier Scruggs a further look in the spring as well.

Prediction: Kozma sticks, Garcia is promoted and a first baseman is signed. Third base backup remains a slight issue entering camp.

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Issue #2: Left-handed bullpen help

Situation: With the injury-filled (and slightly regressed) year of Kevin Siegrist, the clubs left-handed bullpen options where limited. With Randy Choate being a pure specialist, the reliance fell on the shoulders of Sam Freeman to do much of the heavy lifting, which he was able to do in stretches last year. However, a more resolute option is desired, that can be more versatile than Choate, while still being able to overpower opponents like Siegrist. Mozeliak has said he will look to deal Choate in the name of freeing up a spot for such a left-handed option.

Solution: This is an issue that can be handled on the open market as well, it just depends to what extent the club wants to invest in it. Andrew Miller is the top lefty available, but also one of the most sought after properties overall, so his price is likely to be at a premium. After fellow southpaw reliever Zack Duke received three years and $15 million from the White Sox this week, it is fair to say that Miller should easily receive twice that value on at least as many years. That may be too rich for the Cardinals blood, but there are other routes as well.

Craig Breslow and Sean Burnett are two further options that could interest the team. The 34-year-old Breslow is coming off a career-worst campaign in Boston, where his ERA spiked up to 5.96 over 60 appearances. But in the six years previous to 2014, his career ERA was 2.82 over an average of 65 games per year.

Burnett has been injured for much of the past two years, but represents a reclamation project of sorts. He was the other left-hander on the market when the team picked up Choate two years ago, but has never got going full-speed since.

Other left-handed options on the open market include Tom Gorzelanny, Phil Coke, Scott Downs, Joe Thatcher andJoe Beimel. Internal options include Marco Gonzales, Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons.

Prediction: Mozeliak sounds determined to make the team better there after the role collapsed on the team in October. There is a chance that they could decide to make the large commitment to woo Miller, whose recent success is breeding a larger payout than his long-term numbers say he should, but there is the path of less resistance as well.

On that road, they go out on faith that Siegrist is healthy and ready to resume his former stopper role, while exploring the trade market for the type of versatile, power arm they desire. If all else fails, go to the non-roster invite well late in the winter and continue to depend on Freeman and bounce back candidate like Breslow, who is capable of pitching in a variety of situations. It would seem the latter is more feasible than the former.

Issue #3: A Major Boost To The Rotation?

Situation: After dealing Shelby Miller, an opening was made in the rotation. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales were brought forward as the options to battle for the newly open spot, which is a very feasible and even envious position to be in. However, it appears the team may want to do more, as they are in the rumor mill for the services of Jon Lester as well.

Solution: Signing Lester would obviously be a huge game changer to the expectation for the club, which is already to be back atop the NL Central and on the World Series shortlist. Putting Lester in a rotation with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Lance Lynn gives the Cardinals the best rotation in perhaps all of baseball, which is an obviously intriguing carrot to chase.

Club President Bill DeWitt has said the team is willing to add payroll this year, so getting competitive for Lester may not be as daunting of a proposition as imagined. He is likely in line for a payout of around $18 to $20 million annually, which would make him the highest paid player on the team, but there is a clear opening if wanted to fill it in such a way.

Prediction: Behind former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Lester is the most sought after premiere option on the market this year, and potentially is the best value of all as well. If the Cardinals’ interest is indeed sincere, they could get well into the mix for bidding for him, but there is a huge chance that another more desperate team offers up an insane amount of money (think C.J. Wilson in 2011), along with an extra year or so to land him in their city. It seems the Cardinals may pursue slightly, but not chase intently, and Lester ends up elsewhere while the Cardinals go to camp with their two young guns vying for the fifth rotation spot.

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Heyward Deal Shows Winds Of Change Are Full Speed Ahead

It was clear that something had to be done to change the identity of the Cardinals this winter. Beginning with sparking an offense that yielded over 160 fewer runs last season from the year before, to finding a new direction in the wake of the premature loss of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinal offseason has taken on a more urgent tone that could have been predicted just not too long ago.

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The challenge of finding such a vital fit in a short period of time is clearly a challenge that was not being taken lightly, as the club shook things up in a major way by acquiring outfielder Jason Heyward along with pitcher Jordan Walden for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. It is a blockbuster trade in both the parts and the significance of it, and continues the theme that very few are safe in the Cardinal core these days.

The deal was a deal that was born of both necessity and uncertainty as the Cardinals faced a very uncertain situation about how to proceed in right field. On side of the coin there was the prospect of going forward with Randal Grichuk, who started the majority of the postseason and flashed promise at both the plate and in the field, albeit sporadically. There was also the option of putting top prospect Stephen Piscotty into the mix as well, who hit .288 and drove in 69 runs for the Memphis Redbirds last summer.

Yet the prospect of leaving a spot in the everyday lineup that will need to be heavily leaned on to two developing potentials had its obvious pitfalls, so the call to action seemed more prevalent to solve outside of the organization. Yet the complication in play was to not overcommit to any one free agent property in the name of blocking any of the internal options that have shown obvious promise. In a year where none of the free agent options were overly enthusing for the Cardinals situation, it became clear that if a trade could be wrangled, it would fit the bill best.

And on Monday afternoon that is exactly the route that John Mozeliak took, in trading away one of the team’s best young arms in Miller and a promising, although oft-injured prospect in Jenkins to land Heyward and Walden.

On the incoming portion, two immediate needs are filled. Heyward becomes the obvious choice in right and also offers the potential of being a variably used tool in the everyday lineup as well. He has had success as both a leadoff and second batter, which offers options for the placement of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong to be more variably used as well. In the field, he is perhaps the premiere right fielder in the game, winner of two Gold Gloves, including the 2014 nod in right.

Walden offers a late inning option that can work in a setup role, where he has thrived in his career thus far. He dials up his fastball regularly in the high 90’s and has experience as both a setup man and closer. He has 38 career saves, although over the past few years his impact has been in the bridge to the ninth inning, where he has notched 34 holds for the Braves since 2013. His acquisition fills the need for a versatile late inning reliever that was opened up when Pat Neshek reached the open market following the year.

On the other side of the deal are the departing properties, mainly Miller. Long held in the esteem of being a major part of the Cardinal rotation’s future, there is no doubt that despite his up and down performances, he was a tough chip to part with. Since joining the Cardinal rotation in 2013, the 24-year-old righty had a record of 25-18 with an ERA of 3.40. Opposing batters managed only a .236 average against him in 2014, the 11th best mark in the National League. However, he often struggled with his control and commanding a second pitch off of his fastball was an area of his development that has continued to lag as well.

Yet regardless of this, it still had to be a deal of the utmost essential nature for Miller to be moved in the name of completing it. The Cardinals have long been possessive of their home grown talent, and more than anything else, the service years of contract control they bring. But in order to acquire Heyward, they dealt a combined 10 years of control years to get a definite one from Heyward and one from Walden as well. Add in the inherent value that the team places on its young arms, and the urgency that the club felt in completing this swap is clear. This was a move the team felt was of the utmost importance to complete, and they went outside of their usual box in order to secure it.

But in reality, perhaps the dynamic of the Cardinal approach to talent acquisition is just in the middle of a continuing shift from where its norm was previously. Over the last calendar year, they have issued a large free agent contract to Jhonny Peralta which was off the beaten path of the times, traded from its established core in David Freese, Allen Craig, Joe Kelly and now Miller, and are now continuing to bring in more foreign properties to help push a team that was nearly completely dedicated to growing from within over the top.

In many ways, Miller and Heyward represented the same idea for each of their now former clubs: former top prospects that had stagnated in regards to their original purpose, and now were of best off as chips to bring in newly need quantities from outside. For the Cardinals, it is a continued walk down a new, but necessary path and as resounding of a statement possible that the status quo is reshaping itself in real-time. Stay tuned.

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Time To Cut Shelby Miller Some Slack

2014 has been a start of varied returns for Shelby Miller. The 23-year-old righty entered the season fresh off of a very debated—and seemingly premature—end to his rookie season, but set out to prove that it was behind him. However in recent weeks, the regularity of the quality of his returns has turned downwards in an untimely and detrimental fashion during the team’s continual pot hole of a first half. It has begun to create some questionable lines of perception on what Miller’s place is on the team, despite there being nothing that should be of any less concern for the team at this given point.

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It is hard to arrive with high expectations in St. Louis. And there has been no pitcher since Rick Ankiel that arrived with more long-term buzz than Miller did. He was a gift in the draft to be available with the 17th pick, and he immediately set to work justifying why he was such a catch. As always in today’s prospect tracking culture, minor league success equality immediate Major League expectation. As he rose, his presence was demanded in St. Louis as early as 2011 and was at a fever pitch by 2012. Upon arrival, he delivered on promise pushing for a no-hitter in his first Major League start and then offering some quality innings in his first postseason.

Everything was primed for him to make the full-time jump to the Cardinal rotation in 2013, which he did with impressive result, albeit some rollercoaster stretches along the way. The final result was beyond solid: 17 wins, a top 10 ERA in the National League, a near Perfect Game and top three finish in the NL Rookie of the Year race.

However, this tells the high spots, but there were the frustrations of the lower moments as well. There were the constant struggles he had with pitch counts and command, which lead to 13 starts where he could not reach the sixth inning. There were the June and August slumps, where his ERA spiked up over 4.00 for the month.

Basically, there were times where the receipts did not match what the perceived return was, and then when it was compounded by him being mysteriously buried in the postseason bullpen, it created a new perception of Miller has a special case of a different kind: one that did not have the trust of his manager. Despite this conundrum (that even Miller himself confessed he does not completely understand), his place in the 2014 rotation was never in doubt. For everything that he struggled with, his talent and promise are too unique to deny….right?

Well, that was until May of this season, when once again he had a dip consistency. After roaring through the start of his season, including picking up victories in six out of seven of his starts from April 15th through May 17th, it seemed as if everything hit a screeching 180 degree turn and suddenly the perception of Miller had yet again been reversed as well. Where he had previously been the captain of the “Untouchables”: the guys that were completely untradeable and not to be discussed as so, even in the most informal of decision making circles (i.e. the stands at Busch Stadium and Twitter). Here is the former heir apparent to Adam Wainwright as the future of the Cardinal staff, and it was being asked (even by pros such as Bernie Miklasz and Derrick Goold) if he would even survive the return of a completely healthy bevy of options for the starting staff and if he could be potentially a candidate for more seasoning down in Memphis potentially?

Really? How it could it be possible that a pitcher in his sophomore campaign and a winner of 24 major league campaigns in under two professional years is seen this way? Well, the answer to that is simple: there is too much, too soon that has been expected of him and any periodic step outside of the direct path towards the hallowed ranks of Wainwright, Gibson, Carpenter and Dean causes both pause and ruin of hope for what he is expected to represent.

The reality of the situation is two-fold. Are there times where Miller’s struggles with work rate, control and perhaps a too bullheaded approach to working pitch counts in his favor? Absolutely. Should there be a more developed arsenal that features a regularly available compliment pitch to work off of his fastball? Sure, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, or more importantly, him.

Hanging on these points to the point of dismissing the affirmative parts of his result is an exercise in practiced hysteria. At his age/experience level, he should not be expected to be regularly impressive or completely polished. Understanding Miller’s growing career arch requires spoonful of context to go along with the perception of his outcome.

There are several factors that go into understanding where he is, starting with company that is around him. The combination of the quick rise of Michael Wacha and his more regularly encouraging results, despite joining the system after Miller and seeing his star eclipse his. Wacha pitches with the polish that a college career provides, despite being a talent that is on a similar par as Miller’s and just under a year younger. There is also the far more extreme swings of outcome from Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia as well. The sweet and/or sour outings that they provide have created a culture of all or nothing in accessing Cardinal pitching.

Miller is not as prone to meltdowns as either of that duo; rather he is subject to the big moment, i.e. the home run. His reliance on his fastball and hit or miss availability of an off-speed pitch to balance against it has been a reason for why he has given up 30 home runs in his first 255 career innings. It is a concerning trend, but it is one that he will likely find a way to work through. He’s simply developed too much as a pitcher—in flashes—to not. Because he is 23-years old and won’t even hit 50 career starts until next month in his young career.

The moral of the story is that baseball by nature is a marathon, as is the careers of its players. While expectation for immediate returns have never been higher, remember this when watching Miller go through the motions (and even stretches of them): when Gibson was 23, he was stuck in the bullpen mostly and had a WHIP of 1.53. When Wainwright was 23, we carried an ERA of 13.50. Dizzy? He won 20 games, but lost 18 too. Carpenter? He gave up 18 home runs in 175 innings, a mark that nearly matches what Shelby did last year.

In the end, good things are worth waiting for and even though nobody likes a waiting room, the payout at the end can definitely be worth the time it takes to get there.

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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.

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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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Shelby Miller Is Dazed, But Not Confused

On the outside looking in, it would seem that Shelby Miller would enter this spring with plenty of questions, and perhaps even a chip on his shoulder as well. That after his inexplicable absence from the Cardinal postseason run, even the most accomplished arm in the Cardinal offering enters his sophomore season on some questionable terms. Yet he has found peace of mind in a sole focus forward, and not on work left not started.

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As could be expected, he does not have the answers about why he was left out of the mix save for one inning in the second game of the Division Series against the Pirates. However, he shared in the general expectation that, at some point, he would make an impact in the postseason. However, it was not to be, and that is a mystery that he still cannot get a grasp on.

“It’s kind of a toss-up to be honest. The best answer I can give you is that we had such a good thing going,” Miller speculated. “I could see myself pitching outside of Pittsburgh. I knew I could get held back against them with the struggles I had with them late in the season.”

Yet, after that initial appearance, there was nothing else to be heard from Miller in 2013. Many have speculated that he was injured or had hit a predetermined innings limit on the year, which has become common place for under-25 year old pitchers in today’s game.

However, Miller is quick to dispel that notion—as far as he knows.  There was no injury concern expressed to him from the club, and he had no setbacks himself. “Physically, I felt amazing. I didn’t feel any better or worse no than I did at any point in the season.”

Despite Game Six of the World Series being nearly three months removed, you can’t help but to still sense some frustration from Miller regarding how his rookie season ended. While he understands that the usually prevailing “hot hand” concept, combined with the depth of options, prevailed regarding the selections made for the October mound, it is also understandable why he would have a deserved sense of frustration as well. Coming off an excellent rookie debut, where he justified the long-standing hype around his arrival, and feeling strong enough to continue throwing at a high level in September (3-0, 2.76 ERA in 29.1 September innings), even a reduced role in a relief capacity would be expected—yet never materialized.

“Yeah, it was kind of weird. I was just down in the bullpen the whole time. The first time I got up was game six of the World Series. After getting in against Pittsburgh, I was just kind of a cheerleader and having great seats for the game.”

Regarding those not received answers, and if he wanted them now, “No, not really. The season just kind of ended and I put it in the past,” Miller offers up. “Obviously I was little upset that I didn’t pitch, but I just put it away. I just wanted to be ready for a big offseason and getting ready for the spring. I didn’t want to dwell on the past and not pitching in October. I’m not going to go up to anybody and even ask; I’m not worried about it anymore.”

“I’m just going to let it be a mystery, a mystery unsolved.”

Yet it is a mystery he is content to leave as is going ahead. He enters the spring in a newly place of personal affirmation and professional validation. He was married shortly after the season, and has the satisfaction of the body of work he was being able to issue being recognized with a third place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

It is the competition ahead that Miller has his sights on now, not that that he missed out on. About if he feels he’s lost his role as a starter, he says no, but “I know were going into camp battling with even more guys, but it’s about being prepared for the spring.”

Reaching 200 innings in 2014 is his personal goal, but getting to a point of irreplaceably for the Octobers to come is as well. As he returns to the field, his immediate past is something that he’s content with just leaving as is—for his personal progress.

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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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Home-field advantage could be vital for St. Louis Cardinals

Although the St. Louis Cardinals did not have full possession of first place in their own division heading into play Sunday, they were just three games away from having the best record in the National League, which could be a vital advantage come October.

Busch_Stadium Retired Numbers

The Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates had identical 86-62 records as of Sunday and both trailed the Atlanta Braves by three games for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, until the World Series, of course, because the American League won the All-Star Game in July.

But that nonsense aside, home-field advantage is a strong reward for having the best record. The term includes the word “advantage” for a reason. Part of what doomed the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants was the same factor that helped St. Louis win the World Series the year before.

Those winning teams played games 6 and 7 at home where they felt more comfortable and could feed off of the energy from their fans and the home environment.

Now, home-field advantage certainly does not guarantee success. The Cardinals won every postseason series in 2006 despite never having home-field advantage, and they beat the Washington Nationals in the 2012 division series even though the final three games were in Washington, D.C.

But home-field advantage certainly does help, and it could help the Cardinals this year more than normal, especially with the glut of young pitchers on the roster and potential postseason starters in second-year pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

Along with a much better record against teams below the .500 mark, the Cardinals other lopsided record is their home and away splits.

St. Louis has played 20 games above .500 at Busch Stadium compared to four games above .500 on the road. Not surprisingly, their stats fall in line with those records.

The Cardinals hit for a .271 batting average at home compared to .260 on the road, but the bigger difference is how the pitching staff performs in away games. The Cardinals’ staff has a 3.29 earned-run average in home games but a 3.73 ERA on the road.

It would also be important for the Cardinals to finish with the best record in the National League because their potential postseason opponents have even more dramatic home and road splits.

The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers pitch to a 3.13 ERA at home compared to 3.47 on the road, and the NL East-leading Braves have a National League-best 2.47 home ERA but a 3.70 ERA away from Turner Field.

The only aspect of the game that would benefit a road team is the Dodgers offense, which hits .258 at Dodger Stadium and a Major League Baseball-best .274 on the road.

The Cardinals also lost three of their four games at home to the Dodgers in early August, but that was also during a stretch when they lost 13 of 17 games that included a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta.

Once the Cardinals got their season back together, they took three of four from the Braves in late August at Busch Stadium. They have also won six of nine games against the Pirates at home while losing seven of 10 in Pittsburgh. Against the third-place team in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals have also won six of nine home games and split the away games 5-5.

The Cardinals are nearly guaranteed a spot in the 2013 playoffs and have an excellent chance to win the NL Central with just one opponent with a winning record, the Washington Nationals, remaining.

But they also still have a chance to catch the Braves for the best record in the National League, and that accomplishment could make a large difference in which team represents the league in the World Series.

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

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

LanceLynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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