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.

Martinez back up as Grichuk heads to DL

The St. Louis Cardinals placed outfielder Randal Grichuk on the 10 day disabled list, retroactive to July 10th, for a lower back strain. To take his place, they have recalled outfielder Jose Martinez from Memphis. Martinez had recently been optioned to Memphis on July 7th, but had yet to appear in a game.

Grichuk had been sent to the minors at the end of May to work on his pitch recognition and plate approach before being recalled on June 25th when Dexter Fowler went on the disabled list. Since his return, Grichuk has hit .196/.250/.500 with 5 home runs in 15 games, striking out 33% of the time.

Martinez is batting .280/.321/.464 with 5 home runs in 50 games for the Cardinals this season, including .281/.329/.531 in the last month. At the time of his demotion, it was a little puzzling as he had been one of the Cardinals’ best hitters over the previous 28 days. Due to the All Star breaks, Martinez did not appear in a game for Memphis during his brief time in the minors.

Grichuk will be eligible to come off the disabled list on July 20th.

Fowler activated as Martinez is optioned

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have activated outfielder Dexter Fowler from the 10 day disabled list today and optioned outfielder Jose Martinez to Memphis to make room for him on the active roster. Fowler is in tonight’s lineup against the New York Mets playing center field and batting third.

Fowler has missed 12 games while on the disabled list for a right heel spur. It disrupted his season just as he appeared to be getting on track. After a slow start that included a few hot streaks, Fowler had finally gotten sustained success, batting .286/.390/.600 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI in 21 games in June before his injury. He was the hottest hitter on the roster when he hit the disabled list.

Because of the play of Tommy Pham in center field while Fowler was out, there had been talk about Fowler playing left field upon his return from a foot injury.

Meanwhile Martinez is heading back to Memphis. Martinez is batting .280/.321/.464 with 5 home runs over 50 games this season as a bench player for the Cardinals. Of the four outfielders on the roster during Fowler’s absence, Martinez has been the best hitting of the four. He has hit .275/.320/.507 since June 1st and had started the past two games, going 3-for-8 with 3 runs scored.

Martinez had options remaining, meaning the club can send him back to Memphis without risk. Greg Garcia, who is hitting .172/.324/.224, does not have any options remaining and therefore stays for now. It creates an interesting roster situation for the Cardinals when Kolten Wong is ready to return potentially later this month.

 

Cardinals option Grichuk to minors, activate Martinez

The St. Louis Cardinals optioned outfielder Randal Grichuk to Single-A Palm Beach in a corresponding move to activating Jose Martinez off the disabled list. Martinez played three games in a rehab stint in Palm Beach, hitting .333 with a home run and 4 RBI.

Martinez was hitting .313/.353/.458 with a home run and 4 RBI over 20 games for the Cardinals before the groin injury sent him to the disabled list.

Grichuk has been mired in a slump, batting .205/.244/.356 with just one home run over the team’s past 20 games, so perhaps a change was coming, especially with Martinez back and Tommy Pham hitting well.

The move is notable because the club isn’t just demoting Grichuk a level to Memphis like they did last summer, but all the way down to Class A Palm Beach. Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak mentioned it was to let him work with another hitting coach, get him into a lower stress environment and that they have already seen him hit in Memphis so they wanted to try something new.

Which is great, but the trip to Memphis worked for him last year.

After the June demotion, Grichuk returned in July to hit .269/.300/.544 with 16 home runs over the team’s final 80 games.

But with this demotion, I can’t help but wonder where his head is at right now. In the past six months he went from starting center fielder to the team signing his replacement and moving him to left field. Then giving the other outfielder a six year extension on a team with a glut of quality outfield talent on it’s way. And then he found himself in an early season time share in left field with a career first baseman. If he wasn’t already spinning, now he’ll be playing in A ball, a level he hasn’t seen since 2012.

The move is particularly frustrating as Stephen Piscotty is away from the team for personal reasons and rather than make a roster move to play with a full 25 man roster, the team is willingly playing short, while already playing with a short squad of position players. They could have promoted Martinez, moved Piscotty to the Inactive list and waited until Piscotty was ready to return to send Grichuk out.

Column: Who stands to gain from regulars playing in the World Baseball Classic?

The World Baseball Classic kicked off on Monday morning and Seung-hwan Oh‘s Team Korea took on Team Israel. The Cardinals have five players who are expected to be on their Opening Day 25 man roster who are taking part in the series. Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Matt Carpenter (USA), Carlos Martinez (Dominican Republic), Brett Cecil (USA), and the aforementioned Oh (Korea) will be taking part, though Carpenter’s recent injury will likely keep him out and bring him back to the Cardinals.

While much of the focus is on those guys being out of camp, it does provide an opportunity for the players left behind to put themselves on the map with extra playing time. So as part of our Preseason UCB Roundtable, I posed the question to see who the bloggers throught was in the best position to take advantage of that extra playing time, whether that is to seal the deal on a role with the big league club or move themselves up the organizational depth chart or put themselves in line for a mid-season promotion.

Carson Kelly. It was a pretty unanimous view that Carson Kelly will benefit the most from Molina being out of camp and playing with Team Puerto Rico. He likely won’t be earning a spot on the big league roster this season, but Molina’s absence, along with that of Alberto Rosario (playing for the Dominican Republic), gives Kelly and Eric Fryer an opportunity to play more often and, for both, become more familiar with the big league pitchers.

“I’d say Carson Kelley, not to try to earn a spot, but just to give confidence that if Molina goes down this season, he can step up and take over the everyday job,” said CardsConclave‘s Daniel Shoptaw. “It’s also a situation where he can strengthen the Cardinals’ position in their discussions with Molina over an extension.”

Kelly is the catalyst of one of the Cardinals’ most difficult decisions in a long time: whether to extend Yadier Molina. A good spring followed up with another good year in Memphis would go along way towards fueling speculation around what the Cardinals intend to do as the year goes forward.

Matt Adams & Jose Martinez. The next most common answer was Matt Adams and Jose Martinez. With Carpenter’s injury, he has withdrawn from the WBC, but he is expected to not play this coming week and will likely take it slow getting back into game action. That still creates an opportunity.

Martinez has played a team high 34 innings at first base this spring, but is most likely battling for the fourth outfield spot with Tommy Pham. Martinez, the 2015 PCL Batting Champ while playing in the Royals’ farm system, is swinging the bat really well. He hit .438 in 12 games after being called up last September and picked up where he left off this spring, going 7-for-18 with 3 home runs over 8 games. There’s a lot of baseball yet to play this March, but he has certainly put the team on notice that he intends to go to St. Louis to open up the season.

Adams on the other hand is in an opposite situation. While still likely a lock for the big league roster thanks to his contract (though worth noting the Cardinals could cut him up to 15 days before the season starts and only pay him the minimum as the Mets did last year with Ruben Tejada), he is coming to camp with a much leaner body and a retooled swing. He started slow, and is just 2-for-17 with a home run this spring. But he will stand to get more playing time as well. And for Adams and his ability to establish a role on this club, getting game at bats with his new swing is important.

The bullpen. Behind Kelly there wasn’t much consensus, but there was a common theme when it came to the pitchers. With Cecil and Oh not in camp there are a number of guys who will likely get those looks, from Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich to Ryan Sherriff and Jordan Schafer.

I’ll be writing about it later, but that battle for the final bullpen spot is going to be interesting to watch as we start getting to the end of camp. Guys like Tuivailala, Socolovich, and Shafer stand to figure into that battle in some fashion.

“I think Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich should get more looks without Cecil and Oh, which will allow them to make a case for the last bullpen spot,” said Zach Gifford of Redbird Rants and Redbird Daily.

Martinez being out also gives Trevor Rosenthal the opportunity to keep starting and stretch into that multi-inning reliever they seem to want him to be.

“I don’t think he’ll crack the rotation, but it will definitely give him a chance to pitch multiple innings. It’s a role he’s well suited for, and it would be nice for the Cardinals to have someone besides Broxton to pitch the middle innings of close games,” said Redbird Daily‘s Colin Yarborough.

But beyond that, Adam Butler, also of Redbird Daily, thinks that proving himself this spring could help Rosenthal force his way into the discussion if and when a starter goes down. He says, “I don’t see him earning a rotation spot over Wacha. But if he can show that he can control his secondary pitches and they can be effective then he probably puts himself in a spot where he could step in if one of their current five starters gets injured.”

What do you think?