Tag Archive | "St Louis Cardinals"

Keeping Perspective With Mark Reynolds Deal

The Cardinals pulled their first fish out of this year’s free agent waters on Thursday, by inking first baseman Mark Reynolds. Reynolds, most recently of the Milwaukee Brewers, was a specific target for the Cardinals this winter and his acquisition came to fruition finally today. He agreed to a one-year deal with financial terms yet to be disclosed.

 Reynolds_BlastAtFenway_BobDeChiara

The club entered the off season with a specific need to get a more varied offering from the first base position, after Matt Adams struggled against left-handed pitching again in 2014. As well, there was a pronounced focus on adding more right-handed power to a bench that struggled to find a consistent source of productive depth over the last few years behind its front eight.

The 31-year-old Reynolds is coming off a year where he hit 22 home runs and drove in 45 runs for Milwaukee, while carrying a .196 average. In his career he is an owner of seven consecutive 20 home run campaigns, highlighted by a 44 homer breakout in 2009. Easily capable of significant outburst of power and run production, Reynolds represents a potential find in both of these areas  for a team that finished towards the bottom of the NL in both areas. However, he also comes with obviously easy points to detract from as well, as his alarmingly low batting average showcases. So why don’t we go head and extol those areas first and get it out of the way, okay?

Mainly, he strikes out, a lot. It is truly done at an epic rate. He strikes out at such a frequent pace that it has become virtually impossible for him to play every day. He has never had a season where he made 500 plate appearances that he did not notch at least 150 strikeouts, highlighted by the four year run where he led his league in k’s, checking in at 204, 223, 211 and 196 from 2008-11. In his 4,380 plate appearances, 1,398 of them have ended with a strikeout, a 31% overall clip.

That is a prodigious number that is undeniably a red flag. And it is also clipped by the fact that he carries a .229 career average and .324 on-base percentage. Now, the OBP is not particularly horrifying, as he is somewhat adept at drawing walks as well. However he will be the classic example of an edge of the seat option; if he makes an impact, it is either all or nothing.

Now the benefits of it all. All in all, he is a minor disciple of the Adam Dunn School of True Outcomes: homer, walk or strikeout. But in regards to the role he will be asked to man in St. Louis, that is okay. Barring substantial injury to Adams, he is not going to be asked to be an everyday presence, and in the event that he was, he could fit comfortably into the bottom half of the lineup with some regularly and not cause a catastrophic change to the team’s potential.

The one trick pony at the plate brings a quietly diverse element to the overall picture when his potential with the glove is brought into consideration too. While Reynolds considered to be an above-average first baseman, he is versatile enough to shift across the diamond as well if needed. With the non-tender of Daniel Descalso earlier this month, there was a void in who could back up Matt Carpenter if needed as well.

The Cardinals are devoid of many free swingers, which also can play into why they are devoid of very many home runs as well. In 2014, the Cardinals finished with both the fewest strikeouts in the NL (1,133), as well as the fewest home runs (105). Additional of Reynolds is sure to create an upswing in both categories, which creates an increase in a need category, as well as an increase in a manageable negative area. It is the definition of giving some to get some.

All in all, the move to grab one of the few clear cut options on the open market that can increase the team’s potential is a solid, if not spectacular one. But the Cardinals are not in need of spectacular moves, they are in need of finding finishing touches. When tasked with rounding out a roster, there are some edges that have to be covered with not the smoothest all-around options. If Reynolds stays par the course of his usual tendencies (whilst keeping the extremes in check), he offers a definitely needed solution in an area that had few answers last summer.

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Remembering Burwell For The Man He Was….And Is

Bryan Burwell

I would not profess to say I knew Bryan Burwell for a long period of time at all. In reality, it has now become fact that I only knew him in a short window towards the end of his life, which sadly came to be on early on Thursday morning. I met him just a few years ago at the annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up early in the morning in a media breakout room. Bryan would record interviews with many of the members of the team and other attached figures in our room, so essentially I had a front row seat to watch him do what he did remarkably better than anyone else I have ever seen do firsthand: effortlessly produce a comfortable, yet productive conversation out of anyone. It did not matter whether he was discussing a first trip to spring training with a promising minor leaguer, or talking through the real-life impact of reaching the Hall of Fame with Tony LaRussa. The man simply had a common touch that was unmatched in my eyes.

This could probably be attributed to the way that I truly became acquainted with him myself back in early 2013. While we were in the media breakout room he had come in and he made his presence felt in an immediate sense, simply by speaking to one person he may have identified in the hallway before even stepping into his destination at the table in the media room. I knew it from hearing it for years on ESPN’s ‘The Sports Reporters‘, as well as narrating local televised stories in my native St.Louis, where he worked for 12 years as a member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yet, in a room full of noteworthy voices, it was that distinctively deep voice that was instantly recognizable even if you even turned to identify who it was.

It would be inaccurate to say that he worked the room, because he never went out of his way to announce his presence. Mainly, because he did not have to. Most every conversation that he had was one you could tell was a continuation of one previously. This was a man that genuinely knew everyone, and that gravity like pull to him was returned from the recipient as well. Myself being easily the youngest and most unaccomplished writer at the time in the room, I stayed to my work in the corner that I enjoyed working from, being slightly seen but definitely not heard whilst earning my stripes I was not even quite sure if I deserved yet.

The next time I looked around I saw that the sudden Master of Ceremonies of the room, Bryan, had set up shop at an adjacent table just behind me, while setting in on working with his cameraman about what interviews he would be going after that day. In a day where my job was to speak with and connect with some of the most famous figures in the city and in sports, I was more stunned by the fact that I would be working in the same proximity with one of the most noteworthy writers of my time.

When the member of the Cardinal media staff that comes in the room to let us know that another player would be taking the podium to field questions soon came into our room, we moved over to take our spots in the adjacent room where the media sessions take the place. On the way out of the room, Bryan looked over at me and I nodded back in initial direct recognition, but then he made his way by and put his hand on my shoulder, which of course set my nerves into overdrive. I had hoped that I had not broken some unspoken rule of the room that I had no knowledge of, but was about to be baptized in the parameters of.

But as quickly as those nerves flared up, he dosed them with a quick recognition that changed the course of my day immediately. He looked down at my laptop bag and had noted KappaAlphaSithat it shared the coat of arms of my collegiate fraternity, which unknowingly to me Burwell was affiliated with. Instantly the entire course of my experience that day—and many times after—changed.

We immediately began a discussion on a number of topics that ranged from my work and background, to his as well. He had questions ranging from what my goals were with writing and opinions on the Cardinals, all the way down to sharing fraternity stories and just general conversation. All in all during this first conversation, we ended up talking for close to a half hour, while a number of people who knew him came to speak to him and therefore met me as well.

Afterwards I would often stand next to him in the media sessions, where he would sometimes turn to me with an off the cuff comment or to offer some context that always helped to get a grasp on either what question to ask or even down the road inspire a story. It was one of the most unexpected, yet meaningful professional relationships I had ever cultivated.

It was the beginning of one of the most useful and beneficial relationships of my life. After this initial meeting, we remained in contact occasionally. While I never asked him for anything directly regarding jobs or information, if something came along that he thought was a good opportunity, he would reach out to me with it, usually via Twitter or a quick text. Anytime we would run into each other at either a Cardinals or Rams event or practice, we would have that same conversation where he would check in on what I was doing, and then in his own generous way, let me know the best way to go about making the most of it.

I can recall the last time I worked with Bryan having lunch with himself and Joe Strauss at a restaurant in downtown St. Louis. As the three of us sat in the mostly empty establishment, there was a Mizzou basketball game on the corner. And while the lunch only lasted about 45 minutes, I learned more in the exchange of bantered between the two seasoned writers than I probably could have in the rest of the year combined. Those two were longtime coworkers, and did not have to welcome me to that privy of a conversation. But with his always welcoming style, Bryan gave stock to my opinion on both the game and other random topics just easily as he did the much more seasoned Strauss. That is just the type of guy he was, a true man of the people.

As an African-American writer, many times in this industry you do not see many people that resemble yourself or that you can relate to on that level. While Burwell was a nationally famous figure for both his written efforts as well as his televised work, he was not far from Earth in this culturally shared feature for us either. He related to me as well on that very basic and shared perspective. I came to find it was bigger than just a relationship built from a happenstance meeting over a laptop bag, that it was the gateway that showed the often-immediate bond that occurs between African-American journalists who are charged with the responsibility of shedding light in ways it may not have the opportunity to be shed through any other medium.

Bryan let me know that there is no reason to get away from who I truly am to write a sport that does not reflect me as often as it could. A purpose that I understood before meeting him, but was sharpened even greater by being able to watch and associate with him.

I am saddened to see my part-time mentor/fraternity brother/stylistic mentor pass on for the standard reasons that one is impacted to see anyone pass. There is a family with a void in it and friends that have lost a genuine one in return. I am also saddened because the city and country has lost the type perspective provider that never goes out of style. One unafraid to face up to tough issues and tackle them with his head up and head on.

Bill Ivie, the founder of this website, shared his thoughts on Burwell’s passing:

Burwell was a guy that I very seldom agreed with. His opinions often differed from mine pretty greatly. But I always appreciated the way he went about his business, the way he presented his information and the respect he had for the industry. He took time to work with our reporters from i70 anytime we were on the same assignment. Never once did he look down on anyone from this site for not being “traditional” media. The man had my respect and the industry lost a great voice, a talented writer and a mentor. He and his family will remain in our prayers during what is now a hard holiday season for them all.

But in his passing, he has also instructed another indirect lesson that can reverberate as long as the ones that he voiced to me as well: that your work and the ethic to create it can be your legacy, but to carry a common touch and strong dignity through what you produce can truly make you immortal, just has Bryan has become.

Thank you for what you represented, and later became, for me. From a representative work to read, and then an actual personality to model myself after.

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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.

MLB Players | FindTheBest

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 Stands To Revitalize Link Among African-American Cardinal Fans

It is far from a secret that the glory days of there being a deep African-American population on Major League Baseball rosters have passed. Whether a renaissance is possible in a game that hit its lowest percentage of African-American players since the integration of the game in the late ’40s last year is tied to a number of factors, but as the decline has regularly continued in recent years, the signs are not particularly encouraging right now.

Heyward

However, the minority presence is far from devoid in the game. If anything, it is more diverse than ever, with Americans of all shades, a heavy Latin influence from all over the world and a growing Japanese presence as well. But while the MLB’s original diversity point is struggling, it is far from dead. Turning on the World Series, there were the presences of Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson. The All-Star Game was littered with high-caliber talent of color, such as Derek Jeter, David Price, Adam Jones, Josh Harrison and the 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. There are emergent stars like Michael Brantley, Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton as well. At times the Philadelphia Phillies started as many as five black players at once, while the Atlanta Braves featured an all-black outfield.

Yet in St. Louis, there has been a void of regularly seen, impact African-American players for over a decade. Historically, the Cardinals have featured a strong lineage of African-American players. Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith line the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame with Cardinal caps attached to their images. Each carried the torch in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s as the faces of the franchise and continues to be synonymous with the team to this day.

Outside of the 1% of greatness in Cardinal history, there are many other past players who stood as greats of their eras. Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Curt Flood, Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan and Lee Smith all were as standouts of their time and vital contributors to Cardinal history. But gradually that presence has dissipated to the point where over the past three years, only five African-American players (Adron Chambers, Sam Freeman, Xavier Scruggs, Jermaine Curtis and Tommy Pham) have made it to the Majors in St. Louis, and all had a bit part in the big picture at best.

While the Cardinals as a team have thrived over the past decade, there has been an undercurrent of disenchantment from a large portion of the Cardinal faithful: its African-American fanbase. While approving of the success of the team, in spite of it all, there has been a genuine desire to see more African-American faces on the field as a part of it, as there has been in generations past.

The deficiency has even sparked notions of there being intentionally exclusionary politics within the organization, which while unsubstantiated have picked up steam in the African-American community. And while most have not abandoned the team, there are some whose rooting interest is pointed in the direction of individual players such as McCutchen, Jeter, CC Sabathia, Matt Kemp or St. Louisan Ryan Howard, all of whom are high-impact African-American presences of the same ilk of players that they grew up rooting for in St. Louis.

Yet on Monday, there were two different types of excitement when the team’s trade to acquire outfielder Jason Heyward was announced. There were the baseball fans who had the natural excitement of adding a new wrinkle to the team’s everyday offering. But there was also the relieved enthusiasm of the slightly disenfranchised black following that breathed out a resounding “finally” in what the trade added to their home team: a long ,lost African-American presence to get behind every day.

Sure, his production potential was obviously an exciting element, but having “one of our own” to get behind is an unparalleled excitement that has been lost for so long. It brings on elements of an exciting nostalgia to the contemporary delight of such a historically good run for the city’s most beloved franchise. There is no caveat to the Cardinals now, because they are now for the any and every man once again.

Heyward is a young, talented and needed property on the field, which is an undeniable boost in the potential of the Cardinal baseball result. But perhaps of equal importance, he becomes a representative presence for a portion of the fan base that simply wanted to have a seat at the table—and feel that they belonged at it.

Those days are over for the time being, and something tells me there will be a wildly popular Cardinal in right field come Opening Day, for many a reason.

 

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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.

JasonHeyward

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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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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