In Praise of Stephen Piscotty

The Cardinals returned home to Busch on Friday, after earning a split series (2-2) against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix during the week.  My topic de jure, Stephen Piscotty, had a nice series in that ballpark, going 9 for 20 with a home run, a stolen base, and six RBI.  I am much more impressed with the home run and the stolen base than I am with the RBI.  RBI are more of a function of circumstance and luck than they are a particular skill, but they are a stat that is still popular with the faithful, so I cite them, but they are not a particularly useful measure of anything.  Nevertheless, Piscotty had a good series there, and well, that is one of many reasons why I chose to write about him.

Piscotty was a first round draft choice by the Cardinals in the 2012 draft, and though draft order doesn’t necessarily have relevance in predicting future performance (ahem…Pete Kozma), it does give some insight into how the Cardinals viewed Piscotty as a potential big leaguer.  You can also give some thanks to Albert Pujols for Stephen Piscotty, because it was his decision to hightail it to Los Angeles for the mucho dinero that made Stephen Piscotty possible, as he was the supplemental pick the Cardinals received for Pujols.

Piscotty moved swiftly through the lower levels of the minors, playing what was left of 2012 after he signed in the Low-A Midwest League, skipping the short season Rookie Leagues entirely (which is not uncommon for college picks of Piscotty’s caliber). Piscotty was drafted as a third baseman, but the Cardinals quickly realized that was not a position he was well suited for so he was moved to the outfield.  He started 2013 in High-A Palm Beach, but finished it in Double-A Springfield.  He unfortunately languished for 1 1/2 seasons in Triple-A Memphis, in part because there was no spot for him in the big league club, and in part because the organization felt he wasn’t quite ready.  He also took a back seat to another outfield prospect, Oscar Taveras, and that is a sad story I choose not to dwell on.

It was in that partial season at Springfield that I first got a glimpse of Stephen Piscotty.  I occasionally travel to Springfield to catch a game, as it an easy two hour drive from my home in Jefferson City, MO.  Brian Walton, who covers the Cardinals minor league system for his site, The Cardinal Nation (who is now my boss, so to speak, as I am a contributing writer there) happened to be at that game also and he mentioned to me that I might want to watch this kid named Stephen Piscotty closely.  I did, and I was impressed.  From that point on, I followed his progress through Memphis and was quite excited last season when he got the call up to St. Louis.

Piscotty had a very good half season in St. Louis, he, along with Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham, contributed significantly to the Cardinals 100 win season in the second half of 2015.  With the defection of right fielder Jason Heyward over to the Dark Side of Chicago, Piscotty was poised to be an everyday player in right field for the Cardinals this season.  He hasn’t disappointed.

Piscotty has filled in quite nicely for the turncoat Heyward, though the sample size is extremely small, so any defensive numbers for him are quite meaningless (I am talking to you Derrick Goold, you should really know better).  At the plate, Piscotty has more than surpassed Heyward so far, again, small sample size, but I am doing it anyway because I can {raspberry, you Benedict Arnold}**  However, based on the imprecise eye test, I believe Piscotty to be a more than adequate right fielder.

Piscotty, though, has kind of been overlooked in all the Aledmys Diaz/Jeremy Hazelbaker hullaballoo, most probably because he isn’t new and shiny anymore.  Frankly, I see Piscotty as being more of a contributor than either of those guys, most especially Hazelbaker.  Hazelbaker most likely will be boarding the Memphis Shuttle soon, with the return of Tommy Pham, unless someone else gets hurt (knock on wood it doesn’t happen).  Diaz is having a terrific small sample size, but will cool off eventually, when we will see better what we truly have.  Both Diaz and Piscotty are BABIPing the hell out of the ball, so it’s going to take more time to see the true talent level of both.  I just have more faith in a consistent Piscotty, than I do Diaz.

Moreover, Piscotty is a brainiac, for which I am an unrepentant sucker.  An engineering degree from Stanford is nothing to sneeze at, even my law degree pales in comparison (maybe if I had gotten it at Stanford it wouldn’t, but I digress).

So, to conclude this mess, I am declaring that Stephen Piscotty is praiseworthy.  My brand new Piscotty t-shirt is proof of that.  Now if I could just get it autographed, that would be cool.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09: Stephen Piscotty #55 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates scoring a run in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs during game one of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2015 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

ST LOUIS, MO – OCTOBER 09: Stephen Piscotty #55 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates scoring a run in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs during game one of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2015 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

 

** Seriously, I am just kidding, Heyward is a great player who I like.

 

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Who Are These Cardinals?

It’s early in the season, and yet things with the Cardinals are not looking particularly good.  It happens.  It’s baseball.  The sample sizes are small so the numbers will tell you very little if anything useful about the future.

Invariably every season, however, if things are bad for any length of time, the amateur general managing begins.  It is as predictable as sunrise and sunset.  Something is wrong and someone or multiple someones are to blame.  Finger pointing begins.  Moves that are made are criticized and alleged to be the cause.  On and on, yada, yada.

Hey, we as fans really become emotional about these things.  We want to believe we know how to do better if the Cardinals would just listen to us.  I can’t say how many fans actually believe this, or just act like they do because it’s fun or their bored or whatever.  Having something to analyze and discuss with other fans is part of the experience, with the internet even more so than it used to be because the avenues for discussion are widespread.  It’s a good time be a sports fan.

I am no different than any other fan.  I have a blog, so that reinforces that I have opinions and I am not hesitant to express them to anyone who is willing to listen.  Maybe not so many people are willing to listen, but I can live with that.  It won’t stop me from expressing said opinions as often and as forcefully as I choose.

Okay, so get to the point you are saying to yourself.  As much as I have strong opinions and am willing to exclaim them to the entire universe, I don’t for one millisecond think I have the answers or know more than those in the Cardinals organization who are paid to make the decisions.   Not that they are always right, they are human just like me and make mistakes.  At the end of the day, however, in the aggregate those folks are going to make better decisions than I would likely make if I were in their shoes.

Nevertheless, here is what I think.  The 2016 Cardinals are a less talented team than the 2012-2015 versions were.  I believed at the start of the season that this was not a division winning team and I continue to stand by that assessment.  The “core” players like Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are aging and will never be the players they once were.  The young players are finding their way, and the jury is still out as to whether any of them will reach their potential.  Players like Carpenter are peaking, still have good years left and I suspect will continue to be the stalwarts for a couple of years.  Wong has room to improve, and Matt Adams is, well, an enigma.  I don’t see much improvement in his future, though I could be wrong.  Maybe call this a transition year if you will.  This team is going to be overshadowed by the Cubs, and perhaps the Pirates if they can get their starting rotation to work.

I am a fan of John Mozeliak. I think he has done great things for this organization.  He is fallible, however, as even he, I imagine, would admit.  I think he whiffed on some things in the offseason, to be frank.  The Heyward situation is somewhat murky, as there is some evidence, if you believe what Heyward says, that he was bound and determined to be a Cub, and nothing Mozeliak did was going to change that.

On the David Price matter, however, I think Mozeliak could have done better.  Yes, it is a lot of money to pay for a pitcher, and maybe the Red Sox were going to  be insane and keep bidding until they got what they wanted.  It wouldn’t surprise me, the Red Sox have done many stupid things with their money.  But I think the Cardinals could have, and should have offered more.  Sometimes I think they are a little too conservative for their own good.

I also think the outfield situation could have been handled better.  Once Heyward was a thing of the past, resorting to the “do nothing further” approach didn’t sit well with me.  I think Piscotty, Grichuk and Pham are fine players, Piscotty I like better than the other two, but all are still fine players.  Grichuk and Pham are injury prone, and Grichuk is a weird player who one cannot really count on to be consistent, in my opinion.  I am not saying that keeping Jay and/or Bourjos was the answer either.  I have never  considered Jay to be more than an average player at best, and Bourjos, though I think he was mishandled and undervalued, as he is a better player than most give him credit for, he was not going to work out, as it was clear that Mike Matheny had no use for him.  In an organization that appears to value offense over defense and speed, Bourjos was not a good fit.

As for Matheny, well, he makes bad decisions.  I think he will keep making bad decisions, because I think he is too stubborn and set in his philosophy to take direction from others and change his approach.  Having said that, I don’t think his bad decisions in the aggregate  have a large effect on the performance of the team.  In individual games the bad decisions can make a difference; over the long haul, not so much.  The organization, however, seems satisfied with him and that is what matters.  It is the overall talent of the team that will make a bigger difference, and as I said, I think this is a less talented team.

I am coming to a conclusion, I promise.  My conclusion is that this is not a talented enough team to win the division, perhaps not talented enough to even make the postseason.  I don’t see this as the end of the world, however.  These things tend to come and go in cycles; no team, not even the Yankees, have been able to keep a run of success forever, it just doesn’t happen.  The down times were coming, and as one who lived through the Cardinals of the 1970s, that is not something that I am going to freak out about.  Others can do as they please.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Where Have You Gone Jason Heyward?

I’m late to the party on the topic du jour for Cardinal Nation.  I’m late to the party for a reason, though.

I am a person who wants to have as many facts as possible before I draw any conclusions.  My legal training made me this way.  It’s not that I never make emotional, on the spot judgments, just that I make them infrequently. When I have made them, I have mostly come to regret them later.

On the topic of Jason Heyward and his defection, if one were to call it that, to the Cardinals longtime rival the Chicago Cubs, I have stayed mostly silent.  The reason, in a nutshell, is that I don’t have any idea what the hell happened.  How does one point fingers, if pointing fingers is your thing, without knowing who knew what and when did they know it?  If Cardinals fans can be likened to the Watergate Commission, then where are the tapes?

The facts I know, or think I know more likely, are that the Cardinals made a $200 million dollar offer spread over a number of years, perhaps 10, perhaps 9.  I don’t know if there was an opt out, though some sources have claimed there was.  I actually know more about the Cubs offer, 8 years $184 million dollars, two opt out clauses.  Some information exists that it was front loaded, though that particular detail is a little murky.

The Cardinals offer, be it 9 or 10 years, would have an average annual value between 20 and 22 million.  The 20 million AAV figure is what I seen bandied about more often, so let’s go with that.  The Cubs offer has an AAV of 23 million, so right there that is more yearly income in Heyward’s pocket.  If the contract is frontloaded that is even more income in his pocket sooner rather than later.  The opt out clauses have their own value, especially with a frontloaded contract.

So what we have here is clearly a better deal from the Cubs.  Anyone (I am looking at you Post Dispatch) who rings the “total value” bell to suggest otherwise is being intentionally disingenuous.  Jason Heyward didn’t jilt the Cardinals, he isn’t a “trader”.  Jason Heyward took the best deal offered him, as 99% of major league baseball players would.  Lance Berkman once said it’s always about the money, and he wasn’t kidding.

So where does that leave Cardinal Nation in their efforts to judge the actions of John Mozeliak and Co.?  Clearly they whiffed on this one, right?  If everything that is known is taken at face value, then yeah, Mozeliak whiffed worse than 1 in 3 Randal Grichuk plate appearances.

Let’s hold on a minute though, and put on our Watergate Commission eyeglasses.  Did the Cardinals make their last and best offer with all knowledge available to them, and it just didn’t cut it?  Or were there, as Mozeliak claimed on KMOX Sports radio on Sunday, “circumstances out of our control”? Well, your guess is as good as mine, only certain people know and they ain’t telling.  If such circumstances existed, what exactly were they and how did they prevent the Cardinals from securing their prize?  Again, who knows?

This is why I can’t get out my pitchfork and torch.  Without the necessary information, and the likelihood of getting that information is somewhere between winning the Power Ball and flying to the moon on gossamer wings, my pitchfork has to stay in the barn and my torch has to remain unlit.  It’s all rather convenient for John Mozeliak, don’t you know Robbie Cano, but that is the way this game is played.

What Mozeliak does between now and Spring Training may be more telling anyway.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Goodnight, Sweet Friend

It’s over.

It has taken me some days to get past the fact that the Cardinals made a too early exit from the playoffs in 2015.  For me, writing when the pain is new is a recipe for disaster.  Things are said that I will later regret, my thought processes jumbled by emotion.  I am an emotional person on the best of days, so one can only imagine a post-loss next day would be armageddon with a keyboard.  I am mostly blessed with self-awareness, thank goodness.

Now that I have had time to settle down and process, I have accepted all postseason occurrences, one way or the other.  There were some bright spots, not many, but some.  I have moved on in the most important ways from the bad.  That doesn’t mean I won’t talk about it, just that I won’t talk about it like a shrew on steroids.

Why did we lose?  If you want a clever and humorous look at the possible reasons, here is a tool for that.  But seriously, what are the reasons why the Cardinals lost three games in a row for the fourth season in a row?  We all have our ideas and theories, some more valid than others.  For me, it is a combination of things.

First off, it is not a state secret that I am not a fan of Mike Matheny.  This post is not going to be a War Crimes Trial for Matheny.  As a matter of fact, I think this year’s devastating loss is less of an indictment of Matheny than past postseason losses have been.  There were some screw ups, like leaving Wacha in too long in Game 3 and pinch hitting Greg Garcia for Randal Grichuk in Game 4 because of Garcia’s small sample size success against Pedro Strop (Really, Mike?).  Those mistakes were costly, especially the Wacha one, but they had less of an effect on the overall picture than other factors.

Primarily, I think injury and fatigue were the culprits this time.  This team was playing on borrowed time, and I think deep down we all knew it.  The Cardinals won 100 games with a team chock full of the Walking Wounded, and that fact in and of itself was amazing.  However, what goes up must come down, and the laws of physics, probabilities, and just plain common sense tells us the good times weren’t going to last.  Unfortunately, it all came down in the postseason, but who among us didn’t honestly think that was a distinct possibility?  Come on, don’t lie to yourself.

These guys were hurt and tired.  We can certainly admit that the injuries were not Matheny’s responsibility, not in the most direct sense.  Sure, many of us have issues with Matheny’s roster usage, myself for sure, and overwork can lead to injuries.  Players like Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina should have had more rest, but consider the alternatives that were before Matheny.  Pete Kozma and Tony Cruz are replacement level players or worse.  Peralta wasn’t injured and Molina has to take some of the blame for not being more responsible for his own health.  How many times have we heard stories of Molina talking himself back into the lineup after the initial idea was to rest him that day?  Should Matheny have put his foot down?  I would say yes, but I am not the one having to deal with Molina on a daily basis.  All I am saying is that there is blame to share.

I could spend 1000 words talking about each injury and what may or may not have helped to prevent it.  I am not going to do that because it is in my view irrelevant, and speculative at best.  I think we can all agree that we don’t have all the information available from which to draw any conclusions, and let’s just leave it at that.

I will say that roster issues were a concern from the very start.  This is an area that needs to be evaluated and worked on.  Players are going to need more rest from here on out and there needs to be back ups at those positions that are adequate and that Matheny will use.  The latter is a sticky subject, and one that I have, shall we say, bombastically expressed my opinion on in the past?  Mozeliak intervenes but rarely in how Matheny uses his roster (the Allen Craig trade is an example of where I think he did).  He no doubt has reasons that I don’t understand or appreciate, but that doesn’t stop me from expressing frustration about it nonetheless.  If Mozeliak has firm and unwavering views on not getting involved with Matheny’s roster usage, then he needs to be more proactive in putting together a roster that is in line with Matheny’s views and usage patterns, as much as it pains me to say that (I don’t think Matheny is particularly skillful at player evaluation).  For instance, Mozeliak should try very hard not to put a player on the roster that Matheny is just going to waste (Peter Bourjos is a painful example).  Just Matheny-proof the roster as much as possible, please.  No more wasted roster spots.  Mozeliak has to know Matheny’s tendencies by now.

I am not going to expound on what players should or should not be acquired for the 2016 season.  That will be another post.  I will, however, pause here to say, SIGN JASON HEYWARD.

Okay, now that that is off my chest, I will conclude by saying that I look forward to 2016 and another chance at the [World Series] ring.  Until then, may we have a productive Hot Stove season.

And please God, don’t let the Cubs win the World Series, I am begging you.

 

Over and out.

 

 

The Brotherhood of Baseball

I have not posted here for a while.  I haven’t abandoned the blog, I have been both dealing with some personal health issues and have been doing some writing for another site that has taken my concentration away from the blog.  I haven’t had much to say lately anyway, most of my thoughts these days about the Cardinals are repetitious of many of the thoughts I have had all season.  But last night’s events have provoked me to speak up.  This will be a short post, I don’t want to bloviate about this topic but I do want to say something.

What I am talking about is last night’s horrible collision between Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos in the seventh inning.  Like everyone else I watched in horror as Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the ground, after colliding with Peter Bourjos on a fly ball to the left center field gap.  Bourjos made a spectacular catch there, but the greatness of it was lost in the horrible events that followed.  It was right that the catch was not noticed, the well being of Stephen Piscotty had to be paramount.  Peter Bourjos knew that, it was clear that his first thought was to go to his teammate and summon help immediately.   As we all watched silently, one could not help but be concerned about the mental state of Piscotty’s teammates as well.

Baseball players are paid a lot of money, more money than many of us will ever see in a lifetime, to play a kid’s game for six months out of the year.  The hugeness of the salaries often leads to fans taking cynical views about players.  Many see them as overpaid divas, men who are pampered and spoiled, who think of no one and nothing but all the dollars in their bank accounts.  What gets lost in all this cynicism, I believe, is the notion that these men are like brothers to each other, like soldiers on a battlefield who protect and fight for each other.   These men spend months with each other, in clubhouses and hotels, long plane rides together, day after day.  They spend more time with their teammates than they do with their own families for half a year.  When one of them gets hurt, they all hurt with him.  They have to, the humanness of them mandates it.  It could just as easily be them, each of them, lying motionless on the grass, and they know it as profoundly as it is possible to know it.  There can be nothing more terrifying than that.

Matt Carpenter sat kneeling on the ground, as did Tony Cruz, and Kevin Siegrist.  The bullpen stood staring, wondering whether their teammate was going to get up, or even move.  Kolten Wong looked ready to burst into tears at any moment.  Jason Heyward comforted Peter Bourjos as he roamed, no doubt agonizing over what his tumbling body had done to his teammate.  Can any of us imagine what it must have been like to these men as they waited, hoping and praying that their brother was going to be alright?

Do we ever even consider the human side of these men we watch play this kid’s game?  Or do we just see them as a means to entertain us?  We praise or we condemn them based on what they do on the field, but do we think for even one second that they may be as vulnerable and emotional as the rest of us?  Do we even consider the possibility that the amount of money they make doesn’t define who they are?  These are a lot of questions, but I believe they are questions worth asking ourselves, especially before we make assumptions or say things about players that might be hurtful.

Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the outfield grass last night and we all collectively held our breath.  When things like this happen, I like to think it is a good time to reflect on what it means to be a fan and what responsibilities we bear.  It’s a self reflection worth doing.

My thoughts and prayers are with Stephen Piscotty, his loved ones, his friends, and his teammates.

 

Peace.

In Search of First

Good morning, good afternoon, good night, gentle readers (I want to be apropos to my readers in whatever time zone they may be).  I haven’t been posting as often as I have in the past, partly because I have been somewhat busy, but more so because I have found myself searching for something new to talk about.  It’s not that I don’t have concerns or frustrations with this year’s Cardinals team, I do. It’s that those concerns and frustrations are virtually the same as I have always had.  After a while, even I get tired of listening to myself.

So, the one clear difference so far this season from last season, is the changes at the top of the Cardinals’ lineup.  Last season, no matter what lineup shenanigans were pulled by Mike Matheny, the one thing Cardinal Nation COULD count on was the comforting presence of Matt Carpenter in the first place spot.  Well, no longer.  Carpenter has been moved down one spot to number 2.  That change was welcomed by some, not so welcomed by others.  For myself, I don’t have an issue with Carpenter batting second, it’s a good spot for him, but moving him leaves the important spot of lead off bereft of a natural occupant.  Matheny has played musical chairs with the top spot ever since, and the last one standing each time has left much to be desired.

There have been as many difference of opinion as to who should be in that spot, as there have been bodies in that spot.  We have had Jon Jay, Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and Jason Heyward.  Jon Jay is now on the DL and the rest have not cemented themselves in that spot.  The differences in opinion have been differences in approach more than anything else.  There is the old school thought that speed should be at the top of the lineup; 4 of the 5 aforementioned occupants fit that mold.  There are those who view OBP as the deciding factor.  Others want a combination of both speed and OBP.  Still others look at the offensive profile of the hitter; the top spot gets the most PAs of any other spot in the lineup, so it follows that that post should be occupied by one of your best hitters.

For myself, I see speed as the least important factor of these to consider.  Speed is nice to have and it certainly makes a big difference in scoring runs.   But speed only matters once that speed is on base.  If it doesn’t get on base at a healthy clip, it’s wasted.

I see the ideal lead off candidate as a hybrid of getting on base and getting on base with a vengeance.  That means consistency, for one, and getting into scoring position as quickly as possible, for another.  It’s one thing to get on base, but you have to get on the right base to score runs.  This is where speed can be helpful, if you can stretch a hit into extra bases, or steal a base.  Doing this has its dangers, however, as we have so painfully seen with our bunch of base runners.  The other way to do it is to hit for extra bases, meaning hit the ball hard and far.  So my criteria is two fold: OBP and hitting profile.

Matt Carpenter fits my ideal lead off candidate better than anyone else on the squad.  He both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  He is also the most consistent hitter on the team.  Prolonged slumps are very rare for Carpenter.  Unfortunately, Carpenter no longer occupies that spot.  I would like for him to move back there, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Therefore, another candidate must be found.  So let’s look at who we have.

I am going to start by addressing those who have been occupying that spot in Carpenter’s stead.  Jon Jay is currently on the DL, but is expected back soon.  I don’t like Jay in the lead off spot for one clear reason, he doesn’t get on base with a vengeance.  He gets on base with a whimper.  When Jay gets an extra base hit, it is cause for a National Day of Thanks.  Jay has the distinction of having the least amount of power of pretty much anyone in major league baseball who qualifies as an everyday player.  Jon Jay has an ISO (Isolated power) of .020.  There isn’t a word in the English language for how awful that is.  Jay’s ISO has steadily declined for several seasons, and with the issues he has with his wrist, the likelihood of it getting any better is pretty slim.  So, NIX on Jay as a lead off hitter.

Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, and Randal Grichuk all have the same problem; they don’t get on base enough.  Career OBP for each:  Wong .297, Bourjos .306, Grichuk .282.  Is it possible for their OBP to improve?  Sure, it’s possible, more so for Wong and Grichuk because they are young.  Is it likely?  I wouldn’t count on it.  I give Wong a better shot than Grichuk, because Grichuk, though he has plenty of raw power,  has very poor contact skills.  He is basically a mistake hitter, throw him a juicy fastball and he is going to hit the crap out of it.  Otherwise, he is going to strike out, or hit a weak grounder.

Jason Heyward is an intriguing possibility, he has a career OBP of.349, good speed, and the ability to hit for extra bases.  The issues with Heyward are that he is currently struggling quite badly, and he has demonstrated an aversion to hitting lead off.   Neither of those things are immutable, so he remains an option, if not now, perhaps at a later time.

So who does that leave?  Well, someone who doesn’t seem at all like a lead off hitter, and one who is probably not going to get that spot as long as Mike Matheny is the manager.  That person is Matt Holliday.  Yes, Matt Holliday.  Matt Holliday both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  Blessed with a career OBP of a whopping .386, and enough power to hit for extra bases, Matt Holliday is my candidate for lead off hitter in the place of Matt Carpenter.  Holliday’s  power has declined somewhat, but he still has enough to fill the role.

I imagine a lot of people think I’m crazy, but a lot of people are mired in the past ways of thinking about baseball.  IT FITS, people.  Get with the program.  You want to win lots of baseball games?  Then stop thinking like you can’t wait to drive your Edsel to the General Store.

My work is done here.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Carnage Reigned (Rained) at Miller Park

It is still a little less than a month into the new baseball season, and things have already turned sour for the St. Louis Cardinals.  A routine series in Milwaukee this past weekend will not long be forgotten for its incredible run of very bad luck.  By the time the team left Milwaukee to return to St. Louis, many in Cardinal Nation were thinking that Miller Park was possessed by evil spirits.

Injuries, one of them severe, have left Cardinal Nation stunned and shell shocked.  First of all, Yadier Molina has been sidelined for several days by an injury to his knee as a result of a foul tip during Friday’s game.  Unable to play for the remainder of the series, it is hoped Molina won’t be sidelined for long.  Tony Cruz filled in for the injured Molina in the last two games of the series.

Right fielder Jason Heyward suffered a groin strain in Sunday’s game chasing after a ball in the right field corner at Miller Park.  He is listed as day to day, his return to the lineup unknown.  During that same game, Mark Reynolds came face to face, literally, with the left center field wall while making a catch at the warning track.  Reynolds lay on the ground for a short time, but by the time the Cardinals’ trainer, sprinting to the rescue, got to him, Reynolds was at least on his feet.  After an initial evaluation, Reynolds remained in the game (knowing who he was and where he was at the time, we hope).

However, by far the most devastating injury is the loss, probably for the remainder of the season, of staff pitching ace Adam Wainwright, who suffered an Achilles tendon injury in Saturday’s game while taking an at bat in the fifth inning.  Wainwright stumbled out of the batter’s box after hitting a pop up, and was helped off the field by the trainer and the Cardinals’ manager.  Preliminary reports during and since the game have indicated an injury to the Achilles tendon of the left foot.  An MRI is scheduled for today to confirm.  Achilles injuries are very serious, a full rupture of the tendon would require surgery and a long recovery and rehab period.  A partial tear of the tendon would require less, but significant, recovery time, but the hope for that outcome appears to be remote.

Out of all that carnage, the Cardinals managed to win the series, but took a loss in Sunday’s game 6-3.  The Cardinals have returned home to start a four game series against the Phillies, but the pall of the Wainwright disaster still hangs over the team and the fans.  John Mozeliak has expressed that a replacement for Wainwright in the rotation will be an internal one, though with the recent injury of Memphis starter Marco Gonzales, that replacement will likely be either Tyler Lyons, or Tim Cooney.  Perennially injured starter Jaime Garcia is not yet ready for prime time, though a return to the rotation at some point (however long that might last) has not been ruled out.  Gonzales should  be returning as an option at some point as well.

While Cardinal Nation waits for the confirmation of the bad news on Wainwright, the show must go on, as they say in circus parlance.  The return of Molina is imminent, and the fate of Jason Heyward is unknown, though he will likely miss some of the Phillies’ series, probably replaced by Jon Jay, with Peter Bourjos manning center.  Hopefully there will be no trip to the DL for Heyward.

It was both a good and a bad weekend, though the bad is likely to overshadow the good for the foreseeable future.  Continuing to win would be the best medicine for everyone involved, most especially Wainwright.  A return to Miller Park is thankfully not in the team’s immediate future; the next series there isn’t until August.  Maybe the evil will have dissipated by then.  If not, I suggest a truckload of bubble wrap be on hand.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Of Mice and Men and Beating the Reds

So I have some thoughts about the weekend series against the Reds that I want to jot down.  These are mostly random and in no particular order, but I hope they come together in some coherent, readable fashion.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Mike Matheny be proactive with his bullpen usage.  Rather than leave pitchers in situations where they were not suited, he mixed and matched them quite well.  No unnecessary double switches, no leaving Randy Choate in to face a succession of right handed hitters.  Perhaps he has learned something, (or perhaps he was given offseason marching orders by Mozeliak?).  I hope to see this continue.  No backsliding, please.

As for the aforementioned Choate, I imagine his early season failures have gotten the fan base quite riled up.  Memories are short, though, as many are not recalling how poorly Seth Maness pitched at the beginning of last season.  He turned it around, and I suspect Choate will as well.  If he doesn’t, then Mozeliak will probably take care of it.

One area where Matheny hasn’t shown improvement is his penchant for bunting too much and in the wrong situations.  What in the world was he thinking having Yadier Molina bunt in the 8th with two men on and no outs?  Matheny’s love affair with giving up outs has got to stop.  It has become pathological.

As it is early in the season, I will refrain from making judgments about the Cardinal offense.  There are enough Chicken Little fans on this subject as it is.  Offense has been declining for some time, and that trend is likely to continue.  Fans looking for big offense are just going to be disappointed.  This is not something that is particular to the Cardinals.   Better use of what speed the Cardinals possess would help in the run scoring department.  I am going to be careful here because I don’t want this post to become another rant about Matheny’s use of Peter Bourjos. I think my opinion on this subject is quite clear.  I will only say this; making playing time decisions based on Spring Training numbers is one of the most imbecilic things a manager could do.

However, I will segue that into something else of note.  Quite a few have been making a big deal about the catch Jon Jay made in yesterday’s game.  Make no mistake, Jay is not a bad center fielder; I have never said that he was.  He is about average, which isn’t a bad thing.  On many teams he would be quite an asset.  On teams that have well above average defenders, however, he sticks out like a sore thumb.  As for the catch, it was a good catch, no doubt about it.  Kudos to him.  What is the but, you say?  It is this.  Great American Ball Park has one of the smallest outfields amongst all of the major league ball parks.   Did anyone notice that even Matt Holliday was making catches that he doesn’t normally make?  Let me just end by saying this.  If a ball to the wall had been hit in say, Coors Field, or ATT &T Park, it would have been so far over Jay’s head it would have required a separate zip code.  GABP makes a lot of outfielders look good.

Okay, I have stepped into the Centerfield Wars as far as I am going to.

Pitching.  I thought Carlos Martinez did a very good job yesterday.  He did give up a couple of long balls, but referencing my previous statement about the size of GABP, that isn’t as big of a deal as it normally would be.  I thought his stuff was very good.  He has a ways to go with efficiency and durability, but I think that will come.  His stuff is filthy nasty.

Reds manager Bryan Price was quoted as saying he thought Jason Heyward’s slide into third base was “dirty”.  I think Price needs to stop channeling Dusty Baker before it’s too late.

The Cardinals meet up with the Reds again this weekend at Busch Stadium.  The Reds don’t have a great track record at Busch.  It must be the Clydesdales.  Or maybe it’s that Arch looming over centerfield.  Whatever it is, the Cardinals need to take advantage of Busch’s voodoo magic over the Reds.  I really, really like beating the Reds.  Almost as much as beating the Cubs.

That’s all for now.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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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