The St. Louis Cardinals come to town to be the Blue Jays
victims opponents for a 3 game weekend series. The Cardinals are 31-30, sitting in second place in the NL Central, 5 games back of the Brewers.
I sent off some questions to Ben Humphrey, Manager of Viva El Birdos, SB Nation's Cardinals blog. Here are his answers, thanks Ben.
Being in the AL, we don’t see Mike Matheny much, can tell us a bit about his strengths and weaknesses?
Former MLB.com Cardinals beat writer Matthew Leach has tweeted some really interested thoughts on being an MLB manager. Leach says that there are two skill sets: (1) Managing personalities; and (2) in-game tactical managing. They are discrete skill sets. And Leach is of the opinion (and I happen to agree) that the personality managing (which fans rarely see) is the most important skill a manager can possess.
Media types say that the players all respect Matheny. Apparently, he's really good at managing personalities. I can't say whether that's true or not. But that's what folks with more knowledge of the situation than me say. If it is true, I think that's a very important strength.
Matheny's biggest weakness is his general lack of intelligence. He doesn't understand basic math or statistics. Matheny can't comprehend the concept of small sample sizes, so he makes misguided lineup decisions (like starting Daniel Descalso multiple times against Edinson Volquez this year). Matheny doesn't understand that bunting generally hurts the team's chances at scoring more than one run in an inning. He also does a fairly poor job of bullpen management. I suppose I should give him some credit for shelving the Little League double-steal with runners on first and third that he liked to call for in his first season at the helm—that's some progress.
One of his most grating tendencies is unnecessary double-switches. I can't tell you how happy I am that the Cardinals are on a road swing through AL parks, which should limit Matheny's opportunities to attempt to justify his existence with double-switches. If Matheny is going to be the Cardinals manager for an extended period of time, I want the NL to adopt the DH just to cut down on the number of decisions he makes in a given game and thus limit his ability to hurt the team's chances of winning.
Matheny's poor in-game managing has been magnified because the team isn't playing up to expectations this season. Heck, they aren't even playing well. So the players aren't covering up Matheny's bad decision-making with wins. Lots of fans are turning on Matheny or, at the very least, grumbling about him.
The Cards are 4 games back of the Brewers, are Cardinal fans confident they can catch up?
Going 3-11 on the recent home stand, plus two games in Kansas City, has sapped my confidence in the ability of the Cards to catch the Brewers. Before the home stand started, I'd have said I thought the Cardinals were the odds-on favorites to catch Milwaukee and win the pision. Now, I'm going to say that the Brew Crew are slight favorites to win the Central.
You guys always seem to have good prospects coming up, who are in the next wave? Expect anyone to be able to help out this year?
This year, the Cardinals have graduated Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk and, last weekend, Oscar Taveras. Both Wong and Taveras were consensus top 100 prospects entering the year. Taveras was a consensus top five prospect. Grichuk has actually hit better in AAA this young season than Taveras. So far, Wong has had the biggest impact. He is the team's future at second base. Taveras homered in his first MLB game, but has struggled so far in his call-up. Even so, Taveras is the club's future in right field. Grichuk has struggled early, too. In a way, Taveras and Grichuck are probably both the current and next wave. I think both will be demoted to AAA at least once more this season.
Center fielder James Ramsey is having an excellent start to the season with AA Springfield in the Texas League with a .433 wOBA entering play Thursday. Aledmys Diaz, a Cuban free agent signing, had a good start to the season with his bat before hitting the DL. He signed a major-league deal and could be in St. Louis sooner than later. There's also a chance that AAA infielder Greg Garcia could find his way onto the St. Louis roster as a utility man next spring, taking over for Descalso, who is both bad at baseball and becoming expensive.
Can we have a scouting report on the pitchers we are likely to face?
Lance Lynn is brutal on right-handed batters, but susceptible to lefties. He is a solid MLB starter with a loose and fast four-seamer that he leans on even though he has a fairly well-rounded repertoire. This year, he's deployed his other pitchers more with some positive results. In his last starter, Lynn tweaked his knee and things got ugly. I know I'll be watching to see how his lower body looks in Game 1.
Watching Shelby Miller pitch nowadays makes me cringe. The righty had a solid rookie campaign that saw him place third in the NL Rookie of the Year vote (behind Puig and Fernandez, who are no slouches). Then the club buried him in October and reports surfaced of shoulder issues toward the end of the year. In 2013, Miller threw his four-seamer about 75% of the time. The pitch had speed, movement, and indefinable deception. This year, the pitch has been nowhere near as good. What does a pitcher do if he doesn't have the secondary offerings to fall back on when the pitch he tossed three-quarters of the time a year ago is ineffective? He issues lots of walks and gets hit hard. Right now, Miller's ERA is over 4.00 and his FIP is over 5.00. Watching him pitch is like watching a cornered animal. There's nowhere for him to run or hide. And MLB batters are teeing off. I suspect Miller isn't long for the rotation.
I love watching Jaime Garcia pitch. He has a full arsenal of pitches with nasty movement. When the lefty is on, there's no one more fun to watch. I'm shocked that I'm able to do so in 2014. Last year, Garcia's season was ended by surgery to repair both his labrum and rotator cuff. His spring training was derailed by an issue with his throwing shoulder. Given what happened with Chris Carpenter (who didn't pitch at all in 2003 after similar surgical repairs to his throwing shoulder), I didn't think we'd see Garcia on the mound in 2014. Not only is he pitching, he's throwing pretty well, despite his ERA. In 24 2/3 innings, Garcia has notched 22 strikeouts without issuing a single walk. He's had a bit of homeritis and completely lost it in the fifth inning against K.C. his last start, allowing six runs. Assuming it was just a bad inning and not a symptom of still more shoulder issues, I'm intrigued to watch Garcia pitch on Sunday.
Who do the Cardinals use to close out wins? How confident are you in the back end of the bullpen?
Matheny dubbed righthanders Trevor Rosenthal (closer) and Carlos Martinez (setup) along with lefty Kevin Siegrist (setup) the team's "Big Three." Siegrist is on the DL with a forearm/wrist strain. Martinez has pitched at a level below what his stuff indicates he should be at. Rosenthal has had control problems, but he's still the closer despite a 4.13 ERA (probably because of his high-90s fastball). Right now I don't think many (including Matheny) are particularly confident in the bullpen.
Who is your favourite Card to watch?
Yadier Molina. He's the best all-around player in the game. Molina has a fluidity to his game, both behind and at the plate, that is a joy to watch. The footwork behind the plate, his throwing arm, his pitch-framing, his ability to barrel the ball—watching peak Molina is just the best.
You guys are last in the NL in home runs, where do you get your offense from?
If we get offense, it comes from stringing together hits. When you have a middling batting average and the third-lowest lowest slugging percentage in the NL, though, that means runs are hard to come by. There's a reason more and more fans are starting to call for the team to fire hitting coach John Mabry.
Is there anything else we should know about the Cardinals?
First baseman Matt Adams (.325/.337/.474) is on the DL with a calf strain. This caused the Cardinals to promote Taveras and install the top prospect in right field while moving Allen Craig to first.