A Look At the 2017-18 Blues

cutWe are just one week away from the start of the 2017-18 NHL season for the St. Louis Blues. With that in mind let’s take a look at Our Team. What is in store for this year’s edition?

First of all let’s start with the area that saw the most changes, behind the bench. The Blues have thrown out the old and gone with the new. There is a completely new coaching staff from last year’s opener. Mike Yeo assumed head coaching duties midway through last season and this past summer he brought on Craig Berube, Daniel Tkaczuk, and David Alexander. The addition of Berube and Tkaczuk, joining Daryl Sydor who was previously on the Blues staff, means the Blues have put together the coaching staff from their highly successful former minor league team of the Chicago Wolves. Alexander’s hire as the new goalie coach means Martin Brodeur is bumped back up into the assistant general manager role. Also on the Blues staff is Steve Ott. What this means is that the Blues have ditched the old style coaching of Ken Hitchock, Jim Corsi, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, and Rick Wilson, an average of 57 years old, to a coaching staff that is now an average of just 41 years in age. I think the coaching style change goes hand in hand with the team’s philosophy shift of going younger.

That shift to youth was evident down to the roster makeup as well. Everyone has heard of the term addition by subtraction. That was clear when the Blues traded David Perron, Jori Lehtera, and Ryan Reaves this past off-season. Reaves was probably the most impactful player among that trio but his position has been diminished in the league and despite his hard work to become more than just an enforcer the Blues made a smart move by trading him at his highest worth, picking up a first round pick and taking a highly skilled player in Klim Kostin. All three of the departed players are or will be 30 years of age in this upcoming season. So not only did the moves get rid of underperforming or replaceable players but the trades also cleared up roster space for younger players in the Blues system.

And that is what this season is all about for the Blues. They have shifted from the antiquated coaching style of Hitchcock, bringing in a more youthful coaching staff. A coaching staff that ideally knows the team must adapt its playing style to the faster paced style that is spreading through the league. And the Blues have built a roster more in line with that thinking. We heard last summer the Blues wanted to play more up-tempo with Hitchcock. But not only did Hitchcock not believe in that style the team itself did not have the roster makeup for it. This year, on paper, it looks like they are better suited.

The only acquisition for the Blues this past summer was bringing in Brayden Schenn on a trade. Schenn is a top six player, with size in the middle of the ice. He is just 26 years old and has topped 20 goals in three of the last four seasons (and managed 18 goals in the one he did not). He is also known for his power play ability, something which was drastically lacking during the Blues failures last postseason in their series loss to the Nashville Predators. Schenn gives the Blues something they have been in search of for years, more depth at the center ice position. Of course that has already taken a hit with the injuries to Patrick Berglund and Zach Sanford.

Which leads us to the biggest question of any season, health. The Blues have been hit hard this preseason with Alexander Steen and Jay Bouwmeester joining Sanford and Berglund in the medical room and caution already for Robby Fabbri’s knee. There is good news though. None of the injuries appear to be season ending. Sanford’s is the longest at 5-6 months, then Berglund 3 months but Steen, Bouwmeester, and Fabbri all will be reevaluated in about three weeks. The second part of the good news is the aforementioned depth.

The Blues have plenty of young depth to fill in these roster spots. Unlike years past when the Blues were relying on borderline NHL players to play roles and fill out their roster. The Blues now have young, talented players, hungry for playing time and looking to stick on the NHL roster. Among those players looking to make a push for the Blues will be the previously mentioned Klostin as well as fellow forwards Tage Thompson and Wade Meagan and defensemen Vince Dunn and Jake Walman. Even beyond those group of five the Blues have even more depth that could be called on, or traded, later in the season such as Conner Bleackley, MacKenzie MacEachern, Jordan Schmaltz, Robert Thomas, and Jordan Kyrou.

As far as the knowns for the Blues. There is the face of the franchise, Vladimir Tarasenko; entering his age 26 season in the league. After falling one goal short of a second straight 40-goal season is Tarasenko ready to take the next step? Can he go from one of the best snipers in the league to one of the best players in the league? Will the new playing style suit him better than Hitchcock’s bottled up scheme? Will he finally have a centerman to play with that gives him even more opportunities to score?

In net the Blues are going with Jake Allen. Allen was handed the starting position last year and got off to a slow start. Whether it was the pressure of being the number one goalie or just a rough patch, Allen did not look good. But the Blues resurgence in the second-half of the season was a direct result of Allen’s improved play, and only Matt Murray (.937 save percentage) of Pittsburgh was better in net than Allen (.934 save percentage) during last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. We should assume that Allen will be more like the second-half and postseason player, or even the player from his other 3 1/2 seasons in the league than he was in the three months to start last season.

The final area for the Blues that is a know is the defense. The team returns six of the top seven defensemen for the third straight year with the lone departure being Kevin Shattenkirk. But despite the familiarity of this group I also think this group will be the biggest key to the Blues success. Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, and Joel Edmundson (along with Bouwmeester when he returns) give the Blues some of the best depth at defense in the league. All four players are capable of shutting down an opponents top line. Where the group can improve however is by furthering their games offensively. There is no question that Shattenkirk was one of the top offensive blueliners in the NHL. They will need to pick up the slack. While Pietrangelo has never quite lived up to the billing as the type of player offensively he was drafted to be, it was between him and Drew Doughty as the top defenseman in the 2008 draft, there is room for Pietrangelo to grow. As seen in his performance during the Blues playoff run in 2015-16, when he scored two goals with eight assists, Pietrangelo is capable of being that guy.

Parayko is the player with the most upside among Blues defensemen. With a missile for a shot if he is able to cut down on half of his broken sticks during his shots he should be a double-digit type scorer. He is also just as mobile as Pietrangelo and can quickly move the puck up the ice. It will be up to Pietrangelo and Parayko to make the jump offensively if the Blues are going to take the next step into contention.

Overall I like this year’s team much more than I did last year’s. I think the coaching staff is adaptable and more in tune with the current state of the league and players. And I think the roster makeup is in much better shape to meet that style. Last year I felt the Blues were a team that didn’t know what they were. They had a lame duck head coach, a roster that wasn’t built for what they wanted to do, and an organization without a direction. This year though the Blues put their vision on their youth; both with the coaches and with the players. While they still may not be Cup contenders, the Blues are finally facing in the right direction. Out with the old, in with the youth!

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New City, Same Team

Funny-LA-Rams-Meme-1You can take the team out of the city but you can’t take the crap out of the team. I will admit that even though I no longer follow the NFL adamantly like I once did, I still will on occasion go online to see what reporters in Los Angeles are saying about their new team; the L.A. Rams. My latest venture into their world was like a flashback to what we, St. Louis, fans have seen in recent years when the team was still here.

After the Rams most recent game, a 27-20 loss to the Washington Redskins, many of the L.A. reporters were using a phrase often heard in St. Louis under former Coach Jeff Fisher. “Well the team looks better”, “They competed and were in this game”, “They are on the verge.” I want to let the reporters and all of the L.A. Rams fans (all 40,000 of them) know, this is NOT something new. This is the Rams modus operandi. They make you think they are close when in fact, they can never get over the hump.

Let’s first look back at the Redskins game this past Sunday. The Rams were coming off a 46-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts, nevermind that the Colts are maybe the worst team in the league this year. That throttling of the Colts primed the Rams and media to think that this was a new Rams team. With the first-year head coach, and quarterback whisperer Sean McVay, and defensive wizard, Wade Phillips; the Rams were ready to take L.A. and the NFL by surprise and finally join the upper echelon. The Rams were hosting the Redskins, who were coming off an ugly loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. Everyone picked the Rams to win against the Redskins and started looking ahead at a seemingly favorable schedule for the Rams. What happened? The Rams stunk it up Sunday, falling behind 13-0 before playing it safe at the end of the game and opting for a tie, which eventually allowed the Redskins to get a late game-winning touchdown. Oh and to cap it off, Goff, threw an interception on the Rams final drive to end any hopes of a dramatic Rams win.

So isolated incident right? Rams have momentum off a big win, playing at home. Hope on the horizon. Team is playing better, ready to take the next step. Nope. This is just the latest in long line of disappointments.

Don’t believe me? Well it’s time to cue, Garth and Wayne “diddly doo, diddly doo”

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Let’s go back to just last year when the Rams were getting ready to begin their “Return Home” era with L.A. by facing rival and down-trodden San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. What happened? With the hopes of a new city and the league watching, the Rams lost spectacularly 28-0.

That’s okay they were nervous right? How did they react? They in fact won their next three games, see it was just nerves. They righted the ship. What’s that? Oh then after holding a 3-1 record with wins over Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Arizona the Rams lost their next 4 games and next 11 of 12 games you say? Oh, well maybe it was just a bad year.

Nope. Let’s go back to 2015, the team’s last season in St. Louis. With fans knowing the move was eminent the Rams in fact gave the fans one lasting memory. Defeating the Seahawks 34-31 in the season opener in St. Louis. What a great way to start the year! Could this be a dream season and save football in St. Louis? Nada. The Rams lost their next two but wait, they again responded and pushed their record to 4-3; the latest the Rams had been above .500 in a season since 2006 and were actually 3-0 in the NFC West for the first time since 2004. Then what did they do? They lost their next five games. The Rams weren’t even done in 2015 with the let-downs. In Week 17 the Rams were 7-8, facing the 4-11 49ers, with a chance to finish with a non-losing season for the first time since 2006. After taking a 16-10 lead into halftime the Rams did not score again, losing to the 49ers 19-16 in overtime and prolonging the franchises drought of failure.

How about in 2014? That year was a roller coaster for the Rams, putting together just one stretch of winning back to back games en route to a 6-10 campaign. But there were plenty of let-downs still. Beginning with their 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. The Rams had jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the Cowboys only to see the Cowboys tie the franchise record for largest comeback. The next week, against Philadelphia, the Rams fell behind 34-7 only to come roaring back and close the score to 34-28. The Rams forced a punt and drove the ball into Eagles territory with under one-minute left before stalling and turning the ball over on downs. Yet another hope dashed. Oh but the Rams would bring hope back again a few weeks later, defeating the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and actually won 5 of 7 games mid-way through the season to push their record to 6-7. But again hopes were squashed as the Rams lost their final three games of the season.

The 2013 season saw the Rams open up with a thrilling 27-24 win over Arizona only to then lose their next three games, one of three multiple game losses in a row that year. The Rams had a chance once again to finish with a non-losing record, facing Seattle in the final week of the season; only to fall 27-9 in a lackluster effort in which the Rams were penalized 12 times for 87 yards.

In 2012, Fishers’ first year, the Rams started out 3-2 before failing to win in their next five weeks. But once more at 6-6-1, the Rams had a chance to close out a season strong. And once more they showed what they are made of by losing two of their final three games including their season finale against the Seahawks. The Rams held a 7-3 lead at halftime before allowing rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to give the Seahawks the lead on a 1-yard run with 1:39 on the clock. And in typical Rams fashion the team wasn’t done destroying hope. The Rams actually drove down the field on the Seahawks, reaching the 29-yard line with 53-seconds left before quarterback Sam Bradford threw three straight incompletions before closing out the game by being intercepted in the end zone.

As you can see the Rams have a long history of building up hope, only to let it slip through their hands like a football in Tavon Austin’s hands. Nothing about the Rams will change until their culture changes. And that begins at the top, with the owner Stanley Kroenke. He doesn’t care about winning. Only about his portfolio. And no matter whether you change coaches, trade up in a draft for a quarterback, give big money to a receiver, or even change cities; that is not going to change. So I am sorry L.A. Rams fans and media types don’t put your faith in the Rams, because you will be disappointed. Oh who am I kidding I am not sorry.

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The Hurtful Hero

Matt-Carpenter

There are numerous stories throughout the history of sports of athletes pushing through pain and injury, rising to the moment, to lift their teams up to success. From Jack Youngblood’s broken leg for the L.A. Rams, to Willis Reed’s inspirational return to the court for the Knicks, to Kurt Gibson’s limping home run trot in the World Series…and there are too many to list for NHL players. Fans appreciate those moments when a  player leaves everything on the field, pushing through pain, and giving their all for their team. But what happens when a player continues to play hurt and doesn’t help the team but rather costs the team? We are seeing that scenario play out here in St. Louis with Matt Carpenter.

Last week news broke that Carpenter has been playing with shoulder tendonitis all season long. And although his numbers haven’t been exceptional at all this season with a .239 average, 20 home runs, 66 runs batted in; they have taken a dramatic drop recently, which is proving to be disastrous for the Cardinals. The team somehow closed to within three games of first-place entering the past weekend only to be swept by the Cubs and see their season all but officially written off.

The Cardinals poor performance this weekend is not solely Carpenter’s fault but he is the player the team planned on building around. And he is the player that is costing the team when they need production. Carpenter only had two at-bats with runners in scoring position this weekend against the Cubs but what a big two at-bats they were. The first came in Friday’s came in the memorable 5th inning, just after Carlos Martinez singled in a run to give the Cardinals the lead and when Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey and catcher Wilson Contreras got ejected. Carpenter stepped in to face Josh Wilson, who was fresh out of the bullpen and only had eight pitches to warm up. With runners and first and third what did Carpenter do with a chance to build further momentum for the Cardinals? He struck out. This has been a theme for him over the last month, as evident by his second chance to provide a big moment for the team.

His second chance this weekend with runners in scoring position came in Sunday’s game, with Cardinals down 4-3 in the 8th inning Carpenter was in the batters box with bases loaded. What did he do? Struck out. For the fourth time in the game. See the trend? Striking out.

Over the past month Carpenter is hitting just .190 and he has not had a multi-hit game since August 8th. Since that time Carpenter has just 19 hits over 29 games, striking out 33 times. That is right he has almost as twice as many strikeouts as he does hits over the last month of games.

Carpenter wants to play. And fans want players who want to play. But when the player is hurting the team more than helping them, it changes from a player having heart to a player having an ego. Carpenter, and the Cardinals, should be smart. They have options to replace Carpenter right now. It makes no sense to keep running a player out everyday that offers nothing at the plate except striking out. It doesn’t matter his stature in the game, his paycheck, or what he has done in the past. Carpenter is not being a hero for the Cardinals, he is hurting the Cardinals.

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The Heart of Sports

heart

It is easy to think about the wins and the losses. It is easy to become annoyed when a player making millions of dollars holds out for an extra million or two. It is easy to complain about the outrageous ticket costs and concession prices at stadiums. It is easy to only see the video clips of the long home run or the vicious sack. But underneath all of the highlights and all of the green, there remains what sports is truly about….heart.

Last week was a week where it was easy to see the good in what sports offers. From Hurricane Relief efforts to tear inducing stories. From dreams coming true, to stepping onto a platform for a good cause; last week highlighted the Heart of Sports.

After Hurricane Harvey hit numerous sports figures, from Matt Carpenter to Kelvin Sampson, stepped up and led donation drives to support the Houston community. But no other figure was as prominent as Houston Texan defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Watt donated $100,000 of his own money to start a fundraising effort that has grown to over $31 million for Hurricane Harvey victims which will go towards food, clothing, and shelter.  You can see video of his first game at home this season after the Hurricane here: J.J. Watt Reception

Last week also saw Sloane Stephens, all of 24 years old, winning the U.S. Open in tennis; not only capturing her first major but in doing so becoming the lowest ranked player to ever (83rd) to win a women’s singles title.

However my favorite story from last week was the story of Jake Olson. I remember seeing a story on him several years ago when he was a young teenager, getting a chance to meet players from his favorite team, USC football. I hadn’t thought about that story again until last week when I saw that Olson is now a member of the USC football team. What makes this story so special is that Jake is blind. That is right, he is a blind football player. Jake is a long snapper for the Trojans and last week he got the chance to play in a game; entering to snap on an extra point.

This is what sports is all about. A kid, now college aged man, living out his dream of playing football for a team that he grew up idolizing. A man overcoming the obstacle of being blind. A moment that not only he will cherish but that coaches, his teammates, and fans will forever remember. See video of Jake and his special moment here: Jake Olson Video

Behind the big money contracts, underneath all of the bravado and celebration, buried in the trash talk, obscured by Twitter trolls and noisy yelling TV analysts is the Heart of Sports. It is easy to forget what sports is really about. Sports is about dreams. They are about the hard work put in and the way they shape the athlete. Sports is about seeing men and women accomplish something that seems impossible. It is about coming together, no matter the state line or jerseys in your closet, to help a community. That is why we ultimately watch. Because every now and then we see the stories that don’t light up the scoreboard but light up our hearts. That make us feel and remember what it is really all about. Sports is about Heart.

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Trashed and Tanked

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One week ago sport fans were clamoring about possibly the ‘Best Opening Weekend In College Football History’. While I was not one of those to jump on the immediacy train that many love to do and claim that the newest whatever is the best thing ever! But it was still a pretty good weekend, despite a rather boring game between Alabama and Florida State we were entertained with UCLA’s win over Texas A&M, a historic upset with Howard topping UNLV, and saw close games involving Louisville, Tennessee, and Missouri 😛    Now it is the NFL’s turn for opening weekend…and what do we get? We get Trashed and Tanked.

The recent trend of professional teams tanking has spread to the NFL. The Cubs and Astros have tanked and seen success in the MLB. The NBA has long been a tanking league, from the 76ers perennial roster dumps to even legendary organizations like the Lakers and Celtics. Now the NFL has fully embraced the tanking philosophy. There are four teams that are fully invested in tanking (Bears, Bills, Browns, and Jets) and another that is just plain bad 49ers. I won’t go much into my thoughts about teams tanking (I HATE IT) because that is an article for another day.

What I do want to discuss is the fact that a league that once proudly proclaimed itself to be the epitome of all league’s because of its parity has now become fodder. The fact that 5 of the 32 teams in the NFL are publicly NOT trying to win only adds to the league’s woes. I think it will be interesting to see how attendance and tv ratings will be this season, many claimed it was the Presidential race last year that dropped ratings. But as I have stated before I feel it is an on the field issue, the product is not good. Will the fans care?

Will the fans pack the stadiums? Will they even tune in? It used to be that a fan would watch any game on TV. But I think the trend is quickly becoming watching only the premium games. Honestly does the quarterback matchup up Nathan Peterman (Bills) vs. Josh McCown (Jets) thrill you? Will the game between Blake Bortles (Jaguars) and Tom Savage (Texans) be one that is talked about in football lore? And what about the meeting of Jared Goff (Rams) and Scott Tolzien (Colts), is that must see TV? This isn’t even counting quarterbacks like Mike Glennon (Bears), Brian Hoyer (49ers), Trevor Siemian (Broncos) who are all making starts this Sunday.

It is opening weekend in the NFL and fans should have hope, maybe not the hope to win the Super Bowl each year. But they should at least have the hope to be competitive, right? How do you think the ratings will be this week with at least five teams having NO CHANCE at the postseason. How will the ratings and attendance be when they are seeing quarterbacks that are struggling to complete half of their throws? Is this the product the NFL is proud of? Is this what they are selling to the fans? Just some trash and tanking. Maybe their hope is that most of their fans watching will just want to get trashed and tanked and not realize what the NFL is actually selling…S**T.

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Fall In Love Again…With Sports

It is that time of year again, when people feel like they are walking on clouds. A slight shimmer in their eyes. Smiles creep across even the most stoic man’s face. People from different backgrounds come together and unite as one. All of this harmony is because people are falling in love again…with sports.

Labor Day marks the end of summer on calendars and the beginning of the fall sports season. And just like any kind of love the start of the fall sports season is filled with hopes, dreams, and bliss. Now given that just like some relationships, these thoughts and images will change over time but for right now, in this moment, remember how it feels. So when your team implodes and gives up a two touchdown lead late or an umpire makes a horrendous call or when your coach goes to the bullpen for a pitcher for the 5th straight day, remember the start of the season filled with hope and the moment of bliss.

With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the hopes and dreams of our local teams.

Mizzou Football
Coming off a 4-8 season in Head Coach Barry Odom’s first season, there is a quiet belief among Tigers fans. Why? Well here are a just a few reasons:

  • The Tigers return 10 of 11 starters, including the SEC leading returner in passing yards (Drew Lock) and SEC leading returner in receiving yards (J’Mon Moore) as well as a freshman running back that finished with over 1,000 yards (Damarea Crockett)
  • The Tigers defense was vastly improved in the second-half of the season in 2016, once Odom went back to a 4-3 scheme and started calling the plays. The Tigers allowed 24 points or less in three of their final four games.
  • The University of Missouri recently approved the expansion of the south end zone in Faurot Field, at a cost of $98 million. Any kind of construction on a campus, improving facilities is a great thing for a University. This project will add suites, new team locker rooms, and actually reduces seating capacity which is a plus because fewer seats to fill means easier to fill! Read more on the expansion HERE

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals somehow remain in the hunt for the postseason. Although they have faded in recent weeks after moving into a tie for first-place back on August 12th, the Cardinals are still just five games back from first and six back from the Wild Card. But there is still hope in Baseball Heaven for these reasons:

  • The Cardinals have shown that when they put it together, they can be a dangerous team. Their eight game winning streak in early August was the team’s longest since 2015.
  • In the second-half the Cardinals bats have been explosive. In the first 95 games of the season the Cardinals plated eight or more runs 12 times. In their last 36 games they have done so 11 times already.
  • The Cardinals still have multiple series against the Reds and Brewers and a series against both the Padres and Giants. Those four teams are a combined 61 games below .500 on the season.
  • Could the Cardinals actually be going with their talented youth? The move today of dumping Mike Leake and hopefully keeping Luke Weaver, that of 28 strikeouts in his last three starts, in the rotation is a move that is proactive and something many fans have been clamoring for.

St. Louis Blues
The Blues are coming off a season which saw the Blues finish in a distant and disappointing third place in the Central Division, fire their head coach, and trade away a once promising Norris Trophy candidate. So what is left for the fans to cheer on in 2017-18?

  • The Blues played much better under Mike Yeo, going 22-8 down the stretch after his move up on the bench. Did he learn from his days in Minnesota? Will the new leadership style speak more to the players than that of Hitchcock’s?
  • Brayden Schenn. The Blues new centerman is a young and talented player that has netted 51 goals in the last two seasons. In fact his 55 points last season was almost as many as the top two Blues centers last season (62 points from Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera).
  • After a rough start to last season, his first as the team’s main goalie, Jake Allen found his groove at the turn of the new year. Goaltending is mostly mental, can Allen keep his mindset going from the end of the season and truly become entrenched in the crease for the Blues?
  • The Blues are loaded with talent. Although many line spots are set the Blues have an abundance of talent on the way. They can use this talent to either fill a spot when a player inevitably gets hurt or possibly even package some players for a veteran to fill a need later in the year. Some of the players to keep an eye on are: Robert Thomas, Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, Jake Walman (all of which are playing in the NHL Prospects Tournament next month; not to mention the organization’s top prospect Tage Thompson.

Mizzou Basketball
While football hasn’t even started, many fans have an eye on the hardwood already. And with the talent that is coming to Columbia this year it is hard not to look forward to hoops season. Why the premature infatuation?

  • The Tigers recruiting class ranks 3rd in the nation behind just Kentucky and Duke!
  • Arguably the top player in the country, Michael Porter Jr., is joining the Tigers. Porter is a 6-10 forward that has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant and will be the type of player that we haven’t seen in CoMo ever before. He is a one and done and might be the top pick in the NBA draft next spring.
  • Porter, Part 2. In addition to Michael, the Tigers picked up his younger brother Jontay, a 6-11 forward, with more of a defensive and old school approach to his game.
  • The Tigers also added talented big man Jeremiah Tilmon, a highly ranked point guard in Blake Harris, and something the team has desperately needed in three-point shooter Kassius Robertson.
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Cardinals Temperature Rising

hi-res-36566150143b471f58504bf485893777_crop_northHere in St. Louis we are in a stretch of 100 degree days but it is not just the temperature that is rising, there seems to be some temperatures rising in regards to the Cardinals. From the never-ending heat on Manager Mike Matheny to players calling other players out, the question has been asked if the Cardinals should do a fire sale on this season and dump players for the future?

The Cardinals made a trade earlier this week, sending former first-round pick Marco Gonzales to Seattle for an outfield prospect, Tyler O’Neill. Looking at this trade outright, I don’t mind it. Gonzales had been passed up by other pitchers in the organization so flipping him for a top power hitting prospect is a good idea. However O’Neill is an outfielder, a position where the Cardinals already seem to have plenty of depth. As evident by sending Magneuris Sierra down earlier this week, despite remaining on a tear at the plate (.365 batting average and six multi-hit games), and without having even called up maybe their top outfield prospect Harrison Bader (.302 batting average, 19 home runs, 47 runs batted in this season in AAA). So why pick up O’Neill. First of all it never hurts to add talent, even if it is a position where you have depth. But the question that is now being asked is does this move preclude more moves? Maybe a package deal that would bring a prominent, impact player to St. Louis.

As of this moment the Cardinals are just 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central Standings, with the Cubs and Pirates sitting between them. So as we near the trade deadline should the Cardinals give up on the season and do a fire sale or should they make a move for this year? I think the Cardinals will be smart no matter what but my hope is they make a move that will not only help them this year but also for the future.

It has long been discussed that the Cardinals lack that true middle of the lineup hitter. I think this goes back a couple of years actually when the whole Cardinal Way first started being talked about. The Cardinal Way is about playing solid defense and the game the “right way”. However I think Cardinal management internally extended that to also mean that no player is bigger than the team. If you remember the Cardinal Way first gained traction during the 2011 season. In 2011 the Cardinals went on to win the franchise’s 11th World Series and kicked a stretch of five straight seasons making the postseason. The Cardinal Way became more prominent in 2012, after the departure of Albert Pujols with the Cardinals maintaining their on field success.

How could they lose a player of Pujols stature and still be successful? Because of the Cardinal Way. The peak of the Cardinal Way came in 2013 when the team set a record by hitting .330 with runners in scoring position. This was a lineup whose top two hitters, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, were both in their mid-30’s or later. But I think this is when management took hold of the belief that a lineup doesn’t need a top slugger to be successful. This can be true, as seen with the 2013 Cardinals or the Kansas City Royals who did a similar thing with their lineup and going on to win a title. However this thinking is fallible when the players do not live up to expectations. And that is what has been happening with the Cardinals players.

So what do the Cardinals do? How do they stay in the hunt for this year while also taking aim at their future?  With nine players ranked in the MLB Top 100 prospects they have plenty of arsenal to work . My ideal move would be to go after Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Arenado, just 26 years old, is an All-Star third baseman that would fill multiple roles for the Cardinals. A gold glove winner, he would solidify the Cardinals defense. Hitting .311 with 22 home runs and 82 runs batted in, he would bring the middle of the order bat the Cardinals need. And with a year still on his contract after this year, he would give the Cardinals more than just a few months of work with the hope of signing him to a longer deal. Unfortunately the Rockies continue to lead the way in the Wild Card race this season and aren’t likely to deal him.

Back to the Cardinals, here is who I think they should deal. First off Lance Lynn. Lynn isn’t quite back to being the workhorse type pitcher he was before sitting out last season but he has been on a nice roll as of late. He is in his final year of his contract and the Cardinals have plenty of up and coming pitchers to step up and contribute to the major league rotation. If you can bring in a younger pitcher who can do the same things as Lynn, with more upside and much cheaper, then why not get something for Lynn.

I would also move Jedd Gyorko. I like Gyorko. He is the type of player that helps teams win. A player that can move around and offers power. However I do not think he is the third baseman of the future. And is he really likely to repeat his current performance at the plate? His current .844 OPS is over 40 points higher than his career best 150 points better than his career average. Why not sell high on Gyorko?

The final player I would most like to move and this is probably the most controversial is Matt Carpenter. It has been said that as Matt Carpenter goes so do the Cardinals. And that is true, in 2014 the Cardinals envisioned Matt Carpenter as their ideal ‘Cardinal Way’ player and signed him to a large extention. He was coming off his first All-Star season and was the versatile, consistent player the exemplified the type of hitter the Cardinals wanted to have throughout their lineup.

However, in the four seasons since signing that contract, despite making two All-Star games, he is not the player the Cardinals originally signed. Since his extension Carpenter has gone power-hungry, changing his game to accommodate more power. And just in the same manner as Carpenter goes, so do the Cardinals; they have become inconsistent, error prone, and poor base running.

Carpenter is often talked about on broadcasts about having a good eye, and while it is true he draws plenty of walks (resulting in his high on-base percentage) his strikeout numbers have also increased and he is on his way to a fourth straight season with over 100 strikeouts. In regards to the high on-base percentage, is it really that much of an advantage for Carpenter to be on base when he is also one of the worst base runners on the team?

Carpenter is also mentioned often about his bat, a .300 hitter they often say. Did you know that in fact he has a .281 career batting average, and only twice hit above .290 in his career; his first two full seasons. The other four seasons, he has hit .272 twice, .271, and this year .252; so it would seem since the change in his game he is more of a .270 hitter, having a down year this season, correct?

Oh, well he hits better out of the lead-off spot. Yes this is true, and don’t get me started on the absurdity of why he can’t hit in other spots. If you want to get paid like a franchise player then you should be able to hit anywhere. So while yes he hits better as a lead-off hitter, did you know that since his move back to the lead-off spot this year (June 7) he is actually only hitting .244? Know that when broadcasters mention his average as a lead-off man they are including his career average out of that spot. Which means they are including his first two years with the team when he mainly hit lead-off and was a different type of hitter.

The last straw for me on Carpenter was when he called out Trevor Rosenthal this past week for not covering first base. Yes, it was a mental mistake by Rosenthal. But to call out a teammate in the media, and out of his mouth, well that just didn’t sit right with me. Should Carpenter really be speaking up when he has made probably the most mental errors of any player this season? Between errors, strikeouts, and base running; I don’t think Carpenter is a player that is setting a good example of good baseball.

So with a little over a week left before the trade deadline I would like to see where the Cardinals go from here. Will they take their assets they have (Lynn, Gyorko) and get some prospects or players for the future in return? Can they put together a package of prospects to bring in the All-Star slugger needed for the middle of the order, a true franchise player such as Giancarlo Stanton or Manny Machado? Will the Cardinals make an unexpected move and cut ties with their ‘Cardinal Way’ franchise player who has embodied the mental mistakes the team is becoming known for?

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