St. Louis Cardinals Outfield – What will they do?

With Marcel Ozuna most likely gone for the 2020 season, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in a tough situation.  Currently on their 40 man roster your options for replacements are somewhat limited or at the very least unproven at the major league level. What should the Cardinals do?  Let’s break it down. 

Outfield options on roster:

Harrison Bader

Lane Thomas

Dexter Fowler

Randy Arozarena

Tyler O’Neil

Jose Martinez

Justin Williams

Adolis Garcia

Tommy Edman

Yairo Munoz

I am going to eliminate the unrealistic options:

Justin Williams will not make the team without a ridiculous spring, he’s out.  

Adolis Garcia has power, 31 homers along with a .517 slugging percentage in AAA definitely stands out, but he has found himself behind Lane Thomas and Randy A, he’s out.

Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz will be utility players on the roster.  Projected them as starters in the outfield is not an option (yet). They are out.

Jose Martinez is not a starter for any team in the National League.  You can only ignore his defense for small periods of time. He’s out.

Who has a chance:

Dexter Fowler has right field likely locked down.  While he wasn’t good in the playoffs Fowler was able to raise every offensive statistic.  He still sucked but the money is too much for him to not be slotted into the lineup going into spring training.  

Tyler O’Neil should be given the first chance to be the left fielder, you know what he brings to the table.  He is going to strikeout and he is going to hit dingers. O’Neil’s 40% k-rate is alarming to say the least but with O’Neil there is still major upside.  His hard hit rate from 2018-2019 ranks fifth in baseball behind guys like Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge, Alex Avila, Matt Olson and his most comparable player Joey Gallo.  O’Neil’s plate discipline is a problem, but his upside is undeniable. He should get the first chance but its not set in stone.

Center field for the 2019 Cardinals is going to be a competition of similar attributes.  Randy A, Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas are all viable candidates.  

Harrison Bader brings the most experience which is laughable as he doesn’t really bring much.  Bader’s defense is elite but a 29% strikeout rate in during 2019 with little power upside and an OBP of just .301 is not something the Cardinals can afford with a team that already has been deprived of offense with the potential loss of Ozuna.  

Lane Thomas played well when given the chance at the major league level last season.  His surprising power numbers over the last two seasons in triple A and the major league level is what garnered the attention of the front office.  Increasing his slugging percentage by nearly 100 points from 2017 to 2018 is a huge positive regression. Thomas will need a solid spring to win the job but he is a guy that has to be taken into consideration.

Randy Arozarena’s .453 OBP last season is the highest of the three potential candidates. Randy A has the lowest walk percentage of the three, while it’s not a huge difference it still shows that he is more reliant on putting the ball in play rather than taking pitches.  The Cardinals are in need of a leadoff hitter currently and Randy seems to be the likely option because, well he can hit. If he is able to make the roster, it would hopefully be in a starting capacity. There is no need to force him to the majors if he is not going to play.

Free Agent Options:

The Cardinals are never likely to make a free agent move of any prestige so I want to take out candidates like Yasiel Puig and Nick Castellanos  So what is left…nothing. The Cardinals will most likely go after a guy past his prime to compete for a spot on the roster. Names that come to mind are Cameron Maybin (33, 1.6WAR), Corey Dickerson (31, 1.0WAR) and Kole Calhoun (32, 2.5WAR).  All three of the aforementioned players would be nice bench assets but with a bench full of younger higher upside players it doesn’t make sense to reach for an outfielder with little upside. 

Conclusion:

As the roster stands right now I would like to see Fowler, Randy A and O’Neil in the outfield.  The Cardinals could be bold and make a move to add one of the premiere offensive free agents at third base (Anthony Rendon, Josh Donadlson) and put Tommy Edman in the outfield but that would not meet with the history of this franchise.  The Cardinals have questions in their outfield, it’s obvious they need to make a move. Dylan Carlson is coming so they are going to be patient and hope that one of their young players takes the next step.

The Cardinals should have moved on from Waino

Comeback stories are awesome.  Seeing a player that everyone had given up on overcoming their struggles to be successful is what makes for great sports stories.  Adam Wainwright was the feel-good story of the year for the St. Louis Cardinals. The ending of this story has been written and it’s time to move on.  

Adam Wainwright is a future Cardinals Hall of Famer. He will be fondly remembered by all that were able to watch his amazing career.  Closing out the World Series striking out Brandon Inge or maybe even more memorable his nasty curveball that finished off future teammate Carlos Beltran to get to that World Series will be embedded into Cardinals fans forever.  Memories are great but right now the Cardinals have to be looking to the future.  

Let’s go over his 2019 season.  Wainwright was one of the most effective pitchers down the stretch for the St. Louis Cardinals.  His 2.97 ERA in the months of September and October helped St. Louis win the division and perhaps overachieve by making it to the NLCS.  Wainwright’s overall numbers were solid, 14 wins, 2.2 WAR, 4.39 xFIP and 171 innings pitched. The Cardinal’s veteran pitched well enough to reach all of his incentives, making his contract worth $10 million.  His numbers at the end of the season paid for his price tag. 

The Cardinals need to add more pitching depth.  You have two young guys at the top of the rotation in Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson along with Miles Mikolas.  The rest of the rotation is a question mark. Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes are both having a problem staying healthy their entire careers.  Daniel Ponce De Leon seems to never be a part of the conversation. Austin Gomber had an injury derail his season. Jake Woodford and Genesis Cabrera are both not ready to be full time.  

I don’t believe the Cardinals will go all in on Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg there are a number of affordable arms that can bring upside for multiple years while you discover what you have with your young starters. Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Zack Wheeler Hyun-Jin Ryu, Michael Pineda and Dallas Keuchel are just a few of the names that will be available at a moderately affordable price.  

Let’s say the Cardinals don’t like the idea of giving up a compensatory pick.  That would eliminate Wheeler and Odorizzi. Let’s also say Dallas Keuchel still wants that big contract that he couldn’t find last offseason, the Cardinals won’t want to do that.  Why not make a call to Hyun-Jin Ryu. Just 33 years old, Ryu has a much bigger upside.  

The price for Wainwright’s return is fair.  All of the aforementioned free agent pitchers will cost you more than $5-million plus incentives.  I am not upset about the price, I am upset because we have seen the highest upside we will see from Wainwright and where did that get the Cardinals.  Making it to the NLCS is great, personally I think they overachieved based on the full season performance. The Cardinals have to focus on a new direction.  They have to move on from the players that have peaked. Adam Wainwright peaked in 2019. To expect Wainwright to not go through negative regression is overly optimistic.  You are giving away a rotation spot to a 38 year old that depends on location. It’s time to try something new, it’s time for the organization to make a move to change the consistency of mediocrity. The emotions of Wainwrights 2019 success have masked management’s eyes.  They are not seeing that it is time to focus on the future. Keeping Wainwright around to be a “mentor” to the young staff will stunt the progression of leadership that you need from a guy like Jack Flaherty.  

Wainwright will be back in 2020.  He may have a great season. When you look at the rotation though he will be at the top of the question marks.  Can he be what he was in 2019? Is that really what the fanbase wants? Isn’t it time to be better? I am not rooting against Wainwright. I am just ready to move on from his era.  

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.

MLB DFS Breakdown August 23

Pitcher Spotlight- Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies

Vince Velasquez is a confusing real life and fantasy pitcher.  Velasquez has an ideal matchup versus the Miami Marlins who sport a pathetic 75 wRC+ verus right-handed pitchers.  Velasquez’s 25.3% strikeout rate this season as well as a ballpark upgrade in Miami put his in a great spot at a much to low cost. 

Stacks: Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks. Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros

Focus: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals offense has quietly begun to find its footing over the last few weeks.  They get a juicy matchup with the Rockies rookie powder keg Peter Lambert. Lambert has been bad whether he is Coors or on the road giving up a .500+ slugging percentage.  The focus of my lineup will be on the power guys.  If you can find a way to fit Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong into your lineup they all have major power upside.  Pair them with lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler and you can have a stack that has the potential to carry you with two mid-level pitchers.

Focus: Houston Astros

Houston sports one of the baseball lineups in the majors.  You can get the red-hot Robinson Chirinos at a bargain bin price.  Add in your favorite players like George Springer, Jose Altuve and/or Yuli Gurriel and you have some combustible elements in the middle of your lineup.  The price of the bats outside of Chirinos will make it tough to have a full stack with any pitching but having a three man with the right one-offs can lead to a successful night. 

Favorite one-off: Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

You will have to watch and make sure that Jake Lamb makes the lineup, if he does you have an affordable option that has decimated Brewers starter Jordan Lyles.  Targeting this game as a potential full stack would be ideal if you can afford it. The focus on Lamb is based on his domination of Lyles in 12 career at bats.  Lamb has 7 hits, .604 wOBA and an exit velo of 89MPH.

P: Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals, $9,400

P: Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies, $7,800

C: Robinson Chirinos, Houston Astros, $3,800

1B: Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies, $4,200

2B: Isan Diaz, Miami Marlins, $3,100

3B: Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks, $3,800         

SS: Adeiny Hechavarria, Atlanta Braves, $3,300

OF: Marcell Ozuna, St. Louis Cardinals, $4,900

OF: Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals, $4,200

OF: George Springer, Houston Astros, $5,300

MLB DFS Breakdown August 13 2019- Brewers crush reeling Perez

Pitcher Spotlight- Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals

Jack Flaherty is priced at just $9,000 versus the Kansas City Royals, making him the seventh highest price pitcher on the slate.  At such a low-price Flaherty is a bargain for all DFS players. Jack has been on another level since the All-Star break.  Flaherty has totaled over 18 fantasy points in seven straight starts, including his two most recent starts where he scored 35 and 36 versus the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.  

One of Flaherty’s biggest problems has been giving up power which the Royals as a team don’t bring a lot of those concerns.  As a team they only have an ISO of .160.  If Flaherty can avoid the power of Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier he should be ripe for another high scoring outing. 

Potential Stacks- Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels

The focus for my stack will be on the Milwaukee Brewers.  Martin Perez has become the Martin Perez of the last few seasons over the last three months his ERA has ballooned to a 6.67ERA during the second half of the season. Perez has given up a ton of power to righties the entire season, a .459 slugging percentage has led to a lot of short outings.  Perez combined with the struggles of the Minnesota bullpen should put the Brewers in nice spot for a four-man stack. I am going to build my lineup around Keston Huira, Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas can all be affordable along with some plays from the Dodgers against the regression of Jordan Yamamoto.

Sneaky Stack- Philadelphia Phillies

Attacking the struggling Jose Quintana is a great option for underpriced power.  Rhys Hoskins is underpriced at just $4.1K, if you pair him along with Jean Segura and Scott Kingery at the top of the lineup you can stack some top-level pitching with the stack. 

Lineup Build-

P: Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Caridinals, $9,000

P: Joe Ross, Washington Nationals, $5,500

C: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals, $3,000

1B: Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers, $4,700

2B: Keston Huira, Milwaukee Brewers, $5,000

3B: Mike Moustakas, Milwaukee Brewers, $4,400

SS: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers, $4,000

OF: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, $5,400

OF: Lane Thomas, St. Louis Cardinals, $4,300

OF: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, $4,700

Three Bats the Cardinals should Target

Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles stink.  That’s a simple fact.  They are going nowhere and need to be in full rebuild mood.  One of their few assets is 1B/OF Trey Mancini should be available and can make an immediate impact in the middle of the Cardinals lineup.  Mancini has an impressive stat line of .281/.340/.500, most notably is the slugging percentage.  The Cardinals have ranked in the bottom of the league in Slug and Isolated power all season.  

Adding power is a need for the Cardinals and Mancini fills in that need.  The Orioles will take pretty much any prospects you can offer, they need everything so you can offer anything.

Eric Sogard, Toronto Blue Jays

Eric Sogard is not a flashy name by any means, but he is a solid major league player that has been hitting all season.  Sogard was an afterthought in the offseason when the Blue Jays signed him but slow starts and injuries from their starters forced the veteran into service and he has rewarded them with a .371OBP and a 2.1 WAR from a guy that no one wanted.  

Sogard has shown some surprising power in 2019 hitting 10 homers in 2019 which is one shy of his career total. Sogard,33, is not a new kid on the block but he is currently in the middle of a career season and can fill in a slot at the beginning of the order. The leadoff spot has been a problem all season for St. Louis, adding Sogard would give them a player that has an .883 OPS when batting first.  Sogard’s price tag will be moderate as he is 33-year-old journeymen.  Worth a prospect just outside of your top 20. 

Eduardo Escobar, Arizona Diamondbacks

I am a fan of Eduardo Escobar; I was hoping St. Louis would take a run at the switching hitting utility man. Escobar has quietly put up great numbers for the Diamondbacks launching 19 homers and has a .879OPS.  Escobar will fill in nicely for the injured Matt Carpenter providing the power that Carpenter has not shown during 2019 and his ability to play multiple positions will allow Mike Schildt to utilize his other assets. 

Escobar also has a serviceable contract at 3year-$21million. The Diamondbacks have seen what the young Cardinals can do with two impact players Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver already on the roster, so you know they have spent time scouting the Cardinals system. Escobar is an impact bat without the impact notoriety.

Should Cardinals consider the “Opener”

The Tampa Bay Rays currently sit two games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East standings. Since 2018 they have been effectively deploying the “opener” strategy. The opener works by rearranging how pitchers are deployed: a middle reliever starts (or “opens”) the game, with the usual starter slotting in thereafter. The idea is to match up with the opposing teams first few hitters in order to take advantage of matchups and protect weaker starting pitchers that can be over exposed if they are forced to go through a line up more than three times. 

The Cardinals entered the 2019 season believing their starting pitching depth was going to be the catalyst for the season.  Injuries, inconsistencies and youth has changed the outlook of the season, forcing the Cardinals to use the bullpen at an extremely high rate, currently the Cardinals bullpen has pitched 46% of the innings for the staff. While this is not ideal the bullpen has shown that it can be reliable.  Multiple players have stepped up including John Gant, John Brebbia Giovanny Gallegos and the recently sent down Ryan Helsley.  Eventually they will welcome the return Carlos Martinez.  While you don’t want to mess the one-two punch of Brebbia to Jordan Hicks there are multiple statistical reasons behind the idea of utilizing the opener.

Major League Baseball has seen an increase in scoring in the first inning.  While most starters are getting prepared they tend to leave pitches in bad places resulting in a wRC+ of 110, by far this is the highest of any inning in 2018, the next highest inning being the 6th inning where traditionally the starting pitchers is facing the lineup for the 3rd or 4th time of the game. In fact, baseball in general has had a problem with the middle innings based on this 2018 wRC+ by inning chart. The Cardinals do not differ from the rest of the league.

If you dive deeper into the St. Louis starting staff, you can see that many have issues as the game goes on below are the statistics of starters going through the lineup for the 3rd time during the 2019 season.  Outside of Jack Flaherty and Michael Wacha each pitchers ERA inflates by over a run. Wacha in small sample size for 2019 actually hasn’t given up a single run in four innings when facing a lineup for the 3rd time, his struggles come entering in the second time through the lineup with a 7.71 ERA. His xFIP the 3rd time was actually the highest of any other time frames.

ERA third time through the order:

Wainwright: 7.36 ERA (6.00 ERA in 2018)

Flaherty: 3.60 ERA (7.71 ERA in 2018)

Mikolas: 8.20 ERA (4.25 ERA in 2018)

Hudson: 3.26 ERA

Wacha: 0.00 ER (xFIP 4.56)

The Cardinals rank 20th in the MLB giving up .44 first inning runs per game.  If they transition into the opener role for a guy like Adam Wainwright or Dakota Hudson they can avoid a potential rough start and allow your starter one less at bat through the heart of a potentially tough lineup. St. Louis has already made a move to a 13-man bullpen with the addition of Luke Gregorson and the demotion of Tyler O’Neil. This setup is very similar to an American League team.  Having that extra man in the bullpen can open up the options for Manager Mike Shildt.

The next step would be deciding who would take the role of the opener.  Options for me would be Giovanny Gallegos or recalling Ryan Helsley.  Gallegos has the ability to work multiple innings if the matchup calls for it, holding lefties to a slash line of .111/.238/.278. Helsey is a plus arm that has been justifiably considered for a future spot in the back end of the bullpen.  Starting off the game with a100mph fastball is never an easy thing for an opposing lineup to face.  Both of these pitchers are guys you would look for a shutdown middle inning role, why not have them start out the game and allow the Cardinal offense to try and jump on the opposing starting pitcher.

With the depth of Cardinals pitching staff they can utilize multiple players in better leverage roles, they can also look to limit innings for younger starters that will undoubtable be forced into inning restrictions. 

  1. To limit the innings of your young starters.  Dakota Hudson and eventually Alex Reyes.
  2. To get the most out of veteran and injury prone pitchers Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.
  3. To not expose starters that have statistically shown an inability to handle lineups multiple times through.

Does this really work?  There is a small sample size to base the effectiveness of the opener. The most compelling evidence that has been presented in favor of the opener strategy is Rays pitchers’ performances relative to Baseball Prospectus’ projections. Almost all exceeded expectations. Among them: Ryne Stanek (actual ERA of 2.98 vs. projected ERA of 3.79), Diego Castillo (3.18 vs. 4.90), Hunter Wood (3.73 vs. 4.64), Ryan Yarbrough (3.91 vs. 4.56), Yonny Chirinos (3.51 vs. 4.43) and Vidal Nuno (1.64 vs. 4.86). The pitchers who didn’t: Sergio Romo, Matt Andriese, Jalen Beeks, Austin Pruitt and Ryan Weber. This might not be definitive proof that the opener strategy worked, but the results are persuasive.

The pitcher’s stats are a great way of judging the effectiveness, but their performance of the field has seemed to be the greatest factor in whether or not the opener works.  There may be other factors to the way the Rays have played over the last few months begin last season, but the facts are that they have been winning. 

Who do you use the “opener” for would be the biggest question.  The Rays still featured premier starters Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton and of course the great Blake Snell.  The Cardinals feature Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas but after that it can be a mystery at times with which starter is going to give you the best outing. Both Wainwright and Dakota Hudson seem like likely candidates for an opener role due to the fact they have both within the last two years spent time coming out of the bullpen and it could be an easy transition to warmup later and make your way into the game.  The facts of the matter are you have great pitching that is still developing itself and veterans that have a history of wearing down.  The opener may not be the ultimate answer but with the depth of arms you have it very well could be an option to consider until Alex Reyes, Austin Gomber or Dakota Hudson are ready to make the next step into rotation mainstays.

Thanks for reading would love to hear your opinions @italksportsti.

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.

Who should make Cardinals Hall of Fame?

The Cardinals announced their hall of fame candidates for 2019, Keith Hernandez, John Tudor, Matt Morris, Jason Isringhausen, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen. Each player is deserving of the nomination as well as eventual inclusion.  St. Louis fans will have their opinions on each, but I see three of them as the obvious choices.

Matt Morris

The imposing presence of Matt Morris was dominant force in the Cardinals rotation from 1997-2005.  Racking up wins during a time period where the team had great success.  Most notably during the 2001 season where Morris accumulated 22 wins and a 3.16 ERA.  Morris was a top of the rotation starter with a dominant secondary pitch. His curveball was one of the best Cardinals fans had seen until Adam Wainwright showed up on the scene and froze Carlos Beltran taking the mantle of best curve thrower of my generation.

Morris wasn’t just a short-term answer accumulating over 101 wins in his Cardinals career while winning 62% of his games, Tommy John surgery took a year away from the Cardinal hurler right as he was beginning is accent to the top of the rotation. Morris had two All -Star appearances as a Cardinals starter, Morris is by far a deserving inductee to the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

Scott Rolen

Scott Rolen was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in 2002, making an immediate impact on the organization. Over his six years with the team Rolen was a human highlight reel at third base winning three gold gloves during his tenure with the organization.  Rolen also added depth to the Cardinals lineup that made them trued contenders for world championships.  His protection of Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols was an undervalued asset during his time with the Cardinals. 

Rolen, whom doesn’t get the consideration for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame that he should was a complete player and quiet leader on a very good team.  If he hadn’t played with Albert Pujols he would most likely be given more credit than he already gets during his legacy with the Cardinals.

Jason Isringhausen

Izzy should be the easy choice for all voters.  The Cardinals franchise record holder with 207 saves during his tenure was the definition of stability for the organization.  Those save numbers alone along with pitching in over 400 games for the organization.  From 2002- 2006 Isringhausen established himself in Cardinal greatness. 

Look at the state of Cardinals closer since his departure.  Outside of a few years with Trevor Rosenthal, there has been no consistency in that position.  Izzy is still active in the St. Louis community, that should be taken into account when determining a true Cardinals Hall of Famer.

Why Dominic Leone should be the Cardinals closer.

The struggles of the St. Louis bullpen were an obvious concern in 2018.  The lone highlight being the emergence of Jordan Hicks as a force in the 8th inning.  The Cardinals went into the offseason looking to add some depth to the bullpen and potentially a closer.  To this point the only impact piece that has been added is the versatile lefty Andrew Miller. Miller and Hicks will create a two way highlight reel of nasty pitches that will undoubtedly be a boost, but neither have performed as a closer in their careers for more than a few weeks. Another writer on this sight suggested John Brebbia, I too saw Brebbia as a potential closer going into 2019 but after digging into the numbers a different player stood out to me.  Someone that most of us have most likely forgot… Dominic Leone.

Let’s first work under the assumption that Miller and Hicks will most likely be middle to late inning relief.  Let’s also work under the assumption that the competition will be between Brebbia and Leone.  Brebbia’s career has taken off the last two seasons in the majors but he was actually drafted in 2011 by the New York Yankees while Leone was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2012.  Both have paid their dues in the minors to establish themselves of as more than effective relievers.  Both have great strikeout potential, Brebbia (10.66 K/9), Leone (9.75 K/9) in 2018.  Both have average fastball velocity of 95 MPH. Both have similar WHIP’s, BB/9 and so on and so on. 

Basically, they have very similar traits.  Leone was hampered by an injury in 2018, ironically his injury is one of the many reasons that Brebbia was recalled from Memphis during the season. A place that he should not have ever been, but that is an argument for a different day. Cardinals fans that will play recency bias will look at Leone’s start to 2018 and not see the real pitcher that Leone can be when healthy. In 2017 Leone excelled for the Toronto Blue Jays in the stacked American League East. In 70.1 innings, Leone held hitters to a .202 average and a skeletal .360 slugging percentage. He inherited the fourth-most runners in baseball, 54, and stranded 42 of them (a mark which put him among the very best in the American League).What stands out the most to me was his exceptional numbers against lefties, holding them to a slash line of .183/.261/.366.  Leone features a premier secondary pitch with his cutter which generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitcher’s cutters. It is especially stingy against left handed hitters. His effectiveness against lefties is the reason he has the advantage over Brebbia whose line was not on the same level .250/.330/.455 in 2018.

Leone is not a standout closer with tons of experience but if given the chance in the backend he has shown to be effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. Going into spring training I believe all relievers will have a chance to close, assuming we don’t have another Greg Holland late signing type situation.  Leone has the velocity, secondary pitch and hopefully the opportunity.