By: Jim Tsapelas
I have been following baseball in general, and the St Louis Cardinals in particular, since the mid-1950’s. It may be the crankiness of my status as a senior citizen, or as I prefer Elder Statesman, however, I am finding myself growing increasingly tired of the prophets of gloom and doom and their seemingly relentless condemnation of the St. Louis Cardinals. This morning I read a Cardinal writer, a self identified sabermetric guru, who prophesied the “Cardinals are projected to lose 142 games this season.”
Granted, the Cardinals have begun the 2017 season rather poorly and their record as of Thursday, April 13, 2017 is 3-6. Plus, they have yet to win one of the three series against the Cubs, Reds, or Nationals. However, what kind of nut could base a projection of one hundred forty-two losses on such a small sample? It is time for Cardinal Nation to suspend the rhetoric of Gloom and Doom and take a more realistic look at the 2017 season and the series which ended Wednesday with the Washington Nationals.
Wednesday’s 6 to 1 victory over the Nationals, followed a loss on Monday to the Nationals by the score of 14 to 6, and on Tuesday by a score 8 to 3. I, like any Cardinal fan, would like our record to be 9-0, or even 6-3, but it is also not realistic to expect the Redbirds to win one hundred sixty-two games a season either!
The Cardinals’ offense has been, at best, somewhat anemic. In the Cubs’ series, the Redbirds scored 9 runs on 22 hits, striking out 16 times, while leaving 63 runners on base. Against the Reds, St. Louis scored 12 runs, with 24 strikeouts, leaving 47 on base. Playing in our Nation’s Capitol, against the Nationals, the Birds on the Bat scored 15 runs, with 27 strikeouts, and abandoning 34 runners on the basepaths.
In the first 9 games, there has not been any semblance of consistent hitting, plate discipline, or effective base running. Thus far in 2017, the Cardinals have averaged 26 strike outs a series and have left an average of 48 men on base, for each series.
I have long held the belief that Manager Mike Matheny inherited a good team. There is no arguing the Cardinals’ success during his tenure. Since assuming the helm from Tony LaRussa, Matheny’s managerial record in St. Louis, in 819 games, is 464-355. Matheny is 5th in wins for Cardinals’ managers. As I stated, Matheny inherited well. This season Matheny has made some managerial decisions which would make the most casual and passive arm-chair fan take notice.
On Opening Day, Matheny brought in Seung Hwan Oh to attempt a five out save. As a manager, Matheny has a reputation in helping his players reach individual records or personal milestones. It make sense to bring in Oh, in the ninth, to get the save, however, he had 6 other relievers to secure the last two outs in the 8th inning of Game One. Cardinals’ starter, Carlos Martinez deserved the game’s victory. Martinez threw 7.1 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing 6 hits and striking out 10. In my opinion, Martinez was robbed.
I have been critical of Matheny’s handling and use of the bullpen for a majority of his managerial career. Some of my concerns include his stubborn slotting a reliever with a particular role, choosing to leave a reliever in a designated role, regardless of the pitcher’s effectiveness or outcome.
This season I question what I describe as Matt Adams “over use” in left-field. I am a fan of Matt Adams. I believe he has disciplined himself and has committed himself to getting into the best shape of his entire playing career. It is difficult to watch Matheny’s misuse of Adams in left. As a professional athlete, I am sure Adams can eventually learn and adapt to the nuances of left field. I question playing Adams in left when Jose Martinez, who has considerable experience in left, is on the team. In 8 plate appearances this season, involving 6 games, J. Martinez has 4 hits-including a double and a home run, with 3 RBI’s, while striking out just once, and is batting .500. Adams deserves better treatment.
A glaring weak spot on the 2017 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals thus far has been the bullpen. In addition to the arguable misuse of the relievers by Matheny, individual members of the pen have experience control and performance issue. In 2016, the bullpen was one of the bright spots for the Cardinals. So far in 2017, the bullpen has been somewhat of a liability. In the scheme of the Birds’ 3-6 record, the bullpen owns 2 of the 6 losses, has accounted for 2 blown saves, and stole a win from Carlos Martinez in the opener.
Defensively, the Cardinals committed 7 errors in the 9 games. As a point of reference, the 2007 season was the last Cardinal team to finish a season below .500; having amassed only seventy-eight wins.
The season is long with many winding and difficult turns. It is no secret that currently the Cardinals are in a slump. There are 153 games left. As the St. Louis native and HOF’er Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over”. I wish the Cardinals and their fans success and peace in the days ahead.
Poor play and execution? Yes. Multiple missed opportunities? Yes. An urgent need for Cardinal Nation to cry Gloom and Doom? No, not yet!
Thanks for reading!
Jim Tsapelas is a feature author for A View From the Bench and is an editor and contributor for NL Central Discussion.
The St. Louis Cardinals finished the 2017 Spring Season, 20-8-4, the best record in the National League this spring. This is the first time the Redbirds have won 20 games in the spring since 1997. Sophisticated fans know all too well, the games of spring have no real impact upon the games of summer.
Spring Training is a time for auditioning, planning, developing, and assessing. The Cards’ spring appears to have been a successful one; as their record indicates. The 2017 Season begins with one of the hottest, if not the hottest rivalry in baseball, as the 2016 World Champions Chicago Cubs travel to Busch Stadium to take on the St. Louis Cardinals.
Coming out of Grapefruit League play, I believe the Cardinals need to focus on creating more offensive production in leftfield and 2nd base. With the loss of Matt Holiday, via Free Agency to the New York Yankees, the leftfield position is Randall Grichuk’s to lose. This spring Grichuk was 15 for 55, with a .236 batting average, and belted 1 home run. Seeking to increase his value to the Cardinals, as he hopes to increase his MLB appearances, is one of the brighter stories coming out of spring, Jose Martinez. Last season with the Birds on the Bat, J. Martinez had 7 hits in 16 plate appearances. This spring, J. Martinez went 19/50, with a .380 batting average, and hit 4 home runs. Also this season, primarily to his dramatic weight loss and outstanding physical conditioning, Matt Adams is also available for duty in leftfield. This spring, Adams was 16/47, with a .340 average, hitting 5 home runs.
There is no need for this writer to re-hash the stories and drama surrounding Kolton Wong. I personally believe Wong is capable of being an elite 2nd baseman. I also believe, early on in the 2017 season, we may witness Manager Mike Matheny use a platoon combination at 2nd. Matheny has the option of either starting Kolton Wong or Greg Garcia against right handed pitching, or starting Jedd Gyorko against southpaws. Wong has a career .248 batting average. This spring, Wong was 10/52, batting .192. Garcia went 15/51, for a .294 average, and hit one home run. Against left hand pitching, the right handed hitting Gyorko was 9/47, with a .191 batting average, and belted 2 home runs. Last season Gyorko launched 30 of his MLB career 79 home runs. Gyorko is a career .238 hitter. Gyorko is a threat off the bench.
I have been often asked, “Do the Cardinals have enough starting pitching”? My answer is yes. This is no way to speculate on how significant the loss of Alex Reyes this season to Tommy John Surgery shall prove. The starting rotation of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Mike Leake, are all capable, if right, to provide success in 2017. If the Cardinals make a move, I believe it will be for starting pitching. If not, be prepared to see many hurlers make the trek from Memphis to St. Louis, this season.
I am convinced the NL Central is the Chicago Cubs to lose. I believe the Cardinals can be competitive in the Central Division. I also believe the Redbirds will be in the fight for a Wild Card berth, with Chicago, again, winning the Division. However, to quote Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over, until it’s over”. The fact of the matter is, the season has yet to begin.
As a fan I am excited to see the Cardinals 1st series of the 2017 Season is against the Chicago Cubs. Play Ball!
Thanks for reading!
Jim Tsapelas is a featured author for A View from the Bench.
By: Jim Tsapelas
In a split four game Inter-League series, two games in Kansas City and two games in St. Louis, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals faced off in what could have proved to be a costly series to both Missouri franchises.
The series featured two of the better catchers in MLB, today; Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina. Perez has gone on record of speaking of his admiration and respect for Molina. Molina and Perez have appeared to foster a bonding, a friendship, that transcends the game of baseball and values all that which is good in the human spirit.
In Kansas City, the Royals and the Redbirds split the short two game home stand; with Kansas City taking the first game of the two game set.
Monday’s contest was highlighted for Royals’ fans with a six to two Kansas City win. Tuesday produced an eight to four win for the Birds on the Bat. Royals right-fielder Lorenzo Cain sustained an injury as he attempted to leg out a ground ball in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s contest. This was horrific news for the Royals, with Mike Moustakas, out for the season, and with Alex Gordon just completing a stint on the DL, the uncertainty of Cain’s injury loomed rather large.
Another by-product of the Cain injury was the reality that Kendrys Morales would start Wednesday for Cain as the series moved east to St. Louis; and the reality of no Designated Hitter in the National League park; Busch Stadium.
On Wednesday a MRI confirmed Cain with a strained left hamstring; and he was placed on the MLB Fifteen Day Disabled List.
“Now playing right-field, Kendrys Morales“. Morales had experience playing right-field, but that was quite some time and a broken leg ago. In fact, Morales had played the right-field position a total of seventy-six times at the MLB level; the last being in 2008!
One of the hallmarks of the Royals this season has been their success in putting on the field a defensive oriented line up. You may remember Morales broke his left-lower leg on March 29, 2010-when as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he engaged in a celebratory jump into home plate to punctuate his Grand Slam Home Run to give the Angeles a five to one win over the Seattle Mariners. Since that time, Morales arguably one of the slower base runners in MLB, today, had only served as a Designated Hitter and a first-baseman. To say Morales was an unknown defensive risk prior to Wednesday’s contest would be quite an understatement! Defensively on Wednesday, Morales was brilliant in right-field and went three for four at the plate.
Wednesday’s contest in St. Louis was a twelve inning win for the visiting Kansas City Royals. The Royals featured a one to nothing lead in the eighth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Cardinals third-baseman, Jhonny Peralta, singled scoring Greg Garcia, knotting the game at one. In the tenth, the Royals’ Whit Merrifield reached base on a fielding error; scoring Cheslor Cuthbert. In the bottom of the tenth, the Redbirds’ Stephen Piscotty went yard with his ninth home run of the 2016 season. In the top of the twelfth, Alcides Escobar doubled in the go ahead and winning run in the person of Merrifield. St. Louis was unable to win in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the inning as the Royals’ Chien-Ming Wang enjoyed a one, two, three, inning striking out Tommy Pham and retiring Piscotty and Matt Adams.
Of possible concern for St. Louis on Wednesday, was an injury to Cardinal right-fielder Piscotty on a play where he made a long run ending in an attempted sliding catch. Piscotty failed in what would had been a highlight reel catch; the ball bounced off his glove and wound up in foul territory.
Piscotty reported swelling in his knee and pain in his ankle. Unlike the injury to Cain on Tuesday, Piscotty will most probably not spend time on the DL. An injury to Piscotty would have been as costly to the Cardinals as the injury to Cain is to the Royals. Piscotty was not in the Cardinals’ line-up on Thursday, as a precautionary measure. Baseball is a hard knock life!
Thursday’s contest was another hard fought battle for the Baseball Bragging Rights of Missouri in this edition of the I-70 Series. The Royals took the series with a four to two win.
The Royals have a stellar bullpen. The Cardinals appear to collectively be a bullpen struggling, as of late, to affirm their identity. Of concern to Cardinals’ fans is the reality the Birds committed ten errors in the four game set, to the Royals one error.
It doesn’t take a baseball genius to understand that errors contribute directly to a loss, as well as extending an inning; thus forcing a pitcher to throw extra pitches.
To be honest, the Cardinals for what ever reasons are simply not playing their best baseball in 2016, at home. For the 2016 season the Cardinals are 15-23 at home.
The Royals began their hosting duties against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals enjoying the best home record in the American League. The Cardinals went to “The K” with the best road record in the National League.
To be competitive in the Wild Card Race the Cardinals need to find the magic formula to begin a winning record at home.
With the loss on Thursday, the Redbirds have lost seven consecutive games at home. This has been the longest Cardinal home losing streak since 1983.
In a post game interview following the loss on Thursday, manager Mike Matheny said it was a game of, “Missed opportunities.” It is my opinion this series as well as this season has been one, thus far, of missed opportunities. I continue to believe the Cardinals have a good team. An issue I identified is the Cardinals, at times, fail to win as a whole unit. The offense has at times, put up good to monster numbers, only to have another aspect of the game fail the team. The pitching has been outstanding at times, only to not get support from the bullpen, defensive plays, etc. One departmentalized aspect of the team cannot sustain a winning reality. It takes all parts of the team, starting pitching, the bullpen, the offense, and the defense to all be in tune with one another to grind out a victory.
Of Note: Kendrys Morales banged out twelve hits in the four game set, including a home run. Going yard for the Cards in the series were Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, Jhonny Peralta, and Brandon Moss. The Moss home run was measured at four hundred and seventy-three feet and is the longest home run ever hit at Busch Stadium III!
Thanks for reading!
Jim Tsapelas is a featured author at A View From the Bench, an official affiliate of MLB.com. A View from the Bench is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.