Young arms help Cards streak to 6 in a row

Like I had said after the Q and A with Cards GM John Mozeliak, he wasn’t going to let a few bad BP arms destroy the Cards 2013 season.  The Cards have plenty of depth in the minors with their #1 ranked farm system and aren’t afraid to use it, and use it early.  When Mo talked about Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha at that time, he was more than confident they could step in and get the job done right away.  After watching Martinez pitch a couple of times against the Brewers after replacing Mitchell Boggs in the BP, we now know why he was tabbed with having the most electric arm in the Cards farm system.

Seth Maness, the Cards 2012 minor league POY, also made his presence known.  Maness pitched in two games over the weekend against the Brewers and got his first win as well as the first win for a Cardinal pitcher that didn’t come from one of the SP’s.  What seemed to be a weakness a week ago is now a strength.  Many may think I’m jumping the gun with that statement, but it’s hard to imagine that opposing hitters are going to get good wood on Martinez with regularity.  Manager Mike Matheny now has innings 7-9 covered with Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica.

It will be interesting to see how Maness is used.  He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he is a control freak.  In over 250 IP in the minors, he had 18 walks.  He gets weak swings on balls on the corners, and he’ll live or die there.  So far, I like what I see.  Matheny put him in a crucial spot on Saturday and he came through unharmed.

These moves help the club in more than one way.  They also allow Joe Kelly and Fernando Salas to try and work out their issues in situations in which the Cards are way ahead or way behind.  I’m not sure how long the leash will be for either one, but they both still have options and can be shipped down for replacements if need be.  Eric Fornataro or John Gast may be next in line if they continue to struggle.  I’m not sure if Wacha will be used before September, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was brought up earlier based on needs.

After sweeping 4 games in Milwaukee, the Cards now are tied for the best record in baseball.  The SP’s continue to lead the way.  Adam Wainwright ran into a bit of trouble Saturday, but the BP and offense picked him up.  Right now, the Cards SP’s are easily alone at the top as the best starting staff in the NL.  They have the best ERA at 3.09 and have given up the fewest HR’s at 20.  The Reds have played one more game than the Cards and lead them in K’s by only 11 amongst SP’s.

If case you hadn’t noticed, Jon Jay changed his stance and swing.  After sitting out a few days last week and working with John Mabry, Bengie Molina and Carlos Beltran, Jay looks like a different hitter.  I can’t imagine doing something your entire career, making changes in a few days and then seeing results right away.  Not only is Jay driving the ball, he’s no longer pulling his front leg to first base on every swing.  The helicopter hands are gone.  Thumbs up to Jay and all those who helped with the transition.  Hopefully the results continue to be good ones.

Pete Kozma remains a steady force at shortstop.  It’s not just that he’s had only one error, it’s the range he’s showed to his right.  He may have saved the game in the first inning Saturday with the play he made with bases loaded.  Already down 2-0, the game might have gotten away if not for Kozma’s play.  It’s nice to see the Cards sticking with their 2007 1st round draft pick.  He may never be an AS, but the Cards don’t need him to be.  Steady defense and timely hitting will be good enough.

Regardless of how Jay does with the bat, I’d like to see Matt Carpenter remain the leadoff spot.  Little Carp leads the Cards with a 4.05 P/PA and has no fear of hitting with 2 strikes unlike so many players today.

Matt Adams was set to return on Tuesday.  I haven’t heard if that’s going to be pushed back a few days due to the lack of AB’s from a snowed out game in Arkansas.  When he does return, the Cards can get back to getting Adams in there and giving Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig a few days off here and there. 

For all the talk about the Cards offense, it was only a matter of time before they broke out.  The offense is the last thing any of us should be worried about, and I don’t understand why it’s a constant source of conversation.  They haven’t all hit full stride yet, but that’s the least of my worries.

Posted in May13 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q and A with Cards GM John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt III

Before the game with the Pirates on Sunday, I was treated to a Q and A session with Cards GM John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt III in the Cards conference room along with other members of the United Cardinal Bloggers.  First, I want to give thanks to Daniel Shoptaw who writes for C70 At The Bat, and also does a great job leading the UCB.  I also want to thank Lindsey Weber, who is the Cards Public Relations Specialist.  And of course, I want to thank Mo and DeWitt III for giving us a great 45 minutes.  I also want to thank them for taking the time and providing a great experience for all of us, and allowing each of us to bring a guest.  Here’s a link to the pics gallery on the Cards website from the event.  I’m the guy sitting by my friend Jack with the red hair and his hat on his knee.

Mo took the first 30 minutes and started by giving us an update about how he felt about the Cards BP problems, certain players in the minors and things to expect with the Cardinals organization going forward.  Here are a few of the questions and answers:

One of the questions asked was more of a statement with a question mixed in about the DH.  Mo was asked if the DH was inevitable because it seems to be gaining ground on a national level.  The reply from Mo was that he doesn’t feel that it is inevitable at all.  He doesn’t see it on the horizon, and it hasn’t gained the traction among other GM’s in the NL at this point.  Mo mentioned that he’s not concerned at all about it happening anytime soon and he hopes that it doesn’t.

My question for Mo was directed at how much time he spends talking with Mike Matheny, specifically in terms of looking at the minor leagues. I asked if we could read anything into him going and watching Michael Wacha pitch in Memphis last week and the comments Matheny made about Carlos Martinez recently.  Mo responded by saying that he and Matheny get together very often, almost daily.  While impressed with Wacha and Martinez, at this point there is no hurry to rush either one, but it’s something they will revisit from time to time based on needs.  Mo emphasized the limited innings that Wacha has pitched in the minors, but did talk about how impressed the Cards were with him, as well as saying that he could see him doing what Adam Wainwright did by getting worked into the BP to start his career.  Mo is also very encouraged about Martinez and called his stuff “electric.”  Mo did seem to be fired up about the potential of both of them.

When asked about Shelby Miller and his great start, Mo literally knocked on wood (the podium) and said he has a special arm and thinks he’ll be a front of the rotation starter for years to come.

When asked about the lack of depth at shortstop and the draft, Mo said they’ll continue to draft the best player available based on their own analytics and scouts, and reminded all of us that they will jump on the opportunity to address the need long term either through the MLB draft or the international market when someone is there that makes sense.

When asked about Oscar Taveras and his comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero, Mo said that he understood the comparison, but cautioned that other than both being from the Dominican Republic and being free swingers, he thinks Taveras has better plate discipline.  Mo made sure to point out that the only players in his 18 years as a Cardinal he can compare Taveras to at this time are Albert Pujols and J.D. Drew, but made sure to point out Taveras is younger than both of them while playing in AAA.

When Mo was done, the one feeling I took away from the Q and A was that the Cardinals are not going to let a few weak links in the BP completely destroy the 2013 season.  Matheny and Mo are on the same page and not afraid or hesitant to promote within.  If the BP continues to struggle, players will be sent down and others will get a chance to prove themselves.  My next question would have been how long will they wait to get guys to get straightened out, but after seeing Seth Maness come up from AAA to replace Scrabble yesterday, I think you have your answer.  I also wanted to ask about Mitchell Boggs and why he decided to change his stance after coming off such a great year and who was behind the change, but again, time was short.

DeWitt III took the podium after Mo, and most of the questions were about the red vs. blue road hats, Ballpark Village and the future of Memphis as the Cards AAA club.  The answer to the red vs. blue hats was the Cards would wear the red hats on the road if the other team wasn’t in red, otherwise blue will be worn.  A vote was taken in the room as well, and just like in online polls, it was split.  DeWitt said the Cards plan to stay in Memphis a long time and it’s nothing to worry about.  In regards to Ballpark Village, here’s a good link to the exact words.  Daniel over at C70 will have a good post regarding the event in the next day or two as well I’m sure.

Thanks for reading….J.D.

Posted in April2013 | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cards SP leads the way

The Cardinals swept the Nationals in Washington with the things that define championship teams, leading with dominant starting pitching.  In a time in which the BP is having some problems in the middle innings, the Cards SP’s are stepping up in a big way, and leading all of MLB with a 2.35 ERA.  They’re also second in the NL in K’s with 121.  Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright turned in dominating performances, and Jaime Garcia did just enough to get a road win.  Edward Mujica looks like he’s going to be closing out games for quite a while, and Joe Kelly looks he may have found himself again.  Trevor Rosenthal is still having a few problems with control on his fastball, but he looks close.

It’s early in the year, but if the Cards go down to the wire with the Reds and come out on top, this is one of those series they can look back on as a reason why.  Losing close games was something that appeared to carry over from last year up until the first game in Washington.  After winning that game 3-2, the Cards followed it up with 2-0 and 4-2 wins in games 2 and 3. 

Wainwright has an amazing stat line of 4-1, a 1.93 ERA, 37 K’s in 37.1 IP, a 1.05 WHIP and only 1 walk. If he didn’t get hit in his throwing shoulder with a line drive in the first game of the year at Arizona, he may be 5-0.  All of his pitches are working.  His cutter is cutting in hard to LHB’s, staying out of the middle of the plate unlike in 2012, and his curveball has a nasty bite on it.  Who out there really doubted the performances being delivered from Waino?

Miller is getting it done with the 4-seam fastball.  He’s locating it very well, and Yadier Molina is calling for Miller’s breaking balls at the right time.  So far, Miller is more than living up to the hype.  Garcia did a good job yesterday with keeping the ball down until the 6th inning.  Mike Matheny did the right thing by pulling him at a time when the game could have got out of hand.

The good news about where the Cards stand right now is that the team still isn’t firing on all cylinders on offense.  The Cards are getting timely hits, leading the league in hitting with RISP and also leading the league in RISP with 2 outs at .308, but Allen Craig, David Freese and Matt Holliday aren’t in full stride yet.  Craig has no HR’s on an OBP of .284.  Freese also has no HR’s and is hitting .211.  Holliday only has 2 HR’s in 68 AB’s, but he’s the last guy I’m worried about. 

Jon Jay is hitting .205, and I’m sure he’ll improve, but I’m still not sold on him being as a long term answer in CF.  His defense has been as bad as his offense, constantly taking bad routes to balls and runners always taking an extra base because of his weak arm.  I welcome the idea of Shane Robinson getting a good share of the playing time in CF.  The Cards are a -9 on runs saved, and Jay makes up for -6 of that.

I like Matt Carpenter being the leadoff hitter.  He works the counts with his incredible plate discipline, and is among the best in baseball in pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) at 4.06.  I think Matheny should leave him there, and I think he will.  In his new role as the 2B, Carpenter is a +1 on defense in runs saved.

It was great that the Cards didn’t have to risk using Matt Adams in Washington.  Hopefully, his oblique strain is not something serious, and we should know the extent of it by Sunday if not sooner.  Having him on the bench is going to be critical as far as resting Carlos Beltran, Holliday and Craig, as well as always having a thunderous bat late in the game regardless of who sits.

The NL Central has 4 teams playing great baseball right now, and the Cards aren’t going to catch a break with the Pirates coming to town.  Once again they have it going right to start the year and we can no longer look at them as an easy series.  The Pirates will be fired up to play the Cardinals, and Jake Westbrook will need to step up his performance in game 2 and try to reverse his trend against Pittsburgh.

Posted in April2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cards still in good position despite BP problems

The Cardinals officially have a problem with the BP, but I don’t think it’s time to panic just yet.  Mike Matheny is in a tough position.  You can add John Mozeliak to that list as well.  One thing that sticks out is that Joe Kelly has only been used twice since April 7th.  I’m not sure what to make of that, but I feel that he’s an option that isn’t being used enough.  Matheny seems like he’s trying to force Mitchell Boggs right now, and I understand why, but I think it’s time for Boggs and Kelly to switch roles.  Give Boggs some low stress situations and see how he responds.  I have no idea why the Cardinals and Boggs agreed to have him change his stance from last year, but it’s just not working.  Opposing hitters are squaring the ball off him like they know what pitch is coming.  His stuff is too good for that to happen.

Because of struggles by BP, the Cardinals have dropped a lot of close games, but it’s not all Boggs.  Trevor Rosenthal and Fernando Salas aren’t the same, but they are making progress.  I think most fans would think that Salas has an ERA higher than what it is at 4.70.  His WHIP is 1.17.  Rosenthal has a 4.22 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, and does have 13 K’s in 10.2 IP. 

The Cards are 10-8 but have only played 6 games at home.  As a worst case scenario, they’re going to come home 10-11.  I know the Nationals will be out for blood because of the way they lost the NLDS to us last year, but I don’t think the Cards get swept with Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia starting the 3 games.  If Garcia has another bad road start, I think you have to give serious consideration in giving spot starts for him on the road in the future.  Whatever it is, Jaime just seems to unravel on the road, and compounds it when errors are made behind him by walking guys and leaving balls up in the zone.  Many are calling him a mental midget.  That’s a bit harsh, but something isn’t right with his road and home splits over the last couple of years.

The Cards have had a brutal schedule to open the year.  Beating up on the Cubs and Marlins isn’t something they’ve had a chance to do yet.  For those who think the Reds are just going to completely run away with the division, keep in mind the Reds just had 4 games at home with the Marlins and will now have 3 at home with the Cubs.  Also, while the Cards have been on the road for all but 6 games, the opposite is true for the Reds, who’ve had just 6 road games.

When I looked at the schedule to start the year, I thought if the Cards could come out of April with a .500 record they would be in good shape.  I still feel that way.

Getting back to the BP, the Cardinals do have options.  Matheny has to let things play out for a while still, but if the struggles continue, I think we will see some radical changes.  I don’t think Mo is going to let 2013 get away without giving a chance to Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez.  The Cards don’t want to rush either one, but Mo isn’t going to sit on his hands either.  Eric Fornataro may get a call soon, as well as Keith Butler.  I don’t think the Cards will trade for help without giving the kids a shot, that’s just not the way it’s going to work from now on.  If they do make a trade, you can be sure names like Wacha, Martinez, Kolten Wong and other high upside players won’t be involved.

Going into the Philly series and looking at facing Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick, most fans would have been happy for a series split.  Because of the way Garcia pitched on the road and because we blew a chance to take 3 of 4 when facing Kendrick in the final game leaves fans with a sour taste though.  I understand that and feel the same way.

One thing we know with this group of guys is that they’re resilient.  The offense doesn’t ever seem to let a bad game carry over to the next one. 

As long as the SP and offense continues to stay a step ahead, the BP will eventually work itself out.  Boggs needs to change his stance back to what worked in 2012 and watch a lot of video, and Rosenthal needs to locate his fastball better.  As bad as the BP has been, the Cards are still 10-8.  I’m not worried yet, but my pulse is starting to skip a beat in close games.

The other thing to note is that Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and David Freese haven’t caught fire yet.  The Cardinals are scoring runs by leading the league with RISP.  I expect these things to equal out, so again, no worries.  Stay calm Cardinal Nation, this is a good to potentially great team going through a rough patch in a few areas.

Posted in April2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cards take 2 of 3 from Brewers but let one get away

Right now, Mitchell Boggs must feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He didn’t make a bad pitch to Carlos Gomez, Gomez just stuck his bat out and hit a blooper to shallow RF.  Even after going 7-5 in the first 12 games, many fans are still inching closer to the edge of the cliff.  What was thought to be a major strength heading into 2013, the BP has had their tough moments.  Mike Matheny is in a tough position.  Because of Trevor Rosenthal’s early struggles, Boggs has been in a couple of one-run games that haven’t gone the Cards way.

Help from the minors is not looking as good as it was when the season started.  Michael Wacha is having a hard time adjusting in AAA, but it’s still early.  Eduardo Sanchez, who looked great in ST and was off to a great start at Memphis, was put on the DL yesterday with a forearm strain.  The other options are Sam Freeman, Victor Marte and Maikel Cleto, and none of them are doing well in Memphis either.

I’m not sure what Matheny is going to do in the next save situation, but I’m not sure that pulling Boggs from the closers role is the right thing to do right now.  Rosenthal is having some control problems and Edward Mujica seems to be a better fit in the 7th or 8th inning. If you throw Mujica into the fire and he doesn’t get it done, you have your main 3 guys with confidence issues.   Joe Kelly has been hit hard but hasn’t pitched much.  Fernando Salas just isn’t the same as he was in 2011, but again, it’s still early.

What’s really going to be difficult is when the Cards SP’s start having trouble.  So far, they’re leading MLB in ERA.  The Cards BP is last in ERA.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals kicked the tires on K-Rod at some point soon if the struggles continue, as he’s still unsigned.  Right now though, I think you have to let it play out until the end of April to see how both Boggs and Rosenthal respond.

After a 1-3 start, the Cards have taken 2 of 3 in each series.  Most of the time most fans would be happy with that, but because of the way the Cards lost their last 2 games I understand the frustration.  The Reds have dropped 5 in a row and Johnny Cueto is heading to the DL with a lat strain.  The Cards beat Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse in the Brewers series.  There’s a lot to look forward to with this team, but most don’t want to hear about that right now.

Another option that might be on the horizon is Keith Butler.  He was just promoted from AA to AAA yesterday after Sanchez went on the DL.

The bottom line for me is I think you let it play out over at least the 10 game road trip the Cards start tonight and see what happens.  We all know that Boggs and Rosenthal have great stuff.  Right now, Rosenthal is just having trouble locating his fastball, and Boggs hasn’t caught a couple of key breaks.  He hasn’t helped himself after a couple of junk hits, but I still think he’s the best option until Rosenthal gains control.  You can call me an apologist if you want, but I’m not sure pulling the plug and switching roles 12 games in is the right thing to do.

Posted in April2013 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment