Tag: Michael Wacha

Did Cardinals burn a bridge with Lance Lynn?

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The playoffs are a time where previous alliances are left behind and a new truce is set. Do whatever it takes to win the game is the idea. The St. Louis Cardinals chose to not go to Lance Lynn in the NLDS against the Cubs. The righty pitched one inning of action, taking over for Jaime Garcia and allowing a run.

He didn’t get the start in Game 2 even though Garcia was sick and he was passed over for John Lackey on three days rest in Game 4. Neither plan went well, as Garcia was shelled and Lackey gave up four runs in three innings. Neither plan had a good chance to working. This is where I want to crawl into the head of Lynn and wonder. Did the Cards burn a bridge with this guy in skipping over him?

Burning a bridge isn’t an over the top way to put it. They can be rebuilt over time but were the Cards justified in skipping Lynn against the Cubs. The North Siders had their way with Lynn but they also had their way with Michael Wacha, the game 3 starter who got shelled for four runs in four plus innings. If there was trepidation about Wacha’s abilities after a long season, why was Lynn shoved to the side?

If we are keeping score, Lynn was passed over by a…

*Mentally bruised lefty with a stomach virus

*Tired young arm.

*36 year old pitching on three days rest for the first in October in 10 years.

Does it all add up? If we go by a “what have you done lately” scenario, Lynn closed the 2015 season better than Wacha with three solid starts. In his last three starts, Lynn allowed a single earned run in 16 innings. Sure a little luck played a part in that final walk, but the stats back up the man here. Lynn had just as much merit for a postseason start as Wacha, a 2013 postseason hero who got lit up down the stretch(allowing 13 earned runs in his final 14 innings). Unlike Wacha, Lynn is a horse in this Cardinals rotation. Four straight years of 29 or more starts and 175+ innings. Shouldn’t that speak for something on the big stage?

Lynn is entering the second year of a three year, 21 million dollar deal. A final contract to buy up his arbitration before he truly cashes in. Where do John Mozeliak and Cards management stand on Lynn at the moment? Is he a trade piece? He has a team friendly contract and at 28 years of age, has plenty of ammo left. Like Matt Adams, I am getting the odd feeling that Lynn could be sitting on the trade market.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to see him go. He’s a bargain at seven million. For all the people who want the Cards to drop 160 million on David Price, don’t sleep on Lance. He’s a fine component to a rotation. Lynn gives you solid innings and kept his ERA and WHIP in check and was worth 3.4 wins above replacement to the Cards despite his struggles. Was he hurt down the stretch? Does he rely on his fastball too much? While both are logical questions, I think many under-appreciate Lynn’s value to the team.

For those who say he plummeted in 2015, they miss a few key stats. Lynn’s fielding independent pitching was an above average 3.44 and his ERA+(which factors the ballparks a pitcher throws in) was 131, way above average. Sure, he was my candidate to sit out if Carlos Martinez was healthy but for the people overvaluing Wacha’s 17 wins and placing him over Lynn for a postseason start, they are a bit off.

Lynn carries his emotions on his sleeve and won’t forget this dismissal. This isn’t like Shelby Miller getting shunned in 2013 after his first season. He didn’t have Lynn’s pedigree and durability. This is a whole new kind of beast. Something I want to see Lynn turn into a ferocious 2016 season in St. Louis. If he had a chip on his shoulder heading into the 2015 season, he has a stack resting there now.

I don’t think the Cardinals burned a bridge to Lance Lynn with their playoff decision, but the cheddar springs loving arm won’t soon forget what occurred this postseason. If he is smart, he’ll wear it like a badge of honor as he hustles towards that big payday.

Cards’ do or die status is nothing new

imageedit_1_6786761481This is it, folks. A 162 game season comes down to a do or die at Wrigley Field today for the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of you won’t get to see the game, and for that some should be thankful. Just listen to the cubicle next to you. Listen for the screams, cries and excitement. Baseball is a game of endurance and stress trading spots on a bus heading towards the brutal cold of winter.

After dropping Games 2 and 3 to the Cubs, the Cards are against the wall, scratching for space. Things started swimmingly on Friday night and suddenly took a detour away from Pleasantville. Things went terribly wrong. For once, the bats escape blame and the pitching is the culprit. How things have changed for the team with the most wins in baseball and best overall pitching staff.

While Game 2 was a breakdown in fundamentals, Game 3 was a launching pad. A Michael Bay film instead of a dynamic chess duel in the vein of The Hunt for Red October. A stunt sequence. The Cubs hit six home runs Monday night off Cardinals pitching, including three off Michael Wacha and one off Adam Wainwright. Yes, the Waino that some wanted to see start for Wacha. No pitcher went unscathed last night. Everybody had a stain on their shoulders.

Sure, Wacha’s 5th inning was ill fated. He got through four innings while allowing only two runs to a dangerous lineup but Mike Matheny sent him back out there for a third trip through the order. Even though he was hanging his curve and couldn’t locate his changeup. Wacha went out there and Kris Bryant hammered a two run home run. Kevin Siegrist came in for the 182nd time in 2015 and served up a blast to Anthony Rizzo.

After the bats drew the game to 5-4, Seth Maness came in, recorded an out and allowed a scratch single. Suddenly, Matheny wanted to bring in Wainwright. Why? I have no idea. The Cards needed a groundball and Maness is the best at getting those. Everybody wearing blue at Wrigley knew Wainwright throws a first pitch fastball. He did and Jorge Soler hammered his second home of the series, a blast that would prove to be the game winner. Just look at Waino’s face after Stephen Piscotty’s meaningless two run home run in the 9th. The heartbreak was deafening.

Here they are. Tuesday afternoon. Down 2-1 in the series and desperately needing to get this series back to Busch Stadium for a winner take all Game 5. Can they make it happen? Can the Cards pull out a victory at Wrigley?

The ball will be handed to John Lackey on three days rest. By now, more than a few people have told you his stats on this kind of rest. Two decent starts. Both taking place over ten years ago. Expecting anything more than 5-6 innings out of Lackey today is crazy. He’s 36 year old and pitching in a sandbox with high winds. If he keeps the Cards in the game, fans should be grateful.

This game will come down to the bullpen doing a good job. The Cards bats aren’t full throttle wrecking balls this series but they have a pulse. Jason Hammel is a hittable pitcher whom the Cards have beaten up this season for seven earned runs in 10 innings of work. Runs will be pushed across the plate but can the pen protect a lead?

Jonathan Broxton shouldn’t be allowed to pitch. He’s good for a home run or two baserunners per inning these days. Adam Wainwright should only START an inning. If needed, Lance Lynn should be used today. He was supposed to pitch anyway and can give the Cards big innings if needed. Tyler Lyons is down there somewhere and can be valuable. Jaime Garcia SHOULD NOT pitch. He’s never pitched out of relief and making his first time happen in a raucous environment against a power crazy team wouldn’t be wise. Save him for Game 5.

Can the Cards bullpen hold the Cubs off if they are handed a lead? That is the story heading into Game 4. Watch if you dare!

This do or die status is nothing new for the Birds. In 2011, they were down 2-1 against Philadelphia and came back to win game 5 in that classic Carpenter-Halladay showdown. They were down 2-1 against Pittsburgh in 2013 and came back on the road in Game 4 to force a Game 5 at home which they won. It’s not impossible and a situation the team has grown quite comfortable in.

The brutal part is the idea of losing to the Cubs but ladies and gents, this is a 97 win team. They aren’t a band of scrubs. They are good and will be for the foreseeable future. Get used to these battles in the NL Central. This NLDS is a preview of things to come.

Just don’t count the Cards out yet. The Cubs won’t be doing that after seeing their untouchable ace pitcher, Jake Arrieta, allow four earned runs Monday night for the first time since mid June. Both of these teams are great. For all the offense that has been on display this week, it will come down to which bullpen can be more effective. That’s it.

Play ball!

Finally, Jaime Garcia is back in postseason action

Jaime 2015It’s been a long time since Jaime Garcia has been healthy when the playoff started. Four years to be exact. I’m sorry, but 2012 doesn’t count. When Jaime Garcia took the mound in an NLDS game against the Washington Nationals, lasted less than 3 innings, got hammered and informed the press afterwards he had pitched hurt. That wasn’t as shocking of a revelation as Manny Pacquiao saying he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. with a bum rotator cuff but it was enough for General Manager John Mozeliak to question Garcia’s loyalty. The next two seasons Garcia made a total of 16 starts and zero playoff innings.

Flash forward to this weekend and Garcia is ready to give the Cards a dose of nasty on the mound against the Cubs or Pirates in the NLDS. He doesn’t have to hide an injury this time. Just be deceptive enough to cause hitters to go insane at the plate trying to guess where his next pitch wants to dance. This Jaime Garcia is a far better pitcher than the young one who took the mound in the memorable Game 6 against the Rangers in 2011.

In every way, Garcia was more efficient in 2015 and harder to hit. His fielding independent pitching was 3.01 and his ERA+(which adjusts it for a player’s ballpark) was 162, which is 62 points above average. Garcia was good on the road, at Busch and anywhere else the Cards needed him to pitch. This is a guy who doesn’t need a lot of pitches to break a lineup. He doesn’t induce 7 foul balls in an at bat like Lance Lynn or struggle with his location like Michael Wacha. Garcia’s pitches have so much movement that hitters have zero clue which pitch is coming or where it will end up. His ERA of 2.43 and WHIP of 1.05 is filthy and among the best in the league. Once an risky gamble of talent, Garcia looms as one of the best kept secrets in October.

Is he pitching differently? Yes and no. In 2011, Garcia relied on his four seam and two seam fastball along with his slider and changeup. His slider got the most whiffs per swing while his two seamer did damage as well. In 2015, he is relying on that slider to collect a high whiff rate and throwing his fastball. Over the 2015 season, Garcia has thrown his fastball an average of 26 percent while relying on his two seamer and slider. Garcia isn’t throwing the curve a lot in 2015, but hitters are swinging and missing on it when he does choose the bender. As the season has gotten older, Garcia has used his changeup more as well. If there is one change between 2011 and 2015, it’s the higher use of his four seam fastball to go with his regular two seam heater attack. When he throws off speed, it appears as a golf ball to hitters.

Call it older age and higher knowledge or a more adept sense of his craft, but Garcia is a different pitcher right now and it’s exciting to watch.

A healthy Garcia gives the Cardinals a unique weapon in the playoffs. A guy who can pitch anywhere and carries a huge chip on his shoulder for time lost. While Garcia is still only 29 years old, he has to feel like his career is just beginning and there’s a lot to prove as the Cards varied assortment of young pitching filters through. Pitching that is cheaper and more flexible in their options than his own plans. 2015 may not feel like the final stand for Garcia in a Cardinal uniform to fans, but for Garcia it’s a chance to bury the hatchet.

For the first time in four years, Jaime Garcia is a legit playoff weapon for the Cardinals.

Research courtesy of Baseball Reference and Brooks Baseball

What Adam Wainwright can offer to Cardinals in return

UPI / Bill Greenblatt
UPI / Bill Greenblatt

I remember where I was when Adam Wainwright got hurt in Milwaukee in April. I was buying a couch and driving a Home Depot truck around Little Rock and afterwards I went to dinner. Throughout the game that the Cardinals eventually won, all I could think about was, how will this team win 80 games without their ace? With the news today that Wainwright has fully recovered from the ruptured Achilles heel and will be active for tomorrow’s game in Pittsburgh, it makes me think about this amazing 2015 Cardinals team. They have 99 wins with five games to go on the season. How did this happen? Sometimes pinching yourself just doesn’t work.

Adam Wainwright made four starts in April before going down and had a record of 2-1. Before the aborted Milwaukee start, Waino had just shut down Cincinnati for 8 innings at Busch. That night, the Cards hosted the bloggers in their suite and it was a great time. It was the second Blogger Night in a row where a huge pitching injury was around the corner. In 2014, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia were both announced as new disabled list shareholders the evening of Blogger Day at a June game. This year, it was the last start Wainwright would make this season at Busch Stadium or the last time he’d figure in a box score. Until now.

I haven’t been a huge fan of the Waino rehab renaissance, mostly out of fear. I worry about the Achilles reinjuring or something else going wrong. It’s the human body where nothing goes as planned for a pitcher in his 30’s. I wrote about it for KSDK and still agree with points made in that article with one exception that is pouring out me now. Adam Wainwright did everything by the book, medically, and cleared the hurdles without being rushed. This wasn’t a rush job, because there was simply no need. This is a guy who wanted to prove to himself he could get back and did. Remember when he climbed the mound at his daughter’s game a couple months ago and the net was set ablaze? Seems like a long time from today’s announcement that Wainwright will be coming out of the bullpen this week. His doctors in May said he could come back and they weren’t wrong. Buy them a drink.

Can we expect Waino to be good? Hard to answer that without seeing a pitch. He can pitch in a few simulated game against his teammates and do drills all he wants, but until he steps into a hot contested September ballgame, that answer remains a fill in the blank location. He needs to pitch Wednesday and should with the Tuesday postponement and pending doubleheader. He needs to get in there and go 1-2 innings. He then needs to recover and go back out there 1-2 times this weekend in Atlanta. He needs to get as much action as he can before the playoff start. With Carlos Martinez’s injury, there is a potential roster spot open for an arm and if Waino is even close to the efficient ace St. Louis knows well, he gets that spot.

First, Waino has to prove his worth this year. He can be Han Solo but we first need to see if he can fly the Millennium Falcon before we give him a mission. It’s common sense. Logistics of a comeback. The good thing is he is 100% and ready to pitch and for a team getting hit with injuries on a weekly basis, the addition of Adam Wainwright during crunch time is hard to deny. It’s actually quite exciting.

What do you think?

Five ways to look at Carlos Martinez’s injury

Fox Sports
Fox Sports

The news is in. Carlos Martinez, the hot young phenom starter for the St. Louis Cardinals, is done for the season. The shoulder tightness that pulled him from Friday’s start has also cut his season short. When the 24 year old phenom left the field in tears, something bad was in the forecast. Something only an athlete knows right away. Your body flashing a check your engine light.

I don’t need General Manager John Mozeliak to use crayons and draw it out for me. Martinez is done not only for the regular season but postseason too. With ten days left in the season, the chances of Carlos coming back in early October are slim to fuggedaboutit!

As we digest this unfortunate news, I’ll provide a few reactions.

*Adam Wainwright will not start now. He isn’t conditioned to start after not throwing to hitters until this afternoon. It’s just not possible. That opportunity is gone. Waino at best will be a reliever.

*The doubt is eliminated from Lance Lynn’s playoff rotation future. It was looking cloudy for the up and down starter. Same for Michael Wacha. Each starter had been rocked hard. The page is turned with Martinez’s injury. Both these have been there before, good and bad. They are ready. I think Lance Lynn starts game 4 on the road.

*Tyler Lyons will get another start and it could fall on the final day of the Pittsburgh series. A potential big day for the journeyman arm to solidify his playoff chances. They could let Waino grab a couple innings that day but I doubt it. It will most likely be Lyons and Carlos Villanueva.

*If this is the end of the line for Martinez, what an entry into the land of major league starters. A bright future lies ahead for this man and that’s part of the reason you shut him down today and cut short his 2015 contributions. He’s young, raw and has never approached this amount of innings. The innings load may have simply worn down his right arm and shoulder. The hope is nothing lingers. No surgery is needed so Carlos can just come into spring and go right at it. He threw 179.2 innings, compiled a 14-7 record and struck out 184 batters to 63 walks in 29 starts. He finished with a flurry in September before the injury.

*The Cards can handle this folks. The 2015 team are built for rough cracked roads and uncharted waters. They have won 97 games without starters all over the field. This setback won’t slow them down. Martinez’s fire will be missed but he will still be around, building cups and smiling. The team will be hindered yet trudge on. They’ve been doing it all year.

Feel sad about the loss of one of the most exciting pitchers in the game but also know the Redbirds have this covered. If this injury manages to cripple them, this display of resilience will be all for nothing. There are 8 games left in the regular season. Then, it’s the fight to 11 wins and a 12th championship. While he won’t see the end, Carlos Martinez helped team get there by blowing everybody’s expectations out of the water. From a maybe 5 inning guy to arguably the ace of this staff. What a season. It’s been cut short but that doesn’t mean the sweetness of his season loses any of its flavor. The future of Carlos Martinez is too valuable to risk for one postseason.

As they say, play ball. That’s all you can do in this game.

The Lance Lynn experience

I’ll be honest. Watching Lance Lynn pitch isn’t easy.

LynnWhen I think of Lynn on the mound, I think about Joe Cocker’s classic tune, Have a Little Faith in Me. Every time he throws 30 pitches in an inning, it plays in my head. Every time a hitter fouls off continuous inner half fastballs, it plays in my head. Have a little faith in a man known for throwing primary fastballs towards the plate for 6-7 innings every 5 days. Lynn doesn’t wish to fool hitters and that’s why he’s a hard pitcher to watch. He takes the mound, gets the ball and changes speeds on the dial of his heater for a couple hours. He may mix in a curve or a change, but they are salad dressing on his chef salad assortment. He lives and dies by his four seam fastball and two seam cutter.

In 2015, it’s been a struggle for Lynn, especially in the second half. In his last 7 starts coming into today’s tumultuous match at Wrigley, Lynn’s ERA was 5.70 with 18 strikeouts and 17 walks in only 30 innings with a WHIP of 1.77. You can’t chalk that up to a lack of run support or who is catching Lynn behind the plate. That is a lack of effectiveness from a starting pitcher who turned a corner in 2014 with a brilliant second half ERA of 2.22 after experiencing setbacks in previous closing season grinds.

Friday, Lynn walked six in 3.1 innings against the Cubs, allowing 3 earned runs and 3 hits with 77 pitches thrown. 77 pitches for 9 outs. The Wrigley start epitomizes a rough bookend for the veteran righthander. When you look at his 2015 opening start at Wrigley(6 innings, 1 earned run, 87 pitches) and the September 18th start, it’s hard to not notice the stains on the window of his season.

Is something wrong medically with him? Is it the notorious blister on his pitching hand? Is it a groin injury? The ankle turn he dealt with in August? Hard to tell. His velocity doesn’t appear to be diminished but the performance just hasn’t been there. Is it fair to have faith in Lance Lynn, defend him, criticize him or outright bash him at this point?

For now, hold the bashing and the brick wall defense and be worried about this recent trend because time is running out. This is rough but can be turned around with a couple efficient starts. After Carlos Martinez suffered a rough patch, he bounced back. Can Lynn do that? Why not? This isn’t exactly Don Draper drinking stupor territory but it’s also just baseball related stumbles.

The six month grind can get a pitcher. After he exited the game, Lynn unleashed a verbal tirade on the home plate umpire for a zone he didn’t like. You just don’t see that from the man. He may shout, scream and show emotion on the pitching mound but rarely loses it on an umpire once he leaves the game. Today the game of baseball got to Lynn in a way fans rarely witness.

The better question is does this rough patch cost Lynn a postseason rotation spot? The Cardinals sport a historically great rotation that will be hard to trim down when October 6th hits. Do you keep Lance Lynn in a four man rotation and boot out someone else? If so, who do you take out? Martinez? That’s an electric arm to pin down. Jaime Garcia isn’t a reliever and shouldn’t be. John Lackey is arguably the most valuable starter in the group and Michael Wacha has looked like a stopper recently.

Where does Lynn fit in? This isn’t a time to bring up who was pro-Lynn and anti-Lynn back when or where they are now. This is about finding the best four man group to win a World Series win. There are many reasons to love Lance Lynn and I’ve written about it. However, it’s hard to not see the downward trend in his second half performance. What do you do with a struggling pitcher if he exits the season in a funk and you only need four guys in a playoff rotation?

Lynn has three starts remaining, barring any juggling of the rotation. He starts tonight against Cincinnati at home, at Pittsburgh and at Atlanta to finish the season. All three will be crucial in figuring out where his playoff status lies.

Love or hate Lance Lynn, it’s never easy watching the man pitch but it’s no time to give up on the pitcher.

Why can’t Cardinals fans appreciate Lance Lynn?

Tonight’s starter for the St. Louis Cardinals is Lance Lynn. You may have heard of him. He pitched for Ole Miss and likes to throw a heavy assortment of fastballs at various speeds. Up, down, and all around. He occasionally throws a curve because he gets bored or while he refills the propane tank for the next inning’s cheddar assault.

The thing about Lynn is that he drives fans crazy with his starts. He throws a lot of pitches early, works long counts, gets a ton of contact and occasionally gets dinged up. Does that warrant the complaining and “Lynning” tweets? Let’s dig in.

Lynn’s fielding independent earned run average is 3.17, which leads the team(if you exclude Jaime Garcia due to a lesser amount of starts). So I ask, is the discomfort with Lynn warranted or does it connect to his unorthodox manner of recording outs? He isn’t easy to watch but gets the job done with his own two hands the most.

Lynn wins. it can’t be denied. Since he picked up a baseball and starting slinging heaters for the Cards on June 2nd, 2011, Lynn has won games. His 58 games since account for a 61% win rate, and he is on pace for less than his usual 15 wins this season due to a lack of run support. Unlike his rotation colleague Michael Wacha, Lynn doesn’t get the steady diet of 5-6 runs. While Wacha got 10 runs in his Sunday victory in San Diego, Lynn got zero in his last start against the Giants on Tuesday. With a few more runs of support, Lynn would have at least 11 wins right now. Instead, tonight he vies for win #10 in Arizona.

Lynn’s strikeouts per nine innings is at its highest peak this season, sitting at 9.6. His strikeouts to walks ratio is 2.92-1, also his best in years. His ERA+ is 132, and 100 ranks as average. That is adjusted to the player’s ballpark to more accurately showed how much damage Lynn takes. He has faced 577 batters in 2015 and struck out 25% of them, which is an impressive stat.

Lynn is durable but doesn’t go deep into games. He’s only missed a couple starts this year, an occurrence that may hold him from reaching 200 innings. He has pitched 7 or more innings only 6 times in 23 starts. At 134.1 innings with roughly 8 starts to go before the end of the season, Lynn would have to dig deeper into games to reach 200. Still a durable man who has escaped major injury.

He’s a beast and doesn’t care or hinge on pitch counts. With all the close observation on Wacha and Carlos Martinez in 2015, Lynn regularly throws 100 pitches in a start. 17 out of his 23 starts, Lynn has thrown 100 pitches. Lynn has thrown 115 or more pitches in a start six times. He’s old school. He lets his emotions fly and has learned to harness his rage and also craft a fine post game media game. While the beast may not be tamed on the field, Lynn has evolved over the five seasons in the Majors as a man and pitcher.

So, why can’t the man get the love from his fans? He doesn’t have the child like adorable phenom combo of Martinez He hasn’t had the playoff sensation of Wacha. He doesn’t have the Lackey experience. Unlike Garcia, Lynn needs to work harder for his outs. Any of these sound justified? Yes and no.

Last week, I was asked about a playoff rotation and my four man set didn’t include Lynn. You know how bad I felt and how incomplete it sounded. The rest of my day was thrown off. I wrestled with the idea. I kept asking myself, how can I leave Lance “The Motorized Fastball” Lynn out of my rotation? It’s either him or Martinez and realistically speaking, Lynn will be in the playoff rotation over Martinez. You never know. There’s five weeks left.

Here’s how much I do know. Don’t underestimate Lance Lynn. Appreciate him. He doesn’t make it look easy every time out but he defines the reason why “wins” are overrated in this game. His WAR(wins above replacement) sits at 2.3, which is above average. He has the ability to get outs without his defense. His salary in from 2014 to 2015 did rise from $535,000 to $7,000,000. There are expectations with Lynn there and it’s okay to judge and be critical of his poor outings. At this point in his career, he most likely won’t change much.

Just remember this. When it comes to Lance Lynn, one can’t forget about the big picture appeal of this Indiana product. It won’t be easy for Mike Matheny to leave him out of the playoff starting rotation hustle.

2013 St. Louis Cardinals: Top 5 Stories

image

There comes that time of the year where you need to look back on a season and count the topical story lines that resonated with you.   Big or small, personal or professional, it is one’s job to put their own spin on a story and how it surprised them or brought them closer to the sport.   This season, the St. Louis Cardinals made it to the World Series and came within 2 wins of their 12th World Championship.

This is a season where we saw unlikely players turn into star performers.  Before the new year came into focus, the Cards were hoping on Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia to be key starters, for Jason Motte to be their closer and for Rafael Furcal to make a miraculous comeback from an elbow injury to play shortstop.   In short, that didn’t happen.  None of that happened.  With the exception of Garcia making a few starts, those players ended up contributing nothing.   This is where miracle workers came into play.

Nearly two months after the sting of that near victorious run ended, I look back at the top 5 stories, in no particular order, from 2013.

1.)The Emergence of Matt Carpenter

With Furcal gone, Matt Carpenter turned in one of the most historically prominent seasons by a second baseman, made all the more legendary with it coming from a first time lead off man and second baseman.   Carpenter ranked in the top 5 in the league in hits, doubles, on base percentage, and runs scored.  With his 55 doubles, 199 hits and 126 runs scored, Carpenter did more fill a role and spot in the lineup.  He took ownership of it.  Before the season, Carpenter had been a fine bench player in 2012 but no one expected him to become the league wide threat he was in 2013.  This is another great find, sign and put to use piece of talent by the Cardinals coaches and front office.  While incoming talent like Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos might make fine leadoff men, it will be hard to push Carpenter from that spot in 2014.

2.)Edward Mujica Rescues the Closer Role

Sure he flamed out in September, but let’s not forget what Edward Mujica did for the Cardinals.   When the fire alarm sounded in April with Motte’s Tommy John Surgery and Mitchell Boggs’ implosion, the Cards had a serious problem.   They didn’t have a closer and saw limited options in house.  Instead of making a desperate premature move on the market, the Cards looked to a guy they signed to be their 7th inning guy in 2012 and had never closed before.   All Eddie did was convert 37 of 41 saves while only walking 5 hitters in 64.2 innings.   Sure, he wasn’t as effective in September when a few injuries and harder contact from the hitters doomed his season and saw a change happen in the final week of the season.  However, far too many Cards fans forget to mention what this guy did for the team in a dire time.  While Trevor Rosenthal was the imminent revelation, what Mujica did took everyone by surprise.   All hail the Chief and good luck to him in Cleveland.

3.)Waino Finds His Way Back

After a tumultuous return from Tommy John Surgery in 2012, where he went 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA and was inconsistent, the staff ace found his way back to the circle of domination in 2013.  He went 19-9, made 34 starts, pitched 241. innings(not including the playoffs) and tallied 5 complete games with 2 shutouts.   He returned to being the dynamic rotation horse we have come to know him as.  After signing a huge contract extension, Waino didn’t cool off and become ordinary.  He went back to being extraordinary for a St. Louis Cardinals team that lost two prominent starters before the All Star Break.   After a rough early September start against the Reds, Waino finished the final month 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA.  In 2013, the Cards got their ace back.

4.)Michael Wacha and Matt Adams Became Real Deals

These two players turned into big time contributors in a time of need in 2013 and provided only a sample size of the rookie renaissance that happened with this team.  Wacha came up for the second time in late August and entered the rotation for good in September.   What Wacha did will never be forgotten.  His brilliance lies in the ability he showed to shut down good team more than once in such a short period of time.  His work against the Pirates and Dodgers in the playoffs, which followed a near no hitter against Washington in September, is why people are calling him the hybrid of Waino and Chris Carpenter.  Wacha, who was selected with the pick from the Angels in exchange for their signing of Albert, went from big potential to the real deal in less than a season.  Expect big things from him in 2014 and beyond.

Adams took over at first base for an injured Allen Craig in early September after providing bench pop and gave the lineup a real boost.   Adams took flight in the same game he relieved Craig, on September 4th in Cincinnati.  He launched a pair of 2 run home runs, each in extra innings and the second of which won the game in the 16th frame.  In 296 at bats in 2013, Adams hit 17 home runs and drove in 56 with a slugging percentage of .503.   He also proved to be quite nimble at first base.  With him in line for starting time come 2014, Adams gives the Cards potentially one of the best RH-LH combos at a position in a long time.  However it pans out, Matt Adams became a legit threat in 2013 after teasing us mildly in 2012.

5.)Thank You Carlos Beltran

When he was signed in the winter of 2011(or mere days after Albert signed with LA), Cardinal fans didn’t know what to expect out of Beltran.   Sure, he was the former Houston Astros outfielder who torched us in 2004-05 with big hits but this guy looked like he was breaking down and the chances of him staying healthy were sketchy at best.   What happened was too good of a story to believe at first glance, as Beltran ripped 56 home runs, drove in 181 runners, and hit .282 over the two seasons.  Most importantly, he played in 296 of a possible 324 games.  He answered the call of duty and then some in his time in St. Louis.   In the playoffs in each season, Beltran was the Cards top hitter.  While he had months where he slumped, Beltran always came back with a vengeance and gave the Cards one of the most feared arms in the outfield.   “Saved By the Beltran” became a coin phrase in the latter moments of 2013 as he gunned down runners at the plate and hit timely home runs.   He was a great presence in the community and also a strong presence in the clubhouse.  He will be missed in 2014 but I wish him luck in his endeavors and thank him for making the departure of Albert Pujols look seamless.

That’s all I got.  Sure, there were other great stories, but those 5 stood out to me.   Those 5 things were so important to us getting there.  Yadi Molina was amazing again and MVP worthy.  Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness and Rosenthal became bullpen bulldogs.  Matt Holliday provided another solid season.   Craig was amazing before his injury and played on one leg in the playoffs as he contributed a few big hits.   Mike Matheny juggled injuries, problems, raw talent and ever changing circumstances as good as any manager in the league.   A lot of things happened this season that were important and good.  The 5 stories I listed above were the best in my mind.  Take it for what it is.

Photo Credit-www.newsday.com 

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Dan Buffa is the co-creator, administrator and writer for the movie website, film-addict.com. He also writes for the local blog United Cardinal Bloggers in addition to Arch City Sports and also writes for his personal blog, http://www.doseofbuffa.com.   He is a STL born and raised writer with a need to inform and the ability to pound out 1,000-1,500 word pieces with ease.  When he isn’t writing or drinking coffee, he is spending time with his wife and son in South City.  Follow him at @buffa82 on Twitter and reach him for thoughts, comments and general feedback at buffa82@gmail.com.

The Cards’ Last Stand

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Here we are, Cardinals fans.  Nearing the end of another amazing, intriguing, emotionally draining and all together viciously entertaining season of baseball.   For me, no other sport stirs up my emotions and drives me insane quite like the game of baseball.   Maybe it is the way they play it.  Maybe it is just the experience I have watching it and the memories that bleed into the present day.   Casual fans and non followers look at me in disbelief at how screwed up I can get watching baseball.  My dad, wife, and a few of my friends have the ability(and YES it is an ability) to simply watch, turn it off and move on.  I carry every loss around like a bad habit and break down every win.  It’s what I do.   It doesn’t matter if I find a job in sports journalism or driving a forklift in a warehouse(I can tell you which one is more likely), I will always come here and dish my take.  Whether you agree or not, all I ask for is that you appreciate and respect it.  I know only one way.  Blunt and unfiltered.

Here’s where my mind is on the eve of Game 6 of the 2013 World Series-

  • Pitching to David Ortiz is futile.  A man with a .742 batting average and who is known for delivering crushing blows to opposing teams doesn’t deserve a strike to be thrown his way, so my memo to Cardinal pitching is, outside…outside…outside.   Throw it to the backstop or roll it up to Yadi Molina.  Don’t let Ortiz help send you home unless you are flying home to a parade and a trophy awaits you.
  • Offense, light it up please.  The time is now to create one of those 2 out running scoring barrages.  The best offense in the NL needs to show up once in this World Series.   Don’t let Boston have all the fun.  We have scored 13 runs in 5 games in this series, and one came on an obstruction call that will paint Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks in odd baseball history for years to come.   Simply put, our bats haven’t produced more than 5 runs and have been held to 1 run twice.  That’s just not acceptable.  Let me say this. The Cards approach is bizarre.  Against a powerful hard throwing guy we will be patient.  Against a soft tossing hurting pitcher, we will be over aggressive and help him out.  When it comes to hitting, approach is everything.   Tonight, John Lackey is going to be firing that 94 mph fastball towards the strike zone.  He isn’t crafty like Jon Lester.  He dishes it up there and hopes you are stupid or ill-equipped to handle it.   Tonight, be aggressive.  Stop staring at called third strikes.  It’s bad for your resume.   Go for it.  Show up.  Destroy this Red Sox team in front of their own fans and put the pressure back on them in Game 7.   Their pitching is good but not this good, guys, so go after them.
  • Giving Michael Wacha a lead is important.   The kid can loosen up and fire more fastballs if he knows the bats have his back.  We have asked this kid to be Rambo this postseason.  Go into enemy territory and rescue the team from expected death.  Wacha has been amazing and will be World Series MVP if we pull this off.   He has been absolute NAILS for the entire postseason and he deserves a 4-0 lead for his month long efforts.  The Red Sox got one big hit from Ortiz in Game 2 off Wacha and that is it in 6 innings.   My feeling is an unconventional one in that Wacha will adjust more to their lineup than they will to him.
  • David Freese, do something with you life.   The pride of IMOS and St. Louis past glory needs to deliver a hit tonight.   For the love of baby jesus, take the ball to right field.   Be your old self.   Be the guy from 2011 or 2012.  Those guys were good hitters.  This 2013 nonsense needs to stop.  Freese could be playing his final game for the Cards.  Get over it, ladies.  He is arbitration eligible and will probably want too much to come back.   True or not, make tonight count Freese.  You have done little in this postseason worth remembering.  If you become lethal, this lineup looks pure doom for Boston’s pitching.
  • Here is something I can’t get out of my head.  Mike Matheny didn’t help himself by allowing his loyalty to burn him in this series.  I love the guy and most of his moves are good but his roster moves this postseason are amateurish.  You are facing a powerful team with a very good left-handed basher and you don’t load up your pen with lefties.  Here is my problem.   Ortiz has gotten to Randy Choate’s slow toss pitching and burned Kevin Siegrist’s high octane heat.   This is where Sam Freeman comes into play.   He has decent heat on his fastball and has a sweeping slider/cutter that moves away from lefties.   He could have been the ideal matchup for Ortiz but no, instead, we have Shelby Miller and Edward Mujica riding the bench and soaking up roster spots.   This is where loyalty needs to be broken for logistics.  He is hurting his bench as well, with a good pinch hitter in Tony Cruz being off limits due to his catching insurance behind Yadi.    A smart move would have been adding Rob Johnson to the roster so Cruz can be used in a pinch hitting role.  Instead, we have limited options in our bullpen and bench.  Thanks Matheny for being loyal but you failed here.   The inclusion of Shelby Miller and Edward Mujica on the roster takes away two valuable fresh players from this team.  Instead of strengthening his roster with worthy players, Mike Matheny got sentimental.
  • Shane Robinson needs to start tonight.  He hits RH pitchers very well and at this moment, is the best option for CF.   He plays better defense and is hitting just as well as Jon Jay.  I could root for the speed demon redemption seeking Kolten Wong to start at second, but I won’t get greedy.  Start Sugar Shane.
  • What has went wrong this series?  A few things.  The little things that pushed our locomotive forward all season are starting to show signs of wear and tear. Once unbreakable relievers Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist are capable of getting rocked suddenly. David Freese is incapable of getting a big hit. Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso can’t buy hits.  Lester has been better than Wainwright this series.  Our RISP has dropped dramatically.  Utility players like Johnny Gomes and David Ross have beaten Cards pitching at bad times.  The flipping point to me is still Lance Lynn being pulled for Seth Maness to face Gomes in Game 4.  Since then, it has been a fight.

We can only hope the delay in the trip to Boston last night had more to do with bat retrieval than mechanical failure. This team has barely hit. We haven’t put on display a barrage of hits yet in this series.   Defense and pitching wins games, but tonight the Cards bats need to provide a little magic in order to support their rookie pitcher and save the series.

Will the Cardinals offense show up or will we fall short of greatness?

If we fall, ladies and gents it has been fun. Every season it seems I make new friends and build great conversations through my doses, activity on twitter and facebook. Sports can be the greatest connective tissue in life.  Thanks for mixing it up and reading.

Go Cards!

-Dan L. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

PHOTO CREDIT-THE GUARDIAN