By Issa Cook, from Cardsblog.com
After the Cardinals 2014 season ended, many questions faced a successful team that just could not beat the Giants on an even year. The organization had to deal with some of their darkest hours after the death of Oscar Taveras, mourning the loss of a bright young star who had the world ahead of him and wondering how their beloved Cardinals would recover.
While we, the fans, were mourning, John Mozeliak had to go back to work.
While 2014 was another successful season for the club, the Cardinals had to face a major issue. The team had finished second to last in the National League in home runs. Jhonny Peralta led the club with a mere 21 long balls, while Matt Carpenter‘s eight home runs were enough to keep him in the Cardinals’ top five for that category.
It is true that hitting home runs does not always directly correlate to more wins, but recently the numbers have shown that most playoff teams are the ones leading the league in the power numbers. In 2014, Los Angeles and Washington, the other two division winners, finished 6th and 4th respectively in home runs. Even the two Wild Card teams, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, finished more than seven spots ahead of our Cardinals. After 2014, Mozeliak knew that the Cardinals needed to address their lack of power.
Part I: Cardinals Let Go of Freese, Acquire Some Dude from Texas Named Grichuk
Mozeliak had slowly been transitioning the organization prior to the 2014 season. The David Freese trade in November 2013 brought the Cardinals a young center field prospect, Randal Grichuk. In his immediate reaction to the trade, former writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Bernie Miklasz praised Mozeliak, saying, “Mozeliak did even better in coaxing the Angels to part with Grichuk, a former No. 1 draft pick.” (Miklasz, STL Post-Dispatch) While the trade featured Peter Bourjos and David Freese, Grichuk was the steal for the Cardinals.
Many wondered why the Angels would surrender Grichuk to the Cardinals so easily, especially considering the fact that Grichuk had so much potential. The Cardinals GM certainly knew what Grichuk could bring to the table, and trusted in the player who was selected right in front of Mike Trout in the 2009 MLB Draft.
Part II: Cardinals Acquire Mark Reynolds… Wait, How Does He Fit into this Puzzle?
The next piece to the puzzle arrived when Mozeliak signed Mark Reynolds on December 12, 2014. Reynolds, a journeyman first baseman famous for putting up ridiculously terrible strikeout numbers and hitting the ball to Mars, seemed like a harmless addition for the Redbirds. Mozeliak was trying to hedge his power bet, as big slugger Matt Adams had played 142 games in 2014 and produced only 15 home runs.
No, Reynolds did not hit 30 home runs for the Cardinals and re-introduce the home run to the Arch City. What he did, however, was provide the team some much-needed depth at the corner infield positions.
The one consistent power threat the Cardinals had from 2012-2014 was Matt Holliday. In 2015, Holliday was unable to provide power in the lineup because he was dealing with consistent injury problems. While Reynolds was not dazzling with his power, he certainly helped get runs home when others were slumping.
In some ways, we as Cardinals fans have to thank Reynolds for not tearing it up, as his average to above average power in 2015 left room for Mozeliak to make his next big move.
Part III: Mozeliak Delivers in the Clutch, Brings in Brandon Moss
On July 31st, 2015, Holliday went to the disabled list again and the Cardinals’ power hitting was depleted. Needing to act quickly, Mozeliak called up the Cleveland Indians and worked out a deal that provided the club with some much-needed reinforcements.
By the middle of the 2015 season, Brandon Moss had established himself as a legitimate power threat in the American League. The Indians were selling at the deadline, and the Cardinals were becoming desperate buyers. It would be great to say that Moss came to St. Louis and immediately started hitting bombs at Busch, but that did not happen.
Moss took some time to settle in, but that was just fine. There was another guy, some even called him a kid, who was ready to shine.
Part IV: The Rise of the Kid from Stanford
So if Moss took time to adjust to life in the Lou, Holliday was hobbling through the summer, and Reynolds still could not decipher this thing called a “curveball”, who carried the Cardinals offense in the late months of 2015?
Oh yeah, that was Stephen Piscotty.
The kid from Stanford was finally ready to put on the red & white and suit up for the organization that selected him with their first round pick in 2012. Piscotty never saw lights that were too bright, stages that were too big, or fences that were too far. He came to the majors, and he raked.
Piscotty hit seven home runs for the Cardinals in the back half of 2015 while also posting a .305 batting average and showcasing his impressive patience at the plate. Starting crucial games in September as well as getting playoff at-bats really helped Piscotty emerge into the player he is today.
The power numbers obviously were not that flashy, but they helped the Cardinals get an idea of how many home runs Piscotty could hit over the course of a full season. His seven home runs in 63 games in 2015 put him on pace to hit 17 home runs over a full season (155 games, give the guy some rest).
In 2016, Piscotty has already surpassed his 2015 pace and hit 20 home runs through 124 games. Piscotty is now the steadiest hitter in the Cardinals lineup this season, and will be a staple of this offense for years to come.
Alright, so now we have Moss, Grichuk, and Piscotty covered. Who the heck is left???
Part V: Gyorko Magic
How could we leave him out? The man, excuse me, the machine that is Jedd Gyorko seems to enjoy life in St. Louis, and we certainly love having him here. Mozeliak hauled in the final piece to his home-run hitting machine just this past offseason in a deal that sent Jon Jay to the Padres. We’ve written an article recently about how awesome this deal was, so I’ll just move on to talking about our savior named Jedd.
Our first impression of Gyorko was not necessarily the greatest, but after April we at least knew that he had a knack for striking fear in the heart of his former teams. After he finished his act of vengeance against San Diego, he was ready to hit dingers in a Cardinals uniform.
Since July 1, Gyorko has launched his play into a new stratosphere, slugging 17 home runs in the months of July and August. Throughout the last 50 or so games, the Cardinals have looked to Gyorko when in need of a big swing. Call it whatever you will, Gyorko has certainly turned around his career in St. Louis.
Now, he is in a battle with Brandon Moss to claim the Cardinals home run title. No matter who wins, the victor will most likely be the first Cardinals player since 2012 (other than Matt Carpenter in 2015) to hit more than 27 home runs. No player wearing a Cardinals uniform has hit 30 home runs in a season since Carlos Beltran in 2012, which is an astonishing fact.
(Above are your 2016 St. Louis Cardinals Home Run Leaders, home runs highlighted in yellow)
Now, after some luck and a lot of careful planning, the St. Louis Cardinals could be named home run kings in the National League for the 2016 season. While the increased number of long balls has certainly shocked us this year, it’s now time to appreciate the work that John Mozeliak has done over the past couple of years and realize that this power increase has been in the works.
For the first time in forever, the Cardinals will rely on the home run to carry them offensively in a September postseason race. That is entertaining baseball, and for the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals, that is winning baseball.
See More from Cardsblog.com
- This is Our Cardinals Team and This is Our Month
- Who can Provide a September Boost?
- What's Behind Randal Grichuk's Resurgence?