Do Not Disturb the Patrons, Please.

So I haven’t been posting much for a while.  There are multiple reasons for that, one is that I am writing some for another site, but I only do that on the weekends, so that is kind of a paltry excuse.  The bigger reason is that I just have not felt like posting.  This season so far has not given me much motivation to blog.

I can’t explain it exactly, but this season feels to me like working everyday in a library checking out books.  You sit around a lot while people read or do other stuff, and once in a while you get a customer to help, but mostly you just sit there and stare out into the vastness of the stacks, or maybe you read something or daydream.  I worked in libraries throughout college and law school, and sometimes now I substitute for the librarian at the high school where I substitute teach.  I know whereof I speak.

Sure, there have been exciting games, the first game in the Pirates series at PNC last week, the one where Waino hit the game winning double, that was pretty dang exciting.  This season has had its moments, but I haven’t felt that anticipation of the division race or the postseason.  The Cubs are running away with the division, and yeah maybe the Cardinals will get into the postseason as a wild card, but that doesn’t excite me a whole lot.

I still watch almost every game, I really love baseball just for itself, and I love the Cardinals even more.  However, I still feel like I am working in a library, a place in which I generally feel very comfortable, as I love books, but still a place that doesn’t get the adrenaline going, if you know what I mean.

This team is plodding along, winning games and then losing some, many of them in frustrating fashion.  The manager continues to annoy me to no end, but I don’t expect that to ever not happen, and I have exhausted my level of outrage over his dumbassery (not a word, but who cares).  It’s not like anything I say in this blog is going to suddenly make the bright light come on in the dim bulb of Matheny’s brain.  He is still going to let the pitcher bat when he shouldn’t, he is still going to play Stephen Piscotty in center field where he doesn’t belong, he is still going to do all those things that make me want to toss something hard in his general direction.

So I just keep watching and waiting, keep reading to see how the novel ends.  I am not inspired enough to write about any of it though.  Sorry dear readers, but I can’t force it.  Perhaps when the trade deadline comes around or something else happens that gets my writing juices flowing there will be more content.

Until then, I will be in the library.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

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 Invincible Jon Jay

It’s a magical time to be a Cardinals fan.  This team just can’t lose.  Adam Wainwright, Jordan Walden, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, all down.  Injuries, sminjuries.  The Cardinals are like a Timex watch—takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.  51 wins before July 1st.  What is there to complain about?

Nothing, really.  Though that doesn’t stop folks from complaining anyway, because no team is perfect and that’s what fans do.  The team may be the best in baseball right now, but there are always ways to make it even better.  The current complaint making the rounds is one that I find a delicious irony in.  Fans are complaining, get this, because Jon Jay is starting in center field instead of Peter Bourjos.  The complaint is based on the fact that Jay is struggling at the plate, as of last night his batting line is .224/.312/.267/.  Yeah, that’s bad.  That’s worse than Allen Craig at this time last year, albeit with less PAs.

The delicious irony in this is that this particular complaint is one that I made consistently all last season, and was basically told to shut up.  Jay was hitting and Bourjos wasn’t.  My complaint was based on overall play and talent, not just hitting, but the hitting was all anyone cared about.  Well this season Jay isn’t hitting, but Bourjos is, and guess what?  He’s still starting over Bourjos.  Ain’t that a kick in the head? (Any Cardinals fan paying attention should get that pun).  Jay starts when he hits, Jay starts when he doesn’t hit.  It must be so great to be Jon Jay.  There is no way to screw up and lose his job.  What employee in America wouldn’t want to be him?

Yeah, it’s ironic as hell.  It also has to be frustrating for Bourjos, because there is apparently nothing he can do to start on the Cardinals.  Even the “grittiness” of being clobbered across the face with a catcher’s leg in a shin guard and then playing the next day was only good for one start.  Maybe the next step is getting butt implants and changing his name to Jon.  Going to have to learn to bat lefty for that maneuver though.

In the words of the esteemed Ryan Theriot (cough), “It is what it is”.  I don’t have anything more to add to the subject, because I pretty much shot all my bullets last season, and I had my temper tantrum about it earlier this month.  Matheny is going to do what he is going to do and John Mozeliak is going to let him, because the team is winning and why rock the boat?  Makes sense.

It is damn funny, though.  It’s all come full circle in a way that only the Universe could create.

The situation will probably change in a few weeks when Matt Holliday comes off the DL and takes his left field spot back.  Then, it won’t be so great to be Jon Jay, because Matheny’s new man-crush, Randal Grichuk, will probably supplant Jay in center field.  I’m not going to open that can in this post, though.  Maybe later.  Grichuk is an interesting topic and one that would use up an entire post.

For right now it’s Jon Jay all the way.  What do you say, the Cardinals are going to win today.

The Cubs still suck and life is good.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

The Upside of Anger

Believe it or not, I promised myself before the season started that I was going to take a different approach with my blogging this year.  I was going to blog less about my frustrations with Mike Matheny and most especially his handling of his outfield situation.  Well folks, it’s June 4, so you can mark this day as the day I lost the battle with myself.

GGGAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Okay, that felt good.

Here is what I am SO MAD about.  Jon Jay went on the DL and so did Randal Grichuk.  Peter Bourjos FINALLY saw some consistent playing time.  He was hitting, hitting better than he did last season.  His swing was better, he was making more contact, striking out less.  Bourjos has never been a .3oo hitter nor will he ever be, but with his defense and speed, a league average hitter is all he needs to be to be the best option in CF.  He was doing it too.

Then Randal Grichuk came back from the DL, and the hyperbole that set your teeth on edge started.  Grichuk started playing more, and Bourjos less, even though Bourjos was still hitting.  Then Jay came off the DL, and that was the end of that.  Bourjos has been relegated to the role of street urchin that everyone takes pity on and slips him a few crumbs of bread here and there.  And he did NOTHING to deserve such treatment.

So now we have Randal Grichuk as the favored child  based on 3, count them, 3 weeks of playing.  Yes, he looks good, but looks are deceiving.  Grichuk has a BABIP of .353.  He also has a line drive rate of 17%.  That means he should have a BABIP of around .290.  So that extra 60 points of BABIP means he is hitting into a large amount of luck, and his current batting line is a mirage.  Ground balls and fly balls that he is hitting are finding holes and not getting caught at a rate beyond what they should be normally.  When that happens, regression is the inevitable result.  Grichuk is not going to continue hitting this way, not unless he starts hitting a lot more line drives and less ground balls and fly balls.

Jon Jay, on the other hand, is starting to look a lot like 2014 Allen Craig.  He may just be in a slump, or his wrist injury could be affecting his hitting.  Either way, he does not look good at the plate.  Without his high average bat, Jay contributes nothing that Bourjos doesn’t.

Despite all this, I am not really angry that Grichuk is playing.  It makes some sense that the organization wants to see what they have in Grichuk.  There is no certainty that Heyward will sign with the Cardinals after this season, and Grichuk could be the insurance policy in RF if he doesn’t.  He has to play, and play enough so that the Cardinals can judge if he is the real thing.  The test will come when opposing teams get enough video on him to recognize his weaknesses; will Grichuk be able to adjust to being pitched differently?  Will his defense in CF hold up?  Scouting reports on him have said he doesn’t have the tools to stick in CF as a starter.  Are those reports wrong?  These are all questions that need to be answered.

No, what is making me angry is that Jay is getting starts in CF over Bourjos.  I don’t want to hear that crap about past performance means he’s earned it, blah, blah, blah.  How many times has John Mozeliak said that baseball is a performance based business?  If you don’t perform you don’t play; that was certainly used against Bourjos all last year as the reason he didn’t play over Jay.  So is there a double standard?    Do we have to have Allen Craig, the Sequel?

Matheny talks out of both sides of his mouth.  With one breath he praises Bourjos for his improved hitting, but then his actions don’t match his words.  According to reports in the Post Dispatch, Matheny said he would use the “hot hand” approach to help determine lineups.  Okay, then why is Jon Jay starting in place of Peter Bourjos?  As of this writing, Jay, with a batting line approaching Mendoza territory, does not have a “hot hand”.  His hand isn’t even lukewarm.  Yet he has started in CF in 3 of the last 4 games.  What that tells me is that Matheny’s words cannot be trusted.  Yes, I will say it, Matheny is a liar.

Am I angry?  You bet your ass.

I can do nothing to assuage my anger, however.  I am powerless to do anything except write these words in a blog.  I don’t like being angry.  So these words get written in this cathartic way, and then I must put it away, for my own good.

To use a baseball term, there is no “upside” to anger.  Except in the movies.

Thank you for reading.

The Mettle of Kolten Wong

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want

to test a man’s character, give him power

—Abraham Lincoln

I remember back in April of 2014 when Kolten Wong was inexplicably benched and then subsequently sent down to Memphis for several weeks. It made no sense to me at the time; the offense as a whole was struggling, but Wong was doing no worse than others on the starting squad, in fact he was doing a little better than a few. The explanation that was given was a non sequitur; the offense was struggling, therefore Wong needed to “face adversity”. Many of us thought at the time that the explanation from Mike Matheny was a heaping pile of horse hockey. But then again, many of Matheny’s explanations for things fit that mold. Anyway, Wong went to Memphis and hit the snot out of the ball for three weeks. Yeah, he really needed to be there.

In the meantime, Wong’s replacement, Mark Ellis, was setting the world on fire. Yes, that is sarcasm. I had no issues with Ellis, his signing was welcomed by me because he had some seriously good defensive skills and I believed he would be an asset to the bench as a back up second baseman. He also was a league average hitter in his career, which was a long one. Unfortunately, age and injury took its toll on him and he was unable to get anything going with the bat in 2014.

However, it appeared Matheny found Ellis’ “veteraniness” appealing and couldn’t wait to allow Ellis to have sufficient rehab work in the minors after his injury before having him brought to the big leagues. Ellis had one rehab start, and then was brought up to play in Wong’s stead while Wong sat on the bench and contemplated his navel. After a while, Wong was sent to Memphis, and we were treated to all the Mark Ellis we could handle (or not, as it turned out). Eventually, Wong came back and was reinstated to the starting second base position, with recurring intervals of Mark Ellis still to be had.

I regurgitate all of this Wong history for one purpose. To show just how far Kolten Wong has come in his big league career. From the days of involuntarily “facing adversity” to the days of being the kind of second baseman we all had hoped for. The kind like we saw play last night against the Washington Nationals. We saw some dazzling, web gem worthy plays on defense, and some really big hits on offense. Kolten Wong showed us what he is made of and we like it. We like it a lot.

Now, Wong is still going to have bad days, as does every big league player. Hopefully there will be no more banishments for illusory purposes. Kolten Wong is a major league second baseman and there should be no more doubts about that, even during the inevitable periods of struggle. Adversity happens to everyone, and it shouldn’t have to be faced in shame and disgrace.

Kolten Wong is the second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

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.

Not a Good Start to the Offseason

You know, just when you think you know something, the universe has a way of showing you that all is not what it seems.  I got schooled in that fact yesterday when Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak held a press conference to discuss the 2014 season and plans for the offseason and 2015 season.  Nothing Mike Matheny said surprised me because I have come to expect inanities, bromides, and motivational speaker babble as his primary method of communicating.  He is a Tony Robbins wannabe in a baseball cap.  Expecting anything of substance from him would be like expecting a Taylor Swift song to be edgy.

However, I was knocked off my feet by the approach taken by GM John Mozeliak.  Mozeliak has always been more circumspect, more a creature of hedging rather than speaking in absolutes.  So imagine my surprise when he announces that Jon Jay has been anointed as the starting center fielder for 2015, before the World Series is even concluded, and 4 months before Spring Training begins.  Quite surprising considering the first deal Mozeliak made in the offseason last year was to trade for a replacement for Jay.  Mozeliak must have been blown away by all that slap hitting of singles and the “hey, I can catch the ball now” defense of Jay’s in 2014.   That is rather snarky of me I know; Jay had a very good year, I am not discounting that.  But baseball players are notorious for putting up great years and then tanking the following year.  Look at Allen Craig.   Did we learn nothing? So automatically proclaiming Jay CFer for the next season before he has even taken an AB in Spring Training seems like a teeny bit of Fate Tempting to me.

But that little bit of news was only a small part of the festivities.  We also learned that Randy Choate is on the trading block because he can’t do the thing he was never signed to do in the first place, the bench is no place for young players trying to establish themselves— old guys are better, and once again so you don’t forget, Oscar Taveras is fat and oh yeah, he doesn’t have passion for defense.  Maybe in a few weeks we will learn that Oscar kicks puppies and is a closet Cubs fan.

I can’t even talk about the prospect of more Daniel Descalso next season.  It’s too painful.

You want to know how I really feel about the presser?  Imagine Mike Matheny as Edgar Bergen and John Mozeliak as Charlie McCarthy.  If you are old enough to know what I am talking about you will get the rest.  If not, google it.

Part of me wants to believe the whole thing was a giant troll by Mozeliak.  Maybe it was just an exercise in damage control after the beating Mike Matheny took in the media for his awful managing in the NLCS.  If it was, couldn’t a statement by Mozeliak have done the trick?  Did we have to be subjected to that nauseating spectacle yesterday?

If all of it was legit, then I don’t know what to say except that I am hugely disappointed in John Mozeliak.  I don’t have a good feeling about the Cardinals going forward if this is the kind of handling we are to expect in the future.

Thank you for reading.

The End of a Love and a Season

I decided to wait before I wrote a post about the end of the Cardinals’ season.  I was very angry, and when I am angry I tend to say things that I later wish I hadn’t.  I also waited to see how the rest of Cardinal Nation reacted, as well as the rest of the Baseball World.  Maybe my perspective was skewed.  It turns out it wasn’t.

Mike Matheny is being pilloried for his managing of the NLCS, more specifically his managing of Game 5.  It isn’t undeserved.  That was one of the worst managed games many of us had seen all season, and that is saying quite a bit since Matheny has managed many games badly.  We Cardinals fans bear the brunt of it because we see it on a daily basis.  The postseason gave the rest of baseball a front row seat to our misery.  This season has been especially  bad, more so than the first two of Matheny’s seasons. If baseball players can regress, I don’t know why managers can’t do so as well.  Matheny certainly did.

I liked Mike Matheny as a player.  When it was announced that he had been hired as the Cardinals’ manager, I remember thinking that his lack of experience was a little worrisome, but his other qualities might make it a decent hire.  Matheny was anathema to the prior manager, Tony La Russa, in terms of personality.  La Russa was querulous and prone to quarrels and public clashes with some of his players.  Ozzie Smith, Scott Rolen, Colby Rasmus, to name a few.  Matheny was much more introspective and less prone to bouts of churlishness.  He was more likely to bond with his players than quarrel with them.  What I didn’t understand was that bonding would create problems of its own.  I also didn’t realize how stubborn and old school Matheny was.  I foolishly thought that being younger, he would be more open to modern baseball thinking.  I was dead wrong.

What happened this season is anyone’s guess.  Perhaps two years of success reaching the postseason went to Matheny’s head and he thought he was infallible.  The signs of what was to come really began in Spring Training.  There were young players vying for spots on the big league club.  Highly touted players like Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, and Carlos Martinez.  In addition, GM John Mozeliak had brought in new players to add to the mix.  First, shortstop Jhonny Peralta was signed as a free agent amid controversy over his suspension for PED use the year before as a part of the Biogenesis investigation.  Peralta was brought in to replace Pete Kozma, who though an above average defender, was woefully inadequate with the bat. This signing, despite it’s controversial beginning, was met with much joy by Cardinal Nation, as Peralta’s bat was seen as a vast improvement to what had been experienced with Kozma.  Furthermore, no other viable candidate for the shortstop position was to be had within the ranks of the Cardinals’ minor league system, so the transition was seamless and without disputation by Matheny.  Not so with the second new player.

Mozeliak also made a trade in the offseason to bring in center fielder Peter Bourjos from the Angels.  Bourjos was an elite defensive center fielder, widely considered the best in the game at his position.  Bourjos had had mixed results with the bat, posting a final line of .271/.327/.438 in his first full season with the Angels in 2011.  The next two seasons were tough for Bourjos; he was put on the bench in 2012 due to the emergence of phenom Mike Trout, and a desire by the Angels front office to give playing time to grossly overpaid for his skills Vernon Wells.  His final line for 2012 was a woeful  .220/.291/.315  in 195 PAs.  After Vernon Wells moved on in 2013, Bourjos was back in the starting lineup, pushing 2012 center fielder Trout to left field.  Unfortunately for Bourjos, a couple of unlucky bouts with injury put him on the sidelines for much of 2013.  Despite that, Bourjos posted a final line of  .274/.333/.377 in only 196 PAs, one more PA than in 2012.  Mozeliak had made it clear that Bourjos was brought in to improve the defense in center field, and the implication was that Bourjos was to replace incumbent Jon Jay in that position and relegate Jay to the bench as the 4th outfielder.  Jay had had a below average year in 2013 as a defensive center fielder and his weak throwing arm had always been a source of consternation.

When Spring Training rolled around, Matheny made statements to the press that seemed to suggest that he had other plans for his outfield than what Mozeliak had indicated.  Despite this, when the regular season started, Bourjos, not Jay, was the starting center fielder, at least for the first two weeks.  Bourjos had a slow start with the bat (being in a new league and seeing all new pitchers is not an easy thing for many major league hitters; Curtis Granderson had a similar slow start with the Mets).  However, by the time the Cardinals played their home opener, Bourjos had started to hit.  On April 8 in a game against the Reds, Bourjos went 3 for 4.   However, by April 15 Bourjos was relegated to the bench in favor of Jon Jay, who had hit a home run in that series in Milwaukee, but who was hitting worse than Bourjos at the time.   Bourjos had a short stint in May when he started regularly for about 3 weeks, but then again was benched in favor of Jay.  Bourjos never again regained his starting slot.  Matheny did what he had hinted at in Spring Training ; played the incumbent Jay, who went on to justify his manager’s choice by having a career year at the plate.  There is no way of knowing what kind of numbers Bourjos would have put up had he received the playing time it was initially indicated he would receive.  He ended up with a final line of .231/.294/.348 in a sporadic 294 PAs.  Bourjos’ defense, however, turned out to be exactly as advertised.

Young prospect Kolten Wong had a similar start to the season as Bourjos.  Wong, who was favored for the starting job at second base as a result of the offseason trade of David Freese and the movement of Matt Carpenter to take his place at 3rd base, had his share of issues with Matheny.  The Cardinals had signed veteran Mark Ellis as an insurance policy for young Wong, but Ellis started the season with injury.  Wong was holding his own as a starter in April, but many of the rest of the veteran players were struggling.  For some reason we will all likely never know, Matheny suddenly benched Wong and recalled Ellis from his rehab in Memphis after only one start and installed him at second base.  A few weeks later, John Mozeliak, seeing that Wong was not getting playing time, sent him to Memphis so that he could play regularly.  Wong tore it up at Memphis and was brought back up weeks later and reinstalled at second base, where he remained more or less for the rest of the season.  Matheny had bouts of yanking Wong to play Ellis or Daniel Descalso, bouts that most of us never understood.  We also never got a reason for the sudden displeasure by Matheny for Wong back in April.  The only explanation we received was that Wong needed to “face adversity” whatever in the hell that meant.

There was another controversy of sorts that occurred in Spring Training regarding the starting rotation.  It was reported in the press that  there would be a competition for the final rotation spot between incumbent starter Joe Kelly, and the young Carlos Martinez, who was a starter in the minor leagues but had been brought up in 2013  to pitch out of the bullpen.  It turned out that Martinez pitched much better in Spring Training than Kelly; but when rosters were announced at the end of it, it was Kelly who was given the starting spot over Martinez.  Again, Matheny acted in a manner that was contradictory to what the media and the fans were led to believe was the case.

The signs were there that this season was not going to be free from frustration and contention.  Matheny had shown his willfulness cards in Spring Training and in April.    The loudness of Matheny’s willfulness became a cacophony in the matter of Allen Craig.  We all know how that played out and how it ended.  But the willfulness of Matheny didn’t end there.

So what is the bottom line in all of this churning up of past events?  It is to demonstrate that Mike Matheny had his own plans that he stubbornly stuck to, no matter what the end result.  The Bourjos/Jay controversy ended up working out for the team and for Jay(not so much for Peter Bourjos). The Allen Craig debacle did not.  The team struggled for 3 1/2 months with Allen Craig flailing away at the plate with no end in sight until John Mozeliak stepped in and ended it.  But the stubborness, the rigidity in thinking that Matheny had displayed continued on.  Matheny would play the players that he wanted to play, in situations where they were not suited. Marginal players like Daniel Descalso and Tony Cruz were placed in situations where they were not the best options available, time and time again.  Better players like Oscar Taveras and Peter Bourjos were left to rot on the bench, or were brought in in the least optimal circumstances.  Rookie Randal Grichuk, known for his propensity to strike out and for his inability to hit right handed pitching with consistency, was given a starting role at the end of the season in favor of better options. Number one prospect Oscar Taveras, for whom the Allen Craig trade was made to give him an opening to start was again benched in favor of another inferior player.   Favoritism became one of the buzz words for Matheny’s managing style.

All of Matheny’s quirks, the farcical bullpen management, the misuse of personnel, the nonsensical double switches and the endless, unnecessary giving away of outs by bunting incessantly, these foibles became known in Cardinal Nation as “Mathenaging”.  By the time the postseason came around, the rest of the baseball world would  become aware of Mathenaging, and they would be dumbstruck.  It all culminated in the disaster that was Game 5 of the NLCS, the game that ended the Cardinals’ season.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the criticism is not undeserved.

What do we have to look forward to for 2015?  I don’t know.  Matheny begins a 3 year contract extension in 2015 so he will still be the manager for the next 3 seasons, barring anything unforeseen.  Will we have 3 more years of Mathenaging?  I think that question is in the hands of John Mozeliak.  What he does or does not do in the offseason will probably give us an answer.  In a future post I will lay out what I think some offseason moves should be, but this post has gone on quite long enough.

I am not as angry as I was.  I am more resigned and sad.  Goodbye 2014 season, you had your good points, but you ended badly.

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: