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.

News: Cardinals option Luke Voit

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals optioned first baseman Luke Voit to Memphis to return their MLB roster to 25 players after keeping outfielder Stephen Piscotty.

The story. On Sunday, the Cardinals played in the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and due to the extra travel, Major League Baseball allowed them to use a 26th man. That man was Stephen Piscotty. However today they need to return the roster to 25, which meant optioning someone and the club elected to keep Piscotty.

The numbers. Luke Voit was called up on June 25th and he hit .316/.366/.684 from his call up until the All Star Break while starting 9 of the team’s 15 games. With the return of Kolten Wong after the break, Voit’s playing time suffered and he made just 5 starts over the next 16 games and hit just .155.

However, Voit’s numbers were turning around in August. He has hit .304 in August including .375 in the two games he’s started. But he has started just 2 of 19 games in August.

Stephen Piscotty went 2-for-4 with a walk in his return to the big leagues yesterday.

The impact. 6/10. The biggest issue with the return of Piscotty, as I pointed out yesterday, is that it is into a crowded and productive big league outfield.

Voit had been hitting and Gyorko had not been and yet Carpenter was not moved across the diamond to accomodate that. That move would have been the most logical way to find Voit more playing time, but much like was the case for Matt Adams, there is no room for him in St. Louis as long as Carpenter is considered this team’s first baseman.

News: Stephen Piscotty added as 26th man

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals designated outfielder Stephen Piscotty as their 26th man for today’s Little League Classic.

The story. Originally it was reported that Magneuris Sierra was on his way to Williamsport to be the club’s 26th man, but after changing their mind at the last minute, it was Piscotty who was activated this morning. Both the Cardinals and the Pirates were given approval to use a 26th man for today’s game due to the additional travel.

The numbers. Stephen Piscotty, who has had a rough year, has hit well over the past several days in Memphis. In 8 games, he has hit .313/.421/.781 with 4 home runs. The biggest plus would seem to be the appearance of his power, something that has been down this season.

The impact. 6/10. The outfield is not exactly a position of need for the Cardinals at the moment, and even if Piscotty is back for good or whether it is just a one day trip, he is not an improvement on the available players and might actually muddy up the situation.

Just look at these numbers in the second half. Tommy Pham has hit .321/.419/.489 with a 142 wRC+. Randal Grichuk has hit .305/.336/.581 with a 135 wRC+. Dexter Fowler has hit .308/.443/.487 with a 146 wRC+. And when you throw Jose Martinez into the mix too, four of the Cardinals top-5 hitters of the second half are outfielders.

If Piscotty does stick around, and I think the odds are good that he does, who is sitting to give him playing time when you’ve already got four outfielders who are excelling at the plate?

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.

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.

Piscotty goes to the DL; Sierra recalled

The St. Louis Cardinals placed outfielder Stephen Piscotty on the 10 day disabled list today with a right groin strain and recalled outfielder Magneuris Sierra from Double-A Springfield. Sierra will not arrive in time for tonight’s game against the Pirates, however should be ready to play on Sunday.

Piscotty has struggled this season to find his footing, hitting just .236/.348/.371 with 6 home runs in 69 games for the Cardinals this season. His 95 wRC+ is a career low, a full 20 points lower than it was last season.

Following his mother’s diagnosis with ALS in May, Piscotty looked to be turning his season around, hitting .286/.373/.540 over the next 20 games, but then his performance once again began to tail off. But has hit just .200/.307/.246 over the last 20 games.

His injury is believed to be minor, but it will take some time for it to completely heal. So the organization decided to recall Sierra for his third cup of coffee in the Majors this season.

Sierra is hitting .375/.429/.375 as a big leaguer this season with hits in 8 consecutive games to begin his MLB career, a Cardinals record. He was last up in early June for Jedd Gyorko’s paternity leave and went 1-for-2 with a walk in his one game. Since that game, he has hit .301/.342/.413 over 35 games with Double-A Springfield.

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.

Cardinals call up Pham, place Piscotty on DL

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have placed RF Stephen Piscotty on the 10 day disabled list and called up OF Tommy Pham from Memphis. Piscotty was lifted early at the end of the 2nd inning of last night’s game after running out a ground ball and appearing to tweak his hamstring.

We’re still waiting for more information, but Piscotty seemed to indicate to the media last night that he was optimistic that it wasn’t too severe. However, he may still be day-to-day for an indeterminate amount of time right now, even with a minor spasm. This is the advantage of the shorter disabled list. Rather than Piscotty staying active day-to-day and wasting a roster spot. It also keeps him from pushing it to return sooner than he would if he were on the active roster.

The Cardinals will recall Tommy Pham who was hitting .283/.371/.500 with 4 home runs and 19 RBI in 25 games for Memphis this season. He has mostly played right field so far this season.

Pham has proven himself capable of putting together quality stretches in the Majors in the past. After he was recalled on August 27, 2015 to the end of the season, Pham hit .303/.379/.532 with 4 home runs over 39 games with the Cardinals. And then last summer in the month that followed the All STar Break, he hit .263/.359/.550 with 6 home runs in 28 games. Unfortunately he stumbled hard after that, striking out 23 times in 39 plate appearances to finish out the year.

The Cardinals could really use Pham to come up hot and put together one of those stretches for them.

Also pointed out by Wes Keene on Twitter. The Cardinals’ press release was worded as “outfielder Stephen Piscotty (right hamstring strain) have been placed” (emphasis added) indicating that at least the media relations department was prepared for the Cardinals to place two players on the DL this morning.

That other player was Dexter Fowler who left after the third inning with a shoulder injury. The Post-Dispatch is reporting this afternoon that the club hasn’t yet confirmed Dexter Fowler’s diagnosis though the club fears it may be more severe than Piscotty’s.

The club will also likely wait until they know what roster move they will make to correspond to Fowler’s DL trip before making that official.

Piscotty signs six year extension with Cardinals

John Mozeliak should have began his press conference this afternoon doing his best Oprah impression. “You get an extension! And you get an extension! EVERYONE GETS AN EXTENSION!” Because that’s what it feels like, right?

The Cardinals announced today that they have signed a 6 year, $33.75 million deal with outfielder Stephen Piscotty. The deal will begin this year and run through the 2022 season and includes a $15 million option for the 2023 season. Piscotty asked his agent in February to engage the Cardinals to see if a long-term contract was a possibility, and it came to a quick resolution.

“This was a pretty easy decision for me,” said Piscotty in this afternoon’s press conference. “It came down to the fact that, one, I love this organization, and two, this deal gives myself and my future family financial security. The fact that now I can not worry about the business side for the next six years is an extremely relieving feeling. I think it’s going to make me a better player. To have that relief is very valuable to me.”

Piscotty had a solid season in 2016, his first full one in the big leagues, hitting .273/.343/.457 with 22 home runs and 85 RBI. He posted a 112 OPS+ and a 2.9 WAR.

That 2.9 WAR was the fourth highest among right fielders in baseball last year.

He went 1-for-3 with two walks in last night’s season opener against the Cubs after a rough spring training.

On long-term planning, Piscotty becomes the third Cardinal who has a guaranteed contract through at least the 2021 season. The other two signed their deals this winter as well, Carlos Martinez and Dexter Fowler. Of course, that doesn’t count players like Aledmys Diaz or Alex Reyes who would be in their arbitration years at that point.

That creates an interesting situation now too, considering both Fowler and Piscotty are each signed for at least another five seasons. Where does that leave top prospects Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra and recent Cuban signee Adolis Garcia?

Piscotty has experimented at first base in the past couple years after playing it some in college. But Matt Carpenter is also signed through 2020. Could it mean they’re potentially available for a mid-season trade? Time will tell.