Cardinals recall Tuivailala, place Lyons back on DL

The St. Louis Cardinals have placed LHP Tyler Lyons on the 10 day disabled list for a right intercostal strain. They have called up RHP Sam Tuivailala to take his place in the bullpen.

Lyons started the season on the disabled list as he worked towards returning from offseason knee surgery. He returned on April 20th and made two appearances, throwing 3 innings and allowing 1 earned run. His latest outing, last night saw him pitch a scoreless 7th inning right before the Cardinals launched a comeback to force the game into extra innings.

Three innings in two weeks is apparently enough as he will now hit the DL again with the muscle strain.

In his place, the Cardinals have recalled Tuivailala who most recently was up in the big leagues as the 26th man for the team’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays but was unused. He started the season on the big league roster due to the injury to Trevor Rosenthal. He has made three appearances and allowed 1 earned run over 3 innings pitched.

Tuivailala has made 7 appearances for the Memphis Redbirds so far this season and has yet to allow a run in 8.1 innings of work.

Five things about the Reds Series

Thanks to some rain, the St. Louis Cardinals had a brief two game series at home against the Cincinnati Reds, splitting the series. The Cardinals now welcome the Milwaukee Brewers for another four game series. The Cardinals enter that series in second place in the NL Central, a game behind the Chicago Cubs.

Through 24 games, they are 12-12 and a game out of first place. Last year after 24 games, they were 12-12 and six games out of first place. So already an improvement, I guess.

Here’s my five things.

How about Gyorko?

While I may disagree with Mike Matheny’s decision to move Jedd Gyorko to the fourth spot in the order, you can’t disagree with Gyorko’s results at the plate so far this year. He went 4-for-8 in the series with a home run. At this point in the year, Gyorko has the 8th most WAR among position players.

Gyorko has four home runs on the year and has yet to hit anything more than a solo shot. Over the past year and change as a Cardinal, he has hit 34 home runs driven in just 33 base runners (RBI minus himself). If he wants to stick at cleanup, he’s going to have to figure that out.

Molina is still the man

Don’t nap on the basepaths or Yadier Molina will catch you. Just ask Jurickson Profar. And now Eugenio Suarez too. An explanation doesn’t do it justice, you have to see it to believe it.

Starting pitching continues to excel

Lance Lynn may not have been pleased that he lasted only six innings and got into a jam, but the starting pitching continued to be solid against the Reds. Lynn allowed one earned run over 6 innings and Mike Leake did the same. It continues a good run to open up the season for the best starting rotation in baseball.

With his six innings, Lynn lowered his ERA to 2.45 and continued his best start since his first full season in the rotation back in 2012.

And while Leake’s ERA rose to 1.35, it continues to be the league best mark.

“Bat” Adams: Pinch hitter

Matt Adams pinch hit twice in this series and hit a sacrifice fly in his first appearance and then singled in his second. He excelled in that role last year for the Cardinals, going 12-for-37 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI, and it would be beneficial for everyone if he was on the verge of figuring it out again.

Adams has 4 hits in his last four at bats, a pair of doubles, and three RBI. He’s hit .500 over the Cardinals’ last 10 games.

The pattern continues

With a win in the series opener and a loss in the second game of the series, the Cardinals continued their three win, one loss pattern. Now they’ll put that to the test tonight against the Brewers.

Five things about the Blue Jays Series

The Cardinals wrapped up their series against the Blue Jays last night, closing it out with a pair of wins in a doubleheader. The Cardinals are now 11-11 this year, on pace to go 81-81, just a little off my 92 win prediction for the season. They find themselves in third place in the NL Central just 1.5 games behind the Cubs. After 22 games last year, the Cardinals were 12-10 and 4.5 games behind the Cubs.

Here are some of my thoughts on the series.

Offense is good, but…

The Cardinals scored 19 runs against the Blue Jays in their three game series, going off for 14 of those in yesterday’s double header. When looking at the numbers, it’s easier to talk about players who didn’t hit well over the series. Of the most troubling may be the Cardinals’ 2-3-4 hitters struggling at the plate in a series where the rest of the offense was going off. Aledmys Diaz hit .091, Matt Carpenter hit .250, and Stephen Piscotty hit .222.

Notably, Greg Garcia hit .800 in the series, and he along with Dexter Fowler, Matt Adams, and Yadier Molina got on base in at least 50% of their at bats.

But it’s worth remembering that the Blue Jays have the worst record in baseball.

… The defense isn’t

The Cardinals committed four errors in Tuesday night’s game against the Blue Jays and somehow, amazingly they were still in it until the end. They had two more errors in the first game on Thursday. And as much of a farce as official scorekeeping is in Major League Baseball today, if you’re getting tagged with errors at home, you know you’re screwing up.

At the end of Tuesday’s game, the same old mistake bit them.

In extra innings, Aledmys Diaz fielded a ball and hurried the throw and threw it away. We can talk about whether Jose Martinez should have come off the bag to ensure he caught it (he should have) or whether Matt Carpenter or Matt Adams would have gotten it (I bet at least Adams would have), but this is the same kind of mistake that Diaz was making early last year. When he gets in a hurry, he makes mistakes. He has to learn to keep his head on his shoulders in those situations.

It really makes you wonder just how good the Cardinals would have been last year and could be this year if they can figure out how to not make the little mistakes.

Carpenter back at third base

Matt Carpenter started at third base in the second game of yesterday’s double header, which I honestly didn’t realize until way too late in the game. Matt Adams started at first base and as most of Mike Matheny‘s most bemoaned lineup choices, ended up paying off as Adams went 3-for-3 and drove in a pair of runs. As soon as the Blue Jays went to the left handed reliever though, Matheny went for Jedd Gyorko and moved Carpenter back to first.

How this looks going forward will be interesting, especially considering how hot of a bat Gyorko has started the season swinging. Defensive metrics love him at third base too. This is about the time of year that Adams got hot last year too. In late April, early May he was probably the most dangerous hitter in the Cardinals’ lineup. Carpenter may have hit a walk off grand slam in yesterday afternoon’s game, but as I mentioned earlier, he’s still not hitting quite as well as he should. And what should that mean if both Gyorko and Adams were hot at the same time?

Just when you thought Wainwright was getting right

While I tempered my excitement with the fact that Adam Wainwright was pitching against the team with the worst record in baseball, I’ll admit that it was nice to see him pitching well over the first four innings. He’s having to work as hard as ever to get outs, but he was actually getting outs. That is, until the Blue Jays hung four runs on him in the fifth inning. He did come back out in the sixth and shut down the Jays, but that one inning was his only blemish as he threw pitches in the seventh inning for the first time this season.

He threw 10 or fewer pitches in two of the six full innings he threw, something he had done only once before this year in 18 full innings. It’s a positive sign for perhaps the most lost pitcher in the rotation.

Bullpen doing work

Matthew Bowman might have allowed his first two runs since last September, but he’s still one of the Cardinals’ three best relievers over the past two weeks, joining Trevor Rosenthal and Brett Cecil.

Overall through the Blue Jays series they were strong, throwing 12.2 innings over the three games and allowing just three earned runs. The defense didn’t help them out as they were tagged for a pair of unearned runs, but their 0.95 WHIP over the course of the series was very good.

Rosenthal was throwing fire last night too. BrooksBaseball had two of his twelve pitches clocked at over 102 mph. I can’t say I’ve seen that kind of velocity out of him in a long time.

Bonus: Flipping the script

So over the first 11 games of the season, the Cardinals’ results looked like this:

W-L-L-L-W-L-L-L-W-L-L-L

At that point, they came home to play the Pirates and literally flipped the script and since their results have looked like this:

W-W-W-L-W-W-W-L-W-W

I prefer the second.

Cardinals outright OF Anthony Garcia

The St. Louis Cardinals outrighted outfielder Anthony Garcia off the team’s 40 man roster on Monday.

Garcia, 25, was first put on the 40 man roster following the 2015 season when he hit .283/.391/.477 with 13 home runs between 87 games in Springfield and 18 games in Memphis. After that, the wheels fell off.

In 2016, Garcia started the season in Memphis and hit just .192/.281/.336 in his first 38 games before being demoted to Springfield in late May. He would stay in Springfield through mid-July and regain some traction. He would hit .280 with 5 home runs over his final 31 games in Memphis.

But this season he was off to a rough start, batting .182/.250/.303 with a home run over 12 games.

It is rare for an organization to make such a move during the season without a need for his roster spot, but the Cardinals took this opportunity to create a little more room on the 40 man roster, now carrying just 38 players.

And you thought the Cardinals struggled out of the gate?

Well, you think the Cardinals have had a rough start to the season, check the Blue Jays out. After a trip to the American League Championship Series last year, the Blue Jays have tripped on their face out of the gate, going 5-13 and are the worst team in baseball. That could mean danger for the Cardinals who may underestimate the Blue Jays a little bit as they come to town. But the Cardinals are in no position to relax. The Cardinals may have gone 6-1 over the past week, but there was little on the offensive side of the ball to get excited about. They hit .189 with runners in scoring position, which was 28th in baseball. They’ve hit a league leading .291 with the bases empty, which really exemplifies this team’s struggles with situational hitting.

The last time the Cardinals and Blue Jays played each other was back in June of 2014 in the Rogers Centre. The Cardinals won two of three games. Those games were won by Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia, neither of whom still play for the organization.

Game 20: Wacha v Estrada

Michael Wacha (2-1, 2.41 ERA) held the Pirates to 1 run over 6.2 innings of work in his last start to continue his quality start streak as he is now 3-for-3 to start the season. Wacha has never faced the Blue Jays before and only three Blue Jays have faced Wacha before in their careers, led by Kendrys Morales who is hitting .429 against him over 7 at bats.

Marco Estrada (0-1, 2.63 ERA) is pitching well as he has thrown 13 shutout innings over his past two starts. Estrada has been throwing the ball well, and has yet to be backed up by the Blue Jays offense which seems to really be missing Edwin Encarnacion. His last start against the Cardinals came back in April of 2014 where he allowed 3 runs over six innings. He is 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA in 33 innings of work in Busch Stadium. His biggest foe on the Cardinals has been Yadier Molina who has a .524 average with a home run and 5 RBI in 21 at bats.

Game 21: Martinez v TBD

Carlos Martinez (0-3, 4.76 ERA) has struggled for consistent focus since dominating the Cubs on Opening Night. His last time out, he allowed 5 runs over 5 innings against the Brewers as he struggled with his mechanics. There was a distinct difference in his demeanor on the mound in the innings he was locked in versus the innings he struggled. Perhaps that’s the hair and perhaps that’s just post-extension struggles, which is far more likely. Regardless, the Cardinals need him to be locked in so they can carry on with their winning ways. Martinez has made just a single appearance against the Blue Jays, throwing the final two thirds of an inning in that 2014 series against them. Six Blue Jays have faced him before in their careers, but nobody with any sustained success. Morales is 3-for-3 while Russell Martin is 2-for-5.

The Blue Jays have yet to tab a starter for Wednesday’s game, but if they stay on track, this start would go to Mat Latos (0-0, 7.20 ERA) who made his season debut with a 4 run, 5 inning performance against the Los Angeles Angels. Latos signed with the Blue Jays on a minor league deal after spending 2016 with the White Sox and the Nationals. He allowed 1 earned run over 9 innings in two starts in Triple-A this season before getting the call last week when the Jays suffered a pair of injuries in their starting rotation. Latos’ last start against the Cardinals came in 2015 where he allowed 5 runs in 6 innings and took the loss. He is also 2-4 with a 7.68 ERA in 7 starts in Busch Stadium. Molina has led the Cardinals against Latos, hitting .353 with a home run in 34 at bats against him.

Game 22: Wainwright v TBD

Adam Wainwright (1-3, 6.27 ERA) took care of business in his last start. He turned in his best start of the season, allowing 2 earned runs, walked none, and struck out nine over five innings of work. Oh, and he hit a home run and drove in four runs too. Wainwright looked to have the stuff he needed to get outs, he just needs to get more efficient at this point so he can go deeper than five innings and take some of the stress off the bullpen. Wainwright has made one start against the Blue Jays in his career. Back in 2010 he allowed 4 earned runs over four innings of work as he took the loss. Martin leads the Jays against him, Martin has hit .367 with a home run in 30 career at bats against him.

If the Jays stay on order, it will be Casey Lawrence (0-2, 7.56 ERA) taking the mound in the series finale against the Cardinals. His last outing against the Angels was his first start of the season and he allowed four earned runs over 6.1 innings pitched. Last season, Lawrence posted a 4.17 ERA over 28 starts between the Double-A and Triple-A levels before getting called up before the Jays’ fifth game of the season. If you’re keeping track at home, Lawrence has already been optioned out and called up twice since the start of the season. Since he made his debut in 2017, Lawrence has yet to face any Cardinals batters.

Who’s hot

Kolten Wong has quietly been taking advantage of the opportunity to be the Cardinals’ regular second baseman. Over the past week he has hit .333/.455/.556 with 4 runs scored and 4 runs driven in. There is also Jedd Gyorko who is hitting .429 with four extra base hits in the past week.

For the Blue Jays I’ve got to go with Kevin Pillar who his hitting .370/.393/.704 with 2 home runs over the past week. Ezequiel Carerra also gets a nod, having hit .353/.389/.647 with a homer.

Who’s not

After looking like he was on the verge of breaking out of his early season struggles, Stephen Piscotty went quiet last week, hitting .143/.280/.143 over the past week.

Jose Bautista, who settled for a one year deal with options with the Blue Jays after reportedly desiring a large multi-year deal in free agency over the winter, hasn’t found any traction this season yet. He is hitting .125/.250/.250 over the past week.

On the shelf

Jhonny Peralta went on the disabled list at the beginning of the series with the Brewers due to an upper respiratory issue. There is still no update on when he may return, though he will be eligible to come off the disabled list on April 26th. John Gant is also expected to be nearing a return to the mound, but will likely stay in Memphis once he returns.

For the Blue Jays, a bad season has definitely gotten worse. In the past week days they’ve placed J.A. Happ (elbow inflammation), Aaron Sanchez (blister), Josh Donaldson (right calf strain), and Troy Tulowitzki (hamstring) on the disabled list. All player who were expected to play a key role for the Blue Jays. And now they will likely have to wait until they have them back before they can put together any kind of sustained run.

Cardinals activate Lyons, place Peralta on DL

This afternoon the Cardinals announced that they have activated LHP Tyler Lyons off the 10-day disabled list. To make room on the roster, the Cardinals have placed 3B Jhonny Peralta on the 10-day disabled list with an upper respiratory illness.

Lyons is making his return after 5 months rehabilitating after surgery on his right knee. He allowed 2 runs over 14 innings with Memphis so far this season. He will take his place in the Cardinals bullpen, where he has a 2.69 ERA over 90 innings of work since 2013.

Peralta is 3-for-25 on the season and has struggled to find a rhythm at the plate, striking out 9 times in the 8 games he’s played. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said on Monday that the 34 year old was not on a long leash with his performance.

He has not appeared in a game since those comments as the Cardinals swept the Pirates with Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia taking time at third base. Mike Matheny also indicated that Matt Carpenter could return to the position if it made sense to fit different bats into the lineup. Both Matt Adams and Jose Martinez can play first base.

Matheny told the Post-Dispatch that Peralta would say he needs to get more opportunities and that the bat would come around with more opportunity to play, however with the struggles the offense has had so far this season, the lineup is not prepared to carry another struggling bat when they have players who can cover his position.

But the disabled list stint will allow the Cardinals to send Peralta out on a rehab stint for up to 30 days to get regular playing time to hopefully turn the bat around. With his short leash, this may be a last ditch effort to see if Peralta can fix the problems with his swing and return to be a productive player for the Cardinals.

Column: Cuban phenom Robert declared a free agent

Cuban phenom Luis Robert has been cleared to pursue a Major League contract according to reports early this afternoon. According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, he will not be able to sign with a Major League club until May 20th, which is enough to give the Cardinals a window to get a deal done with Robert.

The Cardinals have kept a close eye on the 19-year-old prospect in the hopes that Major League Baseball would declare him a free agent before the end of the 2016-17 international signing period on June 15th. The reason? The Cardinals have blown through their international spending cap this year, spending over $9 million in bonuses, so they will be subject to a hard cap of $300,000 for individual player signings in the 2017-18 international signing period thanks to a new provision in the most recent collective bargaining agreement.

Robert defected from Cuba back in November and established residency in Haiti in March. He is widely considered, along with Shohei Otani to be the top unsigned international prospects in the world. Robert is a five tool player. At least one AL executive has called him the best player on the planet. And while the hype may seem a little extreme, it’s not just all fluff.

Just look at his numbers. He was hitting .401/.527/.687 with 12 home runs in 52 games for Ciego de Avila before he defected in November. In 2015, as an 18 year old, he hit .305/.384/.413 with 5 home runs in 68 games. He was also teammates for three years on Ciego de Avila with Jose Adolis Garcia, who the Cardinals signed in February and was the Cuban National Series’ MVP that season.

During a fan Q&A before one of the exhibition games, Mozeliak spoke about Robert. “I will say, from a high level, he is one of the most exciting players to come along in many many years. You know, you hate to use that phrase ‘Once in a generation’ type player. I actually don’t know him well enough to make that comment, but I know that from a scouting stand point he’s ridiculously talented and I assure you that many many teams are hoping that get to engage in that and the Cardinals will be one of them” (h/t to Redbird Daily for that).

A few weeks ago Robert held a showcase event in Dominican Republic and the Cardinals had scouts and lieutenants there to watch. Their interest in the young player has been made clear.

So they’re interested, they intend to pursue, and when all things are considered, I think Robert is as close to a “must sign” player as the Cardinals will ever come across. Here’s why.

First, the Cardinals desperately need a dynamic young offensive player. There is a lack of top tier offensive talent in the Cardinals’ minor league system and the organization on the whole. I’ve spoken often about the hole in the organization left behind by Oscar Taveras‘ untimely death because Mozeliak had blazed him a path to the Majors.

Robert is that kind of dynamic talent who definitely has definitely flashed some power. He is on par with the best of Cuban talent that has come to the Majors, which so far as seemingly worked out.

Second, the Cardinals are in a unique situation as a franchise. This may be their last opportunity to add a dynamic young prospect this year. They lost their first two picks of this season’s draft to the Astros as a result of the hacking scandal. And as I’ve already discussed, they’ve blown through the international spending cap this year, which places them under a hard cap penalty in the 2017-18 international signing period starting in July.

Third, those rules which place the Cardinals in penalty also help them out for now. The Cubs and the Dodgers are out. The Red Sox and Yankees will be out until the next international signing period begins. The Astros, Athletics, Braves, Padres, Reds, and Nationals are all int he same position as the Cardinals, having to pay a dollar-per-dollar penalty on his contract.

The White Sox may be the only team that has expressed interest who are not in the penalty.

Fourth, the Cardinals are flush with cash. And on the verge of a new television deal beginning. If anything, that cash might be the only thing they’re willing to part with. Based on the suggestions I’ve seen, Robert could get a bonus worth around $30 million. That means he would cost the Cardinals around $60 million once you consider the penalty.

While Robert hasn’t talked much about what he’s looking for in a team, but he did speak in an interview with MLB.com that he was paying attention to his former teammate Garcia, who the Cardinals signed in February.

The Cardinals have also signed three other Cuban players in Jonathan Machado, Randy Arrozarena, and Johan Oviedo in this year’s international signing period. They also have Aledmys Diaz playing for them in the Majors.

Ultimately it makes sense for him to maximize his financial return, but having the comfort of players you know and your countrymen, I can imagine would make life a little more comfortable in a foreign country.

But Mozeliak has gotten what he wanted. They now have a chance to sign him and the clock is ticking. Hopefully they can make it happen.

 

Column: Everything is on the table

As the St. Louis Cardinals return home for their second homestand of the season, they find themselves in relatively uncharted territory, last place. And regardless of the results of this series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, they will have spent more days in last place than not in this young season. For the Cardinals, there have been many things amiss as they return from their first trip to the Bronx since 2003. This one ended like that one did, a sweep. That team finished the year third in the division.

So the Cardinals return to St. Louis gasping for life. Over the past two weeks we’ve watched an exciting team with a good vibe around it turn into a struggling, lifeless mess simply by changing the calendar to April. Much more of this and the Cardinals will be in an unusual position, needing to ask themselves the hard questions about the viability of their plan for the franchise.

“Everything is on the table,” said John Mozeliak to reporters before tonight’s game. And I have some ideas that should be on the table.

The first being that the organization should cut ties with Jhonny Peralta.

Mike Matheny seems to want Peralta to be one of his lineup regulars, but Peralta has yet to provide him the payoff for that desire. I pointed out this winter that I felt like there was only room for one of Matt Holliday, Peralta, and Matt Adams. Mozeliak brought back two of them.

At the core, I understand the desire to want to get some return for your $10 million investment in Peralta and not wanting to have to explain that cut to your boss. At the same time, I felt like it was a good opportunity for the Cardinals to move forward and bet on guys like Adams, Jedd Gyorko, and Greg Garcia and give them an opportunity to see if they can carve themselves out a larger role for the years to come.

Because if Peralta hit well and played every day, he’s still just here for one year. And the worst thing that could happen is happening. We’re stuck with Peralta, he struggles and takes away playing time from better players (Gyorko and Garcia lead the Cardinals’ position players in WAR entering tonight’s game), and you still lose games. But if a guy like Adams could use that extra playing time to establish himself as a contributor, the team is better off going forward.

Related: So you want a cleanup hitting first baseman…

Letting Peralta go would open up the lineup card for Matheny, which would help him. Matheny wants to play Peralta regularly and feels some level of obligation to ensure he gets an opportunity to “get right.” Without Peralta’s need for playing time, he can use Gyorko and Garcia there as well as correct the organization’s mistake of committing to Matt Carpenter at first base.

And that’s idea number two, it’s time to end that commitment, and it should have been ended the day they chose to tender Adams a contract for 2017. Why would you commit to playing Carpenter at first base, when he will expect 150+ starts, and then turn around and bring back a guy who plays only first base? It makes little sense.

We saw the desire to get Adams playing time by forcing him into left field. An experiment that it appears Mozeliak hopes is over now. Of course, he also says he prefers to not move Carpenter around. But it doesn’t make much sense to me if you can find a way to make your team better with Carpenter at another position.

Freeing up Carpenter between first and third gives Matheny added flexibility. And real flexibility, not simply the ability to play multiple positions because you suck equally at all of them. Carpenter won’t win a gold glove at third base, but he’ll make the plays you expect a third baseman to make and that’s all you can ask.

Letting Carpenter play some third base lets you use Adams at first base, where he is a plus defender. And you can also get added playing time for Garcia, who now has a .401 OBP in 274 plate appearances since the start of the 2016 season.

Simply put, there are a lot of better ways you can reallocate the playing time that would otherwise be given to Peralta.

The final change I would propose is in the lineup.

Lineup criticisms are the most common Matheny complaint, next to bullpen usage, but while I comment on the lineup card quite a bit, it’s more about the logic of how it’s built that I have problems with. For example, Randal Grichuk has been among the team leaders in home runs and RBI, but until tonight hasn’t really hit higher than 7th or 8th. But Jose Martinez jumps into the lineup and bats sixth. If you trust Martinez to bat higher than Grichuk, why isn’t he your regular guy?

But here’s how I would lay out my lineup.

First move is to take Carpenter out of the third spot in the lineup. I’ve long argued that Carpenter should be batting second because it’s the most important spot in the lineup and he is the best pure hitter on the team. It’s the same reason I made a similar argument for Holliday since the day we acquired him.

But I would have Dexter Fowler and Carpenter continue to bat 1-2 and tell both to treat their at bats like they’re leading off the game. Make the pitcher work and set the tone. And specifically tell Carpenter that I’d rather have the .300, 50 doubles hitter than the .270, 25 HR hitter.

I would also consider platooning their order. Carpenter has a career .293/.390/.475 slash line against RHP and Fowler has a career .300/.390/.440 slash line against LHP. Both have much lesser numbers against the other handedness.

With those two at the top of the lineup, you have a roughly 60% chance of having the number three hitter coming to the plate with runners on base. Here’s where I take my shot with the team’s biggest power threat, Grichuk. Grichuk hit 24 home runs last year even after spending a month in Memphis. It’s a better look than burying Grichuk in the back of the lineup behind guys who don’t get on base. You would magnify the effect of his bat.

In the fourth spot, after having taken my shot, I want a guy who will put the ball in play and that is Aledmys Diaz. He does what I like to call making “baseball happen,” because anything can happen when you put the ball into play.

Behind that we have Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina batting fifth and sixth. And behind them you can lay it out however you want in seventh, eighth, and ninth.

Though I’d suggest Kolten Wong batting eighth or ninth. And if you choose to bat him eighth, give him the green light to steal second base every time he’s on first base with the pitcher at the plate. If he can do that at a better than 70% success rate, you’ll score more runs overall.

Those moves might not completely solve the Cardinals’ problems this year, but they would go a long way towards helping the organization diagnose where they stand and what their needs are definitively. And if you both lose and fail to answer those questions, 2017 will really have been a failure, regardless of win-loss record.

Coming back home having left the W’s behind

The St. Louis Cardinals (3-9, 5th in the NLC) come back home after a disastrous six-game road trip that saw them go 1-5, including a sweep by the New York Yankees. They return to face the Pittsburgh Pirates (6-6, T-3rd in the NLC) who are coming off a sweep of the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

The Cardinals were 10-9 against the Pirates last season, including 5-5 against them at Busch Stadium after sweeping them in the final series of the season.

Game 13: Lynn v. Nova

Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23 ERA) will take the ball in tonight’s series opener against a team that has given him fits. In his last time out, Lynn allowed four earned runs over five innings of work as he struggled against the Nationals. The last time Lynn faced the Pirates was in September of 2015 when he threw five shutout innings. While there are three Pirates who have faced Lynn twenty or more times and hit better than .300 against him, Jordy Mercer has absolutely ripped him to a .389/.450/.556 slash line.

Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25 ERA) has pitched some of the best baseball of his life since being traded to the Pirates last summer. His career ERA in a Pirates uniform is a full run and a half better than his career ERA in a Yankees uniform. His success continued in his second time out, allowing just 3 earned runs over 6 innings, but took the loss to the Reds. He has never faced the Cardinals in his career. Dexter Fowler leads all Cardinals, having gone 2-for-3 against Nova in their careers.

Game 14: Leake v. Kuhl

If you’re wondering how you back up 8 innings of one run baseball, Mike Leake (1-1, 0.60 ERA) has a good idea. He threw 7 shutout innings against the Nationals his last turn on the bump. He’ll take the mound in the second game of the series. Leake was 1-2 with a 5.82 ERA in 4 starts against the Pirates last season. Ex-Cardinal David Freese has hit .560 against Leake in 25 at bats against him to lead the Pirates.

Chad Kuhl (1-0, 2.38 ERA) has two solid starts under his belt this season, allowing just a single run over 6.1 innings against the Red Sox last week. He was 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA in 2 starts against the Cardinals last season. He allowed 2 earned runs over 5 innings in his only start in Busch Stadium. Both Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina are 2-for-4 against him.

Game 15: Wacha v. Cole

Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00 ERA) continued his good start, allowing 3 earned runs over 6 innings of work against the Yankees in his second start of the season, though he still took the loss. Wacha was 0-1 with a 6.38 ERA over four starts against the Pirates last season. The Pirates are led by Andrew McCutchen‘s .480 batting average against him in 25 at bats.

Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29 ERA) started out rough on Opening Day, but has rebounded with two straight quality starts. He allowed 2 earned runs over 6 innings his last time out to get his first win of the season in a game against the Cubs. Cole was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 2 starts against the Cardinals last year. He has a 3.13 ERA in 5 starts at Busch Stadium in his career. Matt Carpenter leads the Cardinals with a .385 batting average and 3 home runs against Cole in 26 at bats.

Who’s hot, who’s not

I think you can easily make a case that both Stephen Piscotty and Mike Leake are hot coming into this series. Piscotty has hit .318 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI in the six games since returning from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup the last two games of the first homestand. Leake, of course, threw seven scoreless innings his last time out.

On the cold side, I have to take Dexter Fowler. The Cardinals’ leadoff hitter is 3-for-22 over the past week with just a single extra base hit and a major contributing factor to their offensive woes to start the season.

It’s a tossup between David Freese and Andrew McMutchen for the Pirates. Freese has hit .389 along with a .522 on base percentage over the past week, but McCutchen has hit .333 with a .708 slugging percentage.

On the cold side, the Pirates have Josh Bell who is 1-for-15 over the last week, having started in 4 of the team’s six games.

On the shelf

Matt Carpenter is dealing with a finger injury that looks like it will take him out of the season opener. He is day-to-day as he deals with that. Tyler Lyons will also make what is expected to be his final rehab appearance for Memphis before being called up to help solidify the Cardinals’ bullpen.

Gregory Polanco is day-to-day with groin discomfort and has missed the last couple days. May be available off the bench to pinch hit if needed.

Ex-Cardinals Watch

2011 postseason hero David Freese signed a one year deal with Pittsburgh last season and then signed a two-year deal over the offseason to return. He wasn’t quite expected to have the role he has, but legal troubles with Jung-Ho Kang has given Freese an extended opportunity and he has responded, entering the series hitting .344/.488/.594 with 2 home runs.

Ah, there’s Pete Kozma!

The Cardinals (3-6, T-4th in NLC) are coming off their third series loss to open up the season, but managed to win a tough one against Max Scherzer in the series finale on Wednesday to avoid the sweep. Those are opposite feelings to those of the Yankees (5-4, T-2nd in ALE) who are coming off a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays after struggling to open up the year.

The title is, of course, a reference to the Washington series preview that asked where Pete Kozma was. Kozma, who provided some postseason heroics against the Nationals, made the Yankees big league roster this year after not playing in the Majors last year.

This will be the Cardinals’ first trip ever to the new Yankee Stadium and the first time they have faced off against the Yankees in the Bronx since 2003. The Yankees swept the Cardinals in that meeting. There are no players who appeared in that series still playing professional baseball in the Majors. Though it’s a fun fact that Mike Matheny and Joe Girardi both caught for the Cardinals in that series.

Game 10: Wacha vs Tanaka

Michael Wacha (1-0, 1.50 ERA) will complete the second trip through the rotation when he takes the mound on Friday night. Wacha allowed 1 run over 8 innings in his debut against the Reds. It was a big start for him as he carried the momentum from a strong spring into the season. Wacha started one game against the Yankees in 2014, allowing 3 runs over 7 innings. Four Yankees have faced Wacha before, led by Starlin Castro who has hit .455 with 2 home runs against Wacha in 22 at bats.

Masahiro Tanaka (0-1, 11.74 ERA) is making his third start of the season as the Yankees brought him back in their fifth game after he failed to make it through three innings in the season opener. He allowed 3 runs over 5 innings against the Orioles in his last start. Tanaka is 20-7 with a 3.31 ERA in 39 starts at Yankee Stadium. No Cardinals batters have faced Tanaka.

Game 11: Martinez vs Sabathia

Carlos Martinez (0-1, 3.65 ERA) has had an up and down start to the season, dominating the Cubs on opening night before getting tagged for five earned runs over five innings by the Reds. Martinez pitched two scoreless innings of relief when they faced the Yankees in 2014. Five Yankees players have faced Martinez before, hitting a collective .227 against him.

CC Sabathia (1-0, 1.64 ERA) has kept his opponents in check so far this season as the Yankees have won both of his games. He allowed two earned runs over six innings of work in his last start against the Orioles. Sabathia is 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in 3 starts against the Cardinals, the last coming in 2008 where he threw a three-hit complete game shutout while pitching for the Brewers. He is 49-31 with a 3.70 ERA in 108 career starts in Yankee Stadium. Two Cardinals players have faced Sabathia before, led by Dexter Fowler who is 2-for-5 against him.

Game 12: Wainwright vs TBD

Adam Wainwright (0-2, 7.00 ERA) allowed 5 earned runs on 11 hits over four innings in his last start against the Nationals as he was unable to dance his way out of trouble like he did against the Cubs. Wainwright has never faced the Yankees before though six Yankees have faced Wainwright before, hitting a collective .205 against him. Starlin Castro has hit .256 against him. Former teammate Matt Holliday is 0-for-4 against Wainwright.

The Yankees have not yet confirmed who will be starting opposite Wainwright, but it would be Michael Pineda‘s turn in the rotation. Pineda allowed just one run on two hits over 7.2 innings in his last start against the Rays. Pineda has never faced the Cardinals and is 13-11 with a 3.97 ERA in 38 starts in Yankee Stadium. Dexter Fowler and Jhonny Peralta have both faced Pineda before, both are 1-for-3 against him. Fowler hit a double while Peralta hit a home run.

Who’s hot, who’s not

For the Cardinals it is definitely Aledmys Diaz who is hot. He played two of the games over the weekend against the Nationals and hit three home runs. He has hit .273/.273/.682 with 3 home runs and 5 RBI over the last week. Stephen Piscotty gets an honorable mention, mainly on the strength of his 5 RBI game on Wednesday afternoon. For the Yankees, it’s Aaron Judge. In the last week, Judge is batting .429/.529/1.071 (not a typo, a slugging percentage over 1.000) with 3 home runs and 6 RBI.

The Cardinals’ bullpen gets the cold nod. If it wasn’t for Matthew Bowman, the stats on the bullpen would be awful. It’s just ugly. Bowman has a 0.50 WHIP in a team high 5 appearances. The second lowest WHIP in the bullpen is Miguel Socolovich‘s 1.60, which is not very good. Brett Cecil, Kevin Siegrist, and Jonathan Broxton all have allowed greater than two and a half baserunners per inning on average.

For the Yankees its hard to find a clear cut cold option. I’d have to go with Austin Romine who is 1-for-9 since being called up to take over when regular catcher Gary Sanchez hit the disabled list this week.

On the shelf

Tyler Lyons threw six innings of two-hit shutout baseball in a rehab start against the Colorado Sky Sox on Wednesday. The club may begin to look at calling him up in the coming days as their bullpen has had some struggles.

The Yankees are without two starting position players as Didi Gregorius (right shoulder strain) and Gary Sanchez (right biceps strain) are on the DL and not expected to return until May.

Ex-Cardinals Watch

With the Yankees are former Cardinals players Matt Holliday and Pete Kozma. Holliday is currently hitting .276/.462/.448 with a home run and leads all of baseball with 10 walks. Kozma is 0-for-2 with a walk.