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.

News: Cardinals option Stephen Piscotty

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals optioned outfielder Stephen Piscotty to Triple-A Memphis to make room for outfielder Dexter Fowler, who has been activated from the disabled list.

The story. Fowler has been on the disabled list since July 25th with a left forearm strain and had been slumping since the All Star Break.

Piscotty meanwhile has been struggling all year. Slow out of the gate and then compounded by his mother’s ALS diagnosis. It’s been a hard year personally and professionally for Piscotty so far, and now he’s been demoted.

The numbers. Fowler was hitting .200/.313/.225 in the 11 games between the start of the second half and his trip to the disabled list. He has had an up-and-down season so far in his first year with the Cardinals, hitting .241/.333/.452 over 81 games with 14 home runs. Initially signed to be the team’s leadoff hitter, Fowler has been moved out of that spot, but seems to have found a home batting third.

Stephen Piscotty is hitting .232/.340/.362 with 6 home runs and a 90 wRC+ so far this season. That wRC+ represnts a 25 point decline from the 115 wRC+ he put up last season and a 43 point decline from the 133 wRC+ he put up in 2015 after his debut.

After he spent some time away from the team following his mother’s diagnosis, he looked like he was getting his season pointed in the right direction, hitting .271/.385/.469 with a 120 wRC+ in June. But he would go cold in July, hitting just .171 before hitting the DL with a right groin strain. Since his return on August 1st, he hasn’t fared much better, hitting .176/.222/.235 in six games.

The impact. 6/10. The move is big for the Cardinals because they’ve had trouble keeping their young players pointed in the right direction at the plate this season. Three of their eight Opening Day players have now spent time in Memphis to get a chance to clear they head and get right at the plate.

Fowler is in the lineup and batting sixth tonight. If Fowler is hitting, the team could sure use his bat right about now.

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.

Cardinals activate Adam Wainwright

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today this morning that they have activated RHP Adam Wainwright from the disabled list for today’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. In a corresponding move, the Cardinals placed LHP Kevin Siegrist on the 10 day disabled list with left forearm tendinitis.

Wainwright, who went on the disabled list on June 25th for mid-back tightness, has been one of the Cardinals’ most troubled starters this season and is the only one of their primary five who has posted a below league average ERA+. Despite all of that, he leads the Cardinals with 11 wins and the team is 12-8 in games he starts.

Over his previous five starts, Wainwright is 4-0 with a 3.73 ERA. He missed two starts while on the disabled list.

He will make his second start of the season in Great American Ballpark against Cincinnati today. In that start on June 6th, he went 3.2 innings and allowed 9 earned runs.

This is Siegrist’s second stint on the disabled list this season, spending three and a half weeks in late June and early July on the DL for a cervical spine strain. This time it is a left forearm strain.

Siegrist has struggled this season with a 4.98 ERA in 39 appearances. Since he returned from his previous DL stint, he has a 5.14 ERA in 7 appearances, but all four runs he allowed came in the same appearance. He last pitched on Thursday, throwing a perfect 7th inning with two strikeouts.

Weaver optioned to Memphis

The Cardinals announced today that they have optioned RHP Luke Weaver to Memphis and recalled RHP Sam Tuivailala ahead of today’s game against the Cincinnati Reds.

Weaver heads back to Memphis following the best start of his brief MLB career. On Wednesday he allowed 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8 in 6.1 innings of work against the Milwaukee Brewers. He made two starts in St. Louis while covering for Adam Wainwright who is on the disabled list and expected to return this weekend in Cincinnati.

This will be Tuivailala’s fifth stint with the big league club this season as he is called up to support the bullpen. He has a 2.40 ERA over 20 appearances with St. Louis this season, allowing a 1.19 WHIP and striking out 8.1 per nine. During his last stint he posted a 0.90 ERA and 0.90 WHIP while striking out 10 in 10 innings of work. While in Memphis since, he threw five scoreless innings in four appearances.

I’d expect him to be returned to Memphis this weekend when the club activates Adam Wainwright in his return to the rotation.

Piscotty activated from the DL

The Cardinals activated outfielder Stephen Piscotty from the disabled list today and optioned outfielder Harrison Bader to Memphis.

Piscotty returns to the team after exiting the first game back after the All Star Break with a right groin strain. He went 3-for-15 with two doubles in five rehab games with Single-A Peoria.

The former top-100 prospect has struggled to find his footing this season, his second full season with the club. He is hitting just .236/.348/.371 with 6 home runs this season. His 95 wRC+ is 20 points lower than the 115 wRC+ he put up last season in his first full season in the big leagues.

He had a relatively successful June, hitting .258/.377/.452, and it seemed like he might be turning the corner. However, in the 10 games before he hit the DL, he slashed a paltry .171/.216/.200.

In the corresponding move, Harrison Bader will return to Memphis where he is putting together a solid season. In six games for the big league club, Bader hit .286/.348/.381 with a 95 wRC+ and scored the game winning, walk off run in his debut.

Column: The status quo reigns in St. Louis

“We have a busy July coming,” said John Mozeliak said a month ago when discussing the timing of the Cardinals’ promotion of himself to President of Baseball Operations and his assistant GM Michael Girsch to General Manager. Through the month he remained optimistic that the Cardinals would be making deals as the deadline loomed. And the deadline came and went and the Cardinals did not make a move. Not even a sniff of anything on deadline day. The closest they got to a trade today was when USA Today’s Bob Nightengale put Dexter Fowler’s name in a tweet instead of Dustin Fowler.

While other contenders made deals to shore up their clubs, the Cardinals, at 52-53 and 4.5 games out of the NL Central, chose to stand pat and ride it out. As Mozeliak put it, “As today unfolded unfortunately we weren’t able to get anything across the finish line.”

Yet another wasted opportunity for this club to choose a direction. Instead, they will maintain the status quo, as I suggested they would a week ago. They were too close to become sellers and too far away to be serious buyers. By all accounts this is a club that hasn’t shown they deserve to be invested in.

I get it.

But if the team won’t tell you which way to go, you have to look at the big picture and decide. The Cardinals could have chosen to make a push in Lance Lynn’s final year on his current contract because you don’t know what the rookie you replace him with next year is going to be able to put together. Alternatively, the Cardinals could have seen the group of highly talented prospects coming through the minors, the tip of the spear we’re seeing this year, and doubled down on that group by selling the valuable pieces we have that won’t be around then.

But they didn’t.

When I look at what it would probably cost to get a guy like Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays, I understand why a team would be reluctant to spend the talent required to bring him in. But what the Cardinals were once really good was finding value in low hanging fruit in free agency and the trade markets. And there were several members of that club out there and available that the organization chose to pass on. Guys like shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and reliever Joe Smith who were both traded this season for proverbial pennies when we talk about prospect costs and would have improved the team. It wouldn’t have closed the gap on paper, but they would represent steps in the right direction.

But they didn’t.

Instead the organization apparently decided that holding onto their prospects and not exceeding their “model” was more important to them than improving the team’s odds of winning the field either now or in the future. The model got them here. And the franchise that has plenty of both money and prospects couldn’t be bothered to part with either.

But it’s more than just adding players. The Cardinals have a real problem with too many players in their outfield.

They have two guys in Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty signed long-term. They have Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, and Jose Martinez all playing well on the big league roster. You have Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra who have shown flashes in their first opportunities in the big leagues. You have Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena in the high levels of the minors on the top prospects list. And then they added Tyler O’Neill, yet another high level outfielder, a week ago.

All in all ten players on that list for three starting spots. That doesn’t work. Those guys can be dealt, preferably before their stock falls, for real players who can help this team win games.

At every turn over the last several years this organization has told us, from the top to the bottom, that they want to win. They tell us they have money to spend and intend to be aggressive in free agency, only to lose out because they weren’t aggressive at all. They tell us they expect to be busy on the trade markets, only to lose out because they weren’t comfortable with the price the market made.

When it comes time for Bill DeWitt Jr’s Cardinals to put their money where their mouth is, they choke.

And I say that because the more I watch this team, the more I’m convinced that it’s not John Mozeliak or Michael Girsch or anyone in leadership positions in the front office that can’t make the decision to part with prospects, it’s the owner. So it’s not going to change unless he does.

Somewhere between Walt Jocketty’s “Sell all the prospects to help the Major League club” and the “Keep all the prospects and build from within” is a strategy that creates a stable and consistent winner.

I feel like that is the strategy that the organization wanted to use when they let Jocketty go and made Mozeliak the team’s GM ten years ago. And yet here we are 10 years later and they’ve swung a complete 180 in the other direction.

Two years ago the Cardinals were coming off a 100 game season and facing their first real challenge in a decade with both the Cubs and the Pirates built to contend over multiple years. They talked tough about free agency and struck out looking.

Two years later they are listing, a game under .500, in third place and lacking both an identity and a star player.

As Mozeliak once said, “St. Louis is a tough place… There’s high expectations and winning is demanded.”

We demand winning, Mr. DeWitt.

It’s time to do what it takes.

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.