Jose Oquendo

St. Louis has brought back its secret weapon

The Cardinals announced this week that Willie McGee will be joining their coaching staff. The 1985 NL MVP has not had a specific role announced on the staff yet, but it does make for a fine addition to the club. The Cardinals had lots of mistakes on the bases early in the 2017 season, but McGee should be able to help relieve that.

The addition was exciting for Cardinal nation. However, the fans were in for an even bigger treat shortly after. The team announced that they will be bringing back former third base coach Jose Oquendo, and the fans rejoiced.

Oquendo will bring back the old Cardinal Way

Jose Oquendo was a key cog in the Cardinals coaching staff that occupied the dugout for such a long time. Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Oquendo all were at the forefront of the Cardinals’ success for nearly two decades. Since they have all left, St. Louis has struggled to find its identity that fans have become so custom to.

Jose Oquendo

Mike Matheny is going into his seventh season as manager, making him a seasoned vet. (Photo from Viva El Birdos)

Some of the current Cardinals players have suggested that new guys were not embracing the “Cardinal Way”. What this means is they were getting lazy on the field and at times would look like a minor league team.

Oquendo had been working with minor league players in Jupiter, Florida in the Cardinals’ system the past couple of years while he was rehabilitating his knee. His impact was evident by the success of minor league players at the big league level. Names like Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez and Luke Weaver are evidence of success of coaching in the minor leagues. This is because the guys that started in the minors in 2017 were the best players on the Cardinals when they came up.

What this hire does is bring stability back to the Cardinals coaching staff. In the middle of 2017, the front office shuffled the coaching staff to show that they were serious about getting the club back into shape. Oquendo provides that presence back into the clubhouse that will get the attention of everyone.

Not only will the players be impacted by this, but it puts Mike Matheny in an interesting position.

Oquendo wanted the managerial job in 2012

After the Cardinals won a historic World Series in 2011, Tony La Russa made a surprise announcement that he was leaving the skipper role. Not only that, but long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan also announced he would be leaving the club.

Jose Oquendo

Oquendo has experience managing the Puerto Rico national team. (Photo from Zimbio)

These departures left a real gap in leadership that the Cardinals had for a long time. Oquendo was sticking around though. He has been coaching the club since 1999, so he would be the perfect candidate right? Former Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny was instead given the job. This made many fans wonder if it was the right call to overlook the long-time third base coach.

Now that Matheny has had six full years as manager, we have had a good look of what he is capable of. In his first three years, the Cardinals were able to reach the NLCS twice and the World Series once. Pretty solid for a first time manager.

Since then, the Cardinals have only won a single playoff game. This is cause for concern because this is when there is very little remnants of the old coaching staff of La Russa and Duncan. Since Oquendo left the big league club in 2015, they have not made the postseason.

There may be cause for concern if your name is Mike Matheny. Next season may be a test to see who the Cardinals skipper should really be. St. Louis has not missed the postseason three consecutive years since 1997-1999. Matheny may be on the hot seat if signs show they will not be able to make the playoffs again. Oquendo’s name would also be a strong possibility to take over that role if the dominoes fall that way.

Will the hire lead to wins?

Over the past two seasons, the Cardinals have lacked discipline, and it has shown on the field. Silly mistakes and untimely errors have cost them the chance to get back into the postseason. This is evident through the fact they had the second most one-run losses in the regular season.

Oquendo is the perfect guy for getting the young Cardinals talent back into shape and improving on an already talented team. Look for them to seriously contest with the Cubs next year in the central.

 

Featured image by St. Louis Post Dispatch

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Rockies

Can the Rockies hold on to the Wild Card?

The NL West has been wild this year. It seemed as though the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies were all the teams to beat in the National League at one point (apologies to the Nationals).

At the moment, the Dodgers are sliding and the Diamondbacks are rolling. Both of those teams are locks for the playoffs though.

The same thing can’t be said for the Rockies though. On Aug. 5, Colorado found themselves a comfortable 17 games over the .500 mark. Just one month later, the Rockies are nine games over that mark and are only two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

As stated earlier, the Diamondbacks are rolling and have all but mathematically locked up a playoff spot. The Dodgers, although struggling, are also a lock to reach the postseason. The real race is going to be for that second wild card spot that is currently held by Colorado. Here is a look at the two teams that are threatening the Rockies’ playoff hopes.

St. Louis Cardinals

Colorado Rockies wild card

Paul DeJong has been one of the big names in the Redbird renaissance (Photo by KSDK)

Not many people have been talking about what is going on in St. Louis this season. Yes, the Cardinals have been very inconsistent in many facets of their game. However, there has been a Redbird renaissance going on in St. Louis. That is the Memphis Redbirds to be precise.

The Triple-A affiliate Redbirds finished the season with an impressive 91-50 record, and their success is starting to spill into the big leagues. The list of players that have made an impact on the team this season that would typically be considered Triple-A players is long. Those names include Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, Luke Weaver, Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and many more.

Tommy Pham has played a vast majority of the year in St. Louis and has been their best player, so he doesn’t figure into that crowd. One thing that is worth noticing though is the Cardinals lineup on Tuesday. Seven of the Cardinals starting nine have played significant time down in the minors.

DeJong may even be a favorite for Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger’s breakout campaign. DeJong has been hitting homers at a very similar rate (given that he has a lot less at bats), and has a much better batting average.

This team has been up and down all season long, but may be hitting a stride with these young players. It is going to be a tough test for them coming up though. All of their remaining games are against NL Central opponents. Their record in their own division is pretty strong in most years.

However, this year they have been getting by with a weak 23-31 record inside of an already weak division. It will be interesting to see though if Mike Matheny will continue to play these young surging talents in the stretch. He is not usually one to pick the young guys over the more experienced veterans. It may be in his best interest though to play the hot-hand this time of year, before other teams start to figure out these new faces.

Milwaukee Brewers

Colorado Rockies wild card

Travis Shaw has led the Brewers to contention in September (Photo by ESPN)

The Brewers controlled the NL Central for much of the the season. The Chicago Cubs were at their heels for a long time, and they finally took over as many expected. Catching the Cubs is still not out of the realm of possibility for the Brewers or the Cardinals, but for the purposes of this, we will talk within the context of the wild card.

Milwaukee is now 2.5 games back of the Rockies for second place in the wild card. They just let the Cardinals surpass them, which of course is not something they wanted to let happen.

Their offense has not been playing as well as of late. Eric Thames has slowed down his production, and the supporting cast has not been keeping up. At the moment, the leader in batting average for the team is Travis Shaw at .276. That is very low for the best on the team and does not bode well if they wish to contend.

The Brewers have still been resilient this season and fight back as long as people keep counting them out. They are playing below .500 baseball since the All-Star break, so it is going to be difficult for them to keep up at this juncture.

One of the key moments that kept them from losing a series to the rival Cardinals was a stellar, literal game saving catch by Keon Broxton. That was a shot in the arm that the Brewers needed. They have since fallen behind the Cardinals in the chase for the playoffs, so they are hoping that some of their key players will show up in the stretch.

Can the Rockies fend off the competition?

Colorado has a tough schedule coming up for them. They are about to play a four-game set against the Dodgers in LA, and then fly to Arizona for a four-game set against the red-hot Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are hoping to prolong the Dodgers’ struggles, because this is an eight-game road trip that the team has probably been keeping an eye on for a long time. They have been 7-13 on the road since the All-Star game, so the time is now for them to pick it up outside of their home in Colorado.

The Rockies have a relatively easy schedule after they finish in Arizona on the 14th, so this eight-game stretch could make or break their season. The Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule during that time span, so the standings could look much different if they capitalize on this.

What the Rockies need to hope for is for the Cardinals to continue their struggles against teams in their own division, and go back to their inconsistent ways.

It is hard to imagine a team with the kind of offensive fire power the Rockies have may not make the playoffs. Their division is just that stacked this year. It has been very difficult for them to pull away from other teams in the National League.

If the Rockies are able to take four of the eight games they have coming up, it will be hard to see them not playing the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card. However, if they get bullied by their division rivals, the Cardinals may make another push for October, much like they did in 2011.

 

Featured image by Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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St Louis Cardinals

How the St. Louis Cardinals will win the NL Central

In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline will determine the Cardinals’ future. Thus far, they have seemed to turn things around a bit. They have won eight of their last 12 games which includes a couple of tough matchups against the Diamondbacks and Nationals. Because of those two series, they may just have shown what it takes to win an underwhelming division.

In 2006, the Cardinals won the Central with only 83 wins. It looks like someone may win just by nudging over a .500 record this year as well. The year they only won 83 games the Cardinals made a run to win the World Series despite going into the postseason slow. It can be done, so it is important not to discount any of the teams in this division. Here are some ways the Cardinals will make it to the postseason once again.

Move Dexter Fowler to right field

The Cardinals signed Fowler to a hefty five-year, $82.5 million contract this past offseason. While he had a rough go of things in the first month of the season, he began to pick it up before landing on the DL in late June. He has also had one of his best power hitting years so far with 13 homers, while his career-best is 17 in a season. Fowler has performed better than the Cardinals would have hoped so far. Now that he is off the DL, St. Louis should consider moving him to right field.

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Pham has been one of the best hitters on the Cardinals this year (MLB.com)

Why move a guy out of center field that has been playing there for a decade and is having a great year? Well, frankly he has never been that great of a center fielder. Bernie Miklasz of 101.1 ESPN in St. Louis noted that Fowler has always had his fair share of struggles commanding the outfield.

While he has not committed any errors so far his year, he is sitting at -9 defensive runs saved. This means that his fielding has cost the Cardinals nine runs so far. It does not look any better in the past either. In his career he has actually cost his team 64 runs.

It is apparent that he is not doing many favors for the Cardinals in center field, so who could replace the $82 million man? The answer is actually already manning center for the Cardinals in Tommy Pham. It is difficult to keep his bat out of the lineup as it is, so being in the National League, the Cardinals have to find a place for him in the field. He currently has a slash line of .289/.377/.492 which is one of the best on the Cardinals.

Pham also has shown that he can be more productive in center field. He has started 18 games at the position and has a total of six defensive runs saved. Knowing Fowler’s defensive performance in the field over the past decade, it is hard to argue why Fowler should keep his spot in center.

Some people may argue that because of his contract. he should be able to play where he is comfortable. In order for the Cardinals to maximize their chances of winning though, they will need to move Fowler over to right field and keep Pham in center.

Stephen Piscotty has also been having a rough go of things as of late. His hitting numbers are down, and someone is going to have to make room for Fowler. Randal Grichuk has been much better since returning from the minors, however he has still been very streaky. He should be given the chance to display his skills.

The one downside to this move is putting Piscotty aside. However, he will need to show signs of turning around in order to stay in the lineup during this critical time for the Cardinals’ season.

Don’t make any big moves at the trade deadline

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Matheny and Mozeliak have some tough decisions to make to get the Cardinals to the postseason (101 Sports)

The Cardinals are coming pretty close to being a healthy ball club. Kolten Wong will be returning to the field after the All-Star break along with veteran reliever Zach Duke.

St. Louis has a lot of good pieces still on the team from last year, a club that won 86 games. Eighty-six games may be just enough to win the division this year as well. What is important for them to remember, which they have done in the past, is to trust the players in the system and not jeopardize the future.

One glaring hole the team has is in the closing role. Both Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal have the potential to be reliable closers. However, Rosenthal has been wild recently and Oh fails to remain reliable.

If the Cardinals do anything, it should be to find a decent reliever that they can get on the cheap. It does not have to be any eye-popping names, but it needs to be someone who is consistent. If all else fails, the Cardinals could potentially give Brett Cecil a couple of opportunities to prove himself in the closing role as he has picked it up from his slow start this season.

Some small changes made by the Cardinals can fix problems they have been facing. John Mozeliak evaluated the talent in his system well.

However, many of their issues come from the lack of ability to execute simple plays on the field. The Cardinals are among the worst in fielding in the league, and make silly outs on the basepaths that can end up costing them games. The answers to some of these problems are within the organization and decent coaching should be able to remedy some of these issues.

remove Adam wainwright from the rotation

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Wainwright has had one of the most difficult years of his career (MLB.com)

It is one of the hardest things to watch in baseball, but it happens often. Adam Wainwright used to be one of the premier starting pitchers in the major leagues. Despite finishing in the top three of the Cy Young voting four times, the prestigious award eluded him.

Wainwright has severely regressed over the last two years. Last season, he finished with a 4.62 ERA which was the highest of his career. This year he has not shown many signs of improvement.

Wainwright currently has a 5.48 ERA this year and he is not showing signs of getting better. He had an excellent month of May in which he looked like his old self with a 3-0 record and 2.64 ERA.

Since then, he has given up 30 runs in 34 innings. His nine wins can be credited to his large run support this season, getting 6.1 runs a game which ranks 10th in all of baseball.

It isn’t easy to watch some of the league’s best players regress, especially when it is such an important leader and personality in the clubhouse. However, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals have to keep in mind what is best for the team. It is obvious that Wainwright is not getting the job done at the level he needs to.

Matheny is a player’s manager though and has a rough time making these kinds of decisions when he needs to. What would be best is to potentially move Wainwright to the bullpen and then move young prospect Luke Weaver to the rotation.

It may be a different story if one of the league’s best prospects, Alex Reyes, was not hurt. Because he is most likely out for the season, the Cardinals are faced with the dilemma of having to replace their most notable pitcher of the past decade with one of their new arms.

Final thoughts

The theme of the NL Central this year has been underperforming. Many of the clubs in the division have players that are better than they have been playing. Even the Reds have one of the more daunting offenses in the league, yet they are in last place in the division.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs have come out and said that the answer to their problems are in house. This may be true with all the teams in the division. The Brewers are starting to roll and may be a tough team to catch. They stuck with their guns though and it has been paying off.

The NL Central has the potential to be a much more powerful division with its given pieces. It has just yet to show up this late in the season.

St. Louis has begun to show signs of life this summer. Their rotation is still proving to be one of their strengths, led by All-Star Carlos Martinez. Michael Wacha has also started to get back on track which means a lot for the team.

If Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak can find the right formula of where each of their pieces fits into the lineup, they can compete and make it a fun race for October.

 

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