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Matt Holliday’s Injury Not as Detrimental to Cardinals as Longoria’s Is to Rays

The emergency surgery to remove Matt Holliday‘s appendix certainly harms the heart of the St. Louis Cardinals lineup. But with the advent of laparoscopic procedures, the Cardinals have yet to put the All-Star slugger on the DL.  

His absence and the early-season struggles of Albert Pujols have left St. Louis hurting for runs early this season. But it could be worse.

Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria was

Former Cardinal Felipe Lopez has been tabbed to replace Longoria in the lineup.

St. Louis fans can only pity the plight the Rays are in, given their knowledge of Lopez’s capabilities at the hot corner. After a positive stint with the Redbirds for 43 games late in the 2008 season, Lopez was a tremendous disappointment in 2010 with St. Louis. He batted .231 with a paltry OPS of .651 as the fill-in for the injured David Freese, eventually being cut in September due to repeated tardiness and ineffectual play.

Holliday is optimistic he will return to the lineup soon.  

“I told them I would like to not go on the DL,” he stated in his first public comments since the surgery. Jon Jay and Allen Craig will hold down the fort in LF for the Cardinals. Jay’s emergence last season allowed St. Louis to trade Ryan Ludwick to pick up right-handed starter Jake Westbrook at the trade deadline last season—and Craig has been a very successful hitter in Triple-A Memphis the past few years.

Losing Holliday is a cause of concern for Cardinals fans, but given what they know about who the Rays have to replace Longoria, it doesn’t seem so bad.  

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Keeping Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright Will Prove John Mozeliak a Worthy GM

On Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals announced they were extending the contract of GM John Mozeliak by three years.  Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. described it as a “well deserved extension” and it is indicative if Mozeliak’s ability to balance payroll while continually keeping St. Louis competitive in the National League.
Mozeliak’s biggest splash came this past offseason with the signing of free agent Matt Holliday to largest contract in club history.  The seven-year, $120 million deal came on the heels of a midseason trade with the Oakland Athletics for the slugging outfielder that catapulted the Cardinals to the NL Central crown.
Mozeliak was very active last season in tweaking the roster to provide manager Tony LaRussa with the pieces needed to turn a good team into a favorite for the National League pennant.  Those dreams died when St. Louis was surprisingly swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the GM had played his part well.
He dealt a package of prospects to the Cleveland Indians for veteran utility player Mark DeRosa and then landed the big fish in Holliday.  Though DeRosa injured his wrist shortly after the trade and didn’t perform as hoped, the trades seemed to invigorate the clubhouse as the team went 20-6 in August and cruised into October.  Perhaps more importantly, the moves erased growing frustration amongst an agitated fan-base.
Mozeliak Provides Harmony in the Front Office
Before he was hired as GM after the 2007 season, Mozeliak served as an assistant to Walt Jocketty (now the current Cincinnati Reds GM). Mozeliak is credited with encouraging the club to sign oft-injured OF Ryan Ludwick and current closer Ryan Franklin.  Though neither were well-known at the time, they blossomed in St. Louis with both appearing in the All-Star Game during their Cardinal careers.
And in a fractious front office split in a power struggle between Jocketty and VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow, Mozeliak was often in the unenviable of position of go-between.
While Jockett chafed at the power and the sabermetric-minded Luhnow had been given by DeWitt, Mozeliak has embraced the new style of scouting.  He has provided harmony by balancing sabermetric analysis with old-fashioned, first-hand reports from scouts.
Despite initial fears that Mozeliak would be overpowered by the strong will of LaRussa, the two appear to have a good working relationship and mutual respect.  Mozeliak has provided the veteran role players the Redbird skipper prefers (Randy Winn, Aaron Miles) and LaRussa has worked well with young talent from the Cardinal farm system (Jaime Garcia, David Freese).
Last season’s trades for Holliday and DeRosa depleted prospects from the top levels of the farm system, but most of the young talent involved had low-ceilings (Jess Todd, Shane Peterson) or simply duplicated players already ensconced on the big league roster (Brett Wallace, Chris Perez).  Despite being depleted at Triple-A Memphis, the farm system is accumulating high-end talent in the low minors, exemplifying a more cohesive approach to the draft than the Cardinals experienced under Jocketty.
The Khalil Greene Trade
Like any general manager that actively works to improve the roster, mistakes can be made.  Injuries and other unforeseen circumstances can unravel even the most sound decisions.  Mozeliak did a masterful job of adding Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny to the pitching staff, but now both are on the DL and their chances of making contributions this year seem to fade daily .
But there is one transaction that Mozeliak would love to take back.  In the winter of 2009, he traded minor league reliever Mark Worrell and a player to be named later to San Diego for shortstop Khalil Greene.  Greene was coming off a disappointing 2008 season , but had enjoyed a superb 2007 campaign .
There were some grumblings at the time of the trade because of his struggles in 2008 capped by having to go on the DL after breaking his hand, punching a clubhouse storage chest out of frustration. But Greene brought hope of an impact bat at SS, and it seemed the Cardinals got him for very little in return.
Greene was a flop with St. Louis.  His struggles with social anxiety disorder are well documented and his career is now in shambles.  If that wasn’t bad enough for the Cardinals and Mozeliak, the PTBNL in that traded ended up being Luke Gregerson.  He has since developed into a superior middle-reliever with the Padres.
Mozeliak placed the blame for the failed trade on the Padres, telling The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “the team had no inkling of Greene’s issues before they traded for him.” He inferred that San Diego GM Kevin Towers was not forthright about Greene’s anxiety issues.  Maybe Towers pulled a fast one on the Cardinals GM, but it is also clear that Mozeliak did not do enough research on Greene before pulling the trigger on the trade.
But Mozeliak has earned the benefit of the doubt regardless of that one mistake.  He has shown a gift for finding valuable players for very little investment.  Last season, he picked up Boston Red Sox castoffs Julio Lugo and John Smolz, who proved to be valuable pieces in the team’s second half surge to the playoffs.  In spring training this year, he signed Felipe Lopez for a mere $1 million, and Lopez has filled in at many positions vacated by either injuries or poor performance.
For a franchise with big dreams in a small market, such bargains are crucial to the team’s continued success on the field.
Now the Hard Work Begins
The contract extension shows ownership’s belief that Mozeliak is a fully capable Major League general manager.  Such confidence is necessary because in the next three years, he faces more pressure than perhaps any other GM in Major League Baseball.
Priority number one is re-signing Albert Pujols before his contract expires at the end of next season.  Pujols is best player in the game and the face of the franchise and Major League Baseball as a whole.  Negotiating a contract that pays Pujols his worth, while fitting it into a budget that allows the team to remain competitive, will be tricky.  He will need to get this accomplished before being faced with the excruciating decision to either trade the Cardinals’ best player in generations for a stockpile of talent or risk losing Pujols to free agency with only compensatory draft picks in return.
There is also the issue of retaining dominant starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
2012 is the final year of Carpenter’s current contract the club is expected to exercise its option to retain him.  He is 10-3 this season, finished a close third in Cy Young Award balloting last year, and provides valuable veteran presence for the pitching staff while being a huge crowd favorite.  But Carpenter will turn 38 years old just after the beginning of the 2013 season and Mozeliak must decide how much to invest in an injury-prone, aging right-handed starter.
One of Mozeliak’s wisest moves was one of his first.  In March 2008, he signed Adam Wainwright to a $15 Million contract good through 2013, including team options.  Now, the 28-year old right hander is one of the top starting pitchers in the majors with a 13-5 record and a 2.11 ERA.  
He finished second to Tim Lincecum for last year’s Cy Young Award that many baseball insiders thought Wainwright should have won.  He signed his current deal choosing security over money, but barring something unexpected he would be at the top of the 2014 free agent class and ready to cash in a huge contract.  The pressure starts now on Mozeliak to keep room in the payroll to retain this superstar.
If Mozeliak is able to keep these core players and keep St. Louis competing for the National League pennant year after year, he will not only have repaid the club’s faith in spades, but also emerge from the long shadow of his former boss, Walt Jocketty.

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Second Half Begins Positively for Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals

Strong Start By Carpenter

As Chris Carpenter breezed through the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup on Thursday night, all of Cardinal Nation gave a deep sigh of relief while they celebrated the 7-1 victory.  

The St. Louis right-hander had not been sharp since getting hit on his pitching arm by a line drive in late June, but the veteran was efficient and in command for eight innings, only surrendering four hits and an Andre Ethier solo home run.  Carpenter struck out six and has apparently corrected the mechanical flaws that had plagued his starts earlier in July, as he did not walk a Dodger.

Carpenter was able to locate his curve, something that he had been unable to do in his last two starts.  He had allowed 11 earned runs and 18 hits with four walks in only nine innings during the July funk, leading to fears among Cardinal fans that the former Cy Young winner was injured.  But the team insisted he was fine, and pitching coach Dave Duncan said just before the All-Star break that Carpenter’s issues were in his delivery, specifically the way he was landing on his left leg.

So one great fear of the second half is eliminated right away.  Carpenter was masterful, crisp, and efficient, getting out of innings with very few pitches.  And that was important on a typical St. Louis July night rampant with heat and humidity.  

Carpenter only threw 101 pitches in his eight innings but wasn’t asked to do more in the muggy conditions, giving way to Mitchell Boggs, who finished the game with no drama.


Offense Does Its Part

Another positive development was the Cardinal offense.  Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw has bedeviled the Redbirds in the past, but he wasn’t sharp tonight and St. Louis took advantage.  Albert Pujols had three hits and Yadier Molina and Aaron Miles each added two to the team total of 12.  The offense was able to string hits together and put runs on the scoreboard in four different innings.

In the first game of the second half of the season, the lineup showed patience and discipline at the plate.  The batters allowed a wild Kershaw to work himself into trouble, and they took advantage of his mistakes.  They went with pitches to the opposite field and made productive uses of their at-bats, getting runners advanced when they made outs.

Shortstop Brendan Ryan’s problems have not gone away, though.  Ryan got the start but did not get a hit.  After taking the collar in his four at-bats, Ryan’s average has dropped to .190 on the season.

The Cardinals recalled Allen Craig from Memphis to replace outfielder Nick Stavinoha, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a shoulder sprain.  Craig had two RBI and hit the ball hard, but he did not record a hit, and he has only one hit hit in 21 Major League at-bats.  He was replaced in the sixth inning by another rookie, Jon Jay, who extended his 12-game hit streak with an RBI double in the seventh.  Jay continues to be a spark to the lineup, as he is now hitting .386 on the season.

With Cincinnati having the day off, St. Louis is only one-half game out of first.  With Carpenter back to being himself and the offense looking like it should, Cardinal fans are feeling a bit better about the team and the second half of the season.



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St. Louis Cardinals Second Half Predictions, Part Three: The Injured

If the St. Louis Cardinals win their 11th World Series championship, it will be predicated upon the return to health and effectiveness of key members of the roster.

In my final look at predictions for the Cardinals’ roster in the second half, we focus on those that missed valuable portions of the first half of the season.

At least one of these players must make a successful return if it is to be a Redbird October.

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St Louis Cardinals Second Half Predictions, Part 2 : The Bad

What if we were picking up the pieces like after Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS? Would Cardinal Nation be happy?


Therefore to follow up the Good News predictions for the first half, here is my disappointments for the second half.

It’s a brutal assessment, but a World Series title is the only option. LOOGY’s and PH’s are exempt.

Remember, a good first-half doesn’t mean a good finish. And a good finish to the regular season doesn’t insure a ticket to the promised land. The promised land is nothing but an 11th World Series title.

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St Louis Cardinals Second Half Predictions, Part 1 : The Good

As the St. Louis Cardinals begin the second half of the season, we have prognostications for all three categories of the roster : the good, the bad, and the injured. First we’ll look at the ten players to count on in the stretch run to the playoffs.
From boosting their flaccid offense to maintaining solid pitching, the Redbirds have the talent and ability to make the playoffs. We’ll access each players chance to make a difference in the hopes to take advantage of the extra home game won in the All—Star Game and win their 11th World Series championship.

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