Top 5 Cardinals Stories of 2014

This post is the December UCB project.  It was supposed to be posted yesterday, but life intervened and it got put off.  So I am supposed to name my top 5 Cardinals stories of the 2014 season.  Tough to pick 5 and tough to rank them as well.  I tend to be a non-conformist, so some of my top 5 may be a little different than others, or at least take a different slant on the same story.  Here we go, I start at #5.

5.  Trading Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.

General Manager John Mozeliak is the kind of GM who keeps secrets well.  Not a lot of hints or leaks about what he is doing.  Having said that, this trade really came out of nowhere.  Not that it was a terrible trade, or that something didn’t need to be done about Allen Craig.  I had been hoping that something would be done, but I was thinking along the lines of less playing time for Craig.  So when this trade happened, I was a little bit stunned.  Stunned, but not surprised.  The difference?  I was not surprised that Mozeliak felt he needed to take this level of action.  It is a shame really, because reducing Craig’s playing time and increasing the playing time for Oscar Taveras seemed the simplest solution to the problem.  However, it may be that that solution was not feasible given the circumstances.  One, it would have required Mozeliak to assert greater authority over Mike Matheny’s lineup decisions, something for which he has often expressed his distaste.  Second, it would require a level of effort that Mozeliak probably didn’t want to take on.  Not to mention the PR implications of overruling your manager on basic day to day tasks.  Not a precedent he wanted to set I imagine.  This of course assumes Mike Matheny would not have been on board with reduced playing time for Craig, a fair assumption I would think, given statements made in public by Matheny, both before and after the trade.

Alas, the trade required someone else to go as well, and that someone else was Joe Kelly.  While Kelly was not the best member of the starting rotation, he was the most colorful.  What a fun guy Joe was, and I miss that sorely.  The pre-game interview video bombs, the costumes, the antics (who can forget the National Anthem Standoff?).  Great entertainment was lost by this trade.

Sigh.

4.  The acquisition of Jason Heyward.

Once #2 on this post happened, the need for a RFer became paramount.  Despite Mike Matheny’s great love for Randal Grichuk, having Grichuk as the primary RFer was not palatable on many levels.   The “rumors” of a potential Jason Heyward trade made the rounds for several weeks in November, and as nebulous as most rumors of this kind tend to be when involving the Cardinals, I had my doubts about it happening.  Generally when there is a hot stove rumor about the Cardinals, it more often than not is a red herring.  As I pointed out in #5 above, Mozeliak plays his cards close to the chest.  This one, happily, turned out not to be of the red herring variety.  I had hopes leading up to the trade, as I thought getting Heyward would be a coup.  Despite the fact that Heyward has not as yet lived up to his offensive potential, he is in fact one of the best, if not the best defensive right fielders in baseball.  As anyone who knows me or reads my posts regularly knows,  I am a huge fan of great defense.  Heyward is still young, and with a change of scene he may very well blossom as a hitter as well.  He certainly has the tools to do so.  I am very excited to see what he does in his new home.

Of course,  gaining anyone in a trade of this kind requires losing something.  What we lost is a member of our starting rotation and a pitching prospect.  Losing Shelby Miller is not without its drawbacks.  Shelby had been struggling, and there was no guarantee of a turnaround in 2015, but Shelby was beloved in St. Louis and rightly so.  He had been the Cardinals hot pitching prospect for many years, and hope still remained that he would turn out to be what he promised to be.  In the end, he was deemed expendable (the loss of his best friend, Joe Kelly, kind of muted his light anyway it seemed).  The other player in the trade, Tyrell Jenkins, was more of a lottery ticket, given his injury history and slow development through the system.  Given the pitching depth the Cardinals had, he was not a significant loss.

3.  The 2014 Postseason.

I made this an umbrella category, to combine both the NLDS and NLCS as one story.  One half of this story is the continuation of the Cardinals’ dominance over 3 time CY Young award winner Clayton Kershaw.  The Cardinals, more specifically Matt Carpenter, really appear to have Kershaw’s number.  Whether this is based on anything concrete, or merely just the vagaries of statistical luck, is unknown.  I tend to believe it’s the latter, but who knows.  I have to think at least a small part of Kershaw’s struggles has to be mental given his history with the Cardinals.  Baseball players aren’t robots, and even if the consistent pounding of Kershaw is just luck, the results have to wear on him just a little. Self-fulfilling prophecy?  The mind/matter conundrum is real.  But then again, such “curses” are often broken.  Stay tuned for next postseason (hopefully).

The NLCS.  What can one say? Michael Wacha in the 9th inning of Game 5 says it all.  It will be covered more expansively in #1 below.

Speaking of “curses”, the Giants against the Cardinals in the NLCS?  Is this going to be become a “thing”?

2.  The tragic death of Oscar Taveras.

This one was a blow.  For me personally it hit pretty hard.  I was an Oscar fan for sure, but that wasn’t the only reason.  It was the timing.  My mother had passed away 3 days before Oscar’s death.  The funeral was on the afternoon of the 26th, and I had been traveling back to my home from where the funeral took place, in my hometown, which is a 3 hour drive from my current place of residence.  I arrived home at approximately 6:30 pm CST.  I had been home less than 30 minutes when the first news of the accident broke on Twitter.  The first tweet I saw I thought might just be a Twitter hoax, at least I was hoping it was.  But as time passed and more and more tweets from some credible sources started to come across my feed, I knew it was no hoax.  The enormity of what happened hit me like a slap in the face that brings up a large red welt.  He was so young, and the last game he played in was just a matter of days in the past.  He had no time to even enjoy the off season.  So much promise and hope was extinguished just like that.  Poof.  Not only was Oscar gone, but so was a young woman who had yet to really live her life.

The news several weeks later that Oscar had been excessively intoxicated at the time of the crash made it all the more tragic.  It might have been avoided by more responsible behavior.  Did it make me angry?  Yes, it did, somewhat.  Most of us do some stupid things, though.  Many of us have done things we are lucky to have survived.  That fact doesn’t excuse it, it just makes it more real, and to an extent, explainable.  The hubris of the young, the feeling of invincibility, is a reality.  A tragic one in this case.

As many have rightly said, there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy.  I hope that lesson has sunk in.

1.  The performance of Mike Matheny:  The birth of Mathenaging.

“Mathenaging” is a term that had its birth in the 2014 season.  Who precisely came up with it is not known to me.  Some say it had its genesis on the Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos.  Could be.  In any event it is a clever term, and one that many, including myself, have adopted.  It is basically a term to describe the bizarre, and often hair pulling inducing, managing style of Mike Matheny.  Mathenaging, in my definition at least, is made up of many parts.  These are some of the components.

1.  An inordinate amount of bunting, more often in the worst possible moments of a game by the worst possible hitters to be doing it.

2.  Improper use of pitching resources.  This includes leaving starting pitchers in too long, or in some cases removing them too soon;  using relievers with specialized skills in the wrong situations (using Randy Choate against right handed pitchers is one example); using relievers over and over excessively (Trevor Rosenthal four days in a row); using relievers to get one or two outs in a double switch when double switches are meant for longer appearances.

3.  Improper use of bench players.  This includes pinch hitting one of the worst hitters in high leverage situations (Daniel Descalso was a favorite for doing this); refusing to pinch hit the back up catcher late in the game when it was warranted (though in the case of Tony Cruz, it often wasn’t such a loss, but it is the principle of the thing); pinch hitting the wrong players in the wrong situations based on small sample size pitching match ups (Mark Ellis against Aroldis Chapman) or nonsensical reasons like “bat speed” (Peter Bourjos against the same Aroldis Chapman);

4.  Unnecessary double switches (see 2 above). Taking good hitters out in close or tie games for no good reason was a particular hair puller for me.

5.  Stubborn and ridiculous adherence to outmoded baseball thinking.  This is where the use of Michael Wacha in Game 5 comes in.  The game was on the line and Matheny had other options available to him other than a rusty Wacha.  Both Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez were available.  When asked after the game why he didn’t use Rosenthal, Matheny replied, “We can’t bring him in, in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.”

Using Wacha in the highest leverage situation of the season, was the epitome of Mathenaging.  The cremè de la cremè if you will.  The nuking of all hopes for another trip to the World Series.  The Cardinals may not have made it even if a better decision had been made, but the odds were surely much better.

Don’t ask me about my optimism (or lack thereof) about the 2015 season.  If you do, you will get that quote in response.

So there are my top 5 stories.  Agree with them, don’t agree with them, throw stuff at your computer.  It’s your call.

Thank you for reading.

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Tears and Transitions

I didn’t watch the game today.  After the 12-1 drubbing that I was forced to sit through yesterday, I decided I wasn’t in the mood.  I dreaded what might happen after the big news came down right before the game started that Allen Craig and Joe Kelly had been traded to the Red Sox for John Lackey.  I knew the news would not be taken well in the clubhouse (and reportedly it wasn’t) and I feared its affect on the team’s performance in the game.  I was not going to sit through another drubbing if it came to that.

It turned out my fears were unfounded.  The Cardinals won the game 6-2.

Now for my take on all that went down in the last hours of the trade deadline.

The trade deadline is a tough period for fans (for the team as well, no doubt).  One would have to be pretty dispassionate not to get attached to players on your team who you have cheered for over a long period of time.  Even when you know that getting new players can energize a team for that push to the playoffs, when getting those new players involves losing old ones, that can be very tough to handle.  I completely understand and feel myself the sadness that can come over you to say goodbye to a loved player.  I don’t want to seem dismissive of those feelings in any way.

However, baseball is a business just like any other.  Sometimes very tough decisions have to be made to ensure the long term success and viability of that business.  Anyone who is a baseball fan has to know that most players do not spend their entire careers with the same team.  Players come and players go.  It is the nature of baseball.

We all know this team has been under performing all season.  The offense has been sluggish to non existent.  The pitching has been good, good enough to keep the Cardinals in the race, but it has had its issues as well.  The improved defense has worked well for the most part, though there have been times where it has completely fallen apart, like in the first two games of the Padres series.  This team has problems, problems that needed to be addressed.

I have been convinced for some time that at least part of the problem lay in that clubhouse.

I think that in the clubhouse was an atmosphere of smug complacency, and a “veterany cliquishness” (I made that up, but it fits what I am trying to say).  Long time veterans felt they were entitled to all the playing time they wanted, regardless of their individual performance, and felt that their manager had their back in this.  I believe they wanted to win, but win on their terms and in their own time, with no sense of urgency.  One by one, younger players were introduced to the roster, only to get limited playing time and then sent on their merry way back to where they came from when they couldn’t produce on demand.  The one exception was Oscar Taveras, the prized #1 prospect.  He came up once, but was soon shown the door like the others.  Then he came up again, and this time he stayed.  He stayed and he threatened the playing time of veterans.  Veterans like Allen Craig, and to a lesser degree Jon Jay.  (Peter Bourjos is more of a threat to Jay, and we all know what has happened to him as well).

Because of this, the manager wouldn’t put him in the lineup on any kind of regular basis.  He would play, and then he would sit for days while the struggling Allen Craig continued to play.  Taveras could not put together any consistent time at the plate, and his performance suffered.  There also had to be a mental aspect to this as well, when you know that one mistake, one unproductive game, and you would not play for days.  It might have all been different if Craig had been producing as he had in the past, but he wasn’t and showed no signs of doing so.  Yet he continued to play.  Mike Matheny, when asked about this, would make glib responses like “we’re not in the development business”.  Did anyone truly think that Matheny could possibly have Taveras’ best interests at heart when you heard something like that?  I thought that comment was extremely telling about Matheny’s attitude about the young prospect.

You could read between the lines in interviews with Mozeliak during this time that he was very frustrated with the Taveras playing time situation.  Reports of a “rift” between Mozeliak and Matheny were made by the local media.  Well, it all came to a head apparently because Mozeliak fixed the problem.  Craig is now playing for the Boston Red Sox, and Taveras is still here, playing RF.

It was reported that the clubhouse was shocked and stunned at the news.  I bet they were.  I am sorry that Joe Kelly had to be the collateral damage in all this, because I like the guy, but these things happen.  It was said that Craig and Kelly found out about the trade from TV and social media;  that’s unfortunate, but in this day and age of instant news and the race to get the latest tidbit out before your competitor, it’s not surprising that it happened that way.  Mozeliak was engaged in last minute negotiations, this thing happened pretty fast, and the opportunity to let the team and the players know about the trade before the media announced it was probably not there.

Regardless, this trade needed to happen.  The clubhouse needed a shakeup.  These guys might be a “family” as both players and the manager have so stated, but this family was dysfunctional.  We all saw the dysfunction played out on the field, time after time.

I know that people are sad.  I specifically have avoided watching the interviews with the players in question and their teammates because I am not an automaton.  I know it would upset me.  However, someone needed to look at all this objectively and dispassionately and I elected myself.

It is after all a business and the players are paid employees.  They are paid to win baseball games.  The team is not a boy’s club or a fraternity.  While it is good that they all get along and have chemistry, the ultimate goal is results.  This team was not getting them.

While it hurts to lose your friends in the clubhouse, that hurt would be ameliorated by a championship.  These guys are big boys and they can take it.  If they can’t, then they should look for another profession.

At the end of the day, John Mozeliak did what he is paid to do.  He can’t afford the sentimentality like the rest of us can.  This organization has a goal and a stated method to get there.  If the manager and the players can’t be on board with that method, then maybe they need to be somewhere else.

Hopefully a message was sent, and the results will be better.  We will see in time.

 

Thank you for reading.

The Titanic Hit The Iceberg (Metaphorically)

So Waino was terrible.  That makes me incredibly sad.  I really, really, want Waino to win the Cy Young award this year, but he isn’t going to do it pitching like that.  I hope the tendonitis hasn’t come back.

Controversy abounded prior to the game when the lineup came out.  Oscar Taveras was not in it.  Allen Craig was.  Allen Craig, he of the .651 OPS (it’s .648 now, due to an 0-3 night with 2 strikeouts in the game last night).    To make matters worse, Mike Matheny was quoted in the media as saying some incredibly stupid things about why Oscar wasn’t playing and Craig was.

Exhibit A:

 

 

Now the basic concept about needing to win as opposed to being in the development business is true.  The problem with this statement is that the player Matheny plays “to win” isn’t helping the team win.  So when faced with two players who play the same position and are both struggling, but one is a young prospect with upside who needs major league playing time and the other is a veteran who has looked lost at the plate for 3 1/2 months, who should play?  Most of Cardinal Nation (including me) believes it should be the former.  Oscar got a base hit in a pinch hit role in the 9th inning last night.  It made no difference in the outcome, but maybe it will spur Matheny to at least play Oscar tonight.  Not that one hit is that big of a deal, but we take what we can get when it comes to Matheny Logic.

Now along with the Taveras controversy, there were a few of us (not many) who believed Peter Bourjos should have gotten to start last night as well.  He didn’t, of course, Jon Jay started as usual.  Peter had an incredible night Sunday night, hitting a home run off the best pitcher in baseball, stealing two bases and making an incredible catch in center field.  He came into the game in the 6th inning last night, but struck out in both of his ABs, so I guess he is now back to being a bum again in the eyes of Cardinal Nation; I can’t keep track of all the fickleness and I don’t want to.  Bourjos not playing doesn’t invoke the same outrage that not playing Taveras does in Cardinal Nation, because he isn’t a hot prospect being benched in favor of a struggling veteran.  He also is not a home grown player, but a recent transplant, and so Cardinal Nation doesn’t have the emotional attachment to him that they have for Taveras and Jon Jay.  Jay is also not struggling at the plate, though plenty of playing time has certainly helped him in that regard.  I could write a whole post on the Jay v Bourjos issue, but this isn’t it.  Suffice it to say that I have insisted, and will continue to insist, that overall Bourjos is the better player.  I know Bourjos can hit given enough playing time, and he certainly can play center field far better than Jay can and he can run circles around Jay, and he has a better arm.  Despite all this, I have resigned myself to Jay getting the bulk of the playing time and am at peace with it.  Perhaps Bourjos will get his chance with some other team in the near future.

However, this issue leads to a larger question and one that I have alluded to in the past.  Why is Taveras (and to a lesser extent Bourjos) not getting the playing time from Matheny?  My theory is that Matheny is incredibly loyal to players he has a longstanding relationship with.  So loyal, in fact, that he puts that loyalty ahead of doing what’s best for the team as a whole and putting the best lineup he can out on the field everyday.  He wants to play Jon Jay and Allen Craig because their success is important to him, more important than the success of Taveras or Bourjos.  I also think he wants to play them because he trusts them and because they are comfortable.  I could go so far as to say Matheny sees Taveras and Bourjos as a threat to Jay and Craig, though that is probably more a subconscious thought than a conscious one.  Yes, I am really reaching into the realm of unsubstantiated speculation, but it is my blog and I am allowed to do that.  I’m not a journalist after all, and I don’t play one on TV.

Mike Matheny is likely to continue to irk fans with his lineups and his excuses and explanations for such lineups.  The possibility of some trades being made from the major league roster may change things one way or the other, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.   Whether Oscar gets more playing time, or gets traded, or even sent down to Memphis is yet to be determined.  What John Mozeliak thinks about all of this is unknown and not likely to become known.  The only thing I know is that I am not happy with the way this team is being managed, nor up to this point, how the roster has been constructed.  I simply have been unable to become invested in this team for this season; I hope that changes.

In the meantime, we will see whether Oscar plays tonight or continues to sit on the bench.  It’s all a mess that makes for unneeded and unwanted controversy and unhappy fans.  Not that Mike Matheny appears to care.  He’s doing what he wants to do unfettered.

And the band played on.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Backhanded Winning

Even when the Cardinals win it isn’t with any big offense.  I know a win is a win, but the lack of offense makes those wins less probable.  Something has to change or this team is not going to get far.

I was apprehensive when I saw the lineup before the game yesterday.  Putting Oscar Taveras in CF is a risky proposition.  Oscar is a terrific hitter and a credible but not stellar defender in RF, but as a CFer Taveras leaves much to be desired.  I have watched him play CF in the minors for many seasons and to put it bluntly, he is below average as a defender there.  All I could think of when the lineup came out was that Adam Wainwright better keep that ball on the ground as much as possible or it could get ugly in that ballpark.  Apparently Wainwright understood that, as that is exactly what he did.  Ground ball after ground ball was induced, sacrificing striking people out in order to keep the ball out of the air.  It didn’t help his strike out numbers but it may have saved the game.

The offense certainly didn’t give Wainwright much to work with.  Wainwright had to win this game almost by himself.

Mike Matheny is obsessed with certain players.  He will continue to play them when all circumstances and facts demonstrate that he shouldn’t.  Allen Craig is one of those players.  Craig’s performance at the plate this season has been terrible.  He either strikes out or hits ground balls.  His ground ball rate is up 10% over last season and both his line drive and fly ball rates have decreased 4-5%.  Anyone with eyes in their head can see that Allen Craig is a shell of his former self.  Yet Matheny marches him out there day after day, when he doesn’t have to.  Last night, Matheny brought in Peter Bourjos for defense, a smart move in the later innings with only a 2 run lead to protect.  What wasn’t smart was taking out Oscar Taveras in that move and leaving in Allen Craig.  Matheny should have removed Craig and moved Taveras to right field.  This was a no brainer.  I will refrain from the obvious sarcastic jab there.

Oscar Taveras needs to play RF regularly.  Allen Craig needs to play less.  Matt Adams‘ splits against left handed pitchers makes the solution obvious.  Allen Craig plays 1B against lefties and Adams plays the rest of the time.  To get a few more chances, switch up Craig and Holliday in left field once in a while.  If you want more offense, this needs to be done.  Oscar will provide the offense that Craig won’t.  It’s that simple.  Mike Matheny needs to get over it.

I won’t be watching the game today.  I have other things I need to do.  Surprisingly, the thought of missing games doesn’t bother me like it would have in the past.  This team is not fun to watch, even when they win.  That is a sad commentary for sure.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

On Love and Sorrow Baseball Style

I missed the game last night because I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner.  There was barbecue.  This was a weird wedding rehearsal dinner because all of the wedding guests were invited, not just the wedding party.  It was also weird because I knew no one there other than the friend I was with and the groom’s parents.  I had never even met the groom before.   The wedding is this afternoon, so I may miss the last part of the game, depending on how long it goes.

None of this is really relevant other than as a prelude to my comments on last night’s game.  My comments are that I missed the game and I am not in the least bit sorry.  Not even sorry that I missed the triple play.  I haven’t seen a triple play in years.  My friend who I was with last night was incredibly shocked that I was not in the least bit sorry.  He knows me well and knows that baseball is a passion of mine.

It’s really sad that I wasn’t sorry.  That is how little fun I am having watching the Cardinals play.  I had more fun at a wedding rehearsal dinner where I knew three people.  That is a new low for me.   Even when the Cardinals win, I am always angry about something that happened in the game.  Usually it involves something Mike Matheny did or didn’t do, but sometimes it is just anger that the Cardinals seem to have to fight and claw for every win.  That wins don’t come easy like they use to.  That once good hitters come to the plate and flail around and look lost.  That I can never feel comfortable that Allen Craig will hit with runners in scoring position, or that Yadier Molina will come through with that winning RBI.  That Adam Wainwright will pitch 7 or 8 scoreless innings and still lose.  That the bullpen will give up a tenuous lead in the 8th or 9th inning.

I have never, not once during this entire season so far, have said to myself that I love this team.  I don’t love it at all.  I don’t even recognize it.  I once thought General Manager John Mozeliak could do no wrong, that he was a wizard.  Now all I can think about him is that he doesn’t have the balls to do something about this.  Like, is there some general manager edict that says you can’t do something about an awful team until July?  Perhaps I am being too harsh, maybe there is just not anything that can be done without making a panicky move that will backfire.  At least that is how I console myself these days.

I think this team does not gel because there are too many moving parts.  Too many outfielders in the broth, not the right seasoning on the bench to use a cooking analogy.  A cook who doesn’t know the recipe and is just throwing stuff in the pot.  It all makes for a very bad meal.

So, I am going to a wedding this afternoon, and if I miss some of the game I won’t be sorry.  I never thought I would ever say or think such a thing.

That is the saddest part of all.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Adam Wainwright Is Good At Hurling Baseballs

Last night’s game against the Dbacks was fun to watch.  It was fun to watch in a different way than Saturday’s game against the Braves was fun to watch.  It wasn’t bunts and fast legs this time, but absolutely masterful pitching.  We’ve pretty much come to expect pitching gems from Adam Wainwright.  I think sometimes that expectation mutes the celebration somewhat in a way the celebration of the bunts and fast legs wasn’t.  We as Cardinals fans are not used to speed winning games; we are quite used to pitching doing so.

Nevertheless, the performance of Wainwright last night was arguably the best of his career.  It was his first career one hitter, and the game score of 94 was the highest in his career.  The one hit was a double by Paul Goldschmidt to center field that Jon Jay played off the wall.   Goldschmidt was the only Dbacks player to reach base in that game.  Nine strikeouts, 6 of them looking, tied Wainwright’s season high.

Wainwright had pinpoint command of all of his pitches.  His curveball was sharp and his cutter and sinker were moving well.  Even a 15 minute delay when the home plate umpire had to leave the game because of illness wasn’t enough to shake Wainwright out of his groove.  From the first pitch to the last, Wainwright was in control of the game.  He was helped by an offense that appears to have gotten its extra base hit mojo back.  Five double and 2 HRs (yes, HRs; I know it’s a shock), were the order of the offensive day.  Peralta hit his 9th homerun, and Matt Adams, sans elbow brace, hit his 3rd.

The one not so bright spot of the game was the continued struggles of Allen Craig.  Craig went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.  Craig looks uncomfortable at the plate most days, and the reason for this is unknown to Cardinals fans.  Many speculate about injury, though Craig denies it.  He has moments where he looks like the Craig of old, only to fall back into his current pattern of flailing at breaking balls outside the zone, and hitting down on the ball, resulting in weak ground balls that don’t get out of the infield (Craig has seen an increase in sinkers pitched to him, which could account for some of the ground balls).    Craig has an anemic batting line of .220/.275/.345, more reminiscent of Pete Kozma than Allen Craig.

Matt Carpenter continues to confound people as well.  I wouldn’t say he is struggling exactly, he is hitting .264 and went 1 for 4 in last night’s game, he just doesn’t look like the Matt Carpenter we are used to seeing.  Maybe it’s just a sluggish start and he will pick it up as the season goes on.  For an interesting article addressing Carp’s issues read here.  There seems to be no obvious answer to the puzzle of Carp.  I miss him; come back please.

Tonight we see Michael Wacha take on Brandon McCarthy.  Given the competitive nature of the Cardinals’ starting rotation, will we see a no hitter tonight from Wacha?.  Will it rain?  Will Matheny make a double switch?  Will we hear Al Hrabosky say, “You never embarrass yourself when you hustle” ?  These and many other burning questions will be answered tonight starting at 7:15 pm  CDT at Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.

 

Thank you for reading.

The Search for Allen Craig

Allen Craig is missing.  I don’t think it’s his picture on a milk carton, or one of those flyers you see on telephone poles or the walls of post offices kind of missing.

When I say he is missing, I don’t mean not seen or heard from, like Peter Bourjos has often been.  I mean HE is missing, the essence of Allen Craig.  That part that hits baseballs hard with sticks of wood, with or without men in scoring position.

When I see Allen Craig now he looks defeated and depressed.  Maybe I am imagining it, far be it from me to really know what Allen Craig thinks or feels.  He just looks that way to me.  I don’t see him smile much anymore; his body language at the plate screams “I am going to fail at this”.

So, where is Allen Craig?  Was he left behind when he made that turn around first base last September and stumbled, grasping his foot in pain?  There are some who think that Craig’s foot injury has left its mark on him at the plate.  I am not an expert on swings or stances.  What I see when I watch him is someone who is swinging late, and who is swinging down on the ball rather than centering it.  He hits a lot of ground balls, especially weak dribbling ground balls.  His stats reflect this:  his ground ball rate is at a career high of 60%; both his line drive rate and fly ball rate are lower than last season.

I don’t know if it is the foot.  He seems to get around alright in the outfield.  His defense is no worse than usual, in fact it might be a tad better than last year, though the sample size is too small to really conclude that.  If his lower half  is affecting his swing, wouldn’t it affect his outfield performance as well?

It’s a mystery to me.  He doesn’t look right that’s for sure.  Whether it is his timing or whatever, he needs to figure it out, not me.  It’s fodder for me to write about, but that doesn’t help him at all, and the bottom line is that I want him to get better.  He needs to get better for the sake of the team.

If he doesn’t get better, well that makes for some interesting and tough decisions for John Mozeliak.  Right now the team is struggling offensively, and the din of screams from the ever restless fanbase to call up Oscar Taveras NOW is reaching deafening proportions.  I personally don’t think calling up Taveras is the answer.  Fixing the team that is there now is the answer.  The magic bullet theory rarely works; the Yasiel Puig story is more the exception than the rule.  What if Taveras comes up and doesn’t miraculously fix the team?  Are we going to have to call up every prospect with a bat until someone does?  Is it fair to Taveras to make him the poster child for the success or failure of the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals?  I don’t think so.  I bet John Mozeliak doesn’t think so either.

However, if Craig cannot answer the call, then someone will have to take his place, and it will probably be Taveras if that happens.  It just needs to be if and only if it is clear that Allen Craig is irretrievably broken.  Sure, if Craig is injured and goes on the DL, we will likely see Taveras, but that is a temporary fix.  What is more concerning is whether or not Craig can ever get back to something closely resembling the Craig we all know.  It is too soon to know that, and it is too soon to give up and start looking for a replacement.  Oscar Taveras will get here soon enough, he isn’t going anywhere.  This team needs to get itself together without relying on a magic bullet.

The search for Allen Craig continues.  I hope he is found soon.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Baseball Is Stupid

I’ve come to the realization that sometimes baseball is just a stupid game.  There are times when it makes about as much sense as trying to light a candle in a wind tunnel.  Right now, two of the best pitchers in the National League are Aaron Harang and Edinson Volquez.   If the Cubs win the World Series this year, I swear I am entering a convent.  This kind of stuff shouldn’t be happening.  Do you want to know why it is happening?  It’s called SMALL SAMPLE SIZES.

Yes, folks, small sample sizes are a thing.  Strange things do happen in the vacuum of the small sample size universe.  They happen all the time, every year after year after year, yet many people are still consistently fooled by them.  It’s like when Charley Brown still tries to kick the football, knowing Lucy is going to yank the thing away at the last minute.  He just can’t help himself.

We all know Allen Craig can hit.  He didn’t hit for a long time, but now it looks like he is breaking free from the small sample size hole he was in.  Some people take longer to conquer the small sample size.  Some people play really well for short periods of time, better than their history would suggest, but eventually they will regress to their mean.  It happened most painfully to Pete Kozma.  There were people who fell for it though, when Pete Kozma was hitting 400+ in September of 2012.  I bet they won’t admit it now.

The regression will likely come for Aaron Harang and Edinson Volquez.  The hot hitter will get cold and the cold hitter will get hot.  It’s not what they do in those short periods of time that matter as much as what they have done over their career.  When decisions are made based on small sample sizes is when the trouble begins.  Those decisions do get made; those wrong conclusions are drawn.  We just can’t help kicking the football.

Baseball can be a stupid and frustrating game.  I am always very wary of the small sample size.  It will chew you up and spit you out and then stomp on you for good measure.  Conquering the small sample size takes patience.  A whole lot of patience.  Patience is something that many people don’t have.  Patience is hard, often too hard for most people.  So they kick the football.

I do have patience.  It’s the only thing that keeps me sane in a world where baseball is stupid.  In a world where Aaron Harang pitches a no hitter and Allen Craig couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, patience is a necessity.   A necessity that will prevent your head from exploding the next time baseball happens and you want to throw something through your TV screen.

Stop kicking the football.  You will be better off for it.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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