1 week out from the start of the MLB season…..around here…that means almost all talk is about the Cards….let’s take a look backwards at the off-season and the late parts of 2016 for some additional info on the Cardinals…
…in the off-season, the primary …really only…acquisition was Dexter Fowler. Fowler was signed to improve defense(moving Grichuk over to LF to replace Holliday), to be a lead-off man and to “lighten” up the clubhouse. Hitting-wise..Fowler hit .276 last year, 13 HR, 13 SB…he’s 31 now so one shouldn’t expect those numbers to jump upwards significantly due to his age. Some other MLB writers have speculated that…Grichuk may be better than Fowler in CF… so why not get a corner OF with speed, defense, maybe younger and surely cheaper. Losing Alex Reyes for the season due to injury was a severe blow to the starting staff. Another loss ….overlooked for the most part…was the injury and loss to Zach Duke. Duke, LHP, had several strong outings last year for the Cards after they acquired him from the CWS. In August, Duke had 1 SV, 2 HOLDS, and ERA of 0.73 with 17 K in 12 inn, 14 appearances. This was one of the best..if not THE best stats of any Cardinal hurler in August. In Sept, he tailed off a bit but…14 appearances again(that’s a rate of 84 games per year…and you wonder why his hurt is unable to go in 2017?), 4 HOLDS and a 3.27 ERA. Brett Cecil has been acquired to replace Duke’s role as the 2nd lefty (behind Siegrest) in the bullpen. GM MO has decided to “hold his cards” for the most part in other areas…most of the talk in camp has been about the back-up OF position…not the biggest concern…especially when the Cuban signee Adolis Garcia seems to have been penciled in for the 2018 since he already is 24 years old….they can’t let him wait too long…it appears to me that Garcia will begin 2018 as a sub and will be expected to push Fowler…or whoever… out of the lineup with his bat. His hefty signing bonus $2.5m will dictate that he doesn’t take bus rides in the minors for any real length of time. The “hands-off” attitude of Mozeliak is a bit puzzling when one digs into the stats of the Starting Staff for the last 2 months of the season… Assuming that Martinez, Wainwright, Leake, Wacha and Lynn are the 5 starters to open the season …..Lynn missed the entire 2016 season due to arm injury so his innings must be monitored closely throughout the year….I’m saying…6 inn and ur outta there….I must say though…I have confidence that Lynn will win 10 games..which for a #4 or #5 is very good. The other four starters all have questions…In August, this foursome was 4-5 in 17 starts, (Wacha was already being held back), ERA 4.82 and WHIP 1.4. When the calendar changed to September, the numbers of this starting group didn’t change much: these four starts went 8-6 (Martinez & Wainwright each won 4 games) in Sept, their ERA was 5.10 and the WHIP was a sour 1.63 (that means that there was 1.63 hits or walks on average every inning). In order to contend, the starting staff must go deeper, be better and get outs quicker in 2017… a repeat of the last 2 months (their most recent pitching months) spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E
….the Cards MUST get out of the blocks quicker this year….last year, the Cubs felt little or no pressure all year long…take a look—On Apr 15, Cards were 3 games out already; on May 1, Pitt was 3 games out and Cards were 6 down in 3rd place; by May 15, the Cubs had opened a wide gap, Stl was 20-18 for the year and were 8 games out (Pitt was 7.5) June 1 saw the Cards 9.5 games behind with a 35-30 mark for the year…the distance was still 9.5 games on June 15, and 10 games on July 1…it was over for the Cards…..StL MUST NOT let Chicago jump out front so quickly again this year.
….so what did the CUBS do since the end of the World Series celebrations?
The significant players no longer on the Cub roster: Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler (couldn’t earn a starting spot so was expendable), Jason Hammel, Travis Wood. The free agent signees were: Jon Jay (backup OF), Koji Uehara(7th,8th inning pitcher), Brett Anderson (6th, 7th, 8th pitcher), Brian Duensing another man in pen—so nothing special there…many veterans being used to plug spots…none too expensive so easy to dispose of during the season if necessary. The Cubs acquired in trades Wade Davis (to be the closer), SP Eddie Butler (weak attempt to fill a starting role) and a few others who are in triple AAA minors as “possible” substitutes later in season. Pedro Strop was re-signed to be 8th inning man. All in all…Cubs’ rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, Lackey & Anderson looks older, a bit more worn after the long post season and many innings in the last 2 years for Lester & Arrieta. I think that their starters will take a step back so Cub management went out to strengthen their pen….I’m not real impressed by their names…so we’ll see what 2017 brings to the plate.
Some of the other best moves in the 16-17 off-season in the MLB…
…Cleveland…waited, and waited and waited until the price came down….then the signed Edwin Encarnacion for 3 years for $60m…this is a guy who hit 42 HR last year ….not 5 years ago..with 127 RBI…his booming bat and the starting staff along with several other younger stars have to make Cleveland the favorite. To give you an idea of this bargain…Johnny Peralta is getting $10m and Dexter Fowler (with his signing bonus ) earns $16.5m this year…compare their number to Edwin
….the Giants acquired Mark Melancon…so they’ll be able to discard the closer-by-committee concept…as a matter of fact…do you know of ANY committees that really work…in baseball …or out of it? He’ll improve the Giants team.
…Red Sox traded away 3 bright prospect to play for today as they snatched Chris Sale from the CWS…Porcello, Price and now Sale…. Bostonians are already talking Cy Young for this talented lefty.
…..the most changed team is the Chicago White Sox…theChiSox traded away vets Chris Sale and Adam Eaton and in return landed a bevy of premier MLB prospects – Yoan Moncada (ranked #2), Lucas Giolito (#12), Michael Kopech (#16) Reynaldo Lopez (#46) amoung others…and they did it all within a 24 hour time frame….guess the golf links had some openings on upcoming days of the winter meetings
Advancing through NCAA brackets
….I won’t recap the games or tell you AFTER the games about how I knew so & so would go as far as they have gone in the tournament….to me…Gonzaga was the 1st mid-major to gradually work its way into the “Major” school classification…although it took more than 10 years… Wichita State is following the same trek now.. Why were they called mid-major my wife asked me? Well….the conferences that they competed in throughout the year are NOT considered one of the major basketball conferences…namely the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10, Big East. Butler & Xavier took a different route to becoming a “major”….they joined a “major conference”,the Big East, to elevate their status . So….teams belonging to other conferences are referred to as “mid-majors”…..PC talk for “you’re not one of the big boys”.
….the prototype players now are around 6-6, 6-8 and can handle the ball, shoot on the outside, drive to the basket and still rebound. Few play with their back to the basket any longer. Only a few teams are using the back to the basket post-man…it’s a game of movement, quickness, 3 pt shooting and slashing to the basket.
…..I really enjoy Wisconsin’s style of basketball….the move continually with a purpose, creating space for the ballhandler and possible shooter, all are willing to set picks, they capitalize on any mismatches offensively.
…..Bob Huggins team (W.Virginia) was riveting to me….they weren’t really good shooters but they pressed with maximum effort throughout their Gonzaga game….clearly, Gonzaga had better basketball players but the Mountaineers took it to the final play….they trailed by 3, out of time outs, and had 7 seconds to get a 3 point shot….they dribbled out the last 7 seconds seeking a shot…I really loved their constant effort
….Major conference survivors & record for Sweet 16… Pac 12—Arizona, Oregon, UCLA—8-1 in NCAA tourney as a conference; SEC 7-2 Florida, Kentucky, S.Carolina; Big 12 8-3 Baylor, Kansas, W. Virginia; Big 10 8-4 Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin; Big East 5-5 Butler Xavier; ACC 7-8 N.Carolina….guess its fair to say that the ACC was overrated by the committee
…the teams of the Final Four are really fresh to the “big time”…Gonzaga, Oregon, S. Carolina and …not so fresh…N. Carolina…it should be fun with some different teams for the final weekend of college basketball
Local Odds & Ends….
…The news that Nancy Fahey accepted the Head Coaching job @ Illinois after 31 years @ Washington U was very interesting. Fahey was incredibly successful at Wash U—737-133 record…that’s 84% …for 31 years!!!…5 national titles …Josh Whitman, current AD at Illinois had previously been AD at Wash U so there was a connection there… at this stage of her career, she may have wanted a new mountain to climb…clearly she can coach but she’ll have to hire two top notch recruiters as her assistants because at D1…athleticism supersedes x’s & o’s ….ask Kim Anderson
…so Yadi returns from the WBC all excited about playing with his young teammates and suddenly tells the Cards that they have 1 week to work out a contract…. That proclamation makes it sound like he REALLY doesn’t want to stay in the Lou….surprising since he’s idolized here….if he doesn’t sign this week…we’ll have a battle with the Cubs to sign him.
…an update on Mizzou baseball…their 20 game winning streak was snapped by Arkansas on Friday. The Tigers record drops all the way to 20-2 now
….Frosh SS Braxton Burnside knocked in 10 runs in a Mizzou softball (17-11) victory over the weekend. Not a bad week of RBI’s….much less one game!
….Archie Miller was on my short list of Mizzou candidates….Mizzou didn’t talk to him but Indiana did….and signed him….he’s a very good coach.
…..all of the “pub” Mizzou baseball is receiving(well deserved)….don’t overlook St Louis U baseball…Coach Darin Hendrickson has the Bills at 16-4 for the season. Hendrickson has led the Billikens to 4 straight Atlantic-10 regular season championships.
….High school baseball teams off to a good start are some very familiar names—Oakville 6-1, Vianney 6-1, Ft Zumwalt West 5-2, Gibault 6-0(small school)…March games count the same as May games but never felt the same to me….I mean….playing baseball in the 50’s just doesn’t seem right