The St. Louis Cardinals look to complete their sweep of the Cincinnati Reds tonight on Sunday Night Baseball, the team's final appearance on ESPN this season. If successful, the team will improve to 20 games over the .500 mark, and at minimum, reduce their magic number to four (three if the Brewers win again). Well, as you may recall from way back in May, I had a chat with Buster Olney prior to the Cardinals taking on the Pirates on Sunday Night Baseball, and in a similar situation, I was able to talk baseball with Manny Acta in between his appearances on ESPN. Here is what he had to say:
Viva El Birdos: How do you see the Cardinals doing down the stretch? Specifically, do you think the trade deadline moves (especially John Lackey) will make an impact on the team’s success?
Manny Acta: I think so. Those guys always make smart decisions over there. The only downfall they had as a team has been their lack of power, and they’re picking it up as of late with Holliday hitting for power. I do think that they’re a team that with the experience they've had in the past and the way they play the game, especially defensively, gives them a chance, not only in the next seven games, but going forward in the playoffs as well.
VEB: The Pirates have been playing great baseball of late, do you see the Cardinals holding on to win the division, or do you see the division being decided in the final days of the regular season?
MA: I see [the Cardinals] holding on to it. They’re playing good baseball right now, and they’re swinging the bat better, especially for power. When you have a pitching staff like they have and a guy like Waino that can stop any type of losing streak every five days, I see them holding on to it.
VEB: As a very quick aside: The Cubs have a lot of good prospects. At Viva El Birdos, we’ve talked a lot about these prospects and frankly, many of us miss the Cubs being good. Do you think the Cubs can be "good" next year or do you feel it is still a few years down the road for them to have a real impact in the National League Central?
MA: I don’t think they’re going to be ready to take over the division next year. They’ll probably be a good club that is going to impact everything in 2016, though. The position players that they’re bringing up have shown to be guys that are probably going to live up to all the expectations and probably even more. They’re very athletic and gifted. My question with them will be the pitching staff. They do need to get a pitching staff in place that is going to back up those guys. They’re going in the right direction, but still, pitching is everything. We’ve seen that. You could put as many good prospects or position players on the field, but if you don’t pitch and catch a ball, at the end of the day, you fall short. I think they’re going to be an impact next year, but not in a way to take over or to fight the Cardinals or Pittsburgh for the top spot.
VEB: What are your thoughts on Oscar Taveras and the fact that he was heralded as one of the best prospects in baseball yet has had a tough go of it so far in the big leagues? Do you see him having an impact down the stretch and into the playoffs, or do you feel like he’s going to need a full off-season under his belt to get himself going?
MA: I’ve seen him in Winter Ball, and I do think he’s going to be a very good hitter at the big league level. Right now, it’s really tough for him because a lot of guys are taking a little bit longer to adjust to the major leagues, and I don’t think that the Cardinals are going to be putting all the eggs in the Taveras basket for the remaining games. That being said, here’s your lesson: Regardless of what he’s going through right now, I’ve seen him play in Winter Ball, and he just might still make an impact this season (let's all make a mental note of this). I just think that they’re probably going to go with a more veteran lineup on an everyday basis through the end of the season.
VEB: Based on the expectations for the Cardinals going into the year and based on where they are now, would you consider the Cardinals, at this point, to have lived up to their expectations or do you think that they’ve been a little bit of a let-down?
MA: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. At the end of the day, you just want to be in the playoffs, and it looks like they are going to be in the playoffs and win their division, so I think they have met the expectations. Did they look like they were dragging a little bit for the first couple of months? Yes, but it’s a long season—162 games—and we all knew they had the pitching to do it. A lot of times the offense was just not going anywhere and the injury to Molina didn’t help them, but at the end of the day, they’ll make the playoffs. That’s the main thing, so I think they’re well on their way to meeting the expectations.
VEB: 2012 was your last year as a manager. Do you ever plan on returning to the dugout? Every day, when you wake up, do you miss that competitive edge you used to have (as manager)?
MA: Well, I absolutely want to return to the dugout as a manager. That’s my passion. That’s what I love to do, but right now, I’m busy doing two jobs—not only here at ESPN, but I also work as a GM in Winter Ball, and that competitive edge is being filled out like that. The fact that I can put a club together and go through the highs and lows in Winter Ball kind of helps me keep that competitive edge. So, I am waiting patiently. I have plenty of time to wait, and hopefully I’ll be managing down the road.
I thank Manny for taking the time to speak with me for Viva El Birdos and hope to see him return to a dugout as a big league manager very soon. You can find him on Twitter: @MannyActa14.