Cards have options for wild card starter

A one-game playoff for a berth into the postseason seems harmless to most, though more rides on it than meets the eye.

The general consensus: Do whatever you can to get in, the rest is a crapshoot.

A more gambling take: Do I start my ace, or use a lower-line starter to setup my rotation for the possible Division Series that follows? 

For the Cardinals, the latter fits the bill. 

A team that built as boom or bust this year — which still could bust — the Cardinals have been sitting in the same seat at the Blackjack table all season. 

Lace Berkman was the little taste of success — or beginners luck if you will — for the Cardinals, with his 31 homers, 94 RBIs and .301 batting average in 2011. 

Feeling confident in the abilities of Berkman, whose knees had seen multiple surgeries, the Cardinals signed the aging first basemen to a one-year, $12-million extension, which is where the addiction was sparked. …and parted ways with Albert Pujols, one of the only sure-things in baseball, and the $300 million he desired. 

General Manager John Mozeliak wasn’t done there, though. The GM inked yet another aging veteran outfielder in Carlos Beltran, who had played 145 games between in 2009 and 2010 combined because of injuries. Though, Beltran was an All-Star in 2011. But signing a 35-year-old corner outfielder, with a history of leg injuries, a multi-year deal was playing with fire.

Berkman battled injuries throughout the 2012 season, appearing in just 31 games and notching only 80 at-bats (.263, 2, 7), and was shut down multiple times. The switch-hitter even discussed retirement after the injury early in the season. 

Clearly, the deck had gone cold. Especially after ace Chris Carpenter was shut down for, what we thought at the time would be, the season. 

However, the deck heated up thanks to Beltran nearly mirroring Berkman’s 2011 campaign (.269, 32, 97).

Now the Cardinals’ magic number from clinching a spot in the Wild Card play-in game for the NLDS is two with three games to play. 

Let’s get hypothetical for a moment. Should the Cardinals win two of their next three games from the Cincinnati Reds, or any combination of a Cardinal win and Los Angeles Dodgers loss, would lock it up.

Thus, raising the question: Who starts the play-in game?

Play it safe, or gamble? 

See above for what the ’12 Cardinals track record is. 

The likely candidates, co-aces Adam Wainwright and Carpenter, are proven in clutch situations — especially Carpenter. But he’s coming back from an injury and has logged 11 innings in two starts, and Wainwright is off a 2011 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. 

But those two could use some rest.

So between Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia, the remaining three starters in the rotation, take your pick.

Or, employ the gambler’s mentality and say “hit me.”

Lohse, a candidate for the 2012 Cy Young, has pitched like an ace this year and deserves the nod in a big game…despite his lackluster start against Washington on Saturday. 

Lynn (18-7), who was an All-Star in 2012, and has pitched like a seven on a ten scale throughout the season. No doubt, he should be the first hit should Lohse struggle early.

Garcia, throwing well down the stretch, earned a three for the ’12 campaign (though he battled injuries). Then he would be the second hit.

So, Manager Mike Matheny has been dealt an excellent hand — an Ace, a 7 and a 3 — Blackjack. 

Follow the trend set by the front office, Matheny. Take a gamble. Piece together the Wild Card play-in game start, save your studs for the potential NLDS and take your best shot at winning a second consecutive World Series.

After all, the deck seems to be getting hot at the right time. 

Cards could, should sign Prince

It’s official, the Texas Rangers have signed Japanese standout pitcher Yu Darvish to a 6-year $60 million deal. The contract was completed with just minutes remaining before the 5 p.m. signing deadline.

Having won the Darvish sweepstakes, and completing a deal, the Rangers fill a hole in its starting rotation created by C.J. Wilson departing to Los Angeles to play for the Halos.

Rumors swirled naming Darvish the most coveted piece for the Rangers this offseason, while talks about Prince Fielder simmered on the back burner.

Fielder’s market has been slim at best this winter, but his agent, Scott Boras, said he was unlikely to sign before Jan. 17. Well, Jan. 17 has come and gone, and still no sign of Fielder signing anywhere.

Washington has been linked to Fielder this offseason, as have the Marlins, Orioles, Brewers and Mariners.

Fielder would be unlikely to go to a non-contending team, despite his desire to sign a lucrative contract.

Of the teams listed previously, the Brewers makes the most sense for the Prince. Management has talked about giving him $25 million a year, but the years weren’t there. So, should Fielder decide he wants to earn anywhere from $25-30 million this season, a 1-year deal seems like a smart choice, then test the market next season.

One team that should consider the services of Fielder is the reigning World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Sitting with a 35-year-old Lance Berkman at first base next season and no long-term plan beyond the 1-year $12 million contract extension he signed makes them a legitimate possibility…if management would consider it.

Why not offer four or five years at $25 million per? He’s younger than Pujols, left-handed and is every bit as talented with the lumber. He would provide a middle-of-the-order threat, and would fulfill the missing offense Albert Pujols left behind. Slide Beltran back to center field, move Berkman back to right field.

Yes, you’re right. That would be sacrificing quite a bit defensively to add offense.

The Cardinals could handle a hit on defense, due to such an explosive offense, though. With a 3-4-5-6 punch of Matt Holliday, Fielder, Berkman and David Freese (in any order you please) it would be worth having mediocre or just above average defense. That’s not even mentioning Allen Craig.

The club has the money, it’s just an issue of want-to.

Wainwright to fill Pujols’ offensive void

Celebrating its 11 World Series Championship, the St. Louis Cardinals traveled to the nation’s capital Tuesday to meet President Barack Obama and tour the White House. However, the Cardinals were with without co-ace Adam Wainwright – who elected to stay in St. Louis not wanting to miss two days of rehab, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last February, which caused him to miss all of last season. He seemed happy with the progress he was making during the rehab throughout the season in interviews, but admitted there was still a ways to go before he would be completely healthy again.

Yes, the Cardinals did win the World Series last year -without Wainright- but the team will need him to be the Cy-Young-candidate-Wainwright he’s established himself as over the last three years, especially with the face of the franchise leaving via free agency.

Albert Pujols’ departure will leave a hole in the middle of the batting order that will be sorely missed. His perennial .300, 30, 100 stat line is sure to impact run production for the club, but won’t cripple the 2011 NL-best offense.

Granted, the team signed outfielder and six-time All-Star Carlos Beltran – but he’s no Pujols at this point in his career.

How will the Cardinals make up for the lack of offensive production now that Pujols is gone?

In step Waino.

Sure, Kyle McClellan had a fast start in the 2011 campaign (4-0, 3.23 ERA in May), but soon encountered arm problems, which led to a ballooning ERA and a stint on the DL.

Wainright’s return allows the Cardinals to move McClellan, who is now healthy and newly re-signed, back to a potent bullpen, which will only get better with experience.  The team finished 2011 8th in ERA (3.74), 6’7″ righty will only lower that mark, thus, compensating for the lost run support and resulting in the same amount, if not more wins.

With LaRussa’s departure, Cards explore options at skipper

Three World Series championship rings were apparently enough for Tony LaRussa, along with 2,728 victories over the course of a 33-year career.

LaRussa announced his retirement on Monday, just 72 hours removed from hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy following an improbable run to the World Series.

His resume included stints with the Chicago White Sox (1979-1986), Oakland A’s (’86-’95) and St. Louis Cardinals (’96-2011); three American League Manager of the Year Awards (’83, ’88, ’92), one in the National League (2002) and likely another on the way for the 2011 campaign.

LaRussa leaves the game third in victories (2,728) behind John McGraw (2,763) and Connie Mack (3,731). Without a doubt, it wasn’t about the personal accolades for the three-time champion, but more about exiting when it was the right time.

Realistically, how could LaRussa ever top this season? Winning 23 of the team’s last 32 games, overcoming a 10.5 game deficit to make the playoffs and ultimately win a World Series title. It would be tough to conjure up a follow-up act equal or greater than 2011.

Call it what you want – going out on top, going out with a bang – but call it what it is, ending with a hall of fame legacy.

LaRussa’s departure does add to general manager John Mozeliak’s to-do list, already faced with the unenviable task of re-signing Albert Pujols, who officially filed for free agency on Monday.

The managerial musical chairs game has given the Cardinals options for its next skipper, but two seem more likely than others.

Jose Oquendo: The in-house candidate most Cardinals fans have thought would take over for TLR. Oquendo knows the “Cardinal mentality” having been in the St. Louis organization since 1997, and under LaRussa since 1999 as a bench coach. It’s arguable that Oquendo would give the Cards a greater chance of re-signing Pujols, keeping a familiar, respected face at the head of the franchise. Questions would be abound with Oquendo, only having managerial experience as the head of the Puerto Rican squad in the 2006 and ’09 World Baseball Classic.

Terry Francona: Best known for winning the 2004 World Series title with the Boston Red Sox, the team’s first since 1918, then again in 2007. Francona boasts a reputation of winning, having made the postseason in five of his eight years as manager in Bean Town. He took the Red Sox on a run in ’04 similar to LaRussa’s in ’11, trailing the New York Yankees by three games in the ALCS, coming back to win four consecutive games and finishing off the Cardinals by means of a four-game sweep in the World Series. Francona has faced the pressures of winning and handling an extremely talented team. Despite the recent collapse of the Red Sox, Francona is the most qualified candidate the Cardinals have.

Just three days removed from the Cardinals’ 11th World Series championship, let the post-Tony LaRussa era begin.

Game 6 blues

As a college student and avid baseball fan, I had studied for my two exams, attended all of my classes and diligently completed the assignments and work I had awaiting me so I could enjoy, what could have been, the last baseball game of the 2011 season.

So, what am I to do with the rest of my time now that Game 6 has been postponed due to inclement weather?

My Xbox hasn’t been played for quite some time, but without the newest version of Madden, it seems like a long shot to be fired up again.

Obviously, I was ready for the game tonight and had been thinking about baseball all day, so, what better to do than highlight the three best postseason games the St. Louis Cardinals had played thus far.

  • NLDS Game 5 Cardinals 1, Phillies 0: A complete game, three-hit shutout thrown by Chris Carpenter against his longtime buddy Roy Halladay. Nothing more really needs to be said, but I will elaborate. Each team had what it wanted – the ace on the mound in the deciding game of the series. It had the setup to be a duel for the ages where runs would be at a premium, and it didn’t disappoint. The only blemish of the combined 17 innings thrown by both starters came in the top of the first, when Halladay gave up back-t0-back extra base hits to Rafael Furcal and Skip Schumaker to lead off the game. Carpenter was extremely economical with his pitch count, needing only 110 pitches to go the distance, striking out three while not issuing a walk. A beautiful way to move on to the NLCS to face the division rival Milwaukee Brewers.
  • NLCS Game 3 Cardinals 4, Brewers 3: Am I a little biased because I was at this game? Yes. My first postseason game was a blast, sitting in the bleachers and avoiding the rain that was destined to hit St. Louis. Now that we have that out of the way, the Cardinals again jumped out to quick lead, touching up Yovani Gallardo for six runs by means of the first six men reaching base safely. Again, Carpenter was on the mound. The Cards’ horse yielded three runs before being pulled in the fifth inning by manager Tony LaRussa. With Carpenter in line for the victory, he would tie Cardinals great Bob Gibson for most the wins in franchise postseason history. The bullpen would come in and stifle the Brewers, putting up four perfect innings. Jason Motte would finish the game off, striking out three of the four batters he faced, with the stadium shaking around him.
  • World Series game 3 Cardinals 16, Rangers 7: Albert Pujols faced the scrutiny of the media after he did not appear for a postgame interview following the 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers when his error allowed Elvis Andrus an extra base. Pujols addressed the media in a big way on Saturday, giving them something to talk about, but more likely to shut them up. The Cardinals slugger went 5-for-6 with three home runs, six RBI, just a grand slam shy of the home run cycle. Pujols etched his name next to Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth as the only players to have three home runs in a single World Series game. Allen Craig continued his torrid World Series, hitting a first-inning homer, his only hit of the night. Kyle Lohse struggled after obtaining a 5-0 lead, surrendering three runs in just three innings of work, again leaving the bullpen on the hook for the decision. Despite the up and down nature of the game, the Redbirds never trailed and went on to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Pujols trying to prove he’s the man

Despite being stifled offensively for nearly 60 games, perennial all-star Albert Pujols finally broke out his slump in dramatic fashion, lifting the Cardinals to victory on walk-off home runs in back-to-back games against the Chicago Cubs, completing the three-game sweep.

Fans are now saying “He’s back.”

Indeed, it appears the man they call Prince Albert is showing signs of life at the dish.

However, these signs come with some questions, which are raised with some validity.

Matt Holliday was placed on the DL June 1 with an injury to his quad. What relevance does this have, one my ask?

Well, since then, Pujols is hitting .400 (8-for-20) with four homers, eight RBI and nine runs.

It would seem that Pujols is coming alive at just the right time for the Cardinals as a whole, but this is helping his case for showing the Cardinals he’s the man — the face of the franchise.

With Holliday on the shelf and Lance Berkman in and out of the lineup depending on the day, Pujols has been able to be on full display, rising to the occasion and trying to earn the $300 million contract he was demanding in the offsesaon.

Could it be he wanted to wait until the team had no other options offensively to finally step up? Or has it just been the time where pitchers have proven Pujols is human?

Time will tell, but it will take an astounding final four months of the season for Pujols to finish with the the statistical numbers he’s averaged over the last decade.

Cards in talks with Padres for Bell

In a report from MLBTradeRumors.com, the Cardinals have asked about Padre closer Heath Bell.

“They’re among the teams that have checked in on Padres closer Heath Bell, according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (on Twitter).”

Now, ordinarily, this would be just another report that may or may not have some validity. However, the actions the Cardinals have taken of the course of the last 72 hours are what make this report extremely intriguing.

The Cardinals optioned MItchell Boggs to Memphis, to “let him work as a start to develop his secondary pitches.” They placed starter Kyle McCellelan (hip) and outfielder Matt Holliday (quad) on the disabled list, leaving two spots open on the big league roster.

Without McClellan, the Birds were left with a gap in the rotation, which prompted the promotion of Indiana native Lance Lynn, who will make his major league debut tonight against the Giants, as the Cardinals look to avoid losing three out of four in the series.

With one roster spot remaining to be filled, many assumed it would be taken by Mark Hamilton or Adron Chambers.

Well, you know what they say when you assume (ass/u/me).

Instead, the Cards decided to bring up Maikel Cleto, a power-armed 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic, who was brought over to St. Louis in the Brendan Ryan trade.

Cleto had struggled in the Mariners’ farm system, but once coming to St. Louis, began to enjoy success.

One can only wonder why the Cardinals would promote someone all the way up from Double-A when there are plenty of more logical options (Boggs, Chambers and Hamilton) in Memphis.

The Cardinals just left San Diego on May 24, after a quick two-game sweep. It’s possible the Cardinals had talked with the Padres’ front office to offer up a package of players.

So, with everything that has happened, it’s almost safe to say the Cardinals are trying to showcase Cleto, Lynn and Boggs for the Padres. Thus, two of those pitchers would most likely be involved in a package deal, IF Bell is, indeed, shipped out of San Diego.

Craig’s hot bat forces way into lineup

At first it seemed somewhat foolish – Tony LaRussa’s decision to play Allen Craig at second base.

Now, however, it seems like an genius idea — not the first time that’s been said of LaRussa in his tenure managing the Cardinals.

Craig has been given opportunities to play, all around the diamond, and has impressed in nearly every situation.

His production has been solid, despite seeing limited playing time. Through 92 at-bats, Craig has managed a .337 AVG, slugged 3 HR and driven in 19 runs — not too shabby for a utility player.

Those numbers are comparable to Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill and Darwin Barney’s production, and he’s done in nearly 100 less at-bats.

Having such a potent bat to plug into a generally weak offensive middle infield, is a great commodity.

Should Craig continue to see playing time and consistent offensive production, it’s feasible for him to be considered a Top 5 second basemen.

Out with the old, in with the new

Aging, sluggish arms have been the demise of more than a handful of victories the cardinals could have nailed down nearly a third of the way through the season.

Obviously, the struggles of once-solid closer Ryan Franklin –four blown saves in five opportunities and a 9.20 ERA– have been apparent. Tack on those four would-be wins and the Cardinals would have the best record in Major League Baseball (31-17) – not to mention the other six blown saves by the bullpen.

There are, however, other arms in the ‘pen that contribute to losing efforts, but may not have blown saves to their stat line.

Left-handed specialist Trever Miller typically faces one batter a night. He’s amassed a whopping 8.2 innings pitched and managed to walk six in that span.

Tell me how hard it is to face one batter a night and not throw a strike?

So, in order to create space for the other lefty, Brian Tallet, the team decides to send down Mitchell Boggs, one of the team’s best options in the late innings.

Boggs has received comparisons to newly-converted starter Kyle McClellan, when he was in his eighth inning role, of course. Boggs has a plus fastball, a breaking ball and changeup. He’s performed well in his time on the bump for the Cards this year posting a 3.66 ERA and 19 strikeouts in as many innings.

The Cardinals are better off parting ways with the elder arms (Franklin and Miller) and let the young guns take over the ‘pen.

Forget specialists. A good pitcher can get batters out — right- or left-handed.

Bring Boggs back up, let Eduardo Sanchez, Jason Motte and Fernando Salas fight for the closer role and have the other guys fill in accordingly.

With the shaky defense the Cardinals possess, a staunch bullpen is nearly a must.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Mr. April?

Being known as typically a slow starter, Mark Teixeira has gotten off to a hot start at the plate, and after one week of play is among the leaders in many offensive categories.

Through five games, Teixiera has already amassed four homers, going bombs away from both sides of the dish. Only the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz has as many round-trippers after going deep in his first four games.

The switch-hitting first basemen is also tied for the league-lead in RBI with 10, sharing the top spot with White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin.

Teixeira has already surpassed his RBI total of last April (nine), and equaled that of 2009 (10).
 
In 2005, his best year (43 Home Runs, 144 RBI, .301 AVG), he ended April with just 14 RBI and  six homers. Should this first month be a sign of what may lie ahead, the finishing numbers could easily be that or better than ’05.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.