ST. LOUIS — Whitey Herzog is still the most incredible baseball mind in St. Louis.
The 89-year-old Hall of Famer and former manager of the Cardinals watches just about every single game and knows the players' statistics and tendencies likely better than they do themselves.
So, we sat down with Whitey during the Cardinals' 17-game winning streak to get his thoughts on this 2021 club.
Here's a bit of what he had to say.
On if he was always confident the Cardinals would make the postseason:
"I just thought the Cardinals would be the team that would win the Wild Card way when they were 12 games out of first and two games over .500, which they were about 50 times. For their first 100 games their offensive consistency was just terrible. They had 55 ballgames where they got two runs or less. And now look," Herzog said. "They can score runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and strange situations. Bloop hits, missed tags and everything. I went through that. I'll tell ya, when you go through a streak like that everything you do turns out right. And then all of a sudden, it ends. But I like the Cardinal team. I like their defense and everything about 'em."
On Mike Shildt's biggest strengths as a manager:
"I think he runs the game alright. I think he does a good job with the bullpen. I think he handles the press very well. I know he's very positive, saying 'I believe in these guys' and this and that... But he's done a real good job managing the ballclub," Herzog said.
On the continued success of 40-year-old Adam Wainwright:
"If you watch Wainwright pitch, he's a pitcher. In his prime he was a 94 mile per hour guy and now he's maybe down to 89-90. But if you watch him pitch, he never throws a fastball at 3-1. He never throws a fastball when he's behind in the count. He uses his fastball when he's ahead two strikes and a ball. He slips it in there and they take it because they're looking for a breaking ball. He uses both sides of the plate, and it just proves that not too many big leaguers can hit a pretty good curveball," Herzog said.
On the impressive seasons of Tyler O'Neill and Harrison Bader:
"When you look at O'Neill you'd have to say that patience paid off," Herzog said. "He's still striking out one out of every three, three-and-a-half at-bats. If he cuts down on that he could be a 45 home run player. But what I see about him is that I love him. He keeps his mouth shut, he hustles, he plays good... He's probably the fastest guy on the club. I don't know who'd win a 60-yard dash between him and Bader, but I wouldn't bet against O'Neill."
"For the last three years Bader had been my biggest disappointment because I love the guy. There ain't nobody close to him right now playing center field. And we've got some good center fielders, I'm not knockin' 'em," Herzog said. "All of a sudden now, he's making contact. His strikeouts, which were one out of every two-and-a-half at-bats last year, he's not striking out about one every five-and-a-half at-bats (this year)."
A short and sweet answer on if the 2021 Cardinals' defense could rival his 1980s squads:
"No, I don't think so, but you know I'm talking about my infield," Herzog said.
What the future could hold for Alex Reyes as a starter:
"He's got better control of his breaking ball than he does of his fastball. And I think he'll blossom as a starter I really do," Herzog said. "I think that anybody with an arm like that, and he's got a pretty good makeup as a pitcher... I think he's gonna step in next year and show the people of St. Louis he's gonna win 15-20 games."
What the Cardinals have to do to make a 2021 postseason run past the Wild Card Game, and what the future could look like:
"Well they (the 2021 Cardinals) probably gotta acquire Sandy Koufax. But it's one game. Anything can happen in one game. A bloop hit or an error," Herzog said.
"If I'm a betting man I might've put some money on the Cardinals to win the division this year. But next year I'd put some on the Cardinals to win the National League pennant."