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Paying the Piper

To paraphrase the God of Thunder from the latest Thor movie: I know what you are thinking, how did this happen? Haven’t you always said you’d never work on a site that had CardsCards as a member? (I don’t think I’ve said that out loud, just thought it often.) Well, I’ll tell you.

Even though I’m not a huge follower of any sport save baseball, I did graduate from the University of Arkansas a number of years ago that we will not discuss and as such keep passing track of their athletic teams. When I saw that the Razorbacks were going to match up against Butler, the alma mater of a certain Joe Schwarz, I thought a friendly wager would be appropriate. I mean, that’s what people do, right? I see these mayors always sending lobster or some local delicacy if their team loses. Being that I don’t care enough about it to risk anything financial, Joe and I agreed that the loser of this matchup had to write a post for the winner’s site.

Honestly, the joke’s on Joe. I’ve already devalued the site by 15% and I’m just a couple of paragraphs in.

I will say some of my best memories are the year I was in college, going to every home game in the new Bud Walton Arena, watching them win and win and eventually take home the national title. I remember the celebration, the mass of humanity on Dickson Street reveling, the commemorative T-shirts and magazines and all the great stuff that comes with a title. I know Joe knows what I’m talking about, what with Butler winning it all in….

….oh, sorry. I mean, I didn’t realize. I was sure they won one sometime recently. This is embarrassing. But at least they have that cute mascot! Lots of people keep bulldogs for pets. And, of course, when you hear Bulldogs, you immediately think of Butler.

After Georgia. And Georgetown. And Gonzaga. Ummm, let’s move on.

The problem, if you’ve read my writing (and my sympathies if you have), is that I don’t typically do set pieces. I can’t do looks at Player X and whether he can throw pitches in a tunnel or needs to be on a mound. Doing a ton of research and graphs and utilizing the talents of cardinalsgifs isn’t in my wheelhouse. I do post series and opinion polls and various gimmicks, plus I discuss what happened in the most recent game.

Thankfully, there were two games on Friday to give us some fodder. Let’s see what we can find in them. I didn’t get to see either game (save for about an inning of the Miami one), but as we can tell, if I stuck to what I know I wouldn’t be writing this post. It didn’t stop me before, it won’t stop me now. Joe said he couldn’t churn out a 1500 word post if he lost. You, my friends, aren’t likely to be as lucky. You are in for a ramble like Kyle doing Prospects After Dark, just with less personality, information, and drinking--on my end, at least. How you get through this post is on you.

Let’s dig into the game in Jupiter against the Marlins first. The most notable thing about this game is, of course that Yadier Molina went deep twice and was very close to a third homer. Yadi went 4-4 with three runs and three RBI. If he had put an extra foot or two on his double, he’d have had more homers in one game than any other Cardinal has in the entirety of the spring.

Now, as Kyle (who hopefully will be putting “drunken prospect maven” on his business cards any time now) repeatedly says, you can’t believe Florida League statistics as the ballparks, the weather, everything conspires to keep offensive numbers low. We’ve seen that in past springs as well, where everyone gets a little concerned that nobody is hitting homers only to see the numbers return to normal when they get into regular hitting environments. That being said, it was good to see some offense here (and earlier this week, when they hung 11 on the Marlins).

Molina’s having a solid spring, now hitting .314 with three homers. It’s a fairly good sign (depending on how much you trust spring numbers, and I expect that answer is very little) to see him continuing the offensive run that he had in the second half of the season last year. It doesn’t bode well for Carson Kelly, of course, because “his bat is too good to get him out of the lineup” is a common refrain from the manager. I talked to Jamie Pogue, the bullpen catcher of the Cardinals, a couple of weeks ago about how they could keep Kelly fresh with Yadi still wanting to play 145 games or whatever. There were a few things they plan to do and being a personal catcher for someone in the rotation isn’t one of them, but you have to wonder what’s going to happen if Yadi’s hitting .300 in June and Kelly’s had 20 AB at that time. Does Kelly become the big trade chip at the deadline with Andrew Knizner waiting in the wings? It feels more and more like that’s going to be a strong possibility. I mean, how can he continue his hero’s journey if Yadi is still there, taking all the moments? Luke didn’t blossom until Obi-Wan was killed, after all.

However, I would expect that would have to be a really good deal. Even if Kelly has literal spiderwebs on him and they actually return from a road trip to find him still sitting in the Busch Stadium dugout, the Cardinals aren’t going to just give talent away. We’ve often remarked that if John Mozeliak signs one more outfielder, someone needs to sign him up for Hoarders. The guy loves young talent and really is hesitant to give it away, as the upper levels of the minors are proving these days. I wouldn’t bet another blog post on where Kelly will be at the end of the season.

Molina was really all the story offensively, getting four of the nine hits. Tommy Pham tripled and scored in the fifth, ending Sandy Alcantara’s day (and it was interesting to see the former Cardinal farmhand go up against his former team) and Marcell Ozuna had another hit, pushing his average up to .263 and hopefully helping him get over any “pressing” he might have been doing.

The pitching was the story yet again, though. Again, you figure what deflates offensive stats inflates the pitching side of the equation, but it was very good to see Michael Wacha go six innings and allow just five hits. It feels like that’s the best we’ll see from Wacha this year, about six innings of solid work.

We had a #PatronPitcher signing as well, with Tyler Lyons not having his best day, allowing a run on a hit and two walks. In fairness, it could have been much worse, as all three of those baserunners came when nobody was out. A sac fly brought in one run and the arm of JAG kept another one from scoring.

I doubt it meant anything, but it was interesting to see Dominic Leone in the eighth and Bud Norris getting the save in the ninth. Both were effective and perhaps they just wanted to let Norris get a little ninth inning action, but we all feel that Leone should be the closer, right? Unless you subscribe to the “let’s have an adequate if lesser pitcher named as closer so Mike Matheny will use the better pitchers in tougher situations” theory, which is a rational way of looking at things. You’d like to think that, with Leone and Norris and Luke Gregerson and, honestly, even Sam Tuivailala as closer options, Matheny would be able to pull in Leone (for example) for a tough eighth without having to stretch him to the ninth. You’d like to think that.

The Cards won that game but weren’t quite as successful in their matchup against the Nationals. Let’s break it down like we did before, starting with the offense. If we were dealing out Heroes and Goats in this one (and limiting to the hitters, which we probably wouldn’t do because that would be silly), Yairo Munoz would probably have taken home the title. Two hits plus a walk does nothing to hurt his chances of playing in St. Louis once camp breaks. I still don’t think it’s quite going to happen that way--Harrison Bader hasn’t hurt himself either--but Munoz will be in Busch at some point and time this year, I think. That Memphis express is going to pile up a lot of miles this year and not just for the bullpen.

As mentioned, Bader had a pretty solid day. Not only did he have one of the eight hits, he also made two diving catches early on in the game, keeping the Nationals off the board. Normally, that sort of defense would really solidify a spot on the roster, but when you have such good fielding outfielders as the Cardinals do, is that enough? I think it probably is--you have to figure a lot of Bader’s time will come late in games--but we’ll see.

The diving catches helped Miles Mikolas have another outing full of zeroes. He didn’t have many strikeouts, which meant that the defense behind him was huge, but he did go five and allow just five hits. Without the catches, he might have allowed a run or two, but it still was a pretty good outing. The talk from Mike Maddux really seems to have helped and it is looking more and more likely the Cardinals had a general idea what they were getting after all. Mikolas will be a very good three this year, I think.

There are a lot of great bullpen lines so far this spring. Josh Lucas and Mike Mayers (and, again, I never would have expected that Mayers would be a reasonable if not good option for the bullpen) continued their good outings and are making a push for the last spot in the bullpen. I was thinking for a while that there might be two spots open with Luke Gregerson hobbling, but he was back doing some throwing today and it looks less likely that he’ll start the season on the disabled list. As Rusty Groppel lined out earlier this week, the bullpen is pretty fixed with contracts and no options. Lucas, Mayers, John Brebbia, and John Gant are all trying to be the guy that goes north, but all of them will be in play throughout the year.

One guy that probably isn’t going north, especially with his outing today, is Ryan Sherriff. Sherriff allowed four runs on four hits and a walk, the only four runs the Nationals received. In fairness, two of them scored after he left the game (and only are reflected in the inherited runners stat for Lucas) but when you look at his overall line the spring and the fact that batters are clocking him at a .360 clip, the fact that he throws left-handed isn’t enough to make this bullpen. Especially when Lyons and Brett Cecil are going to be there anyway.

We are now a day less than two weeks from Opening Day. So far, knock on wood, nothing has been terribly traumatic this spring. Some of the stories we were worried about, like Adam Wainwright, have turned out alright so far. There’s not been anything more than the occasional hamstring or oblique. Matt Carpenter looks like he’ll be ready to go. It doesn’t mean that things can’t go horribly, horribly wrong, but every year there’s a team that gets good health and a bit of overproduction to make a run. Why can’t this year’s team be the Cardinals?

And now, as I close in on 2000 words, I believe I have fulfilled my end of the bargain and can be released to return to my normal abode. If, for some reason, this is your first exposure to me and you’ve made it this far, you can find me regularly shooting out thoughts and comments on Twitter @C70. I appreciate Joe taking the teasing for the good-natured, all-in-fun manner that it was (and I will assume he meant it in the same vein, though it’s hard to know with a pharmacist). I also appreciate cardinalsgifs for letting me take up some space. I didn’t even make him come up with anything to pretty this up!

The season is coming. Let’s enjoy the ride.


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