Friday, July 18, 2014

Cardinals Second Half Preview

The Cardinals have had an up and down season so far this year. The team's offense has struggled at times and they rank second to last in the National League in runs scored. The Cardinals are last in the league in home runs and are not hitting as good with runners in scoring position as last year. Allen Craig and Matt Holliday have had down years to this point. Center fielder Peter Bourjos has yet to hit. Starting pitchers Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Joe Kelly have missed significant time. Kelly has just came back from the disabled list, but Garcia is out for the year, and Wacha's status is uncertain right now. Even worse, Yadier Molina tore a ligament in his right thumb. Molina is now sidelined until at least September.

Even with all of these challenges, the Cardinals are only one game back at the All Star break. The NL Central has tightened up. The Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates are all within 3.5 games of each other. This race is far from over, and it looks to be a dogfight the rest of the way. The Cardinals also have the prospects to make a trade, if they choose to do so. They also have a lot of depth, which has helped them deal with the injuries. Mike Matheny has done a better job resting his everyday players and mixing in the bench guys this season.

The offense has shown signs of coming around. The team had two walk off wins via the home run against the Pirates in July, with Matt Adams and Kolten Wong delivering. Adams is second in the NL with a .329 average and has been hitting for power since coming off the DL. Early in the year, he was occupied with beating the shifts which affected his power. Wong hit five homers in a week before the All Star break and leads the team with 12 steals. Despite being sent down for two weeks and being on the disabled list another two weeks, Wong already has more steals than anybody on the team last year. Jhonny Peralta has emerged as the team's top power hitter after a very slow start. Matt Carpenter has still been the on base machine that he was last year.

Holliday still has a .373 on base percentage this year, despite his lack of power. The second half is the time of year Holliday usually gets hot. Center field and right field have been unsettled this year. Jon Jay has taken playing time away from Bourjos because of his bat. Bourjos has the speed and defense skill set, but needs to pick up his hitting for playing time. The same goes for Craig, who has a putrid .293 OBP with little power this year. The Cardinals called up Oscar Taveras a few weeks ago in an attempt to provide a spark. Taveras has not only taken playing time away from Craig, but has also gotten a few starts at center. The Cardinals have options in the outfield, they just need those players to play up to their talent levels.

One thing that has been improved from last year is the teams defense. Carpenter has moved back to his natural position at third base after playing second base last year. Wong's defense at second has been very impressive. Peralta didn't have a reputation for being a glove man, but has looked sharp at short. One thing Bourjos has been able to do well is play defense, and Jay's defense has improved this year when he plays center. Holliday has looked the best he has defensively as a Redbird this year. At first base, Adams is smooth defensively for a big guy. Craig hasn't let his offensive struggles carry over to the field, whether he be at first base or the outfield. He hasn't made an error all year at three different positions.

Speaking of defense, the club will miss Molina's game changing defense the next couple of months. There is no one in baseball with a throwing arm like Yadi. Molina also is very good at blocking balls in the dirt and framing pitches. For young pitchers, Molina has been like an on field coach. He has helped the young staff develop. The team will miss his glove, bat, and especially his leadership. Backup Tony Cruz will step in as a starter, and is capable of doing an admirable job. Cruz probably could start for a few teams in the league. The Cardinals picked up veteran backstop George Kottaras off the waiver wire after Molina's injury. The good news is that Molina should be ready to go for the final stretch of the season and potential postseason games.

The Cardinals pitching has been very good this year. Ace Adam Wainwright is having a terrific season and is 12-4 with a 1.83 ERA. Wainwright is making another run at his first Cy Young Award, but will be competing with Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto for the award. After Wainwright, Lance Lynn has been our second best starter this year. Lynn has good stuff, but can be inconsistent. He can be dominant in one outing, and get rocked in the next start. Lynn is 10-4 with a 3.14 ERA this year. He is a durable 200 inning pitcher, that is learning how to pitch more efficiently. That lesson is something Shelby Miller is still looking for. After finishing 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting last year, Miller sports a 6-7 record, with a 4.29 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. He has left many starts early, and may have problems with his back. Matheny left Miller off the postseason rotation last year when he was much better. The Cardinals need Miller to find his 2013 form.

The Cardinals got Kelly back just in time. Kelly hurt his hamstring in April and missed close to three months. He replaced rookie lefty Marco Gonzales, who was just drafted last year. Gonzales has a lot of potential, but needs more seasoning in the minors. Carlos Martinez started the season in the bullpen, but has moved into the rotation with the injury to Wacha. Martinez has filthy stuff, but like the other young pitchers, is still learning. He has pitched well out of the rotation in all starts except for last Sunday's start vs. Milwaukee. The team is uncertain when Wacha will be back after hurting his shoulder. Understandably, the Cardinals want to be careful with the 2013 NLCS MVP.

The bullpen has had some hiccups this year, but has been solid for the most part. Trevor Rosenthal is second in the NL with 28 saves. However, Rosenthal hasn't been as good as he was last year when he was primarily a set up man. Rosenthal saved 4 games in last year's postseason and pitched 11.2 scoreless innings. This season, Rosenthal has a 3.50 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. Part of the problem is that Matheny has overused Rosenthal this year.

Pat Neshek has been a great low cost signing for the Cardinals this year. Neshek went from being a non roster invitee to a All Star reliever. The sidearming righty has a 0.70 ERA and has moved into a set up role for the Redbirds. Jason Motte has came back from Tommy John surgery, but hasn't found his groove yet. Kevin Siegrist was great last season, but has missed a month and a half and just started a rehab assignment. Randy Choate started the year as the Cardinals second lefty, and his ERA has been inflated by one bad outing. In Siegrist's absence, Sam Freeman has filled the void. Freeman has been very good this year, and sports a 1.42 ERA. He had a few cups of coffee in the big leagues before, but has finally figured it out.

Another big question is if John Mozeliak is planning on making any big trades before the deadline. In the past, Mozeliak has been careful, but has shown a willingness to make big moves. In 2009, he traded away prospects like Chris Perez and Brett Wallace to get Mark DeRosa and Holliday. In 2011, he traded Colby Rasmus to get pitching help. Other years, he made minor moves, like in 2012 when he acquired Edward Mujica at the deadline. There are a lot of rumors on what the Cardinals will do in the next couple of weeks. Teams will be asking about Taveras, Wong, Martinez, Gonzales, and other top prospects in the minors. Mozeliak will have to decide if on how good he thinks these players will be in the future and if its worth giving up these guys in a deal.

Some of the names being floated around are Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton, Jake Peavy, Cliff Lee, and David Price. This happens every year at the deadline, and most of the time the trades don't happen. The Cardinals explored a Tulowitzki deal last offseason, but balked at the asking price. They signed Peralta instead, and it is very unlikely the Cards trade for Tulo. The Marlins insist that Stanton is not on the market, and the asking price for him would be very high. The Cardinals reportedly looked into a Peavy for Craig deal, but backed out. The Samardzija deal set the asking price for prospects high, and the Rays would be asking a ransom for Price. Lee could be had for cheaper, although it comes with a costly contract. I can see Mozeliak making a move, but I doubt he parts with a Taveras, Wong, or Martinez.

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