3 trades the Cardinals could make if Harper says no.

The St. Louis Cardinals are at the forefront of almost all offseason talks.  Bryce Harper,  Andrew Miller, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Brantley and basically anyone that has a pulse have been referenced as potential pickups.  The Cardinals have also been linked as a potential trade candidate for Diamondbacks Star Paul Goldschimdt.  If any of these scenarios were not to play out there are a few options that would make a lot of sense for Mo and Girsch to look into.

Kirby Yates, RP, San Diego Padres

The Cardinals have made it apparent that they are in need of a swing and miss pitcher at the backend of their bullpen.  Yates has quietly been one of the most consistent relievers for a bullpen that has been widely underrated. Yates has posted a staggering 29.% K-BB ranking him 7th among all pitchers that have pitched 40 innings or more. He has two pitches that cause above average swing and miss rates, his split-change (45.9%) and slider (44%).

Yates can fit right into the Cardinals bullpen as a late inning reliever and potential closer.  His contract is also very team friendly as he is controlled until the 2020 season. The Padres have an asset that they can move for more young talent that can help continue their rebuild .  Yates at 31 years old is not a player that the Padres are looking to build anything around.  Take advantage of the situation and get your self a swing and miss pitcher.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

Like the Padres, the Blue Jays are looking at a rebuild.  Rowdy Tellez showed that he is ready for the majors.  That means Smoak will be on his way out. Cardinals fans will have their issues with the Smoak pick up.  Known more for his inconsistency after being a highly touted prospect, Smoak followed up a breakout 2017 season with a respectable 2018 season. Smoak also brings a switching hitting aspect to his game, more effectively from the left side (A need for the Cardinals), from the left side Smoak excelled with a .867 OPS, hitting 20 of his 25 homers.

Smoak doesn’t bring much with the glove sitting at about league average over the last four seasons in defensive runs saved. A team in need of offense, however, could be willing to overlook these drawbacks for a switch-hitter who has created 28 percent more runs (128 wRC+) than the average big league hitter over the last two seasons.The 31-year-old has an .854 OPS and 62 homers over the last two seasons. Good stuff for a guy whose 2019 club option will only pay out $8 million.

David Peralta, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have a litany of great players up for grabs.  The most underrated of them all could be Outfielder David Peralta.  Peralta has seen a jump in power statistics in 2018.

  ISO SLG wOBA wRC+
2017 150 444 342 104
2018 223 516 368 130

The increases led to the most productive season of Peralta’s career.  Peralta has his issues most notably with left-handed pitching, hitting only .237 against southpaws.  It got to the point that Peralta had become a platoon player for the D-Backs.  With a $7.7MM arb projection and two years of club control left for a D-backs team that has looked at some degree of rebuild this winter Peralta is a relatively expensive but reliable piece that the Cardinals can make work.

If the Cardinals are committed to moving on from Dexter Fowler in they can look at a platoon of Tyler O’Neil and David Peralta to compliment Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader. While a platoon is not ideal Peralta will be able to cover the inefficiencies of Tyler O’Neil.

Adding these three players will not make most fans happy.  Cardinal nation is screaming for a big time star.  While we wait and see the outcome of  MLB’s version of “The Decision”, fans have to understand that maybe the big star the fanbase seeks is not in this years class.  Next year Nolan Arenado will be a free agent…..just sayin.

Cardinals 2019 Offseason: Continue the Youth Movement

The dreams of Cardinal’s fans are always big.  We dream of signing the next Albert Pujols, a player that will revolutionize the game and take our team to the championship level that we all assume is so close. Like any dream though we have to wake up.  We have to live in the real world where great players don’t just appear.  As the offseason commences fans want to see an aggressive approach from the front office.  We want to see our teams name in the running for superstars like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.  While I admittedly would love to see either with the Birds on the Bat across their chest I am not going to allow myself to think that this is anything more then just a dream.  The reality is that the Cardinals will not realistically be in the running for either.  So what do we do? The answer:  Build around the youth!

Last season  we saw the progression of the young pitching staff that we had been hearing about for years.  Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber and Dakota Hudson emerged as key pieces in a rotation and bullpen that needed the boost.   Going into 2019 where does this leave the state of the rotation?  I look at it like this

Starters Flaherty, Mikolas, Martinez, Gant, Gomber/Poncedeleon/Hudson

Relievers: Reyes, Hicks, Shreve, Leone, Wainwright, Cecil, Brebbia, Mayers

The Cardinals one addition should be a lock down leftie reliever.  Cash in on one that had a terrible 2018.  Andrew Miller makes a lot of sense for the team. A disappointing 2018 season will leave Miller vulnerable on the free agent market.  A 4.24 ERA in a walk year is a not ideal for someone looking to make it big.  Despite his struggles Miller was still effective against lefties holding them to just a .556 OPS.  Miller also has playoff experience to help out a cast of young relievers.  He can be an assist to a guy like Chasen Shreve whom brings potential but flexibility to move to the minors.  The Brett Cecil deal lingers in the minds of most fans but with Miller in the fold you will be able to utilize Cecil in a lot of less stressful moments.  Not listing Adam Wainwright in the rotation will be tough but this team has to move on and give their young arms a chance. John Gant proved himself to be more reliable in the rotation and a three way fight between Hudson, Gomber and Poncedeleon will give you three guys that have been more effective in the pen if they don’t win the final spot. Put Brebbia in the closer role to start the season, but don’t be locked into it.  Play the matchups and the hot hand.  If Hicks develops a strikeout pitch use him in the ninth.  Trust the young arms.

*Luke Weaver has to prove he can trust his fastball command or he has no place on this team.

Marcell Ozuna didn’t have the year most Cardinal fans had hoped for, but it wasn’t as bad as many perceived.  23 homers and 88 RBI’s was actually more accurate to his career averages.  The Cardinals traded for a player based a 2017 season where he broke out.  His regression had a lot to do with his lingering shoulder injury, but it also had to do with being protected in the lineup by Jedd Gyorko rather then Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. His production drop off hurt but is still on par with what the Cardinals would have gotten from the departed Stephen Piscotty or Randall Grichuk.  Ozuna needs protection, but I don’t believe it should be a free agent outfielder.  There are three targets the Cardinals should consider:

1. Josh Donaldson 2. Steve Pearce 3. Eduardo Escobar

Each of these players has a flaw.  Donaldson is injury prone, Pearce is has been inconsistent, Escobar is unpredictable. But each has what the Cardinals need, power. Adding Escobar and Pearce will give you two player that can play multiple positions and provide late game matchup advantages.  Donaldson should be the clear frontrunner for the Cardinals.  Give him a two year deal and while you let Nolan Gorman develop.  This will give you the MVP bat that you can have until your young star is ready for the majors. This lineup with the pitching they possess could be a huge addition.

Option A Option B
Matt Carpenter, 1B Carpenter 3B
Yadier Molina, C Eduardo Escobar, 2B
Marcell Ozuna, LF Marcell Ozuna, LF
Josh Donaldson, 3B Steve Pearce, 1B
Tyler O’Neil, RF Tyler O’Neil, RF
Paul Dejong, SS Yadier Molina, C
Kolten Wong, 2B Paul DeJong, SS
Harrison Bader, CF Harrison Bader, CF

Let O’Neil get the at bats this season and see what you have.  He strikes out a lot, but no more then players like Kris Bryant did in their first full seasons.  The one asset you have in the minors is young outfielders, it’ time to see what they can bring in a full season.  The Dexter Fowler experience is over.  Put him on the bench and eat the money if you have to. The Cardinals didn’t have a great season, I would love to add a premier bat but to think the they can outbid a bigger market team and convince them to be here is unrealistic.  Build around your youth, add veterans that make sense as you wait for your young bats.

The Cardinals are not far away from being a force.  The depth is there in the pitching staff and the young players are on the way.  Let me know what you think.

ALCS Preview and Pick

It’s not often in sports that the two best teams actually have a chance to meet.  We are lucky enough to have our baseball dreams come true as the defending World Champions the Houston Astros will meet the best team in baseball in 2018 the Boston Red Sox.  No matter who wins this the victor will come out as the favorite in the fall classic.  Let’s break it down.

Starting Pitching- Advantage Houston Astros

The Boston Red Sox are no slouches when it comes to the starting rotation.  Sporting a stud like Chris Sale, former Cy Young winner David Price as well as proven winner Rick Porcello can make any team formidable.  Assuming Porcello stays in the bullpen the Sox can also trot out the talented but inconsistent Nathan Eovaldi or strikeout stud Eduardo Rodriguez.  All are formidable starters for any contending team sporting a combined 3.42 ERA in one of the most offensively gifted divisions in baseball.  In most cases this rotation would be an advantage for any team. But they aren’t playing just any team, they are playing the Houston Astros.

The Astros feature a rotation of All Stars Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton.  Each of them could be a candidate to start Game 1 or Game 4.  Both Verlander and Cole went through the season with sub three ERA’s while Charlie Morton was just on the other side at 3.13, in a time of offense Astros starting pitching has been as dominant as any we have seen in the game.

Both teams have their strengths in the rotation especially with the strikeouts per nine innings ranking first and third.  Houston will look for more from their starters and most likely get more.  The Stros don’t have as many question marks behind their ace as the Red Sox do, that’ why we have to give the rotation advantage to the defending world champs.

Bullpen- Advantage Houston Astros

The Houston Astros will rely more on the ability of their starters.  But the bullpen is no push over Colin McHugh, Tony Sipp, mid season addition Roberto Osuna all have proven themselves as reliable pitchers to say the least.  New weapon Ryan Pressly was a force in the ALDS, establishing himself as a stopper in the middle innings.  The Astros have multiple option to finish games, look for someone to establish themselves as this series goes on.  My money would be on Osuna but it wouldn’t shock me to see Colin McHugh get a few chances to finish off games.

The Red Sox have a few more question marks in their bullpen outside of Closer Craig Kimbrel. To their advantage they sport a bullpen of mostly righties against a lineup that is heavier on the right side.  Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier will play big roles in transitioning the starters to Kimbrel in the 9th.

Both bullpens have strikeout pitchers but the Astros seem more versatile.  They also will mostly likely not ask for nearly as much out of there bullpen, that’s why you have to give the slight advantage to the Astros.

Lineup- Advantage Boston Red Sox

When you have the two best lineups in baseball going against each other it’s pretty hard to pick the best.  Both have speed, power and clutch from the top to the bottom.

The Red Sox may have arguably the best all around player in baseball leading off in Mookie Betts.  His success though is predicated on the fact that you really can’t pitch around him.  Putting him on base is an automatic risk with his speed on the base paths.  Manager Alex Cora will give him the green light to run in almost any count.  Following Betts is a litany of heavy hitters headlined by offseason signing JD Martinez whom has proven himself to be worth every penny he was paid.  The bounce back season for shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been a huge boost to a lineup that already had great depth.  The key for the Reed Sox may be at first base in this series, Steve Pearce has been great since being picked up in the mid season but his specialty is against left handed pitching.  Veteran Mitch Moreland, known more for his glove work, quietly had a solid season.  Cora will be forced to utilize Moreland against the heavy right handed rotation of the Astros.  This lineup has role players that have played their parts to perfection during the regular season and I see no reason they won’t do the same in the ALCS.

The Astros are deep, Alex Bregman has emerged as the star of the team perhaps sooner than what was expected. Bregman lead the Astros in homers, RBI’s, hits and OBP during the regular season and has brought that success into the playoffs.  George Springer continued his post season heroics in the ALDS clubbing three homers off of Indians pitching.  The surprise of the division series was the bat of Marwin Gonzalez.  Gonzalez was a constant headache for the Indians hitting .538 in the series in 13 at bats.  If Gonzalez can continue to hit he will take pressure off of stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.  Until game three of the NLDS Correa had been on a cold streak that forced AJ Hinch to move him down to sixth in the order,  perhaps the three run homer he hit could be the jolt he needs to get back on track.  The Astros will have to go with defensive specialist Martin Maldonado in the lineup rather then the offensive minded veteran Brian McCann due to the speed and aggressive nature of the Boston lineup.

The Astros have a solid offense, especially against lefties were they mash to a team average of .270 and a .803 OPS.  The Red Sox would be smart to counter their efficiencies by moving up Eovaldi and Porcello in the rotation.  That would me having David Price potentially in the bullpen or just getting one start.  On the other hand the Red Sox were able to contain a the second best lineup against left handed pitching the New York Yankees.

Both offenses are good but the edge has to go to the Red Sox lineup because they have to true MVP candidates in the lineup along with great pieces all around them.  They have the ability to bring more speed and power off the bench in roles that they are comfortable with.  This one is close but gotta go with the Sox for a lineup advantage.

 

Who wins?

This series can go either way.  The Red Sox have been the best team in baseball all year but the Astros are built for the post season with dominant pitching and stellar defense at multiple positions.  My heart says Boston but my head says Astros.

Astros in 6.

AL Wildcard Preview

The definition of David versus Goliath takes places in the AL Wild Card Game.  The mighty New York Yankees full of high priced talent vs Money Ball 2.0.  Let’s break it down.

Starter- Advantage Yankees

The Yankees had three solid options going into the Wild Card game, Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ an Luis Severino.  Boone choose the young fireballer Luis Severino to match up with a powerful A’s lineup.  The choice was clear due to the power pithing ability of Severino, the hardest thrower of the bunch.  Against fastballs thrown 97 mph or harder, the A’s xwOBA was a feeble .260, the third-worst mark of any team, ahead of only the Giants (.225) and Rays (.245). Severino has an average fastball velocity of 97-mph.  Unlike Tanaka and Happ, Severino has the ability to miss bats within the strike zone.  The A’s are a team that’s success was based on not chasing out of the zone.  Severino will look to attack their hitters with hard 4-seamers in the zone.

The Athletics decided to take a different approach, relying on their biggest strength which is their bullpen depth. They have chosen to go with an “opener” with veteran Liam Hendricks. Hendriks will be the fourth pitcher to start a postseason game after a winless season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Virgil Trucks started twice for Detroit in the 1945 World Series after returning from World War II.  Don’t expect Hendricks to be in the game long.  Bob Melvin will look to use all of his bullpen assets to matchup with the power Yankees lineup.  With a right handed heavy Yankees lineup this matchup may be ideal for the As bullpen.

Lineup- Advantage Yankees

The Yankees are very right handed heavy with two projected lefties in the lineup, Did Gregorious and switch hitter Aaron Hicks.  Despite being right handed heavy they still have one of the top lineups in all of baseball.  They broke the record for homeruns in a season so… yea they have a little pop up and down the lineup.  The key to the game will be jumping on the A’s early.  McCutchen and Hicks will have to be table setters for Giancarlo Stanton and red hot Luke Voit.

The A’s lineup is no joke.  Khris Davis had a career year and veteran Jed Lowrie has good career numbers vs Severino.  The key to the lineup will be projected lead off man Nick Martini, Martini had an on-base percentage of .397 during the regular season and has performed extremely well in the leadoff spot. If the A’s are going to pull off the upset they will need Martini on base as much as possible disrupting Severino’s flow and forcing projected starting catcher Gary Sanchez to lose focus.  The A’s have the power to put up runs but it will be important to give Davis and Matt Olson a chance to drive in runs with more then just a solo shot.

Bullpen- Advantage A’s?….Maybe

The A’s have enough trust in their bullpen to not name a traditional starter.  We saw in the NL Wildcard game the impact a good starter can have with great performances from both Kyle Freeland and Jon Lester.  But in the end it was the bullpens that may have been most impressive on both sides.

The Yankees have the names at the end, Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Dellin Betances can end the game in the 7th if they have a lead.  But it may be the A’s that truly have this season best reliever in Blake Treinen whom I fully expected to be in the game as soon as Bob Melvin can realistically make the move.  The A’s can match the big priced arms.

I see this game playing out similarly to last years AL Wild Card game.  The A’s may jump out to a lead early but the depth and power of the Yankees lineup will be to much.

Reluctantly I have the Goliath changing the historic fable on this night.

Yankees win 6-4.

NL Wildcard Game Preview

Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs

The Colorado Rockies entered the 2018 NL Wildcard Game with a pretty large disadvantage.  Losing a tough game to division rival LA in the afternoon and having to jump on a plan and go half way around the country to face one of the best playoff pitchers of the last ten year in Jon Lester.  Not only are they facing Lester but they are facing a team that has found themselves in the NLCS the last three years.  Let’s look compare and pick the NL Wildcard Game.

Starting Pitcher- Advantage Cubs or maybe not.

Jon Lester stands out when you compare the two lefties, but is his experience really enough.  Lester has faced the Rockies hitters an astonishing 138 times in his career. The most being veteran Matt Holliday who has crushed Lester to a .467 career batting average.  I don’t know if Bud Black has the confidence to start the veteran in this do or die game but if he did it would make sense when looking at the numbers.  Playing Holiday would most likely mean red hot youngster David Dahl would be taking a seat.  If Holiday does get the start it would not be long before he is replaced for defense or base running.

Rockies starter Kyle Freeland has had a breakout season, the 25 year old lefty went 18-8 with a 2.85ERA.  Quietly establishing himself as a go to starter for Bud Black.  Surprsingly Freeland actually has better numbers at Coors Field then he does on the road sporting a prolific 2.40ERA in the historically hitter friendly park.  Freeland was no slouch on the road either posting just 3.23ERA.  Freeland’s most intriguing stat line is just giving up 6 homers in 103 innings on the road.  Against a powerful Cubs lineup he will need to make sure and limit the damage that can come in bunches.  Kris Bryant has the best numbers against Freeland but the sample size is to small to overreact.

I like the matchup of Freeland vs the Cubs lefties but you can’t ignore the experience of the veteran Lester.  Slight advantage in starting pitching to the Cubbies.  Very slight.

Batting Order- Advantage Rockies

Colorado has pop and speed from 1-7 in their order.  Tony Wolters (assuming he starts) may also quietly have an advantage over Lester, going 2-4 with a walk in 5 career AB’s versus the veteran.  Nolan Arenado is a better hitter the Javy Baez and the Rockies have multiple threats to deal with including a surging Trevor Story and an always dangerous Charlie Blackmon.  I think it is the potential of the bench bats like Gerardo Parra and Matt Holliday that set the Rockies a part from the Cubbies.

The Cubs are no slouches.  Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo are as good a middle of the order that you will have in the league but Baez can be inconsistent and over anxious at times. Bryant will be the key to this game, I can see him being in big spots and coming through against Freeland.  Albert Almora will also play a big factor if he gets the start.

Both lineup are potent but with the lefty on the mound I am giving a slight edge to the Rockies.  Their depth is just a little better, I can also see them trying to take advantage of Lester on the base paths.

Bullpen- Advantage, who knows.

The Rockies spent money in the off season trying to rebuild a bullpen that was not good to say the least.  Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw have not lived up to the money they were paid but they still have the experience in a big game atmosphere to be effective.  With all hands on deck for an elimination game I would not be surprised to see Jon Gray and Adam Ottavino very early in this game.

The Cubs have made it work with their bullpen despite injuries to Pedro Strop and Brandin Morrow.  With the season on the line we could see a quick trigger from Joe Maddon.  Steve Cishek and Justin Wilson will be assets that an be targeted at any point of the game.

Both of these teams have their issues in the bullpen but I have to lean to the Rockies in this situation.  Wade Davis has been bad this year, but he is the most sure thing in a closing roll that either team has.  So advantage Rockies.

Who will win?

This game is tough.  Everything points to the Cubs winning.  They are better rested, have the more proven starter and a veteran lineup.  So, I am going to go with the Rockies.  Colorado will make life hell for Lester on the basepaths and force mistakes.  Joe Maddon is the best hope for Chicago.  His history of making the right decisions in a pinch will make it a great game.

Rockies upset Cubs 6-3.

MLB DFS Lineup- Sept 18

Haven’t posted a DFS Lineup in awhile, but I like a few matchups tonight that I think can be exploited.  May make a few changes once official Lineups come out.  All prices are based off of Draftkings.

P: Jake Odorizzi vs Detroit  ($8,000)

P: Joey Lucchessi vs San Francisco ($7,600)

C: Danny Jansen, Toronto Blue Jays ($3,600)

1B: Ji-Man Choi, Tampa Bay Rays ($4,500)

2B: Joey Wendle, Tampa Bay Rays ($4,200)

3B: Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds ($4,400)

SS: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians ($5,500)

OF: Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers ($4,500)

OF: Kiki Hernandez, Los Angeles Dodgers ($3,900)

OF: Billy Mckinney, Toronto Blue Jays ($3,700)

I like the matchup of Lucchessi vs a depleted Giants lineup.  He has had success against them along with some serious strikeout potential.  Teaming him up with Jake Odorizzi could be great low level cost pitchers allowing you to grab some bigger bats.

The bigger bats I went with wer Francisco Lindor, Lorenzo Cain and Ji Man Choi.  Choi has been crushing the ball especially vs righties this season.  The Rays should be a popular stack playing in Texas and facing the explodable Yovanni Gallardo.

Good luck!

2018 Nationals: What went wrong?

The 2018 Washington Nationals entered the seasons as clear favorites in the National League East race, potentially favorites for the National League Championship.  They would be at the forefront of the baseball world as they were set to host the 2018 All Star Game. With a rotation that featured Stephen Strasburg Gio Gonzalez and Cy Young winner Max Scherzer that Nationals had a rotation that screamed NL crown.  Impending free agent superstar Bryce Harper was going to lead this team to the next level, potentially convincing him to stay in Washington after rather then hit free agency in 2019.  As it so often happens in sports though projections and hype are tough to live up to.The Nationals currently sit one game under .500 at 69-70 a shocking 7.5 games back of the first place Atlanta Braves and 4.5 games behind the second place Philadelphia Phillies. A team projected to win their division by most sits in third and is showing no signs of progression.  We are left to ask, What went wrong?

There have been multiple players that have underperformed for the Nationals in 2018 but we have to point the finger at the guy looking to cash in over the winter of 2019. After a strong start to the year, he’s all but collapsed. Harper posted a .986 April OPS, followed by an .856 May and a .675 June, one of the worst monthly performances of his career. By Baseball-Reference’s numbers, he’s only barely classified as a productive player for the season, with 0.1 WAR. That puts him below the batting value of two of the team’s pitchers. (Scherzer, with 0.3 offensive wins above replacement, and A.J. Cole, with 0.2.) While Harper struggled the team struggled as the Nationals fell below .500 for the first time in the season on July 4th.

Blaming Harper is the easiest route especially for those who believe he is a bit overvalued in today’s baseball standards (I am one of those people).  Injuries plagued this team as well.  Injuries that included former #1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg led to a decline in a starting rotation that seemed to be carrying a sluggish offense. Strasburg’s injury seemed to be the final unravelling of a team that was on the brink of falling a part.  The Washington rotation outside of Max Scherzer fell a part to a tune of 5.36 ERA during the time he was absent. Despite the tailspin Nationals management was not giving up on the season, picking up long time Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera to sure up the back end of the bullpen that has been in question for multiple years.  This signified the commitment to try and make one last run for the playoffs that was quickly dwindling away.

The pick up had little effect on a team that seemed to have all but given up.  As the trade deadline approached Washington saw no hope in continuing its efforts.  Announcing that for the right price Bryce Harper would be up for grabs.  There were no takers for the 25 year old soon to be free agent.  Washington was stuck, a season going no where a star that is sure to leave.  It was team to unload what they could.  Daniel Murphy, Matt Adams, Ryan Madson were all sent packing to teams that were truly contending.  The Nationals 2018 season was all but done.

Moving on from Dusty Baker and solidifying the bullpen was suppose to make this team the better. They followed all the prototypes of a contender, deciding not to resign aging veteran Jayson Werth, calling up phenom Juan Soto, returning Adam Eaton to the lineup.  Everything made sense for them.  But there is something that this team has had trouble with since their move to Washington.  Team chemistry has been an issue.  Fights in the dugout and lack of true leadership has always been an issue.  Bryce Harper is a once in a generation talent, but from the start of his career he has been thrust to a position that only mature players can make work.  He is not a leader, he is just a great player.  Losing Jayson Werth, an under appreciated voice of the locker room with experience as long as his grizzly beard was a lose that people did not take into account.  An inexperienced manager that has never had to make big decisions cost them games down the stretch.  Injuries to a bullpen that was suppose to be “fixed” put them in a situation where they currently only have two players that were on the opening day bullpen.

I am a believer in great talent but sometimes you have to have the veterans around them to make it work.  Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Juan Soto are great talents that you can build around, but they are not leaders.  This team still has a bright future even without Harper in 2019.  Victor Robles would most likely assume his role with the team next year and the return of a strong rotation will put them in the race with the Braves and the Phillies.   This team’s 2018 was a bust but they can have a fresh start next year with a huge shadow of Bryce Harper gone.  Nationals fans will miss their superstar but maybe its better that he is gone.

 

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty to was very vocal in his displeasure with starting the 2018 season in Memphis.  The Cardinals decided to go with an ailing veteran Adam Wainwright instead of their top prospect.  Despite his disagreement with the decision Flaherty went down to Memphis an continued his dominance, going 4-1, 2.27ERA over 5 starts. The injury bug hit the Cardinals allowing them to call up the 2014 first round pick, he took no time at all in becoming the proverbial “Ace” of a potential playoff team.

Miles Mikolas has been the surprise of the 2018 season leading the team in wins and ERA.  He took home the only true All-Star birth for the Cardinals (Yadi in after Posey injury) and has established himself as the regular season MVP of the rotation.  As the playoffs get closer Mikolas has not stood out as the dominant force that Flaherty has.  Flaherty has shown the swing and miss stuff that you see from elite level starting pitching.  Only Max Scherzer (12.09) has a higher K/9 then Jack Flaherty (11.24).  Flaherty also through 5 less starts than Miles Mikolas has 32 more strikeouts.  That’s nearly double the K/9 rate as the pitcher most Cardinal fans would assume would be the starting pitcher of a potential Wild Card game.

The debate from most fans would be that Mikolas is a different kind of pitcher then Flaherty.  He pitches to contact more, throwing more strikes, going longer then Flaherty.  While those attributes are useful int he regular season it’s Flaherty’s ability to make hitters miss that can be beneficial in the big moments.  Similarly the Houston Astros would rather see Justin Verlander then Dallas Keuchel in a make or break moment of the playoffs.  Verlander brings the ability to get out of a tough situation by missing bats rather then hoping for perfect placement.  Flaherty has that ability along with a bulldog demeanor on the mound.  He has the confidence that he can strikeout any hitter in a lineup in any given situation.

The youth movement in the bullpen and in the field has seen great results in the month of August but it has been Flaherty that has taken on the role of staff leader.  Over his last seven starts he is 4-2 with a 2.45ERA, striking out 57 over 40.1 innings.  He has taken control of teams from the very start.  He has forced himself into the conversation for team ace purely by going out and taking it.

With the injuries to Michael Wacha and aCarlos Martinez and the current placement of the Cardinals at leading the Wild Card the question has come up on who would start the potential Wild Card game.  A young team can be motivated by presence and dominance.  A presence on the mound can be a determining factor for a young team.  Flaherty brings that Cris Carpenter intensity along with a dominant repertoire of pitches. He can be the pitcher that this team has been looking for.  The replacement for the great Adam Wainwright at the top of the rotation.  If the wild card game was tomorrow and you had everyone available to pitch the clear choice should be the pitcher that was an afterthought to begin the season.  The answer to the question of who is the Cardinals “Ace” is Jack Flaherty.

Each teams most important player down the stretch!

As the MLB season winds down it is time to find out which teams are prepared for a playoff push or just to get pushed.  There are five teams on the outside of the National League playoffs that will need contributions from players that can give them that push.  Who are they?

St. Louis Cardinals- Paul DeJong

The St. Louis Cardinals have lacked a power bat in their lineup since the departure of Albert Pujols.  Marcell Ozuna was supposed to be that player but has not shown the power of his previous season in Miami.  DeJong’s productions can be a huge contribution to a St. Louis order that tends to struggle to put runs on the board. During the month of August his contributions have been minimal despite the Cardinals beginning to show life winning nine straight games at one point.

As the Cardinals continue to fight their way to a potential wildcard they will need the productions from one of their most powerful forces in the lineup.  Being a player that put his name on the map in 2017 with a ridiculous .333 ISO he has the potential to make a serious impact in the middle of the St. Louis order.   If he can’t pickup the power statistics St. Louis will have a problem scoring runs down the stretch, especially if MVP candidate eventually comes back down to earth.

Milwaukee Brewers- Cory Knebel

The Milwaukee Brewers added a lot of power during the trade deadline.  They didn’t however address one of the needs many thought they would, their starting rotation.  Instead the Brewers will look to get what they can from the rotation and have their strong bullpen figure out the backend.  All-Stars Josh Hader and the reborn Jeremy Jefferess have done their part to keep the Brewers in the race.

2017 breakout Corey Knebel has not found his form during the second half of the season.  He currently holds a second half ERA of 6.75 and has become a liability on the mound.  Knebel has not only had issues with walks but players are have been hitting him hard with a hard hit percentage 11% higher then 2017.  For the Brewers to find their way into the playoffs they will have to rely on their bullpen for 3+ inning most nights.  Knebel returning to his All Star form is the key to their success.

Colorado Rockies- Wade Davis

Positive, Wade Davis has 35 saves in 2018.  Negative, Wade Davis has a 4.99ERA.  The biggest off season signing for the Rockies has had an up and down first season with Colorado but his playoff experience is going to be huge for the young club over the final few weeks of the season.

Davis has seemed to find his way over his last five appearances picking up 3 saves and not giving up a single run in that span.  Those appearances brought his August ERA down to 9.82.  He has to build off of those games as the Rockies have little to no room for late inning blow ups down the stretch.  Davis and the other Rockies bullpen arms have to hold on to leads in order to make them a real threat in the both the wild card and the division hunt.

Los Angeles Dodgers- Walker Buehler

With the lose of Kenley Jansen for an unknown amount of time the Dodgers will have need someone to step up at the backend of the bullpen.  They will also need their starters to step up for more innings down the stretch.  With four veterans Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood in the rotation the one guy that will need to give them a little more length is star prospect Walker Buehler.

Over his last three August starts Buehler has shown the promise that Dodgers brass have banked on coming into the season going 2-0 with a 1.47ERA.  He has also given six innings per start which is all you can ask of a young pitcher down the stretch.  If Buehler can continue to produce solid outings the Dodgers could be in a great spot to overtake the unproven Arizona Diamondbacks in the West.

Philadelphia Phillies- Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana was a surprise offseason signing from the young and thought to be rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies.  His defense and power seemed like a perfect fit for a time on the rise in the NL East.  To the surprise of many in the baseball world the Phillies have been in the thick of the race the entire season.

Santana will have to be the force in the order that the fighting Phils thought they had signed in order to make the playoff push.  With Rhys Hoskins taking on the role of offensive leader, it will be up to Santana to produce enough to force pitchers to throw to Hoskins or pay the consequences.  While Santana has provided some power with 18 homers on the season, the Phillies need to have more consistency day to day.  A .218 average from your four hole hitter will not scare teams enough to pitch to the hotter bats in the lineup.  If Santana can’t find a way to produce the lineup depth for the Phillies ends very quickly.

 

 

Matt Carpenter the best at the top.

Matt Carpenter has entered himself into the National League MVP race over the last two months of the 2018 season after many wrote him off, including yours truly.   I went so far as to write an article about the Cardinals moving Tommy Pham into the leadoff position was what was best for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Just like Carpenter and his salsa I am ready to eat my words.  Carpenter has found himself in this situation while being primarily in the lead off role. His potential MVP status has opened my eyes to the evolution of the lead off hitter as a force in MLB lineups.

Traditionalist have a predetermined idea that a leadoff hitter should be someone with speed. A player that can turn a single into a double or even triple by being on the move. But today’s MLB doesn’t work that way anymore.  Baseball is a game of statistics as well as ever changing dynamics.  Players like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon can change the game with their speed, but they are the leadoff hitters of the past.   The new form of leadoff hitters are players that force a pitcher to be on their game right away or be down by one run.

Today’s leadoff hitters focus more about getting on base and provide much more power.  Look at the impact that George Springer had for the World Champion Astros during their great 2017 run in the playoffs.  Springer was able to jump on get me over fastballs to start the game and put an immediate run on the board.  Lead off hitters now rely on patience and launch angles to beat up on the opposition rather than using their speed.

Look at a list of impactful leadoff men in today’s game and see that there is a new trend in the game.  Joining George Springer are star caliber players like Charlie Blackmon, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Dickerson, and even Bryce Harper have spent time in the leadoff spot for their respective teams.  Managers are beginning to understand that their best hitters will not only be getting more at bats but they will also be in a position to see a few get me over fastballs that can be deposited in the seats.  Instead of pitchers trying to pitch around these players they are forced to pitch to them at least once rather than start a game with a runner on base.

Matt Carpenter is currently leading the National League in homeruns. While a large portion of those homeruns are solo shots he is still making an impact from the lead off position.  What is overlooked is that he has the protection of the middle of the order forcing pitchers to throw to him.  The worst thing a pitcher can do is to put a man on in front of the middle of the order.  Carpenter has to see strikes, he has to be challenged and he more you challenge him the better he has been.  This is the new idea of lead off hitters.  In a way its like a slow pitch softball approach, why not get your best player as many at bats as you possibly can?