Tag: St Louis

St. Louis Cardinals Boast 1 of History’s Best Pitching Staffs

When Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon in April, the St. Louis Cardinals were left without their true acelet alone one of baseball’s top pitchersfor most of the season. Despite the setback, the National League powerhouse has relied on a pitching staff on pace to challenge MLB record books.

At 73-41, St. Louis owns the majors’ best record in 2015—at least five games ahead of any other team and six in front of a tough NL Central that might produce three playoff teams.

Yet the Cardinals have done so not by scoring runssorry, Bill James apologists—but rather by preventing them.

St. Louis pitchers have allowed 2.93 runs per game this seasonthe best in the league by more than 0.5 runswhile scoring just 3.97 (21st in the league).

But it’s the 2.93 per game that could go down as one of the best marks ever when considering it’s 29.2 percent lower than the league average of 4.14.

The St. Louis pitching staff is one of the best of the past 20 yearsa span that includes both the height of MLB’s “steroid era” and today’s “dead-ball era.”

Its dominance blows away the average MLB team at a rate that’s almost unheard of.

A study by Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal pointed out the Cardinals arms corps is one of MLB’s best of the past century: “Only one team since 1900, the 1906 Chicago Cubs, performed better, allowing 2.46 runs a game compared with a league average of 3.62—a difference of 32 percent.”

Even without Wainwright, who went 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA in four starts before his injury, for much of the season, Cardinals starters own a collective 2.77 ERA so far this season.

If it holds up, that would be the lowest ERA by a starting rotation in 30 yearsthe 1985 Dodgers accumulated a 2.71 mark.

Paul Casella of Sports on Earth noted the unusual path the St. Louis starters have taken, though: “The Cardinals have seemed to collectively master run prevention, all without a single pitcher ranking within the top 15 in strikeouts, WHIP or strikeout-to-walk ratio.”

Either way, all five starting pitchers, from the 36-year-old John Lackey to the 23-year-old Carlos Martinez, sit below a 3.00 ERA at the moment.

Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh pointed out the St. Louis pitching staff strands baserunners at a rate no other team in history can match.

Some of the contributions might come from a resilient starting rotation. But the Cardinals employ a bullpen that isn’t shabby, either.

The relievers’ 2.26 ERA is the best since that of the 1972 Pittsburgh Piratesthe only bullpen better since the league lowered the mound in 1969.

More interesting are the members of the Cardinals pen.

There’s the starter-turned-closer, Trevor Rosenthal, who’s tied for the league lead with 35 saves. There’s Randy Choate, a 39-year-old workhorse, and Kevin Siegrist, a 26-year-old setup specialist. Then you have two recent additions in veterans Jonathan Broxton and Steve Cishekformer dominant closers who are now role players.

No matter the name or story, each reliever is capable of entering a game in a jam and shutting down opposing offenses.

The statistics show that Cardinals pitchers, as an entire unit, get more dominant once runners reach base, per Baseball-Reference.com:

St. Louis pitchers allow a .257 batting average when the bases are empty23rd in MLB and 10 points worse than the league average this season.

When runners get on or, even worse, get in scoring position, they turn into monsters and allow batters to hit just .212 and .194, respectively, in those situationsboth marks rank first in the majors by a wide margin.

Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci credited catcher Yadier Molina for his game management behind the plate:

No other club is close to the Cardinals when it comes to the key moments of run prevention: when the opponent has scoring chances. Credit has to go not only to the pitchers, but also to veteran catcher Yadier Molina, whose skills at framing and calling pitchers are most valuable in those pressure situations.

Baseball’s new-age thinking based in analytics claims that scoring runs ultimately leads to winning ballgames. Yet the Cardinals are dispelling that notion in 2015. 

Even the offensive stars in St. Louis have bought in. Per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said the following:

We’ve played in close ballgames before. Just scoring runs is not a good plan over the course of the season. You have to play good defense. You have to pitch. That’s how you win close games. That’s how you lead the league in wins, in my opinion.

A team that struggles with creating runs, as St. Louis does, needs to excel in run preventionsomething the Cardinals do.

“I honestly think this is how you win in the playoffs,” outfielder Jason Heyward told Goold, “so we’re going to have a lot of experience built up.”

The Cardinals may be without their bona fide ace, but they have more than made up for the loss. 

Their pitching has them on pace for a 99-win season, according to FanGraphs’ projections, and one of the best overall performances by a staff in MLB history.

It’s safe to say, no matter how many runs the Cardinals score in a given game, they’ll be darned if they don’t allow fewer.


You can follow Dan on Twitter. He’s still bitter the 2011 Phillies and their four-headed monster of aces didn’t pan out as hoped.

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Holliday’s 1,000th RBI Is the Sign of a Career of Consistency

Matt Holliday has always been in an odd place as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

While plenty of fans recognize him for what he has done, there is a certain faction that seems to always be looking for a reason to complain about Holliday.

This is the same faction that always sees him as the obvious “trade chip.” He’s the fan base’s perennial fall guy even when he’s putting up solid numbers—and that’s something he’s done regularly during his time as a Cardinal.

His 1,000th RBI serves only to underscore his role as one of the more consistent outfielders in the game today.

Just as food for thought, here are a few points to keep in the front of your mind when thinking of Matt Holliday.

• An overall career .309 hitter, Holliday is the team leader in batting average among active Cardinals. He has hit .302 in his six seasons with the Cardinals—second only to Albert Pujols. One notch below him is Jon Jay, but that’s a column for another day.

•He’s never hit less than 22 home runs in a full season with the Cardinals. He is the only player currently on the roster who can make that statement.

•Holliday is also the team’s active leader in OBP (.388), slugging percentage (.507) and home runs (117). The fact that he’s in his sixth season with the Cardinals has played a role, however, his ability to put up consistent numbers year after year is the true difference maker.

• While he has suffered through some painful slumps over the years, his hot streaks are capable of carrying a team for several weeks. Overall, he’s had a slow start to 2014, but if we can learn anything from history it’s that Holliday could crank things up at any time.

• It’s long been understood that Holliday’s defense isn’t his strongest tool. No one’s arguing against that. Matt Holliday is a hitter. However, to the naked eye Holliday looks to be making serious strides in left field this year. He seems to be legging out balls that in the past I would argue he wouldn’t have reached.

In 2014, 11 years into his career, Holliday continues to grow as a player. He’s not content with just “mailing it in.”

In St. Louis, playing for an organization with a Triple-A outfield worthy of most major league teams, job security comes only through performance.

While his 2009 contract paying him $17 million per year through 2016 (with a 2017 option) seemed like a huge chunk of change at the time, as time passes it’s beginning to look like a bargain.

With teams beginning to dump more dollars and years into contracts for similar players, Holliday’s ability to stay on the field and put up long-term consistent numbers make him one of the Cardinals better signings in recent history.

When you look at, for instance, David Wright, who signed a contract of similar value, the Holliday contract looks even better. Despite a few minor injuries, Holliday has never missed significant playing time in his career.

Things like appendicitis and the moth incident are just freak injuries. Life happens.

In the meantime, let the naysayers complain about Holliday all they want. His numbers can speak for themselves.

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St. Louis Cardinals Avoid Pitfalls of Big Contracts

While perusing this list of the top MLB salaries in 2014, you have to travel down 22 spots before seeing the first St. Louis Cardinals player. Adam Wainwright checks in there with his $19.5 million payday this season.

Actually, Wainwright would be 24th since this list doesn’t reflect recent deals signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout.

But that’s not really the point. Many Cards players get paid handsomely for their services. And while it’s true they don’t have the financial resources of the New York Yankees, Dodgers or Angels, they’re not the Little Sisters of the Poor, either.

The Cardinals are rarely in the top 10 in payroll, and they’ve never been a top-five spender. In 2005, they reached their payroll pinnacle at sixth. 

What’s impressive—and telling—about St. Louis’ run of eight National League Championship Series appearances since 2000 is the team hasn’t had to throw around mega bucks to manufacture on-field success.

Most of that has to do with circumstances created by the organization. The front office deserves tons of credit for scouting and player development. Ownership also has made shrewd moves to lock up budding stars into team-friendly deals. The Cardinals have won while maintaining a balance of cheap, younger players to offset pricier veterans.

And then there’s the impact of the city itself. Few places in the sports landscape do a better job at selling players on a culture than St. Louis. It’s impossible to account for the millions saved when a player falls in love with the winning tradition and a deep, loyal fan base.

In the wake of Kershaw’s huge deal with the Dodgers, Wainwright’s deal looked like a steal for the Cardinals. Still, Wainwright insisted he’s content with the five-year, $97 million extension he signed in March of last year. Wainwright told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Once I signed that deal, that was the deal I wanted to sign. I didn’t have to sign it. We worked to get to a number where I felt made it fair for both sides. This is where I wanted to be. Do I think I could have made more money on the free agent market? Absolutely.

But you can’t buy happiness. I’m not going to be happier anywhere else than where I am right now.

The club had its chance to dip its toes into the $20-million-a-year player pool a few seasons ago. Cards fans remember Albert Pujols’ free-agent soap opera in the 2011 offseason.

The Redbirds were world champs, and their best player, a franchise icon, was set to test the open market. Many fans were willing to pay any amount of ownership’s money to keep El Hombre. Even to the point of sacrificing the team’s ability to assemble a winning club around Pujols, keeping the three-time National League MVP had to happen. Nothing else would be tolerated or accepted.

It doesn’t matter which side you believe on how negotiations broke down. Even with the Cardinals’ reported eight-year, $200 million deal, No. 5 was going to make north of $25 million per season to wear the Birds on the Bat.

Ultimately, of course, Pujols signed with the Angels. And who can blame him? His 10-year, $240 million mammoth deal will pay him a ridiculous $30 million in 2021 when he’s 41. The Cardinals wanted him to stay, but they weren’t insane.

The Cardinals have done fine without the player they couldn’t afford to lose. In two subsequent seasons, they’ve reached the NLCS and World Series. Many of the Cardinals faithful who clamored to go all-in to keep him are openly relieved they didn’t. They wince at the thought of the likely repercussions that deal would’ve had on the franchise.

Either Wainwright or Yadier Molina likely wouldn’t have re-signed—and maybe neither. The money simply wouldn’t have been there. Such a financial commitment to Pujols would impact deals for Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter. Forget about Carlos Beltran’s two years in the Lou. Same goes for Jhonny Peralta’s four-year deal last offseason.

Even if Pujols stayed and produced the same impressive numbers as the first 11 seasons in St. Louis, the deal still would look sketchy at best.

Pujols’ production with the Angels continues to drop while his time in the trainer’s room increases. He missed the majority of last season due to injury. The effects of Father Time give little hope of him returning to superstar levels attained with the Cardinals.

St. Louis entered last offseason desperately searching for a shortstop. Rumors linked the team to Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. The Cardinals had the financial flexibility to absorb his hefty price tag, and they had the prospects to pull it off. But such a deal, whether rooted in reality or not, didn’t make sense.

The Cardinals aren’t immune to bad decisions. But the club’s few misses aren’t the type of payroll-crippling mistakes that would send the franchise into a recession. Clubs with a $110 million payroll can’t afford to invest a quarter of that on one player, no matter who he is.

Look at what’s happened to the Minnesota Twins after the eight-year, $184 million deal given to Joe Mauer following his MVP season in 2009. He hit 28 home runs that year. The next four seasons combined, he’s hit 33 homers. Meanwhile, his $23 million annual salary accounts for at least a quarter of the team’s payroll.

Not coincidentally, the Twins have gone 195-291 in the last three seasons.

Few teams get the kind of return on their investment as the Cardinals.

Craig batted .316 while hitting 13 homers and driving in 97 runs last season. And that’s despite missing nearly all of September with an ankle injury. He got paid $1.75 million.

The top three earners among National League first basemen in 2013 were Adrian Gonzalez ($21.8M), Ryan Howard ($20M) and Joey Votto ($18.9M).

Gonzalez had a great season for the Dodgers with a .293-22-100 line. Votto went .305-24-73. Not too shabby. But Howard was limited to 11 homers and 286 at-bats due to injury.

Starters Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn went a combined 40-24 with a 3.33 ERA last season. Together they made $1.5 million.

Carpenter, who finished fourth in the NL MVP race, had 199 hits, scored 126 runs and made $504,000.

The team also got great returns on its larger investments.

Matt Holliday had the third-highest salary among NL left fielders ($17M) last season. Among qualifiers at that position, he was fourth in homers (22) and first in RBI (94), average (.300) and OPS (.879).

Signed to a five-year, $75 million extension during spring training last season, Molina lived up to his new $14.2 million salary by finishing second in NL MVP voting.

Clearly, Wainwright’s extension made him complacent. Now earning $12 million, he finished second in the Cy Young voting after a 19-win campaign.

The Cardinals are happy to let others hand out enormous deals that look bad before the ink’s dry on the contract. Four World Series appearances and two titles in 10 seasons show they’re investing the right way.

All salary information courtesy of Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted.

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Breaking Down St. Louis Cardinals’ Top 10 Prospects to Start 2014 Season

The St. Louis Cardinals were tabbed by Baseball America in 2013 as the top minor league system in Major League Baseball. That marked a massive turnaround for an organization that had been consistently ranked near the bottom over the past 15 years.

But even without national acclaim, the Cards won. They benefited from quality over quantity, as players like Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina emerged into stars. When St. Louis won World Series titles in ‘06 and ‘11, Baseball America ranked the farm system 21st and 24th, respectively.

Now the Cardinals own a thriving talent base that is capable of sustaining big league success for the foreseeable future. Last season, a league-best 27 players that were drafted by St. Louis helped lead the Redbirds to their eighth National League Championship Series appearance since 2000.

On the list for the Cardinals’ top 10 prospects to start the 2014 season is a diverse mix of big-time bats and impact arms. This list will focus on players without MLB experience and puts added weight for those who are closer to being MLB-ready.

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Keeping Competition Healthy Is a Key for the St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals have always reveled in the underdog role.

They were the underdog against the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series. They were the underdog against the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year’s playoffs. They’ve been the underdog against just about everyone in past Octobers.

Except for this year.

Before a single pitch has been thrown (as Mike Matheny will remind you), the expectations are high for the 2014 Cardinals.

Matheny’s not a fan of talking expectations. Of course, neither is anyone else in MLB. While veteran players and front office personnel might be able to put those expectations aside, it’s not always so easy for young players.

“We like our chances just as much as anybody else, but to start making bold statements and predictions is really not wise,” Matheny said. “At this point, we’ve got to play the game.”

And the game starts now.

Whether they fully live up to those expectations, Matheny believes in playing every game like it’s your last—regardless of how much or how little is expected of you.

“It doesn’t matter the expectations and it doesn’t matter what people are saying,” Matheny said. “It’s a lot of talk and it gets you nowhere.”

They don’t talk about it regularly, but Matheny said he makes it clear to his players that the expectations and predictions for this team are just talk and nothing more.

“We have things that are said about us—compliments is what they are—but these guys have gone about their business the right way,” Matheny said.

While the team looks good on paper, that means nothing until it’s translated into on-field production. Just because a group of guys look good together statistically doesn’t make them winners.

Matheny is quick to point this out.

“People in this business understand we have talent, but talent has to come together as a team,” he said. “You’ve got to form the right kind of clubhouse and the right kind of play on the field.

“All of the speculation in the world gets you no runs. It doesn’t get you any outs from the mound either.”

Despite all of the hype and the need to play it down, Matheny understands why this team is drawing so much attention. Aside from the numbers, he feels he has a group of guys who all understand the importance of putting in their time.

“They go about it the right way,” he said. “They realize there’s a short window of opportunity in this game and they don’t want to lose any of those opportunities. They’re ready.”

It’s also important to remember that teams require change throughout the year. Whether it’s minor league call-ups or major league trades, more often than not a team looks different at game 162 than it did at game one.

General manager John Mozeliak knows that even with the best of teams, adjustments are usually required.

He thinks it’s a matter of “learning the DNA” of a particular team.

“We’re not perfect on day one and we know that,” Mozeliak said. “Our rotation looks stable, our everyday core players look solid. In terms of what we may have to go get at some point, we don’t know, but we know it will probably be something.

For now, as the Cardinals prepare for the season opener in Cincinnati, all they’re thinking about is getting back to baseball.

“It’s fun because now we get to go out there and actually see what we’ve got,” Matheny said.

All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.

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Biggest Winners and Losers of St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training

The team St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny plans to take north to Cincinnati for Opening Day is almost set.

Aside from determining the final bullpen spot, the last week in Jupiter, Fla., is used for rotation positioning, lineup tinkering and ensuring the starters are ready for the 162-game grind.

It’s also a time to reflect on the spring training and what players made the most—and least—of their time in Cards camp.



Kolten Wong

Kolten Wong found his confidence in camp and left little doubt he deserves to be the starting second baseman on March 31. He batted .372 with a 1.100 OPS, hit two homers and displayed outstanding defense.

“(Wong) has answered a lot of questions,” Matheny explained to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s really done a nice job of taking advantage of the opportunity.”

Matheny has used Wong throughout the lineup, even batting the rookie second. While short on the pop the Cardinals are accustomed to getting from that spot, his speed would be intriguing behind Matt Carpenter.


Peter Bourjos

Peter Bourjos’ defensive reputation gave him the edge over incumbent center fielder Jon Jay heading into camp. Having a far superior spring offensively, in addition to reinforcing his brilliant glove work, makes him the clear starter.

Bourjos told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that he hopes to continue to get love for more than just his glove:

The last few years have been tough. I may not be a .330 hitter, but I’m definitely better than people give me credit for. One of your buddies will show you an article, and it’s really nice about the defensive stuff and not so much the offensive stuff. It’s one thing I’ve been striving for, to become a better hitter and prove people wrong.

Bourjos had his customary strikeout issues, but he drew some walks and showed off his speed. That ability will help even batting near the bottom of the order. It also overcomes range deficiencies from corner outfielders Matt Holliday and Allen Craig.


Pat Neshek

To make the club, Pat Neshek not only had to pitch well, he also needed a break.

Jaime Garcia’s bum left shoulder and Jason Motte’s slowed rehab left two spots open in the bullpen. Neshek claimed one vacancy by posting a 3.38 ERA over eight innings.

Historically, Neshek is tough on righties and soft on lefties. But Matheny saw enough this spring to believe he’s more than a right-handed version of lefty specialist Randy Choate.

The submarine hurler won’t last long in relief, though, if he can’t continue to hold his own against southpaws. Motte’s May return date and Jorge Rondon’s strong spring put extra pressure on Neshek to deliver early.


Joe Kelly

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. That’s the case with Joe Kelly, who had a forgettable spring while being thoroughly outpitched by Carlos Martinez in the supposed fifth-starter battle.

Despite those numbers, Kelly earns the last place in the rotation. That hints at Matheny‘s desire all along to have Martinez in the eighth inning. Kelly’s effectiveness as a starter down the stretch last season for the Cardinals also carried some weight with the skipper.

If Motte can move back into a late-inning relief role in the first couple of months, Martinez could bump Kelly back to his usual long-relief slot.



Jon Jay

Jay wasn’t going to be the better glove man in center for the Cards. So he had to have a superior spring offensively in order to earn a platoon with Bourjos.

Posting a disappointing .167 average cemented Bourjos’ starter status and left Jay moving around the outfield in an attempt to boost his value.

Jay’s roster spot isn’t in jeopardy, but his playing time could be significantly cut. As long as Bourjos holds his own with the bat while displaying stellar defense, he’ll be on the bench most nights.


Oscar Taveras

Oscar Taveras presumably was healthy and ready to make a case for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Except that he wasn’t.

The Cardinals’ young stallion stumbled out of the starting gate, strutted his stuff briefly, then pulled up lame. Now Taveras will get the chance to regain his stud status in Triple-A Memphis.

Taveras’ mettle will be tested in the minors after the luster from this star prospect was tarnished. The front office will find out early how he copes with the disappointment, particularly with fellow outfield prospects Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty leaving positive impressions with Matheny and Co.


Jaime Garcia

Garcia will start the 2014 season the same way he ended 2013: on the disabled list.

The lefty’s throwing shoulder acted up early in spring training, prompting the team to shut him down and look for alternatives in the rotation.

The season—and career—for Garcia will come down to his ability to pitch with discomfort. Pain, he says, he’s always dealt with on some level in his shoulder and elbow.

“It’s always been my elbow,” Garcia told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s part of my career. The 2010 season is probably the best I’ve ever felt.

“My goal is to be ready to go. It could be a month. It could be… who knows?”

Soon, Garcia will get back on a mound on some back field and throw for a handful of on-lookers. But it’s anyone’s guess when he’ll take the ball again in front of thousands in St. Louis.

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Peralta, Wong Give St. Louis Cardinals Talented Tandem

It’s been a revolving door at shortstop and second base for the St. Louis Cardinals for a decade. Yet, the lack of continuity at those positions hasn’t hindered on-field success. The Cards have reached four World Series and won two titles since 2004 while often employing a little more than utility players at each spot.

In 2014, the Redbirds will look to end the yearly duct-tape job up the middle by pairing rookie second baseman Kolten Wong with free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

Peralta signed a four-year deal early in free agency. Around the same time, the Cardinals made a trade that essentially handed the starting job to Wong.

The Cardinals haven’t had the same second base/shortstop starting combination for consecutive years on Opening Day since Fernando Vina and Edgar Renteria shared the stage together from 2000-03.

How ironic that a franchise once blessed with cornerstone players up the middle in Tom Herr and Ozzie Smith would get by with stopgap options for so long.

Having two impact players in the middle of the diamond would be a welcome twist. Since 2008, Cesar Izturis, Khalil Greene, Brendan Ryan, Ryan Theriot, Rafael Furcal and Pete Kozma have started Opening Day at short.

Adam Kennedy, Ryan, Skip Schumaker (twice) and Daniel Descalso (twice) have received that same honor at second.

Not exactly Robinson Cano and Troy Tulowitzki.

In fairness, they haven’t been stiffs. Each one made an impact, especially in the postseason.

Whether it’s Kozma’s and Descalso’s timely hits in the 2012 National League Division Series, Schumaker’s double in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, or Furcal’s glove work in that same contest, they all played a role in St. Louis’ tremendous run of success.

Entering the offseason on the heels of a disappointing loss to the Boston Red Sox in the Fall Classic, shortstop was the only glaring weakness for a Cardinals squad loaded with talent and depth.

Kozma, even with his occasional heroics and stellar defense, wasn’t hitting enough to justify a full-time gig. Among National League shortstops with at least 300 at-bats last season, he ranked last with a .273 on-base percentage while slugging a hideous .548. As much as his defense was an asset, his bat was a greater detriment.

On too many nights, there were two automatic outs at the bottom of the Cards’ lineup.

So the St. Louis front office went shortstop shopping equipped with financial flexibility and a surplus of trade chips. Quickly turned off by an unappealing market, general manager John Mozeliak looked to the free agent class. Before Thanksgiving, he had his man, inking Peralta to a four-year, $52 million contract.

“We knew center field was very important, but the shortstop market on the other hand was one that was not deep in free agents,” Mozeliak told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com at the time of the signing. “There were really two being bantered about us. For us, it was really focusing on someone who could hit from the right side, somebody that was a steady defensive player, someone that had experience and could fit right in. We certainly explored the trade market at many levels, trying to see what we could do there, but the acquisition costs seemed very preventative for us to move forward with that.”

But Peralta would travel to St. Louis carrying more than just his consistent bat and solid glove. He brought along baggage in the form of the 50-game suspension he served last season with the Tigers as the result of Major League Baseball’s Biogenesis investigation.

Since signing with the Cardinals, Peralta has said all the right things. Teammates have given him a clean slate.

“I know a lot of fans are going to say a lot of things,” Peralta explained to Paul White of USA Today. “It’s baseball, man. You need to forget about it and play baseball. We’ll move forward and try to forget about it.”

Cards fans, widely regarded as the most respectful and knowledgeable in baseball, have embraced Peralta. The faithful who fill Busch Stadium nightly won’t ask for much, just an honest effort and respect for a team and game they love dearly.

It’s the perfect situation for Peralta. He’ll play for a perennial winner in a town where the fans will cut him some slack. He’ll get the benefit of the doubt. The past is in the past.

Peralta is a .268 career hitter who’s never hit fewer than 10 home runs in a full season. He has four campaigns of 20 or more homers to his credit—the last coming in 2011.

According to FanGraphs, Peralta had a UZR (Ultimate Zone Ranking) of 3.5 last season in Detroit. Kozma’s 6.7 UZR in 2013 speaks to his defensive brilliance, but it also illustrates how competent Peralta is with the glove.

Peralta’s presence gives the Cardinals their best all-around shortstop since Renteria left in 2005. His new double-play partner, the rookie from Hawaii, could give the Redbirds fans a dynamic tandem at second and short like they haven’t seen since the days of Herr and The Wizard.

Wong has plus skills across the board. Defense may be his calling card, but he also possesses great speed and some pop.

The ability Wong showed in the minors gave Mozeliak the confidence to deal hometown favorite David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels, allowing Matt Carpenter to slide from second to third.

Wong struggled to display any of those abilities during last season’s September call-up. He had the entire offseason to marinate on that embarrassing pickoff to end Game 4 of the World Series.

“I didn’t do anything to make people believe that I’m ready to be there. I know that,” Wong told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before spring training. “All of the games, all of the time I had and I didn’t prove it to people that I’m ready. … That showed me that I had a lot of work left to do to be ready to compete. That’s what I’m doing. I want to make sure this time, going into spring, that’s not the case, that there’s not a question.”

Then in December, Wong had to deal with the passing of his mother, Keala Wong, who lost her long battle with cancer. He came to spring training in Jupiter adorned with a new tattoo to honor his mom.

“It’s something that I’m proud of,” Wong shared with Goold. “This means everything to me.”

Wong went to work, eager to prove he belonged in the big leagues. He was determined to earn the starting assignment rather than being the beneficiary of trade circumstances.

Since starting the Grapefruit League 0-for-10, Wong is one of the hottest hitter in spring training. He’s batting .565 since, with two homers and eight RBI.

A week after talk of Wong possibly starting the season in Triple-A, he’s cemented his place on the Opening Day roster.

Wong and Peralta will take the field side by side in Cincinnati for their first Opening Day together. The Cardinals hope it’s the start of something special.

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What the Matt Carpenter Extension Gives the St. Louis Cardinals

The decision by the St. Louis Cardinals front office to grant an extension to Matt Carpenter was the next step by John Mozeliak to solidify the team’s core for the next few years.

According to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, the deal will make Carpenter a Cardinal through 2019 with an option for 2010, and it costs the team a total of $52 million.

The signing shows that the team sees Carpenter as a key part of the squad’s nucleus for years to come. He joins Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig as the only Cardinals locked up through 2016 or later.

That’s good company—especially for a player many doubted could handle second base in 2013. How did that work out again?

During the press conference announcing the deal, Bill Dewitt Jr. made reference to the fact that he would like to see Carpenter finish his career as a Cardinal. The decision to buy out a lock year, all three arbitration years and his first two years of free-agent eligibility is a step in the right direction. It shows that the Cardinals don’t believe what Carpenter accomplished in 2013 is a fluke and that they think the young man from Texas is, in fact, the real deal.

There are plenty of other reasons that it made sense for the Cardinals to lock up Carpenter early.

Here are a few thoughts.


*All stats are courtesy Baseball Reference and Cot’s Baseball Contracts as of March 8, 2014.

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St. Louis Cardinals Bench Missing Much-Needed Muscle

In most areas, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the heavyweights. Power lineup. Power starters. Power relievers.

The bench, however? Well, let’s be generous by calling them lightweights.

For a team possessing all the ingredients to reach the World Series this season, a bench absent of any semblance of pop could be a thorn in their strategy for success.

The five players expected to comprise that unit for the Redbirds in 2014—Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, Mark Ellis, Tony Cruz and Daniel Descalso—have 147 career homers in 8,390 at-bats. Ellis hit 19 home runs in a season, but that happened way back in 2007. Remove his 105 long balls from the equation, and you’re at 42 homers in 3,451 ABs.

Opposing pitchers can motion their outfielders to play in a few more steps when a player from this “fearsome fivesome” arrives at the dish. Collectively, they’ve hit just .206 in 266 pinch-hit appearances with two home runs, both coming from Jay.

St. Louis’ most threatening pinch-hitter from last season, Matt Adams, is now a full-time starter at first base. He accounted for all three of the Cards’ pinch-hit long balls while batting .314 with a .968 OPS.

As I’ve illustrated in a previous article, the Cardinals’ home run production dropped significantly from 2012 to 2013. A casualty of that power outage was the team’s inability to come from behind, especially late.

When the Cardinals were ahead in games last season, they led the National League with a .287 average and 68 homers. Conversely, when they were behind, they hit .240 (ninth) with 26 homers (last).

Division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati own stellar bullpens, including lock-down closers in Jason Grilli and Aroldis Chapman. Rallies against quality relievers are made that much more challenging with an assembly of Punch-and-Judy pinch-hitters.

Plus, unlike the Redbirds, the Reds and Pirates are equipped with bench muscle. Cincy has Neftali Soto and Chris Heisey. The Bucs carry Travis Snider and Chris McGuiness.

Slugging options could emerge for the Cardinals later in the season.

Top prospect Oscar Taveras will likely get more seasoning at Triple-A Memphis. But barring an injury, he’ll debut in St. Louis sometime in 2014. He’d be a formidable late-inning option or push a strong bat from Allen Craig or Adams to the bench on days he starts.

Randal Grichuk, who was acquired from the Angels in the David Freese deal, hit 22 homers last season at Double-A. With a crowded outfield in St. Louis, his path to playing time in the short term will come as a potential fifth outfielder/bench bat.

Another outfield prospect, Stephen Piscotty, hit 15 homers last year between Single-A and Double-A. He’d admittedly be a long shot for this role, but the Cardinals certainly haven’t shown an aversion to thrusting young players into the limelight.

Last season, it took the Cardinals 118 games before rallying for a win after trailing by three or more runs. They ended up 1-57 when trailing after eight innings.

Teams that reach the postseason frequently rely on late-inning magic to play into October. That hasn’t been the Cards’ journey—at least not recently.

The Redbirds should be good again in 2014. And a weak bench may not make a difference. It didn’t keep the team from a trip to the Fall Classic last season. But it’s the one noticeable chink in their strong, red armor.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Odds of St. Louis Cardinals’ Top 5 Non-Roster Invitees Making the 2014 Roster

With the Super Bowl now in the past and trucks already being shipped to Florida and Arizona filled with baseball gear, it’s time to officially start thinking about baseball season again.

While spring training will be filled with all of the usual suspects—Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright to name a few—there will also be a number of new faces.

On Jan. 21, 2014, the Cardinals announced a total of 18 non-roster invitees that would be joining the squad at its camp in Jupiter, Fla.

Non-roster invitees can be either players already within the organization, or individuals outside the organization given a spring training invitation in an effort to allow them a chance to prove themselves to the front office. At that point, the hope would be to earn a major league contract.

While the Cardinals have a number of full positions, they also have several positions where they could possibly bring in backup assistance. It’s likely an additional pitcher or two will make their way into the roster, and a backup fielder, whether infield or outfield, could also find themselves in the mix for a position.

Will those lucky players be NRIs? The answer to that question can’t yet be known.

For the sake of this piece, I selected who I believe to be the five NRIs with a chance at making the major league team. Following are their odds for making the 25-man active roster from spring training.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

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