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Saturday SOC: Final Thoughts on the WC, Early Thoughts on the Offseason

Some stream of consciousness on Shildt’s Wild Card bullpen management and some early thoughts on offensive additions (or the lack thereof)

MLB: Wildcard-St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

I had planned to sit down today and give you the final “Best of” article of the season, going through the best Cardinals stats and performances in 2021.

That reeks of “offseason” content, though, and I’m just not quite ready to go there.

The offseason is long. Soooo looooooong as a writer. And I really want to put it off for as long as possible. So, instead, you get some more stream of consciousness – my off-the-cuff thoughts on the Wild Card game plus a get-ahead-of-the-narrative conversation on offseason acquisitions. If you’re lucky, I might also throw in some Randy Arozarena vs. Tyler O’Neill stats just because that seems to really get people going.

Final Thoughts on the Wild Card Game

I’m entering this article feeling the need to apologize. To whom? Mike Shildt. Both on Twitter and here in the comments section on VEB, I had some words to say about the decision not to bring Giovanny Gallegos out for the ninth inning. It was one of those Jekyll and Hyde scenarios for me when one minute I’m praising Shildt for his aggressive use of Gallegos and then, in the next, ripping him to shreds for his use of Gallegos.

We’ll get to that. Let’s start at the beginning. First, I was harping on Shildt during the early innings for not having his bullpen up and ready to go. In a one-game winner-take-all there is absolutely no harm in having someone – anyone – loosening up in the bullpen in case the game gets away from Wainwright faster than you can react. It just makes sense. As I said at the time, it’s not about a lack of trust in Wainwright. It’s just about being in the position to control the game and not allowing the game to control you.

That didn’t end up mattering much because Wainwright was cruising right along, clearly outperforming Scherzer who didn’t have his best stuff on the day (but was still making hitters look foolish. That’s how good he is.)

Then the sixth inning comes along. Dave Roberts, seeing the same thing we all did with Scherzer, had already made his move, using his abundant pinch hitters and moving into his bullpen. Not Shildt. Bader was hit by a pitch with two outs in the inning, and Shildt let Wainwright hit for himself.

That seemed to confirm the approach I expected Shildt to take before the game – “Win with Waino” vs. “All Hands on Deck”. That’s a “Win with Waino” move if I’ve ever seen one. It was also pretty foolish for a couple of reasons. First, it essentially gives the Dodgers a (mostly) free out with a runner on base. In a tight 1-1 ballgame, that’s just not something I would want to do. At that point, Waino the pitcher could not win the game for the Cards. A pinch hitter with doubles pop might just be able to do that. Second, it guarantees that Wainwright will have to face the heart of the Dodgers lineup for a third time. Due up was Seager, Turner, and Turner. That’s absolutely the time to use a fresh arm.

The Cards seemed to realize that because at the first sign of trouble – a single by Trea Turner – Yadi was heading to the mound and Wainwright’s night was over.

If you’re willing to make that decision after one single, you should have made it before Wainwright’s plate appearance and given yourself a better chance to drive in a run.

So, no apologies offered to Mr. Shildt there.

I did like his aggressive use of Luis Garcia, though. I’ve been begging the Cardinals to use their relievers for multi-inning outings all season and in a tight spot, Shildt and Maddux seemed prepared to do just that. Kudos to the coaches here.

Fast forward now to the 8th. Garcia is spent and again the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup is coming up. Shildt makes the aggressive and smart move to go straight to Giovanny Gallegos. This kind of move is becoming increasingly common among MLB managers, so I can’t give Shildt too much credit for creativity here. It was the obvious choice and the right one. But he made the obvious and right choice and that almost certainly would not have been the case under the previous administration. So bonus points to Shildty for not being Matheny.

Anyway, Gallegos, the brilliant reliever that he is, was a brilliant reliever and it sure seemed like Shildt was setting him up to come back in the 9th. This would have drawn my lavish praise, something I’m sure Mike Shildt covets (he wrote sarcastically.)

Shildt didn’t. Instead, he waited until the Dodgers announced Gavin Lux as a pinch hitter. Then he pulled Gallegos for lefty T.J. MacFarland.

I said some words. Sure, it was cute and LaRussa-esque to force the other manager to burn a quality pinch hitter but to do so at the expense of your best reliever? When the other manager has something like 16 offensive players on their roster? To set up a matchup with your journeyman lefty against the best right-handed hitter of all time? Just stick with Gallegos, man! If you were aggressive with Luis Garcia, why not be aggressive with one of the best relievers in baseball?

Anyway, after the game, we find out that Gallegos busted a nail and was done. Based on that information, the deke of Roberts and Lux made a lot of sense, and going to MacFarland was … hmmm… ok. Perfectly defensible considering his recent performance and with the lefty Bellinger coming up later in the inning.

So, sorry Mike. I didn’t know about the Gallegos injury. I personally hate to get criticized by people who don’t have all the information. So, even though you don’t know me from Adam, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong about that situation.

That brings me to Alex Reyes.

At the time I didn’t mind the move. With Gallegos injured, the club had to adjust on the fly. Shildt had to get someone up alongside MacFarland, knowing that if the lefty got into trouble the next reliever would face a situation with a runner or runners on. MacFarland has to face three batters, so that creates a situation where IF MacFarland has to be replaced, the club would almost certainly be hunting for a strikeout.

That left Shildt with only two options. Hudson and Flaherty weren’t considered as rehabbing starters who shouldn’t be used in the middle of an inning. The lefties weren’t options either since MacFarland was already a lefty and had to face Bellinger no matter what happened. That left just Reyes and Whitley as support.

Who do you warm up?

At the time, I was fine with him warming Reyes. Yes, he’s more likely to walk someone – but that really wasn’t a huge consideration. It’s balls in play that were going to end the game. Even though Reyes had started giving up more and harder contact toward the end of the season, he’s historically (including the minors) very good at limiting hard contact and not giving up home runs. Plus, he can really get K’s – which is what I would be looking for, were I the manager.

Whitley, on the other hand, was less likely to get a K, still somewhat prone to walks as a major league reliever, but more likely to give up contact, though probably not a homer.

So, for me at the time, Reyes is the guy up in the bullpen as an emergency strikeout-getter.

Now, to the actual situation. Bellinger beats MacFarland and you’re back to righties with a runner on. Chris Taylor is up – a good player but not the killer hitter that the rest of the lineup features. He’s a high BABIP player – .344 career, .337 this season. He also strikes out a lot – 27.5% in ’21.

The decision to warm up Reyes seems to be the right one. Reyes has a very low BABIP against and a high K rate. Taylor’s high BABIP would be somewhat mitigated and he was very likely to give you the desired strike out.

In a game where Alex Reyes was almost certainly going to pitch, this was the right scenario for him. Get your out and get out of the game.

Plus, it saved Whitley for the top of the lineup in the 10th and possibly through the 11th.

So, Shildt makes his move and Reyes takes the loss.

If it had been me, the same thing would have happened.

All of that was “at the time.” With the benefit of a deeper look at the stats, I think I see my mistake. Whitley’s K rate has been really high at the end of the season. I didn’t recognize that at the time. Plus, I had kind of lost track of the lineup, so Whitley could have come in for Taylor in the 9th and remained in for the whole of the 10th. Then you continue to mix and match if you survive long enough, with Flaherty, Hudson, and Reyes as a pick ‘em selection of long relievers.

Bullpen management was a mixed bag for Shildt on the day. I wonder if the Gallegos injury threw off his plan and then on the fly he revered back to trust and heart instead of cold analysis. Trust said use Reyes to get the K. Analytics said to go to Whitley.

Managing is hard.

Early Thoughts on the Postseason

Hey, look at that. 1400 words and I haven’t even gotten into my second topic. That means this will be short. That’s ok because I really only have one small thing to say:

Stop making plans for offensive upgrades this offseason.

Seriously, just stop. We’re three days into the offseason and there hasn’t been a lick of news but I’m about 85% certain that the Cardinals will not sign a single starting-caliber offensive player this year.

That might seem odd to you considering the narrative about the offense all year. But the Cardinals have a full roster. In truth, they’re going to have trouble finding space for all the players who probably should be rostered at some point in 2021.

Let’s just go 13 men deep with the depth chart. Rookies are in italics and 40-man minor league depth in parenthesis.

C: Yadi, Knizner, (Herrera)

1b: Goldschmidt (Baker, Donovan)

2b: Edman, Gorman (Rondon, Robertson)

SS: DeJong, Sosa

3b: Arenado

DH: Yepez

LF: O’Neill (Plummer)

CF: Bader (Capel)

RF: Carlson, Nootbaar (Burleson)

That’s a deep set of offensive talent. Twitter is already obsessed with acquiring one of the impact short stops on the market and I could see that as a legitimate hole. Then again, with Gorman’s rise to MLB-readiness (or close to it), the club is going to want to create some space for him soon.

Edman’s future with the club might just be at short. There his relatively weak offensive profile plays well enough and his defense at the position has been good in limited action. That leaves Sosa in the backup role he’s well suited for and DeJong battling to prove he still belongs in the majors. Gorman will advance at his own pace and can fill in for injuries at up to six positions, counting DH.

With all that being the case, do we really think Mo will spend $100M (or whatever) on Trevor Story? Or three times that for Correa?

It could happen. That’s why I’m at 85% no and not 100% no.

Keep in mind, I said “starting caliber”. I do think it’s likely that the Cards target a lefty Matt Carpenter, Brad Miller-type to challenge Yepez at DH and cover some infield depth.

Otherwise, where’s the space for an addition? It’s not coming at the expense of a starting outfielder, Yadi, or the bookend superstars: Goldy and Arenado. The middle infield is where the Cards have the most experienced depth and their best prospect.

The Cardinals will add players. Probably quite a few. But it will be on the mound. Not in the lineup.

That’s it. Stream of consciousness over. You’ll have to wait on my Arozarena vs. O’Neill takes. Next week I’ll be ready to admit the season is over and I’ll dig into season analysis and reviews. Enjoy your October Saturday!