St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did what he does best on Monday. By acquiring right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden from the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, Mozeliak directly filled one dire need while indirectly addressing several others at the same time. The trade may have cost the Cardinals some young pitching talent, but it will likely result in the team making fewer moves and taking on fewer risks to build a championship-caliber team for 2015.
It’s easy to say that St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s usage of his bullpen was the main reason that the his team lost in just five games to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.
In many ways, it’s a fair argument – Matheny made several questionable decisions when it came to his bullpen, and he saw the immediate results when his relievers either lost the lead or lost the game in four of the five games against the Giants. Matheny’s misuse of his bullpen was capped off by the series-winning three-run home run that Travis Ishikawa launched into the right field stands off of Michael Wacha, who entered the ninth inning of the a must-win game for the Cardinals having not pitched in over three weeks. Standing in the Cardinal bullpen just beyond first base ready to go were lefty Randy Choate (who could have faced lefties Ishikawa and shortstop Brandon Crawford) as well as righty Seth Maness (whose uncanny ability to induce double plays has been invaluable to the Cardinals the last two years). Instead, Matheny chose to stick with Wacha, who ultimately gave up the series-clinching home run.
Throw in a couple of other poor choices – leaving Choate in after walking Crawford in the tenth inning of Game 3, and Matheny’s quick hook of both Maness and All-Star Pat Neshek, and there’s no doubt that the bullpen played a large part of the untimely demise of the Cards’ World Series hopes.
But don’t pin this all on Matheny. The Cardinals offense failed to put their team in a position to win without unnecessary drama from the Matheny and the bullpen.
Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals put together an incredible season that far exceeded many expectations. The Redbirds set an all-time record for batting average with runners in scoring position (.330), which was key to scoring runs in an offense that ranked 27th in the majors in home runs (125). Meanwhile, the pitching staff saw several young arms emerge from the farm system. Rookies Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Michael Blazek, Kevin Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, John Gast, and Michael Wacha all saw playing time in 2013, and all made meaningful contributions to the team.
2013 could easily have been a disaster for the Cardinals, but somehow they were able to hit and pitch their way to a 97-65 record, tying the Boston Red Sox for the best regular season record in the big leagues. The Cards rode that momentum to a National League pennant, and held a 2-1 lead in the World Series before losing to the aforementioned Red Sox. All in all, the season was a rousing success for the Cardinals, although anyone in the organization would probably tell you otherwise after falling short of a championship.
Entering 2014, the expectations are high. With major league experience–as well as valuable playoff experience–their young arms are expected to carry the load alongside veterans Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, and Lance Lynn. Offensively and defensively, the team has upgraded in multiple positions from a few wise offseason moves. However, power may once again prove to be the team’s Achilles heel.
The Cardinals yesterday announced the signing of free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta, a move made to fill a glaring hole in the Redbirds’ offense. Peralta is coming off a season in which he hit .303/.358/.457 with 11 HR and 55 RBI–his best production since 2011. Peralta looked comfortable at the plate, drove the ball to the opposite way, and had a knack for timely hits last season. However, his numbers in 2013 would have been more impressive had he not been suspended 50 games by MLB for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.
While many MLB fans are up in arms about rewarding an admitted steroid user with a hefty contract (plenty of merit to that grievance), I’m more upset at the contract itself; over the next four years, the 31-year-0ld Peralta will make $52M.
Much ado has been made by Cardinals fans about who the starting shortstop will be in 2014. I think it’s pretty safe to say that after Pete Kozma put up an uninspiring (and downright bad) line of .217/.275/.273, GM John Mozeliak will look elsewhere for 2014 services.
It’s been less than 24 hours since Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter to finish off the World Series, and I want Spring Training to be here already. Unfortunately, I can’t control time, so the best we can do is wait and keep looking forward to February.
In the meantime, congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for knocking off my Cardinals 4 games to 2 for their eighth World Series title. Boston now sits alone in 4th place for most World Series championships. Looking back on the six games, it was pretty clear that the Red Sox were just the better team–they deserved the title.
Nothing against the Cardinals–they put together an outstanding season in the toughest division in baseball. However, their style of play ended up hurting them at the end, like it did during their major slumps throughout the regular season. The Cards were a single-double team that depended on timely hitting rather than home runs to drive runs in. For the most part, it worked–97 wins doesn’t happen by accident. But when a team like that encounters a pitching staff as hot as the Red Sox staff (minus Craig Breslow), it doesn’t bode well.
Throughout the regular season, St. Louis hit .330 as a team with runners in scoring position, and shattered the previous record of .311 by Detroit in 2007. During the World Series, Boston pitchers held Cardinals hitters to a .242 average in those situations. Time after time, Red Sox pitching eluded big innings by forcing weak groundouts and pop flies.
Boston’s staff also got a boost from Jon Lester, who pitched like a true ace in his two wins. Lester’s combined line: 15.1 IP, 9 hits, 1 ER (1 HR), 1 BB, 15 K, 0.65 WHIP, 0.59 ERA. Lester did this against a Cardinals lineup that hit .269 in the regular season, and against the Cardinals’ ace, Adam Wainwright, who still pitched well despite his two losses.
And who can forget about David Ortiz–the World Series MVP–who hit .688 in the six games, reaching base 19 times throughout the series. Cardinals pitchers eventually got the hint, and resorted to walking Big Papi intentionally, because every time Ortiz made contact, he hit the ball hard. It’s tough to lose when your #4 guy is on base more than 3 out of 4 plate appearances.
Some Cardinals fans have pointed the finger at Mike Matheny for his treatment of the bullpen, but I don’t think that’s fair. In Game 4, Matheny pulled starter Lance Lynn in favor of ground-ball machine Seth Maness, who promptly gave up a 3-run shot to Jonny Gomes. In Game 5, fans criticized Matheny for leaving Wainwright in too long, allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to single home another run before the inning ended. Who knows what would’ve happened if Lynn had faced Gomes, or lefty Kevin Siegrist had faced Ellsbury? Maybe we’re talking about Game 7 tonight. But I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Matheny for trusting two guys (Maness and Waino) who have gotten out of some very difficult situations this entire season, over an inconsistent Lynn and rookie Siegrist.
So in the end, Boston’s staff and lineup simply outplayed those of the Cardinals. It wasn’t a question of who wanted it more, or a question of what if? Nor was it one player or manager’s fault. The Red Sox simply deserved this championship.
If nothing else, we can at least remember this Series as one of many unique happenings:
- The umpires’ painful, albeit correct decision to overturn the “out” call at 2nd base in the first inning of Game 1, allowing the Red Sox to load the bases with one out rather than have runners on the corners with two outs. Mike Napoli later cleared the bases with a double.
- Uehara picking off pinch-runner Kolten Wong to end Game 4 and knot the series at 2-2. Poor Wong–he’s a good player, and he’ll rebound from that.
- Most bizarre of all, the walk-off obstruction call to end Game 3. We may never see that end another game, let alone a World Series game–for years to come.
I’ll be back to run down some offseason plans for a few teams, and to look forward to next season. But for now, I offer the words of Rogers Hornsby:
People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
Until 2014, baseball.
I cannot wait for tonight. This World Series is going to be fantastic on so many levels. I originally picked Tigers over Dodgers when the playoffs started, but I have no problem with this outcome. I just hope the games are as good as advertised.
With Game 1 starting tonight, I thought I would take a look at some of the storylines of the 2013 World Series.
1. Will Yadier Molina’s bat show up?
The Cardinals catcher had an extraordinary slashline in the regular season of .319/.359/.477 (including just 55 K’s in 136 games), but his offense was noticeably absent against the Dodgers in the NLCS. Molina hit .227/.320/.227, with 4 K’s, and 2 huge double plays that killed Cardinals rallies in the team’s Game 5 loss. The Cards will need Yadi’s bat to heat up in the middle of the lineup and put the pressure on Boston’s pitching staff. Molina is a great two-strike hitter, and knows how to push the ball to the opposite field, and showing off those skills is paramount to the Cardinals’ success in the World Series.
For the record, I’m not at all worried about his ability to call a game behind the plate or gun down opposing base stealers. He’ll be fine there–there’s a reason Michael Wacha got out of that bases loaded-one out jam in Game 2.
2. Speaking of Wacha, how will the Cardinals’ rookie pitchers react to the largest stage in baseball?
So far, so good in the 2013 playoffs. But this isn’t just any series, it’s the World Series. Entering the playoffs, I had the Cardinals losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS, in large part due to the youth of their staff. I also did not have much confidence in starting Wacha over 15-game-winner Shelby Miller in the NLDS. Well, I’ve been incredibly wrong so far. However, it’s still concerning to me that the Cardinals depend so much on rookie arms, especially considering the dangerous and experienced lineup that Boston has.
Boston victimized the Tigers bullpen for two grand slams in six games, and while the probability of that happening again is extremely small, the chance of one of the Cards’ rookie pitchers making a mistake is legitimate.
3. Can the Red Sox offense make an impact in the first 5 innings?
Maybe it was just the Tigers pitching that was overpowering, but for the first three games of the ALCS, the Red Sox lineup did just about nothing against the Tigers’ starters outside of a Mike Napoli homer off of Justin Verlander. In fact, the Red Sox offense didn’t score a run in the first 5 innings of the first four games of the ALCS! Boston has two games with the DH until they have to sacrifice either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz, so they need to score early, establish leads, and develop their offense by the time the series heads back to St. Louis if they want to have a shot at winning it all.
4. Can anyone stop Kohi Uehara?
This guy is as money as it gets coming out of a bullpen. According to Bleacher Report and Baseball-Reference.com, Uehara has allowed just two earned runs and two walks since JULY–and of course he’s kept it going throughout the playoffs. That confidence has spread throughout the Sox bullpen, and has made the unit one of the most fearsome in recent playoff history. If Boston can get a lead late into the game, consider it pretty much done.
5. Will Allen Craig be a factor?
The Cardinals made it to the World Series without a guy who hit .454 this season with runners in scoring position. If he can do anything like that, the Cardinals will have a huge boost in their lineup. The big question, though, is if he can even hit at a respectable clip after sitting out the last 6+ weeks. If Craig cannot get his timing back relatively quickly, the Cards are looking at a huge hole sitting in the middle of their lineup.
Prediction: Call it a homer pick, but I’ll take the Cardinals in seven games. If the Cardinals can win one in Fenway before going home to a weakened Boston lineup without the DH, they will have a significant advantage. Plus, Carlos Beltran has waited his entire career to play in the World Series, let’s get him a ring.
Either way, should be a terrific series, and I am so excited to watch (if necessary) seven amazing baseball games.