5 Reasons the 2015 Cardinals are done

What went wrong with the 2015 Cardinals in October.

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

It’s over. The 2015 St. Louis Cardinals are done. The Chicago Cubs, via a fiery lineup and surprisingly solid bullpen, knocked out the Birds at Wrigley Field. The Cubs first playoff series win in 12 years happened for many reasons but I’ll toss five at you as the nerves go on ice for the offseason.

I’ll be honest and say it hurts. Seeing another team celebrate in front of your team is an event I can’t say someone should ever get used to. It’s ugly. You can’t say there will be another game tomorrow. You can’t say there’s a chance. It’s over and the dust settles and lockers are cleaned out.

5. Too much power from Chicago. Anthony Rizzo. Kris Bryant. Kyle Schwarber. Javier Baez. Addison Russell. List goes on and on. Schwarber hit a mammoth shot that hasn’t even landed yet. Rizzo wrongly predicted the NL Central winner but his smoked solo blast was the deciding blow in Game 4. While the Cards hit eight home runs, the Cubs made their ten blasts count and had more men on base for a few of them. They are a tough team to play in Wrigley and showed their ability to change a game instantly with the long ball. Cards couldn’t keep up.

4. Mike Matheny’s decisions. Once again, the skipper made some questionable calls, especially at Wrigley. In a tight five game series, every move will be scrutinized. Matheny refused to pitch Tyler Lyons, a guy capable of throwing 2-3 innings, for the entire series. He brought in Kevin Siegrist in the 5th and 6th innings, which didn’t end well. He pulled Seth Maness in the middle of an inning when he needed a double play and brought in Adam Wainwright, who immediately allowed a two run Game 3 deciding home run to Jorge Soler. Matheny wasn’t the main reason, as many on Twitter will point out, the Cards lost but he made some dicey moves that shouldn’t be overlooked. He also started Jaime Garcia with a stomach virus when Lyons was down there. The same Lyons who took over for Carlos Martinez after three batters in a late September game.

3. The plate discipline left the window. The Cardinals tried to impersonate the Cubs and became home run hitters. They struck out over 48 times in the series, averaging 12 per game. They struck out 27 times in their last 54 at bats. They swung at pitches in the dirt or at their chin. Sure, the strike zone was bad for the majority of the series, but that doesn’t excuse the terrible plate discipline by this team. They drew walks but struck out far too often.

3a.-The veterans coming up short. Matt Holliday hit .129 in the series, hitting third. Jhonny Peralta hit .143 and batted fifth. Both unacceptable. 

2. The bullpen got smoked, with the biggest culprit being Siegrist. The guy led the National League in appearances in 2015, threw a lot of pitches and was fatigued but saw himself entering the game midway. He served up a bomb to Rizzo on Monday night.  He entered on Tuesday with the game tied at 4 and promptly hung a pitch for Rizzo to blast into nearly the same spot. Siegrist missed location horribly on both pitches. He finished by serving up a majestic blast to Kyle Schwarber that left the stadium, 418 feet away. In 2013, Siegrist was unhittable until late September and got beat by David Ortiz and the Red Sox in the World Series. Two years later, he failed to pitch well in the playoffs. He wasn’t alone in bullpen blasting but he is the guy who stands out. As a reliever, you have to be efficient with your pitches and keep the game in hand. Siegrist did not and got smoked. Maybe next year don’t make him throw so many pitches. Anyway…

1. The Jaime Garcia implosion. As the Cards faced elimination, I kept wondering how the series would have went if Game 2 went a different way. As in, what if Garcia didn’t start and Lyons did. What if the enigmatic starter known as Jaime didn’t wait until an hour before the game to tell Matheny he was very sick and take the mound again in the playoffs impaired. Or, what if Garcia fields that bunt cleanly and flips to Yadier Molina to nail Austin Jackson at home plate? What if the Cubs don’t score 5 runs that inning? What if the Cards win Game 2 and don’t need to start John Lackey on short rest in Game 4? All these conundrums and so much time to answer them. Starting a sick Jaime Garcia was a costly and stupid move. Most of that fault falls on the player for not admitting sickness earlier, thus putting his own legacy(or need to remake it) in front of team importance.

Yeah, there’s more. Lackey serving up a two out RBI single to Jason Hammel that preceded the Baez home run. Kolten Wong hitting .143 and swinging at everything in the dirt. Mark Reynolds breaking windows in batting practice but whiffing in real games. Yadier Molina playing badly hurt without an ability to hit. There are more things but the five above explain the meat of the reason the Cards aren’t advancing.

It’s over folks. The 2015 Cardinals took us on a ride that we won’t soon forget, for better or worse. It was thrilling, frustrating and ultimately disappointing while being impressive at the same time. Despite injuries, they won 100 games. In the end, the pitching broke down and the bats couldn’t keep up. 2016 holds a lot of questions, mostly fun and interesting. For now, ice the mind and toss the stress in the trash can. There’s plenty of time in the next six months to think about what could have been.

What’s wrong with Jhonny Peralta?

What’s wrong with the starting shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals? Is wear and tear to blame for Peralta’s demise?

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing like a baseball season and its effect on a player. 162 games. Seven months. Lots of travel. Day to day action. Little rest mentally. St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Jhonny Peralta has been a steady player since he arrived in St. Louis in November of 2013. He played in 157 games last season and has played in 138 games of a possible 142 games this season. That’s serious work and something that must be taken into account when trying to locate the demise in Peralta’s production since the All Star break. The big picture outlook has Peralta’s production slowly slipping since the end of May. Let’s look at it from April to September.

April-.316 batting average, .825 OPS(slugging plus on base percentage)

May-.306 BA, .941 OPS

June-.274 BA, .720 OPS

July-.262 BA, .737 OPS

August-.242 BA, .612 OPS

That’s the thing about stats. The simplest ones can draw a picture big enough for any fan to see. Since the end of May, after a great start to the season, Peralta has delivered big hits but not as consistent as before. Is this wear and tear? It’s hard to avoid pointing how the Cards don’t have a reliable backup for Peralta at shortstop, or at least one they believe in. Peralta has played in more games this season than any Cardinal starter. The drop in Peralta’s slugging percentage is particularly telling.

April-.468

May-.556

June-.400

July-.421

August-.303

Peralta’s reputation isn’t hitting 30 home runs and driving in 100 but he is depended on in this lineup hitting 3rd or 4th to produce runs. Jhonny Peralta hasn’t hit a home run since August 1st and his OPS since the All Star break is .626 with just three home runs. The Cards don’t have huge depth on the ML roster that exists as exciting at the position. How much can you lean on a player before he crumbles? Outside of Yadier Molina, no player on the team has been leaned on more than Peralta.

What’s wrong with Peralta? Wear and tear. He’s played in 298 games out of a possible 304 since arriving in St. Louis. I’m sorry folks but that’s where the Tulo comparisons hit a halt. JP is in a massive slump but there’s nothing physically wrong with him. His stats are right in line with his career rate, especially when it comes to average, on base and slugging. 2015’s season hasn’t been as power packed as 2014 but overall his WAR of 1.7 won’t reach his 2014 rate of 5.7(baseball reference).

With 20 games to go, Peralta can pick things up and finish better but a little rest wouldn’t hurt. Rest helps players more often than not. While it’s not common to sit everyday players in a stretch run, Peralta looks burnt. There’s room there to let Jhonny find a little mental clarity.

How does Peralta get rest? Play Greg Garcia. The kid comes up with big game changing hits and hasn’t gotten a real shot. While Peralta will more than likely keep on grinding, turning Garcia loose wouldn’t hurt and you can see what the kid has in store for the future as Peralta’s age and contract start to climb.

Jhonny Peralta’s value to this club is underrated and will never be appreciated as much as it should. He needs to get right. The Cards need to address this sooner rather than later. Plug in Garcia. Find some rest for Peralta, especially as some missing bats filter back into the lineup. In the end, it will benefit both player and club.

Where would the Cardinals be without Jhonny Peralta?

How about Jhonny? The shortstop has been a model of consistency for a team plagued by injuries.

While Stephen Piscotty is the hot toddy of the moment and Jason Heyward is turning up the jets on the extra base hit plank, I beg to ask a simple question. Where would the St. Louis Cardinals be without shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s steady flow of production in the field and at the plate? It’s become something you expect, like the sun rising every morning. Peralta just keeps hitting, making plays in the field and generally gets zip on the major networks because he isn’t loud enough and doesn’t hit enough home runs. And his name isn’t Kris Bryant.

The Cards offense has been leaking oil since June, but Peralta has kept the vehicle moving. He was doing this before Piscotty showed up, as Heyward’s bat was still thawing out and Matt Carpenter’s bat was missing. Without Peralta, I think this team is without a few key wins and the success wouldn’t be as sweet.

Peralta’s finest trait is durability. Since he put on the birds on the bat, Peralta has played in 276 games out of 285 possible games, and assembled a fWAR of 7.8. That’s not bad for a guy who wasn’t exactly met with the cheeriest of greetings back in November of 2013 upon signing a 4 year deal worth an annual value of 13 million.

Entering Monday’s action against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Peralta’s offensive stats aren’t going to blow minds but they have been steady. Jhonny has 16 home runs, 56 RBI, 24 doubles, .285 batting average, .342 on base and .446 slugging percentage. He has lost a bit of power in August but just polished off a 5-10 performance in San Diego.

On the defensive side, Peralta has gotten job done. He isn’t going to add a gold glove to his shelf any time soon, but Peralta has a lean and mean .991 fielding percentage. Four errors in 452 chances. He makes the plays and makes it look as if his feet aren’t even touching the ground.

People may want more attitude, emotion and all together swagger out of Peralta but it isn’t going to happen. He’s a quiet soldier who goes about his business like a pro. He isn’t flashy but he produces. He is on pace for a similar season to last year’s efforts, with Fangraphs having finishing with 20 home runs, 73 RBI and an average right around .279. Take it. I’ll take that every year from Peralta.

People love the theme park ride allure of Randal Grichuk, the all around tenacity of Piscotty and Carpenter, but this lineup could use a couple more Peralta’s. Guys who can pop a home runs when needed(the Wrigley rescue shot), get a hit, make a play and resist going into a massive slump. He just keeps playing and it’s a good thing, because the only guys standing behind him are Pete Kozma and Greg Garcia, who the Cards can’t seem to resist sending back and forth between Memphis and St. Louis. At a position needing consistency and on a team full of injuries, Peralta has been there every day for the Cards.

While it may not be flashy and Sportscenter worthy, Jhonny Peralta’s value is quite clear. He’s not a life saver, but he sure is important to this band of Birds.

What is ailing Cardinals’ second baseman Kolten Wong?

Kolten Wong is hitting just .197 over his last 30 games and severely needs a break. Will the Cards give it to him?

I wrote weeks ago about how I think Kolten Wong can be one of the best second baseman to ever wear the Birds on the bat. I still believe that but it seems like plenty of others around St. Louis do not. After Wong’s two error game in a Sunday against the Miami Marlins, the toll on Wong’s mental approach to the game was evident. After another couple of errors this week, Wong’s confidence in the field is fractured. Could it be that Wong just needs a day or two off to clear his head?

It’s no secret Wong has struggled lately. In his last 30 games, Wong is hitting just .197 with an on base percentage of .258 and a slugging percentage of .262. His signature brand of pop is missing in August, as he has zero extra base hits and only 10 singles(.156 average). It seems like a decade since his last home run and his average has plunged from near .290 to .263 in the past month. His 11 home runs, 48 RBI, and 114 hits are still respectable but his overall on base percentage and slugging percentage is dropping. Is he still hitting baseballs hard? While his overall line drive rate is 23.5%, his game to game rates in August have seen less sting on balls he hits. It’s not a great trend.

Maybe it could help if Mike Matheny found a comfy spot for Wong in the lineup. This season, Wong has taken swings in every lineup spot but cleanup. He has over 200 at bats in cleanup and 40+ in the #2, #7 and #8. He doesn’t know where he hits and it stems from the fact that when the kid is right, his bat can help in a number of ways. He can collect a double, crank a home run and has speed on the bases(14 steals included). He is the prototypical #2 hitter but his best stats come from the pressure free 8th spot. He has 20 hits in 60 at bats there, with a .391 OBP. One thing Matheny can do is shift him there to take some pressure off and get him to relax.

Another thing Matheny could is rest the kid. Wong has played in 37 straight games. That’s at bat in every one of those games and starting over 95% of them. While Jhonny Peralta gets a day off per week, Wong continues to play and his bat, body and mind could use a rest. Wong committed his 11th and 12th errors on Sunday and when the kid messes up, he takes himself to school mentally for the rest of the game. Part of being a highly talented soon to be 25 year old franchise type player. Wong has put together a lot of great moments over the past couple years and was handed the keys to second base last season. There will be setbacks.

A couple days off may hinder an ailing Cards offense, but it may dividends down the road when the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs continue to shove the Birds for their share of first place. The Central division isn’t softening up, with all three teams having great months of August, especially the Cubs. The time could be now to release some of the pressure from a kid who has hit .206 with four extra base hits since the All Star break. Rest him.

Kolten Wong may not like it, but a couple days off could relieve the pressure. If not that, bat him 8th and keep him there for a while. At this point, Wong needs normalcy or a small vacation. Do what is needed to get this kid right. He’s too important to run into the ground. A small rest could do wonders for Kolten Wong.

Judging Jhonny Peralta and PED’s in Sports

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Detroit Tigers

I won’t sit here and waste your time.  I will make it this as blunt as I can and start it with a question.  If you thought I was under suspicion of plagiarism, would you still read my material or wait until there was proof I stole/cheated?   This is a similar issue with athletes using performance enhancing drugs and the fans perception of it.    Whenever people have the chance to jump to conclusions and roll around in the dirt with athletes, they run at the opportunity.

People think it is acceptable to scrutinize athletes because they are rich and famous and that it’s perfectly okay to accuse them of cheating.  Before you throw your weight into calling a player dirty or using PED’s, remember that suspicion doesn’t equal indictment in this world.   Sports are a business and not a classroom full of kids.   You may think Joey stole the bubblegum from your locker but unless you have proof lay off the accusations.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta, a former PED user who was caught and served a 50 game suspension in 2013, a lot of people went haywire.   “We signed a cheater!” “He will do it again.”  These are the people who wanted an unproven young prospect to play shortstop or wanted John Mozeliak to wager the future of the franchise on one player.   When Mo made the quick trigger deal for a known substance abuser(caught, confessed and time served), this gave all the blood hounds plenty to run at with all their blogger wisdom.  This guy reserved the right to step back and just observe the situation.

What did the Cards do here?   Peralta used, got caught and was suspended and missed a portion of the 2013 season after using during the 2012 season.    Here is the funny part.  For all the people who say that PED make a player better, they will have a hard time with the newest Cardinal shortstop.   Peralta performed better in 2013, when he was clean, than in 2012 when he was dirty.   As the great sports columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote today, fans and writers have a hard time finding the thin red line when it comes to cheaters in sports.   Peralta broke a rule for sure and was punished, but did the PED make him a better player?  NO.

Good luck shredding the weeds this upcoming baseball season when twitter and facebook explode with instant hits whenever Peralta plays bad or good.  It’s an unfortunate situation but one that the Cards were full aware of when they signed him.   Mo and Bill DeWitt Jr. are business men and not passionate beer drinking loud mouth’s sitting in a pub chewing on stale peanuts.  They have to be diligent because they are taking a fair wager on a man’s good faith here that he won’t cheat again.   My message to my readers is this.  Forget about what Peralta did and keep your eyes on what he does in 2014.   That is what he was paid to do.   No one likes to live in the past, especially when the case is closed.

When a player takes PED’s, that doesn’t automatically make him better.   You don’t grow hand eye coordination as well as bigger biceps.  You have to be able to play.   Why are all the cheaters in the Major Leagues not playing well?   If you told me, I could go out and take steroids and be able to hit 15-20 home runs and bat .280 in an instant, I am not sure I could resist the allure.   It’s too bad that is not true.   There are tons of dirty players in baseball and there used to be a lot of more.   We don’t know all their names because the prosecutors don’t carry a huge need for the players who cheat and don’t produce.  All I am saying is keep an open mind and keep things simple.

If I had made the mistake of cheating in my writing in the past but learned from it and was thoroughly punished, it would be unfair to hang that over my head forever.  If you heard I plagiarized, don’t stop reading until you hear it from me or I am officially caught.  Anything else is a waste of time.   Don’t talk bad about my writing because you think it’s pure theft unless you can point it out and put the cuffs on me.    Don’t label Peralta a cheater for life just because he did so once.   And please, for the love of god, don’t keep players out of the Hall of Fame like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza because they “may” have cheated.  It’s soft, old, lame and pretentious.    Suspicion isn’t equal to and never will be equal to indictment.

Let Jhonny Peralta play it out this year and let the chips fall where they may.   If he disappoints, don’t instantly point out that it’s because he isn’t juicing anymore, because his 2012/2013 stats don’t support it.   If he explodes for a monstrous year, don’t think he must be juicing again because he proved he has a lot of ability outside of his one time mistake.    In the end, keep an open mind with flawed athletes like Peralta.  They are human just like all of us and deserve a second chance even if their bank accounts carry a few more zeroes.

Pitchers and catchers report in 33 days.  It is time to get a little excited.  Go Cards!

Sincerely,

Your local blunt information highway specialist.

Hello Jhonny Peralta

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Quick take reaction to the close to finalized signing by the Cardinals of free agent Jhonny Peralta.

First, let me commend John Mozeliak for showing urgency in resolving the needs of this team.  He tested the trade market and found a match for David Freese and improved his horribly 2013 ranked outfield defense with Peter Bourjos.  However, when it came to finding a shortstop, the requests of teams seemed to be too much for Mo to bear.   So he went to the free agent market and found a decent acquisition in Jhonny Peralta.   For money that will be 4 years for around 52 million, Peralta will take over at short until the 2018 season.   This is a quality acquisition.

Did Mo overpay for the guy?  In my opinion, he did not overpay and basically met the market demands while improving his team drastically.  Take away the .230 hitting combo of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma and enter the .300 hitting Peralta who is capable of cranking 20 home runs.

Sometimes the price can’t be measured by the player you get but by the market he exists in.   On the market, you had overrated Scott Boras represented Stephen Drew and you had Peralta.   Mo wisely picked the latter who could provide his team with pop and a glove that provided a .988 fielding percentage as recently as 2012.  I do not love this deal but it has grown on me over the last 18 hours.   Let’s break it down.

Peralta isn’t young.  He is a 10 year MLB veteran with time split between Cleveland and Detroit who is 31 years old and will finish the proposed Cardinals deal at 35.   That presents concerns going forward but it’s what he has done with the bat that provides the biggest upside here.   Four times in his career, he has hit 20 or more home runs.   As recently as 2011, Peralta hit 21 home runs, drove in 86 runs, and hit .299.    He doesn’t score a lot of runs and strikes out a lot.  He has played 140 or more games in 8 of his 10 seasons.  At his best, his on base percentage is around .350.   At his best, he is around 4 wins above his replacement.   I see this guy and I see somewhat of enigma.   He didn’t have a good 2012 season when it came to batting average but he produced 13 HR and 63 RBI.  In 2013, he hit .303 with 11 HR and 55 RBI in only 107 games.  He gives you pop, a decent average and someone who can make plays in the field.   This isn’t an overwhelming player by any means but one who can thrive in the right surroundings.

Peralta helped his offseason cause by hitting .333 in the 2013 postseason with 10 hits while playing shortstop and left field.

For people who hate the money in the deal, would you rather us give up Shelby Miller, Matt Adams or Carlos Martinez in order to acquire J.J. Hardy?  Do you want to take on Andrus’ 120 million and give up 3-4 players in return?   This signing signifies how badly Mozeliak wanted to hang onto his young talent and not bend over backwards for other teams demands.  Mozeliak surveyed the market and made his choice.   You can tell he wasn’t going to give away a player like Adams, whom Mo coveted, to anyone and in the end the asking price for a shortstop under team control was too steep.

Peralta solves a problem at shortstop for the Cardinals.   He isn’t anyone’s first choice for the job but he will be a fine improvement and fill a need.   He gives you an offensive upgrade at a position left out in the cold by the Cards for too long.   No more Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso.   Expect Peralta to get 155 starts if his body can hold up.   He is the shortstop for the next four years.

Inside 3 days, Mozeliak solved two needs.  Outfield defense and shortstop offense.   Those problems have been solved.    And guess what?   The Cards didn’t part with one single piece of their heavily equipped young arsenal of talent.    That is the best part about the Peralta deal.

I expect our GM to sit back  now and survey the trading/free agent landscape for a couple smaller deals or possible trades but he doesn’t HAVE to do anything.   His needs have been filled.  This team didn’t have many holes to begin with.  The Cards are ready to contend again.   This year The Birds will have Oscar Taveras.   The Cards could have Stephen Piscotty in the outfield as well.   They will have Bourjos and Wong in the same lineup giving pitchers problems.  Matt Adams and Allen Craig patrolling first base.  Matt Carpenter back at third base.   Holliday in left.  And a most valuable asset behind the plate in Yadi Molina.   A pitching staff including at least 7 starting candidates with a loaded bullpen.   Things are good in Cardinal Nation and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

Well done, Mo.   Peralta is a producer and somewhat with an element of surprise.   He comes here with the Cards not having to hand over a draft pick to the Indians and no players on their current roster.   Before you cry out about other players or the money, remember what Mozelaik didn’t give up.

That’s all for now.  Have a great Sunday!

Thanks for reading this,

Dan L. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

buffa82@gmail.com