Put up or Shut up. Previewing the Nationals/Cardinals Series

The Cardinals had a chance to bury their division rivals, the Christian Yelich-less Milwaukee Brewers. They found themselves in a position to establish themselves as the true frontrunner for the National League Central race. The Cardinals hopes for dominance were crushed by Ryan Braun’s ninth inning grand slam off of rookie Junior Fernandez.

St. Louis was bit by the hand that had been feeding them all of 2019.  Their young bullpen arms were not able to handle the late inning situations as they had previously the entire season. The Cardinals still sit two games up on the second place Chicago Cubs and three games up on the aforementioned Milwaukee Brewers. The redbirds have a very interesting clash in front of them against the uber talented and desperate Washington Nationals.  

Oh, they also get to face the murderer’s row of starting pitching Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer.

St. Louis will counter Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright.  Comparing the overall starting pitching is an obvious advantage to the Nationals. Washington comes into this series with a 6-8 record in September including getting smashed by the Atlanta Braves which has all but ended their chances at the eastern division crown. Both teams are in a must win situation the rest of the season.  The Cubs and Brewers are both hot on their heels ready to take over their positions at the top.  

The Cardinals will have the advantage in the bullpen which in a playoff like atmosphere Mike Schildt will have to be ready to make the move before it is too late.  The Nationals have a powerful offense that can turn a one run lead into a four-run lead before you know it.  Schildt will have his first real playoff like atmosphere at Busch, Cardinals fans will find out if he is the one that will take them to the next step. 

The Nationals have the superior depth in their lineup with bench players like Howie Kendrick, Gerardo Parra and Matt Adams.  They can put out multiple lineups that will be tough to matchup against over a three games series.  The key for St. Louis will be to get ahead early and force the Nationals to utilize their subpar bullpen.  If the Cardinals can get a lead it will also allow Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright to attack the zone.  They are pitch to contact pitchers, it can be an advantage for them to have the freedom to throw in the zone and not worry about one long ball putting them behind. 

Who has the advantage?

Starters- Advantage Nationals

Bullpen- Advantage Cardinals

Offense- Advantage Nationals

My series prediction.

In game one St. Louis will need to a strong performance in game one from Dakota Hudson, if he can give them a solid six innings and keep the ball in the ballpark it can set them up for the rest of the series.  Strasburg is a vaunting task for any offense but is hittable when off, it is going to be hot for game one so the ball should be taking off and the usual pitcher friendly Busch Stadium.  Cardinals take game one 4-3. 

Game two is a much more even matchup with Mile Mikolas taking on Patrick Corbin. Corbin’s one start versus St. Louis he was erratic in the strike zone, walking four over his six innings. Corbin has the stuff to shut down the Cardinals but with St. Louis’s heavy right-handed lineup they should have the advantage.  Mikolas on the other hand found himself at home against the Nationals, giving up seven hits over six innings but only one run.  This game will come down to who is the first to fold.  Cardinals take game two by getting to Corbin early, Cardinals win 7-3.

Game three is simple. Scherzer in St. Louis will dominate. Cardinals will scratch across a run early, but it won’t be enough.  Soto and Rendon will punish Wainwright in the first and the third.  Nationals win the game but lose the series.  Nationals 8-2.

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.

Time to sell. Is that a bad thing?

The Cardinals stepped into the second half taking a glass is half full approach.  By moving on from Mike Matheny all their problems would magically dissapear.  The bullpen would pitch better, Ozuna and Fowler would start hitting, the defense would play error free.  After just six games they realized that not only was the glass half empty but it has been thrown to the ground and shattered.

Sitting five games back in the Wild Card is an illusion of potential for a team that has lost its way.  While they only sit five games back they have to jump two teams in their own division just to make case for the second spot. It is time to open their eyes and see that this is a team that has to find a new direction.  I wrote a piece earlier in the month talking about the potential of trading “ace” Carlos Martinez in hopes to have a return that can set them up for future success.  While it is unlikely that they move on from Martinez they have to see that it is time move the pieces that are not going to be a part of the future.   Players like Jedd Gyroko, Jose Martinez, Kolten Wong,  Tommy Pham and Bud Norris have to be put on the trade block.  Each one of these players have friendly contracts and assets that can intrigue true contending teams.

Players like Jedd, Jose and Kolten may not bring you high valued prospects in return, but  they can allow the team to open up spots for young talent. Players that are ready in the minors like Patrick Wisdom and Tyler O’Neil need to be called up and put into bench roles while Yairo Munoz and Harrison Bader should be given the chance to play everyday to see what they can bring to the table on a day to day basis.  The players that can bring you the most value on the market like Bud Norris and Tommy Pham should be moved in order to restock your system with top 15 potential players.

So why not move your hottest hitter Matt Carpenter or your bad contract Dexter Fowler or your “big” offseason pickup Marcell Ozuna?

Carpenter is the player you have to build around, moving him full time to first base is your best option and can bring you stability to work around for your infield.

Fowler’s contract will most surely be impossible to move.  The reality is that you have to put him on the bench and try and find a suitor in the offseason that will help you take on some of his salary (Very Unlikely).

Ozuna is injured.  He has little to no value at the moment unless you want to sell low.  Shut him down and let him go fix his shoulder injury.  If you would like to move him next season before he becomes a free agent then look into it then.  He has to much potential as a great trade piece when he is fully healthy.

It’s hard for a front office to admit that the season is a bust.  I am not admitting that it is a bust yet, but what the organization is putting on the field is not one that can make it to the playoffs let alone compete in an extremely competitive 2018 National League Central.  Let the young kids come up and see what kind of impact they bring.  Being a seller at the deadline does not admit defeat it can show a better understanding of your personal.  This team needs a change, they need fresh faces beyond Mike Shildt.  Let the young guys play and see if it can turn things around.  Use Poncdeleon, Gomber and eventually Dakota Hudson in the bullpen if their is not a spot in the rotation.  Let Bader get as many at bats as he can and see if he changes your team dynamic.  Cardinals fans may not like the idea of “selling” but they will have to understand that sometimes selling just means admitting your mistakes.   Everyone can accept that.