Amazing how three straight wins over a serious contender can give you a new perspective on a team, huh? The Cardinals limped into Washington with a leaky bullpen and questions about what this team was going to be like. They leave Washington with the bullpen issues solved (for the time being) and a spring in their step.
It was Good Jaime Garciaon the mound yesterday. Whether that means that the Philadelphia game was just a blip or whether having a three-run lead before he threw his first pitch settled him enough, it's tough to say. Garcia didn't make it through the sixth, who left with the bases loaded, but he was good enough to turn it over to a bullpen that was much sturdier than the one he's turned leads over to before. That said, you know he was having flashbacks to that last home stand, wondering if this was going to be the third game he didn't get credit for the win.
That didn't happen, because of our Hero of the day. Joe Kelly got to play twice in one series after his stint as a Monday pitcher and the results were outstanding. Kelly struck out Ian Desmond to clean up Garcia's mess, then after allowing a couple of singles in the seventh, struck out Steve Lombardozzi, which turned into the exciting strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play.
Kelly's coolness under fire (and his fire-breathing fastball) are surely going to be noticed, especially in a time of trial like this has been. With Mitchell Boggs indefinitely shelved (he didn't pitch at all in this series), Kelly's days of pitching once a week would seem to be over. Will we see Mike Matheny go to a Kelly-Trevor Rosenthal-Edward Mujica end of game triumvirate? I'm actually betting that we won't. Matheny used Rosenthal as the fireman last year, bringing him into situations like bases-loaded, two-out to get the strikeout. I wouldn't be surprised if Kelly slides into that role as well, giving Matheny the option to keep him out there for another inning if he gets out of the jam or just letting him get the key out.
As for Rosenthal, I'm of two minds about his outing yesterday. On the one hand, he did give up another home run and therefore another imperfect outing. On the flip side, he wasn't out there giving up multiple hits like he has in the past and struck out two of the other four batters he faced and the home run was to Jayson Werth and he walked Bryce Harper, two salty bats. I think I'm still on the "he's coming around" bandwagon but I'm sitting on the edge of it. I'd like a couple of more strong outings so I could get back into the middle of the vehicle.
There were a few offensive stars as well. Matt Holliday saw seven pitches all day long, but swatted three of them for hits, including an RBI single in the eighth that meant Werth's home run wasn't as dramatic as it could have been. Matt Carpenter took to the leadoff role, also getting three hits, and Yadier Molina drove in the first two runs of the day with his only hit.
We'll have to give the Goat to Allen Craig. 0-4 is rough enough, but three strikeouts meant that it just wasn't his day. Not the strongest day for Carlos Beltran either, though he did get a walk and a run out of his 0-3.
With the bullpen starting to come around, the demand for a fresh infusion of pitching is subsiding somewhat. That doesn't mean we aren't going to get regular Michael Wacha updates from Memphis, though. Wacha threw seven scoreless yesterday with, interestingly enough, John Mozeliak in attendance. Wacha has had one iffy game in his four starts and sports an ERA under 2.00. We still haven't seen him struggle and need to see how he can bounce back from adversity, but if he keeps this up, Mo might be thinking about ways to get him a spot in St. Louis.
The Cardinals keep the Eye On Baseball Heavyweight Title Belt that they snatched from the Giants earlier in the season and will have to defend it against the Pirates this weekend. If you a long-time reader (if such a thing exists) you might remember me mentioning before that my church does a fundraising BBQ this time of year. So tomorrow will be spent from well before dawn to probably about first pitch doing all the things that entails and there won't be a post. Then, Saturday I head to St. Louis for UCB Weekend (have you downloaded the Bonfyre app to stay up with things yet?) and Sunday I'll be at the game. I don't promise a post on Monday either, depending on how late I get back on Sunday. All that to say, let's go ahead and look at the starting matchups for tomorrow.
Lance Lynn tries to stop this whole good-start, bad-start thing when he heads to the mound on Friday night. Lynn looked quite good against the Phillies, but two starts ago, he got beat around by these Pirates, though he was able to get the win due to an explosive night for the bats.
Jonathan Sanchez goes for the Bucs. It's been an awful season so far for Sanchez, who still has two digits to the left of the decimal point in his ERA. His best start was probably the one against the Cardinals last time out, where he hadn't given up a run before the rains came and rained it out. He's yet to go five innings--the only game he got that far was his first--and, in theory, should be a great tonic for some fairly quiet bats.
The historical numbers do say otherwise, of course, and he is a lefty which is sometimes a drawback for this team. We'll see what gets more weight, the past or the present, when the two teams take the field on Friday evening.
Should have a press release from the Cards for you later today and I plan to put up the May Egraphs contest this afternoon as well. Hope you have a wonderful weekend and I'll see you back here next week!
Last night Jeff Passan tweeted out that you could argue Wainwright has been the best pitcher in baseball so far this season. While some contrarians immediately jumped on that, it does certainly seem that he's in the argument with a very small number of other pitchers. In all of baseball, he's fourth in pitcher wins above replacement, first in wins, (obviously) first in walks per nine innings (and just walks in general), first in innings pitched, third in strikeouts, owner of one of the six shutouts so far this season, (again, obviously) first in strikeout to walk ratio, has yet to give up a home run while facing more batters than anyone save CC Sabathia (who has faced the same number), has a WHIP under one (though that puts him just 20th in baseball right now), an ERA under 2 (15th), the most quality starts in baseball, seventh in average game score.....OK, I guess you get the picture. Has he been unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball? No, I wouldn't say that. Matt Harvey, Clay Buchholz, and Matt Moore (among others) have their names scattered about the leaderboards just like Waino does. Is he a strong contender in the conversation? I can't see a reasonable person saying differently.
All of those stats do reflect that Waino was Waino yet again last night, going 8.1 scoreless innings before being lifted for Edward Mujica, who got his second save in as many nights. Wainwright's walkless streak stopped at 34.1 when he walked Bryce Harper, but there's no shame in that one. It set him up to get Adam LaRoche to strike out again and got Wainwright out of really the only jam he had all night.
So obviously he's the Hero of our piece. It was a good thing that he was on his game, because Ross Detwiler was no friend to the Cardinal offense. It was almost like they were on a break or something, because even though they mustered eight hits on the night, they could only get a couple of them in, hitting into double plays like they were back in 2011. Wainwright twice bunted into double plays, which is pretty hard to do. The latter came when Pete Kozma tried to catch the Nationals napping and go first to third on a bunt. Not exactly the smartest move that the shortstop has ever made, but perhaps he just wanted to hear some more boos from the crowd.
Kozma did get two hits, which was more output than we've seen from him in a while. Perhaps being in Washington did get him focused or motivated. It's too bad that didn't work for David Freese, our Goat of the evening. Freese went 0-4 and left five men on base, something that could have loomed even larger had it not been the ace of the staff on the mound.
Jon Jay got a night off and Shane Robinson responded in the leadoff role with a hit and a walk. It's not enough to have Jay lose the job outright, but I wouldn't be stunned if Robinson is out there again this afternoon. With a very tough pitcher on the mound for the other side, it's not the kind of situation that screams confidence-builder.
Take it with a grain of salt, because you know the track record of the Cardinals and injuries, but it looks like Matt Adamsmight avoid the disabled list. He'll not play today, but hopefully will be ready to get back out there during the Cardinals' series with Pittsburgh this weekend. Selfishly I hope so, because I'll be there Sunday and would like to get a chance to see him at least pinch-hit.
Afternoon matchup in our nation's capital. Looking for the sweep, something they've not been able to do yet this year, the Cards send out Jaime Garcia to the hill. Garcia was atrocious in his last start in Philadelphia, but beyond that had pitched pretty well this year with little to show for it. We can only hope last week was a blip and an aberration, but anytime Garcia is on a road mound, you get a little concerned.
There's not much there to be encouraged about. Of course, last time he faced these guys he was pitching hurt in the playoffs, but that doesn't account for all of those numbers. It's going to be a challenge for him, but perhaps Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz can work up a plan like they did for Wainwright last night, who had struggled against the Nationals as well in his career.
They better figure out something, because Washington is bringing their ace out to stop the broom. Stephen Strasburg hasn't been overwhelming in the early going, with a 1-3 record and three home runs allowed, but his ERA is still a hair under 3 and his K/BB ratio is right at that mark. It's not going to be a walk in the park here.
Those numbers don't give you a ton of confidence either. Granted, they are all from just one game, an early September matchup between the two teams last year. Cards lost that game 4-3 but neither starter factored into the decision. Hopefully we'll see Good Jaime and this could be another enjoyable pitching matchup. We can hope!
For one evening, at least, things worked the way they were supposed to. The starter had a strong outing, the offense did just enough (though, unsurprisingly, they could have done more) and the much-maligned bullpen closed the door. It's a time-tested formula for a win and it was good to see the Cardinals still remembered the equation, especially against a formidable opponent.
There were a lot of good performances last night, but for something that's been unheard of this season--a 1-2-3 inning with a one-run lead--Edward Mujica takes home the Hero tag. Mujica may not be the closer all year long and he may not be your typical game-ender, but it has worked the last two times out and there's no need to tinker with it just yet. I wouldn't say just yet that there's a sense of inevitability when Mujica comes in, but there is probably more relief than when the former closer does.
A tip of the cap to Trevor Rosenthal as well. I was afraid he was going to be snake-bit when he got Denard Span to hit a weak ground ball to David Freese, who had to hurry and airmailed a throw over to Allen Craig. Span was safe (after the two collided) and the leadoff batter was on. Instead of buckling, though, he got Jayson Werth to strike out, pitched carefully to (and walked) Bryce Harper, and then got Adam LaRoche to pop out and Ian Desmond to strike out. Rosenthal may be slowly coming around--he has not been scored upon in his last three appearances totaling 2.2 innings, though he has allowed four hits in that time span. It's not perfect, but it looks like the right road.
Kudos to Craig for driving in the first two runs of the game and to Yadier Molina for snapping the tie with an RBI single. Carlos Beltran also had two hits and Public Enemy Number 1 in Washington, Pete Kozma, went 1-2 with two walks, one of which was the intentional pass that he should have gotten last October.
(I really don't understand booing Kozma in DC. Sure, he was the person that put it over the top, but your team blew a 6-0 lead and it was a tie game when he came up to bat. He didn't hit a six-run home run and he didn't even contribute much besides that single. If you are going to boo anyone, it probably should be Daniel Descalso for his efforts in that game. Which, to be fair, DC fans might have gotten them confused.....)
Shelby Miller continued his good season last night as well. Save for the fourth, when he gave up back-to-back RBI doubles, Miller didn't have too many troubles until he put runners on at the end of his stint. He didn't have the long stretch of retired batters like he has had in his first three starts, but that's not exactly unexpected. Miller struck out eight and gave up only four hits. His next start is on Sunday when the bloggers will be at Busch, so I'm excited to get a chance to see him in person. (Remember, #ucbweekend on Twitter, but I can't encourage you enough to get the Bonfyre app and follow us there.)
On the down side, it's got to be Jon Jay again. I know, he made a stupendous catch to keep the game tied in the seventh. Monday Pitcher Joe Kelly (who only got that one out, more on that in a bit) was likely very appreciative. The problem was, if Jay had been able to come through at the bat earlier in the game, that wouldn't have been as necessary. Jay came up in the sixth with the bases loaded and nobody out, but promptly rapped into a 3-2-3 double play, killing the rally. Jay was 0-4 on the night, falling below .200 on the season and is nothing for his last 22 or so. Jay's defense is good, but I don't think it's going to be able to carry him if the bat doesn't come around. I'd think Shane Robinson might get a few more starts until Jay looks a little sharper.
Mike Matheny has come in for a fair share of criticism the last few days in the social media realm and last night was no different. This, again, centered around Joe Kelly (no bunting controversies last night, as least not that I could tell). Being that Kelly hadn't pitched in a week, it seemed reasonable that when he came in to get the last out in the seventh, he might stick around for the eighth as well. Instead Matheny, going with that bullpen formulaic mindset that he's shown at times, immediately brought Rosenthal in for the eighth.
Now, it's likely that this goes to the same philosophy that he has with Mitchell Boggs, in that he's going to pitch them out of their slump. It also was a successful move as we discussed above. That said, it just seemed like a good chance to let Kelly go out there. Rosenthal has now pitched in 11 of the Cardinals' 19 games, which is a tough pace to maintain. Does Matheny not trust Kelly in a one-run game? That can't be it--he brought him into a one-run game with runners on. Hopefully that won't be the only out Kelly gets this week, otherwise they might actually have to chip the rust off of him next time they want to use him.
Matt Adams was pulled out of the lineup last night due to a tweaked side. Hopefully it was just a minor thing and he'll be healed up shortly. He's having such a good start you hate to see it derailed by any time on the DL.
Cards see if they can put this series away early tonight by sending Adam Wainwright to the hill. Seems to be that's a good plan for winning a series right there.
Harper tore up Waino last year, but as our friend Bob Netherton pointed out in The Bird's Eye View for this series (are you subscribed? You should be.), Wainwright wasn't quite Wainwright for much of last season, so we'll see if that success continues into this year. It well may--Harper's a wonderful talent--but Waino is much more on his game this year than we saw at any point last season. Same goes for Desmond, without quite the "wonderful talent" caveat.
Cards get to face St. Louis native Ross Detwiler, which isn't necessarily the great thing you think it is when you just hear that name.
Not a lot of data points there, of course, which is the only silver lining. Craig's done pretty well against him in limited time and Kozma doubled off of him last September. Cards beat him 10-4 in his last start in 2012, so they might be better off than that .220 would appear. Hopefully it's another game that's lacking in late-inning dramatics!
Computer glitches this morning have already cost me a good chunk of my blogging time, so let's jump straight into this and see how far we can get. There's plenty to talk about in relation to the last three games, but let's do the quick recap version. (Insert Wayne's World noises here.)
Hero:Carlos Beltran. When the team only gets two hits, pretty easy to go with the guy with the homer.
Goat:Jaime Garcia. Just when you thought it was safe to trust Jaime on the road, he unravels faster than Dennis Lawson trying to play nice.
Notes: While a Ty Wigginton error didn't help Garcia, giving up five in the first is just unacceptable. To come out and compound it in the next two innings is, well, not "big boy" baseball, as Derek Lilliquist might put it. And obviously it doesn't take much for Roy Halladay to shut down a team, so give them that kind of cushion and this was going to be a short night anyway, even if the rain hadn't ended it in the seventh.
Goat:Daniel Descalso. 0-4 plus an error is not the way Dirty Dan would like to see his night go.
Notes: Are we going to alternate between good Lynn and bad Lynn? So far he has this year. Eight strikeouts and seven scoreless innings is an outing we'll take every time and was quite welcome coming on the heels of his performance in Pittsburgh. A nice night for Trevor Rosenthal as well, getting two strikeouts and a scoreless inning. It'll seem he'll have some chances to prove if he's getting the hang of this late inning bit and, if so, he might get to come in a little bit later.
Hero:Allen Craig. Two for five with a run and an RBI, breaking a 2-2 tie by driving in a run that could have won the game for the Cardinals if there'd been a better bullpen.
Goat: Mitchell Boggs. More on him in a bit, but giving up four runs in a tie game isn't exactly the way to rebuild confidence in your abilities.
Notes: Strong game for Jake Westbrook, but it was telling that he batted with two on and two out in the sixth instead of being lifted for a pinch hitter there. Why he tried to bunt his way on, that's a completely different discussion. Nice game for Matt Adams, going two for three and keeping his average over the .500 mark.
Up, down. Up, down. Garcia, Lynn, the bullpen, this team continues to lurch from highlight to lowlight. They've not won back to back games since last Friday and Saturday. They sit tied for second in the division when they could easily be 2-3 games up. What does it take for this team to get on a consistent roll?
Probably the biggest answer to that is sorting out the bullpen. Our friend Justin Adams, who tweets over @Intangiball, pointed out that in save and tied situations Boggs was giving up almost a run for every out. On the season, it looks like Boggs has allowed 13 runs and gotten 26 outs. When you can only get two batters out before you allow a run, it's not conducive to your baseball well-being.
That's a bit overstated, of course. Boggs has actually had six scoreless outings this season, the problem is only two of them have resulted in saves. (Of course, he also had an outing when he gave up a run without getting an out.) 11 of those 13 runs came in the home opener and last night, so the numbers are skewed, but the problem is not. A team has to have confidence in someone that they bring into a tie game or a game with a late lead. If they don't, there's not a high rate of success.
While the bullpen is in flux, there's one guy that seems to be unable to get into the mix and that's Joe Kelly. You know how college baseball has their "Friday pitchers" or "Sunday pitchers?" Kelly seems to be the Cardinals' Monday pitcher as his last two outings were a week ago today and two weeks ago today. Fernando Salas can get into tie games and blowouts but Kelly needs to be saved? How was it that Kelly didn't get into the game on Friday, when Garcia blew up and numerous bullpen innings were going to be needed? You could say he was too valuable to use in that situation and I might agree, if he hadn't gone so long between outings. If nothing else, he needs the work.
Now that everyone's talking about it we'll likely see Kelly more, but it's just another way that Mike Matheny has puzzled everyone with some of his bullpen usage. At least he's being flexible with Boggs and not necessarily running him out there in every save situation, but there are still some other options he doesn't seem to be exploring and the rationale for that lack doesn't seem to be obvious to outside observers.
Of course, if the offense was clicking, at least last night there's less of a chance that the bullpen becomes and issue. Pete Kozma is in a tough spot. If he's just in a slump, most people are ready to write him off as the league catching up to him based on his minor league career. Honestly, though, that would seem to be the most reasonable explanation. He went two for 15 over the last week and only his hot start is keeping him above the Mendoza line. Since his three-for-four game in San Francisco on the first weekend of the season, Kozma's gone 6-for-36 (.083). That's rough. And, sadly, that's in line with what we were thinking Kozma's likely to do. Well, not the .083, but the .230 or so average. It's possible it could turn around, but I think of Kozma a bit like the underdogs of a college football or basketball game--they've got a chance as long as they can push out that lead, but once they get behind, they're done. Kozma had his lead and he's lost it. It'd be surprising to see him get it back.
However, if the rest of the offense was rolling, that might not be a big deal. In truth, much of it is going better. Craig is starting to push his numbers upwards, Beltran hit home runs in three straight games, and Molina is Molina. The problem, or at least one of them, is the team isn't getting anything offensively out of Jon Jay. After last night's 0-5 (and, if Boggs hadn't collapsed, Jay would have gotten yet another Goat on the season), he's hitting .208/.250/.333. Being that so often he is in the leadoff role, that's a major issue. The offense needs to be primed by a good result at the top of the order and it's not happening.
It probably helps Jay that Oscar Taveras isn't tearing up AAA just yet. He's doing well enough (.289/.386/.675 with one home run) but not so much that more time down in Memphis is superfluous. I'd say Jay should probably keep an eye on the Memphis boxscores, but I doubt that'd help his situation any. It's a long slump, but Jay has more of a background to expect a return to normalcy than Kozma does. Let's hope that return happens shortly.
The end of this stretch of 13 games in a row starts tonight in Washington. Shelby Miller has been outstanding in the early going, not allowing more than two runs in any start and putting his name into the discussion for Rookie of the Month. Miller has never faced any of the Nationals, though, as he wasn't used in the NLDS last year. It's a potent lineup, though, and he'll have to be careful with it. We'll see how long Matheny goes with him....and who he goes to when he calls for the pen.
Old friend Dan Haren takes the hill against his former team. Haren's off to a rough start this season. His first outing in Cincinnati--six earned runs in four innings--is still the primary driver of his 8.10 ERA, but he allowed seven runs (though just three earned) in less than five innings in his last start against Miami. He's getting a lot more fly balls than ground balls, but save for that Cincy game (four long balls) they are staying in the yard. Here's what the current Redbird hitters have done against him,
Not that bad, Matt Holliday and Beltran have done especially well. There's not a lot of exposure to him, but there shouldn't be an overwhelming sense of intimidation either. Both teams have something to prove this series and I don't think Washington's forgotten that last inning the two teams played just yet. Should be fun!
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
98-84, first in the NL East, lost in the NLDS
It's been a bittersweet offseason for Nationals fans. On the one hand, their team almost won 100 games last year and looks to be a power for years to come. On the other, they had to go through all offseason with this taste in their mouths.
There's no doubt that Washington is likely to have a chance to redeem themselves for that postseason meltdown, as they bring back the same cast of characters that was so strong last year and look to be even better this year.
To find out about what to expect for the Nationals, I've got a couple of great bloggers for you. David Nichols recently moved out of the DC area but still is in charge of District Sports Page and can be found on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP. Marty Niland can be found contributing to D.C. Baseball History, a great resource for those that are fans of Washington baseball past and present.
For the final time, stick through the jump as we talk about a couple of the young stars contributing to Washington's future.
On Monday, my blog post outlined out the David Freese situation assuming that he was going on the disabled list. On Monday afternoon, the team and Freese come out and say they are encouraged by the MRI and that he might be ready for Opening Day.
I think I'll write today about how nobody ever gives me a million dollars. Can't hurt, can it?
While Freese hasn't taken a turn for the worse or anything, the fact that they wouldn't be able to evaluate him until at least Thursday put a crimp in some plans. Freese still isn't in "baseball shape" and he wasn't going to have time to get that way with games ending Friday. According to John Mozeliak, it was a "practical" decision and since the move can be backdated, Freese's first game may be the home opener a week from Monday. Ryan Jackson gets to go with the team for that first week, though it seems doubtful given his usage last year and this spring that he'll see much if any time on the field.
The good news on the injury front is that Carlos Beltran played yesterday and seemed to have no ill effects from his fractured toe. He played into the seventh inning, got on base three times and even stole a base, so it sounds like he's feeling good and won't be a major concern going into the season. Unless it flares up today because that's the way things have been going, of course!
With Holliday not seriously hurt and Beltran improving, that small crack of a door for Oscar Taveras making the roster seems to have shut. Taveras went 1-4 in yesterday's game, but one of his outs was one of the hardest hit balls I've heard in a while. He lined out to right in the third, but the crack of the bat when he hit it was noteworthy. I look forward to following his progress in Memphis, because it would seem very likely he'll make his debut sometime this year in the bigs.
The wind was blowing in yesterday's game against the Mets, but I don't know that you can credit the Cardinals' offensive exploits only to that. Pete Kozma, who is continuing to have an outstanding spring, hit a grand slam to put the Cardinals on the road to victory. It was his only hit of the day, but he's still hitting .339 this spring. You can't take too much out of spring training stats, we know that, and the wind was blowing, but still it's an encouraging sign to see him producing at this level. Even if he only does half as much during the regular season, he's going to be an asset.
Then there was Yadier Molina. Some Mets fans, still bitter about 2006 and the curse he seems to have laid on their organization, began chanting "over-rated" during his last at bat. Molina then put one over the wall, unleashing some boos but also pointing out that you aren't overrated if you can back it up.
I got a chance to watch just an inning or so of the game at lunch yesterday and heard the ESPN guys talking about how Adam Wainwright used to be a good hitter but he's not anymore. I was in the middle of strongly disagreeing with them--you can't use 2012 as a basis for his hitting after he'd missed the season before--when Waino took care of it, smoking a double and then coming around to score the Cards' first run. I'm betting Wainwright puts at least one out of the park this season, maybe two.
Of course, what we really want to see out of Wainwright is solid pitching and we got that yesterday in his final tuneup before Opening Day. He got to 97 pitches and while he was a little erratic early, he found his groove and just started mowing down hitters. He's ready for the opening bell and I really look forward to watching Waino all season long, without the injury or rust concerns that we had last season.
And what we REALLY want to see out of Wainwright is him sitting down to sign a new contract. Both sides seem to be more optimistic every report that he can have that happen before his next start in Arizona. Until he puts pen to paper, there's always going to be some concern, but right now the odds of Waino sticking with the Cardinals seem to be around the 90% mark, which is great to hear.
It looks like one of the assignments for special assistant Cal Eldred is to see if he can fix assorted pitchers. He's been working with Randy Choate, helping him make some mechanical adjustments to his delivery. It's working against minor leaguers in the bullpen, which is a start. Choate is supposed to pitch in today's game against the Nationals, so we'll see if he can snap that string of six consecutive batters faced with no outs. He has to get on track because the left side of that bullpen is a bit wobbly, though Marc Rzepczynski threw a solid inning in yesterday's game. Still, I think most fans would like to not have to hold their breath whenever Mike Matheny goes to the mound and touches his left arm.
Speaking of lefties, Jaime Garcia gets his last start of the spring today against Washington. Garcia's had a good spring, with an ERA of 3.00 and a K/BB ratio just over that mark. In some regards, could you consider all spring games road games for Jaime, since they aren't in Busch? If he is able to get past those home/road splits this year, he could really take a big step toward being an ace.
A little bit of housekeeping. Our good friend Bill Ivie is branching out into the T-shirt world, staking out his claim to Kozmamania. If you want to get into the driver's seat of the Kozma bandwagon, go ahead and put your order in today!
We've got a new member to the UCB to tell you about. Mike writes the Tumblr blog St. Louis Perfectos. He's fairly new at it, but he looks to be mixing some sabermetric talk with some fine writing. Take a look at that when you've got some time, because I think it's really worth your while.
Daily reminders: The Egraphs contest is still going on. Get your picks in by first pitch on Monday and, right now, you've got a strong chance to win. Also, we've got a good subscriber base going for The Bird's Eye View, the UCB email newsletter that will come to you before each series, but if you've not gotten in on that yet, I encourage you to do so.
Tonight is the UCB Radio Hour, of course, with Jon Doble and Kevin Reynolds. On Friday, I'll be doing a special edition of that, a 2-hour preview show on the NL Central. I'll be talking to bloggers from around the division as we preview their teams and talk about the division in general. This is the fourth year I've done this and it's really a lot of fun. 9-11 PM Central if you are free on Friday, it'll be available to download if you aren't.
Remember you can vote on the caps you'd like to see the Cardinals wear this year on the road. I'm kinda surprise to see the All Blue option with such strong support. I thought more people would want to see them go back to the red, though I like the blue caps myself. I actually voted Blue vs. Red, at least for my first vote.
NL Central predictions and Playing Pepper with the Blue Jays this afternoon, so keep coming back!
OK, we took care of the American League yesterday. Now it's time to move on to real baseball and tackle the National League East. Remember, the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing this all week long and you can keep up with everyone's posts right over here.
The NL East promises to be an interesting division this year, with a lot of young talent and some changing of the guard. Oh, and the Marlins are there as well.
We've hit the midpoint of spring training. Three weeks from today, we're avoiding stupid April Fool's jokes and focusing on the pitching matchup out in Arizona. It's a long spring this year, what with the World Baseball Classic going on, but you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If Allen Craig can't see that light, now he can afford some glasses that help. Craig signed a five-year, $31 million deal Friday, a contract that bought out all of his arbitration years and his first year of free agency. This is the kind of deal that we've come to expect from the Cardinals, a contract that gives them cost-certainty and keeps them from having to make some forced decisions down the road.
Since Craig is older for the amount of experience he has--he's already 28--this means that all of Craig's prime years will be in St. Louis. This will possibly also be his biggest contract, though if he continues to rake like he has been, he could get another five year deal or so when it's up with payment for what he's done in the past built in. It's just a good thing to be able to put solid numbers in the payroll matrices for the next few years and at a pretty reasonable rate as well. Kudos to John Mozeliak and the front office for getting this done.
It does make you wonder a bit on what the outlook is for David Freese, however. Freese was in a similar situation this year--he actually had arbitration on his side, whereas Craig did not--and he only got a one-year deal. There are differences in the situation, of course, but there are a lot of similarities. Will Freese get a deal similar to this next year if he's proven he can stay healthy? Does Freese not fit into the Cardinals' plans as well as Craig does? That's something for much later, of course, but worth considering when you are talking the bigger picture with the Cardinals.
Also, the article relating to Craig's contract points out that the team signed him for his bat, not necessarily to be the first baseman. That seems to indicate that Craig will need to keep his outfielder's glove handy, which may mean we'll be seeing Matt Adams in a Cardinal uniform this year as well. Someone is going to have to spell Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran and if Oscar Taveras isn't going to do it, it might as well be Craig, though I'm sure Shane Robinson (who seems to have played his way into starting the season with the big club) and/or Adron Chambers will get a whack at that too.
One of the more intriguing stories to come out this weekend was the fact that the club now considers Matt Carpenterto be acceptable at second base, not only as a temporary measure but also as a starter. Apparently--and to be fair, this is spring and spring coverage, which can at times run more optimistic than the regular season, Joe Strauss notwithstanding--Carpenter has impressed all those involved and has been fielding well and correcting any errors that he may make. We all know that Carpenter has been able to hit, though we'll have to see if having a new position on his mind affects that--it hasn't so far this spring, as he's hitting .370/.469/.519 in 27 at-bats--so being able to put his bat in the lineup without creating a significant defensive liability is huge.
If he is being so proficient, that means a few things: 1) that Daniel Descalso might see time at short if Pete Kozma fails there. If nothing else, Dirty Dan will become a utility player and defensive replacement; 2) that Carpenter might not have to be taken out in the seventh or whatever for defensive purposes, at least not consistently; 3) that the bench becomes a little weaker in that regard, again pointing to the need for someone like Adams. If Carpenter starts, the bench would be Descalso, Tony Cruz (who will never get into a game as a pinch-hitter, of course), Ronny Cedeno, Robinson and Chambers. While Robinson has played lights-out this spring and Descalso has a couple of home runs to his credit in Florida, there is no one on that bench that you bring up when you are down by two and need a double or a homer. Adams is more likely to be that guy, so we'll see if he bumps Chambers back to Memphis.
We saw Joe Kelly have a bit of trouble Thursday against the Yankees in his bid for the fifth slot in the rotation. Shelby Miller came out against the Nationals on Friday and seemed to impress some people, most notably during an 11-pitch at-bat against Bryce Harper that ended with Miller blowing a pitch past him. Miller did give up a couple of runs, though it sounds like part of that was due to a bad hop over Craig's head on Harper's next time up. All in all, if it had been a tie for the last slot before these outings, Miller likely pulled a smidgen ahead after them. They both will probably get one more start, maybe two, before the decision is made.
All in all, the pitching was pretty good this weekend, but the offense didn't show up at all. Maybe it was due to Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina being in the Puerto Rico lineup instead of the Cardinals, maybe it was due to Matt Holliday still being sick, but whatever the case, the team that scored 16 against the Nationals scored two against a Marlins' split squad team and none against the Mets in back to back games. The roller coaster continues.
For all the talk about Rafael Furcal and how he should have had the shoulder surgery earlier, no one is pointing out (which is a classy thing for Mo to do, because I think many would say, "Hey, look there.") that Jaime Garcia also was in a situation where most people thought he needed surgery, but Garcia has been fine this spring and, indeed, hurled five scoreless innings against the Mets. Garcia is giving up a few extra hits--his BAA sits right at .300 in the spring--but he's not letting those turn into runs. Dare we hope that Garcia's game has matured? Because if he can consistently be the left-handed guy we've seen him be on occasion, this rotation takes another step up.
The biggest disappointment in yesterday's game was seeing Eduardo Sanchez have a relapse. Sanchez, who had not walked anyone all spring, walked the first two batters he faced yesterday, both of which came around to score insurance runs. Before that, though, he'd gone 5.1 innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. If yesterday was just a blip on the radar, Sanchez has a good chance of making the bullpen. I think he'll start in Memphis but, well, more on him later today.
Mike Matheny has headed back to St. Louis to have back surgery. When I hear back surgery, I think of a significant procedures that's going to keep you out for an extended period of time. Apparently medical technology and advancements are some impressive things, because Matheny is having the procedure today and should be back in the dugout on Thursday. That's just amazing to me, really. I understand that he's not playing and so the recovery time is quicker, but still, to be able to fly just two days after having your back opened up? That's something. Best wishes to the skipper and hope the surgery goes without a hitch.
Today's approval ratings focus on Lance Lynn, John Rooney and the general manager. It's the first year for Lynn on this ratings, as he didn't crack the list after his 2011 stint in the bullpen. You had a tale of two seasons for Lynn last year, though, and I was curious to see how people reacted to him. Some of this voting was done around his comments about "his job to lose" in the rotation, which didn't sit well with some folks either. All that combined, Lynn comes out with a 79.5% mark. That's a pretty solid standing for a guy that we aren't completely sure what we have with yet. A good 2013 and that number might jump by double digits.
Lynn's on his first approval rating, but Rooney has been here since the very first one. He's been remarkably consistent as well--his lowest mark was 76.2% in 2010, his highest was this year's 84.5%. I think the partnership between Rooney and Mike Shannon has been a great one for Cardinal radio and hopefully it will continue for a long, long time.
Finally, we get to the architect of the team. There are always going to be critics--though how people put 0 and 10 on this rating form is beyond me--but for the most part, Mozeliak has done an exceptional job at keeping a small-market team competitive and viable even with a larger-than-mid-market salary. The farm system has been rejuvenated under his watch and the team has always been competitive, even when major injuries strike. The fan base seems to agree, giving him an 86.5% score, his highest ever.
Besides the fact that the Cards play the Yanks today on ESPN for your afternoon enjoyment, there's plenty coming here at the blog. Later this morning, I'll be posting the transcript for the last UCB roundtable question and this afternoon, we play pepper with the Milwaukee Brewers. So continue to check back through the day!
You know, during the winter, there were a lot of days where there just wasn't anything to talk about. Things were slow and we grasped at whatever crumbs we could find. Yesterday, well, yesterday wasn't one of those days.
Let's start with the biggest news. Rafael Furcal will be having Tommy John surgery next week, effectively ending his season. OK, sure, after last year and Chris Carpenter you hesitate a bit to put "season ending" down in print, but I think we can be pretty sure of this one. The Goat curse continues in a unique way, because it seems unlikely Furcal will ever see the field in a Cardinal uniform again.
Of course, this news set off a ton of recriminations toward John Mozeliak, most of which seem to be unwarranted. If what he says is accurate, that no doctor last year recommended surgery, then I don't think you can blame Furcal and the team for not going that route. Getting cut on is not exactly a walk in the park, after all. We have had amazing advances in medical technology and knowledge, but surgery still is one of those things that you tend to not have unless there are no other options.
And, if that's the case, it really hamstrung Mo this offseason. He likely knew Furcal was going to have issues, even though the reports during the winter seemed to indicate he was healing, but what could you do? You can't get a Stephen Drew to come in when he wants a guarantee he will start. You can't use some of your significant trade chips to bring in a shortstop knowing that he'll be sitting the bench if Furcal is ready to go. It was a tough corner to be in.
That said, you do wonder if he couldn't have shored up the backup role a little better in preparation for such an eventuality. Pete Kozma looks to be the starter now (an obvious departure from the Tony La Russa days, where Ronny Cedeno would have been written into the lineup due to his veteran status) and if the team actually thinks he can be some part of the player that he was last year, even though his minor league numbers don't support that, then more power to them, I guess. It could happen, sure, but it seems like a dangerous way to bet. As for Cedeno, when the only person that was in favor of your signing (the general manager) says in relation to how he's been doing in spring with, "Um, not good," I don't think I'd get entirely comfortable, though it seems like he'll go with the team anyway due to a lack of other options and the fact that Mo inexplicably gave him a major league contract instead of a minor league one. (However, Joe Strauss notes his contract isn't guaranteed, so we might not be seeing much more of him.)
In an ideal world, Mo would have made a move for a young shortstop who could have been the backup this year, being groomed to take over the role in 2014. That way, if Furcal did go down, you could still use Kozma and let this new guy ease into things or throw him into the deep water and let him start. However, I'll freely admit that save for Jurickson Profar, whom the Rangers are not going to part with, I don't know where said shortstop would have come from.
That said, there's no need to panic. (Great idea for a Jupiter T-shirt: "Keep Calm and Kozma On".) As Strauss writes, a full season from Furcal wasn't in the plans anyway, given all his health issues. Most teams don't have All-Stars at every position, yet the Cards could make the case for one everywhere but the middle of the diamond. If Kozma is as defensively adept as he's made out to be (which was better than a hurt Furcal last year), it won't matter too much what he hits. I do have visions of rallies dying on the vine when Daniel Descalso and Kozma are stacked back-to-back at the bottom of the lineup, but it would also be reasonable to expect that Descalso will have a stronger season than last year and that might not be as terrifying a vision as it seems on first glance. Couple that with the fact Matt Carpenter might start some games at second and the offense part of the equation fades into the background.
All in all, this feels like bigger news than it probably is. Losing two players for the season before the first game starts is a tough thing for a team to deal with, but it looks like the losses of Furcal and Chris Carpenter can be absorbed and not put much of a dent in the playoff aspirations of this team. Which says a lot right there, I think.
Right before the Furcal news came out yesterday, the club made it official that Trevor Rosenthalis going to the bullpen. The Cards were excited about what he brings out of the bullpen and were afraid that he wouldn't get enough innings in spring to stretch him out (for which you can thank Michael Wacha's emergence mostly). On the positive side for Rosenthal, this basically assures him a spot on the major league roster, which is what you want as a player anyway.
It always seemed like there were three outcomes for the three pitchers vying for that last spot in the rotation. One was going to get it, one was going to the bullpen, and one was going to start in Memphis. We've figured out part of the equation, so now what's left is to see which of Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly get to ride in the red convertibles and which one gets to enjoy some Southern BBQ. Kelly pitched yesterday--more on that in a bit--and Miller goes today.
Let's not leave Rosenthal just yet, though. The conventional wisdom is that starters are more valuable than relievers, so moving Rosenthal to the pen seems to be a short-term gain at a long-term loss. I think there's some truth to that. Rosenthal has shown in the past that he can be very effective as a starter and you hate to lose all those innings that he could give you. While the club has said that they'll continue to develop him as a starter if he wants, it seems the longer he's in the bullpen the less likely you can flip the switch without losing some of his effectiveness.
That said, there are a whole lot of starter arms coming up. Right now you still have Kelly and Miller and coming up you have Wacha and Carlos Martinez and perhaps Seth Maness and the list continues on and on. Not all of these guys are going to get regular turns in the Cardinal rotation, there's just too many of them. So the loss of Rosenthal as a starter can be offset pretty easily by some of these other arms. I think we'd rather have Rosenthal as a reliever than him starting against the team somewhere, so this move is definitely not the worst thing that could happen.
This is getting a bit long and we've not even touched on yesterday's game. Click the link to continue!
While the Cardinals had trouble with Washington this weekend, the focus by Sunday was on what they lost away from the diamond. The news most of us had been anticipating came along and Rafael Furcal was shut down from baseball activities and was to be reevaluated.
This is not a shocking blow to anyone that follows the Cardinals. Ever since Furcal disdained surgery for rehab and therapy, it seemed only a matter of time before this happened. Adding the bone spur to the mix didn't help matters at all either. Furcal will be examined by Dr. George Paletta today and options will be discussed after that evaluation. It would seem surgery would be the most likely outcome, meaning Furcal might well miss the entire season. (Interestingly, that would kinda keep the Goat streak alive. Since I started them in 2008, the player that was the Top Goat hasn't been with the team the next year. Furcal looked to break that streak, but if he's out for the season, again the Top Goat wouldn't play a game for the Cardinals.)
The biggest problem with this that there is no depth behind Furcal, something that most all bloggers have been pointing out with regularity (and, to be fair, the club was aware of as well). There's no confidence that Pete Kozma can do what he did the last six weeks, even though he is having a fairly strong spring. Ronny Cedano doesn't appear to bring a lot to the table. Ryan Jackson seems to have fallen out of favor with the club. It's gotten to the point where the suggestion is to start Daniel Descalso at short and let Matt Carpenter have second and it might be the most reasonable one of the bunch.
Bernie Miklasz points out that this situation is of the Cardinals' doing. I do think the club was hamstrung this offseason in dealing with shortstop, though. As Bernie points out, they couldn't actively pursue Stephen Drew since they weren't sure he'd be the starter. That same uncertainty probably precluded them from dealing any prospects for a shortstop that might or might not be on the field this season. With Furcal not having surgery and therefore the club really not knowing what they had (despite the off-season assurances that he was doing fine), it didn't leave them with a lot of great options.
And there aren't a lot of great options out there. I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Dennis Lawson, who now writes at Phat Bunneh Baseball, and we talked about the shortstop position, concluding that the main reason that names like Troy Tulowitzki continue to pop up even with significant arguments to the contrary is that there just aren't very many shortstops worth their salt out there nowadays. Texas probably won't move Elvis Andrus because of that as well, plus if they do put him on the block, the bidding is going to go fairly high. Who else is out there? Asdrubal Cabrera? J.J. Hardy? The list of shortstops worth pursuing is short.
The Cardinals came to camp with two different players having avoided surgery. I guess 50/50 is the best you could really expect there, though I think given the depth in the organization the club would have been more comfortable with a healthy Furcal and a down-for-the-count Jaime Garcia. Garcia, though, actually does seem to be fine, starting yesterday's ballgame and went three innings, giving up two and striking out four on a day when the wind was whipping. The Cards wound up losing the game against Washington in the ninth, but Garcia pitched about as well as you'd expect under the conditions. Every time he's out there, a little more worry about him going a full season evaporates.
Shane Robinson hit another home run yesterday, continuing his rampaging spring. He's 10-for-18 in his six spring games this year with two home runs and seven RBI. At 28, he is likely in the prime of his career and most likely will be the right-handed option of the bench this season. It's still early and we'll see how he does in the last couple of weeks, but if he can give the Cardinals something in the pinch this year, that'd be wonderful.
If the injuries on the field weren't enough, they've moved to the dugout as well. Mike Mathenyhas a ruptured disc in his back. (The Cardinals say he's fine. He just can't make a pitching change or fill out a lineup card. They are taking it easy and hope he'll be ready for opening day.) Actually, it sounds like he might have surgery quicker than some of his players, but first he's going to get an epidural shot. That sounds to me like a temporary solution and with all the traveling he's going to be doing, surgery is probably more likely than not. I would guess Mike Aldrete would take over the team in any interim role.
With the Cards playing Washington this weekend, there was the opportunity to hear a couple of Stan Musial stories from the phenoms of the Nationals. Both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper had interactions with The Man and had signed jerseys from him. Musial reached out to both in what was likely his way of welcoming new stars to the game. I wonder just how many other players along the way have gotten a request for a signed jersey from Musial? Likely a great number.
Today's the first day we get to talk about the results of the Cardinal Approval Ratings. We'll do three a day, a player, a media member, and one from the assorted column as well. Today, we look at Allen Craig from the players. I received 58 entries in this year's voting and Craig (as I expect most all the players were) got an opinion from everyone. He got about four perfect ratings and his lowest seems to be a 70, meaning Craig is, unsurprisingly, well received in Cardinal Nation. Comments included, "Allen Craig is in the same boat for me that Freese was last year. I want a solid 140+ game season out of him, then I'm convinced" and "I'm still worried about Craig's legs" but overall, he received a 88.3% favorability rating in his first year on the ballot.
Our media member of the day is Derrick Goold. Over the offseason, Derrick got a bump up to lead Cardinal man at the Post-Dispatch as Joe Strauss moved up (or is that over?) to columnist. It seems impossible to find anyone that thought this was not a good move. Derrick is fair with his reporting and is good about interacting with fans that have questions. It looks like he'll now have regular chats as well, which is another great thing. Not everyone votes for the media types (only 44 respondents there) but there were comments like "I think that Derrick Goold is amazing in his presentation, and one of my favorite sources of sports news, overall" and "He's basically everything the modern internet-savvy baseball fan could want out of a team reporter." It's no wonder he wound up with an 89.1% mark, well up from last year's 82.8% and a new career high for the three years he's been polled.
Finally, we reach our last person, which actually is an idea. With Ballpark Village finally getting underway, I wanted to see what people were thinking of it. There were only 42 votes on this one, but the results weren't nearly as high as our other two. Due to the delays and, frankly, the expectation that it would never get off the ground, many people were down on the whole thing. While nobody left any comments on it, the overall rating was 58.3% with a couple of zeros and a few in the single digits. (To be fair, there was at least one 100 as well.) I think this will be fun to track over time and see if it doesn't get quite a boost when there are actually restaurants and the like up and going.
Cardinals take on the Twins today before an off day tomorrow. Lance Lynn gets back on the mound and tries to shake off his first outing, when he gave up two runs in two innings. The Twins radio network will be covering the game, so if you have GameDay Audio, you can listen in. Hopefully the Cards can get back on the winning track!