The Monday Musial – July 30th

Here the Cardinals’ sit today, 7.5 games back in the NL Central with a 54-48 record after 102 games. After 102 games last year they were tied for the division lead with a 54-48 record.

Over the last 10 years, a team has needed 90 wins to get a Wild Card in the National League. That means over the last 60 games of the season that start Tuesday against Colorado, the team needs to go 36-24, that’s .600 baseball. Still doable without going on some crazy run.

When you look at the schedule and Home/Road splits for teams, we don’t play a team with a winning record where we’re playing them until we go to Cincinnati and then to Pittsburgh starting August 24th. That means the next 24 days are absolutely crucial for the Cardinals if they intend to make the playoffs.

If the Cardinals and the other teams continue to play at the same winning %s, the Cardinals will likely go 32-28 the rest of the way. But ladies and gentlemen, that’s why we call it baseball. From August 24th to September 2nd we have a 10 game road trip where we play Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Washington. That will be the season.

Something that’s also fun to think about is that the Cardinals host the Reds in the final series of the season in Busch Stadium. How epic would it be to rob them of the division on the final day of the season?

Trade deadline. Please stand pat.

Yeah, you read that right. I want the Cardinals to stand pat at tomorrow’s non-waiver trade deadline. I did a little leap for joy when I saw that Francisco Liriano was dealt to the White Sox. And I hope that John Mozeliak can stay away from the idea that is James Shields.

For one, the Cardinals’ starting pitching is not the issue. I know that everyone likes to say that by adding to the rotation we can strengthen the ‘pen. But I’m not so sure about that. Didn’t we learn anything with Kyle McClellan last year? We moved him back to the bullpen, and it’s my opinion that that move is ultimately was a major contributor to his issues both at the end of last year and this year. No guarantee guys make the move and are still good on the mound.

Let’s say you acquire James Shields (he is 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA in 5 starts in July, for the sake of this comparision). Who are you going to remove from the rotation to make it work?

Kyle Lohse? 2.36 ERA.
Jake Westbrook? 3.18 ERA.
Adam Wainwright? 2.76 ERA.
Lance Lynn? 2.63 ERA.
Joe Kelly? 2.67 ERA.

I don’t think you can honestly go up to any of those pitchers and tell them you’re replacing them with James Shields because he’s a better option. They aren’t going to continue to pitch that well the rest of the way, but you aren’t really upgrading your rotation. You aren’t even really putting yourself in a better position for 2013 and beyond.

Right now you have Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, and Lynn that I think you can write into the rotation next year. In pencil underneath them is Chris Carpenter. That leaves one more spot open. Probably up for grabs between Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller. If Carpenter can’t pitch next year, that’s two spots for them. Yeah, it’s good to have options, especially in the rotation, but too many options is a problem and has the potential to stunt guys’ development.

The bullpen needs some help, but well here’s a thought.

Jaime Garcia to the bullpen.

Yeah, you read that one right too. I can’t be the only person who believes that letting Garcia pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the season wouldn’t be a good idea. He doesn’t have to be a lefty specialist. He can be that player we’ve wanted Marc Rzepczynski to be, that lefty who can face right handed hitters and left handed hitters.

Garcia’s career platoon split has righties with a .264/.321/.380 split against him and lefties with a .237/.325/.348 split. Very, very similar.

He can be a swing man too. Starter struggles early? Out comes Garcia for a few innings. Having a guy who can pitch multiple innings would be beneficial to the bullpen and help save the other guys like Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and the rest of that bullpen from shouldering too large an appearance load. That’s really what the bullpen lacked when they got in trouble in May, a guy who could reliably go out and give you 2-3 innings to bridge the gap to your more reliable guys. Garcia would provide that.

Garcia’s struggled this year too. Maybe it was the injury, but in his last full month he had a 4.78 ERA over 5 starts. Only two of his starts, one against the Giants and one against the Padres, both light hitting teams, were what I would call a good start.

Another reason is that with the injury, you aren’t going to want to rack up innings on Garcia’s arm. A move the bullpen helps save that a little bit. But I also think because of that you aren’t going to go much deeper into games than Kelly has been. If you give Kelly a chance to get around the corner (and he’s nearing it), I think he’s very close to being a very reliable pitcher.

So you give Kelly that time and you can ease Garcia back into pitching.

Craig to Seattle?

There was a lot of talk Saturday as news broke that the Seattle Mariners want to acquire Allen Craig. Of course they do. Ever team in the major leagues ought to. Let’s just talk some about Allen Craig’s resume.

Last year in the World Series? Could have really been the MVP. Game winning RBI in Game 1. Go ahead RBI in Game 2. Game winning RBI in Game 5. Critical home run in Game 6. Game winning HR in Game 7.

This year? He’s the Cardinals’ third best bat by oWAR behind Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. Among hitters in the NL with 30+ ABs with RISP, Craig is fifth by OPS.

Finally, over the last two years in 474 PA, Craig has hit .304/.362/.564 with 26 HR and 91 RBI.

Let’s consider who would play first base if we dealt Craig. Lance Berkman? Isn’t that the guy we were talking about two months ago whose career could be over? Do we want to expect that knee to play everyday and contribute? Matt Adams? For all his potential, he still hasn’t proven he can reliably be a quality hitter in the major leagues.

If the Cardinals trade Craig, it signals to me that the organization has given up on winning this year. That’s not where we want to be.

July 31st isn’t our deadline either.

Being behind both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the NL Central has it’s advantages. Namely the ability to continue to make moves in August during the waiver trade portion of the MLB schedule. As long as a player clears waivers, they can be deal to any team.

We could potentially block players interesting to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but they can’t block us.

Might a player or two be able to be slipped through the waiver netting to find their way to the Cardinals? Certainly. The one everyone will remember is 2004 when we picked up Larry Walker in August.

So just because the deadline has passed doesn’t mean we won’t make a move in August. For a small piece like a reliever, it might just happen.

Furcal day-to-day, Descalso the backup?

It looks like Rafael Furcal is dealing with some back tightness and missed Sunday’s game. Today is an off day and the team says he’ll be back tomorrow. So the question will be how much this bother’s Furcal down the stretch. The strain of playing every day, appearing in 96 of the 102 games played and leading the team in plate appearances, is taking it’s toll.

Furcal hit .315 in April, .349 in May. And then the wheels start to fall off. He posted a .176 in June and now just a .247 average in July. As the leadoff hitter, his .323 OBP in July isn’t cutting it for me.

But then the question becomes, are we comfortable with Descalso taking more time at shortstop or should we look to acquire one. Personally, I’ve felt the team could use one to spell Furcal reguarly since mid-June. Furcal hasn’t played this much in three years.

Descalso is a career +2 in Defensive Runs Saved in 150 innings at shortstop in his career. He has a .966 fielding percentage and a 5.10 Range Factor per 9.

Furcal has a -4 Defensive Runs Saved in 814 innings this season at shortstop. He has a .971 fielding percentage and a 4.52 Range Factor per 9.

I’m fairly high on Descalso as a defensive player and I campaigned for him to be the starting shortstop for the Cardinals this season. I feel that if he were given an opportunity to get comfortable in the position that he can be nearly as good as Brendan Ryan, and this blog was founded on a post stating just how good defensively I think Brendan Ryan is.

Reds impressive, despite Votto out.

The Reds have gone 18-6 so far in July. That’s great and all, but consider that they are 12-3 without Joey Votto in their lineup since he went in for knee surgery. And Votto isn’t just any old player, he’s possibly the best hitter in the National League. All respect to Matt Kemp, I think Votto is the best position player in the National League as well. So to do what the Reds have done over the last two weeks is incredible.

However, the season is far from over. There are still more than 50 games to play. The Cardinals are also a game ahead of where they were last year after 102 games. If the team plays solid baseball the rest of the way, they should easily win at least a wild card. Being third in the NL Central makes it unlikely they can jump two teams into the top spot.