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.

Advertisements

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.

Brewers Series Post Mortem

Well we didn’t sweep them, but we took 2 out of 3 from the “hottest” team in baseball.  I had to laugh when I was listening to MLB Network radio on Tuesday, and one of the hosts was talking about the Brewers having lost their winning streak because they finally “had to play their daddy”.  I seem to recall the Brewers going on a similar hot streak this time last season.  They may turn out to be a better team than they were last season, but I see no reason to fear them.  On to the post mortem.

 

Monday, April 14—Cards 4 Brewers 0

Lance Lynn made his haters have to run and hide.  He was terrific.  Struck out 11 and dominated the Brewers like they were a little league team.  If only he could do this every game.  The offense didn’t even have to save his butt.  They scored 4 runs for him but he didn’t need them.  My little man Tony Cruz went 2 for 4 and handled Lynn like a pro.   I don’t get why so many want to get rid of him.  For what he does, he couldn’t do better.   He could probably be a starting catcher for some MLB teams.  Matt Carpenter was ejected on some bullshit by Balking Bob Davidson.  What a disgraceful umpire.

This was a fun game.

 

Tuesday, April 15—Cards 6 Brewers 1

Jackie Robinson Day.  Tax Day.  Beat the Brewers into Submission Day.  Best start so far for Shelby Miller.  He still has issues with the long ball.  He needs to work on that.  He went 6 innings and struck out 7.  He walked 3, so there is room for improvement there.  The offense helped him out this time; another dinger for Peralta.  Ellis was back and in the lineup, and though he didn’t get a hit, he drove in 2 of the runs.  Nice to have him back.  Craig is starting to show signs of life.

 

Wednesday, April 16—Cards 1 Brewers 5

This is the game that prompted my last post.  So much wrong happened.  The first wrong thing was the lineup.  Why in the name of all that is holy Matheny insists on putting the worst possible defense out on the field for a game is an eternal mystery to me.  He can’t be that clueless.  So you have to give guys days off, I get that, but of the 5 bench guys to choose from he has to pick the two worst defenders to start in the same game?  With an already lacking defense in Holliday, Craig and Adams?  Well, we all saw what the defense got us.  Poor Seth Maness got saddled with 3 ERs he didn’t deserve.  Even Matheny admitted after the game that Peralta should get an error for not catching that line drive.  He didn’t, then he did, then he didn’t again.  Excuses that I don’t buy were made.  Bull.

Don’t even get me started about Daniel Descalso.

The second wrong thing was of course the Joe Kelly injury.  Hopefully he won’t miss more than two starts.

I don’t think I have to tell you this game pissed me off.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Cubs Series Post Mortem

I’m a little behind the eight ball lately, been kind of busy and then there was those pesky taxes to file.  Playing the Cubbies is always an adventure.  The Cubs always seem to play the Cardinals like they are the poster team for 106 years of World Series futility.  They just refuse to play like they suck, they do it against every other team, so why they won’t do it against the Cardinals is very disingenuous of them.  It always has to be difficult.  On to the post mortem.

 

Friday, April 11—Cards 3 Cubs 6

This was a Joe Kelly start, so it should have been a win.  Someone forgot to tell the Baseball Gods or they were just sleeping on the job.  Joe did splendidly for the first 6 innings, but in the 7th the wheels came off the bus.  Kolten Wong made a disastrous fielding error, and Joe couldn’t record an out after that and one run scored.  In comes Carlos Martinez and stops the bleeding, for that inning anyway.  Martinez gives up a single in the 8th and out he comes, Siegrist coming in.  Siegrist then allows the guy Martinez put on to score, and then allows another run of his own for good measure.  So the Cubbies are now in the lead, but the Cards battle back in the 9th to tie the game and send it in to extras.  In the top of the 11th,  Trevor Rosenthal comes in and does an un-Trevor like thing; he gives up a 3 run home run to Welington Freaking Castillo.  Who spells Wellington with only one “l” anyway?  The hero of Waterloo is turning in his grave.

So the Cubbies win this one, and all of Cardinal Nation has a giant freak out session.

 

Saturday, April 12—Cards 10 Cubs 4

Now this one was more like it.  Adam Wainwright on the mound.  He has that Waino look on his face like the world is his to own.  He winds up and throws his first pitch—-right over the plate and knocked into the seats by Junior Lake.  Okay, that didn’t go over too well.   Never fear though, the Cardinals came back and took out a giant can of whuppass and doused them Cubbies with it.  Four runs in the 2nd, 5 more in the 4th.  Carlos Villanueva left the mound in the 4th inning, crying (not really).   The Cubs weren’t really in this one, they managed to squeeze 3 more runs out of Waino so I guess that was their World Series moment of the day.

 

Sunday, April 13—Cards 6 Cubs 4

Cards took the series behind Michael Wacha.  This one was a little more difficult to get.  Once again the Cubs forgot they suck.  Wacha decided to emulate his mentor, Waino, and give up a home run in the first inning; he decided to be a little different though and wait until the 3rd batter to do it.  This one was a 2 run jobber too, not a solo like the one Waino gave up.  The kid needs some work I guess (just kidding).  The Cards took the lead back in the second inning, then the Cubs tied it in the top of the 4th, then the Cards took the lead back again in the bottom of the 4th on a beautiful triple by Speedy Petey Bourjos, who was then brought home on a sac fly by Matt Carpenter.  It stayed that way until the 8th, when the Cardinals added two more insurance runs.  It was a good thing to, because Trevor Rosenthal came in to close and gave Cardinal Nation some drama by allowing the Cubbies to score another run.  All’s well that ends well, as they say.

On to Milwaukee and the Only Temporarily in First Place Brewers.

 

Thank you for reading.

Pirates Series Post Mortem

The Pirates series didn’t quite turn out as I expected.  When does baseball ever do that though?  Lack of offense, defensive shifts and less than stellar umpiring made for a disappointing weekend.   I really hate losing to the Pirates, almost as much as I hate losing to the Reds.  Starting the season at home tomorrow will be most welcome.  So here is the post mortem.

 

Friday, April 4—Cards 2 Pirates 12

This game was a nightmare.  The umpteenth rain delay didn’t help.  Shelby Miller and his ragged fastball contributed to a rout.  A missed call on the base paths set off a chain of events that resulted in this travesty of baseball.  Congratulations Russell Martin, you got away with it.   Jerk, you didn’t deserve that gold glove you stole from Yadier Molina.

The offense was basically AWOL.  Bullpen was crappy. What else to say?  Nothing from me anyway.

 

Saturday, April 5—Cards 6 Pirates 1

Much better game.  The offense didn’t run screaming from Francisco Liriano, which is a vast improvement.  We saw many hits.  We saw another Molina dinger and another Peralta dinger. Joe Kelly was Joe Kelly, which is either good or bad depending on how you look at it.  I like Joe Kelly, I really do.  But he could be a so much better pitcher than he continues to demonstrate, and why he isn’t is a mystery to me.  Yeah, the Cards often win when he pitches, but it is almost never a pretty win.  For many, the winning is enough; for me I have higher aspirations for Joe.  Like better control, more efficiency, less walks, more strikeouts and less runners on base.  Sigh.

No rain delay was good.  Winning was good.  All in all a happy day for Cardinals fans.

 

Sunday, April 5—Cards 1 Pirates 2

Not so happy a day.  Not as bad as Friday not but not as good as Saturday.  Wainwright was pitching, and with the exception of a few mistakes which cost him, he pitched well.  Unfortunately, Edinson Volquez apparently made a pact with the devil, because he pitched like Cy Young, or at least the Cardinals offense made him look like Cy Young.  Maybe it was my fault, bad Karma for predicting this was going to be an easy pitching matchup.

The offense was AWOL again.  The strike zone was the size of a microchip for Adam Wainwright.  The home plate umpire might have a future with Intel.

It was a close game that didn’t go the Cardinals way.  So what else is new.

Did I say I hate losing to the Pirates?

 

Thank you for reading.

MGL on Baseball

The Baseball Analysis "no spin" zone!

A Blog of Their Own

Because chicks dig more than just the long ball

The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

On the Outside Corner

A (mostly) historical blog dedicated to the St. Louis Cardinals

Aaron Miles' Fastball

A blog on the St. Louis Cardinals

The view from here.

My thoughts and views on all things St. Louis Cardinals.

%d bloggers like this: