Mozeliak chasing as Cardinals wait

It all started on Tuesday morning as news broke that David Price had agreed to a 7 year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals had been the runners up. Not only that, but Price reportedly began a round of golf that morning with the expectation that he would be joining the Cardinals that afternoon, but Boston went $37 million over the top and Price agreed at lunch time to join the Red Sox.

Then today, Jeff Samardzija signed a 5 year, $90 million deal with the San Francisco Giants and, once again, the Cardinals were reported to be the second best offer on the table.

Cardinals fans have been left frustrated as the best pitching names are coming off the board this week and they have yet to secure one. David Price. Zack Greinke. Jordan Zimmerman. Jeff Samardzija. John Lackey.

The movement has left many fans debating whether they can put their dislike of Johnny Cueto to rest for a few years. But Cueto recently was reported to have turned down a 6 year, $120 million offer from the Diamondbacks.

While it would be nice for the Cardinals to have gotten an ace caliber pitcher like David Price, that was always going to be a luxury. With the losses of John Lackey to free agency and Lance Lynn to injury, the club needs to fill quality innings more than anything else.

And in that regard, there are still some good options out there that don’t require you to do the soul searching related to signing Cueto.

Of all the pitchers on the board, Mike Leake is probably my favorite option. The fear is always that while Leake is the youngest pitcher on the board, he may end up overpaid because of that fact. But my gut says that he is perfectly positioned to outplay the contract he ends up with. Plus, he doesn’t have any drat pick compensation attached to him.

He just turned 28 years old and is a former first round pick. He debuted in the Majors without having never thrown a pitch in the minors. Over the past three seasons, he has a 3.59 ERA and a 105 ERA+ while averaging just shy of 200 innings a season. That’s not bad when half your starts are happening in the hitter friendly Great American Ball Park.

Then you have Doug Fister. While Fister’s 4.19 ERA over 15 starts and 10 relief appearances for Washington doesn’t inspire a lot of desire, he is known as a ground ball pitcher who might see added success in front of St. Louis’ infield.

There is also Scott Kazmir who posted a 3.10 ERA over 31 starts last season between Oakland and Houston.

The problem with both of those guys is that neither have proven they have the ability to consistently throw 200 innings like a guy like Leake has. Between the losses of Lackey and Lynn, the Cardinals are looking to fill 393 innings. Some of those will obviously be filled by Adam Wainwright‘s return, but a reliable arm is still needed with a question-filled rotation.

If you’re looking to take a flier, you’ve got Cliff Lee, who hasn’t pitched since 2014 with an elbow injury. Then there’s Mark Buehrle who has said for years that he wants to pitch in St. Louis. There’s also Kyle Lohse who is coming off a rough season in Milwaukee, but has had past success in St. Louis.

Mozeliak could also explore the trade market. The Tampa Bay Rays are believed to be shopping any starter not named Chris Archer while Atlanta is shopping Shelby Miller. But I doubt this is an avenue that Mozeliak will pursue.

Hopefully though, by the time next week’s winter meetings begin, the position player market will pick up and we can be talking about the return of Jason Heyward.

While pitching is the luxury, this team has a real need on the offensive side of the ball. If missing out on some pitching forces the team to spend more on offense, maybe it’s worth the frustration after all.

Could John Lackey accept his qualifying offer?

This afternoon at 5 pm Eastern is the deadline for teams to make the qualifying offer to their outgoing free agents. For 2016, the qualifying offer is a 1 year deal worth approximately $15.8 million. If a player gets a week to decide whether to accept or decline the offer. If he declines the offer and goes on to sign with another team, the team he left receives a compensatory draft pick from the signing team.

The Cardinals announced that they have made two today: Jason Heyward and John Lackey.

Heyward was the obvious choice. At 26 years old and coming off perhaps the best season of his career and expecting to net a giant free agent deal (with projections as high as $200 million), Heyward will most certainly be declining the qualifying offer. He has no reason to accept it. So there’s a potentially free draft pick.

For Lackey though, the response is less obvious unless his agent has already told you that they’ll be turning it down. Which is doubtful because it would damage your bargaining position in free agency.

John Lackey turned 37 in October and is at the tail end of his baseball career. He experienced a resurgence last season after being acquired from Boston at the deadline. Part of the reason the deal was made is that he had an option for 2015 at the league minimum, thanks to some creative bargaining by Theo Epstein in case Lackey had another arm injury. He did.

Over his 43 starts in St. Louis, Lackey posted a 3.10 ERA and a 16-13 record. His 2015 campaign saw him win 13 games with a 2.77 ERA in 33 starts and his ERA+ of 143 makes it the second best season of his career. His best season would be a 150 ERA+ season where he finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting. The similarities to that season are uncanny.

But all the on field production in the world can’t create a way to ignore the fact that at 37, Lackey’s best baseball seasons are behind him. The odds of getting a repeat performance are slim.

Down the stretch this season Lackey talked about how he enjoys pitching in the postseason and was glad to be somewhere he was going to get that opportunity. I think that’s important to note. Remember when the Cardinals acquired him last summer and there was some question as to whether he’d honor that option year? I do, and I think it’s because he’d been considering retirement rather than making league minimum for a last place team.

Given what we’ve seen in the past, when a player gets tagged with a qualifying offer, it hurts their market value unless they are a star player.

For example, you wouldn’t think twice about giving up a pick for 26 year old Jason Heyward, who you’re going to lock up for 7, 8, or 9 years. But for a 37 year old John Lackey who has a couple good seasons left in him, the question is how desperate you are.

For a small market team that needs prospects flowing through their system to remain viable, they’re not going to spend it on a 37 year old pitcher. That eliminates a number of contenders.

The last Cardinals pitcher to turn down a qualifying offer was Kyle Lohse. At 34, Lohse was coming off a 16 win campaign with a 2.88 ERA, a 133 OPS+, and a 3.51 FIP. Lohse stewed in free agency until finally signing a 3 year, $33 million deal with Milwaukee.

His season wasn’t that far off of Lackey’s. At three years older, Lackey posted 13 wins, a 2.77 ERA, a 143 ERA+, and a 3.57 FIP.

Lohse had to wait and took a salary hit courtesy of the draft pick compensation he was tied to.

In a Twitter conversation with Dan Buffa yesterday I put my expectation for Lackey at 2 years, $26 million. He was much more optimistic at 3 years, $45 million. But I think all changes with the qualifying offer involved.

I remember a conversation I had with Matthew Leach, current MLB.com columnist and former Cardinals beat writer for MLB.com, where he told me that teams are willing to gamble dollars on a player. But when it comes to years and prospects, they are much less willing.

So teams are going to be reluctant to give up that draft pick for Lackey. If he wasn’t tied to compensation, I think most contending teams would give him a call. I think Pittsburgh would have been a great destination for him.

Lets add up the situation now. We have a 37 year old pitcher who wants to pitch in the postseason. That means he wants a contender. You’ve already made him a qualifying offer which has likely torpedoed his marketability.

When you consider all of this, I can easily see him becoming the first player in Major League history to accept a qualifying offer. Which brings me back to my initial point. Teams don’t usually make a qualifying offer (or in the old system, offer free agency salary arbitration) to players they think might actually take it.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Players have until November 13th at 5 pm Eastern, a week from today, to decide whether to accept or reject their qualifying offers.

Is it a good idea to use relievers on back-to-back days?

As fans we see it all the time. Another tight game and the manager makes the walk to the mound to bring in your bullpen’s best pitcher for his second or third consecutive day of work. Either by routine or by role, the manager makes this decision, in most case, purely out of habit without consulting whether the statistics say it’s a good move. But he’s a pitcher the manager has faith in to get the job done.

Every night during the season a situation like this happens. But when you dig into the numbers, it probably shouldn’t be done for the majority of pitchers in baseball.

On the largest sample size–the entirety of Major League Baseball–the concept of using a reliever who pitched the day before puts you at a small disadvantage. The combined ERA of a reliever rises from 3.69 to 3.70 and the WHIP goes from 1.28 to 1.30.

It’s a small difference, but a difference nonetheless. For most teams, that’s maybe a run or two over the course of a season.

But when you consider why a team would use relievers on back-to-back days–close games–those one or two runs may mean the difference between a win and a loss. Between a playoff spot or an October full of tee times.

So maybe my initial argument that the whole league should stop using relievers when they had pitched the day before isn’t totally accurate. But this is something that organizations and managers should be paying attention to on a pitcher-by-pitcher basis.

The Cardinals had the second most appearances of any team by a pitcher who had also pitched the day before last year. The differences in their stats are also larger than the league averages. For Cardinals relievers, the ERA jumped from 2.79 to 2.92 and the WHIP went from 1.23 to 1.39 when using a pitcher who had pitched the day before.

If you compare what that means for the 111 innings that Cardinals relievers pitched after having pitched the day before, and instead substitute the average Cardinal reliever, putting relievers out there on back-to-back days potentially cost the Cardinals 14 runs and an additional 18 base runners late in games.

How many extra wins would 14 runs in close games have given the Cardinals? Enough to clinch the division a few days earlier? Enough to give the guys coming off the DL more time to get their timing back and making them better in October? Perhaps.

For the sake of argument, lets dig into the Cardinals “Big 3.” That’s Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, and Trevor Rosenthal. They’ve got some interesting differences of their own.

Seth Maness on 1+ day rest: 4.04 ERA, 1.59 WHIP
Seth Maness on 0 days rest: 4.71 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Trevor Rosenthal on 1+ day rest: 1.91 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
Trevor Rosenthal on 0 days rest: 2.49 ERA, 1.57 WHIP

Kevin Siegrist on 1+ day rest: 1.53 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
Kevin Siegrist on 0 days rest: 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

Before I jump in here, if you’ve paid much attention to my writing in the past, WHIP is one of my favorite metrics to analyze relief pitcher performance because of the way runs are charged to relievers. The basic goal of any reliever is to keep guys off base and get outs. WHIP measures that ability. Perhaps better than any other metric.

So when we look at Maness, he was probably a push in 2015, but when you go back and look at his 2014 season, one where he was much better overall, he clearly becomes a pitcher you didn’t want to put out on the mound on back-to-back days.

Meanwhile Rosenthal and Siegrist go from dominant relievers to below average ones overnight. Literally.

So with Rosenthal and Siegrist, you’re talking about pitchers that, when pitching on consecutive days, have a WHIP of 1.57 and 1.50 respectively. Only two Cardinals relievers put up worse numbers last season, Marcus Hatley (2.25) and Mitch Harris (1.59). And neither ever sniffed the mound in the 9th inning of a one run game.

Just comparing statistics, you’re going to find that almost anyone in the bullpen is a better option to take the mound on that second or third day than Rosenthal or Siegrist would be.

The difference would be make up and experience in pressure situations. If you made the decision to pay attention to these statistics, more of your relievers would get opportunities in those types of situations. Some will flourish. Some will faint. Add that information into your decision making.

The Cardinals also develop most of their own talent, so they have the opportunity to get these guys late inning pressure exposure in the minor leagues. That way, when they get to the Majors, they are not unfamiliar with the concept.

Finding a way to better manage these situations is probably the next big advancement in bullpen management. We’re just waiting for the next Tony La Russa to help pave the way.

If the Cardinals are to contend, it’s time to commit to the new core

Last spring as the Cardinals descended on Jupiter, Florida, for spring training there was quite a bit of talk about the organization’s efforts to put together the team’s next group of core players that would carry the team through the next 5-7 years. Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina were the centerpieces of the current Cardinals’ core and at ages 34, 36, and 33 respectively, they’re also getting old.

“I think we will have an idea what that looks like,” said General Manager John Mozeliak to the Post-Dispatch in March when talking about the next generation of core players. “We don’t have to have the answer today.”

We didn’t have the answer that day, but after the 2015 season, we might.

Over the course of an injury plagued season, the Cardinals’ depth was tested like never before while players like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty showed that they deserved to be on the short list of potential members for that next group of core players. In many ways their performances also proved that it’s time to start making the shift and letting the younger players drive.

That starts by moving Matt Holliday out of the #3 spot.

When Matt Holliday first came to town in 2009 as a trade acquisition, he slid right in behind Albert Pujols in the lineup, batting fourth. He stayed there for most of the next two years, save for a few experiments in the second spot in the lineup. When Pujols left after 2011, Holliday assumed the third spot in the lineup. A place he’s held ever since.

Even this September and in the postseason after returning from a quadriceps injury that forced him to miss over half the season, Holliday returned to the lineup batting third and stayed there for the playoffs too, despite hitting just .158 after coming off the DL the second time.

That return forced him into the middle of a group of guys like Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, and Jason Heyward who had driven this team in his absence. The result was a disjointed offense that scored some runs in the postseason, but was never able to sustain a rally.

Matt Holliday will be 36 years old when he reports to spring training in February and could be entering his final year with the Cardinals. Even when he was healthy this year, he wasn’t showing the characteristics of a guy you want batting third. His .303 batting average and .394 on base percentage was more reminiscent of a guy you want hitting second. Or even leadoff.

He had just 3 home runs through the first 58 games of the season. That put him on pace for just 8 over the course of the season. For a guy reaching the end of his career who has hit over 20 home runs in every season with the Cardinals, is there another explanation than just decline?

No, John Mabry isn’t an answer to that question.

Just 8 home runs over a season. Even if you give him a few extras for the expected hot streak, it isn’t enough to justify having him hit third in the lineup next season.

While he is still a feared hitter, and deserves to be, he is not the same caliber of player he was when he first arrived in St. Louis. It’s time to recognize that.

Over the first four seasons of his $120 million, 7 year deal with the Cardinals, Holliday hit .301 with 99 homers and had a 145 OPS+. The past two seasons, he has hit just .274 with 24 home runs and a 125 OPS+. That’s a 14% decline in offensive performance relative to the rest of the league.

In comparision, guys like Matt Carpenter (134 OPS+), Randal Grichuk (133 OPS+), and Stephen Piscotty (129 OPS+) each had better numbers last season than Holliday averaged the past two years.

It’s time to begin the transition to guys who look to be headed to the center of the new core of Cardinals players. Through a tight division race and the postseason, they proved that they can handle the bright lights. They didn’t shy away from the pressure.

It’s time to take Holliday’s name out of the #3 spot on that lineup card, Mike.

So what’s the big deal about the #3 spot in the lineup? The biggest is that it’s guaranteed to come up to the plate in the first inning. Those three hitters are going to get the most plate appearances in any given game and that’s why you want to have the guys who will give you the most value at the plate in them.

Matt Carpenter, who will be 30 within the week, showed off his home run stroke this season, launching 28 home runs to go along with a league leading 44 doubles. That’s even with a heavy slump in May and June, and he still had incredible power numbers. He’s in the leadoff spot right now and probably will continue to be there. The odds of another year with those power numbers is slim, but getting solidly into the teens is definitely a possibility.

Stephen Piscotty, who will be 25 by the time the 2016 season rolls around, would be my target to hit second. When the Cardinals acquired Holliday, I always felt he was one of the model #2 hitters in the game. What does that have to do with Piscotty? Well, I see a lot of similarities between the way the two hit. I’m sure lots of prospect watchers are laughing, but I always felt that they were both guys who were better hitters than power guys. But they’re also good enough hitters that they get their fair share of extra base hits.

Piscotty goes second because he’s a more disciplined hitter than Grichuk is. Mathematic lineup modeling demostrates that the #2 spot in the lineup is the most important. It’s why moving Carpenter back was even considered this past season. But I think Piscotty has all the tools to effectively fill this role.

Grichuk would slot in behind him, batting third. At 24, Grichuk is one of the youngest players on the Cardinals. He hit 17 home runs in 103 games before an arm injury landed him on the DL. He can play all three outfield positions, so he’ll have a regular spot in the lineup next year. Plus he has likely put concerns about his ability to hit right handed pitching to rest.

Regardless of the struggles, the power has always played, both ways, and that’s what matters here.

After that, I think you can consider sliding Holliday into the fourth spot in the lineup. A good batting average can be important here and he still has some power potential. That also lets you put Jason Heyward and Jhonny Peralta back in the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup where they are more comfortable and perhaps even overqualified to hit.

The key for me though, is to ensure that the three best hitters on the club get to bat in the first inning. Those three were the Cardinals’ three best hitters in 2015. Each played a critical role in the Cardinals’ successes last year. They deserve their shot.

I believe that Mike Matheny’s ability–or inability, as it may be–to move the veterans from their established spots in the lineup to give better performing and younger players an opportunity to play those key roles will define the 2016 season.

It’s time to throw the kids the keys to the car.

The 2015 season comes to a close

The final out was recorded and the Chicago Cubs celebrated on the field, clinching their first postseason series victory in 12 years and their first series clinching victory ever at Wrigley Field. Congratulations to the Cubs and their fans. I just hope that they don’t get used to it.

The saving grace for Cardinals fans of the loss–or just me, at least–is that it was a good series.

Neither team rolled over. Both teams played hard. The games went back and forth. Games weren’t over until the final outs were recorded. It was everything you could want in the first postseason matchup between longtime rivals. It didn’t disappoint in any way. Except the outcome.

So with the season officially over for the St. Louis Cardinals, we turn our attention to the offseason and diagnosing what was the cause for the early season exit and the Cardinals’ seeming step backwards.

The popular course of action will be to blame manager Mike Matheny for the team’s failures late in the season and into the postseason. In my opinion, that’s the lazy option and it fails to account for the realities of the situation that Matheny was in with a tight division race and many of our key players returning from injury.

Could he have made better decisions? Sure. But while many of the decisions he made were questionable, they weren’t obviously the wrong decision. They just had bad outcomes.

In the Divisional Series, the Cubs got to enjoy a worn out Cardinals’ pitching staff that had to keep the foot on the gas until the very last weekend of the season to secure the division. We saw the strain in September of that battle as the league’s best pitching staff posted their first monthly ERA higher than 3.00 with a 4.18 ERA in September and October.

The keys of the pitching staff, like Michael Wacha (7.88 ERA), Trevor Rosenthal (6.48) and Seth Maness (6.75), led the charge of guys that struggled.

Things may have also turned out differently if Matheny had had the luxury of resting these guys more in the second half of the season. Instead, they had to battle to the end and September was spent balancing playing time for guys returning from the DL and the need to win baseball games.

Winning the division was the goal. Matheny succeeded in that. But it probably cost us the postseason.

The final injury may have been the fatal blow to the Cardinals as well. All combined, the Cardinals had nine members of it’s Opening Day roster spend time on the disabled list, including their #1 starter as well as their #3 and #4 hitters.

Carlos Martinez being shut down in September turned out to be a big deal. Once the team struggled through Game 2, the lack of another dependable starting pitcher reared it’s head. Martinez, along with Lackey and Garcia, were the only three starting pitchers who were strong through September.

The trouble left the Game 4 starter in question. And it’s potentially very telling that Lance Lynn wasn’t trusted to take that start.

In the end, the Cardinals had their opportunities to win this series and failed. Take back just a couple pitches and the results of Games 3 and 4 swing drastically. The Cubs took advantage and that’s what good teams do. The Cubs were better. The trouble in actually admitting that is the potential that they’ll be very good for a few more years at least.

The offseason brings the Cardinals more questions than answers. Will they bring back Jason Heyward? What happens with John Lackey and Jaime Garcia? What does the future hold for Lance Lynn? Who is the answer at first base? How does the bullpen sort out for 2016 with lots of potential turnover?

With all the questions, this could easily be John Mozeliak’s busiest offseason as the Cardinals’ GM.

During his tenure, he has never faced a rival team that was built for sustained success. Until now.

It should be interesting to see how he responds.

Why starting Tommy Pham isn’t as easy as it seems

Over the past couple weeks there has been a lot of angst about Mike Matheny’s lineup decisions. They’ve primarily focused on the decision to use Jon Jay in center field much more often than Tommy Pham.

After a minor league career littered with injuries, it’s more than a little ironic that he’s finally gotten a real Major League shot thanks to the littany of injuries to the big league club. He struggled in his first cup of coffee with the Cardinals. Opponents quickly figured out his weaknesses and exploted them. He is back and has made adjustments.

Since he returned to a big league lineup on August 17th, Pham is hitting .308/.392/.554. He capped that off last night with a 3-for-4 performance featured a pair of home runs to center field and a triple.

With those numbers, I totally understand the desire to have Tommy Pham playing almost every day, but let’s not be so quick to dismiss Jon Jay.

Jay bears the unique distinction of being the most overrated and the most underrated player on the Cardinals roster. Only a player of Jay’s ability could be both and it makes him an easy target. It also makes every discussion around him explode.

In his first two years in the big leagues, Jay played well enough to convince the team to make room for him by trading Ryan Ludwick and former top prospect Colby Rasmus. He seemed locked in as the team’s undisputed center fielder until he struggled in 2013 with a .276 batting average during a season where he completely revamped his swing mid-season.

With the doubt about his future, John Mozeliak went out and acquired Peter Bourjos from the Angels as insurance. Jay responded to the challenge last year, hitting a team leading .303 and returned to playing plus defense as well.

That performance was enough for Mozeliak and the Cardinals as they worked out a two year deal worth $11 million.

Then came the bump in the road. Jay underwent wrist surgery in the offseason. Recovery pushed back his start to spring training and that led to him struggling early in the season. Since then, he’s continued to struggle with tendinitis in that same wrist and it landed him back on the disabled list. After a 5-for-13 rehab stint in Memphis, Jay returned.

Much to some consternation, he immediately took over the center field job upon his return. Being the guy that the organization declared as their starting center fielder and who they’d invested in like they had, he was going to get a good shot to keep his job. If his wrist is in better shape now than it was earlier in the season, his previous stats don’t mean anything now.

Jay getting regular playing time is not Matheny “playing favorites” with “his guys.” That’s the starting center fielder coming off the disabled list. That’s the way it works with all 30 teams in baseball.

It’s the same reason that Matt Holliday and Matt Adams will become regular players again once they get clearance to play everyday from the training staff. They need to figure out their timing and Matheny needs to figure out if they can contribute. That can’t be figured out while the guy sits on the bench. So they have to play.

After Jay returned, there were many people fortune telling that Matheny was going to keep Jay in center field even after Randal Grichuk got healthy. Grichuk hasn’t gotten healthy yet, but Matheny actually played an injured Grichuk over a healthy Jay! Too bad for that narrative, right?

The argument is to let Tommy Pham play as much as possible while he’s hot. It seems like an easy decision, but it isn’t.

Matheny has spent the better part of the season managing a team of spare parts to the best record in baseball. Now those regular parts are returning and need playing time. Matheny needs to let these guys play.

I’ll totally agree that September of a tight division race isn’t the most ideal time, but it has to be done. Matheny doesn’t have the luxury of writing off a guy that might be able to help this team win, let alone a guy who has a track record of contributing.

Consider this. If Matheny chooses to ride Pham right now and he flames out at the end of the season, what happens? Say Grichuk has complications and his arm isn’t ready to man center field. The Cardinals head into October with two options: a slumping Pham or an ice cold Jay.

But fans won’t consider that this is what they wanted all along. Instead the narrative will be “Matheny ruined Bourjos by never playing him and now he’s done it to Jay too. He hasn’t learned. Worst manager ever!”

It’s a no-win scenario.

The way I see it, Matheny has done a pretty good job of walking the line between maximizing the odds of winning each game and making sure he has a roster of guys who can contend in October.

They aren’t easy decisions to make and they are only going to get harder. Guys like Pham and Stephen Piscotty will be forced out of the lineup when this happens. Don’t be surprised.

And when you think about it, in many ways Jay has to play right now if ever. With Grichuk close to returning, that’s one more player needing playing time.

Hopefully the Cardinals will win enough games along the way to October.

If we don’t, it isn’t Matheny’s failure.

Three things to remember as the Pirates come to town

It seems that every time the Cardinals lose on Twitter, there’s a segment of fans that seem to believe the season is over. It doesn’t matter that the Cardinals have the best record in baseball by a few games or even have a five game lead in their division. All is lost! Just go ahead and send the players home. Forfeit the rest of the season. The Cardinals lost a game on August 9th. There’s no chance.

Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it?

You see, us Cardinals fans are a spoiled bunch. Forget about the #BFIB insults that other team’s fan bases hurl at us, we do it to ourselves.

So lets all just collectively take a breath, enjoy the ride, and remember how hard it is to actually win baseball games. In that spirit, here are three things to remember as the Pirates come to town.

1. The Pirates aren’t closing in on the Cardinals.

At the All Star Break, the Pirates were 2.5 games behind the Cardinals. Entering play today, they are 5 games back. So the Cardinals have actually stretched out a lead over the last few weeks. After Saturday’s game, both teams were 7-3 in their previous 10 games too. And until the Pirates exploded for 13 runs yesterday, they’d only scored one more run than the Cardinals in August.

So for all the talk about how great the Pirates are and how they can’t seem to lose, the Cardinals’ offense might be crappy, but the two teams seem equally matched right now. So that doesn’t scare me when we have the advantage.

2. It’s a long, long, long season and you’re never going to win every game.

Major League Baseball was founded in 1903 and in 113 seasons, no team has ever won every game. Only one team, the 1906 Chicago Cubs, have even won 75% of their games. So it’s safe to say that every team, no matter how great they are, are going to lose some games.

The season is long. At 162 games, it’s the longest of any professional sport by almost double. It’s a grind and it’s more about how you do over the course of the season. I doubt we’ll be looking back and going, “Man, if we’d just won that game on August 9th, we’d have won it all.”

3. Pittsburgh has yet to win at Busch Stadium this year.

So far the Cardinals have gone 5-5 against the Pirates this season. The Cardinals are 2-5 in PNC Park and 3-0 in Busch Stadium. And 6 of our remaining 9 games against Pittsburgh are going to be played on home turf in St. Louis.

The Cardinals are going to make the postseason.

You can write that down and reference it later. Since the Wild Card was introduced, there has only been a single instance of a team winning 90 games and not making the playoffs. Now with the extra wild card, that wouldn’t have happened. So 90 wins is pretty much a guaranteed trip to the postseason. For it to not be, you’d need five 90 game winning teams between two divisions to send a 90 win team home. And that’s not going to happen.

Currently at 71-40, the Cardinals will win 90 games. They just need to win 19 of their next 51 (.372) to do so. In comparison, the Pirates will need to win 25 of 53 (.471) and the Cubs will need to win 28 of 52 (.538).

With the pitching the Cardinals have, getting to 90 wins will be easy. They’ll probably even shout at 100.

Now there is room for improvement, but lets keep this all in perspective. The Cardinals are the best pitching team in baseball and are even historically great in that regard. Their offense, while it provides us stress on a nightly basis, is still a league average offense. It could be a lot worse.

So until a team gets within a couple games, there really isn’t a reason to worry. The Cardinals have been the best team in baseball most of the year with a hobbled lineup and a rotation that’s missing it’s ace. I believe in this team and I believe that when it comes to winning games that they need to win, this team responds unlike any other. I’ve seen it for myself. Haven’t you?

Why I’m OK trading or blocking Matt Adams

Last night on Twitter, I discussed whether Milwaukee would accept a straight-up offer of Matt Adams for Adam Lind. Immediate reaction is that it seems like an overpay for the Cardinals for Lind, but I don’t think so. Though that may come because I never truly believed in Adams a Major League caliber player. His power plays, no doubt, but does the rest of his skillset? Here’s why I think the way I do.

1. Matt Adams has taken a step back every season he’s spent in the big leagues

I consider 2013 to be his first real big league season. That season he had a phenomenal September in relief of the injured Allen Craig that may have really set that bar too high. He slugged 17 home runs in just 319 plate appearances and put up a 129 OPS+. Since then, he’s taken steps backwards in every season.

Based on his 2013 numbers, projected at 600 plate appearances, he was on pace to have hit 32 home runs. In 2014, that number fell to 16. And then this year, a little further to 15.

In 2013 he had a .839 OPS. In 2014 that fell to .779. And then this year even further to .656.

Now basically two and a half seasons into his MLB career, he’s shown himself to be little more than a platoon caliber player with his .198 career batting average against left handed pitching making him a “must bench” a quarter of the year.

2. Matt Adams will be arbitration eligible this fall.

Because of his injury and the aforementioned steps backwards, he won’t get as much as he could have, but he will still be making more than league minimum. For a guy that you aren’t sure can be an everyday player, is he the right investment for you to be making?

3. Adam Lind is as good or better than Adams right now.

Lind and Adams are similar players. Both have power as their main calling card and both profile as the kind of players that you’d ideally platoon. The only difference is that Lind is five years older and has a little more proven performance in his background.

Lind is on pace for 26 home runs this season and is hitting .285. It isn’t a fluke year for Lind either, who has done this before. More than once. The Cardinals are in position to win now and I think it’s about time that they make a move like their are. If you could add Lind without giving up a top level prospect, that’s a win all around regardless of what Adams goes on to do in Milwaukee.

Going forward, Lind would actually fit well into the Cardinals’ plans. He can platoon with Stephen Piscotty at first base while Piscotty also grabs some at bats in the outfield. It carves out Piscotty the kind of role that Allen Craig filled in 2011 and 2012. When you consider exactly how such a move would fit together, I think it makes sense.

After all of this you may be asking why Milwaukee would want Adams now that I’ve torn him apart. Two main reasons, cost savings and potential.

Out of the gate you’re saving the Brewers $8 million next year and a few million the rest of this year. Obviously the Brewers will pick up that option if they can’t trade him because of the value Lind can provide at the plate.

Then there is the potential of Matt Adams and the player he has been. Milwaukee can give him the ability to play everyday to find that potential in a way that St. Louis can’t. If Matt Adams isn’t going to be good today, a championship contender like the Cardinals doesn’t have the luxury of waiting on him to become it.

The Brewers have the ability to let Adams play everyday and come into his own. I’d even be willing to send along a lottery ticket prospect to grease the wheel.

On our monthly UCB Radio hit, Kevin Reynolds and I talked that 2015 was probably the make-or-break year for Adams, as far as penciling himself into the team’s long term plans. With the injury, he’s probably bought himself another year. That’s lucky for him because this year wasn’t going very well.

For his part, John Mozeliak seems to still be high on Adams as an everyday player that you want to see taking 600+ plate appearances a year. He’s even said that he doesn’t want to block him with a trade acquisition, but I’m hopeful that’s just to create a bargaining position. I see Matt Adams’ value at a tipping point that may be as high as it will be going forward. Historically, that’s when Mozeliak strikes.

Should the Cardinals make a move as the deadline approaches?

There is just a week to go until Major League Baseball’s non waiver trade deadline on July 31st and the Cardinals find themselves in a precarious position. They are leading the NL Central and have the best record in baseball, but they’re also nursing injuries. General Manager John Mozeliak now has to figure out whether the cost of improving this season’s team is worth it. Personally, I question whether it is.

Last week, I tweeted what I felt the Cardinals’ keys to the second half were.

Number 3 was to get healthy. Matt Holliday has now returned to the lineup and that’s helped stabilize the offense. The team also sent Jaime Garcia and Jordan Walden out on rehab assignments today. Marco Gonzales is close to being ready and then you have Matt Belisle expecting to return in August.

Number 2 was to find ways to protect Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. Both pitchers were supposed to be under innings limits entering the year, but have had those mostly set aside due to the innings deficit following Adam Wainwright’s injury.

And Number 1 was to get Matt Carpenter right. It’s about time, but his slump is finally getting noticed by the media and Mike Matheny, who dropped Carpenter to 7th in last night’s lineup. Since May 3rd, Carpenter is hitting .211 with just 12 extra base hits. For comparision, he hit 17 extra base hits in April alone.

Someone commented that the offense needed to be more consistent, but to me, that will be a function of Carpenter getting right and the rest of the lineup getting healthy. If those two things can happen, the offense will be more consistent almost by default.

Whether or not the Cardinals choose to acquire anyone this week, those three things need to happen. If the team can’t get healthy or if Carpenter doesn’t get right, the impact that any addition can have is minimal. It’s because of that, that I think Mozeliak should consider standing pat at the deadline.

The Cardinals have reportedly kicked the tires on starting pitching because of the innings load that Wacha and Martinez are taking on. With Garcia and Gonzales eyeballing a return, you’ve got two guys that may be looking for a rotation spot. You can cycle either of those two or even Tyler Lyons or Tim Cooney into a spot start or two to shave some innings off Wacha and Martinez down the stretch for free.

As I wrote last year, the regular season advantage of acquiring a top shelf starting pitcher at the trade deadline is only a win or two at the most. You would make such an acquisition for the playoffs, but even with that pitcher, if you don’t have Wacha and Martinez right in October, your chances aren’t very good even if you add Cole Hamels or David Price.

They don’t really need relief help with Jordan Walden working his way back and a guy like Sam Tuivailala in position to make his mark on the bullpen in the second half. It might be a good place to make a value addition if you can find one. Something like the acquisition of Edward Mujica a few years back.

I’ll even go as far as to say that the Cardinals don’t even need to acquire a first baseman. Stephen Piscotty has gotten a hit in both of his games and will get some time at first base. You’ve also got Mark Reynolds who has hit .214 with 4 homers in July. That’s twice as many as he’s hit in any other month with the Cardinals.

I still believe that this team has the pieces it needs to make a deep October run. But unless Mozeliak has a player drop into his lap at a great value, I’d rather him just check the bet over to the Pirates. They don’t have the pieces to do any substantial shopping and even though they added Aramis Ramirez today, he’s 37 and in the middle of his worst season since 2002. Their hope is that the former star will catch lightning in a bottle, but that’s far from a guarantee.

If he does stand pat, Mozeliak will inevitably catch criticism for it. It’s already been building during the season. His reasoned approach to roster moves and decisions garnering frustration with their speed or lack thereof. But I do believe that standing pat is the right choice.

You can call it drinking the kool-aid (I like Strawberry, which coincidentally is also red), but I trust Mozeliak. He has never had a losing season as a GM and it would require a failure of epic proportions for that streak to end this season. Mozeliak has his plan and he will continue to work it.

The past few deadlines and offseasons we’ve all sat here and talked about how the Cardinals should trade away their abundance of young talent and bring in some veterans. If this year has taught us anything, it should be that Mozeliak was right to hold onto his young talent. Without them, this season is over. Instead, the Cardinals have absorbed the shots they’ve taken and continue to be the best team in baseball.

And that’s by Mozeliak’s design.

And I’m not sure I’m willing to sacrifice next year’s team’s ability to do the same thing.

Perspective

Following this afternoon’s 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins, Jaime Garcia now has four starts in June and has an ERA of 0.96 and a WHIP of 0.61. The Cardinals have also lost three of those four starts. Why? It it certainly wasn’t Garcia’s fault. Twice the Cardinals were shut out and today, the bullpen squandered an 8th inning go-ahead home run from Jason Heyward.

To listen to some, the sky is falling.

And to be honest, they’re kind of right.

But when you consider where the Cardinals are, that should be expected. Can you really expect the Cardinals to maintain their torrid winning pace while missing a third of their WAR production from last year to the DL for an extended amount of time.

Not really.

With Matt Holliday and Matt Adams missing from the lineup, the offense is much weaker and the bench is too. Mark Reynolds and Randal Grichuk have been pressed into everyday service and they’ve done well since being forced into starting roles. However, the bench is left without a legitimate threat. That impacts your ability to win games late. That impacts your ability to cycle out your new core hitters.

The Cardinals have yet to react to the loss of Holliday as far as the roster goes. John Mozeliak indicated that the team may make a move for offense earlier this week, but no move has been made.

There is no doubt the offense needs help. Mozeliak knows this. Since Holliday hit the DL, the offense has averaged exactly 3 runs per game. That won’t get the job in a majority of games, but is there an answer to help the offense in house?

Not really.

If you’re asking me, the best option in house is Tommy Pham. Unfortunately for Pham, he plays the outfield and the Cardinals already have a crowded and complicated outfield dynamic. It was crowded and complicated even before Holliday went on the DL, but that means that Pham won’t see much of a chance unless there is another injury in the outfield. Maybe he’s more trade bait for a bench bat than anything else at this point.

There is a heavy call to bring up a guy like Xavier Scruggs, but let’s be honest about what Scruggs is. He’s a 27 year old power hitter who has been stuck in Triple-A without a “fair shot.” This is a story that repeats every year or two. Nick Stavinoha in 2011, Brock Peterson in 2013, shall I go on?

What about Scruggs will bring about a different outcome?

Reynolds has been really good since Adams hit the DL too, so can Scruggs outperform Reynolds often enough to deserve playing time? And I hope you don’t expect him to play much at all in left field either for the same reasons Pham isn’t the right guy.

Consider last September. Matt Adams was quietly dealing with a day-to-day injury in September and the Cardinals didn’t have another true first baseman on the roster, so they called up Scruggs. Scruggs was on a Memphis team in the middle of the playoffs when he got the call, and that’s something that Mozeliak doesn’t like doing unless the guy is going to play. He was also coming off a better season than he’s in the middle of right now. Daniel Descalso was in the middle of a season where he hit .242 with no home runs.

Descalso started over him.

Even with those odds in his favor, he couldn’t get a look. Obviously there is something missing that the Cardinals believe indicates that he won’t produce on the Major League level.

Yes, he can probably provide more impact than Ed Easley can, but Easley has gotten a whopping three plate appearances in his time in St. Louis and two of those came in a blowout loss. It’s not like he’s seeing a ton of action.

With all that said, there really isn’t a solution in house for the Cardinals to go to right now. Their best option will be to try to pick someone up off the trade market and that won’t really materialize for at least another month.

It’s okay though. The season isn’t even halfway over. There is a lot more baseball to play and a decision to add a bench player (or not) in June won’t be the reason a season is lost. The Cardinals are the best team in baseball and will be for at least another 5 days. If 90 wins gets you into the playoffs, and historically that is an automatic, the Cardinals only need to go 47-49 to secure a playoff spot.

When October does roll around, the Cardinals should be in better position. Matt Holliday and Matt Adams are both expected back. There’s also some rumblings that Adam Wainwright expects to be able to pitch as soon as October, so maybe an outside shot of having him in some fashion too.

Like it or not, we’re all along for the ride at this point. It’s going to be bumpy and not a lot of fun, but the Cardinals need to stay the course for right now. They’ll get healthier as the season goes, because let’s be honest that there is nowhere to go in that department but up. As long as they can continue to grind out wins, we’ll still be in this thing when October rolls around.

But if Lance Lynn isn’t off the DL by June 25th, you can help me mash the panic button.