Five Things: The Offseason

So to riff off a popular joke from this week, I’d like to confirm that I am not taking a job writing for The Athletic like the rest of the baseball world. Because of that, you can continue to receive the same mediocre Cardinals coverage free of charge here at Redbird Dugout for the foreseeable future.

With that said, pitchers and catchers have all officially reported. It appears that Matthew Bowman was the final pitcher and/or catcher to arrive to spring training, as he did yesterday afternoon. This morning holds the first official workouts. Before long, pitchers will be firing several pitchers wide in the bullpens at Roger Dean Stadium.

With that, I figured with the first “Five Things” column of the season, I would review the offseason and set up the early season storylines.

Ozuna addition steadies a potentially potent lineup

For all the complaints about the Cardinals’ offense last season, their 100 team wRC+ was 9th in the Majors last season and the 3rd in the National League behind the Dodgers (104 wRC+) and the Cubs (101 wRC+). Unfortunately when it came to converting that production into actual runs scored, the team struggled placing 13th in runs scored in all of baseball and 7th in the National League. That would seem to point more towards a lineup that wasn’t optimized than one that lacked talent.

The addition of Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins will bring some much needed depth to a middle of the lineup that lacked a true middle of the order hitter. I still think the lineup needs one more, but it seems like we’re going to try the ‘Matt Carpenter as a middle of the order hitter’ experiment again to begin the 2018 season as Mike Matheny has suggested he prefers Carpenter in the three spot. If it works, that might be the answer the team has needed.

Offensively, I see three guys whose 2018 will dictate just how far the offense goes. Those guys are Ozuna, Tommy Pham, and Paul DeJong.

Pham’s 148 wRC+ was tied for 8th in baseball while Ozuna’s 142 wRC+ ranked 13th among qualified hitters last season. Projection systems universally don’t like either of them to reproduce those kind of numbers. ZiPS for example puts the two at 115 wRC+ for Pham and 116 wRC+ for Ozuna. I agree that they won’t duplicate those kind of offensive numbers, but I think they are both capable of coming in above 120 wRC+ this season, which still makes them top-50 talents offensively.

Combine that with Ozuna’s Gold Glove defense in left field and Pham’s peeks at being Gold Glove caliber, and they should be well rounded players who contribute on both sides of the ball and be solid cornerstones for the lineup.

That brings us to Paul DeJong in his effort to not follow the path of the man he replaced, Aledmys Diaz. Diaz broke onto the scene in 2016 and appeared to be a lineup cornerstone before a sophomore slump allowed DeJong to take his job and ended up with a demotion. Diaz is now with the Blue Jays as the team takes its shot with DeJong.

DeJong hit 25 home runs behind his 122 wRC+ last season. Most projection systems see regression ahead of him with ZiPS projecting a 97 wRC+. I tend to agree that a league average number is most likely for DeJong going forward. His early defensive numbers at shortstop were good last year, but regressed as the season went on to put him just a touch negative. It’s still well ahead of Diaz defensively, but at shortstop, DeJong’s defense will be the most important part of his game.

The bullpen approach is throw everything at the wall and see what sticks

Entering this winter the front office once again spoke a big game, talking about their coming pursuit of a big name free agent since they had nobody in-house prepared to assume the closer’s role after they parted ways with Trevor Rosenthal following his surgery. Instead their approach has seemed to been more “Quantity over quality.”

To an extent, I get it. The bullpen is a volatile place for pitchers. You can look at new acquisition Dominic Leone to understand this. He was great in his rookie year and part of a dominant bullpen last year, but in the two years in between he struggled to stay in the Majors as he had control issues. Another is last winter’s $30 million man Brett Cecil who had great numbers out of the bullpen in Toronto, but struggled in St. Louis last season.

Leone joins free agent signees Luke Gregerson and Bud Norris as part of the group the Cardinals brought in instead of an elite closer. None are confidence inspiring on their own, but the Cardinals are placing their confidence in new pitching coach Mike Maddux and the amount of pitchers they have who could step into the bullpen.

Those four will join Matthew Bowman, John Brebbia, Tyler Lyons, and Sam Tuivailala who all had big years for the Cardinals last season. Those are the eight relievers you’re looking at on the Opening Day roster.

Behind those eight guys you have Alex Reyes due back in May from Tommy John surgery. They’ve also got Jack Flaherty, John Gant, Mike Mayers and Josh Lucas who appeared out there for the Cardinals last year.

They’ve got non-roster guys like former closer Edward Mujica and Preston Guilmet to go along with big name prospects like Jordan Hicks, Ryan Helsley, Dakota Hudson, and Connor Greene who could all get looks this summer if it comes to that.

The plan seems to be to throw it all at the wall and hope something sticks with someone stepping up and stepping into those important roles in the bullpen.

Low floor, high ceiling as Cardinals gamble

I think that the most frustrating thing about this winter is that the Cardinals could have come in and left no doubt about who was the king of the NL Central. They have the money, they have the prospects, and they have the needs. The specifically singled out a middle of the order hitter and an elite closer as their needs and came up with only one of them, bowing out of the other over costs.

I’ve talked before this winter where the Cardinals stand payroll-wise and currently they will be spending less on their Opening Day 25 this year than they did last year. They could have added whoever they wanted from free agency without batting an eye financially, but they’ve specifically chosen to gamble in a division they finished third in last year and where the teams ahead of them have done at least as much to address their needs.

But the potential is there and the potential is legit. It’s both a good thing and bad thing because if you came back from the future and told me the Cardinals won 75 games this year, I wouldn’t be surprised. Likewise, if you came back and told me they won 95 games, I wouldn’t be surprised either. If their bets pay off, this is the best team in the Central, however it’s a free fall if they don’t.

Slow free agency opens the door to late additions

While the Cardinals might officially consider themselves done, they did so earlier this winter and still signed Bud Norris to a one year deal as the front office said that they will be “opportunistic” with the free agent market that’s developing. There’s always the possibility that it could create some interesting opportunities for the Cardinals to step in and pick someone up on a shorter term deal.

There are still players out there who could help this team. Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn would bring some stability to a rotation that has a big innings question. Logan Morrison is a player the Cardinals expressed some interest in early in the winter, and reportedly offered a contract to. But he is still on the market as well.

An acquisition like Morrison would almost certainly require the Cardinals to rethink their other bench spots as well. A role for Jose Martinez would be in question or the club would have to go with seven relievers instead of Matheny’s preferred eight. And with the strategy for working out the bullpen, I fully expect them to go with eight relievers. However, it is still something to watch as the spring progresses.

And even if a player were to get injured, could you see a move for a free agent in spring training? That’s something to watch too as we’re in a bit of uncharted territory.

Bench mix might be most interesting battle of the spring

The makeup of the Cardinals’ bench might be the most interesting battle to watch in Spring Training this year. There are certain guys already locked in. Carson Kelly will be the backup catcher. Jose Martinez will be the backup first baseman and reserve outfielder. Greg Garcia is probably going to be the infield utility guy. And then you have one spot remaining.

That spot likely goes to an outfielder, which makes the battle most likely to be Harrison Bader versus Tyler O’Neill. But having options and flexibility could open the door for a guy like Breyvic Valera, who can play anywhere.

Projection systems seem to like O’Neill better than Bader. According to ZiPS, O’Neill is projected for a 104 wRC+ while Bader is just an 84 wRC+. Part of that can be that Bader had more exposure last year and struggled to finish up the season while O’Neill only struggled, but still managed to mash, to finish up the AAA season in Memphis.

But an outfielder isn’t a requirement. In past years you’d need an outfielder who could play center field on the bench, but this year all three starting outfielders have been starting center fielders in the Majors at some point in their career. If we’re talking about spot starts in center, Ozuna and Fowler are both capable of doing the job.

That opens the door for a guy like Valera who has played 800 games in the minors for the Cardinals before making his debut last year. He is a classical switch hitting utility player who can play anywhere on the field. In many ways, I’ve heard him compared to Jose Oquendo for many of those same reasons.

I expect the club will take four bench players and eight relievers, as that’s Matheny’s preference and because of how they intend to approach their bullpen I think they’ll opt for more arms there. Especially with a position player roster that has some actual positional flexibility, rather than just the ability to be equally horrible defensively at multiple positions.

Five things about the Reds Series

The St. Louis Cardinals wrapped up their season series against the Cincinnati Reds with a sweep to put their season record against the Reds at 10-9. When play wrapped up last night the Cardinals are80-72 and 5 games out of the NL Central, but find themselves 1.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies for the second Wild Card.

The Cardinals head to Pittsburgh where they will play a three game series this weekend against the Pirates before heading home for four against the Cubs and three against the Brewers to finish out the season.

Pham is the first Cardinals’ player since 1900 (and maybe first Cardinal ever) to hit 20 home runs, 20 doubles, steal 20 bases, and (working on) hit .300 in a season. When the Cardinals shared this tidbit of information, Tommy Pham was at 19 doubles and a couple nights later he hit a pair of doubles to help drive the Cardinals to victory. He went 6-for-15 in the series with 2 walks.

Assuming Pham plays in all 10 games to finish out the season, assuming he bats second and maintains his 13% walk rate, Pham should get about 40 at bats over the final 10 games of the season. That would mean he needs to go 8-for-40 at the plate over the final 10 games to maintain that .300 batting average.

You go, we go. Dexter Fowler put together a good series for the Cardinals as it appears he has supplanted Paul DeJong as the team’s #3 hitter of the moment. Fowler went 7-for-13 in the series with two walks, two home runs, and three doubles. Fowler is now batting .270/.367/.504 for the season.

It’s safe to say that while Fowler has not been the player we expected him to be when the Cardinals signed him last winter, he has still been good. His .270 batting average is above his career average, his .367 OBP is right at career average, and his .504 slugging percentage is a career high. So are the 18 home runs.

Health and defense have been his major drawbacks, but those could be alleviated with a regular offseason and perhaps a move to left field.

Weaver continues to roll. Luke Weaver has arrived at the perfect time for the Cardinals this season. With the injury to Adam Wainwright, Weaver stepped into that rotation spot and hasn’t skipped a beat. Dating back to August 2nd, the Cardinals have won all 8 games in which Weaver has taken the mound and 7 straight starts. Over those 44.2 innings, Weaver has a 1.61 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

There are no breaks for him either as his next start is expected to come on Monday against the Cubs and then he should get one in the Brewers series to finish up the season.

Other than against Cincinnati, Juan Nicasio has been pretty good. Nicasio has a 3.18 ERA since joining the Cardinals earlier in September to go along with a 1.06 WHIP. In 5.2 innings he has allowed just 2 earned runs, both of those to Cincinnati. And both in games the Cardinals won. With the way he’s been pitching, he’ll be a large part of the equation if the Cardinals make the playoffs and there will likely be a glaring hole come October when he’s ineligible.

Flaherty moved to the bullpen. The move of Jack Flaherty to the bullpen after he posted a 6.46 ERA over the first four starts of his MLB career probably spells the end of the season for the right handed former first round pick. He made it through five innings just once in those four starts, but he’s also thrown 164 innings and 29 starts which is a tremendous amount of innings for a rookie. Hopefully he came up, learned some lessons and will come back next season like Weaver has done this year.

In his place the Cardinals will start John Gant, which doesn’t have me too inspired. I guess Wainwright is more injured than anyone has let on since he’s been available out of the bullpen this week and hasn’t found the mound. Gant had a 3.83 ERA in 18 starts for Memphis this season and had a 4.80 ERA over 7 starts for Atlanta last year.

Five things about the Cubs Series

The St. Louis Cardinals went to Wrigley Field this weekend with a chance to put themselves neck-and-neck with the division leading Chicago Cubs and came up empty. With the sweep, the Cardinals fall to six games back in the division, just a game shy of the farthest they’ve been out of the division all season.

They will continue on the road. First headed to Cincinnati for three games and then to Pittsburgh for another three before returning home for four more against the Cubs.

This season isn’t over. No, contrary to everyone wanting to pack it in, the Cardinals’ season isn’t over. The Cardinals have 13 games remaining this season and still have four to play against the Cubs in Busch Stadium. I fully expect that when the Cubs come to St. Louis next week that the Cardinals will still have a shot at them.

Why? I’ve consistently said that one of the most infuriating things about the 2017 Cardinals is that they just won’t roll over and die. Every time I’ve been ready to declare the season effectively over, they’ve found a way to rally back to the verge of contention. So, I don’t foresee them letting me off this easy.

Struggling with the core. One of the biggest issues for the Cardinals this season has been the struggles of the three main guys they have committed to in this lineup. Often this season Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and Stephen Piscotty have batted 1, 2, or 3 in some fashion in the Cardinals’ batting order and yet the Cardinals are just 18-28 when all three start the same game.

This has become an issue in the second half while all three are dealing with and playing through injuries and when all three start the Cardinals are 0-6 in the second half.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Mike Matheny has to sit these guys and mix the young players in and adjust his lineup to compensate, the team as a whole seems to perform better.

Lyons gets touched up twice. Entering this series, Tyler Lyons had allowed just one earned run on 22.1 innings over 24 appearances in the second half. In the series, Lyons was touched up for runs twice. First by an Addison Russell home run with the Cards down 3-1 on Saturday and the second when Matthew Bowman allowed one of his inherited runs to score to give the Cubs the lead on Sunday.

Offense went cold. The Cardinals’ offense scored just six runs over the three game set against the Cubs. And half of those runs came on a home run by Dexter Fowler. That is the second fewest runs they’ve scored in a series this season. The only one worse was when they scored five runs in a four game series against the Diamondbacks at the end of July, but they won two of those games.

One run woes. On Sunday the Cardinals lost their 28th one-run game of the season as their record now stands at 20-28. The only team with more one-run losses are the 58-91 Phillies who are also one of the worst teams in baseball. Not exactly stellar company.

Five things about the Brewers Series

It was a short two-day set against the division rival Milwaukee Brewers and the Cardinals successfully(?) split it, winning the opener 10-2 before falling in the finale 5-6. With the loss, the Cardinals fall now 6 games back in the NL Central behind the Cubs. It is the furthest back they’ve been since July 16th when they finished play 6.5 games back.

Wham, Pham

Tommy Pham went deep twice in the series finale, driving in four of the Cardinals’ five runs on his 18th and 19th home runs in the 1st and 8th innings, respectively. Pham went 4-for-8 in the series with 2 walks and 4 RBI. He is hitting .316/.423/.525 since the All Star Break. His 4.6 fWAR in 103 games ranks him the 20th best position player in baseball and all except Mike Trout (5.8 in 87 games), Carlos Correa (4.7 in 84 games), and Bryce Harper (4.7 in 106 games) have played 20+ more games than him.

The shut down bullpen

In both games against Milwaukee, the bullpen brought it. On Tuesday they threw 3.1 innings and allowed just one hit. On Wednesday, they threw 2.1 perfect innings. If, and granted it is a big if, the Cardinals still have some hope of making a run at this thing, they’ll need performances like this out of the bullpen.

Weaver looks good

Luke Weaver made his fourth start of the season and went 5.2 innings and allowed 2 runs. He became the first Cardinals rookie pitcher to strike out 10 batters in back-to-back starts since Rick Ankiel, which isn’t bad company for a rookie. In his four big league starts this season he has a 3.00 ERA in 24 innings. That goes nicely with the 2.55 ERA he had in 15 starts in Memphis.

Homers for Houston

Matt Carpenter, who went to high school in Missouri City, TX, a suburb of Houston, said that he would donate $10,000 for each home run he hit the rest of the season to relief efforts. Adam Wainwright said he’d match it and so did the Cardinals. Carpenter would go deep for his 18th home run of the season in the 5th inning off Carlos Torres.

I can’t even be mad

Two out in the top of the 9th and Randal Grichuk gets a hold of one to center field, but there’s Keon Broxton jumping at the wall to rob the would-be go ahead home run. It would have put the Cards on top at least 7-6 headed to the bottom. But a game saving, home run robbing catch? I can’t even get mad.

Five things about the Rays Series

The Cardinals lost yet another series as they dropped two out of three to the Tampa Bay Rays. The loss today put the Cardinals at 4-9 since they ended their 8 game winning streak two weeks ago. They continue to be 4.5 games behind the division leading Chicago Cubs who refuse to run away with the division, which is part of what makes this season so infuriating.

The Cardinals will have a day off on Monday before a two game set in Milwaukee against the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.

The Sherriff locks it down

One of the great stories of the weekend was Ryan Sherriff making his Major League debut for the Cardinals. On Friday night he came up big, throwing three scoreless innings of relief that helped bridge the gap after a short outing by Michael Wacha. After walking his first batter, he settled in, retiring his next six batters. When he came into the game, the Rays were leading 5-3. He kept the margin the same, but the offense failed to come through.

After the game, Sherriff talked about how he kept thinking about his Dad on the mound. His father passed away in 2012 and Sherriff was ready to give up baseball. Convinced by his mother to return, here he was five years later making his debut, becoming the first Cardinals reliever to throw three scoreless innings of relief in his debut since 1998.

Thanks to Player’s Weekend, we also got to see a great matchup. Sherriff, who didn’t get to pick a nickname, faced off against Kevin Kiermaier who was wearing “Outlaw” on the back of his jersey. He got the Outlaw to ground into a fielder’s choice.

DeJong continues to hit

Count me among those who are surprised that Paul DeJong is still managing to be a productive hitter in the Major Leagues. He’s had a few small cold spells, but he seems to be making the necessary adjustments to continue to hit. Zach Gifford wrote about the small adjustments DeJong has made over at The Intrepid STL this week. Through Sunday afternoon’s game, DeJong has a five game hitting streak going and has hit in 19 of his last 22 games, hitting .347/.386/.611 with 6 home runs over that span.

Brebbia and Lyons stepping into Rosenthal’s shoes

With Trevor Rosenthal down for the count, there was some question who would fill his shoes in the late innings and so far there are two obvious choices: John Brebbia and Tyler Lyons.

Brebbia pitched two scoreless innings in the Rays series, the second escaping two walks to do it after pitching a perfect inning the night before. Since the beginning of July, Brebbia has a 1.85 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP.

Lyons on the other hand has now gone 16.2 consecutive scoreless innings and since the beginning of July has a 0.95 ERA and 0.47 WHIP. Since the beginning of July he has been one of the top-5 relief pitchers in baseball.

Garcia wants a job

If there is a plus to Jedd Gyorko‘s absence with his hamstring injury, it may be that Greg Garcia will get to play a little more. While Gyorko’s performance had waned over the past two months, Garcia has been strong. He has hit .319/.430/.431 in 40 games since July 1st. He went 3-for-4 on Sunday afternoon too to give him a .400 batting average over the past 10 games.

There has been talk that they may move Matt Carpenter to third base to give some playing time to Luke Voit at first base. I think Voit can be a valuable part of this team going forward with the opportunity to play, but it is good to see Garcia hitting well and taking advantage of this opportunity.

Offense can’t back Lynn

Lance Lynn went 7 innings and allowed 2 earned runs, being barely outpitched by his Rays counterpart Chris Archer on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t enough as the Cardinals’ offense came up short. All five runs of the game scored on solo home runs. It’s not the first time the Cardinals’ offense has failed to back Lynn up.

Since his start on June 29th, Lynn has a 2.32 ERA over 12 starts and the team has gone just 7-5. In 10 of those 12 starts, Lynn notched a quality start.

Five things about the Royals Series

The Cardinals swept the Kansas City Royals in the annual I-70 Series between the two cross state rivals. They now carry a six game winning streak into this weekend’s series against the Atlanta Braves. They are officially 1 game behind the Chicago Cubs for the division lead, though in a virtual tie as they both have 59 wins. I know most people like to look at the loss column, however, the way I see it, any team can lose a game, but you have to earn wins.

As I said earlier, the Braves and former Cardinal Matt Adams are coming to town. Fun fact, Adams makes eight players who started the 2017 season in the Cardinals’ organization who have hit 14 or more home runs this season. And yes, you could make a lineup of all of them without forcing someone to a position they’ve never played.

#RallyCat

Was there really any doubt that this is where the Royals series review was going to start? With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th, a kitten ran onto the field at Busch Stadium prompting a brief stoppage in play while field crew member Lucas Hackmann ran out to retrieve the cat. On the very next pitch Yadier Molina hit a grand slam to turn a 5-4 Royals lead into an 8-4 Cardinals lead.

After the game there was some dispute as to where the cat went. Some reported he had been picked up by a local animal shelter and some reported that someone had claimed him outside the stadium. It sounds like a woman claimed the Rally Cat and then it escaped her grasped. Which, while it may seem heartless, adds to the mythology that nobody really knows where the Rally Cat ended up.

Of course, when we needed a Rally Cat moment in Thursday night’s game, Jim “The Cat” Hayes apparently did not feel the need to respond to my Twitter pleas for him to run onto the field. Dexter Fowler hit a grand slam anyway. First time the team has hit go-ahead grand slams in back-to-back games in franchise history.

Speaking of Molina

Apparently a pissed off Molina is a good Molina. Yadier Molina is already hitting .322/.366/.540 with a 137 wRC+ since the All Star Break this season, getting off to the kind of second half he had last year for the Cardinals, but the numbers show he’s also performed well over some discussion about his playing time.

Carson Kelly was promoted by the Cardinals on July 21st and Molina has hit .344/.391/.594 with a 157 wRC+ (good for 26th best in all of baseball) since.

Then Mike Matheny implied on July 27th that Molina was tired and that’s why Kelly started that night. It prompted Molina to post the comment on his Instagram with the argument that he wasn’t tired and that he trains to play 174 games a season because that’s what it takes to become a champion (162 regular season games + 12 minimum postseason wins for a Wild Card team). It could take more than 174, but I digress.

Anyway, since that he’s hit .333/.388/.644 with a 167 wRC+ (good for 24th best in baseball).

Matheny ought to keep this in mind the next time Molina falls into a slump. Just suggest he’s tired.

Offense showing the plus of flexibility

Dexter Fowler has come off the disabled list smoking hot as he hit 6-for-13 with six walks, three doubles, a triple, and a home run in the series after returning to the team on Monday night. He returned batting sixth and then settled into fourth for the last two games of the series.

Jedd Gyorko who has struggled since the All Star Break, started twice in the series and came up with hits both times, including his 15th home run of the season. But otherwise we’ve been seeing a somewhat regular diet of Greg Garcia at third base lately. He pinch hit on Wednesday, but on Monday he had one of my favorite lines. 0-for-2 with 2 walks, an RBI, and a run scored. Since the break, Garcia is hitting .300/.432/.433.

Matheny is also riding the hot hand of Jose Martinez. Martinez went 5-for-16 in the series, starting all four games batting 4th, 2nd, and 6th. Since the break, he’s hitting .316/.449/.658 with 4 home runs.

One of my biggest complaints this season has been Matheny’s insistence on keeping struggling players in key spots of the lineup so that the Cardinals essentially have built in rally killers. Injuries and subpar play have now forced him to become more flexible and we’ve seen the payoff over the last week.

Lyons proving himself in the bullpen

I’ve spoken a few times about my love for Tyler Lyons as a reliever. Not just a lefty specialist reliever, but the ability to be the kind of reliever you can entrust as a regular setup guy. His numbers in the bullpen over the past few years for the Cardinals are strong and with some comfort in the job, could step those up. And he has emerged over the summer as one of Mike Matheny’s better relief options.

In 11 appearances since the All Star Break, Lyons has thrown 9 scoreless innings and allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out 14. While Trevor Rosenthal has gotten the attention for his recent dominance (0.68 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 41% K rate, 11 G) , Lyons (0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP, 47% K rate, 11 G) has been even more so.

Going back two months he has a 2.16 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 25 innings out of the bullpen.

You get on base and you get on base! EVERYONE GETS ON BASE!!!

In the first two games of the series, every spot in the Cardinals’ batting order had reached base at least once. The streak reached three games, as they had done it in the series finale against the Reds as well. The streak was broken on Wednesday night as Paul DeJong went 0-for-5 in the 3rd spot while every other lineup spot got on base in the 8-5 win.

Five things about the Reds Series

The Cardinals scored their first road series win since June and their first against a divisional opponent since April by taking two out of three from the Reds over the weekend. The Cardinals end the series 55-56 and 3.5 games out of the NL Central lead in third place. They’ve been 3.5 games back before, but haven’t been closer since June 13th when they finished the day 2.5 games behind.

Heading into the series against the Royals, the Cardinals have lost in their last five attempts to reach .500. So they’ll have to shake that bogeyman.

Wainwright just wins

Adam Wainwright struggled on Sunday as he allowed 4 hits and 5 walks over 3 innings of work as he earned the quick hook. But that didn’t stop the Cardinals who piled on some offense including a 9 run 4th innings.

The short outing left Wainwright’s season long ERA at 5.00, but the team is 13-9 in games started by him this season. That’s a .591 winning percentage, or in other terms, a 96 win pace.

The crazy part is that this is that Wainwright has just one season with a worse record. Over his career with the Cardinals, the team is 177-99 in games he starts, that’s a .641 win percentage, or in other terms, a 104 win pace. The team went 16-16 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, but every other season except his first in the rotation has seen the team post a greater than .600 winning percentage in games he starts.

He has the best team record among Cardinals’ starting pitchers, and with the Cards winning behind Lance Lynn on Saturday, he joined Wainwright as the only Cardinals pitchers with a winning team record in games they start.

The hottest hitter on this team is…

Jose Martinez. Since the All Star Break, Martinez is hitting .318/.500/.773 with 3 home runs in 12 games, six of them starts. His latest feat coming with a grand slam while batting cleanup against the Reds on Sunday afternoon. But if there’s a player swinging a hot bat and pushing for more playing time right now, it’s Martinez.

Another player pushing for time is…

Greg Garcia. Since the All Star Break, Garcia is hitting .320/.433/.480 in 17 games, six of them starts. His emergence has come at a welcome time as Cardinals’ third baseman Jedd Gyorko has struggled since the calendar turned to July. Since the break Gyorko is hitting just .176/.241/.243 for the Cardinals.

It’s amazing what happens when you don’t abuse relievers

Before Sunday’s game, Mike Matheny spoke to the media about Trevor Rosenthal and how not pushing him and watching how they use him has really helped. It’s amazing what happens when you don’t run your relievers ragged. I wrote a couple years ago about the difference in the Cardinals’ relievers when they pitch with no rest versus a day or more of rest. Most relievers become no better than the rest of your bullpen on back-to-back days.

And it’s not like Matheny hasn’t had a deep bullpen to give these guys proper rest either.

Brett Cecil: Long Reliever

The last two times that Matheny chose to quick hook his starter, he has turned to Brett Cecil to bridge the gap. Most recently on Sunday, he came in in the fourth inning and pitched three shutout innings for the Cardinals. After a rough start, Cecil has rebounded quite nicely, posting a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP since May 19th, allowing the opponent to score in just four of his 32 appearances.

Five things about the Rockies Series

The Cardinals completed their first sweep of since June 9-11 when they swept the Philadelphia Phillies at home. They won the past two nights in small part due to the young guys they’ve brought up providing a nice spark of energy. The Cardinals now find themselves 3.5 games behind the Cubs and now back in third place. They have not been this close to first since play wrapped up on July 3rd.

Bader’s Mad Dash

For his first Major League hit on Tuesday night, Harrison Bader ripped a double to left field and raced around the bases. He was bunted over to third by Greg Garcia and then chipped home by Jedd Gyorko. Bader’s dash home was clocked at nearly 30 feet per second according to FOX Sports Midwest last night and that’s Billy Hamilton territory according to Statcast’ Sprint Speeds leaderboard. I see now why the Cardinals think he can play center field.

But that wasn’t the only dash he had to make. On Wednesday he legged out two infield hits. Overall he went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and a strikeout and put together a more complete game than I’ve seen from a Cardinals prospect in quite some time. For example, it took Paul DeJong 50 plate appearances to take his first walk.

The cavalry showed up

Wednesday night’s 10-5 victory marked the sixth time this season that Carlos Martinez has allowed 4 or more earned runs, but the first time that the Cardinals managed to win the game. When he allows 3 or fewer, the Cardinals are 9-6.

It’s the young guys that are driving this team right now. Paul DeJong hits a home run in the first inning to tie the game back up after the Rockies got to Martinez in the top of the first.  Tommy Pham goes 2-for-2 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored. Randal Grichuk goes 4-for-5. Harrison Bader goes 3-for-4. Kolten Wong goes 0-for-3, but walked twice, scored twice and drove in a run.

There are so many glimmers of what this team could be. They are a very different team with a very different energy with the group of guys they had last night. You almost don’t want Dexter Fowler or Stephen Piscotty to come off the disabled list for fear of messing it up.

Youth movement

One thing I’ve mentioned a lot is the energy this Cardinals’ team is playing with right now and much of that carried on by the younger players. Guys like Paul DeJong, Randal Grichuk, and Tommy Pham who are all tied for the team lead with 14 home runs despite none of them having spent the entire season with the big league club. Pham and Grichuk have both missed a month and DeJong has been up about two months at this point. Those three combined to hit four home runs in the series.

I consider the “young” guys to include those short on MLB experience and perhaps guys who just aren’t established players yet. Guys like DeJong, Pham, Grichuk, Bader, and Wong. In that Colorado series, those five guys hit .436 with 3 doubles, 4 home runs, 11 RBI, and 12 runs scored. Of the 24 runs that the Cardinals scored, 19 of them were scored or driven in by one of those five players.

Molina still bats fifth

I pointed this out on Twitter the other day, that Yadier Molina had the worst OPS of any player in that day’s Cardinals’ lineup. But wait, it gets worse. After being pushed to dig for more advanced stats I discovered that Molina has been the Cardinals’ worst hitter this season by wRC+ and wOBA of all their position players. Only Carson Kelly has been worse, and he has just 6 plate appearances this season and has been up a week.

Oh, yeah

Seung-hwan Oh made an appearance last night, throwing a perfect 9th with two strikeouts. That makes his second perfect appearance in a row as he looks to get back on track. He’s probably not ready to be thrown back into the fire yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Five things about the Pirates Series

The Pittsburgh Pirates quickly strangled any hope of coming out of the break with some momentum as they managed not one, but two come-from-behind, walk-off victories against the Cardinals this weekend at PNC Park to win the series. As much as I want to say it was a surprise, since most expected the Cardinals to come to Pittsburgh and handle their business, it really wasn’t. Since the Pirates became relevant again, they have consistently given the Cardinals fits in Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals now find themselves 6.5 games back in the division and in third place. They head to New York for a four game set against the Mets.

“Closing time, one last call for alcohol…”

Or so the lyrics to the song go, but its hard for Mike Matheny to figure out who should take him home when everyone seems to be crashing. Seung-hwan Oh started the season as the closer before about three weeks ago Matheny said he was making a change and going with Trevor Rosenthal. Then he went back to Oh on Friday, who blew the save. Then on Sunday afternoon he pulled out Brett Cecil in the 9th to close up the game.

It’s a bad look when none of the three highest paid relievers in your bullpen can’t be trusted to close out a game and I don’t think we can add #4, Kevin Siegrist, in there either.

In my opinion it’s time to mix Sam Tuivailala into late innings situations. Tuivailala has a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings of work this season and carries a 1.20 WHIP. In Memphis he carries a 1.65 ERA over 16 innings of work. And yet he continues to be relegated to mop up duty in Matheny’s bullpen, having thrown the least out of all the relievers over the last 14 and 28 days. Over those last 28 days he’s thrown 6 scoreless innings in five appearances.

In fact, Tuivailala, John Brebbia, and Matthew Bowman have combined to allow just a single earned run over the last 28 days. No other reliever on the roster has less than two. They’ve earned a right to get an opportunity in higher leverage situations, especially when the guys who are there aren’t getting the job done.

Some of Tony La Russa’s greatest successes came by acknowledging the way he was using his bullpen wasn’t working and switching things up. It’s time for Matheny to follow that lead and mix things up.

Sierra returns triumphant

With injuries to both Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, Magneuris Sierra gets another cup of coffee with the big league club and comes throguh, going 4-for-4 in his return. Now through 9 games of his MLB career, he’s got at least one hit in all of them and multiple hits in five of them. He is the 154th player in MLB history to go 4-for-4 inside his first 10 career games.

Of course, the cries for Sierra to be an everyday player from here on out were there. We seem to be at peak Sierra, similar to where we were in May when everyone was complaining about how the Cardinals let Allen Cordoba go in the Rule 5 draft when he was hitting .300 in San Diego. Since June 1st, Cordoba has hit .131 and those complaints have gone quiet. Eventually Sierra will reach that point too and when he does, it won’t be pretty.

Sierra has sixteen hits in his first 9 MLB games. All singles. His speed making up for a lack of punch.

As The Intrepid STL’s Zach Gifford tweeted last night, Sierra still has much to develop on the offensive side of the ball. His contact rate and chase rates are worse than Grichuk. His .571 BABIP makes him look good. He’s projected to have a 61 wRC+ to finish out the season according to Fangraphs. That’s 49% worse than an average player.

Wong returns from DL

Kolten Wong returned almost a month to the date of his headed to the disabled list for a second time and went 0-for-4. After his customary night off on the second night, Wong returned on Sunday afternoon and went 2-for-4. With Paul DeJong and Magneuris Sierra in the lineup, Wong batted sixth, which is the highest he’s been in the lineup all season. Which is borderline laughable considering he led the team in batting average and on base percentage a month ago.

Pham returns from the break hitting

It seems like Tommy Pham just has no desire to give up playing time in the outfield, even while that continues to be a talking point. Pham went 5-for-12 in the series with a pair of doubles in the Pirates series. Over the Cardinals’ last 20 games, he has hit .347/.427/.514. He has been the Cardinals’ best outfielder and their third best hitter overall by wRC+ (behind Paul DeJong and Luke Voit) in that span.

Another wasted Martinez start

The Cardinals lost on Sunday with Carlos Martinez going 7 innings and allowing just two runs for his 13th quality start on the season. That tied him with Mike Leake for the team lead in quality starts. It was the team’s fifth loss when Martinez turns in a quality start and third straight.

It was their third loss this season when Martinez turned in a QS+ or “Gibby” (defined by Derrick Goold as going at least 7 IP and allowing 3 ER or less).

Five things about the Mets Series

The Cardinals took two out of three against the New York Mets to wrap up their first half at 43-45. They are tied for second place with the Chicago Cubs and are 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

After the break, they will play a three game set in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. They hold a 4-2 record this season against the Pirates, but have yet to play them in PNC Park.

DeJong’s historic series

For Paul DeJong, it wasn’t just a great series, it was a historic one. DeJong went 9-for-12 (.750) with four doubles and three home runs in a three game series against the Mets. That made him the first Cardinals’ player in Major League Baseball’s modern era to record 6+ extra base hits in a three game series.

On Saturday afternoon, DeJong went 4-for-4 with three doubles and a home run. That made him just the 7th Cardinals player since 1913 to record three doubles and a home run in the same game.

It puts a nice cap on DeJong’s return to the big leagues as he’s gone from Kolten Wong‘s injury replacement to the starting shortstop while hitting .345/.370/.701 with 8 home runs since returning to the big leagues on June 15th.

Wainwright gets his 10th win

Adam Wainwright allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings on Saturday afternoon to pick up his tenth win of the season. That has many fans scratching their heads since Wainwright has the worst season long numbers in the rotation and that brings the typical roar that pitcher wins are a meaningless statistic.

And while I disagree with they are meaningless, I will go as far as to say that they are greatly overrated. The only reason they aren’t meaningless? The object is to win the game, after all.

Forget pitching decisions, the Cardinals are 11-7 (.611 winning percentage) this season in games that Wainwright starts. No other starting pitcher has a winning team record in games they start. The next closest being Michael Wacha at 8-8. If nothing else, this should tell us that his 5.20 ERA is not the whole story.

In his 10 win decisions this season, Wainwright has a 2.70 ERA. In his five loss decisions this season, Wainwright has a 13.70 ERA. So when Wainwright is good, he’s very good. When Wainwright is bad, he’s very bad with those numbers being buoyed up by a pair of 9 earned run starts where he didn’t make it through four innings in either.

As @StlCrdsfn11 pointed out on Saturday on Twitter, Wainwright has allowed four runs or less in 14 of his starts and two runs or less in 10 of them. That mirrors the results of Carlos Martinez, who we are all ready to crown ace of the rotation.

Lynn makes no mistakes

After a quality start to the season, Lance Lynn has struggled a bit more recently thanks to the long ball. After posting a 2.04 ERA while allowing a home run ever 8.8 innings in his first six starts of the season, Lynn posted a 4.95 ERA while allowing a home run every 3.8 innings in his next eleven starts. He was able to keep the mistakes to a minimum while throwing seven scoreless innings and keeping the Mets in the park.

Pham responds to challenge

With the three Opening Day outfielders back on the Cardinals’ 25 man roster, Tommy Pham is seeing the first real challenge for playing time since his call up in May. He went 3-for-3 with a home run on Sunday afternoon to close out his first half at .299/.386/.510.

When Mike Matheny and the Cardinals dance around how they intend to divvy up playing time in the second half, Pham takes no prisoners in his response. He was asked about it and STL Baseball Weekly wrote about it. Pham is having none of it. He has been the Cardinals’ best outfielder this season and is not afraid to say it.

Brewers leading at the All Star break

The Milwaukee Brewers will lead the NL Central at the All Star Break. They have been in first place at the All Star break four times in their franchise history and half of those times, the Cardinals ended up winning the division. Further, the pattern works.

In 1982 the Cardinals won the World Series. In 2007 they did not. In 2011 they won the World Series. In 2014 they did not. In 2017? Well, the pattern seems to indicate that this is the Cardinals’ year.

Bonus: Electric cars don’t run on home run power

Dexter Fowler returned to the lineup on Friday night, batting third, and hit a home run. It was nice to see in his return to the lineup, but it had more meaning than just that. Here’s why:

https://twitter.com/aliyafowler/status/883495061576708096

He does not seem to be missing this opportunity either, as Aliya added on Saturday that Dexter had registered at Tesla’s website with her name.