Offensive Needs For The 2015 Season

Any baseball fan would agree that the Cardinals are one of the National League’s best teams, but what prevented them from achieving post-season dominance in 2014? When it comes down to it, the answer is a lack of offensive production. The Cards were dead last in the National League in home runs with 105 during the regular season, down from 125 in 2013, and were tenth in the National League in runs scored with 619. To put the Cards runs scored number in perspective, the Cardinals led the national league in runs scored during the 2013 season with 783. This 164 run difference, over the span of only a single season, needs to be accounted for and General Manager John Mozeliak should be looking to make some significant acquisitions this offseason on the offensive side, especially at first base and catcher. Don’t get me wrong, Matt Adams and Yadier Molina are two of the most consistent hitters on the team, but the numbers show that these are the positions with the greatest offensive need as well.

First Base

This season versus left-handed pitchers Matt Adams posted a slash line of .190/.231/.298/ in 121 at bats. On the flip side, against right-handed pitching Adams posted a .318/.349/.505 line in 406 at bats. These numbers speak for themselves and Adams simply cannot compete with lefties at the major league level. The Cardinals need to install a platoon at first base for the 2015 season if they want to be world champions once again.

Luckily, Michael Morse and Michael Cuddyer are two first basemen on the free agent market who will mesh well with the organization and both are relatively cheap options. Morse has a career .277/.335/.485 slash line versus Left handed pitchers for his career and would be a huge offensive upgrade over Adams against lefties. He is also capable of playing the corner outfield positions and could see time in right field when he is not playing first base, depending on the play of Randal Grichuk.

Michael Cuddyer would also be a quality free agent signing to platoon with Adams. Although Cuddyer is 35 years old, he has hit .291 with a .378 OBP, .504 slugging percentage and a .883 OPS versus left-handed pitching for his career. Just this past season he hit .412 with 5 home runs in 51 at bats against lefties (his season was shortened by an injury). Cuddyer is also capable of playing the corner outfield positions as well as second and third base if Kolten Wong or Matt Carpenter needs a day off. Although Morse and Cuddyer may not be actively searching for platoon roles, if the Cardinals sign either of these free agents an offensive weakness at first base will turn into strength.

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Catcher

Yadier Molina provides very consistent offensive production for a catcher, but the Cardinals cannot assume he will be healthy for the entire season. As we witnessed this past season, when Molina was missing time with an injury, his backup, Tony Cruz, did not provide adequate production at the plate. Last season, Cruz hit .200 with a .270 OBP, .259 slugging percentage and a .530 OPS. If the Cardinals want to be competitors next season they need to sign a backup catcher that has the ability to step up and take over in case Molina sustains another prolonged injury.

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A free agent this offseason that the Cardinals should consider to fill this role is Ryan Doumit. Although Doumit had a terrible 2014 season posting a .197/.235/.318 slash line, his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was a meager .250. Keep in mind that the league average in this statistic is .300. Looking at Doumit’s numbers from this point of view it can be inferred that not only was Doumit an extremely unlucky hitter during the 2014 season, but he should produce much closer to his .264/.324/.432 career slash line next season and provide some much-needed power off the bench as a pinch hitter. Doumit has also hit double-digit home runs in five out of the last seven seasons and the fact that he is a switch hitter adds to his value. Doumit would be a cheap replacement for Tony Cruz next season and he will provide substantial production from the backup catcher position. The Cardinals need to take advantage of this opportunity if they want to be competitors in 2015.

Oscar Taveras Killed in Car Accident

The St. Louis Cardinals organization has received the grave news that rookie OF Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic. News was confirmed by Taveras’ agent Brian Mejia.

Just two weeks ago, he was playing in the NLCS against the Giants and came up big with a clutch game-tying homer in the 7th inning. The top prospect in the Cardinals’ organization for the past two years and third top prospect in the Majors, Taveras batted .239 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 80 games with the Cardinals this year.

Taveras was supposed to be a new cornerstone for the future of the Cardinals’ organization, but now the Cardinals’ family, city of St. Louis, and the world of baseball are stunned as one of the brightest young players, with as much potential as anybody in the sport, was tragically taken from this world at age 22.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals Early Impact Prospects For 2015

Even though the Cardinals lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS, Cards fans have it luckier than they even know. The Cardinals are an exceptionally well-run baseball team and manage to make the playoffs year after year (five out of the last six to be exact). They have won eleven world series, nineteen National League Pennants and twelve division titles making them the second most winning franchise in MLB history after the New York Yankees. Anyways, if being a lifelong fan of baseball has taught me one thing its that the future of any team rests in the hands of its farm system, so without further adieu here are, in my opinion, the top three Cardinals prospects to made an immediate impact in 2015.

Stephen Piscotty

Piscotty was a first round supplemental draft pick out of Stanford who was converted from third base to right field before the 2013 season. Although he isn’t fast enough to play center field, his strong and accurate arm makes him a capable right fielder.

Piscotty only hit 9 home runs this season, but his flat, line drive swing gives him gap power, showcased by his 32 doubles, and results in few strike outs. Many scouts believe Piscotty has the potential to be a .300 hitter in the major leagues, but he may need a positional change due to the Cardinals investment in players like Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk.

Breakdown

Piscotty is a major league ready player, and his willingness to learn as well as gritty play mesh well with the rest of the personalities on the Cardinals major league roster. With the cardinals general lack of production this year offensively, they should be able to find playing time for him in 2015.

Marco Gonzales

Gonzales was the nineteenth pick in the 2013 MLB draft and quickly escalated to the big leagues, making his debut on June 25th of this year. He only appeared in sixteen games for the Cardinals (including the post season) and had some control issues during the regular season, walking 21 batters in 34.2 innings with a 1.53 WHIP.

Although Gonzales is not overpowering, with his fastball usually sitting between 88 and 91 mph, and struggled at times this season when facing major league hitters, his changeup is what makes him an intriguing piece of the Cardinals 2015 roster. His changeup is a tremendous swing and miss weapon and his control of the pitch is impeccable. Both Gonzales’s changeup and control have been graded between a 60 and 70 on the 20-80 scale by numerous scouts too, which are well above average grades.

Breakdown

With frequent comparisons to Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Vargas, Gonzales has the stuff to develop into a dependable number three pitcher for years to come or at the very least an effective lefty out of the Cardinals bullpen.

Cardinals pitching prospect Marco Gonzales in action.

Randal Grichuk

Grichuk was taken with the 24th pick of the 2009 MLB draft and battled his way through five injury plagued seasons in the minor leagues before finally getting a taste of the big leagues this year. He has defensive value and can play all outfield positions, making up for his lack of speed by taking great angles when hunting down fly balls. His hard work in the outfield earned him the equivalent of the minor league gold glove award in 2013.

On the offensive end of the spectrum, Grichuk impressed many by slugging .400, but he struck out 31 times and walked only 5 in 110 regular season at bats. He also hit a underwhelming .171 during the postseason and struck out in over 33% of his at bats. Regardless of his major league numbers, Grichuk still slugged 25 home runs for the Cardinals triple A affiliate this season, but although many scouts are impressed by his power, his aggression at the plate will probably be exposed by pitchers at the professional level.

Breakdown

Grichuk has been given the opportunity to be the everyday right fielder, but with Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty lurking he has no room for error. If he gets off to a hot start Grichuk will be the everyday right fielder, but if he doesn’t he will probably become the teams fourth outfielder and may potentially be sent back down to triple A.

NLCS Game 4 Preview: Cardinals at Giants (10/16/14)

The Pitching Matchup: Adam Wainwright (0-1, 8.00 ERA) takes the mound for the Cards tonight as they look to keep their postseason alive. So far this postseason, Wainwright has been very inefficient as a pitcher, lasting only 4 1/3 his last start and needing 200 pitches collectively to get through his two postseason starts. Wainwright says that he has addressed the mechanical errors for tonight’s game and should be more effective. For the Cardinals’ sake, he needs to leave it all out on the field tonight.

The Giants are also sending out their ace, Madison Bumgarner (1-1, 1.23 ERA). This postseason, Bumgarner has looked very sharp. In he three starts he has only given up three earned runs. Tonight’s game looks very much like it could be a pitchers duel with two of the top pitchers in the National League facing off.

The Skinny: The bottom line is, the Cardinals need to win. They need to jump on Bumgarner early and not let him get into a rhythm. If they can manage to string some hits together and get the offense going, Wainwright is more than capable of keeping the San Francisco hitters at bay.

Recap: Cardinals Fall Victim to Giants’ Rally, Final Score 4-6

The Bottom Line: The Cardinals got off to an early start, producing four runs in three innings. Kolten Wong blasted a line drive home run, his second of the series, that landed just shorted of McCovey Cove. The Giants’ however rallied quickly, scoring three runs on RBIs by Buster Posey and Hunter Pence in the within the first three innings. The Cardinals, unfortunately, would not score again after the third inning, while the Giants struck for three runs in the 6th inning to get on top for good.

Neither starting pitcher went very deep into the game; Shelby Miller gave up three runs and was removed after 3 2/3 innings. Ryan Vogelsong was removed after he gave up four runs in 3 innings.

Buster Posey had three RBIs.

What’s Next: Adam Wainwright (0-1, 8.00 ERA) is looking to to bounce back from his first two uncharacteristic starts in which he gave up a combined eight earned runs and never got past the 4th inning. He will pitch opposite the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner (2-1, 0.76 ERA), whose three outings this postseason were all quality starts. The Cardinals have an uphill battle in front of them, and everybody needs to step up if the World Series is to come to St. Louis for the second straight year.

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NLCS Game 4 Preview: Cardinals at Giants (10/15/14)

The Pitching Matchup: Shelby Miller (0-0, 3.18 ERA) made his first postseason career postseason start in NLDS game 4, and he sure delivered, limiting the Dodgers to to runs in 5 2/3 innings.

Ryan Vogelsong (0-0, 1.59 ERA) has five career postseason starts, all of which resulted in San Francisco victories. However, he has not had much luck against the Cardinals, posting a 2-6 record and 6.17 ERA against them.

The Bottom Line: In game 3, the Cardinals pitched without Yadier Molina‘s pitch-calling acumen, and John Lackey got knocked around for four runs in the first inning. There still is no detail on when exactly Molina will return, so Cardinals pitchers, along with backup catchers AJ Pierzynski and Tony Cruz, will have to make some keen judgements to to keep batters off-guard.

Shelby MIller

Shelby MIller

NLCS Game 3, Cardinals at Giants (10/14/14), Veterans Lackey and Hudson Start

The Pitching Matchup: John Lackey (1-0, 1.29 ERA) has thrown 111 career innings in the postseason, more than any other active pitcher. A World Series winner with the Angels in 2002 and with the Red Sox last year, he has plenty of experience going into game 3.

Yadier Molina, after straining his oblique at the plate on Monday, will not be on the roster for game 3. Instead, veteran AJ Pierzynski, Lackey’s battery-mate in Boston last year, will start behind the plate.

For the Giants, veteran Tim Hudson (0-0, 1.23 ERA) will be making his second start of the postseason. In his division series start, he limited the Nationals to a single run in 7 1/3 innings. He is now on nine days’ rest after dealing with discomfort in his hip.

John Lackey

John Lackey

The Skinny: Both starting battery teams bring veteran presence to the game tonight. Lackey and Pierzynski have a combined 28 years of big league experience and Hudson has been a force to be reckoned with ever since he broke into the Majors in 1999. The youngster in the conversation is 27-year old Giants catcher Buster Posey, who in five years already has two World Series rings, an MVP, and a rookie of the year — most players would call that a good career.

Without Molina, Other Players Will Step Up

On Monday as Yadier Molina grounded directly to second base for an easy double play, he strained his left oblique and was forced to leave the game. This is surely a hard blow to the Cardinals, who are now without their All-Star catcher for an indefinite amount of time. We are not sure if Yadi will return to this series, but the Cardinals have decided to keep him on the postseason roster, so don’t necessarily count him out yet.

In losing Molina, the Cards lose not only an effective and defensive sharpshooter from behind the plate, but a leader on the field. We should keep our heads up, as this is by no means a crippling blow to the Cardinals, who played a stretch of more than 50 games this season without Molina, who went on the disabled list for a thumb injury earlier during the season.

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Molina is an important piece of the team, but we have faith that the other guys on the team will step up as they often do. Matt Adams already has two important clutch homers this postseason, Matt Carpenter has hit four homers — half of his season total, Kolten Wong obviously came in clutch with a walk off blast on Sunday. Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk are already making an impact while having their first tastes of October baseball. The Cardinals are going to have to lose a lot more than one player to be out of contention.

Recap (10/12/14): Four Solo Homers + Kolten Wong’s Walk-Off Ties Series

The Bottom Line: In the 4th inning, Matt Carpenter got the Cardinals on board with his 3rd homer this postseason. Randal Grichuk drove in another run in the 4th. The Giants tied up the game over the next two innings. The last three innings of the game was a tug of war; homers by Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams were undone Trevor Rosenthal‘s wild pitch in the top of the 9th, allowing Matt Duffy to come home.

Most of the players were ready to tangle with each other in extra innings, but Kolten Wong decided enough was enough, and he decided to line Sergio Romo‘s offering over the left field fence for a lead-off walkoff home run.

Giving up two runs each, Lance Lynn and Jake Peavy left the game after 5 2/3 and 4 innings.

The Cardinals have now hit 11 home runs this postseason.

Kolten Wong Rounds Bases After Walk-Off Homer Evens Up the Series

Kolten Wong Rounds Bases After Walk-Off Homer Evens Up the Series

What’s Next: The series heads to San Francisco where veteran starters John Lackey (1-0, 1.29 ERA) and Tim Hudson (0-0, 1.23 ERA) will face off.