Five things about the Phillies Series

The Cardinals won the series, but anything short of a sweep against one of the two teams that have been worse over their past 30 games entering this series should be a massive disappointment for the team. They find themselves 33-38 in 3rd place in the NL Central, 5 games back.

They remain within striking distance if they were to put together a strong week or two, but that window is slowly closing and may close altogether if the Brewers or the Cubs figure it out first.

The Cardinals are headed home for three against the Pittsburgh Pirates starting tonight at Busch Stadium.

More Pham please

Tommy Pham went 5-for-14 with three home runs in this series, including two on Wednesday night. On Wednesday night his first home run in the 5th put the Cardinals on the board and his second tied up the game in the 9th inning. He became the first Cardinal and one of 14 players to ever hit two home runs and have two outfield assists in the same game. Yet in the post game interview with Jim Hayes on FOX Sports Midwest, Pham was visibly mad. The reason? He struck out three times.

We don’t often see that level of emotion out of Cardinals players post game. Let alone frustration at their failures when the team won and they were one of the key reasons why the team won.

I get the distinct feel that Pham has reached the point in his career that he’s tired of playing the game, and I don’t mean the one on the field. Two months ago he nearly walked away from the sport, but was encouraged to stick it out and here he is and his .285/.371/.514 batting line is still the best on the club. His intention is to just make it difficult for the club to come up with a valid reason to put him on the bench and so far it’s been working.

Maybe some day he’ll actually get to hit ahead of the two guys who typically bat in front of him and haven’t been good at getting on base for him.

Comeback Cards

In each of the first two games of this series, the Phillies struck first and it was the Cardinals that chipped away to eventually win the games. It’s nice to see that from this team and wins are better than losses, however, let’s remember that it is the Phillies and they probably should never have been behind to them in the first place.

Bullpen continues to be strong

The Cardinals bullpen threw 13 innings in this Phillies series thanks to extra innings and an early exit by Michael Wacha, but only allowed just a single earned run courtesy of Seung-hwan Oh in a game they won. They worked five scoreless innings on Tuesday night and following that up with six innings allowing just Oh’s run on Wednesday night.

Molina’s hitting streak

Yadier Molina is currently on a 10 game hitting streak but has just a .300 OBP over that stretch. It is easily one of the worst on base percentages during a hitting streak of that length over the last several years when I went looking, but he has actually done one better. Back in May, he had a 16 game hitting streak where he had a .282 on base percentage.

Wacha continues to stumble

The season started out so promising for Michael Wacha. Through 7 starts he’d gone at least 6 innings and had a 2.74 ERA. Since then the wheels have fallen off with a 8.17 over 6 starts and he’s made it through the fifth inning just once. He allowed 9 hits and a walk over 4 innings on Wednesday that saw him allow 5 runs, though only two of them were earned.

There’s been talk that they’re considering other options, but for now they seem to be content running Wacha out there while Marco Gonzales, Luke Weaver, and Jack Flaherty continue to excel in Memphis.

Mozeliak mentioned during the Q&A during the UCB game that it was a difficult discussion to have with a player, but that’s why he and Mike Matheny are employed by the organization. To make these decisions and have exactly these kinds of discussions.

Five things about the Phillies Series

The changes worked! Or maybe not. Hard to tell that even though the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Philadelphia Phillies this weekend after a number of changes on the coaching staff by John Mozeliak. Mainly because it’s worth remembering that the Phillies have the worst record in baseball.

The Cardinals will now head for a real test, they will host the division leading Milwaukee Brewers who have a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central.

Wong hits the ground running

As I pointed out on Friday, Wong came off the DL having hit .311/.408/.462 with 9 doubles, 2 triples and a home run since the Cardinals returned from that sweep in the Bronx on April 16th.

He would go 5-for-10 in the Phillies series with a walk, a hit by pitch, and a pair of doubles. His season batting line is up to .294/.393/.434. Since April 16th, his line is up to .328/.423/.483. It’s almost to the point you don’t need to make the distinction.

He, along with Tommy Pham, continue to be some of the Cardinals best hitters over the last month. Since we have so many troubles up top in the lineup, perhaps it’s time to let Wong out of the 8th spot on a more regular basis?

Carpenter continues lead off success

Matt Carpenter went 4-for-12 with a pair of doubles in the Phillies series as he continued to lead off for the Cardinals. Since moving back to the lead off spot he has hit in all five games and is batting .350/.381/.750.

I am not a member of the “Carpenter can only hit when leading off” club, but the numbers are hard to dispute. Unfortunately, that just makes the Cardinals’ lineup far more top heavy.

Fowler likes hitting second?

With Carpenter leading off, Dexter Fowler has been slid back to the second spot in the lineup and went 4-for-10 with a pair of doubles, a home run, and a pair of walks. In the 10 games before moving him back to second, Fowler was hitting .219, so perhaps the move has worked out well for him as well.

Wacha bounces back

Michael Wacha had struggled in his previous three starts, seeing his season ERA jump from 2.74 to 4.67 in the process. He returned to his streak of throwing at least 6 innings as he went six innings and allowed just two runs on five hits and two walks. It’s a good bounce back for a pitcher whose next start will come against the Brewers.

Martinez dazzles

Carlos Martinez dropped his ERA to 2.95 while allowing just 4 hits and a walk over 9 shutout innings on Saturday against the Phillies. His 89 game score ranks this start as the best start of his career, topping the 87 he posted in an extra inning loss to the Giants back in May. The offense backed him up this time to the tune of 7 runs.

Five things about the Cubs Series

Well that wasn’t supposed to happen. The St. Louis Cardinals headed to Wrigley Field for a three game weekend set against the Chicago Cubs and came up empty, swept in three games. Every game was close, every game was winnable, and the Cardinals led at points in each of those games and was unable to convert anything into a win.

The Cardinals are now 26-28 and 2.5 games behind Milwaukee for the lead in the NL Central. The scary part is that the Cubs are embarking on a stretch where they will play bad teams, so they may be poised to put together a run that will see them put a lead on the division.

As for the Cardinals, they now head to Cincinnati to begin a four game series against the Reds.

Lost leads

The Cardinals had a lead in each of the three games, but came up winless which just increased the frustration level with this series.

On Friday, Dexter Fowler received his World Series ring and led off the game with a solo shot. The Cardinals added another run courtesy of Magneuris Sierra in the top of the 2nd. After that, they stopped scoring as a struggling John Lackey would go on to pitch 7 innings. The Cubs tied up the game in the bottom of the 6th and then won it in the bottom of the 8th on a couple of poor defensive decisions by Magneuris Sierra and Jhonny Peralta.

On Saturday, Jose Martinez plated Fowler and Tommy Pham with his first at bat in the top of the first. They would add another with Yadier Molina‘s sixth home run of the season in the sixth inning. But the Cubs would score four runs in the bottom of the 7th as Mike Leake ran into trouble and allowed a grand slam to Kyle Schwarber.

On Sunday, the Cubs struck first with a run in the bottom of the third, but the Cardinals came back in the top of the fourth to take a lead. Stephen Piscotty hit a three run home run and Paul DeJong drove in Jedd Gyorko as the Cardinals sent all 9 batters to the plate. But that 4-1 lead wouldn’t hold for long as Michael Wacha turned around and allowed five runs in the bottom of the fourth. The Cardinals tied it in the sixth, but the Cubs would beat Matthew Bowman for the winning run in the 7th on three unlikely singles by left handed hitters (Bowman had allowed just a .167 batting average to LHBs entering the game).

Missing Gyorko

With Jedd Gyorko staying behind in St. Louis for a couple days with his family following the birth of his daughter last week, the Cardinals lineup looked completely different. Gone was Gyorko’s .323 average in the #4 spot, which stacks up 7th in Major League Baseball among cleanup hitters.

Gyorko has 60% of the Cardinals’ at bats in the cleanup spot this weekend and anyone else has hit .265 with 18 RBI in 23 games.

On Friday afternoon, Yadier Molina was in the cleanup spot and went 0-for-3 and left four runners on base. Three of those game while striking out with the bases loaded in the top of the 8th of a 2-2 game. The Cubs took the lead in the bottom and never looked back.

On Saturday, Jose Martinez got a crach at it and drove in a pair of runs in the first inning, but never came to the plate again with a runner on base.

Nice to have Piscotty back

Since returning from his personal leave to spend some time with his mother following her ALS diagnosis, Piscotty has gone 5-for-14 with a home run and five walks, reaching base in all five games since his return, for a line of .357/.526/.643. He also seems to have found a home in the #3 spot in the Cardinals lineup with the move of Matt Carpenter to the #2 spot. Seeing him put some good games together has been nice to see. This team needs him hitting again.

Carpenter goes hitless

Matt Carpenter went hitless in the series against the Cubs. That’s the first time this season he’s gone hitless since the middle of last September when he went 0-for-10 in a series also against the Cubs. Something he only did three times last season.

In 29 games since May 1st, Carpenter is hitting .192/.331/.404. He does still have 6 home runs, but he doesn’t have a home run or an RBI since May 21st against the Giants.

I’m not one of these guys who believes that Carpenter can only lead off, but it isn’t like Dexter Fowler has been killing it in the leadoff role either. Perhaps it would be worth swapping them up for a week and see what happens. If you insist on batting two most struggling batters 1-2, what difference does their order make? If Carpenter says he’s more comfortable leading off, put him there and see what happens. It’s not like you have anything to lose.

Is it time to scratch Wacha?

Michael Wacha started the season on an excellent streak. In his first 7 starts, he had a 2.74 ERA and pitched at least 6 innings in each start. Since then, it’s been some very opposite results. In his last three starts, Wacha has a 11.91 ERA and hasn’t even made it into the sixth inning.

In his first 7 starts last year, Wacha had a 3.12 ERA. Over his next three he had a 12.00 ERA. Before settling in with a 3.75 ERA over his next 10 starts.

But with Tyler Lyons and John Gant now up on the big league roster and capable of acting as both starter and reliever and Marco Gonzales now four starts into his return at Memphis with a 2.81 ERA, does the team look at giving Wacha a brief rest? With the fear of his shoulder issues returning, the team looks to be taking a cautious approach to him.

Column: Taking a look at the fifth starter competition

I’m reading a lot this morning about “who will take Alex Reyes’ spot as the Cardinals’ fifth starter” this season. A lot of that is predicated on the question of whether Reyes actually had a shot at being the fifth starter. Sure, you have GM John Mozeliak saying Reyes was in the fifth starter competition. He said the same in 2014 about Carlos Martinez as well, but despite Martinez posting a 2.81 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, the spot went to Joe Kelly who posted a 6.28 ERA on a 1.60 WHIP.

Spring training and opening day roster decisions are mostly driven by one thing: the path of least resistance.

That’s why the job is Michael Wacha’s to lose. It always has been. In fact, I’m pretty comfortable saying that, unless Wacha or another starting pitcher ahead of him on the depth chart is injured over the next month and a half, Wacha will head to St. Louis to open the season as the Cardinals’ fifth starter. And that’s okay.

Wacha, 25, is just a year removed from a season where he posted a 3.38 ERA, won 17 games, and was an All Star. His results dropped heavily last season while he struggled with a recurrence of his stress injury, but he didn’t fall that far off the mark he set in 2015.

In 2015, Wacha allowed 8.0 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 7.6 K/9. In 2016, the only number that substantively changed was H/9, it jumped to 10.4 H/9.

Last season I wrote a column about how one or two plays not being made in the field during a game was the difference for Mike Leake between putting together a career year and one of the worst of his career. So there seems to be a hint that Wacha’s struggles on the mound can be partially attributed to a struggling defense as well.

His fielding independent pitching metrics seem to back that up. His FIP went from 3.87 in 2015 to 3.91 in 2016. His xFIP went from 3.88 to 4.05. His SIERA went from 4.02 to 4.31. So while his performance did fall off from 2015, it was not nearly as marked as his results would suggest.

He induced more ground balls last year than ever before, but that was offset by an increase in line drives. Opponents pulled his pitches more than ever, by quite a large margin. And he had a harder time getting soft contact, most of which only moved to medium contact, but that can still explain at least some of the H/9 increase Wacha saw.

For Wacha, the only real question is whether he can stay healthy and be a threat to throw 200 innings.
Outside of Wacha, if you want to entertain the concept that this is actually a competition, the most “legitimate” candidate is Trevor Rosenthal.

I still consider Rosenthal to be an exceptionally long shot to end up in the rotation. He was once a starter, posting a 2.78 ERA over 17 starts in Double-A Springfield in 2012. But the Cardinals ended up moving him to the bullpen, where he eventually became the team’s closer. However, after losing his closing job to Seung-hwan Oh last season, Rosenthal has been preparing for another shot at starting and the club appears to be humoring him.

The list of guys who established themselves in the bullpen and then transitioned to successful starter is exceptionally short. Braden Looper did it in 2007, posting a 4.94 ERA over 30 starts. Looper would stick, but only played two more seasons before retiring at 35. Kyle McClellan tried it in 2011, posting a 4.15 ERA over 18 games as a starter before being replaced by Edwin Jackson. McClellan returned to the bullpen the next year and then was injured. Neither were likely what you would call successful.

For Rosenthal there are a number of questions, not the least of which is what kind of innings limitations he would need to be on and what that would mean for the rest of the roster. Are his secondary pitches polished enough to handle starting? Is he going to be able to throw strikes? Is it worth the injury risk to transition him?

After Rosenthal, you have prospects. Guys like Luke Weaver, Austin Gomber, and Marco Gonzales. And while we call them depth, their usefulness is pretty limited right now while they either need more refinement or, in Gonzales case, time to return from injury.

Weaver, 23, dominated Double-A Springfield before receiving a late season promotion to the big leagues. He struggled upon arrival though, posting a 5.70 ERA over 36 innings of work, including 8 starts. He still needs more experience before he’s ready to contribute regularly in the big leagues.

Gomber, 23, has been a dominant force in the minors over the last few years, holding a 2.62 ERA over 54 starts, topping out in Springfield at the end of last season. So Gomber still has a ways to go, with the jump from Single-A to Double-A being considered the hardest in the minors, but Mozeliak speaks highly of him and called him the top guy on the depth chart as far as left handed pitchers in the Cardinals’ minor league system. That said, Gomber doesn’t get much love from prospect raters. MLB.com has him #18 in the Cardinals’ system, just the ninth highest pitcher.

Gonzales, 25 (and Happy Birthday), like Wacha, made a quick rise through the Cardinals’ system and made his debut less than a year after he was drafted. His results were steady, but not great, and seemed to be ticketed for a bullpen spot last spring according to Mozeliak. However, an injury and eventual Tommy John surgery would derail his season. He is just 10 months out from his surgery, so he still has some time before he’s truly ready to see game action.

But none of that matters. Because Michael Wacha is and was already the Cardinals’ fifth starter.

Cardinals win arbitration case with Wacha

The Cardinals may not have been in an arbitration hearing since 1999, but Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak is now 1-0 in arbitration cases. During today’s arbitration hearing, the arbiter decided to award pitcher Michael Wacha the $2.775 million salary figure submitted by the Cardinals.

Back in January the organization agreed to terms with three of their arbitration eligible players right before salary figures were exchanged. And then we heard all about “trial-and-file” during Winter Warmup as the club spoke of their intentions to take all players to an arbitration hearing if they were unable to reach an agreement before the exchange.

The club signed Carlos Martinez to a record setting five year deal almost two weeks ago, but there was no deal for Wacha who struggled last season and saw a return of the stress reaction in his shoulder.

For his part, Wacha has come to camp in better shape, having worked to strengthen his body and the shoulder to hopefully reduce the load on his shoulder to reduce the odds of having yet another recurrence.

It was an interesting measure of potential gamesmanship that the news of Alex Reyes‘ MRI exam came after Wacha’s hearing. Perhaps to ensure that Wacha could not use that to his advantage?

Column: Cardinals will need better pitching to win in 2017

It’s not shock statement. If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to make a run at the Cubs in 2016, they will need to get better pitching. Just a season removed from having the best pitching staff in baseball, the Cardinals stumbled to 12th in 2016 with an ERA over one run worse. That difference was a key factor in the Cardinals going from a 100 win division champion to an 86 win team that missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years.

And it isn’t like 2015’s MLB best pitching staff had everything go their way either. The team’s ace Adam Wainwright made just four starts before an Achilles injury in April cost him most of the season. But John Lackey managed to have a career year, Jaime Garcia showed why he was worth keeping around, and everyone learned who Tim Cooney was.

The 2016 pitching staff ran into trouble before the offseason even got into gear with Lance Lynn out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Once the season started, Wainwright still wasn’t right, Garcia ran into a wall, and Michael Wacha’s stress fracture recurred.

And if that wasn’t enough, the defense struggled to consistently make outs. The Cardinals were 25th in defensive efficiency last season, a measure of how often players reach base when a ball is put into play. For reference, the Cubs were #1.

For some pitchers, like Mike Leake, that struggling defense cost him what was otherwise one of the finest seasons of his career. For others, it was just fuel on the fire of their struggles.

Improving that defense was one of John Mozeliak’s goals this winter and, for the most part, that has been accomplished.

Randal Grichuk, newcomer Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty should be a better outfield than what the Cardinals had this past season. Kolten Wong should improve the defense up the middle if he can prove himself worth playing everyday and Aledmys Diaz, who played much better once he settled in, should continue to improve. Justin Turner could have made it even better, but I digress.

The defense isn’t perfect though, the Cardinals will have either Jhonny Peralta or Jedd Gyorko at third base. Neither present a tried and true plus defender and I’m on record that I’d rather see Matt Carpenter at third everyday and Matt Adams at first base.

While the defense should shape up to be better, the pitching staff will now need to do their part in 2017 if the team intends to make a run at the playoffs, much less a World Series. There are questions in the rotation and, much like the offense last season, plenty of clutter that sets the stage for some difficult decisions. But here’s why I think positively about the rotation.

The fifth starter. The Cardinals have very much played coy with who the fifth starter will be in 2017. By all accounts it seems like it will be a three way competition for the spot, though it seems obvious who should get the opportunity.

Michael Wacha represents the path of least resistance. He struggled last year with a 5.09 ERA over 24 starts and 3 relief appearances. He would miss a month late in the season after his stress fracture returned. The organization seems uncertain what to do with Wacha as they were rumored to have included him in a trade offer early in the winter. Mozeliak indicated that they may need to reset the expectations of him being a 200 inning starter and has also hinted that they could use him in a role similar to how the Indians used Andrew Miller in the postseason. So at least the appearance of an opportunity for someone else is there.

Trevor Rosenthal has also been said to be coming to spring training preparing to start. The former closer lost his job last season due to ineffectiveness, but it was long assumed that guaranteeing him the closer’s job was part of convincing him to accept a move to the bullpen. Now removed from the role, it looks as if the organization is going to give him an opportunity to start.

Regardless of where Rosenthal pitches, his problem the last few seasons has been consistently throwing strikes. Now four seasons removed from his last start, I believe that taking him out of the bullpen, where his body has become conditioned to relief, will exponentially increase his injury risk. That transition from long-time reliever to start is what I believe effective resulted in the end of Kyle McClellan’s career.

As a result of coming from the bullpen, Rosenthal will likely need to be put on an innings limit in the rotation. And in my opinion, if you’re going to consider a pitcher with an innings limit on him, it’s clear that the guy should be Alex Reyes.

I’ve been critical of Reyes in the past as I don’t see him as great a prospect as many others do mainly because of his control issues and lack of dominance in the minors. However, he got the call last season and proved me wrong. He’s still walking batters, but has managed to be effective enough. In 5 starts for the Cardinals down the stretch when the team needed him the most, Reyes was 2–0 with a 2.20 ERA.

If Reyes does end up being the pitcher that I expect he’ll be, the Cardinals should go ahead and squeeze every ounce of effectiveness out of him now before the batters figure him out.

Lance Lynn. Lance Lynn is returning after missing last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was reportedly ready to begin a rehab assignment in September if the option had been available to him, but the organization opted to shut him down and let him have a regular offseason to prepare for 2017. That is a positive sign for the team who will be relying on him to play a critical role in their rotation.

He has before, posting a 2.87 ERA over 379 innings of work in the two seasons prior to his surgery. Lynn will be almost 18 months removed from his surgery, which bodes well for hopes in Lynn’s performance next season. The only question will be whether he can push through a full season of work.

The guy that first comes to mind is Adam Wainwright, who had the surgery in February 2011 and returned a year later to the rotation. It took Wainwright into May and maybe even June before he looked to have a good, consistent feel for his pitches again and wasn’t a reliable starting option until the second half of the season, posting a 3.13 ERA over his final 12 starts. However, Lynn will be further removed from his surgery than Wainwright was and hopefully further along in his recovery.

Mike Leake. As I wrote last September, Mike Leake had an undercover career year last year. He posted near career bests in walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, home runs allowed per nine, line drive rates, and ground ball rates. All the fielding independent metrics represented a guy who was having one of the best seasons of his career. Instead, he had the worst.

He was probably the greatest victim of the shoddy defense behind him last season. Opponents had a .321 batting average on balls in play last season compared to a .263 just a season before and up from a .292 career average entering the year.

But because of those issues, he also stands to gain the greatest benefit from a better defense. That’s the key to Leake’s success. He’s not the kind of pitcher who will go out and dominate you, though he did a few times last season. He’s Dave Duncan’s kind of guy. A pitch to contact and let the defense make plays kind of guy. And if that defense is making the plays, Leake will have a good year.

Adam Wainwright. Adam Wainwright is perhaps the biggest enigma in the Cardinals rotation entering 2017. He will turn 36 in August and has two years remaining on his current contract. He is coming off the worst season of his career, posting a 4.62 ERA over 199 innings and an 89 ERA+. However, I think there is much to be said about the fact he missed most of the 2015 season while recovering from an Achilles injury.

Wainwright’s worst two seasons have both come the year after missing the most, if not all, of the previous season with injury. Those coming in 2012 after Tommy John and then this year. He spoke in May about discovering a large difference in his leg strength as a result of the injury and set about correcting it. After he mentioned that, he had a 2.84 ERA over his next 14 starts.

From 2013 to 2015, Wainwright posted a 2.61 ERA over almost 500 innings of work. His 142 ERA+ over that span was the fourth best in baseball among starting pitchers who threw at least 450 innings. The three pitchers ahead of him on the list are Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. That’s good company.

Even if you add 2016 to the sample, he still stays in the top-25. Lynn is 28th on that list. The next guy I’m about to talk about is 26th. Three of the top-30 pitchers in baseball? I like that.

Carlos Martinez. The only bright spot for the Cardinals’ rotation last season was Carlos Martinez. He was also the only pitcher who started more than 5 games for the big league club and provide above average results. His 3.04 ERA, 135 OPS+ and 5.4 WAR made him one of the top pitchers in baseball and the heir apparent to Wainwright for the title of “ace.”

By ERA+, Martinez was the 15th best pitcher in baseball last season. Over the previous two seasons, he’s 8th on that list, tied with David Price. And Martinez is six years younger.

Martinez may never have the outright dominance of a guy like Kershaw, but Martinez took big steps this past season to mature into the kind of pitcher you want on top of your rotation. He can beat you in multiple ways, even if he doesn’t have his best stuff. In fact, I felt there were games last season where he seemed to get some sort of sick satisfaction at intentionally not using his best stuff and still beating you. That’s a pitcher.

To me, the ace of your staff is more than just the guy who is pitching the best at any given moment or any given year. He’s the guy who is pitching well and has the track record of it too. In that fashion, the only thing standing between Martinez and being that ace — and perhaps even throwing his name into the conversation of the best pitchers in the game — is doing it again.

Cardinals non-tender Seth Maness; bring back Adams and others

Today was Major League Baseball’s non-tender deadline. In case you’re not sure what that means, basically there are two classes of players under team control. There are players in their first three years of service who have their salaries set by the team, usually around the league minimum. Then there are players in their next three years of service who have their salaries set by arbitration. Now, there are more nuances than that, but that’s the basics. For those arbitration eligible players, today was the deadline to offer them their one-year contract for next season or to “non-tender” them and make them a free agent.

There were six Cardinals eligible for salary arbitration for 2017, first baseman Matt Adams and pitchers Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Seth Maness.

The Cardinals have confirmed that they have tendered contracts to Adams, Martinez, Wacha, Rosenthal, and Siegrist. So those five players are now under contract with the Cardinals for 2017. Those players and the team have until the arbitration hearing in February to agree on the player’s salary for 2017. If they can’t come to an agreement before the hearing, both sides submit a figure to the arbiter of what they believe the player should be paid and the arbiter decides who is right. The Cardinals haven’t had a case go to arbitration since the 1990s.

But there is one player that wasn’t tendered a contract, that was Seth Maness.

Maness, 28, has a career 3.19 ERA over 4 seasons with the Cardinals. He struggled this past season, but managed to put together a strong stretch through the summer, even while pitching injured. His season came to an end in August with what was said to have been Tommy John surgery. But he ended up only needing a UCL reconstruction, which gave the hope that he’d be back on the mound in 6–8 months instead of the 12–18 month recovery for Tommy John.

If you followed me on Twitter this afternoon, you know how surprised I was that Maness was let go. I figured Adams was on the fence, but argued that Maness was likely safe.

I argued that the quicker recovery time plus his relatively low salary, and him still having multiple seasons of team control ahead of him — even if he didn’t pitching 2017 — worked in his favor that they would hold onto him. I guess I was wrong.

In fact, I’m even more surprised that they let Maness go and did not perform a hard core culling of the roster that included Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal is projected to make $6.3 million — four times more than Maness — and was arguably the worst pitcher in the Majors last year. His 1.91 WHIP was just 0.002 from being the worst in the Majors among relievers who threw at least 40 innings, only former Cardinal Michael Blazek saving him from that honor. But Blazek would not have pitched the same high leverage situations that Rosenthal did.

For the guys who were kept, the roles of Siegrist and Martinez are pretty set and while the roles for Rosenthal and Wacha aren’t public, the team has discussed that they are bouncing around some ideas for what their roles would be. The question that today brings up is what the future holds for Matt Adams.

Adams, 28, hit .249/.309/.371 with 16 home runs last season for the Cardinals. Long considered a platoon candidate, Adams had his best season ever against left handed pitching, batting .283 with 3 home runs against them. There was even a point in May where Adams was the team’s leading offensive threat.

But the Cardinals recently committed to Matt Carpenter as their everyday first baseman for 2017, which means that Adams doesn’t have a pathway to a starting role for the team next year, something he’s always been given in St. Louis.

Some have suggested that he could be used off of the bench, and it does make sense as he’s hit .330 with 7 home runs as a pinch hitter in his career. However, he’s only ever played first base. Carpenter has played 154+ games three times in the past four years, so that leaves, at most, 10 starts for Adams. Even if he made 60 pinch hit appearances, that’s not even 100 plate appearances.

Adams’ best value to this team should be by trade. Either in a package to acquire something the team needs or prospects. But unlike with Jaime Garcia, where he wanted to unload a $12.5 million hot potato, I don’t think Mozeliak has a problem being left with Adams in the spring because carrying an extra first baseman is a lot easier than an extra starting pitcher.

Quick Hits: Can Michael Wacha win 20 games?

Michael Wacha has a 9-3 record through his first 14 starts this season. He also has a 2.85 ERA and 136 ERA+ that stacks him up as the 19th best starting pitcher in baseball this season (among starting pitchers with at least 10 games started). So the question is whether Wacha can continue this pace to become the third different Cardinals pitcher to win 20 games in the last 13 years?

Let’s take a quick glance at the history. In the last 10 years, there have been 23 times a pitcher has posted a season of 20 or more wins. Here is how many wins each had through 14 games.

11 wins (5) – Clayton Kershaw, 2014, R.A. Dickey, 2012; Brandon Webb, 2008; Josh Beckett, 2007; Dontrelle Willis, 2005

10 wins (2) – Max Scherzer, 2013; Cliff Lee, 2008

9 wins (7) – Adam Wainwright, 2014; Gio Gonzalez, 2012; David Price, 2012; Jered Weaver, 2012; Wainwright, 2010; Mike Mussina, 2008; Chris Carpenter, 2005

8 wins (3) – Roy Halladay, 2010; Halladay, 2008; Bartolo Colon, 2005

7 wins (4) – Justin Verlander, 2011; Ian Kennedy, 2011; CC Sabathia, 2010; Roy Oswalt, 2005

6 wins (2) – Johnny Cueto, 2014; Kershaw, 2011

On an unrelated note, it’s pretty impressive that Kershaw only had six wins over his first 14 starts of 2011, but won 15 of the next 19 to finish with 21 wins.

In a matter of Cardinals coincidences, each time a Cardinals’ pitcher has won 20 games in the last 13 seasons, they each had 9 wins through 14 starts.

The final numbers show that in 16 of the 23 seasons (70% where a pitcher won 20 games, they’d won 9 games or less through their first 14 starts of the season. He would seem to be positioned well for a run at it.

For Wacha though, this isn’t the whole story. Wacha will likely be on an innings limit overall for this season, so I would expect them to control how much and how often he pitches more closely down the stretch. While the Cardinals have said that they’re considering backing off the innings limit for Wacha (which I agree with), it will still make it difficult to log enough innings and enough starts to win 20 games. With his performance so far this year, that might be the biggest mountain for him to climb towards 20 games.

The fewest innings any pitcher in the history of baseball has thrown and still won 20 games is the 188 innings thrown by Jered Weaver in 2012. Weaver made 30 starts and won 20 of them. If Wacha continues to throw innings at the pace he has, he too will be at 188 innings through 30 starts, but in 30 starts he is only on pace to win 19 games. Two more starts and Wacha’s pushing the 200 innings plateau.

We know that Mike Matheny likes to give guys the chance at individual accomplishments if it’s possible, so it’s something to pay attention to as the season wears down and we know better whether Wacha might actually win 20 games.

If he does, it would be a heckuva start to a career by doing it in his first full season at the age of 23.