Tag Archive | "St Louis Cardinals"

St. Louis Cardinals Still Well-Positioned To Win NLDS

Mike Matheny NLDS BP

The St. Louis Cardinals dropped Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Saturday to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they still have many reasons to be optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the best-of-five series.

Not that it will be easy by any means.

The 2014 National League playoffs are loaded with high-quality opponents, and the Dodgers are as stocked as any team in baseball with a roster that costs the most in Major League Baseball.

A payroll of more than $200 million has bought Los Angeles a lineup that is filled with firepower and deep enough that pitchers rarely have a break against a below-average hitter. Even Game 2 starting pitcher Zack Greinke went 2-for-3 and scored the Dodgers’ second run of the game in the third inning.

The Dodgers took a lead once again into the eighth inning in Game 2, just as they had in the series opener the night before, and the Cardinals stormed back.

St. Louis scored a remarkable eight runs in the eighth inning of Game 1 in a rally that knocked Clayton Kershaw from the game. They held on to win 10-9 but couldn’t do the same the next night.

The Game 2 rally Matt Carpenter punctuated with a two-run home run to right field off of left-handed reliever J.P. Howell merely tied the game instead of giving the Cardinals the lead, and they ultimately lost after centerfielder Matt Kemp launched a solo homer to left in the bottom half of the inning off of Pat Neshek.

Still, the Cardinals showed again they are an incredibly tough opponent to face in the playoffs no matter how much of an underdog people think they are before a series begins.

Many people saw the front of the Dodgers’ rotation with Kershaw and Greinke, along with their home-field advantage, and chalked the series up to Los Angeles, especially given the Cardinals’ struggles offensively and their inconsistent play that kept them from clinching the National League Central Division title until the final day of the season.

The Cardinals narrowly missed the opportunity to head back to St. Louis for Game 3 Monday with a 2-0 lead with Saturday’s 3-2 loss, but they will now have John Lackey on the mound for one of the games general manager John Mozeliak surely had in mind when he traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly for Lackey at the trading deadline.

Lackey is a veteran pitcher who needs to gut through a performance and keep them in the game against Los Angeles starter Hyun-jin Ryu, a soft-tossing lefty that fits the mold of pitchers the Cardinals have struggled mightily against in the past.

In fact, Ryu has gone seven innings in all three of his career starts against St. Louis. He allowed just an unearned run in his first start against the Cardinals in 2013, a 5-1 Dodgers win Aug. 8, and he held the Cardinals to three runs June 27 of this year in a game St. Louis won 3-1.

His biggest win, however, came in the 2013 National League Championship Series when he shut out the Cardinals for seven innings in a 3-0 win in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.

Ryu will face the Cardinals at Busch Stadium this time and will make his first appearance since Sept. 12 because of a left shoulder injury. All of those factors swing in favor of the Cardinals, and Game 3 would be a very significant victory with the prospect of having to face Kershaw and Greinke a second time each, and beating them both times, looms over the series.

However, the Cardinals have shown with their comebacks in the first two games they certainly have the toughness to withstand whatever challenges the Dodgers present.

St. Louis has also never reached the World Series after it has swept the division series, so now they are as well-situated as they could hope to be for another run toward a championship.

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Adam Wainwright vs. Context: An Appreciation

The season of Adam Wainwright has taken some interesting parallels to what his complete body of work has displayed. The Cardinal ace joined the ranks of the 20-win club for the second time in his eight year career on Monday night, and in the process put a cap on what has been a great, yet assorted 2014 campaign for him. It is the type of season that speaks to the legacy that Wainwright is in route to crafting: brilliant, yet underestimated.

Wainwright_2014

Years from now, when someone logs into Baseball Reference to get a grasp on what Wainwright’s career reflected will look at 2014 and see it as his tour de force. It will show that he tied his personal high in victories, while setting career-bests in earned run average and shutouts as well. Depending on where the season goes from here and if he takes his next start or not, he would also stand to finish with career lows in hits and walks surrendered, while crossing over 220 innings pitched for the fourth time in his last five years.

Yet in the context of real-time, it has been a more strenuous year than he has ever faced. After coming out of the gates pitching perhaps the best he ever did in his career in the first half of the year (12-4, 1.83 ERA, .201 average against), yet it was not one that was unmarred either. The alarming forearm injury that caused him a start in June was the starting point, and then the dead arm issue that rose amid a second half slide that saw the worse month of his career in August.

There was a point that he reached that it was even questionable about how to deploy him going ahead down the stretch. But in many ways, that dip in his production threw the validity of his entire body of work far too deep into question, despite the fact that it has easily been the second best effort in the National League this year.

On raw numbers, Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto has been outstanding. He has pitched to nearly identical seasonal totals as Wainwright, falling just behind him in wins, but surpassing him in ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, hits surrendered and batting average against. Yet it can be said that Wainwright has pitched in more high leverage games for the division battling Cardinals, and has competed at the same comparable rate as Cueto. Wainwright’s 12 outings of at least seven innings and zero earned runs is five greater than both Cueto and Kershaw on the year. Again, context does matter in assessing impact, and this is nothing new for Wainwright—both looking forward and backwards.

The perception of Wainwright’s career could end up paralleling what this season has in many ways, whereas its impact is underrated in the big picture. At 33, he will not have the grand numbers that make him appear to be Cooperstown ready. 200 wins is a debated qualifying mark for many, and Wainwright at age 33 is at only 119. Likewise, it will be difficult for him to lean on the prestige that being an award winner brings to long-term perception as well, due to the fact that his run has been just a notch below that of a few particularly impressive contemporaries.

These shadows were initially cast by Tim Lincecum’s early career reign, as well as the brilliance of his rotation mate in Chris Carpenter. Now in his mid-prime years he is victim to the excellence of Kershaw’s run, which has for the second consecutive year superseded one of Wainwright’s strongest efforts to make it just a matter of time before taking home this year’s Cy Young nod, his second in three years’ time. It is a situation that is that is reminiscent of the situation that faced Albert Pujols’ accent to recognizable glory early in his career, as he was blocked from at least two legitimate MVP claims by Barry Bonds’ historically good seasons.

In many ways, he has been handcuffed by association when it comes to the prestige claim that awards can bring. His greatest accomplishments have been team related—mainly the two World Series championships he been associated with. However, the first one he achieved as a closer and the second he was injured for. So outside of the brilliant series closing effort he had in last season’s National League Division Series, he is short on memorable moments in the starting capacity that he is famous for. There is not “that” moment or season that jumps of the page, such as Justin Verlander’s 2011 or even Clayton Kershaw’s 2014, as it should be etched in stone down the road. Wainwright has operated excellently, yet slightly in the shadows.

Yet for Wainwright, he is catching just the beginning of Kershaw’s run, so there stands to be a good chance that even his best effort could not be enough to get him that fleeting honor that is given the league’s top annual arm. His destiny could be that of being this generation’s Dave Stewart, Curt Schilling or Jack Morris: a great and annually pivotal arm, but one whom the appreciation of is limited due to the context it comes in.

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St. Louis Cardinals Announce September Call Ups

The St. Louis Cardinals announced a wave of September call ups today. The additions add depth and bring players with big-league experience back to the major league roster.

Roster Addition Jason Motte

The team has utilized the minor league system throughout the year to move players back and forth and add depth to the big league team. Now that the season is coming to a close for most of the minor league affiliates, the team can bring players to the major league roster.  The team issued a press release, which reads:

ST. LOUIS, Mo., September 2, 2014 – The St. Louis Cardinals announced that they have added five players to their active roster prior to tonight’s game against the Pirates, bringing the number of players on their active roster to 31.

Recalled today from the minors were left-handed pitchers Marco Gonzales, Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons and catcher Tony Cruz.  Right-handed reliever Jason Motte (lower back strain) was activated from the 15-day disabled list.

Lyons fanned a career high eight batters in 4.2 innings of relief in Game 1 of last Saturday’s double-header versus Chicago, the most by a Cardinals relief pitcher since 1978.  Gonzales earned his first Major League win in the Cardinals 13-2 win over Chicago in Game 2 of the Saturday twin bill – allowing  just one run and three hits in his 6.0 innings of work.

Greenwood has appeared in 16 games during this, his rookie season, and he has worked multiple innings in 11 of those games while also earning a pair of wins.

Cruz has appeared in 43 games for the Cardinals this season, having already started a career-high 33 games with 299.0 innings caught.

Motte, on the disabled list since August 2, worked a scoreless inning in relief during an injury rehabilitation assignment with Springfield (AA) on Sunday, August 31 at Tulsa.   Motte is 0-0, 4.91 ERA in 24 games with the Cardinals this season.

The additions will allow the starting rotation to find some much needed rest. Cruz will allow the team some flexibility using A.J. Pierzynski as a hitter in late innings. Jason Motte will look to prove that he is ready to pitch at a high-level again.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.
Follow him on Twitter.

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Cardinals Hall Of Fame Induction Adds New Level To Legacy

On Saturday morning, the Cardinals held the first induction ceremony for their re-established, yet newly minted Hall of Fame Museum. Unlike the previous version of the organization’s Hall, which shared a building with the Bowling Hall of Fame across the street from Busch Stadium II and was mostly a collection of historical photos and relics only, the new incarnation is truly a step forward in a new direction to pay active tribute to the legacy the organization has crafted.

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The decision to include inductions of former players and personalities into the team’s Hall of Fame is a perfect way to give honor to players who may fall short of Cooperstown-level classification, but made irreplaceable contributions to the history of the Cardinal organization. This new direction is achieved in the conventional way such an establishment is thought of: with a ballot and tiered voting system, aimed at targeting the comprehensive history of the organization.  The outcome of this process was the hour-long ceremony on Saturday morning inside of Ballpark Village next door to Busch Stadium, where the team’s Hall of Fame is housed, which honored the first class of inductees to the Hall of Fame: Willie McGee, Jim Edmonds, Mike Shannon and Marty Marion.

The group joined the 22 already enshrined living members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the Cardinal version of the Hall of Fame, all of whom were inducted by acclamation when the venue was established. From that group of 22, on hand at the even to welcome the first inductees were Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Whitey Herzog and Tony LaRussa. As well, a video of the late Stan Musial playing his signature “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” kicked the festivities off.

The goal of seeing a diverse representation from the club’s history was clearly met, as the four inductees stood for individually distinct high points Cardinal history from the 1940’s and through the past decade.

Fox Sports Midwest broadcaster Dan McLaughlin was the Master of Ceremonies for the event, while owner Bill DeWitt II read the plaques for each honoree as they approached the podium for official induction.

Marion, who made eight consecutive All-Star games from 1943 through 1950 and won the National League Most Valuable Player in 1944, was a critical part of the club’s first legitimate dynasty during the decade. He won three World Series in 1942, 1944 and 1946 and spent a year as player-manager in 1951. He died in 2011 at the age of 94, but was represented by his eldest daughter, Martinna Dill, who expressed his passion for both the area and being a Cardinal.

“Whenever you would ask him how it felt to win a World Series, his eyes would light, he’d have a smile on his face and he would say ‘Just like Christmas”, Dill recalled about her father. She continued to discuss how he him and his wife of 74 years, Mary, made St. Louis their home and joked about his fondness for giving memorabilia from his playing career away to requesting fans. “We would probably have a lot more to give to the Cardinals Hall of Fame if he hadn’t given it all away to fans.”

A provision to cover the full span of unique careers spent with the organization will be covered by a Legacy Selection to the Hall of Fame, for those who have served the organization in multiple capacities over time. Long-time announcer, former player and St. Louis native Mike Shannon was tabbed in this capacity, and rightfully so. With an on-field career that featured two World Series titles, and a series defining catch in ’64, as well as another 43 years in the radio booth, Shannon has been a mainstay of the organization over the past half century.

However, the usually boisterous voice of the club was rather succinct in his comments upon taking the podium to receive his honor. Reflecting on his role as a broadcaster, which has been the bulk of his Cardinal career, he was selfless in his commentary, giving credit to the position over himself.

“I’m not important, it’s the position that is important,” Shannon explained. “Hopefully I have enhanced it one way or another.”

The two fan selected inductees followed in Edmonds and McGee followed, to the obvious delight of the crowd. Two of the greatest center fielders in club history, both anchored two of the most successful runs in club history in the 1980’s through 2000’s, respectively. Each was led by well-designed video package of their various career highlights in the Cardinal uniform

Edmonds seemed a bit awestruck as he took the podium, speaking about the legacy of the team. He thanked both thanking DeWitt for signing off on the trade that brought him to the club, as well as the ‘Bleacher Bums’, who cheered him into saluting him before the top of each first inning in his career. His speech was the most emotional of the day, as he often became

For as emotional as Edmonds turned at times, it was McGee’s speech which was the most surprising. A man of few words over his career (he stopped early in his speech, saying “I wish I had a bat in my hands”), he was very reflective in his time at the podium. The heavy crowd favorite of the day, with cheers breaking out as McLaughlin began to introduce him, McGee gave all credit for his success to the organization and fan base that fueled him.

Stretching from his beginnings in the game in his native San Francisco, and stretching through his development and emergence with the club, McGee was appreciative of every step. From thanking instructors such as Dave Ricketts and coach Whitey Herzog, McGee chuckled as he recalled instances from early in his career. He gave special thanks to Ozzie Smith, whom took him under his wing and moved him into his house during the first two years of his career, as Smith laughed to himself thinking back on the time. He also recalled taking up drinking coffee after just seeing Brock drink it during his first spring training.

But it was the connection with the fans, who chanted the unmistakable Willie, Willie, Willie!” cheer in his honor as he took to the podium, he gave credit to the work ethic that endeared him to so many of fans over the years. “After all the sacrifices you made, this is a reward for the hard work and dedication and discipline. I’m living testament that with hard work and listening, you can be the best you can be.”

Before the events took place, the new inductees respective plaques were anchored on the wall with the other club Hall of Famers, but for the living contingent of new inductees, perhaps the most rewarding gifts bestowed to them on the day were their Cardinal red blazers. For years, the red jacket has been the symbol of reaching the highest level to note a Cardinal career, but has been reserved only for members of Cooperstown. But now each member of the club specific wing will also receive their own blazer as well, which will ensure a steady growth of the distinctive mark that the great Cardinal career has had.

“This is beyond belief to put on a red jacket”, expressed Edmonds after sliding into his on stage for the first time. The youngest inductee at 44 years old, he expressed how learning about the Cardinal culture when first arriving in St. Louis in 2000 makes this moment even more special, yet still somewhat stunned by it. “I was little confused at first about the red jacket, and didn’t know if I would get to wear it. But now I’m not sure I’m worthy of it.”

Edmonds continued, “When they told me I was getting a red jacket, I had to take a step back a little bit. I think this red jacket symbolizes a lot more than a plaque on the wall.”

Considering that the plaques are crafted in the same fashion as the ones hanging in Cooperstown, that statement says a lot about what the fledgling Hall of Fame already represents to its members. Edmonds’ sentiment echoes the response to the event in general, which generally exceeded expectations and set a strong path for what could come in the future as the Hall of Fame continues to expand. A new avenue to honor Cardinal greats has been established, and for fans and players alike, the bar has been raised for the Cardinal experience.

 

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Masterson Deal Stays In Line With The ‘Cardinal Way’

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

 Justin-Masterson1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Player-By-Player Grades At The Half

The Cardinals are now well past the technical halfway point of the season, but the ceremonial one that is the All-Star Break is still ahead. With that coming, it is a fair time to assess where the individual parts of the team stand thus far, via the time tested and approved method: the good old grade card.

It has been a frustrating season for lofty expectations, but a deceivingly successful one other ways. The team is far from out of the divisional race and in the heart of the wild card race. It is a team that has not been prone to long runs of success (season high win streak: 5 games), but it does not stay down for long either (a three game losing streak is its worst). The ebb and flow of the year is what has been confusing for fans, team and management alike. Answers are not easy to come by it seems why they have not been better, more often.

 Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals

However a look at the lineup explains that in easy detail. Coming out of Monday night’s walk off victory, the team is still a perplexing mix. They have scored the third fewest runs in the NL and have hit the least home runs by a difference of eight. Simply put, it is an offense that simply has not gotten the job done to the level it is capable of. And while the picture is constantly shifting, it is a team that simply has to play better as it is, because it is all in on its reasonably ready assets on the big league roster right now.

There are several crucial players that the club is vested in that simply have to snap out of it for this team, that is still very much in midst of the NL hunt this year, to move to the front of the pack.

Here is how the everyday options are scoring out halfway through. We will take a look at the pitching staff tomorrow.

Grade A: Yadier Molina, Matt Adams

It has not been Molina’s greatest half of his career, but all things considered that is a pretty high standard to meet regardless. Yet he still approaches the All-Star Break within earshot of a .300 average, leads the Majors in caught stealing percentage at 50% of would be base thieves and has once again guided the pitching staff through more than a few valleys this year. In addition to gutting through what seems to be some health issues or perhaps just the side effects of innings beginning to catch up to him, he has maintained an above average presence and has been rewarded with his sixth All-Star nod as a result.

Adams has more than adjusted well to the full-time role at first base. Despite not putting up the raw power only numbers that would have been guessed for him headed into the year, he was become a much more effective all-around hitter than could be expected as well. He is leading all NL first basemen in batting average (.331) and top three in doubles (21) and slugging percentage (.536).

Grade B: Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay, Jhonny Peralta, Tony Cruz

The perception of it is mostly held back by the simply off the charts season he posted a year ago, but regardless Carpenter is having an impressive campaign. He has been a mainstay at the top of the lineup, posted an impressive .379 on-base percentage across an NL-high 398 plate appearances. He has continued to swing what could be considered a ‘clutch’ bat as well, carrying a .328 average with runners in scoring position. Most importantly, he has provided a major defensive upgrade at third base, which has bettered the team’s complete defensive potential as well. He’s the grit of the club on a daily basis.

Jay has continued to refuse to be written off and has been a much needed steading presence in a centerfield picture that was hazy at best through the first two months of the season. Despite any opinion that looks to take away from his value to the team, it has been his versatility and resilience that has truly helped eliminate what could have been a huge and lingering issue up the middle.

The easy way to score out Peralta is to point out what he has not done well, which would be mainly reach base consistently. However, when taking a step back and remembering what he was brought here to do—namely upgrade the non-existent everyday production from the shortstop spot a year ago and be a solid option towards the bottom half of the order—he has exceeded splendidly. He leads the club in home runs and doubles, and has played better than anticipated in the field as well.

Cruz has the tough job of being the rarely used fill in that has to step in for the club’s most valuable (and regularly active) property. His appearances, as usual, have mostly come after long inactive stints, but he has made the most of those opportunities so far. Cruz has posted a (…..) as a starter. Add in the work he did in steadying out Lance Lynn early in the year and he has been very dependable—when needed.

Grade C: Matt Holliday, Kolten Wong

He is annually a slow starter, but at some point Holliday always has ‘that month’ where he does nothing but tear the cover off of the ball and then settles into his usual level of above average production. He is yet to embark on that run this year, and actually, his average has been in a steep decline all year: .294 in April, .266 in May then a season low .244 in June. Holliday’s greatest asset in his time in St. Louis has been a steadily productive presence to be a catalyst for the rest of the team to build off of. Yet in a lineup in desperate need of that axis, his downswing has been particularly crippling. He is on pace for just nine home runs and 74 RBI coming into Monday night.

Wong’s season has been one that has come in flashes of both brilliance and frustration. There was the slow start that saw him demoted briefly, but then followed by being NL Rookie of the Month in May. Then there was the shoulder injury that cost him half of June after a rapid decline in production has he tried to play through it. However, the talent is clear and he simply having the type of rollercoaster campaign that rookies (albeit a slightly unlucky one) go through.

Grade D: Allen Craig, Mark Ellis

Craig’s season has been one that has been a near complete loss. Gone is full field, line drive power that saw him be the team’s run producing engine a year ago. Replacing it has been a hitter that has struggled with timing and balance at the plate, and has seen his average drop over 60 points. He has not been aided by the bullheaded positioning that has kept him in the midst of a lineup where he would be best placed much lower, for the greater good of himself and the club. There have been runs where he has resembled his former self, but right now, he is quickly becoming the third option in the three way Adams-Tavares-Craig disco for positional playing time.

Ellis has been as solid as advertised on defense, but has not offered anything offensive. And it is not that he was being counted on to do much in that regard as is, but he was expected to at the very least provide an equal alternative to Wong as a starter. It is at the point now where is more of a Kozma-like offensive liability in the lineup and is close to double-switch or forced into action due to injury status now.

Grade F: Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso, Peter Bourjos

Robinson has developed a reputation has being a serviceable sub, but between trips up and down Highway 55 between St. Louis and Memphis he hasn’t quite delivered on the time he’s kept a default fill-in role on the roster. His average is pushing at .140 and his defense isn’t strong enough to support that.

Speaking of one sided contribution, that is the story of Descalso as well, only to a slightly lesser degree. He does fill a necessary role as backup on the left side of the infield, but fielding a below .200 average and playing a marginal at-best shortstop, he’s not made a tremendous case for himself in a year where he’s gotten plenty of looks.

What Bourjos had to offer offensively was always more about tools than it was about them relaying into production; he has always struggled with that. And while he has added a much needed speed dynamic when he reaches base, he has only achieved that at .276% clip. That is not enough to warrant everyday consideration, thus the early demotion to rotational defensive replacement/twice a week starter already.

Incomplete: Pete Kozma, Greg Garcia, Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk

Kozma and Garcia both made brief appearances with the club, but were not able to crack in front of the Descalso backup preference. It would be good to see Garcia get a more extended look at some point, as he showed some promise in his seven games up, but he will probably need to make a more overwhelming point at Memphis than he currently is (.248/.339/.376) to push the issue.

The second half will tell more of the story for both Taveras and Grichuk. It’s unfair to grade the two rookies yet, just due to the fact they have not had much in the way of extended and consistent time as of yet to showcase what they can do. But second half will certainly provide a suitable proving ground, especially for Oscar. The push to find at-bats for the organization’s prized prospect will take priority, especially if the incumbents continue to stumble through at-bats. However, he will need to eventually turn the at-bats into production to help put the team over, but getting him experience is of the utmost importance.

Grichuk managed only a .136 mark over 46 at-bats, showing that he needed more seasoning on the farm, specifically versus the breaking ball. Staying at Memphis into September is the smartest possible course of action for him right now.

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Wacha, Garcia Injuries Put Cardinals’ Back Against Wall

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

Michael  Wacha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Shelby_Miller40

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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Wong Demotion Highlights Changing Cardinal Tides

To say that the Cardinal offense has been stagnant of late would be about as gross of an understatement as possible. Until yesterday’s seven run outburst, the team had not scored more than four runs in a single game since April 17th. In the midst of this dry spell, they leaned as much on pitching as possible, but as is the case when a team is that lopsided, it played close to the middle, managing only a 4-6 record over the run. This skid finds the team only two games above .500 and five games back of the Milwaukee Brewers as they come to town to start the week.

Kolten_Wong

All things considered, it is a team in need of an injection of life from somewhere and it decided that the best way to create was to shake up the roster was to reach within its plethora of rapidly peaking minor league talent. On Sunday night by bringing up outfielder Randal Grichuk and shortstop Greg Garcia from Memphis, the Cardinals proved they will not be hesitant in using their full cupboard of options at a moments notice to serve the big league club. And it is a move which come at the expense of two increasingly less utilized properties in Kolten Wong and Shane Robinson, proving that calculation of moves can go out the window in the name of maximizing impact from every slot available on the club.

It is the type of move that can inspire a variety of responses. On one hand, it could be seen as a rush to judgment in the case of Wong being optioned down before even a month has passed in the season. Another camp can say that the addition of another outfielder further complicates an already deep time share, and could cost valuable at-bats for Jon Jay/Peter Bourjos/Grichuk center field scene.

But what cannot be debated is that something had to give, and Grichuk is the perfect blend of fit and potential boost for the club. The one clear position with an opening for an addition is center field. Bourjos has not produced at the plate enough to warrant an everyday opportunity thus far and while Jay has stepped in admirably into the position he held for the past two years, there was a reason why the team went out to look for an upgrade this winter.

Grichuk, however, has played the on-demand role of a plug and play option in the outfield as well as could be expected. On the heels of a spring where he was promising at the plate, showcasing the type of power that made him the part of the Bourjos/David Freese deal that really put it over the top in the club’s eyes, he also took to the task of fitting in center field remarkably well. So it is no surprise that after 20 games of hitting .313 and running up 12 extra base hits and driving in 17 runs that he was first chosen to insert a new offensive option in the only everyday position with an easy to insert option.

In the same vein, the addition of the multi-talented Garcia is both necessary addition due to the demotion of Wong, and another shortstop option that can fit in while Jhonny Peralta finds some more regularity as well.

It is the first time to the Majors for both, and stands to show what could be a regular trend for the team this year. Much like last season, when both injuries and early season ineffectiveness ushered many of the team’s top pitching prospects to the club ahead of what was predicted for them, there is a limited window for everyday contributors to show they are ready to produce for this current incarnation of the team. With a fully stocked, mostly healthy and high-promise group of positional options proving their worth, the emphasis of making the most of your playing time while with the big league club is higher than ever.

Nothing is too permanent with this club. The truth of the matter is that unlike previous years, there will be more looks given by this season’s Cardinals than any other year in recent history. Just like the time, situation and position was tailor-made for Grichuk and Garcia to be moved up now, there will be times that fit Wong returning or Stephen Piscotty, Oscar Taveras and any other number of the rapidly emerging prospects to make their debut as well. However what is certain is that if reinforcements are needed, they can be called upon, so making a regular and worthwhile contribution to the team within one’s designed role is as essential as it has ever been for survival on the 25-man roster.

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