Through Tuesday March 7th the Cardinals are 8-3. While that record doesn’t mean anything once the regular season starts, it is nice to see them playing better baseball and building up their clubhouse chemistry (which seemed to have been a problem last year). Last season they went 11-13 in spring training and got swept to start the season by Pittsburgh. When you miss the playoffs by a single game – EVERY game does truly matter. If the Cardinals can get off on the right foot this year it could be the difference in September. Last time I checked a win in April counts the same as one in September.
An interesting competition is starting to form for the 4th outfielder spot. Tommy Pham who came into camp as the presumed favorite might be sliding behind Jose Martinez for the coveted 4th outfielder/bench spot. Jose Martinez who is hitting .350 (7 for 20) also leads the team in runs scored (7) and home runs (3 tied with Patrick Wisdom) and RBI (7). While it’s a small sample size of just 9 games, Martinez is really showing the Cardinals some good things at the plate.
Martinez has also been working at 1B to show his versatility along with being an OF. Tommy Pham is batting .200 (4 for 20) however 1 good game could really add to his batting average. Pham, who seems constantly plagued by injuries or eye issues seems to be a guy who could slide right off of the roster if Martinez keeps producing.
While it seems the Cardinals won’t carry a 5th outfielder Jordan Schafer is trying to become a hybrid player for Cardinals by being a lefty relief pitcher and spare outfielder. Schafer, a former 3rd round pick as an OF for the Atlanta Braves, has pitched 3 innings while striking out 5 on the mound. He has gone 0 for 1 with a pair of walks and 3 runs scored while batting/pinch running. Schafer, a guy with a lot of tools, hopes to give Matheny lots of versatility as the 25th man on the roster. In my opinion he has very uphill battle to crack the 25 man. He could pitch in relief, play OF, pinch run, or even pinch hit. Schafer is trying to become a “Little League” player while going straight from the OF to the pitcher’s mound and then potentially back to the OF after he’s faced his batter(s). Ultimately I think it comes down to Pham and Martinez.
Relief pitcher Sam Tuivailala has appeared in 3 games pitching 4 innings. In those 4 innings he has only allowed 3 hits, walked 1, and has struck out 10 batters. Tuivailala, a 24 year old right hander, has been used in St. Louis for short stints in both 2015 and 2016 (not counting 2014 when he pitched 1 inning over 2 games). He has shown to be an arm who can get strikeouts when necessary, however the strike zone tends to move around on him quite frequently. He averaged 4.9 walks per 9 innings in 2015, and 6.0 walks per inning last season. As a reference point, 4 walks per 9 innings (BB9) is rated by FanGraphs as awful. Tuivailala has shown to have a worse than awful walk rating when in the majors. Tuivailala is all about trying to find the strike zone. He has shown to be a guy who can come in and get strikeouts by averaging more than a strikeout per inning in both the minor leagues and major leagues. Referencing FanGraphs once again, they have pitchers who have 10 strikeouts per 9 innings (SO9) as excellent. Sam has a 10.2 SO9 and 12.8 SO9 rating in the majors and minors respectively. If he can cut down on walks and keep pumping pitches past hitters, he could definitely go a long ways in replacing what Alex Reyes may have done out of the bullpen.