Dan Shulman is ESPN’s play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Baseball and will be calling tonight’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. The game begins at 7 pm CT. Shulman, took some time out ahead of the game to answer some questions about the game, the Cardinals, and the Cubs.
VEB: Is Cardinals-Cubs the best rivalry in baseball right now?
DS: Those kinds of things can change year by year. Right now it’s right there with Dodgers and Giants. Yankees and Red Sox to me was first for a number of years, but I don’t think it is quite what it was at its peak. I think Cubs-Cardinals and Dodgers-Giants probably stand out to me more than anyone else right now.
VEB: The Cardinals this year, like seemingly every year, have a bunch of talent, a good mix of young and old with a few surprising performances, but they haven’t been able to really get things going. That said, they are still in the mix for the playoffs. How would you characterize the season? Is it fair to call the Cardinals season a disappointment so far?
DS: On the one hand, it’s a little bit disappointing because they have not been as fundamentally sound as you would expect a Cardinals team to be. Their defense hasn’t been good. There’s been some baserunning mistakes. You’re not used to seeing the Cardinals beat themselves.
On the other hand, they’ve had more injuries than other teams. A couple weeks ago Moss was out, Peralta was out, Carpenter was out, and you said when those three guys get back, look out. Then Diaz gets hurt, Adams goes on the DL, now Holliday breaks his thumb, and now Wacha is one the DL as well. On the one hand, the season has been a bit disappointing. On the other hand, in the health department they’ve had a lot to deal with.
VEB: The Cardinals spent their offseason missing out on big targets, instead focusing on depth in the infield, in the rotation and held on to their top pitching prospects. Do you think the Cardinals have put themselves in position to have that strategy pay off given the injuries they have had of late.
DS: I kind of like the strategy and it has worked for them going back to the days when Pujols left for the Angels. They could have put all their money into Pujols but instead they spread it around to three or four different players, and it has kind of been Mozeliak’s m.o. to do that. They don’t spend 240 million like the Dodgers do or the Yankees do.
I like the strategy of spreading it around. Their farm system has been extremely productive over the last several years, and I totally get the fact that they want to keep their top prospects. Now Shelby Miller was one of their guys, and they decided he wasn’t in their plans as much and they traded him; Joe Kelly the same thing, but they’ve held on to Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez.
They prioritize who they want to keep, and those guys have been a big part of the program. It’s hard to argue with anything the Cardinals have done. They’ve made the playoffs five years in a row and they are in the hunt every year. They are as good as any organization in baseball.
VEB: You mentioned the defense and baserunning. There seems to be, at least nationally, a little more focus on Mike Matheny, criticizing his in-game tactics, and the fundamental issues on defense and baserunning. Do you get that sense there’s more criticism than normal with Matheny?
DS: I do, but to be honest I think that happens in every city with the exception of Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon and a couple other guys. Just about everybody gets criticized, and the vast majority of it is unfair. I think Matheny is a very good major league manager. He wants the fundamentals to be better and he knows the fundamentals aren’t good.
There’s only so much you can do. I think the coaching staff puts an emphasis on it. I think he’s one of the better managers in the game, and I think a lot of teams would love to have him. I’m not there every day, but i think he’s one of the better managers in the sport.
VEB: Alex Reyes had an incredibly exciting debut. Do you think he can be the answer to bridge the gap to get to closer Seung-Hwan Oh?
DS: I think it’s possible. He certainly has the arm. It comes down to secondary stuff and command. He’s had trouble in the minors commanding the ball, and his walks are little high. So now hes moving to the majors and potentially a new role if they are going to leave him in the bullpen.
Can he be the answer? It’s possible. I think they are certainly going to give him an opportunity in the seventh and eighth inning. With each good appearance they get a little more comfortable with him and they give him more of a opportunity. I don’t think they should look at him down there as a savior or anything, but if the results are good he’ll get an opportunity to be a bigger part of the bullpen.
VEB: Is there anything you are looking for in Sunday night’s game that you hope to highlight during the broadcast?
DS: I don’t really go into it that way to be honest with you. Every game has a story to tell and it’s our job to follow along. I think nationally, the Cubs are the bigger story. They are putting together an amazing season after that blip they had before the all star break where they lost 15 out of 21. They’ve been incredible coming out of the break just like at the beginning of the season. The pitching is rock solid to say the least, and now with adding Chapman at the back end of the bullpen—now adding joe smith—I think they have shored up the relatively speaking the weaker part of their team.
The Cubs are the headline given its been 108 seasons they won the World Series. They’ve certainly got a good chance and we’ll talk about the rivalry a lot as well. John Lackey being on the mound is interesting Sunday night; a grizzled veteran that the Cubs went out and got to win these types of games and win in October—the fact that he was a Cardinal last year—so there’s going to be a lot to talk about.
VEB: When you aren’t preparing for a broadcast, do you watch a lot of baseball? Are their players, teams, announcers you gravitate to?
DS: I do watch a lot of baseball. It’s one of the reasons I’m not as well-rounded a person I would like to be. There’s always baseball on. I try to watch the teams I’ve got coming up that weekend. If I get home at 11:30 at night I’ll turn on a West coast game and be very happy. I also do a small package of Blue Jays games. I’m from Toronto, so I tend to watch the Blue Jays a bit closer as well, but I love the sport and I’m happy to watch any two teams play.
VEB: Getting back to your role, would it be fair to say you let the broadcast come to you.
DS: I guess so. You have to come in with something. We have meetings and obviously we go over video packages and graphics and storylines, but once the game starts, it’s our job to follow the game. We’ve got something that will play no matter what, but if the game veers off in a different direction we’ve got to veer off with it.
I’m a fan of less is more. I want to set up Jess and Aaron and Buster and get them involved. There are a lot of people, to borrow a phrase during Olympic time, with their oars in the water at the same time. We’ve all got to be paddling in the same direction at the same time to get anywhere. I view our broadcasts as a team sport just like the athletes on the field and the game dictates where we go.
Thanks to Dan for taking the time out to answer questions. Watch tonight’s game on ESPN at 7pm CT with Baseball Tonight covering pre-game at 6pm CT.