The Monday Musial – August 26th

The St. Louis Cardinals just completed their series victory against the Cincinnati Reds with a 8-2 drubbing behind Adam Wainwright. Wainwright, it’s fun to realize, has a 1.73 ERA and is 6-1 in 8 starts since the All Star Break. He has once again emerged as the Cardinals’ ace and regaining his market value along with it. He’s also on pace to surpass 200 innings something he’s done in every full season he’s spent as a starting pitcher.

If you’ll remember back to the last Monday Musial I wrote on July 30th, I talked about how the 22 game stretch from July 31st to August 23rd was going to be a critical run for the Cardinals’ up into this 10 game stretch against the Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Washington Nationals. The Cardinals went 14-8 over this stretch, which is great until you realize how easily they could have been 18-4 and how that would have changed everything.

I still firmly believe that 90 wins is the golden ticket to the playoffs. Currently, the Atlanta Braves are the only team in the Wild Card hunt on pace for 90 wins. Their .567 winning percentage translates to 92 wins. For the Cardinals, their .551 translates to just shy of 90 wins (.555 is 90 wins).

It’s hard to believe that there are just 35 games remaining in this season. The Cardinals have 70 wins. That means they need to go 20-15 (.571) the rest of the way to win 90 games and what I expect will be a playoff berth. That is less than 2 out of every 3.

According to CoolStandings.com, the Cardinals currently possess a 14.3% chance of winning the NL Central and a 58.0% chance of winning one of the NL Wild Cards for a total playoff chance of 72.2%. For comparison, that’s a higher odds of making the playoffs than the NL West leading San Francisco Giants.

The Heat in August? That was just Jon Jay

Jon Jay was phenomenal in August. Rebounding after a struggling July, Jay has hit .378/.446/.511 with 2 HR and 11 RBI in the month of August. He has really solidified himself in the leadoff role, in my opinion.

He was second on the team in batting average to Yadier Molina. He was second on the team in on base percentage to Yadier Molina. He was also third on the team in slugging percentage to Allen Craig and Yadier Molina.

In the first game against Cincinnati, Matheny rolled out what I had been tossing around as what I thought would be the best lineup for the Cardinals’ going forward.

Jay-Beltran-Holliday-Craig-Molina-Freese-Schumaker-Furcal-Pitcher

Personally, I would make one change, moving the pitcher to eighth and using Schumaker or Furcal interchangeably in seventh and ninth. Sorry, I’m a bat your worst hitter 8th apologist. Mathematically it produces more offense.

Whole team performance

I’m also an apologist for the idea that a lineup is better when any member of the lineup has the capability of making a difference in a game, not just your one or two star players. I’d rather a lineup of above average players than a spotty one. And that’s what the Cardinals have assembled this season.

Using Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I asked it to tell me what teams had the most players who have hit .280, hit at least 15 home runs, and have 60 or more RBI. No surprise, the Cardinals led the pack with 4 of them. Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and David Freese. If I’d expanded it to those who have hit .275, we’d add Carlos Beltran to the mix as well.

The Cardinals are on the only National League team on the list with more than two, and even then, only the Pirates and the MIlwaukee Brewers qualify.

The second team on this list might surprise some, it’s the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Mark Trumbo. I know I can’t be the only one who would think it’s crazy if the Cardinals and Angels met in the World Series. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.

The forgotten contract story: David Freese

The Cardinals’ just extended Jake Westbrook. They hit Yadier Molina with a big deal last winter. They have Adam Wainwright’s impending free agency coming up. Kind of lost in all of this is David Freese.

Yes, I know he has three arbitration years remaining and he has some injury history to boot, but it’s been about two years now since he’s last had issues with his ankles. His only issues have been related to being hit by pitches, certainly not his fault.

Among qualified third basement this season, Freese is fourth in batting average, 3rd in OBP, 5th in slugging. By Runs Created per 27 outs, Freese ranks sixth among third basemen. Using Baseball-Reference’s WAR, he is seventh among third basemen with at least 800 plate appearances over the last two years.

The home town kid has proven himself both with the bat and with the glove as a capable hitter and fielder. He’s proven his ankles healthy enough to play third on a regular basis this year. It’s time to get him locked up and buy out his arbitration years. Reward him for the job he’s done and you hope he will continue to do for your franchise.

One has to wonder. With the absolute silence on the potential of signing David Freese to a 3-4 year deal to buy out his arbitration years and the team drafting a glut of third basemen in this year’s draft, what does that mean?

The Pirates are reeling

When the August 19th game against the Pirates last Sunday night went into extra innings, I had visions of a long drawn out contest. I began to question whether it wouldn’t make more sense to intentionally pull the plug and basically let the Pirates have it. For the Pirates, maybe the opposite was the right decision.

The Pirates won that game in 19 innings, but you have to ask, at what cost? In the week since, the Pirates have gone 1-5 as they prepare to match up once again with the Cardinals.

Unlike the Cardinals, the Pirates had a game the very next day in San Diego. With their team spent from playing 19 innings the night before, they lost. Then they lost again. Then again. Ultimately being swept by the Padres for just their second sweep at home all season. The other team they swept at home? The Chicago Cubs, the second to worst team in the majors.

They’ve only gotten limited success from their trade deadline upgrades. For the second season in a row, the Pirates are fading.

Coming into this series against the Cardinals starting tonight, their season is on the brink. If they intend to stay alive in the playoff race, they desperately need to win the series against the Cardinals and make that statement. Otherwise, their opportunity may have been squandered this year. But not to worry Pirates fans, they’ll be back next year and probably even better from this experience.

Arizona Fall League invites intrigue

The invitation only Arizona Fall League is known as a key stop for top prospects on their way to the major leagues. Last year Matt Adams, Ryan Jackson, and Oscar Taveras participated. While the rosters and invites for this year haven’t been announced, Derrick Goold dropped in an article last week that infielders Kolten Wong and Colin Walsh are two Cardinals’ who have received invitations.

According to Goold, Wong, the Cardinals’ first pick in the 2011 draft, is expected to receive priority playing time at second base in the hopes that he will show that he is ready to join the big league team in 2013. Wong has hit .286/.347/.402 with 8 HR and 51 RBI for Double-A Springfield. He has also shown himself very solid with the glove at second base, something that was a concern when you draft a second baseman. Usually, you draft shortstops and move them.

Walsh, on the other hand, was a 13th round pick in the 2010 draft and was still playing Single-A ball in Quad Cities this year. He hit .313/.421/.529 with 16 HR and 68 RBI and has played primarily outfield and DH this year, though he has played second and third base mostly in his minor league career. He is supposed to be on the roster as a utility man as he tries to find a position that suits his bat.

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