On Sunday night, ESPN is broadcasting the Cardinals game as they take on the Yankees in New York. Dan Shulman will be on the call with Aaron Boone, Jessica Mendoza, and Aaron Boone. The game starts at 7 pm central time. Shulman took some time to answer our questions on the Cardinals season so far.
VEB: The rotation looks to be the team’s strength in the early going with strong starts by Mike Leake and Michael Wacha and some good starts from Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn, do you expect that to be the case as the season goes on?
DS: I think the offense could be a strength, but right now I agree with you. I think the rotation is the number one strength. We are talking about nine games so it’s really early in the season, but Leake’s last start: really good. Wacha: very encouraging obviously. If Adam Wainwright can find his form and Carlos Martinez can be consistent, Lance Lynn is a known commodity so you know what you are going to get from him, then i think it definitely could be a strength.
I expect them to hit more than they have. They’ve got some proven guys who haven’t really gotten going yet. Piscotty is huge key, too. He had a great game the other night hitting in the cleanup spot, driving in five. If he is poised for a breakout season, that really help the offense, but overall, I would say the rotation is the strongest part of this team.
VEB: The Cardinals looked great when you saw them opening night, but have won just two of eight since then, with all aspects of the game causing problems at different times. Those struggles probably seem minor compared what you are seeing with the Blue Jays, but what do you think is the biggest problem for the Cardinals right now?
DS: I think the bullpen has been an issue. The offense, some of the guys aren’t hitting like they can. Defensively, there are some spots on the field where maybe they aren’t as strong as they could be. Up until last year, you always, always, always associated the Cardinals with really good fundamental baseball. They ran the bases well. They caught the ball well. I think they can get back to a better level than they were last year, but Carpenter is learning a new position, Adams is spending some time in left, Peralta is getting a bit older, Diaz’s offense is better than this defense.
Defensively, I don’t know they can be a great team. I think they need to be an average team. The bullpen--I think--will be okay. I think the bullpen is the kind of thing they can continue to work at and try to fix internally over the course of the year. It think Oh’s going to be fine. I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be fine. Cecil has been a slow starter his whole career. I think he’ll be okay. I think the bullpen will get better. I know 3-6 is not where they want to be, but it is very early and i think this team is better than that.
VEB: Have you ever seen anything like the Matt Adams to left field experiment? Do you think it’s something the Cardinals should scrap going forward?
DS: It’s too early to scrap. The Twins did it last year with Miguel Sano who was a big, burly third baseman-type and it didn’t go that well. To Adams’ credit, he came to camp 25 pounds lighter and I think that helps, but it is still a big adjustment to turn an infielder--especially a first baseman--into an outfielder. I wouldn’t say scrap it. I think they need to see if it’s viable. I understand they want to get his bat into the lineup.
If Grichuk’s hitting really well, then i don’t think he sits very much. Then, I don’t think Adams plays very much. If Grichuk’s not hitting, then they look for more offense. They put Adams there, and they are giving up some defense. These are tough decisions to try and figure out what their biggest priority is right now. As the saying goes, the players make out the lineup card and I think it will be obvious which way to go shortly.
VEB: Adam Wainwright gets the start Sunday, and he’s still looking for the right mix. What do you expect from him on Sunday as well as the rest of the season?
DS: A lot great pitchers go through this. Justin Verlander has gone through it. CC Sabathia’s gone through it. They all go through it. Wainwright has thrown a ton of innings in his career and he’s been a stud, he’s been an ace. At some point--and maybe this is that time maybe it’s not, maybe it just a blip, but last year wasn’t a good year for him either--pitchers have to adjust and give in a little bit to age and wear and tear and try to reinvent themselves a little bit.
Adam Wainwright is a tough competitor and a really smart guy. I’m sure he knows what he has to do to try and have better success. I expect him to have a good year. I don’t know that we’ll ever see top-of-the-rotation big horse Adam Wainwirght, but i certainly think he can be a real contributor for the Cardinals.
VEB: One bright spot for the Cardinals this season has been Aledmys Diaz, but he seems to get lost in the shuffle a bit among all the great young shortstops we have in Lindor, Correa, Seager, Russell, Turner, Bogaerts. Where does Diaz fit in?
DS: You gave some great names. This is a golden era of great young shortstops. Some of them are a bit younger than Diaz, and most, if not all, are a bit better defensively than Diaz. I think he might come in a half-step behind the names you mentioned, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a really important, productive player. He hit well last year and he’s off to a pretty good start-three home runs already--swinging his bat this year. If he can just play reasonably good defense, I think the Cardinals are going to be very happy.
When you look at Turner and Correa and Seager, you are talking about guys who could go on to become the faces of the game in the next few years. They are that talented and kind of reminds you of A-rod, Jeter, Nomar and Miguel Tejada a generation ago.
VEB: The Cardinals won 86 games last year and missed the playoffs by a game. That seems to be about where they are now. What should Cardinals fans expect to see the rest of the season?
DS: I think it would be really tough to expect them to compete for an NL Central Championship. Stranger things have happened, but the cubs are a great team, defending world series champs, and look like they are poised to be a really good team this year. For the Cardinals, most realistically, it’s can they get a wild card spot. Can they compete with whoever it may be? I think it’s pretty wide open.
I had them in our preseason picks on espn.com as a wild card team. In the East, you’ve got Washington and the Mets who both figure to be there. The Pirates aren’t to be taken lightly. Out West, you’ve got the Dodgers and Giants, maybe even Colorado and Arizona. Those are couple of interesting teams.
If I were a cardinals fan, I would expect them to hopefully be in the running for a playoff spot. They have to play well to do that. The bullpen has to be good. The defense has to be adequate. They have to be a better baserunning team than they were last year. If those things happen, I think they’ve got a good chance.
Thanks to Dan for taking our questions.