I’m no professional sportswriter, but I *am* a fan, which gives me the right to nit-pick, bash, bitch & moan, and play armchair GM for all my favorite pro teams, right? This is my first true foray into dissecting the Birds on the Bat. You’ve been warned.
After yesterday’s MLB trade deadline, I want to break down this year’s St. Louis Cardinals, position by position, and see if this is truly a team that can contend for a championship right now, or if fans are just fooling themselves into believing it, simply because we’re used to the Cards being there in October.
The Cards made a pre-deadline moves this week, signing free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski and then bringing in 7th year vet Justin Masterson from Cleveland in exchange for an AA outfielder, James Ramsey. Ramsey was projected by many fans as the best true CF in the St. Louis system, so the deal for a relatively mediocre starting pitcher was met with skepticism. Masterson was brought in to eat up innings, which he’s done in the past (he’s averaged 198 over the last 4 seasons) and will help bridge the gap between now and (hopefully) mid-September when Michael Wacha returns from the DL.
GM John Mozeliak saved the bigger shake-up for deadline day, rocking Cardinal Nation to its foundation yesterday by sending fan favorites Joe Kelly and Allen Craig to Boston in exchange for 35 year-old veteran pitcher John Lackey, minor league lefty Corey Littrell, and cash considerations.
I’m not going to examine the trades in depth today, that’ll be for another post. This is my overview of the “State of the Union” that is the Cardinals and how they stand heading into tonight’s series opener versus the Central leading Milwaukee Brewers.
I’m going to start at first, with Matt Adams. Guy is pretty quietly crushing his best MLB season, and setting the bar high for his future. Hits the cover off the ball, line drives, uses the entire field, continues to beat the shift, and you could probably make a case for a Gold Glove the way the big man plays his position.
The only knock against him is that he’s hitting .197 versus lefties this season. Not good, but I don’t think he can get better by not facing them and with the departure of Craig there really isn’t another option for Matheny at first, especially a right-handed one. I’m not worried about that because Adams should be an All-Star cornerstone in St. Louis for a long time.
At second base the Cardinals have found their man for the foreseeable future in Kolten Wong. Speed, surprising power, and youth top his list of pluses. Kong may yet lack polish, but without moving Matt Carpenter back to the middle of the infield, there isn’t a better option for the Cards at second this season, or moving forward for that matter. I’d like to see him work counts more like Marp and get on base more often. IF he can raise his OBP Wong would be the lead-off man, with Carpenter hitting second in my lineup.
I’m really not interested in seeing Mark Ellis start any more games this season, and he’s pretty much the only other choice at the position.
While his numbers at the plate aren’t going to win any awards, Jhonny Peralta has exceeded most expectations with his team-leading 14 homers this season, and has been very good at shortstop thus far. Short is an area where the Cardinals have struggled in recent years, and Johnny looks like a very good fit. It would be nice if they had a backup who deserved to play in the majors to give Peralta some rest every now and then, but playing every day doesn’t seem to bother him.
(yes, I’m specifically saying that Daniel Descalso has zero business being on the team)
Matt Carpenter was an All-Star this season, though I’m not convinced he deserved to be. Yes, he’s very good at getting on base and he’s solid in the field but I think the guy is way overpaid and possibly overrated. There’s no question he was great last year, has a good hitting eye and can play at this level, but to get the kind of contract he signed after ONE full season with the big club? I was also skeptical of the deal Matt Holliday got to come to St. Louis, and that’s panned out, so I’ll give Marp time.
That said, he strikes out looking far too often for my taste and is on pace to finish with significantly more Ks than he did last year, probably with a lower average as well. For now he’s the best bet to lead off because of his OBP, but he’s not been the catalyst this season he was last year. Will he ever be? Last year the Cardinal offense had an historic season, one unlikely to be matched, ever.
Obviously the Cardinals have struggled to score runs this season. Is it because they don’t hit enough homers? Probably part of it, but only because they’re not manufacturing runs the way they have in the past. Marp has to be the leader there and when I watch him take strike three right down the middle, it makes my stomach turn. He leads the NL in pitches seen per plate appearance, but that doesn’t automatically mean he’s one of the best hitters in baseball.
Marp showed yesterday how successful the Cardinals offense can be when he’s consistently taking good ABs and getting on base. I like him in there and he should finish up in the .290+ average range. I’m not comfortable saying this, but Descalso is Carpenter’s back-up here, so obviously St. Louis needs Marp to stay healthy to win.
I’m going to leave this for today, and pick up again tomorrow with the outfield. I’ll cover the battery in another post after that, and sort of summarize my feelings on this Cardinals team, to answer the titular question. Contender, or simply pretender?