Monday, October 6, 2014

John Lackey's big game and Kolten Wong's blast lead Cardinals to game three win

John Lackey came up big again and the Cardinals took advantage of the Dodgers shaky bullpen to win game three and give themselves a 2-1 lead in the NLDS.

Lackey, who was acquired in a controversial trade in which the Cards gave up Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, lived up to his big game reputation, allowing just 1 run in 7 innings.  However, he was matched by Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who allowed just 1 run in 6 innings despite making his first start since September 12th.

However, Ryu was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the 7th and the Cardinals jumped on reliever Scott Elbert to the tune of 2 runs on 3 hits, with the big blow Kolten Wong's 2-run homer. 

The Cardinals power surge has been surprising this postseason, with 6 homers in 3 games (Matt Carpenter has 3 of those, homering in each game), after finishing the regular season last in the NL with just 105 homers.

Now, with an series edge, the Cards are going to have to close it out against two of the best pitchers in the NL, as Clayton Kershaw will pitch on short rest tomorrow, followed by Zach Greinke in game 5 (if necessary).

The matchup tomorrow should favor the Cards, as Kershaw is 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA in his postseason career, including 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA in his last 3 postseason starts against the Cardinals.  Plus, pitchers going on short rest rarely fair well in the postseason.

However, this is still Kershaw that we are talking about.  The reigning Cy Young award winner and the guy most likely to win it again this year.  So you can throw all those prior stats out the door.  He will be out to prove himself and the Cards will have their work cut out for them.

He will be opposed by Shelby Miller, who was one of the Cardinals hottest pitchers down the stretch, with a 2-0 record and 1.48 ERA in his last 5 starts of the season.  However, he is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA this year and 1-1 with a 6.57 ERA in his career against the Dodgers.

The Cards will hope to at least keep the game close so that they can exploit the Dodger's bullpen, which has given up 6 runs in 6.1 innings so far. 

In any case, tomorrow is the game we want as we certainly don't want to head back to L.A. and have to face Greinke again  (1-0, with a 1.64 record in his last 3 postseason starts against the Cards). 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tomorrow we get to see if the Cardinals' John Lackey really is a big game pitcher

After splitting the first two games of the NLDS, in part due to an improbable comeback in game one against the NL's best pitcher and likely Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, the Cardinals return home for two games starting Monday night.

Taking the mound for the Cardinals is John Lackey, otherwise known as the guy the Cards traded both Allen Craig and Joe Kelly for back in July.  Lackey will be making his first postseason appearance since winning game 6 of the 2013 World Series against the Cardinals.

Lackey has earned a bit of a reputation as a big game pitcher, with people noting that he out dueled Detroit ace Justin Verlander last year in game 3 of the ALCS and of course his big win in game 6 of the World Series.

However, is he really all that clutch? 

This is Lackey's 6th postseason.  His first postseason with the Angels back in 2002 was pretty special, as he went 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA including winning game 7 of the World Series against the Giants.

Last year was also kinda special, as he earned his second World Series ring while going 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA.

However, in between, he has gone 1-4 with a 3.40 ERA, not terrible stats, at least from an ERA standpoint, but hardly the resume of a "big game" pitcher.

Sometimes players can build a reputation from just a few games or one great season, weather its warranted or not.  Just ask Allen Craig, who hit .454 with RISP in 2013, how "clutch" he was in 2014. 

As statisticians always say, "beware of small sample sizes". 

So while Cardinals fans are hoping for another "big game" performance from Lackey in game 3, I'll just be hoping for a win.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Schedule favors the Cardinals down the stretch

With the Cardinals battling the Pirates for the NL Central crown and just 11 days left in the season, its getting to be crunch time.  The Cards have a 2.5 game lead on the Buccos, with 10 games remaining.  The Pirates have 11 games left.

Here's how their schedules break down:

Cardinals:

9/18:  vs. Brewers (79-73)
9/19 - 9/21:  vs. Reds (71-82)
9/22 - 9/24:  @ Cubs (68-84)
9/25:  off day
9/26 - 9/28:  @ Diamondbacks (62-90)

Pirates:

9/18:  vs. Red Sox (66-86)
9/19 - 9/21:  vs. Brewers (79-73)
9/22 - 9/25:  @ Braves (76-76)
9/26 - 9/28:  @ Reds (71-82)

The Cardinals opponents have a combined weighted-average winning percentage of .440 vs the Pirates' opponents weighted average winning percentage of .490, a clear advantage for the Cards. 

In addition, both teams play the same number of home games (4) while the Pirates have one more away game than the Cards (and one more game overall), which might be a slight disadvantage for them.

Finally, considering that the Brewers and Braves are both fighting for a playoff spot, one can assume they will give the Pirates a tougher test than the Cubs and Diamondbacks for the Cardinals. However, there might be more pressure on the Brewers and Braves, which may make them not play as well, while the Cubs and Diamondbacks have nothing to lose, so who knows who has the advantage here.


Overall, the schedule favors the Cardinals.  However, the Pirates have been hot lately, winning 11 of their last 12 games.  So, although I think the Cards will win the division, they still have to take care of business and win the games they are suppose to win.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How do the Cardinals' July trades affect their roster going forward?

The Cardinals current and future roster changed dramatically in July when John Mozeliak jettisoned Allen Craig, Joe Kelly and minor leaguer James Ramsey in exchange for pitchers Justin Masterson and John Lackey, along with minor leaguer pitcher Corey Littrell.

Kelly would have been under team control through the 2018 season and Craig was signed to a reasonable contract through the 2017 season, with a $13 million option for 2018.

In exchange, the Cardinals got Masterson, who is a free agent after this season, and Lackey, who has an incredibly low $500K option for 2015.

The move also cleared room for top prospect Oscar Taveras to play everyday as the starting right fielder.

Does it make the team better in the long run?  That's hard to say, but at least one writer, Bob Nightengale thinks that the Cardinals will regret the Lackey trade.

However, it does change the Cardinals projected lineup and starting pitching for 2015 and beyond, here's a quick look at both:

Lineup

With Taveras replacing Craig, the lineup should be pretty much set through the 2016 season, after which, both Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos are set to become free agents. 

Back in December, I predicted that James Ramsey was the heir apparent to the center field job, eventually replacing Bourjos after the 2016 season (I predicted Jay would be traded this year).

The Cards other top outfield prospects, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are both projected as corner outfielders, leaving the team without an obvious center fielder of the future. 

Tommy Pham is probably the Cardinals best defensive center field prospect, but has a career .253 average in the minors.  He has hit well this year, with a .332 average, albeit in the hitter-friendly PCL.

In any case, the Cards could always extend the contracts of Jay or Bourjos, if needed.

Starting Rotation

Here's where things get a little more interesting.  The Cardinals obviously needed starting pitching this year to make up for the losses of Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha.  Its unlikely that Garcia will pitch for the Cards again, while Wacha hopes to return sometime in September and should be healthy going forward.

With Lacky signed through 2015 and Masterson a free agent after the season, here's what the 2015 rotation should look like:

  1.  Adam Wainwright
  2. Michael Wacha
  3. John Lackey
  4. Lance Lynn
  5. Shelby Miller
 There are still some concerns about Miller, but the Cardinals will still have Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales and some other young guns waiting in the wings.

For 2016, Lackey will roll off the books, with Martinez and Gonzales battling for the 5th spot.  Giving us the following rotation:
  1. Wainwright
  2. Wacha
  3. Lynn
  4. Miller
  5. Martinez/Gonzales
This rotation will continue through the 2017 season, after which Lynn becomes a free agent, giving us the following projected rotation for 2018:
  1. Wainwright
  2. Wacha
  3. Miller
  4. Martinez
  5. Gonzales
After that, I would really need a crystal ball, as Wainwright and Miller will be free agents after 2018 and who knows which prospects will be ready to take their places (Rob Kaminsky, Tim Cooney, etc.).

Overall, I think the Ramsey loss could create a hole in center in the future, while the Cardinals overall pitching depth doesn't seem as strong as the past few years.  But, if the team can keep drafting and developing players like they have in the past, these issues will resolve themselves.



Friday, August 1, 2014

Random thoughts on the Cardinals moves as the trade deadline dust settles

As we all continue to digest the trade deadline moves by the Cardinals, here are some of my random thoughts on them.

The Cardinals overpaid on John Lackey

Lackey is a good pitcher and all that, but is he really worth both Allen Craig and Joe Kelly?  My initial impression when I heard of the trade was that we "sold low" on both Craig and Kelly.  Yes, they were both having down years and perhaps had fallen out of favor with the Cards, but couldn't we have gotten something better for them?

Despite all that, I don't think we could have used those two to get David Price and I don't think that John Mozeliak would have given these guys up for a two-month rental (aka Jon Lester), so maybe Lackey was the best he could do.

David Price's price was cheaper than I thought

In a 3-team deal, the Rays traded Price to Detroit while getting Nick Franklin (from Seattle), Drew Smyly (from Detroit) and minor leaguer Willy Adames.  Franklin was, at best, a top 50 prospect and has yet to hit in the majors.  Smyly is a good, solid left handed pitcher.  While Adames is kind of a "meh" prospect.

Could the Cardinals have topped that?  Certainly.  Give the Rays Shelby Miller, Stephen Piscotty and some mid-level prospect and you should have a deal.

My thought all along is that it would take a top-end prospect to land Price, but apparently that was not the case.

Acquiring Justin Masterson was a classic Mozeliak move

The last few years we've grown accustomed to the Cardinals GM John Mozeliak making small tweaks to the team at the trade deadline (or thereafter). The last couple years those tweaks were to use some extra prospects pieces to acquire a struggling pitcher in hopes they turn it around with the Cards.

In 2012, that pitcher was Edward Mujica, who had a 4.38 ERA with the Marlins before Mo acquired him.  He then proceeded to post a 1.03 ERA down the stretch with the Cardinals.

In August of 2013, the Cardinals picked up John Axford from the Brewers, who had a 4.45 ERA prior to the trade and a 1.74 ERA afterwards.

Hopefully, Masterson can follow this same trend.

Are the Cardinals really better off?

The team dealt from its surplus of outfielders to acquire some pitching depth, but does that make them better?  Well, maybe.


The starting rotation should be better with Lackey and Masterson replacing Kelly and Martinez, who has been shipped back to Memphis to keep him stretched out as a starter.  The biggest question is how Masterson's knee holds up.

On the hitting side, moving Craig opens up an opportunity for Taveras, but weakens an already thin bench.  It also remains to be seen if Taveras can outproduce Craig, at least this season.

Overall, I would have been happy if Mozeliak had just stopped with the Masterson trade.  The Lackey trade is one that could certainly come back to haunt him.  However, it obvious that Mo felt that he had to make a big move to try to shake up this team and get them back to playing the way they're capable.