Cardinals/Giants Q&A With @gr33nazn
The NLCS is a beauty. These are two teams that have had a really cool run to get where they’re at today. I’m absolutely honored to have a two-time Cobcast veteran answer my Cardinals questions, especially with respect to the NLCS.
Now, into the meat of things.
Q: Yadier Molina entered the NLCS on a pretty bad note, having gone 2 for 21 facing Washington pitching. How much do you think he needs to improve to be a significant impact player offensively for the Cardinals, and furthermore is that a necessity for them to win the series?
I’ve always maintained that any offense the Cardinals get out of Molina above replacement level is a bonus. He appears to be stuck in a “pull” mode mentality, and that rarely works for him. He typically goes through this a few times a season and works his way out of it with a few plate appearances with his normal approach. To be an impact player, he really has to make himself at least a tough out. That said, he doesn’t have to hit well for the Cardinals to win the series. The team approach to scoring runs has slowly matured into one of players trusting the next guy to step up and drive them in. That’s where offensive production/distribution becomes a factor.
Q: With both teams having gone 5 games and turning over their playoff rotation in the process, which team do you feel comes out at an advantage with expected matchups — factoring in the park played in as well, if possible.
With both going 5 and the Giants finishing Thursday, I give them the nod in terms of having a rotation setup advantage. Having Bumgarner (10-3, 2.38 ERA, .219 BAA at AT&T) and Vogelsong (7-4, 2.86 ERA, .228 BAA at AT&T) going at home favors the Giants on paper. They also gained a slight advantage in terms of how the Cardinals fell apart a bit on Friday, because Lynn made a brief relief appearance on Thursday. That wouldn’t normally be an issue, but Lynn went from starter to reliever to starter in a matter of days. To expect more than 75-80 pitches out of him might be asking a lot.
Q: How do you feel Matheny has done over the course of the season as well as the NLDS with respect to utilizing bullpen pieces appropriately, and which pen arm do you think will be most effective in shutting down Scutaro, Posey, Pence and Belt?
If I had to hand out a grade to Matheny for using the bullpen, I would go with a “B-”. He’s great at calling on the right guy for the right situation, but he’s often just a little slow on the trigger. His hesitation nearly cost him last night, and he’s been much the same way all season. To be fair, I’m not sure any bullpen arm the Cardinals have can shut down Scutaro, Posey, Pence, and Belt. Given Scutaro’s penchant for finding holes in the defense to Posey’s power to all fields to Pence’s plate coverage to Belt’s batting eye – I don’t think they can be consistently shut down for more than 1 time through by a reliever. Considering how similar some of the relievers are for St. Louis, I would probably go with Edward Mujica. He’s basically the change-of-pace guy among a group of 4-5 who can throw 98+.
Q: Considering the nearly 100 ABs Hunter Pence has had against active Cardinal pitching, how much of an impact do you worry he could have on providing intangible intel to fellow Giants? Do you think he has the potential to be an impact player for the Giants in key situations, or will that same level of experience work more towards the Cardinals’ advantage?
Pence’s experience against the Cardinals worries me as much as his ability to hit Cardinal pitching. If teammates see Pence having a few great at-bats, it gives them a lot to work with in terms of adjusting their own approaches, and learning on the fly can really hurt by the 3rd time through the lineup. In terms of guys who can really turn a game around, I think he and Sandoval can both be impact players. Posey can as well, but I think the Cardinals will make it hard for him to beat them. While I’d like to think familiarity with Pence will give the Cardinals an advantage, that’s always a game of cat and mouse. Over what could be 7 games, I expect Pence to make a big difference for a substantial portion of the series.
Q: We saw in Game 1 that both Lynn and MadBum failed to provide a quality start for their respective team. However, it was MadBum’s second postseason outing in poor form whereas Lynn was making his first start after generally effective relief work against Washington. Do you think that, once the rotation turns over, these will be the two starters both managers tap, and if not, which Cardinal would you expect to fill that hole or start on short rest?
I would expect to see both starters match up again. Bumgarner should have plenty of time to process what went wrong and make some adjustments. At this point, the bottom of the Cardinal lineup is putting together some great at-bats. That wasn’t the case for much of the season, so the book on them has changed a lot. Bumgarner’s stuff is simply too good to relegate him at this point in my opinion. Throwing Lynn again after a normal cycle of rest and a side session makes sense for the Cardinals. Some of their other options have just been so valuable out of the bullpen that it’s likely that a guy like Joe Kelly would be unavailable anyway, and Shelby Miller hasn’t thrown much.
Q: Please try to put into words how much of an impact the absence of Dave Duncan in 2012 had on the pitching staff. Were there any indications of veteran pitchers taking a greater interest in coachable moments, what has Derek Lilliquist contributed to the staff, et al.
Not having Dave Duncan in that dugout is probably more of an emotional or psychological hit than anything. Just seeing him standing there watching every pitch gave both fans and pitchers a sense of security. Without the security blanket, it’s probably more disconcerting for the fans than the players, though. Lilliquist is a Duncan disciple, and he really doesn’t deviate a lot from what you would expect Duncan to do. The “keep some in reserve, pitch to contact” message still gets put out there. For the younger guys, seeing Wainwright and Carpenter go out and be the embodiment of that message says everything. With those guys watching, the Cardinals basically have pitching coach minions there to keep everyone else on message.
Q: Barry Zito has 17 strikeouts and 0 HR allowed against Beltran and Holliday. Zito also has allowed a fantastic 3 HR to Allen Craig. Barry Zito is growing his playoff pedostache back. Are you afraid of Barry Zito?
I’m afraid of Barry Zito for the same reason I’m afraid of Jeff Kent in a windowless van or an ice cream truck. Also, he’s the kind of guy who could shut the Cardinals down for 5-6 innings. The Cardinals have a tough time adjusting to soft-throwing left-handers who can nibble at the edges of the plate. Imagining Zito facing the current 2-3-4 hitters right now makes me a bit nervous, because Holliday and Craig are a little off in terms of plate approach.
Q: Compare Kozma’s late season and introductory postseason impact to that of Craig and Freese in 2011, and whether you expect to see a similar level of development offseason. Additionally, speculate if you can on what type of role he would ideally take on in 2013.
Craig and Freese in the 2011 postseason were exactly the players many have been waiting for them to be (or better). Both have had the “potential impact player” label for a while, and many expected Craig to hit, because he absolutely raked at just about every level. The difference with Kozma is that he’s been a disappointment offensively in the minor leagues, and he was actually projected to be a low OBP guy playing 2B. With his ability to play both middle infield positions, he has a reasonable shot at getting a good share of starts next season. With some doubts about what the team can expect from Rafael Furcal, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kozma win a job out of spring training.
Q: The Cardinals’ .780 OPS is the highest of any team still in the playoffs (trailed by the Tigers’ .650) and while their 9 HR also lead the playoffs, they’ll play up to four games in one of the more longball-restrictive parks in baseball. How, if at all, do the Cardinals’ power hitters have to adjust their plate approach to sustain that rate? Do they need to sustain the power hitting or will a small ball approach achieve the same end with a bit more realism involved in speculation?
I don’t think they can really change their approach, and I also don’t think they are worried about sustaining anything. McGwire preaches that home runs come with good at-bats, but a home run does not a successful at-bat make. They showed that at the end of game 5 against the Nationals. Freese and Molina both adjusted for their last at-bats and drew critical walks. When you receive universal praise for a walk the same way you do for a home run or opposite field single, you have more faith in the message and the approach. That’s why I think they will play more small ball than many expect, especially in San Francisco. They just aren’t content to wait for the long ball.
Q: This should be fun for you. Two sentences. First is overall, second is with respect to this series.
a. Tell me why Yadier Molina > Buster Posey.
Molina is the best all-around catcher in the game, because he’s a 4 1/2 tool player (sneaky fast). Molina gives the Cardinals an advantage, because he simply doesn’t allow some teams to steal bases and get into scoring position.
b. Tell me why Allen Craig > Brandon Belt.
Tough one, but Craig has slightly more power (134 vs 117 OPS+). Craig has the confidence of a man who has nothing to prove in the playoffs after what he did last year.
c. Tell me why David Freese > Pablo Sandoval.
I despise you for this, because I truly appreciate Panda’s effort at losing weight and becoming even better with the glove than he already was. I would take Freese over Panda, because Freese still has unfulfilled potential, and I tend to favor guys who take the ball to the opposite field a lot. I like Freese in this series, because hitting 6th in a loaded lineup with 2 hot bats behind him comes with less pressure than Sandoval has hitting 3rd where he is expected to hit for power.
d. Tell me why STL bullpen > SF bullpen.
The STL pen doesn’t have any big name guys to defer to, so every guy is ready to go at any time. In a series where fatigue can come into play, having a group of former starters who can go 2+ innings can save some arms.
e. Tell me why that dumb bird > Lou Mothafuckin Seal.
The Cardinals actually have a “Cardinal” as the mascot. The Giants do not have a “Giant” as the mascot. Heck, they don’t even have a cave troll. Also, Lou Seal sounds a lot like “Lucille”, and that’s just lame.
Thank you Dennis for agreeing to do this little Q&A project with me. I really appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions, just as much as you answering mine. Best of luck to the Cardinals and may the best ump oops I mean team win.