On Sunday, the Cardinals-Dodgers matchup will air on ESPN as the featured matchup on Sunday Night Baseball. Karl Ravech has long been the host of Baseball Tonight and will be previewing the game at 6pm CT on ESPN as part of Baseball Tonight's Sunday Night Countdown. Ravech took some time out of his schedule to answer my questions on the Cardinals and preview the Dodgers series. A portion of his answers are below:
VEB: Right now it looks like the Cubs are separating themselves from the rest of the league and running away with things. Are the Cardinals in that next tier? Are there eight teams for four spots?
KR: It does feel that way. I get the sense given where we're at and who they are and how they were built, this will be the summer of Cubs. I do think that they'll shatter records, either offensive records or win-loss records. I do get that sense. Chciago as an organization has built themselves to this potential. The city is certainly ready. I think all the factors that have gone into building this particular group is now at its pinnacle.
That doesn't mean they are the team of the fall that means they are the team of the summer. If you look at the division, the Pirates and the Cardinals are currently, at least to me, a step below the Cubs. I think everybody is a step below the Cubs. When you look at the NL, there is super-elite in the Cubs and the elite, to me, are the Nationals and the Mets, and then I think the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Pirates are in the next level. It's unfair to call it a third level, because I think thethe Cubs are just different. So far the Nationals and Mets are a bit different than the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Pirates
VEB: So far the Cardinals have sort of meandered along, a little bit above .500, struggling against good teams and feasting on bad teams. Do you think that will continue or is it just a blip in the early part of the season.
KR: I think they will be competitive with the good teams. In a given series they could beat the Cubs two out of three. I think they have the ability to do that. I think the meandering part of the Cardinals, is that they are dependent, for the most part, in unproven commodities with Grichuk and Piscotty in the middle of that lineup along with Holliday. And Mike [Matheny] is doing his best to figure out the right combination. Pham has been hurt so he has been unable to move Holliday to first. To me, the stability of the Cardinals is there but it is a little less stable than in years past. If they had Heyward and Lackey on the team that type of conversation about stability would be easier had than with the current group of players.
Carlos Martinez has all the potential in the world and we've seen Jaime Garcia be really good. The Cardinals are every bit a World Series contender come fall as any team, but the meandering part of it compared to Joe Maddon with the the Cubs: you know the 8 guys after Schwarber went down that the Cubs are going to count on. It's very easy to pencil in Zobrist, Bryant, Rizzo and Russell. That's simple, and add in Fowler and Heyward and it becomes incredibly easy for him to pencil in a lineup and i don't think every team can afford the quality of the player at each position the cubs do.
I think the cardinals are, to a degree are a work in progress but we are talking about working with it is materials most artists would be envious of.
VEB: You mentioned Piscotty and Grichuk. There seemed to be a lot of hype around Grichuk and less so about Piscotty. Going into the season, in some corners there was a bit of skepticism around the strikeout numbers and the contact problems. Has Piscotty elevated himself above Grichuk at this point?
KR: I think he has been more consistent. In the Northeast we get exposed to Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox and with all the conversation around Grichuk and Piscotty one comparable would be Jackie Bradley Jr., who for years had that same hype about him that you hear about Piscotty and Grichuk. The offensive power was there but it was a real struggle for him and John Farrell stood by him and to this point in the season, it has been paying off in spades. Grichuk has that all-world power and the body the size that it is, but it is Piscotty who has been more consistent. Grichuk is a guy who I picked as breakout of the year and I don't know, but he still has a shot at that.
VEB: Aledmys Diaz can't keep up his current play, but has he established himself as at least an everyday player at this point?
KR: I think part of this is the search for position players along with the shortstop issue the Cardinals had in spring. People respond differently. His plate coverage has been very good . He seems to be disciplined. I don't know, but I assume his batting average on balls in play is higher than most. He's taken advantage of an opportunity. When you are a team in somewhat of a transition period, you will find yourself with opportunities and he's made the most of them.
A guy who is not yet ready to play every single day will occasionally expose some of the areas where he needs to grow and develop and that hasn't yet happened for Diaz. For the sake of DIaz and the Cardinals, I hope it doesn't. This is what a work in progress with very good tools allows you to do.
You can mix and match and put Diaz in there. If Diaz plays well, you can keep him there, and if not, you can plug in another player. That has always been the narrative around the Cardinals. It isn't as much a question of rebuilding as it is reloading. The Cardinals are around .500, but if not for the Cubs, they would be battling for first place.
VEB: The Cardinals miss Kershaw and the Cardinals are sending Wacha, Martinez, and Leake against Stripling, Kazmir and Wood. Does that give the Cardinals an advantage this series?
KR: I think it does. I was there for the College World Series and saw Leake, and I'm a believer in his ability I think he will be a successful pitcher. I loved the deal when they got him. Obviously the results haven't been there for him yet, but athletically and competitively he's as gifted as anyone. Now there is a matter of him finding it. The Cardinals starters relative to the Dodgers starters would seem to give them an advantage, but I'm not going to be moved by the outcomes unless we've established a pattern form early April and your meandering comment suggests that every team is going to have its ups and downs.
VEB: Is there anything the Cardinals can prove against a good team like the Dodgers this weekend?
KR: They don't frighten as a team or organization. Losing might raise an eyebrow, but I don't think beating them means they are better than they are. They have settled at that level beneath the Cubs and beneath the Nationals and the Mets and that is great company to keep. Taking two of three wouldn't elevate them. I have always looked at them as a team that once they get into the playoffs: They usually have a really good bullpen, starting pitching is going to be really good, and obviously they can score runs. They are in that group of contenders for the World Series and one series in May isn't going to change the way I view the team.
Editor's Note: Some dialogue has been edited for clarity and brevity. Karl Ravech also answered a few questions on the role of sabermetrics and analytics as part of his job. We will put those thoughts up in a shorter post ahead of the game on Sunday. Thanks to Karl for taking the time to provide thoughtful answers to my questions on the Cardinals.