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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Nationals Series Post Mortem

I’m not crazy about 4 game series.  When you have to win 3 games in order to “win” a series, I think that is too much.  Longer series should be saved for the playoffs.  That is just my opinion.  Invariably, splitting the series becomes acceptable and that just doesn’t cut it with me.  The Cardinals realistically should have won all 4 games.  The Nationals never dominated at any point during this series.  Their offense was weak and their defense was bad.  The pitching of Gonzalez and Strasburg kept the Nats in games 2 and 4, but both were winnable by the Cards, but they handled them over to the Nats.  On to the post mortem.

 

Thursday, April 17—Cards 8 Nats 0

This was by far and away the best game of the series.  Not surprising given that Adam Wainwright was pitching.  He seemed to my eyes to be a little off the first two innings, thought he didn’t give up any runs.  He gave up two singles and walked two in the first 2 innings, and had the bases loaded in the 2nd, but got the strike out to get out of the jam.  After the first two, though, Wainwright was completely dominant.  He completed all 9 innings with ease, and the Nats could not get anything going against him.

The offense fared well against Taylor Jordan.  Even Wainwright got in on the fun, getting two hits, one a double.

A very enjoyable game.

 

Friday, April 18—Cards 1 Nats 3

Michael Wacha pitched this game, and he pitched it well.  Unfortunately, the Cardinal defense happened.  Uncharacteristically, Yadier Molina was in part responsible for the loss, letting a blocked wild pitch get away from him and then making a poor throw to Wacha at home plate that allowed the two winning runs to score.  The offense didn’t help, which is a common theme it seems.

You had to feel sorry for Wacha, but baseball happens.

 

Saturday, April 19—Cards 4 Nats 3

The Cardinals had to work hard for this one.  Lance Lynn started, with Tony Cruz once again behind the plate.  Other than a solo home run by Danny Espinosa, Lynn pitched well, although he couldn’t finish the 6th inning.  Siegrist followed and pitched a scoreless, but Martinez was a little shaky, allowing a run on two doubles.  Rosenthal came in to close it out, but gave up a run of his own.   A walk, a bad throw to second on an attempted double play and a balk by Rosenthal put two men in scoring position, and a ground out scored another run.  Rosenthal was able to get out of it by striking out Jayson Werth on 3 pitches.

Lance Lynn picked up his 4th win.

Bryce Harper got yanked out of the game by his manager for loafing on a ground ball.  We all got to hear about it ad nauseum from the media, blah, blah, blah.

 

 

Sunday, April 20—Cards 2 Nats 3

This was another game where the defense happened.  Between a couple of mistakes at 3B by Matt Carpenter and a botched double play ball by Descalso, the Nats were able to tie the game in the 7th inning, and then scored the winning run in the 9th off Seth Maness.

This was a Shelby Miller start, and he did okay, but he is still walking far too many hitters.  Even with that, the Cardinals could have won this game if it weren’t for the defense.

I don’t know what has gotten in to Matt Carpenter, but I wish he would snap out of it.

 

On to the Mets.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Brewers Series Post Mortem

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

 

Monday, April 14—Cards 4 Brewers 0

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

This was a fun game.

 

Tuesday, April 15—Cards 6 Brewers 1

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

 

Wednesday, April 16—Cards 1 Brewers 5

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

Don’t even get me started about Daniel Descalso.

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

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

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Reds Series Post Mortem: Book Two

So the Cardinals didn’t sweep, but they took the series–again.  Michael Wacha-good; Lance Lynn–typical Lance Lynn;  Shelby Miller–needs work.   It’s early so no need to panic.  I seem to say this every year, yet folks, well, panic.  On to the post mortem.

 

Monday, April 7—Cards 5 Reds 3

This game was not as close as it ended up being.  The game was 5-1 until the 9th inning when Trevor Rosenthal had a little hiccup.  Had me going there for a while I must say.

Getting home seemed to be what the team needed.  Everyone hit except Peralta and Wacha.  Peter Bourjos got his first hit as a Cardinal and then got a second one for good measure.  The pitching was good, except for the Rosie snafu, I guess he was a little rusty.  Despite the nagging rain before the game started, it was a good Opening Day.

Some day before I die, I am going to make an Opening Day at Busch.  It’s on my bucket list.

 

Tuesday April 8—Cards 7 Reds 5

If you thought you might get a glimpse of good, shutdown Lance Lynn, you were disappointed.  If I didn’t know what good stuff Lynn had, and how good he could be if he could just be consistent, I would probably be a member of the Lance Lynn Haters Club.  I have more patience than that, but how much more is yet to be determined.   Lynn gave up 3 runs in the first inning and one more in the second.  Fortunately, the offense took its cue and backed him up.  A Yadier Molina home run, followed by an Adams single, a Bourjos single, a Matt Carpenter single, and a Kolten Wong triple, tied the game.  Lynn gave up one more run in the 5th, but in the 6th two doubles by Bourjos and Holliday put the Cardinals in the lead.  An rbi single by Bourjos in the 7th added an insurance run.

So Lynn got his run support, and the Cardinals got the win.   The Lance Lynn Haters Club got nothing.

 

Wednesday April 9—Cards 0 Reds 4

Well, you can’t win them all.   Shelby Miller didn’t actually pitch as bad as the score sounds, he did pretty well the first 3 innings, but then Devin Mesoraco got a hold of one for Shelby’s 3rd home run of the young season, and well the wind kind of went out of the sails.  The offense didn’t do the Lynn Butt Saving Dance for Shelby, in fact, the offense took the day off.  Too much butt saving the day before I guess.   Shelby also had 2 bags stolen off him, I say off HIM because Yadi never had a snowball’s chance in Hell.  If Shelby were any slower to the plate he would be a statue.  There really should be a stolen base stat for pitchers.  Catchers get all the blame.

I can’t even quantify how much I hate losing to the Reds.  I think it is a number that reaches infinity.

 

On to the Cubbies.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Pirates Series Post Mortem

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

 

Friday, April 4—Cards 2 Pirates 12

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

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

 

Saturday, April 5—Cards 6 Pirates 1

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

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

 

Sunday, April 5—Cards 1 Pirates 2

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

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

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

Did I say I hate losing to the Pirates?

 

Thank you for reading.

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