Cards take 2 of 3 from Reds after Opening Day jitters—Motte probably done for 2013

There seems to be something about Opening Day in St. Louis that adds to the pressure on the players.  The Cardinals are now 1-6 in their last 7 home openers.  I think a little of it has to do with players not being on their normal pre-game schedules.  The rest of it might be being in the presence of the now 6 living Hall of Famers the Cardinals bring out.  I can see how shaking hands with Bruce Sutter, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Herzog, Ozzie Smith and Red Schoendienst might throw some of the younger guys off.  Combine that with a few weakly hit balls off of Mitchell Boggs in the 9th and his 4 walks, and the Reds took game 1.  The sky is falling crowd was out in full force.

Overall, I thought the Cards did a great job with the ceremonies and had a very nice tribute to Stan Musial.  It wasn’t the same without Stan, and it must have been an emotional roller coaster for players and the fans.  There were some things that caught my attention that are worth noting.  Chris Carpenter removed his hat before shaking the hands of the HOF’ers and Lance Lynn must have been watching, because as the next in line he did as well.  It seemed like Red was telling some pretty good jokes to each passing veteran.  The Dalmatian that was on the wagon being pulled by the Clydesdales seemed as nervous as some of the players, as the guy sitting next to him had to keep putting his hand on his rear to try and get him to sit still.  I know my dog would like to think that 50,000 people were cheering for him.

I really hope Jaime Garcia’s shoulder holds up in 2013 as the movement on his pitches was incredible.  His 10 K’s in 6.2 IP was a good sign.  Except for walking the pitcher with 2 outs and nobody on in the 3rd inning, he seemed to not have any mental hiccups.  Trevor Rosenthal gave up a run and gave up another hold, but I don’t think there’s any reason to worry.  Again, let’s wait until the month is over before we start saying what a guy can or can’t do.  Remember that he’s only 22.  Boggs just had one of those games where nothing went right.  The only thing I do question at this point and time is why Boggs and the Cards felt the need to change the way he stands on the mound.  It’s hard to argue with the results from last year.  If it ain’t broke, you know. 

Like I said it was just a weird game.  When someone like Shin-Soo Choo drops the two fly balls like he did, you just think to yourself it’s going to be one of those great days for the Cards, and then the 9th inning happens.  Anyway, I’m not worried about Boggs or Rosenthal.

On to game 2 of the series, and Lynn just looked great.  His fastball command and velocity was back as he had his way with the Reds, also striking out 10.  The Cardinals were shut down through the first 5 inning against Bronson Arroyo, and then Matt Adams went deep with a 2-run HR hitting for Lynn.  The Cards have a really good problem with Adams on the bench.  With the rest that Mike Matheny plans on giving Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, Adams should see about 3 starts every 7 games.  When Holliday and Beltran sit, Allen Craig will play in LF and RF with Adams at 1B and Adams will play for Craig once a week at 1B.  However you slice it up, the Cards will have a power bat off the bench in every game.  Rosenthal and Boggs bounced back in game 2 as most of us knew they would.

Jake Westbrook made sure the Cards will go into the series starting Friday against the Brewers with a well-rested BP.  Westbrook pitched his first shutout since 2006, with his only blemish being 4 walks.  The Cards looked to be in a pitcher’s duel until the 5th inning, scoring 4, 4 and 2 in the 5th, 6th and 7th innings.  Jon Jay, Carpenter, Beltran and Adams all went deep, and Carpenter finished the day 4-5 as well as tied for the league lead in runs scored with 11. 

I was surprised to see Carpenter at 2B with Westbrook on the mound, however, I was happy to see it.  I don’t think Matheny should give much thought when it comes to who should be the primary 2B for the year.  Daniel Descalso’s defense doesn’t seem to be that much better than Carpenter, and certainly not enough to keep Carpenter’s bat out of the lineup.  Carpenter works the count as good as anyone and may be the best kept secret in the NL right now.

I’d like to see Shane Robinson get a few starts for Jay here and there.  I know many like Jay, but when talk of him winning the gold glove someday starts, I have to mute the TV.  Jay is a nice ballplayer on this team with the deep talent surrounding him, and he does have good numbers on offense.  However, he doesn’t work the count good enough for a lead-off man most of the time, he has a weak arm, gets bad jumps on some balls in CF and takes some awkward routes.  If Matheny is insistent about keeping bench players sharp, there’s no reason Robinson shouldn’t be included.   So far, that’s the only thing I can complain about in 2013.  I’m not bashing Jay, I just think certain fans feel he’s a little more polished than he actually is.  Being a good, complementary ballplayer is fine.

It doesn’t look like Jason Motte will be pitching in 2013.  I really wish he would go ahead and get TJS now so that he would be back sooner in 2014.  We’ve all seen that resting a torn UCL just doesn’t work.  I guess the Cards want to hope for the best, but I just don’t see rest helping.  I can’t find an instance with any other pitcher from another team resting it and it being fine either.  I hope I’m wrong.

Posted in April2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cards come home 3-3

The talk has already started about a feast or famine offense in 2013.  It’s about as stupid as it was in 2012.  Stats don’t back it up.  The Cardinals, like most teams, will run into good pitching performances like Game 1 of the series in San Francisco against Barry Zito.  What seems to be ignored is the fine performance from Jake Westbrook, who walked in the only run of the game.  Twitter was fired up, as fans claimed the Cards were doomed for a long losing streak.  This may be news to some, but the Cards have struggled against soft tossing lefties for quite a few years now.  What many fans fail to realize is that other teams do as well. 

The Cards are going to make their way into the 2013 playoff race by having great SP’s that can go deep into games and keep the BP fresh.  Of course the offense is important, but I’m still having a hard time getting my head around all the negativity with insistence from a certain faction of the fans who feel that’s this teams weak spot because of a few low scoring games here and there.

The Cards had a rough start against a very good Arizona team on the road, but just bounced back to put up 9 runs in one IP against Matt Cain.  After beating Ryan Vogelsong yesterday and Cain today, I’m not sure how anyone can feel bad about this team coming home 3-3.  Except for Lance Lynn, who’s still figuring out how to find his release point consistently after shedding 40 pounds, the rest of the rotation looks solid.  If Adam Wainwright doesn’t get hit in his throwing shoulder in the first game of the year or the Cards winning a 16-inning marathon, they could easily be 4-2.

As I said previously, there’s not a lot to take away from the games this early in the season.  The sample size is too small.  However, there’s nothing that I can see that takes away my feeling that this is a playoff team and will be in the hunt with the Reds until the end.  Matt Carpenter is something to look forward to, though, as he continues to battle at the plate in deep counts.  This isn’t news however, as he’s done it throughout his pro career.  Having his bat in the line-up on a regular basis will be a big boost when David Freese returns to man 3B on a regular basis.

Shelby Miller did a couple of things that bodes well for a successful season if he keeps at it.  He kept the ball down, he didn’t shake of Molina and was able to locate his breaking balls well.  As long as the Cards stay healthy, everything will be fine.  So please, let’s all hold off on calling something a trend until at least May.  The SP is in place, the Cards have depth on the bench as well as the #1 farm system in MLB and this team is led by a steady manager in Mike Matheny.

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

Cards happy to leave Arizona

The Cards dropped their opening series of the year in Arizona to the D-backs 2 games to 1.  All I can say is good riddance.  I don’t like the Cards playing in the thin air in AZ or Colorado.  I don’t think you can put too much stock in anything that happened in this series going forward.  The ball flies out of Chase field too easily, and the OF’ers have too much ground to cover.  Pitchers not accustomed to playing in CO or AZ usually have troubles.

Starting with the first game of the season, I thought it was pretty clear that Adam Wainwright was back.  Until being struck in by a ball in his throwing shoulder, he was cruising along.  He was hitting 94MPH on the radar gun with his fastball, and he had everything working except the cutter.  After that, AW wasn’t the same.  Although he claimed to be fine, his velocity immediately dropped and his control wasn’t the same.  I think AW will be back to 2009-2010 numbers when it’s all said and done.  Mistakes in the thin air will cost any pitcher.  Just ask Fernando Salas, who is the early season whipping boy.

In game 2, Jaime Garcia pitched pretty well until the 6th inning.  With 2 outs, Garcia walked the bases loaded and was bailed out when Edward Mujica came in and struck out the final batter of the 6th.  The Cards bats came alive, especially against Heath Bell.  Again though, I don’t like to put too much stock in these games, as I doubt we’ll see Pete Kozma hammering HR’s 440 feet to dead center at other ballparks.

The final and 16-inning marathon game to end the series is one of those games you say to yourself that the Cards have to win.  Last year it was the 1-run (21-26) and extra-inning games (6-12) that cost the team the division.  They’re now 0-1 in both categories to start 2013.  Lance Lynn couldn’t get the ball down.  The same can be said for Joe KellyTrevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs both blew 1-run saves, Rosy in the 8th and Boggs in the 12th.  The Cards led 4-1, 7-5, 8-7 and 9-8 in this game before losing 10-9 in the 16th, which was the longest game in Chase field history. 

The Cards had a tough draw to open the season on the road at Arizona and then San Francisco.  I’m happy to get these games out of the way early, but I never expected great results.  The Cards have a very tough schedule in the first month.  If they go .500 I’ll be surprised.  16 of the Cards first 22 games are on the road and the 2 home series are against the Reds and Brewers.

Thankfully, it appears Wainwright, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig are all ok.  Craig slide into the concrete wall with his left knee and Holliday was hit on the wrist with a fastball.  So, let’s just chalk this series up to the thin air for now, and see what happens from here on out.

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

2013 NL Central predictions

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati Reds (2)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (4)
  3. Milwaukee Brewers
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates
  5. Chicago Cubs

I hate to have to pick the Reds, but they just don’t have any weaknesses heading into 2013.  They addressed their biggest need by getting Shin-Soo Choo to play CF and be the leadoff hitter.  Think of it this way, they replaced a .213 hitter with an OBP of .277 in Drew Stubbs with a career .289/.381 hitter in Choo, who is in his prime at age 30.  Choo averages 20 SB’s and 19 HR’s over a 162 game average as well.  I’m not going out on a limb when I say Choo will score more runs than anyone in MLB in 2013.

The Reds lost Joey Votto for 51 games in 2012 and still finished 9 games ahead of the Cards.  Go ahead and mark Votto down for the NL MVP.  The Reds offense isn’t a great one considering the park they play in, but again, having Choo will be a big boost to that.

Here’s the lineup with slash lines for AVG, OBP, OPS and HR.  Shin-Soo Choo, age 30 (.283, .373, .815, 16) 2B Brandon Phillips, age 31 (.281, .321, .750, 18).  SS Zack Cozart, age 27 (.246, .288, .687, 15).  3B Todd Frazier, age 27 (.273, .331, .829, 19).  1B Joey Votto, age 29 (.337, .474, 1.041, 14 (in 111 games)).  LF Ryan Ludwick, age 34 (.263, .334, .877, 26).  RF Jay Bruce, age 25 (.252, .327, .841, 34).  C Ryan Hanigan, age 32 (.274, .370, .703, 2).  As you can see, the Reds have an offense of solid players and a few superstars, and everyone except Ludwick is in their prime.

With Aroldis Chapman staying the closer, the Reds may have the best BP in the NL.  Walt Jocketty re-signed Jonathan Broxton to a 3 year, $21 million deal to be the closer.  Apparently, he didn’t check with Dusty Baker though, as Baker demanded that Chapman remain in the BP, which is what Chapman wanted.  After Chapman and Broxton, the Reds have Sean Marshall (2.51 ERA, 74 K’s in 61 IP), Jose Arredondo (2.95 ERA, 62 K’s in 61 IP), Logan Ondrusek (3.46 ERA, 39 K’s in 54.2 IP) and a nice long list of more power arms.

The Reds starting rotation didn’t have one starter who missed a start in 2012.  Adding Mat Latos proved to be another strong move by Jocketty.  Here are the Reds starting 5 and their 2012 stats:

Johnny Cueto—19-9, 217 IP, 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 170 K’s

Mat Latos—14-4, 209.1 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 185 K’s

Bronson Arroyo—12-10, 202 IP, 3.74 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 129 K’s

Homer Bailey—13-10, 208 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 168 K’s

Mike Leake—8-9, 179 IP, 4.58 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 116 K’s

The Reds were tied for 2nd in team ERA in 2012 at 3.34.  Their offense scored 669 runs (9th in the NL), but having Choo leading off and Votto for a full year will put them in the top 3 IMO.  The Reds have the 15th ranked farm system, with speedster Billy Hamilton (155 SB’s in 2012, MiLB record) ready to take over an OF spot if someone goes down.

The Cardinals are heading into the regular season more than a little banged up.  Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal are out for the year.  David Freese will start the season on the DL.  Jason Motte has either a strain or a tear in his elbow, depending on what report you believed when it first happened.  Carlos Beltran has a bad toe, though he says he’s good to go.  Jaime Garcia’s shoulder will be in question all year.  Lance Lynn is struggling with consistency and velocity after dropping 40 pounds, though he looked better today.  Even with all that, the Cards have answers with the depth from their #1 rated farm system.

Adam Wainwright will be here to mentor all of the young power arms for the next 6 years.  This was a great deal for the Cards and AW.  The only question about Wainwright is if he’ll return to 2009-2010 form, and I believe he will.  If the Cards are going to make a serious run at the NLC crown, he’ll have to.  The Cards will go with a rotation order of Wainwright, Garica, Lynn, Jake Westbrook and Shelby Miller.  There are a lot of question marks in there, but it has the potential to be a top 5 staff.  Joe Kelly will start as a long reliever in the BP and will be the first to provide insurance to the rotation if someone goes down.  Michael Wacha will start the year in Memphis, but I don’t think the Cards will hesitate to bring him up if the health of the SP’s really takes a turn for the worst.  Yadier Molina says Wacha is ready now and so far he looks like the steal from the 2012 draft.

The Cards were second to only the Brewers in runs scored in 2012, 11 runs back at 765.  Many complained of an inconsistent offense, but it was the middle relief that blew many games before the acquisition of Edward Mujica that magnified a problem that didn’t really exist.  The Cards were 31-17 in blowout games, and the Reds were 20-13.  The WS winninig SFG were 24-18, so again, this issue was blown out of proportion.  Where the Cards really had problems was in the 1-run games where they were 21-26, the Reds were 31-21, and the Giants were 30-20.  That problem looked to be solved for 2013 with the addition of Trevor Rosenthal in the BP for a whole year to use in a fireman role, but with Motte out, it opens the door to some questions again.  Still, the Cards BP should be a strength in 2013….Fernando Salas is healthy, Mujica is here for the start and Eduardo Sanchez looked good in ST.  Sanchez will start the year as the closer in Memphis, but if he can return to 2011 form, it will be another bullet to call upon if needed.

Matt Adams has made the team, and provides great insurance for an injury to Carlos Beltran.  If Beltran goes down, Adams plays full-time at 1st and Allen Craig moves to RF.  If Matt Holliday goes down, I don’t think the Cards will hesitate to bring up Oscar Taveras.  What seems to have most fans uneasy is Pete Kozma as the everyday shortstop.  So far, he just looks like a late bloomer.  The SS position is his and I don’t see the Cards making a trade unless he completely tanks, and even then I think they’ll turn to other in-house options like Ryan Jackson or Greg Garcia.

If Freese comes back as scheduled for the home opener on April 8th, Matt Carpenter will see most of the action at 2B.  By all accounts, he’s made the transition easily, and the Cards want his bat in the lineup as much as possible.  While Freese is out, Carpenter will play 3B and Daniel Descalso will play 2B.  Descalso has completely revamped his swing and worked on taking the ball the other way, and has had success in ST, for what it’s worth.

Ty Wigginton is having a rough spring, but he’s not going anywhere.  The Cards committed to him on a 2-year contract, so he’ll be the power RHB off the bench with the occasional spot start at a corner position.  Jon Jay will need to improve on his 2012 stats of a .224 AVG and .289 OBP on the road, especially since he’s going to be the leadoff hitter all year.

Overcoming injuries isn’t a new concept to this group of guys.  With solid depth in the minors ready or close to ready for action, the Cards should stay in the hunt all year.  I can see a scenario in which the Cards finish anywhere from 1st to 3rd in the NLC, but the Reds have fewer question marks and will remain at the top if they stay healthy.  I do think the Cards get in as at least a wildcard again in 2013.

The Brewers are an interesting team.  After looking them over again, I think they will have a chance to be in the race a lot longer than I originally thought.  I think they got a good deal with Kyle Lohse at 3 years and $33 million.  They scored the most runs in the NL last year with 776.  They’re going to lose some of that thump on offense to start the season, as Corey Hart will be out until May.

Yovanni Gallardo will lead the staff, followed by Lohse, Mike Fiers, Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada.  There’s a lot of potential there behind Lohse and Gallardo.

The Brewers seem confident John Axford will return to form as a top 10 closer.  After having 70 saves in 2010-2011 with a 2.21 ERA and 162 K’s in 141.2 IP, Axford had a 4.67 ERA in 2012 with a 1.44 WHIP.  The Brewers were also awful in 1-run games in 2012, going 24-32.  They lost Mat Gamel at 1B over the winter to a knee injury, and lack depth at that position.  After Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez, the lineup lacks power until Hart returns.  Everything will have to break right for the Brewers, but they have a chance to hang around if injuries strike the Reds and continue with the Cards.  The Brewers have the #23rd ranked farm system.

The Pirates are getting close.  After collapsing down the stretch the last 2 years, they’ll try to finish over .500 for the first time since 1992.  They added veteran catcher Russell Martin in the offseason.  1B Garrett Jones (.274, 27 HR’s), 2B Neil Walker (.280, 14 HR’s), and 3B Pedro Alvarez (.244, 30 HR’s) all came up big in 2012 to go along with superstar Andrew McCutchen.

A.J. Burnett found a home in Pittsburgh and pitched up to his abilities (16-10, 180 K’s in 202.1 IP), Wandy Rodriguez was a solid addition last year as the #2 starter and John McDonald made me a believer as the #3 starter.  The Pirates will take a chance on Jonathan Sanchez as the #4 starter, and they have depth with the #7 ranked farm system.  LF’er Starling Marte is someone scouts are very high on and look for a breakout year from, and actually think he’s good enough to move McCutchen to a corner OF spot.

It might have made sense to trade closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox for a nice package of minor leaguers, but that move won’t help the Pirates in 2013.  Jason Grilli will be a good closer, but losing Hanrahan hurts the depth of their BP, which was their biggest strength in 2012.

The Cubs will finish last again.  They’ll be without Matt Garza to start the year due to a lat strain.  Jeff Samardzjia will take over as the ace until Garza returns, with newly acquired Edwin Jackson as the #2.  Starlin Castro will continue to be one of the best young SS’s in the game, and Anthony Rizzo is a future star at 1B.  GM Theo Epstein will continue to try and trade Alfonso Soriano for the right package, and the rebuilding will continue.  The Cubs have the 12th ranked farm system, and will try and make a run when it becomes a top 5 system….until then, the Cubs have no chance.

Posted in March2013 | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thoughts on the Wainwright extension

Like most of us thought, the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright worked out a deal that was beneficial for both sides.  John Mozeliak, AW and his representatives kept the talks behind closed doors, only recently revealing before the deal was done that both sides felt optimistic and that Adam wanted to remain a Cardinal.  The Cards have now locked up Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig to long term deals that combined make up less than what Albert Pujols received from the Angels.  You can throw Carlos Beltran in there as well.

I think Wainwright will return to 2009-2010 form.  I think at the end of this year and the next few he’ll be in the conversation with Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels and a few others for the Cy Young Award.  That is part of the reason the Cards signed Wainwright to an extension.  The other is for Adam to keep passing the torch he took from Chris Carpenter onto Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly and many others.

It’s not just leading by example with what Wainwright does on the mound, it’s all of those things that must take place in the offseason.  It’s the way that Wainwright is with the media, with the fans, and most importantly, to his teammates.  Wainwright understands playing in St. Louis is something special, and that the Cardinal way really is different.  It’s the selfless attitude that must be there on the days he doesn’t pitch, and the bulldog mentality on the day he does.  All of these young arms the Cardinals have coming are the future, and they needed everything that was passed down from Dave Duncan to Carpenter to Wainwright to be a presence in their everyday lives.

The Cards did a great job with replacing the hard-nosed Tony LaRussa with the right manager in Mike Matheny.  Now, they’ve kept the train moving from Carpenter to Wainwright, who will pass it on to future stars.  Long term deals for SP’s are always risky, but there’s more to this deal than just the money for Wainwright to pitch.  We won’t ever have to worry about someone like Wainwright, whose character is unquestioned, not giving 100%.  There’s no need to say much more, just watch this video of the press conference today from mlb.com.

Posted in March2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments