Baseball Tonight host Karl Ravech discussed the St. Louis Cardinals in a phone interview with Redbird Rants on Tuesday. Ravech has served as the primary host of the Emmy Award-winning Baseball Tonight since 1995.
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ESPN’s 26th Major League Baseball regular-season opens up with Sunday Night Baseball as the Cardinals take on the Chicago Cubs from historic Wrigley Field on Sunday, April 5, at 8 p.m. ET. Dan Shulman provides play by play with while analysts Curt Schilling and John Kruk and reporter Buster Olney will provide commentary.
Daniel Solzman: Thanks for joining Redbird Rants today. How are things treating you?
Karl Ravech: Everything is good. How are you doing?
Daniel Solzman: I’m doing good. It’s that busy time: Final Four, Opening Day, and Passover.
Karl Ravech: (Laughs) In no particular order either.
Daniel Solzman: Yeah, I’m going to be watching a lot of basketball on Monday as a result.
Karl Ravech: Yeah, I’m sure. It will be fun. That will be a fun Saturday night and a fun Monday.
Daniel Solzman: I won’t know the results from Saturday night until I get the paper on Sunday.
Karl Ravech: I hear what you’re saying.
Daniel Solzman: Yeah. As we head into the start of the season, what do you make of the Cardinals offseason moves?
Karl Ravech: The Cardinals are an organization that, when I look at them historically, have a pretty solid foundation. Relative to what the Red Sox had to do in the offseason, what the Dodgers did for their redo, how the Nationals added Scherzer, nothing about the Cardinals makes you think that they improved dramatically because of the acquisitions that they would make. They still have Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, and Lackey pitching. They still have Molina behind the plate. They have Carpenter in the infield, Peralta.
Jason Heyward, to me, is a guy who—and I was there for his first Spring Training game when he was with the Braves and he hit a home run over the right field wall. We interviewed him. His folks were there. Just an incredibly talented young man—gifted in all phases; polite. I think he since he debuted, we’ve all been kind of waiting for him. It may be unfair to judge a guy just by his offensive skills but he looks like such a source of power in the batter’s box. There have been flashes of it and his defense is just terrific and off the chart defensively. But when I think of Jason Heyward, I’ve been led to believe that he’s sort of going to be a five tool power. I’ve been waiting for that offensive package to match up with his defense. That’s saying a lot because his defense is so great. There may be a change of scenery. There may be a new batting coach who could help. The approach, according to most of the analysts that I work with, felt that there were just a lot of moving parts in his swing. Again, when he squares it up, its hit just as hard as anybody, just didn’t happen enough for me to think that Jason Heyward is going to be difference maker. But I didn’t think the Cardinals needed a difference maker. Obviously with the tragedy of Taveras, you needed to get a right fielder. But I don’t look at Heyward in the way that I look at Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval.
Daniel Solzman: Jaime Garcia had a strong spring after missing a bulk of last season. What do you make of this latest setback?
Karl Ravech: Anything there’s a setback, especially this late, it’s a concern. In the Cardinals case, you can assume one of two things: this is really bad or it’s something he’s going to be able to recover from.
Given their pitching depth, in a lot of ways, moving Martinez into the fifth starter slot answers some questions that we’ve had about Martinez since we really saw him in the postseason a couple of years ago when he shined. What is he eventually going to become and I am one of those that do subscribe to the theory that things happen for a reason. I’m looking forward to seeing what Martinez can do and how deep he can go and how consisted he can be as a starter. When I watch Martinez, I think of another Martinez, Pedro, with regards to the stuff that he has, the velocity he throws with, the ability to make batters miss. I’m kind of excited and interested to see Carlos Martinez in s a starter position.
I don’t know enough about Jaime’s setback to think that this is going to cost him the season or two weeks. I think it’s a window for me to wait and see.
Daniel Solzman: What do you make of the rotation heading into the season?
Karl Ravech: I love the rotation. I love it. Lance Lynn wins games—between 12 and 15 or 16, you can pencil in for him. I’ve always been a Wacha fan. I’m delighted he’s back. He has a no-hitter every time he takes the mound when he’s right. His downward plane again remains me of how good he can be.
Wainwright has always been one of my favorite people, let alone baseball players in the game. I know that he’s starting on Opening Night against Lester of the Cubs. It’s a real good chance for a guy to go out and for the Cardinals to remind everybody that—while the Cubs have garnered a lot of attention here with the moves they made and the Kris Bryant conversation—this is still a division you kind of got to go through St. Louis if you want to win.
John Lackey’s a proven winner.
It’s a real good mix of veterans, of power, of sort of wisdom on the mound as opposed to a bunch of flame throwers who you hope can do well and yet you’ve mixed Martinez in, who has the ability to be that guy. I think it’s a real nice mix of combination of guys that have proven themselves, both regular and postseason. There don’t appear to be a ton of arm issues. I think Adam’s going to be okay. I think he was just discouraged initially but I think he’s in a good place now. It’s a real good starting path—really good.
Daniel Solzman: Looking at the National League Central, how much of a threat are the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates?
Karl Ravech: I probably—well, I think the Pirates are a threat. I like the Pirates. The same way I thought about the Cardinals pitching having nice depth, the Pirates are an interesting team because they do have young players who are veterans. They have guys that are around because they’re forced to be around in an organization that doesn’t enjoy the depth like the Cardinals and deeper-pocketed teams have. I like their pitching in Pittsburgh. They have a couple of young guns that are going to show up in mid-to-late season that are going to help out on the mound. I think Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco, along with the Miami outfield is as good as there is in baseball. I think that they have tasted the postseason here in the last couple of years. They have an engaged fan base. They don’t make a ton of mistakes. They have a couple of interesting pieces here in Kang, the shortstop-second baseman. Also, the loss of Russell Martin, which may prove to be a real big loss. As dominant as Yadi Molina has been, Martin has proven himself to be a winner wherever he’s been, whether it be with the Yankees, the Pirates, and certainly the Blue Jays hope that he’s that way, too. I think the Pirates are a threat.
I think the Cubs can win series from any team if they get hot at the right time but I think in the course of 162 games, they’re not there yet. Like their ballpark, it’s not there yet—I don’t think the team is there yet.
Daniel Solzman: Could this be the year that Adam Wainwright finally wins the Cy Young Award?
Karl Ravech: (Laughs) He’s sort of like Phil Mickelson and others were against Tiger Woods when he was so great. Kershaw has done some otherworldly things. He’s not getting any worse than he was. He’s probably not even peaked yet. They’ve put some defensive guys around him, which is only going to help him. I think Adam understands the challenge on an individual level to beat out a guy like Kershaw. Jose Fernandez won’t be around for the entire season but he’s one of those guys that can certainly threaten the Cy Young that much when he’s healthy. I think the individual race becomes more and more difficult. I think in Adam’s case, while that would be nice, World Series rings are what matter. Given the names I’ve just mentioned, Harvey, Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Adam has as good a chance as any of them to win the World Series and that’s probably what’s important.
Daniel Solzman: Mike Matheny has led the Cardinals to the postseason in each of his firth three years. Any predictions on what happens in 2015?
Karl Ravech: I think the team’s going to be in the playoffs again. I think they’re going to be pushed by the Pirates all season. I think John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny work well together. I think that the Cardinals always have the ability to add to payroll if they need to. I don’t think that they tolerate substandard seasons there. I don’t think the fans expect it. I remember being there driving in a cab during the World Series when they were predicting that there was no way that Albert Pujols would ever leave because he’s the franchise—what’s going to happen if he ever he leaves and all that’s happened since he left is they have had the chance to win almost every year. So they are that franchise that’s the model of consistency that teams like the Pirates, Royals, and Indians are inspired to be like. I just think that the Cardinals talent level is still higher than most of those teams and I expect them to be in the playoffs again.
I’m almost feel as though if you get to the playoffs and you can avoid the Wild Card Game, it’s still a crapshoot. I think the Wild Card Game now becomes almost prohibitive for you to go on and win the World Series. But I think if you can avoid that game and don’t have to use your ace, let alone if you are in that game, it means you are playing competitive games down to the wire. Avoid that. Avoid having to use your ace in sort of a play-in game. If the Cardinals, I think they will be by that time as equipped as any to win the World Series. Again, getting into the tournament and the result is a crapshoot. I think last year was a great example. The Wild Card team in Kansas City goes all the way to the World Series and they’re beaten by a guy who has seemingly thrown a thousand innings and throws a complete game. They didn’t expect anything like that.
Daniel Solzman: I’m doing an April Fools Day article for Redbird Rants on Jon Hamm being hired as the Cardinals manager now that Mad Men has wrapped. Could I get a quote from you for the article?
Karl Ravech: (Laughs) Well, having set on the set and co-starred in a movie, Daniel—I was a co-star that movie with him in Million Dollar Arm. I had a cameo for about 30 seconds so I consider myself a co-star of a movie with him. If I would find myself to be completely ill-equipped as a manager of the Cardinals, I’m not sure that Hamm is any more equipped than his high school days behind home plate or now his beer-league baseball behind home plate while he can kind of see the game from a different perspective, the best thing he would do if he were to be named manager, the best thing he would do would be to sit on the bench and let Yadier Molina run the team. That would be my advice to Johnny.
Daniel Solzman: Alright. Thank you again for your time and keep up the great work.
Karl Ravech: Thanks again, I appreciate it. Happy holidays!