Why the Cardinals have to win this series.

The Cardinals schedule to start the season was not ideal.  Opening up in Milwaukee with a group of young starters in a hitters park is not going to turn out well no matter how much talent you have.  The Brewers are who we though they were a potential offensive juggernaut that has limitations everywhere else of the field. Nevertheless that Cardinals were one blown save away from a split to start the season.  The scheduling god seemed to continue their cruel joke forcing the Cardinals to make as second trip to Milwaukee just two week later following a trip to Monterrey, Mexico.  The Cardinals were able to salvage the final game of the series, starting the season just 2-5 against the defending Central Division Champs. The third series versus the Brewers may only be a beginning of the week late April showdown but this could be a defining moment in the race for the Central crown.  The Cardinals need to come out and take advantage of a Brewers team that is dealing with serious pitching injuries.  Let’s breakdown how and why the Cardinals must win this series.

Pitching matchups favor the Cardinals in 2 of 3.

Game 1

Jack Flaherty has been tagged by the Brewers in two early starts giving up 9 runs and 16 hits in seven innings. Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain in particular have crushed Flaherty with a combined average of .492 over 23 at bats this season.  Flaherty has been great at home this season in two starts with a 0.82 ERA in two starts.  The Brewers will have Adrian Houser on the mound making his first start of the season. Since this is Houser’s first career start he will most likely dominate for the first 4 innings or so until the Cardinals unleash the second time through.

Game 2

Zach Davies who is what you would call the opposite of a Cardinal Killer, in particular Matt Carpenter has owned Davies to a .455BA in 22 career plate appearances.  Davies will most likely be opposed by Daniel Ponce De Leon taking the spot of the injured Michael Wacha.  Ponce De Leon has only faced the Brewers in relief where he pitched in relief successfully striking out two on 14 pitches. Ponce De Leon is going have a big night. This is soley based on the fact I believe the Cardinals will jump out early and give him the confidence to dominate.

Game 3

There was a time where Jouhlys Chacin would have dreaded a potential matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals, owning an 0-7 mark in nine career starts up until last June.  Since then Chacin has won his last three starts against the Redbirds including a great opening day start where his struck out seven.  Chacin will face off against Adam Wainwright whose been the definition of up and down during the start of the season.  Waino will have to have his curve working against the powerful Milwaukee lineup.  If not his 89 MPH (being gracious) fastball will be put on a tee for the power bats of Milwaukee.

Brewers coming off of 4 game sweep in LA

You always want to kick a team while they are down.  The Brewers are coming off of an abysmal series in LA losing all four games to the 2018 National League Champs. Milwaukee has been dealing with a lot of injuries in the rotation which has caused them to force a few starts from guys they were not expecting including Chase Anderson and the game one starter Adrian Houser, injuries in their bullpen have also forced the hand of manager Craig Counsel putting guys in positions that they will not be successful.

Why the Cardinals have to win this series.

It is time for the Cardinals to show that they are the class of the NL Central. In game one, the Cardinals have their presumed “ace” on the mound in Jack Flaherty which should set the stage for the rest of the series. The key to victory is very simple, don’t pitch to Christian Yelich, take a advantage of the weakend Brewers starting pitching and take advantage of your home field.  The Cardinals will not have any excuses if they are unable to win this series.

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.

Six Man Rotation Pros and Cons

The St. Louis Cardinals saw a small glimpse of the future this weekend.  Jack Flaherty took the mound and dazzled the Busch Stadium crowd with a masterful performance that has now forced the hands of Cardinals management to make a decision they had thought and possibly hoped they wouldn’t be forced to make in 2018.  Flaherty has solidified himself in the rotation similar to the way Luke Weaver did in 2017, he took the decision away from them with his performance.   The Cardinals now stare at a rotation that features Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and at the moment Jon Gant.  Formidable as that is the impending return of Carlos Martinez is coming along with a prospect by the name of Alex Reyes…perhaps you have heard of him?  With Gant being the guy most likely to enjoy another bus trip back to Memphis that leaves the birds with an interesting decision.  Six starters, traditionally five spots.  What do they do?  This is a decision that is best handled the old fashion way pros and cons list!

Pros

Six man rotation can save innings for young starters

In a day of Tommy John surgeries being passed around like chicken pox in a kindergarten class room innings restrictions have become the new fun trend of the MLB.  Bulldogs like Nolan Ryan and Cris Carpenter are no longer seemed to exist in a time where players and agents look at the long term over the short.  The Cardinals will feature one of the youngest rotations in baseball with an average age of 25.  They will also feature a rotation that has had its fair share of injuries.  Martinez, Wacha and Reyes stand out as players that have dealt with injuries during their young careers.  While Flaherty, Weaver and Mikolas have all not been featured in rotations for the length of a Major League Baseball season. A six man rotation will allow the Cardinals to limit the innings for the starters will also keeping their starter regiment the same thus not having to worry about transitioning them from the bullpen.

Don’t have to leave an asset in he minors

There seems to be nothing worse for a fanbase then to watch a young talent sit in AAA.  The backlash for Jack Flaherty dominating in Memphis while Adam Wainwright was trying to “find” it at the major league level was frustrating for the fanbase.  Carson Kelly has been another example of a young player that seems to have nothing left to prove at the minor league level but has been blocked by a veteran.  Problem for him is that there is only one player allowed to play catcher per game and that one player for the Cardinals is a potential hall of famer still playing at a high level.  The Cardinals have major league ready starters that have to be played.  Reyes, Weaver and Flaherty cannot waste a year helping Memphis win a championship when they can help the big club bring home a World Series.

Cons

Less starts from your #1

Carlos Martinez, when healthy, is a Cy Young candidate.  He has also graduated to Adam Wainwrights role as a team leader.    Moving to a six man rotation would mean limiting his games started and potentially setting him up for less opportunities down the home stretch of the season.  Limiting your best pitcher is never a recipe for success.

It’s never been done.

The Los Angeles Angels talked about the potential of a six man rotation after signing Japanese sensation Shoehei Otani.  Ultimately deciding not to invest in what I am sure baseball purist see as an abomination to the game.  There is no statistical proof that a six man rotation will improve the likelihood pitcher injuries or improve overall performance.  We live in a baseball world that relies on stats and with no stats to support this strategy then it may as well not be an option.

 

Sabermetrician Russell Carleton wrote that six-man rotations offer few obvious benefits in terms of pitching performance: The extra day of rest doesn’t seem to increase pitcher strikeout rates or reduce walk rates. And, because the extra man entails splitting up the workload among a larger group of people, it tends to dilute the effect of truly great starting pitchers. Over a full season, a six-man rotation results in about 30-50 fewer innings per starter.

The Cardinals have a great problem coming their way when their starters are healthy.  They also have a mind in the dugout like Mike Maddux that can help Matheny transition into a new way of thinking.  Would it be easier to have one of these guys go to the bullpen?  The answer is yes, but would it make your team better to have a potential ace coming in for maybe an inning?  No! I don’t see the Cardinals going with a six man rotation based on the comments from John Mozeliak, but wouldn’t it be cool if for once the Cardinals were at the forefront of alternative baseball thinking.

Wainwright or Flaherty? The Debate

Adam Wainwright has been the backbone of the St. Louis Cardinals rotation since he became a full time starter in 2007.  146 wins over his career has earned him the respect of players and fans alike, but as he steps on the mound Thursday for the Cardinals home opener the fan base has been split on whether this is the right decision.

Jack Flaherty has been a top prospect in the Cardinals system for the last few seasons.  Reaching as high as #38 on MLB.com’s prospect rankings.  The former first round pick carried his spring training momentum into the regular season striking out 9 over 5 innings against the vaunted Milwaukee Brewers lineup.  Flaherty had the misfortune of being the odd man out of the rotation with the return of Wainwright.  The question for Flaherty is, What happens next?

Flaherty will continue to make starts in Memphis.  While he has nothing more to prove in the minors sending Flaherty down was the only choice to the Cardinals.  Wainwright may one day be an option for the bullpen but as of now you have to see if he still has anything left in the tank. If he does have the ability to get outs it can be a huge asset to a playoff run with his veteran presence on the mound.  No one will debate that Flaherty was great in Milwaukee, but has not yet earned the confidence to say that he is the answer in the rotation.  2017’s 6+ ERA may be a thing of the past but it still lingers in the mind of Cardinals management.

The reason the move has caused such a backlash from Cardinals Nation is really due to Cardinals management giving mixed signals to its fanbase.  During the offseason John Mozeliak made it clear that the Cardinals were set with their young arms.  They planned to move forward with the young arms rather then spend money on a veteran like Jason Vargas or bringing back long time Cardinal Lance Lynn.  After making such a bold statement in the offseason they seem to contradict themselves by sending down the young arm before you are sure your veteran is ready to go.

The St. Louis fanbase lives for their Cardinals.  They are allowed to question the decisions by management.  But when you look at this situation, this was the only move that made sense.  Adam Wainwright is not going to the bullpen, Jack Flaherty makes no sense moving to the bullpen.  By sending Flaherty down now it also allows him to continue his regular rotation spot.  Flaherty has to stay positive – especially with the injury histories of Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright – the uncertainty of Luke Weaver and Miles Mikolas there will be a spot for the young hurler to make an impact in the 2018 season.

Jack Flaherty is going to be a good, possibly great starting pitcher on the major league level but he has to be patient and mature during this process.  Go talk to Carson Kelly about how to handle this situation.  Don’t ask Pham.