Friday, May 30, 2014

Cardinals call up Oscar Taveras. Matt Adams headed for the DL.

The long wait is over, the Cardinals have called up Oscar Taveras.  Unfortunately it comes at the expense of Matt Adams.

Per Derrick Goold, Taveras will be called up on Saturday and likely inserted into the lineup immediately, while Adams will head to the DL with a calf injury.

Its a shame to lose Adams, who is hitting .325/.337/.474 on the year and is one of the team's most productive hitters.  However, the Cardinals hope that Taveras can fill the void, as he was hitting .325/.373/.524 at AAA Memphis.

Taveras will likely play right field while Adams is out, with Allen Craig shifting to 1B.  Recently promoted Randal Grichuk will likely be the DH during the Cardinals road trip to the AL parks that starts on June 4th.

So, the long wait is finally over, however, unless he hits like gangbusters, don't expect his stay to last longer than that of Adams' on the DL.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How can the Cardinals upgrade their bench?

The Cardinals bench leaves a lot to be desired.  As a team, the Cardinals subs are hitting just .198 with a .555 OPS. 

Other than backup catcher Tony Cruz, who is hitting .292, and Jon Jay, who is hitting .279 while splitting time in center with Peter Bourjos (.210), the Cardinals have gotten little or no production from their bench.

Other than those two, the Cards do not have anyone on their bench hitting over the Mendoza line.  Utility infielder, Daniel Descalso, is not known as a great hitter, but his .172 average is far below his normal level.  Backup second baseman Mark Ellis is hitting .181 and the 5th outfielder shuttle of Shane Robinson (.156), Randal Grichuk (.143) and Joey Butler (0 for 5) haven't fared much better.

So, how can the Cardinals improve their bench?

Well, for one, they can promote Oscar Taveras or Stephen Piscotty.  Taveras is hitting .325/.373/.524 and Piscotty is hitting .292/.330/.426 for AAA Memphis.  Either one could be an upgrade over Robinson and could rotate in the outfield spots to give the team's veterans a rest.

Another potential upgrade would be Aledmys Diaz as a utility infielder.  Unfortunately, he has been sidelined since April 26th due to a shoulder injury.  However, once healthy, he would be a upgrade over Deslcaso and is capable of playing second, third and short.

As for Ellis, the Cards are probably stuck with him, as he is looking like this year's version of Ty Wigginton.  Hopefully the team has learned their lesson and will stop signing 35+ year old veteran infielders to fill out their bench. 

Finally, although Tony Cruz has hit well in his limited role as Yadier Molina's backup, the team needs to find someone that Mike Matheny can rely on more so that he doesn't overwork Molina.  Yadi played in 136 games last year and it showed in his second half numbers.

In the first half of the season, Molina hit .341/.386/.489, but he finished the year hitting just .280/.309/.456.  Some extra rest here and there would do a lot to ensure that drop off does not happen again. 

Unfortunately, the Cardinals best catching prospects, Steve Bean and converted third baseman Carson Kelly, are both splitting catching duties for low A Peoria and are not an option, so any catching help will have to come from the outside. 

There are some internal options to improve the bench.  We could see one of those options (most likely Taveras) as early as June 4th and, once he's healthy, Diaz should be able to replace Descalso.  Those two could go a long way to improving the overall performance of the bench.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This time the Cardinals Kolten Wong appears to be getting it right

In many ways, Kolten Wong was the poster child for the Cardinals offensive struggles at the beginning of the season.  While the team was struggling with a .246 average in March and April, Wong didn't help matters, hitting .225 with a.544 OPS.

Never mind that other players were also struggling who were counted on to produce (I'm looking at you Allen Craig), the Cardinals felt the need to make an example out of Wong and sent him to the minors.

To his credit, Wong did not sulk or pout.  He took the demotion as a challenge and tore up AAA pitching to the tune of .344/.382/.484 in 15 games, earning a promotion back to the Cardinals.  Of course, it didn't hurt that his replacement at second base, Mark Ellis, hit only .204 in his absence.

So, Wong got his second chance and thus far he's made the most of it.

Since his return, Wong is hitting .364/.432/.455 and has found a home in the second spot in the batting order.  He has helped spark the Cardinals offense while raising his season average to .269.

The Cardinals offense should kick into gear at some point.  Guys like Allen Craig and Peter Bourjos are starting to show signs of life and top prospect Oscar Taveras could come up next week to DH during the interleague game at the AL parks.

But having a guy at the top of the order who can get on base and wreck havoc will help this team manufacture runs when needed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cardinals are content to stand pat...for now

While many Cardinals fans may be panicking over the team's sluggish start, GM John Mozeliak is not.  Both Rick Hummel and Ken Rosenthal posted articles recently indicating the the Cardinals GM is not looking to make a move any time soon.

However, that doesn't mean that one won't be coming in the future, as Mo says "That doesn’t mean we’re going to sit back and be complacent and do nothing. We’ll survey markets and see where we might go. It’s a little too early to say what we might chase.’’

The Cardinals offense has started to show signs of life and their bullpen will get a boost from the return of Jason Motte, so its hard to see where the Cards have a glaring need.

One area where the Cards have struggled is second base, where the team has a .207/.276/.250 line so far this season.  However, since his return from the minors, Kolten Wong has gone 5 for 11 to raise his average to .256 and is starting to look like he belongs in the majors.

Another problem area has been right field, where Allen Craig resides.  His .226/.281/.354 line is the main reason the Cardinals right fielders are hitting .203/.254/.326 as a group.  However, Craig is still a career .297 hitter and its too soon to give up on him.

Finally, center field has been an issue for the Redbirds, where projected starter Peter Bourjos got off to a slow start, leading Manager Mike Matheny to play the defensively challenged Jon Jay more in the early going.  However, Bourjos' bat has come alive in May, to the tune of .324/.390/.486, leading to more playing time for him and less talk of promoting Oscar Taveras.

Overall, the Cardinals have the talent and the depth to get on a hot streak and pass the fading Brewers.  Once guys like Craig, Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter start hitting like they should, the wins should follow.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Jason Motte's return should restore order to the Cardinals bullpen

Yesterday's loss to the Braves was cringe-worthy, to say the least.  Trevor Rosenthal, working for the 4th straight day, didn't have enough gas left in the tank to finish off the Braves and they were able to score two runs in the 9th to beat the Cardinals.

Many are questioning why Mike Matheny would even use Rosenthal again in that situation, when he had Carlos Martinez warming up and Pat Neshek needed just 3 pitches to end the 8th inning. 

I can understand Matheny's reluctance to use Martinez, who has a 5.87 ERA in May.  But Neshek has been excellent so far this year and was making his first appearance since May 13th, so he was well rested. 

Sometimes I think managers rely to much on the closer label than just going with what makes the most sense for that game.

In any case, things should get better soon.

Jason Motte is scheduled to come off the DL Tuesday and should quickly step into a prominent role in the Cardinals bullpen.  Matheny indicated that he would not be afraid to use Motte in a "high-leverage situation."

It will be interesting to see who they send down when Motte is activated.  I have long thought that Martinez would be the one to go, so that he could be stretched out as a starter again.  However, with the bullpen issues, its more likely that Sam Freeman will be sent down and the Cards will go with their best relievers.

If that happens, Motte will ease some of the pressure on Kevin Siegrist, Neshek, Martinez and even Rosenthal, by giving Matheny one more reliable option to choose from late in a game.  In addition, Seth Maness appears to have found his sinker again (0.00 ERA in 5.2 IP in May), Randy Choate will go back to being just another LOOGY (.167 average against vs lefties this season versus .400 vs righties) and all will be right in the world.

In any case, having Motte back can do nothing but help the Cardinals beleaguered bullpen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Cardinals Mailbag

As part of the United Cardinals Bloggers May project, we created a mailbag format where each blogger is asked a question from a group of fellow Cardinals bloggers and provides a response to each.

As a result, here is the first CFCL mailbag (sponsored by the UCB):

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball - Your site is dedicated to your father, who you say "without whom my love for the Cardinals would have never been born."  My father was very important to my love of the game and I'm intrigued.  If you don't mind, could you share with us a story about your father and how he helped you come to love the Birds on the Bat instead of the Baby Bears?

Growing up in Normal, Illinois, the Cubs and Cardinals fans were pretty evenly split, however there was never a question as to which team I would root for.  My dad spent the formative years of his life in Clayton, Missouri and once got to see Dizzy Dean pitch against Carl Hubbell.  His love for the game and the Cardinals rubbed off on me and stays with me to this day.

As the beneficiary of a June birthday, my gift each year was to go down to St. Louis for a weekend Cardinals series with my family.  While my sister never was really into baseball and my brother outgrew the sport and turned his interests to music, the love of baseball and the Cardinals is something my dad and I always shared.

Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants - In your years of following the St. Louis Cardinals, what is your favorite moment?

There have been many great moments in my years of following the Cards, including the 2011 World Series game 6, attending Lou Brock day back when Brock was my favorite player and getting to shake hands with Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith at the Adams Mark hotel bar after a game.

However, my favorite memory has to be watching the 7th game of the 1982 World Series with my dad and brother in our living room.  I sat in silence for a few seconds after Bruce Sutter struck out Gorman Thomas to win it, before joining my dad and brother in celebration.

After becoming a diehard Cardinals fan in the mid-1970's, getting to finally see the Cards win a World Series for the first time (in my lifetime) was a special moment for me and to be able to share it with my dad and brother made it that much more special.

Ben Chambers, The View From Here - What is the hardest part of being "behind enemy lines"?

Probably the hardest thing about living in the Chicago area, is the inability to follow the Cardinals as closely as I use to.

When I was growing up in Central Illinois, I listened to the Cards on the radio every night and watched the games regularly, when the Cardinals games were picked up by one of our local TV stations. Nowadays, I can only catch the Cards on national telecasts.

Other than that, the fans are tolerable (I'm married to one), especially now that they are rebuilding and you don't have fair-weather fans coming out of the woodwork.  But, if they were to become relevant again, that could certainly change.

Dan Buffa, Dose of Buffa - Can you see any huge differences between this team under John Mabry as hitting coach as opposed to Mark McGwire?

You mean other than the fact that the Cardinals can't seem to score runs this year compared to prior years?

In all seriousness, I don't put a lot of stock in hitting coaches having a significant impact on a team.  For the most part, hitters know their swing and can tell when they are out of sync and the coach can help them tweak things on occassion.

Its rare that you are going to change a hitters approach once they reach the major leagues (see Colby Rasmus), so the main thing that I think a hitting coach does is to help hitters who are struggling sort out their mechanics and all that entails is watching some video.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat - What one move would you make to shake up this team and get it out of the .500 doldrums?

I don't know if there is one move that will shake up this team and get it back on track, as the biggest issue has been the lack of offense.  The only thing Mike Matheny can do about that is to keep trotting the under-performers, like Allen Craig, out there in hopes that they can get hot.

Other than that, guys getting healthy, like Jason Motte and even Jaime Garcia, should give the other problem area, the bullpen, a boost as Garcia's return to the rotation would allow the Cardinals to move Joe Kelly back to the pen (when he's healthy again).

The only move that the Cardinals have yet to try (and that fans have been clamoring for) is to promote Oscar Taveras and start him in center field.  However, while he might improve the offense, he would probably make an already poor outfield defense even worse.

Basically, the talent is there for the Cards to go on a run, they just have to play up to their abilities.

John Nagel, Cardinals Farm -Since you are a history buff, what is another Cards team that had plenty of talent but couldn't put it together?

The Cardinals team that stands out to me as having the most talent and not being able to put it together was the 1986 team.

This was basically the same team as the World Series team of 1985.  After leading the NL in runs scored in 1985 with 747, the 1986 team struggled to score runs (sound familiar), finishing last in runs scored (601), average (.236) and OBP (.309).

Only a solid pitching staff that finished the season 4th in ERA (3.37) helped the Cardinals avoid total disaster that year.  They dug themselves a big hole with a 36-50 record in the first half, but showed that they had the talent to win, going 43-32 in the second half of the season to end up with an overall record of 79-82.

After adding Tony Pena via trade after the 1986 season and promoting Joe Magrane to join the starting rotation, the 1987 Cardinals once again rose to the top and made it back to the World Series, but, to me at least, the 1986 season for the Cards will always be one of the biggest disappointments.

Kevin Reynolds, Stl Cards 'N Stuff - How has blogging about baseball changed your experience of baseball?  Bonus Question: What single position (non-position) on the Cards roster do you see being filled with a future core player from the farm system not currently with the big league team? Who/why/etc.?

I think that, living in the Chicago area, I have not been able to follow the Cardinals as closely as I have in the past.  Starting a blog on the Cardinals has helped me "reconnect" with the team.

The easiest answer to your second question is that the Cardinals will eventually make room for Oscar Taveras at one of the corner outfield spots by trading one of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig or Matt Adams. 

However, to dig a little deeper, I'm not currently sold on either of our center field options nor is Jhonny Peralta a long-term solution at short.  I think the center field will eventually be filled by James Ramsey.  He is making some noise at AA Springfield this season (.305/.393/.583 with 11 homers in 151 at bats) and is well regarded for his leadership and makeup.

As for shortstop, I think the Cardinals will eventually have to look outside the organization to fill that hole (again).

That's it for this mailbag.  If anyone has any questions they would like me to answer for future mailbags, please send them to:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Could Jason Motte replace Trevor Rosenthal as Cardinals closer?

Last night Trevor Rosenthal blew a save in the Cardinals eventual 4-3 victory over the Cubs.  While that isn't very concerning, considering that Rosenthal had converted 10 straight saves prior to last night, what is concerning is that Trevor now has a 5.19 ERA while allowing 5.7 BB/9.

Could Rosenthal's struggles open the door for Jason Motte to return to the closer role?

Its possible, but probably not right away.

First, Motte has to make it back to the major leagues.  He is still rehabbing at AAA Memphis and has yet to be promoted to the majors.  While that could happen soon, there is always the possibility of a setback.

Second, Motte has to prove he's healthy and capable of getting major leaguers out.  While he has yet to be scored upon, his velocity is still a bit down from his pre-surgery days.  During his rehab his fastball has been sitting in the 91-95 mph range, whereas, prior to his injury, he was throwing around 98 mph.  That may be good enough to get minor leaguers out, but is it good enough for the majors?

Finally, despite his struggles, Rosenthal has still only blown one save in 11 tries.  That, by itself,  is not enough to warrant a change.  

However, what could precipitate a change are the walks.  Last season, in 75.1 IP, Rosenthal only allowed 2.4 BB/9.  This year, he has more than doubled that figure. 

In addition, Rosenthal's velocity is down this year, from an average of 96.4 mph with a high of 101.4 in 2013, to an average of 95.9 with a high of just 98.7 this year.  Could he be hiding an injury?  Its possible, but until he comes forward, we just have to the weather and/or other factors.

Bottom line, with Motte's return eminent, Rosenthal had better get his act together or he could soon find himself in a setup role.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jaime Garcia set to return to Cardinals rotation and other notes

Tyler Lyons was placed on the 15-day DL today, one day after getting roughed up by the Cubs.  While that is an interesting move (considering that Mike Matheny left him in the game long enough to give up 9 runs in 4 innings), what is more interesting is who might replace him in the rotation...Jaime Garcia.

Garcia pitched 5 innings on Monday for AAA Memphis, giving up just 2 runs on 3 hits, while striking out 5.  It was just his second rehab appearance, but speculation has already begun that he will get the call for the Cardinals on Saturday.

If Garcia makes the start on Saturday, it will be one year to the day from his last major league start, which came on May 17, 2013 against the Brewers. 

It will be interesting to see if he still has the same stuff as he had before his shoulder issues.  Shoulder injuries are the most difficult to come back from as a pitcher, so here's hoping for the best for Garcia.

In other news, GM John Mozeliak indicated that Kolten Wong could be recalled soon.  He's reportedly "checked all the boxes" while hitting .344/.382/.484 in 15 games since his demotion.

The Cardinals are certainly looking for any kind of spark to their offense (as long as it does not involve calling up Oscar Taveras before June) and Mark Ellis (.203/.273/237) hasn't exactly been tearing it up as Wong's replacement.

Finally, the Cards continue to shuffle the back end of their bullpen, calling up both lefty Sam Freeman and righty Jorge Rondon, while sending down Eric Fornataro and placing Lyons on the DL.  However, their stays may be short as one of them will be replaced by Garcia this weekend, while the other could soon be replaced by the rehabbing Jason Motte.

Motte has yet to give up a run in 5 appearances between AA Springfield and AAA Memphis (4.2 IP, 2 hits, 1 walk, 3 K's) and his return would certainly provide a boost to the Cardinals pen.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Could the Cardinals trade Matt Adams to make room for Oscar Taveras?

With the outfield logjam in the Cardinals system, I have recently speculated that potentially Matt Holliday or Allen Craig could be traded to open up a spot for top prospect Oscar Taveras.  The thinking is that the Cardinals could shed some salary while improving their outfield defense.

However, there is another option out there.

According to Buster Olney (ESPN Insider required), a rival talent evaluator suggested that Matt Adams could be the one to be traded, with Craig moving to first and Taveras playing right field.  The scout suggests that defensive issues are preventing the Cards from promoting Taveras, as he is better suited for a corner outfield spot than center.

I agree that Taveras is unlikely to be a long-term solution in center and that playing him in center field this year would weaken an already poor outfield defense.  Holliday is not going to win any Gold Gloves and Craig is not much better.  Adding Taveras to the mix would create more gaps, due to the limited range of all three.

Peter Bourjos' recent hot streak (he's 5 for 8 in his last 2 games) may give him another opportunity to prove himself capable of handling the everyday center field job, where his range and plus defense is much needed.

At the same time, trading Adams would improve the Cardinals defense in right field (i.e. Taveras > Craig), while not losing much (if anything) at first.

In addition, trading Adams would probably net the Cards more in return, as he is cheaper than either Holliday or Craig and under team control through 2018.

Overall it makes sense, but its unlikely to happen anytime soon.  The Cardinals will likely promote Taveras sometime in June and then rotate their outfielders and first basemen for a time until the July trade deadline.

That is when we will see what, if anything, the Cards do about the logjam.

Monday, May 5, 2014

For Cardinals, help is on the way--just not soon enough for us fans

Its obvious that the Cardinals could use some help.  They lost two out of three to both the Brewers and Cubs before winning the opener against the Braves, bringing their season record to 17-16, 4.5 games behind the Central leading Brewers.

After leading the NL in runs scored last year, the Cardinals currently sit in 10th place with 119 runs in 33 games (3.6 per game).  However, don't expect star prospect Oscar Taveras any time soon.

According to Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, Taveras is "average at best" in center field and it "makes more sense for him to play everyday" at AAA Memphis.  In other words, we are not going to promote him until after the Super Two cutoff in June. 

Thus, center field incumbents Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos and even Randal Grichuk have until then to prove themselves worthy of retaining their jobs or one of them will be replaced by Taveras.

The other shaky area for the team is the bullpen, which is 1-5 on the year with 3 blown saves.  While guys like Pat Neshek, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate have done great jobs setting up for closer Trevor Rosenthal, the back-end of the pen has struggled.

Mike Matheny has been wary of relying on guys like last year's ground ball specialist Seth Maness, as well as rookies Keith Butler and Eric Fornataro, and for good reason.  They have combined to go 0-2 with a 6.62 ERA. 

However, the light at the end of the tunnel is former closer Jason Motte.  Motte struck out the side in his first rehab appearance at AA Springfield on Sunday and will likely need 2-3 more weeks of rehab according to Mozeliak

If he can regain his form, he can help solidify the bullpen and ease the burden on Neshek, Martinez and Siegrist.  He would likely replace rookie Fornataro on the roster.

Finally, after everyone held their collective breath when Jaime Garcia was hit on his left elbow during a rehab outing at AA Springfield on Sunday, it appears to be minor as he will likely pitch off the mound tomorrow and only push back his next start by a few days.

The Cardinals still view Garcia as a starter and its safe to assume that when (or if) he returns, he will be placed in the rotation.  Assuming he returns to form, this will allow the team to shift Joe Kelly back to the pen and either allow the team to demote Seth Maness to AAA to get his sinker working again or send Martinez down to stretch him out for starting duty.

In any case, adding Taveras, Motte and Garcia to the mix would certainly help the team and improve the overall depth.  However, since its unlikely that all of the 3 will be here before June, we are all just hoping that the team can keep within striking distance of the Brewers until then.