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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Tragedy is a Teaching Moment

I was going to do a follow up post about the pace of game rules, and I still may do that at some point, but I decided to go a different route with my next post.  On Wednesday night we heard some news that many of us had dreaded to hear.  We learned that Oscar Taveras had been intoxicated (apparently excessively so) when he crashed his car in the Dominican Republic on October 26, killing himself and his 18 year old girlfriend.  This was devastating news, but for many, not completely unexpected.

Oscar was very young, only 22 years old, and one thing that is universal about young people is their sense of indestructibility.  When one thinks of death, one usually sees it as a result of age and infirmity.  Death to a young and healthy person seems like it just can’t happen, that there is so much life ahead to live.  While that perception may appear to be a little ignorant and naive, it is understandable why young people think that way.  How many of us thought about death when we were 22 years old?  I know I didn’t.

Because young people don’t think about death, they have a tendency to engage in risky behaviors.  It is a part of the joy of living, but those behaviors have a dark side.  One of those risky behaviors is drinking alcohol and driving an automobile.  Intellectually, we all know it is risky and we know the dangers, yet something inside the mind of a young person who is having fun just turns that fear of danger off like flipping off a light switch.  The alcohol itself certainly contributes heavily to that; it impairs the brain’s ability to reason and make judgments.  The thing is though, the ability to reason and make judgments still exists before the first drink is taken.  The knowledge that if I drink too much of this I could get in a lot of trouble, is still there in the computer chips of our brains.  It is at that moment that the rubber meets the road. Unfortunately, for many that moment passes quickly and the drink is taken, and the next drink is taken, and before long that intellectual, reasoning part of our brain takes a nap.

That moment passed for Oscar, and the drinks were taken, and the reasoning stopped, and he got into a car and drove fast on a wet road…..and he died.  The reasoning stopped for good.

Now the rest of us are left to grieve, and yes, in some cases be angry and pass judgment.  How could Oscar have been so stupid?  Many have asked that question, and as a result have blamed Oscar for his own death and the death of his girlfriend.  Is that an improper judgment?  Well no, not in the sense that factually, Oscar’s voluntary actions did cause his death.  Or perhaps more accurately, they more likely than not caused his death.  The accident could have occurred anyway, even if Oscar had been stone cold sober.  Stuff happens, no matter how careful we may be.

That’s the thing about these types of tragic deaths.  Sometimes it just happens.  We want to explain it, we want to blame someone or something, because 22 year olds are not supposed to die.  This particular tragedy most likely could have been avoided, but are we absolutely sure?  If you are, then you have your own problems and maybe should see a therapist about your God Complex.

I am 55 years old and I have seen and done a lot of things.  Some of them have been stupid.  Some of them have been recent and stupid.  The idea that with age comes wisdom is horse hockey.  Yes, there are certain things that you learn along the way that you never understand when you are young. Experience does teach, but it doesn’t make you infallible.  The most important thing to understand is whether young or old, YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.  It is a shame that too many people don’t get that.  I don’t care how smart you are, you can always learn.  You can always grow in understanding.

So the moral of this story is this.  Be sad, be angry, feel what ever you want to feel about Oscar’s death.  He’s gone and he’s never coming back and that is a tragedy no matter how it happened or who or what is to blame.   What you shouldn’t be is smug and complacent in your judgment.   Learn something from this, even if you never drink and drive.  Let yourself absorb and reflect on this tragedy.  Keep your mind open.  Personal growth does not have a time limit.

Thank you for reading.

The Price of Oscar Taveras

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the

connections -sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but

often magnificent-that happened after I was gone. And I  began to

see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.  The

events that my death wrought were merely the bones  of a body that

would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future.  The

price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.”

Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

I came late to the party with this post.  Many beautiful words have been written about the tragic death of Oscar Taveras in an automobile accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic yesterday.  I do not attempt to replicate what has already been spoken.  I mourn along with the rest of baseball for Oscar and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, for their families and friends, for the teammates, coaches, manager and all who are in the Cardinal organization whom Oscar left behind.  I grieve for the dream of what Oscar Taveras might have been.

I instead look to what is to come.  To the lovely bones that will grow around his absence.  As Cardinal Nation and the baseball world move forward, how will Oscar’s absence affect us all?

I spent yesterday dealing with a different death on a personal level.  My mother passed away four days ago, and as I sat and listened to the pastor who spoke at her funeral, it occurred to me that the rituals that we engage in when a loved one passes away are really intended for the living.  It is the living who remain that must take the memories and the experiences with the deceased loved one and create the life moving forward.  We create the body that will become whole from the events that occur after death.  That body that we create is the price of the life that left us.

As it relates to the Cardinals, I ask this question:  What body will Oscar’s teammates, coaches and his manager create from what Oscar gave to them in his brief life?  What is the price of Oscar Taveras?  Perhaps the answer will become known to us at some time in the future.  Will there be changes that we can visibly see?  If so, what will those changes be?

As fans we mourn for what we will never see.  The promise that is left unfulfilled.  Most of us never knew Oscar on a personal level, but we can draw from the memories and experiences we took away from our enjoyment of his baseball play to create the body that will become the price of his life.  How we interact with each other can be the foundation of that body we create.  Being more appreciative and less judgmental of those players and staff left behind can be a building block as well.  That doesn’t mean we can’t be critical or have opinions that differ.  Accepting that there is value in those criticisms and differences of opinion can go a long way in creating a body that is foundationally strong.  The price of Oscar’s life must be a better understanding of what it means to be a fan.  An understanding that fandom is not a cookie cutter; that our individual values and viewpoints should not be projected onto others as a marker of a “true fan”.  Oscar was a unique individual who loved life, and baseball, and brought his own experiences into how he played the game.  There is room for differences and we must accept those differences as we move forward.  Baseball and baseball fandom is not and must not be monolithic.

What is the price of Oscar Taveras?  I surely hope it is a fortune of understanding.

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.

My Winter Wishes: Hot Stove 2014-2015

In my last post I stated that I would write another post regarding possible off season transactions (or non-transactions) that the Cardinals should make.  This is that post.  I am just a fan, not any sort of expert, so my suggestions are nothing more than an amateur opinion.  I confess right now to not having much insight into the trade value of any player, major or minor league, or any idea of what the market is going to be.  These are all just shots in the dark.  They are also, admittedly, tinged with some personal bias on my part.  I will do this by naming a current Cardinal player first and then stating what I think should be done with that player.  I will talk about arb-eligible players as well as free agents and even some not yet arb-eligible players.

 

FREE AGENTS:

1.  Jason Motte—-This will be Motte’s first foray into free agency.  Motte is one season removed from Tommy John surgery, a season where predictably he was not very effective.  Motte has always been a pitcher who relies primarily on his fastball velocity and that velocity was down this season.  At 98-99 mphs Motte is effective.  At 95-96 mph not so much, because he has no secondary pitch of any substance to offset that.  Yes, he has a cutter, but it is too much like his fastball to make a difference.  Now, whether Motte’s fastball velocity will return to his pre TJ numbers is anybody’s guess.  However, I don’t think it matters, because the Cardinals already have hard throwers Rosenthal and Martinez on the roster, with several others waiting in the wings, such as Sam Tuivailala.  Relievers are very fungible, so I would expect Motte has pitched his last as a Cardinal.  Good luck to him.

2.  Pat Neshek—Part of me would like to see Neshek return to the Cardinals on a one year deal.  The bigger part of me realizes that:  (a) Neshek can probably get a better deal somewhere else; and (b) because relievers are fungible and there is no guarantee that Neshek can replicate his 2014 success, the Cardinals should let him move on.

3.  Mark Ellis—I thought this was a good deal when it was made.  Ellis is an above-average defender at second base and it was worth a shot.  It didn’t work out.  I wish him well in his future endeavors.

4. Justin Masterson—It was worth a shot to see if Masterson could bring some short term value.  It didn’t happen.  I still don’t think the trade was a bad idea, because I was not that high on James Ramsey to begin with (we have better outfield prospects) and we traded from depth.  You win some, you lose some.  Masterson taught Shelby Miller to throw a sinker, so he had some value after all.  Bye Bye.

5.  A.J. Pierzynski.  I was not a big fan of this acquisition when it first happened, but he grew on me.  He is the other free agent, along with Neshek, that I have a moderate amount of angst about losing.  Not so much for his baseball skills, but just because of his personality.  I think we need someone like A.J in that milquetoast atmosphere the Cardinals call a clubhouse.  A little too much buttoned up sanctimony and inbreeding for my taste.  Having John Lackey back may help, but A.J. would be ideal.  Alas, we could really use a decent back up catcher and A.J. just isn’t that guy.  Neither is Tony Cruz, but that is covered below.  See ya, A.J.

 

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE PLAYERS:

1.  Daniel Descalso—This guy is on the top of my list of players who have to go.  It’s not personal, but he has little to no value on the roster.  Can’t hit, can’t field.  He is also one of Mike Matheny’s favorites, which is reason enough to let him go.   If no one will take him in a trade, then he should be non-tendered.  Do it Mo.

2.  Tony Cruz—I actually like Tony Cruz, but my liking him doesn’t mean he should remain on the team.  We need a new back up catcher, one that can hit some.  I realize that Mike Matheny has this thing for never pinch hitting the back up catcher, but that needs to change.  It’s really stupid.  The Cardinals have a history of valuing defense more than offense in their catchers, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However, if you can find a good defensive catcher who can also hit, he is probably a starter.  A hitting catcher on the bench would be a nice change of pace.  So, I suggest the Cardinals look for one, and Tony Cruz be either traded or non-tendered.

3.  Shane Robinson—Good ole Shane is not without value (he is a pretty good outfield defender and has some speed), but not enough value to keep him with all the outfield depth the Cardinals have.  We have other options for a 4th OFer, which is all he has ever been.  Trade or non-tender.

4.  Lance Lynn—Can you spell extension?  Like the Cardinals should really give him one.  If not, obviously he should be tendered a contract.  He is going to get a substantial raise in arbitration, and he deserves one.  Right now I see him as the Cardinals #2 starter.  This is a no-brainer.

5.  Jon JayThis one and the next one are going to get some folks’ dander up.  I don’t care.  Trade him.  Jay’s value is never going to be as high as it is now and his arbitration salary is going to approach 6M, which in my opinion is too much for a 2nd year arb player whose only really good skill is hitting a lot of singles and getting on base.  He’s also going to be 30 years old in March.  Can you spell decline?  His defense was better this year,(it was terrible last year), but how many people have in the back of their mind that only happened because he had some very stiff competition named Peter Bourjos?  A player worth paying 6M to shouldn’t have to be motivated by outside forces to play his best.  Moreover, that throwing arm is a train wreck and he is the worst base runner on the team in terms of making outs on the basepaths.  Get something of value for him before his value goes down.  My suggestion?  See: Tony Cruz, above—a hitting back up catcher.  How about Evan Gattis?  The Braves are likely to trade him, Gattis can really hit, and the Braves could use a center fielder who isn’t B.J. Upton.

6.  Peter Bourjos—What you saw this year in terms of offense is not the real Peter Bourjos.  Trust me, this is my 4th season of watching him play.  Is he a .300 hitter?  No.  But he has the ability to be a .270ish hitter with regular playing time, and with his defense and speed that makes him better than Jon Jay.  He also has a little pop in his bat.  The only reservation I have about keeping him on the team is that he has to play for Mike Matheny.  As we have seen with Oscar Taveras, if Matheny has taken a dislike to Bourjos, he will find any excuse he can to not play him.  That means Randal Grichuk as the every day center fielder (assuming Jay is traded).  Randal Grichuk is not the defensive center fielder that Bourjos is, he isn’t as fast, he strikes out more than Bourjos does, and he can’t hit RHP consistently.  He is an inferior CFer to Bourjos in every way,  which means that Matheny will play him and not Bourjos.  Without some intervention from Mozeliak it will be 2014 all over again.  Which isn’t fair to an elite CFer who deserves to play every day.  So, keep him if Mozeliak can some how force Matheny to play him.  If not, then give him the opportunity to play every day somewhere else.

 

NON ARB PLAYERS:

1.  Oscar Taveras—There are some Cardinals fans who think Oscar Taveras will or should be traded.  That is incredibly, monumentally dumb.  Oscar Taveras did not play enough in 2014 for ANY fair evaluation of his skills or future potential.  Those who make judgements about players based on small sample sizes just annoy the hell out of me.  Maybe he has some work ethic issues.  Maybe he has some conditioning issues.  Maybe he is only 22 years old and folks need to chill out.  Maybe Mike Matheny should spend less time criticizing Taveras and more time making sure he is getting the help that he needs to improve in these areas.  Oscar should still be a Cardinal in 2o15.

2.  Randal Grichuk—I want to like Randal Grichuk.  Until Mike Matheny decided he was the anti-Taveras, I actually did.  Not as a starting OFer, but as a 4th OFer to hit against LHP and be a defensive sub in the corners.  If Jon Jay is traded and Mozeliak makes Matheny play Peter Bourjos and Oscar Taveras every day then Randal Grichuk as a bench player is perfect.  Otherwise, he needs to go, either back to Memphis or to another team.  The bottom line is that we can’t have another repeat of 2014.  The Cardinals as managed by Mike Matheny cannot have Jay, Bourjos, Taveras and Grichuk all competing for playing time again.  Matheny can’t be trusted.

 

I am not going to address those players who are on the fringes of the big league club, like Tommy Pham, Greg Garcia, Pete Kozma and Xavier Scruggs.  How or if they are incorporated into next year’s team will depend on what moves Mozeliak makes in the offseason. It is entirely possible if Daniel Descalso is gone from the team, Kozma or Garcia will take his place.  Tommy Pham could be in the OF mix depending on offseason moves as well.  I just don’t have a good read on how they fit in so I am leaving them out. Assuming Motte and Neshek don’t return, there could be additions to the bullpen as well.

I am sure there are many who would like Mozeliak’s biggest offseason move to be firing Mike Matheny.  While that idea is not unpleasant to me, I believe it is extremely unlikely.  We are stuck with him.  I just want Mozeliak to minimize the damage he can inflict by making the roster as Matheny proof as possible.

Let’s hope 2015 begins and ends better.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Mathenaging: NLCS Edition

That was a fugly game.  No two ways around it.  I didn’t expect the Cardinals to walk all over Madison Bumgarner , but I did expect something approximating a playoff caliber team effort.   I didn’t get it.

Let’s start with a very poor start by Adam Wainwright.   Then add some bad defense, lackluster offense and then top it off with a sizeable dose of Mathenaging and you have a suck sandwich.   Not very appetizing I must say.

For starters,  Randal Grichuk should not be batting second;  he really shouldn’t be starting at all, at least not on a regular basis.  The lovers of small sample sizes are just never going to get it are they? Apparently 2012 Pete Kozma taught these folks nothing.  Mike Matheny I am talking to you too. Oscar Taveras may not have lit the world on fire in his small sample size time in the big leagues, but at least he has several years of minor league numbers and the opinions of a whole lot  of smart baseball people that say he is better than Randal Grichuk. Heck,  even if playing Oscar is not palatable,  Jon Jay in RF amd Peter Bourjos in CF is way better than Jay/Grichuk any day of the week.   At least Peter Bourjos can catch the damn balls and hold onto them.

It was clear in the 2nd inning that Waino was a bust.   But Matheny had to keep him in until he gave up 3 runs.  What were his other options you say?  Well there is this guy named Michael Wacha on the roster, and if he is on the roster shouldn’t he like, you know,  be available to pitch?  I know it’s a difficult concept and all, this roster thing, but work with me here.  And if he is not available to pitch in these kind of situations then WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING ON THE DAMN ROSTER?   Sorry for the screaming but my patience is being sorely tested.

Then, to put the cherry on top of the Mathenaging parfait,  he brings out Tony Cruz to pinch hit in the 7th inning with runners in scoring position and a chance to put some runs on the board.  Tony Freaking Cruz.  Um, was Peter Bourjos dead?  I don’t get what Matheny’s problem is with Bourjos. Did Peter spit in his Cheerios?    Even Oscar Taveras against the lefty  Bumgarner was a better option than Tony Cruz.  I swear I don’t know how John Mozeliak’s head doesn’t explode when Matheny pulls dumb stunts like that.

Matheny didn’t blow this game all by himself.  That would  be too easy.  In addition to poor pitching by Waino we had some defensive non-gems by the aforementioned Randal Grichuk, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter.  And in an encore of What Else Could Go Wrong delights, there was a Balk That Never Was that was missed by a grand total of 6 umpires who apparently were looking at the babes in the crowd at the time because it was so obvious even Helen Keller would have seen it.

Madison Bumgarner pitched a great game, there is no question about it.  You have to give credit where credit is due.  But with an offense that has consistently made Clayton Kershaw want to cry in the postseason, one would think a few runs could have been scored.  I think most people certainly expected a little better showing by the Cardinals.  This is the postseason after all, and even though the Giants have some Magic Postseason Pixie Dust of their own, the Cardinals are no slouch.

I certainly hope for better things in tonight’s game.  I don’t think losing pitifully to the Giants in another NLCS is something I want to experience again.  I have enough misery in my life to last me three lifetimes, thank you.

Ugh.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

It’s Not Over In The First Inning

Last night’s loss was brutal.  I confess that I turned the game off after Trevor Rosenthal walked the lead off hitter in the 9th.  I knew what torture was coming.  I followed the game on Gameday after that because it was less painful that way.  Once again, the Cardinal offense failed to score after the 1st inning.  How many times have we seen that this season?  I have no idea why that happens.  Do the players lose focus after the 1st inning?  Does the opposing pitcher pitch better?  Is it a combination of the two?  I only know that it is frustrating to me as a fan.

The Cardinals can not afford any more such losses.  There are only 11 games left and the Pirates are on a mission.  The Pirates are playing the Boston Red Sox right now, a team that is eliminated from playoff contention and is just playing out the season.  They follow with the Brewers, the Braves and the Reds.  Only the Brewers and the Braves have something to play for.  The Cardinals must bear down from here on out and win most of these remaining games.

As for last night’s game, there are too many grimacing moments to count.  Just about every player did something that made me want to throw hard objects at my TV.  Though Mike Matheny wasn’t the villain in this particular baseball episode, he didn’t help the situation much either.  Perhaps if we hadn’t been once again been subjected to Daniel Descalso playing defense, that bloop single by Hector Gomez that drove in the Brewers winning run might have been caught.  Kolten Wong has caught several of those types of balls before, he has better speed than Descalso and might have been able to catch up to it.  Who knows for sure, but I would have liked our chances better.  Even Pete Kozma might have gotten to it; he certainly had a better chance than Descalso.  Both Kozma and Wong are faster and better defenders than Descalso. Once again, Matheny’s obsession with Descalso came back to bite us.

However, the main villain was the offense.  Scoring runs after the 1st inning would have nullified all of the hand-wringing at the end.  Rosenthal would have had a bigger cushion to work with.  Jhonny Peralta swinging on the first pitch and grounding into a double play in the first inning was a huge rally killer, and may have been the turning point in the game.  That doesn’t excuse the inability to score later in the game, but it certainly put an end to more runs in the first inning.

I can’t stress enough that all season it has been pitching and defense that has kept this team’s playoff hopes alive.  Lance Lynn pitched a good game last night and deserved to win. Many, many times this season, defense has been the savior.  The last thing the Cardinals need is for either of those things to falter or be sacrificed.   The offense has been often scarce, so without the pitching and defense, this team would be in a world of hurt.

As for where the offense went, well that is a question for the ages.  The Cardinals have been trying to find that “spark” all season.  They haven’t found it.  Many hoped Oscar Taveras would be that guy, but he has not.  Though he has hit better of late, overall he has not been significantly better than anyone else.  The power that we all heard about (and that I have personally seen in the minor leagues) is not there.  That doesn’t mean that it won’t eventually come, but I doubt this season will be the one where we see it.  I have high hopes for Oscar, but this season he has been a disappointment, posting  -o.9 fWAR so far for the season.  Last night he had a opportunity to shine in a pinch hit role in extra innings; instead he struck out swinging.  His defense has been less than stellar as well, but to be fair, Oscar has never been a good defensive player.  His talent is with the bat, and when that talent comes out in its full glory, watch out.  Next season I think we will see what he can bring.

So, tonight we face the Brewers again with Adam Wainwright on the mound.  The Cardinals will be facing Mike Fiers, a pitcher that the Cardinals have had trouble with, but who is coming off the brutal outing against the Marlins, where he hit Giancarlo Stanton in the face with a pitch, probably ending his season.  Will Fiers still be affected by that outing?  Who knows, but the Cardinals need to take advantage of any weakness they can.

These games will be a turning point for the Cardinals.  Games like last night must not happen again.  I hope I am not forced to turn the game off again.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Dump The Drama

Last night’s game was a wild one.  Plenty of offense from both sides, but fortunately the good guys prevailed.  Kyle Lohse just can’t catch a break against his old team; you have to think losing to the Cardinals is its own kind of frustration.  Lohse has been pitching well for the Brewers, but last night his well known command eluded him.

The offense by the Cardinals was nice, but as I have said before, the offense cannot just show up once in a while to satisfy me that this team has turned a corner.  I am not that easily fooled.  This team has a lot to prove to me, and I suspect to others as well.

Justin Masterson‘s debut with the Cardinals probably didn’t go as well as he would have liked.  I am not going to judge him by one game, however.  He just came off the DL after all.  He seems like a cool guy, and he wears the high socks, which makes him okay in my book.  Getting a base hit on his first AB helped too.  His fellow pitchers were quite pleased.

The only thing about last night’s game that continues to frustrate me is the inability of closer Trevor Rosenthal to get out of the 9th inning without drama.  Rosenthal’s control seems to elude him at times, and the 9th inning of a close game is certainly not the time for that to happen.  I really wish Mike Matheny was a little less rigid with his “role” nonsense and would use him a little less often in this capacity.  It wouldn’t hurt him at all, and it would help my blood pressure immensely.

There was some drama in baseball yesterday that didn’t occur at Busch Stadium.  The Pirates and the Diamondbacks are not getting along it seems.  The Dbacks lost their best player, Paul Goldschmidt, to a fractured hand he received after being hit by a pitch from Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri on Friday.  The Dbacks retaliated last night by plunking the Pirates’ best player, Andrew McCutchen, in the back.  Word is McCutchen suffered only a little.  There are those who frown severely on the “unwritten rules” of baseball, and see hitting players for any reason as unnecessary and stupid.  I have mixed feelings about the unwritten rules.  I am an old school fan, and so I have a certain kind of nostalgia for the old days of Bob Gibson and his inside fastball and his crotchetiness.  Baseball is essentially a non contact sport, so there aren’t many avenues for guys to alleviate the occasional spurt of aggression.  Now, being female myself, and thus not subject to many aggressive instincts, perhaps I overestimate the need for such outlets by men.  In any case, if there are such times, (like frustration at the injury to a teammate) it isn’t like a baseball player can just chop block his opponent in the middle of the game (the new catcher rule was instituted just to avoid this type of play against catchers at the plate).  So, when a pitcher plunks an opposing player intentionally, as long as the pitch goes nowhere near the head, and aims for the more fleshy parts of the body, it doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing.  However, I can see the other side of the argument as well.  I don’t blanketly support all of the unwritten rules, for instance, I think the notion that rookies have to toady to veterans and “know their place” is just asinine.  I don’t know what purpose that serves, other than to placate the egos of veterans, some of whom have no claim to fame other than longevity.

Anyway, I have expounded on this topic long enough.  As to the Pirates and the Dbacks, it seems to me that the Pirates have little ground to complain about the plunking of McCutchen.  After all, the Pirates have the distinction of hitting more opposing players than any other team in baseball, so maybe they shouldn’t throw stones in their glass house.

Along the lines of the unwritten rules topic, yesterday during the Red Sox/Yankees game, noted broadcaster and native St. Louisan Joe Buck, was heard to comment on the recent trade of Allen Craig to the Red Sox.  It seems, according to Buck, the Cardinals clubhouse is unhappy with the removal of Craig and it’s resulting ascension of Oscar Taveras in the full time right fielder role.  Buck says that the clubhouse doesn’t appreciate the “force-feeding” of Taveras at the expense of Craig.  It was said that said clubhouse had issues with Taveras’ “work ethic”.

Now, I don’t know the source of Buck’s comments, he gave the impression it came directly from the clubhouse, and Buck, being who he is and having a purported relationship of sorts with members of the clubhouse, would be in a position to know.  Be that as it may, the comment was of a general nature and without a specific source named, it is is difficult to ascertain its credence.  All I can say is this; if one or multiple members of the clubhouse relayed this to Buck, then it doesn’t reflect well on them.  Taveras is a teammate, rookie or not, and he deserves some respect.  As for Taveras’ work ethic, if there are issues with how he conducts himself, that is up to the coaching staff, and to a lesser degree, his teammates, to help correct.  Airing such issues in public, especially indirectly, is unprofessional.

Moreover, it just gives the impression that the clubhouse are a bunch of whiners, upset over the trade of their buddy.  Given the nature of their play this season, (it’s been pretty crappy) it seems to me they should spend more time worrying about their own issues and less about tangential matters like this.  Craig was traded, get over it and play better baseball.

Now that I have aired my issues in public directly (as any blogger would do) I sign off with this.  I love this team, but sometimes I don’t like them very much.  This is one of those times.

Do better.

 

Thank you for reading.

The Titanic Hit The Iceberg (Metaphorically)

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

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

Exhibit A:

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

And the band played on.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Beware The Dusk of July

Open your ears, for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth.
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
—-Henry IV, Part 2

 

People like to pretend they are baseball GMs this time of year.  I guess they consider it fun.  It’s not my thing, because I am not arrogant enough to believe that I know what players are worth on the trade market.  So I won’t propose my own trades, but I do believe I know when someone else proposes a stinker, or a trade that is just unrealistic.  The thing about trades is that you can’t use the trade market to get rid of the players you don’t want, unless you are willing to get mostly nothing back for them.  If you want to get value, you have to give up value.

Want to get Giancarlo Stanton, Troy Tulowitzki or David Price?  Be prepared to give up Oscar Taveras, just for starters.  Unproven prospects, no matter how much they are hyped, are not worth as much as elite, proven major leaguers.  So you start with Taveras, and add on.

Now if you are going for something less than the Stantons and Tulowitzkis of the world, then you don’t have to give up your best prospect.  So if you are not willing to part with Taveras, better set your sights lower.  Pitchers like Cliff Lee or Ian Kennedy can be had for lesser prospects than Taveras.  You could get Ben Zobrist without Taveras in the mix as well.  There are a number of other targets that are more realistic, while keeping Taveras.

While I wouldn’t completely rule out Mozeliak going for broke in a trade, I think it is highly unlikely Taveras gets moved.  I could see Mozeliak going after Ian Kennedy, for instance, if starting pitching is his goal.  The Padres are essentially in rebuilding mode, so any number of the Cardinals’ B or C prospects could be attractive to them.

As for current major leaguers in the trade mix, that would more likely occur with a team that is on the edges of contending, and are looking for someone to give them a boost.  Players like Daniel Descalso, and Mark Ellis aren’t going to be sought after by these clubs.  Peter Bourjos has some trade value for defensive purposes, but not a whole lot, and is not likely to garner a worthwhile return.  Allen Craig has low trade value right now, but a team that believes he still has something left in the tank might be interested.  The contract is pretty team friendly, but selling low on Craig is not something I see Mozeliak doing.  Jon Jay has trade value, but only to a team that is looking for a bat and doesn’t care about power coming with it.  Matt Holliday has a no trade clause, and a waiver by him is not likely.  That leaves Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta with the highest trade value, and I don’t see Mozeliak trading any of them, without a strong option to replace them.  Infield prospect pickings in the minors are pretty slim.

So what, if any deal do I see Mozeliak doing?  I don’t know, quite frankly.  There have been rumors and speculations abound, but none with any kind of substance to them.  It may depend on whether Mozeliak is looking for starting pitching, or offense.  If it’s starting pitching, again, I think Ian Kennedy is a target to look at.  I am not particularly sold on the idea of Cliff Lee.  Lee is 35 years old and is starting to show signs of decline, not to mention the contract the Cardinals would be taking on if they can’t get the Phillies to eat a portion of it.  I would be interested in Cole Hamels, but the word is the Phillies are not interested in trading him.

I plan to just wait and see what happens.  There may be circumstances at play that we are not aware of.  Without knowing what Mozeliak is looking for, I can only speculate, and as I said, that is not something I care to do.  I do know that getting worked up about unsubstantiated rumors is a waste of time.  GMs say and do all kind of things during trade time that need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Posturing during trade season is as common as breathing, so don’t be so easily fooled.  Do not fall for the unsubstantiated rumors that abound at this time of year.

What happens, happens, and when it does, we can all opine about it to our heart’s content.

 

Thank you for reading.

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