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ESPNs Aaron Boone optimistic about the Cardinals

Former player and current ESPN broadcaster discusses where he sees the Cardinals going in the second half before tonight's Sunday Night Baseball game between the Cardinals and Dodgers

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight’s game between the Dodgers and the Cardinals is ESPN’s featured Sunday Night Baseball. Aaron Boone is part of ESPN’s team in the booth along with Dan Shulman and Jessica Mendoza. The game starts at 7:08 pm CT preceded by Baseball Tonight at 6pm CT. Aaron Boone took some time out (like he did earlier this year), to answer some questions.

VEB: Both the Dodgers and the Cardinals are having decent seasons, but I think many expected better. Is it fair to label either team as underachievers thus far, at least by record?

AB: I would view the Dodgers as overachievers. When you consider now that Kershaw’s been out and when you consider all the injuries they’ve had. To start the year Adrian Gonzalez was having a down year by his standards. When you consider all the injuries for them to be 10 games over .500, they’ve weathered the injuries and this storm pretty well for a roster that had all types of questions coming into the season.

We’ve seen the emergence of a star in Corey Seager. Justin Turner has bounced back and is now the impact hitter he’s been the past couple of years after struggling early to find his timing. After pulling out of the Chapman deal they made in the winter and the first month of the season underachieving in the bullpen, the bullpen has become a real strength for them. So the Dodgers to a degree have overachieved.

The Cardinals I think it is fair to say they have underachieved, just when you look at the run differential. As good as they’ve been offensively collectively—who would have thought they’d hit that many home runs—but getting it from so many different people, certainly the offense hasn’t been the issue. The pitching which was so amazing a year ago has been more ordinary. But I think they are showing signs with Wainwright throwing the ball with another strong outing. That is four really strong outings in the month of July and after a rough April and rough few starts to start the season he is starting to look like Adam Wainwright again. Pair that with what Carlos Martinez is doing and Mike Leake is having a strong second half.

They’ve underachieved from a record standpoint, but there should be some optimism with this team, especially if Matt Carpenter is not out too long. If he can come back at some point, if they can nurse Trevor Rosenthal back to a role even if it isn’t at a closer role. I think Mike Leake is going to have a strong second half.

The defense has been a problem, but if they can get a bit more consistency, if Aledmys Diaz can continue to improve on the defensive side, there is a reason to believe that better days from a record standpoint are ahead for the Cardinals. The emergence of Diaz and Piscotty as impact offensive guys has been Cardinalesque. They continue to produce impact players when they seem to need them.

VEB: While the division races aren’t over, if you were to hypothetically give them to the Nationals, Cubs, and Giants, that leaves the Mets, Marlins, Cardinals, Pirates, and Dodgers fighting for two spots. Are the Dodgers and Cardinals best positioned right now to secure playoff spots?

AB: I’m not so sure about that. The Kershaw question is huge and we don’t know the answer to that yet. Is he going to not play this year or is he going to be back out there in 2-3 weeks? That’s a game-changer. If he comes back and they are aggressive at the trade deadline, then yes, i like the Dodgers position, especially since they are out in front already.

If Matt carpenter comes back, then i think the Cardinals have a chance to have a really strong second half if they can get a little more consistency defensively. They have to shore that up a little. If the things they hope happen, Kershaw returning, Carpenter returning, making that move that boosts the team a little bit at the trading deadline, these are least two of the favorites to claim those spots.

VEB: Mike Matheny tends to try and keep players at one defensive position for length of time whenever possible, Aledmys Diaz has staryed at shortstop with Peralta coming back. Carpenter played second nearly every day at that time. Is there value from a player’s perspective in that stability?

AB: I think every case is a little different. More often than not, yes. A player that knows where he is going to be and can play one position, that in theory should help them overall, but there are all kinds of examples of the other way, too. Think of Ben Zobrist and how much he has thrived on both sides of the ball as a guy who has been able to move around.

Joe Maddon does this with all his players. Kris Bryant—as big a star as anyone there—Maddon loves moving him around because of his athleticism. You have to have a guy who will buy into that. The challenge for a manager, for an organization, is to have a knack for identifying who is going to thrive in those roles, and who is better off really locking into one position.

VEB: So there is a tradeoff between stability and versatility and you have to identify it on a player level?

AB: Yes. Frame of mind is everything. That’s part of managing and part of dealing with players. It’s knowing if this guy is going to thrive knowing he’s a good athlete and we are going to move him around. Other guys are going to be better off playing one position and concentrating on that, and then it doesn’t leak over to the offensive side. I think that is up to the organization and up to the manager. Its an important decision, but a valuable one if you can get it right.

VEB: Is the same true for a spot in the lineup? The cardinals have cycled through a bunch guys at leadoff while Aledmys Diaz keeps hitting second and he might be in line to get a bump up with Carpenter out.

AB: Absolutely. It’s very much the same. A lot of times it is mental, but some guys want to be and feel like they need to be in a slot they deem themselves comfortable in and other guys don’t care—"If I’m in the lineup i don’t care where I’m hitting"—Most guys probably lean that way, but there are certainly tons of examples of guys not feeling comfortable getting moved around a lot. It’s similar to defense and determining who is good at handling that and who you try not to mess with as much.

VEB: The last time you spoke to us, the Cardinals were 11 games out in the division. It’s much closer now. If the Cardinals were to overtake the Cubs, what would you see happening?

AB: The starting pitching would resemble last year. That’s really what’s going to have to happen. All five guys. Wacha needs to be more what he’s been throughout his career instead of a guy who is searching for it and been a little off all year. The starting rotation has to go on a really nice run because at some point you’re going to have that 20 out of 25 or incredible hot streak where you are just playing lights out and the only way to do that is if you are pitching well night in and night out.

As good as the cardinals rotation was last year, while its been okay, this year its been a little more ordinary. If that’s the case, it is really hard to run off a huge string of victories, and if you are going to win the division that is something that has to happen.

Thanks again to Aaron for providing his time and thoughts. ESPN has also announced that the Cardinals game against the Cubs on August 14th will also be a Sunday night game.