Stephen Piscotty: Silent but deadly

Stephen Piscotty has been quite the addition since his arrival on July 21st. How exactly is he enduring at the plate?

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Stephen Piscotty is all business. He doesn’t talk much. The St. Louis Cardinal rookie outfielder doesn’t get too emotional, loud or particularly down on the baseball field. After all, this kid has discipline in spades. During this past offseason, he went back to Stanford and completed his degree in Engineering. Baseball just comes easy, and while the pressure is as prevalent as it is for any 24 year old, Piscotty doesn’t let it show on the field.

While General Manager John Mozeliak’s deadline acquisition of Brandon Moss brought out the critics(including myself), Piscotty has been the real key acquisition in 2015. Where would the offense be without this kid? Since he showed up on July 21st, Piscotty has collected 71 hits in 227 at bats(.313) and put together an OPS(on base+slugging percentage) of .872. After a white hot start, Piscotty slumped a bit but he has endured at the plate while providing steady defense all over the field.

First, he’s a smart hitter. He takes a good at bat and has an easy going fluid swing at the plate. He doesn’t get cheated but he also doesn’t swing at everything. For a team with three strikeout kings(Mark Reynolds, Randal Grichuk, Moss), Piscotty is a breath of fresh air. His bat is the logical professor to the other windmill type sticks. He only has 54 strikeouts(23 %) in 2015.

Second, Piscotty can hit anywhere in this lineup. He can hit #2 and be a good jumpstarter for offense or he can supply power(as seen by his 7 home runs and 26 total extra base hits). He can also be a middle of the order bat due to his ability to not only drive in runs, but do what is necessary to get an important run home. In a game against Atlanta last weekend, Piscotty didn’t over swing or try to do too much. He simply lifted a ball deep enough to right field to score the winning run. He doesn’t swing at the first pitch and will make a pitcher earn his stripes.

Third, Piscotty is flexible in the field. He can play left field, right field and also take reps at first base if Reynolds and Moss start to whiff like golf balls are being thrown at them. He played the infield in college and played at first the week before he was called up, so Piscotty isn’t secluded to the outfield. Part of the reason he found himself in St. Louis was his ability to move around. He’s stayed in the lineup because of his steady bat. Unlike Xavier Scruggs, Piscotty’s bat doesn’t seem to be slowing down or powering up. It’s just getting smarter with each trip.

Fourth, the Cards need him right now. Moss has pop, but his bat can go silent at times. Part of the reason Mo didn’t have to go big at the deadline was the promise of Piscotty and wanting him to play every day. A bigger bat comes in here(especially a rental) and the kid may sit more than the team wants him to. With Matt Holliday and Jon Jay out for a significant period of time and other Memphis outfield options pursued or tapped out, Piscotty is the last known quality prospect that was ready to roll up I-55. He will get his shot.

Piscotty is the perfect foil for Grichuk’s power. Here you have a pair of young gun renegades who are getting full time slots to help a championship caliber team bulldoze through the tireless months of the season. Another farm system assisted tool on display. The latest example of The Cardinals working in house to solve major leaks and issues. If people want a #1 reason for Mo not seeking a bigger bat at the deadline, remember guys like Piscotty and Grichuk. They aren’t doing that bad filling in the holes in offense.

As quiet as he is and choice with his words, Piscotty’s bat has done more than enough talking thus far.

Tommy Pham: Talent realized at last

The Tommy Pham effect has finally been realized in the second half of the 2015 season. Here is the plan moving forward.

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Getty Images-Ralph Fresco

Tommy Pham has been freed. He’s in the lineup everyday as if it was as automatic as hitting the brew button on your morning coffee machine. The 27 year old “rookie” is swinging a hot bat and by hot I mean white crispy burning special.

On the Cardinals last road trip, he managed to crank three home runs in three straight at bats, something that hadn’t been done by a Cards rookie in quite some time. Ask Tim Trokey for the details. I’ll just tell you what the juicy part of this steak looks like. Each home run was a 2 run game changing blast. Each one was a no doubter. These aren’t Yankees Stadium cheap shot right field corner goners. These are Keanu Reeves’ like waves of baseball euphoria.

Pham hit a two run home run in Milwaukee that was so stunning that Fox Sports Midwest play by play guy Dan McClaughlin could only manage 3-4 “wow’s” in his reaction.

Pham has been a curious case this summer for the Redbirds. He started the year brilliantly in spring training, hitting everything but the beach down in Florida. Then he injured his quadriceps and went missing for months. He returned to Memphis in June and started hitting everything but a blues guitar down there in Tennessee. I didn’t heart any tornado warnings down here in Arkansas but it was apparent Pham was tired of being the “what if” guy who couldn’t stay healthy.

When the Cards were in a rough patch in early July, Pham was called up to face the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium, right around the Fourth of July. Pham created some fireworks that weekend. On Saturday, he collected a double, stole third base and scored the game winning run on a sac fly. On Sunday, Pham smashed a two run home run and an RBI double to provide all three runs for the Cards. In a weekend series win, Pham played a part in every single run the Cardinals scored. That’s a game changing player.

Pham cooled off in the next 10 games, going 5-33 and striking out a bit against the Cubs, Pirates and Mets. After being sent back down to Memphis, where baseballs were surely not happy to see him back in town, Pham was called back up on August 17th. After a quiet 1-9 in San Francisco, Pham went off in San Diego and Arizona, going 11-26 with a double and two triples. When Pham is on, he shoots the ball all over the field. After collecting hits in the next couple games, Pham would only start twice in the next week. With the return of Jon Jay, Pham’s time was unfortunately limited.

After a game in Milwaukee, speaking to FSM reporter Pat Parris, Pham said he had many dreams growing up and this was only one of them. The man isn’t a young spring legged outfielder anymore, but he sure is playing like one. Pham will be 28 years old in March, isn’t arbitration eligible until 2018 and can’t be a free agent until 2021. This is only the beginning.

In his last 15 games, Pham is hitting .342 with an OBP of .366 and a .868 slug(.500 is pretty damn good). He’s 13-38 in that span with 4 home runs and 12 RBI. In the month of September, 9 of Pham’s 15 hits have gone for extra bases. Over the last three wins, the rookie has played a part in every game deciding play. He drove in the tying and go ahead run in last night’s 3-1 win. He’s white hot right now and can’t be moved.

So here is the Pham plan. He plays. No matter what. Pham can take over a game with his versatile set of skills and that comes in the field and at the plate. Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday need to be 100% before they bump Pham off the starting lineup. Jay hasn’t hit all year, and is only 8 for his last 41 at the plate. Jay is not as good as Pham defensively and his bat isn’t even close. Pham has now risen above Peter Bourjos and Jay on the need to play now depth chart, and Mike Matheny has to understand that.

This is no time to get guys like Jay going. This is a time to play the hot bats. With 17 games left and the Pirate and Cubs refusing to go away, guys like Pham are needed in an offense that can go stagnant. When the time comes, Grichuk and Holliday will get their at bats and that’s fair. As long as it doesn’t diminish the Pham effect, the Cards will keep riding high. He hasn’t just played himself onto the 2016 team. Pham has played himself into consideration for the postseason roster. If you are in doubt, go back and watch the San Diego series at Busch, or the games in San Diego, Arizona, Cincinnati or Milwaukee. He’s a force to reckon with. You don’t sit that down on the bench.

The Tommy Pham Plan is simple. Play him until he, not rehabbing players, gives you a reason not to.

What the return of Randal Grichuk means to the Cardinals

The return of the Cardinals top “theme park ride” spells excitement.

You hear that? The roller coaster is getting put back on the tracks. Ladies and gents, Randal Grichuk has returned after an 18 game absence. Suddenly, from the shadows of doubt, disbelief and an unknown rehab schedule, the Rosenberg, Texas product is stable again. I couldn’t have been more surprised looking down at my phone and seeing the press release. Where was the timetable? The elbow strain that was combustible for weeks but now is back in session. What does Grichuk mean to this team when healthy? Randal’s impact to this Cardinals’ lineup when healthy is comparable to a new ride opening at Six Flags. Just watch and admire.

Randal ExperienceAnother smoking gun waiting for his chance in what is expected to be a closely contested game at Busch Stadium. He is one of the few players on this team that can’t make the starting lineup yet still linger just as deadly. Clint Hurdle will be thinking about Grichuk the entire night. That’s the Grichuk effect in a nutshell. An oncoming storm that you must prepare for in advance. The kid can fail to get the sweet spot of the barrel on the ball and still hit out to right center field for a home run. That’s how good he is.

What was he doing before his elbow barked on August 16th? Have you seen the movie, Action Jackson?!!!? Grichuk was among the top rookies in baseball with 15 home runs, 44 RBI, and a .561 slugging percentage. In 289 at bats, Grichuk had an unreal 43 extra base hits. With a full slate of 550 at bats, Grichuk would end up with 75-80 extra base hits. He’s a special kind of lethal.

The drawbacks aren’t hard to recognize. His 97 strikeouts in the same low number of at bats(34 percent) signal a kid still getting to know the strike zone. A student with a few credit hours to go before he graduates from the Sombrero watch. It’s also important to remember the ripe young age of Grichuk(24 years old). With only 399 at bats to date, Grichuk has plenty of time to cut down on the strikeouts but here’s the fun part. The explosive bat will not go away any time soon. He’s learning to take outside heaters to right field and lay at least one slider per four sent to the plate. If this is a learning curve, what does the finished product look like next year?

Matt Holliday and Matt Adams are also expected back this month, but Grichuk’s bat brings the most excitement. The Cardinals have plenty of on base specialists. They need the cannon inserted into the middle of the sparklers to ignite everything. That’s Grichuk in a nutshell. Ignition.

What’s my lineup when Grichuk is ready? Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty, Jhonny Peralta, Jason Heyward, Randal Grichuk, Yadier Molina, Matt Adams, and Kolten Wong. That’s a layered explosive device that will be set off at Busch before the homestand is over.

The Cardinals offense has found its way in the past two weeks but could use a boost. Now with Grichuk back, the run production should only increase. Sitting with 92 wins, the best team in baseball is only going to get stronger in the next few weeks. How hard it must be to witness from the outside of The Lou?

The appeal of Grichuk is universal and even appeals to the casual baseball fan, like my wife. When I asked her where Grichuk should hit, her response was simple. “4th because he’s hot and he can clean up.” Unlike most Cardinals who people have a hard time remembering, Randal Grichuk isn’t easy to forget. He may strike out, hit a 410 foot home run or whiz a single past the pitcher’s ear. All in one night. He’s an experience.

And that experience has returned.

Have a good night and thanks for stopping by.

-@buffa82

7 Ways Matt Holliday can make an impact

After a short return in July followed by another quad injury, Matt Holliday is back and there are many ways he can help. Here’s 7.

imageedit_1_6786761481Health is finally reentering the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse, as Matt Adams is back in the starting lineup and Matt Holliday has been activated from the disabled list. Randal Grichuk has returned and made an impact, and within a week the Cards could be fully stocked with lethal weapons in the field. With the rise of Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, guys like Holliday have been forgotten about a bit this summer. After all, Holliday has only played in 11 games since June 8th. His value can’t be misplaced by even the casual fan, but just how important may have lingered. Here are 7 reasons Holliday can make an impact.

7. He will force weaker bats to be weeded out of the lineup. Slumping bats like Brandon Moss, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos won’t be able to accumulate as many starts with Holliday returning to left field.

6. He will bring a sense of power back to the Cardinals lineup. Sure, 2015 hasn’t been a glamorous season for Holliday bombs(4 in 207 at bats), but everybody knows the big guy’s bat gets extra hot in September and always has the capability to launch one.

5. Love or hate the stat but Holliday likes coming up with meaningful hits. He was among the league leaders in game winning hits the past two seasons. His average with runners in scoring position is .400 with a .733 slugging percentage in 45 at bats in 2015. Over the past three seasons, his average with RISP(432 at bats) is .331.

4. He’s an on base percentage machine. Before he went down this season, pitchers were having a hard time getting this Hulk out. He had a .409 on base percentage when he reinjured the quad on July 29th.

3. He will stabilize the lineup. When you put Holliday back into the 3rd spot, Jhonny Peralta can be moved down and the lineup reloads so to speak. Piscotty can stay at #2 and Peralta, Molina and Adams can shuffle lower in the order. When Holliday was healthy and thriving, this lineup was scoring big time.

2. He likes playing his rivals. From 2012-15, Holliday is hitting .310(269-866) with 38 HR and 155 RBI off his National League division opponents.

1. The effect on the team. Any time you get a well respected veteran climbs back onto the active roster, the entire roster gets a boost. Rookies want to prove their worth and the fellow vets get an extra kick in the butt. The return of Holliday should help the Cardinals in many ways physically but mentally there will be an effect as well.

The N.L. Central has gotten too close for comfort, with the lead dangling down to as low as 2 games before play started in Milwaukee Tuesday. The return of Holliday can have a positive effect on this tiring Cardinals team. Expect the Hulk of Stillwater, Oklahoma to provide some big moments down the stretch once he gets his legs back at the plate.

Leave the power and take the OBP with Matt Holliday

When it comes to Matt Holliday, you leave the power and take the on base percentage. My story on the rehabbing Cardinal.

With the new sensations in town in Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, word on the street is Matt Holliday seems to expendable when it comes to the formation of the St. Louis Cardinals’ outfield this year, next year and beyond. While nobody is asking for the big guy to be traded or sent out, their lineups aren’t highlighting a hitter with some pop and production left in his bat. As Holliday works his way back from his second quad injury in 2015 and an injury plagued season, I’ll warn you. Don’t write off the Stillwater, Oklahoma native just yet.

Piscotty and Grichuk may be the brisket rub of the moment in this town, but they’ve been doing this for less than a season. Their contributions are great and have helped a team carrying an inconsistent offensive attack, but dismissing the idea of Holliday returning is quite humorous considering how this lineup thrives with him in the #3 spot.

It’s true. Matt Holliday doesn’t have the big boom in his stick anymore. It’s doubtful he will reach 30 home runs again. Those days are behind him but that doesn’t render his bat optional. While it’s nice to see Jon Jay making progress and Grichuk starting to do some activities, Holliday is the bat I am looking forward to seeing the most.

The Cards don’t run on power. They run on consistently good at bats and on base percentage. Holliday provides both and has been doing so for years.

People will complain he gets hurt a lot. Wrong. In five of the last six seasons leading up to 2015, Matt Holliday has played in 140 games or more. Holliday is no Tulo. He’s still durable at 35 years of age, and that comes from staying in marvelous physical shape and being smart with his choices.

Leave the power, take the OPS with Holliday. While his slugging percentage has decreased from .525 to .420 this season, his on base percentage still sits near .400. Before he got hurt, Holliday got on base 40 percent of the time. With his healthy .290 average maintaining fuel, Holliday’s OPS is a robust .829 this season. Over the past three seasons, it’s .876, .879 and .811. He isn’t diminishing in overall offensive value, so why hand this man the walker?

I understand transformation and bringing in new players but the kids will have to do more than spark a wire in a hot car during one summer in order to push Holliday to reserve status. He’s going to play when he gets back and he’s going to be here next year and more than likely, the year after that. If that means Matt Adams has to hold off Piscotty at first base, so be it. Competition keeps the kids hungry and the veterans on their toes.

Come postseason time, you’ll want Holliday and his 13 career October home runs. He has a thing for showing up in big moments. The man churns out game deciding hits like John Mozeliak changes bow ties. Sorry he doesn’t make diving catches in the outfield but there’s a guy named J-Hey for that.

Holliday has simply transitioned into a different hitter as his career hits the final strip of pavement. He has went from a power hitting Coors Field resident to an all around Busch Stadium stinger. Holliday still hits the ball harder than most, and his line drive rate is healthy. His plate discipline has never been better than it was this year, with 39 walks to just 44 strikeouts. He’s a smart guy at the plate and in a lineup full of easy 100 strikeout guys this season, that discipline is required.

While it’s normal to talk about the next generation of players, it’s wrong to start writing off Matt Holliday. If he is 100% in September and can contribute, he will play. He’s earned that right. Not to mention the effect he has on this clubhouse as a leader and in the community becoming the face of St. Louis Albert Pujols was before he departed for the West. Holliday can also hold his own in a broadcast booth, but that’s icing on the cake.

Appreciating Matt Holliday in 2015 is a little harder than it used to be, I know. The Baseball Card mafia has to look a little closer and see a guy with some gas left in the tank. Just remember this. Home runs are fascist and Matt Holliday isn’t going anywhere and for good reason.

Which returning Cardinal makes the biggest impact?

The Cardinals have compiled the league’s strongest record despite crippling injuries. Can some of the wounded birds be on the mend and what kind of impact can they provide?

As August ages into its final stretch, I wanted to look at the fleet of returning Cardinals and the impact they could have on the team. Most of the injured squad are hitters and that is something the team sorely needs as the page is turned onto the final few weeks of the season. As the Cardinals sit with a 5 game lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates, any help to an ailing lineup is welcome. Who is coming back and what can they offer?

Matt Adams

Rescue at first! The big guy headed to Florida Thursday for extended baseball activities and could be back in very early September. Adams’ effect is vital due to the inconsistent and quite missing production from first base. Brandon Moss hasn’t taken off, Mark Reynolds has showed a little more life and the Memphis duo of Xavier Scruggs and Dan Johnson provided little pop. Adams, if healthy, could charge this lineup up at a weak spot.

Matt Holliday

Lineup stability! When Holliday goes into the lineup, he offers stability in a number of ways. He is also an on base machine who takes a good bat, stings line drives and is clutch. Holliday’s versatile hitting attack and veteran presence would be a big boost. He could back in mid the 2nd or 3rd week of September.

Jon Jay

Versatility! When healthy, Jay offers Mike Matheny a number of things, including starting all three outfield spots, on base percentage and a steady diet of hits. Jay’s wrist has deflated all of his tools in 2015, so if he is healthy, Jay can ignite this team up and down the order. Keep in mind his career stats, including a .289 batting average and .356 on base percentage. With Jay and Holliday, you get ON BASE beasts. Jay could be extending his activities more this week.

Randal Grichuk

Stand by! He’s on shut down mode right now with elbow soreness and swelling. He can’t do much until the swelling goes away so while it’s only a 15 days disabled list stint listed, I see Grichuk needing more time. Elbow’s are tricky. He could be a mid September lineup guy.

Adam Wainwright

Health concerns abound here! As I noted in a column this week, expecting Waino back this year is a little foolish. He simply doesn’t have the time to get ready. He needs major league starts. He is recovering from a tricky injury, with the Achilles heel. Why rush that when deciding who doesn’t make a playoff start of your current 5 is hard enough? Cancel Waino out for 2015.

Jordan Walden

Unlikely! With the acquisitions of Steve Cischek and Jonathan Broxton, General Manager John Mozeliak was sounding the alarm that Walden and Matt Belisle were not coming back anytime soon. I would be surprised if I saw Walden on a postseason roster much less in September. He’s not throwing right now. See him in 2016.

 

That’s it. The Cards start play in San Diego Friday night with a 77-43 record, the best in baseball. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any leaks in the tank. Returning Cardinals could play a huge role these last 6 weeks.

Should Cardinals fans worry about the Randal Grichuk injury?

Losing a popular theme park ride is never fun for a team, but the Cards will be fine without Randal Grichuk for 15 days.

071815-MLB-Randal-Grichuk-LN-PI.vresize.1200.675.high.54Any time a theme park ride closes down, the people waiting in line get mad and depressed. What it would have been like to ride that thing? Right now, across a hot St. Louis, St. Louis Cardinals fans are disheartened by the idea of the Randal Grichuk experience being closed until September. The talented 25 year old rookie of the year candidate is going on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. The complete severity of the injury is unknown, but the warning signs are enough for the team to act quickly after the MRI this morning. Should the fans freak out?

The answer is no. Grichuk, while impressive and durable with the bat, wasn’t powering this offense singlehandedly. This moderate attack doesn’t operate on one boom stick anymore. Grichuk was essentially a sniper in a band of versatile weapons that scratch out just enough runs to help out the best pitching staff in baseball. They still have Stephen Piscotty and Jason Heyward out there(who combined for three home runs Sunday), and Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta have handled business this month.

Grichuk’s power will be missed. The kind of pop that can turn a silent Friday game into a quick Cardinals lead like he did with a 2 run home run against the Marlins. A bat that had grown more lethal over the course of the season. One that accumulated 43 extra base hits(21 doubles, 7 triples, 15 home runs) and a .561 slugging percentage. Sure, he had 97 strikeouts(at least 3 multi-K games every ten game set) but he was drawing more walks as the weeks passed by. Grichuk’s lethal ability to crank baseball 100 mph was only improving so the spectacle will be missed.

What happens next? Tommy Pham will come up, be inserted into the roster and have another chance to showcase his skills. Brandon Moss isn’t going to improve sitting on the bench, so the loss of Grichuk gives him renewed time in left field. Jason Heyward, by the looks of today’s lineup, will get some time in center field while Stephen Piscotty moves to a place he is most comfortable at and that’s right field. The next man up mentality will persevere here.

Why should fans not worry? Remember that great pitching. The pitching that the Cards have built their success on this year didn’t lose an arm today. The starters may have lost some run support with the Grichuk injury but the performance doesn’t expect to be diminished.

After all, look at the losses this lineup has faced this season.¬†Matt Adams since late May. Matt Holliday, except for 10 games, since early June. Jon Jay for the past two months(or all season). Peter Bourjos…oh I forgot, he just doesn’t play that much. Grichuk is the latest blow to a team that knows how to roll with the punches.

While the hottest theme park ride in town heads to the disabled list, guys like Heyward and Piscotty can step up and take over now. Aging AAAA talents like Tommy Pham can rise to the occasion. Kolten Wong, rest or not, can hopefully find comfort in the #2 spot. An offense that struggles to score runs no matter who comes or goes will soldier on top of the best pitching in baseball.

Randal Grichuk isn’t gone for good, folks. He’s just hurt and needs time. Keep your head up and enjoy Cardinals baseball. If any team knows how to endure, it’s the Birds.