Tommy Pham

Are the Cardinals waving the white flag? Cubs rivals make another head-scratching move

Are the Cardinals waving the white flag? Cubs rivals make another head-scratching move

The Cardinals continued their recent trend of puzzling and surprising moves Tuesday, just hours before the MLB non-waiver deadline.

St. Louis dealt former star outfielder Tommy Pham and $500K in international bonus money to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for three prospects:

The Cardinals began the day 7.5 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central and sitting in fourth place, having been leapfrogged by the red-hot Pittsburgh Pirates over the last week. 

This is the latest move in a series of interesting decisions for the Cardinals this month that began when they fired their manager, Mike Matheny, right before the All-Star Break.

It continued when ace Carlos Martinez had to go on the disabled list for the second time this year on July 21, then returned for one outing Monday before exiting with a shoulder strain and is now likely headed back to the shelf.

The Cardinals also traded away reliever Sam Tuivailala — a 25-year-old right-hander who has made 68 appearances out of the St. Louis bullpen the last two seasons with a 3.04 ERA and 1.24 WHIP — Saturday in a deal with the Seattle Mariners.

Over the winter, the Cardinals traded away three guys who were formerly considered part of the core (for at least a brief period of time) — Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk. 

They also dealt for star outfielder Marcell Ozuna during the Winter Meetings, though he's had a disappointing season (.708 OPS, 13 HR, 58 RBI). 

At first glance, it would seem the Pham trade may be the Cardinals waving the white flag and giving up on the 2018 season while trying to acquire pieces for the future.

But Pham could've been a piece to the future, as the 30-year-old outfielder won't become a free agent until after the 2021 season and is first arbitration-elgible this winter. 

He enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign, finishing 11th in NL MVP voting while hitting .306 with a .411 on-base percentage and .931 slugging percentage. He also smacked 23 homers, stole 25 bases and scored 95 runs in a 6.2-WAR campaign.

Pham hasn't carried that success over to this year, as he's hitting just .248 with a .730 OPS, 14 homers and 41 RBI in 98 games. Despite the subpar results, he's still hitting the ball with authority on a consistent basis:

Cubs fans might best remember Pham as the guy Jon Lester picked off first base last summer in hilarious fashion.

Pham has also been very outspoken over his Cardinals career, making waves earlier this year with a statement on his long journey through the minor leagues:

It gets even more intense from there, as Pham called out his fellow players' struggles. From the SI article:

“We’re two weeks in, and I’m raking,” he says. “I’m hitting like .400. The big league team was 3–9, and all three outfielders were hitting .200. They tried [Matt] Adams out there, and he’s a great hitter, but he just couldn’t play the outfield. So I’m like, They’re getting the reports every day, they know I’m raking. What the f---? When are they gonna call me up? And then we’re three weeks in. The guys are still struggling, Grichuk, Dex [Dexter Fowler], Piscotty. And I’m still balling! So finally I said, They’re not gonna f-----’ call me up, f--- it, and I zoned out in Triple A. Every day I was just like, F--- this. I’ve made it to the big leagues, f--- it.”

He stopped showing up for early work, daring his manager to bench him, daring St. Louis to cut him loose. Pham’s agents had learned that other MLB teams as well as Japanese clubs were interested. “I’m thinking, [the Cardinals] are not gonna trade me,” Pham says. “They won’t sell me to Japan. What the f---? They clearly don’t believe in me. Let a mother------ leave! And they wouldn’t even do that.” 

The Cardinals may or may not be throwing in the towel on the 2018 season, but when they're selling while the three teams ahead of them are all adding pieces — the Pirates acquired Rangers closer Keone Kela Monday — it sure isn't a vote of confidence for the current roster. 

The haul they got in return for Pham isn't much to write home about, either, as Williams (No. 14) and Cabrera (No. 25) weren't even included in the Top 10 Rays prospects by's midseason prospect rankings. Ramirez was not listed among Tampa Bay's Top 30 prospects. 

Williams turns 23 in less than a month and has just a .689 OPS in Triple-A this year. Cabrera, 21, is 7-6 with a 4.12 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 in Double-A. Ramirez, 23, was having a solid season (2.53 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.1 K/9) in the Rays system.

Pham's departure clears room in the St. Louis outfield for power-hitting prospect Tyler O'Neill and young sparkplug Harrison Bader.

With everybody distracted by Yu Darvish and the offense, Jose Quintana quietly still searching for rhythm

With everybody distracted by Yu Darvish and the offense, Jose Quintana quietly still searching for rhythm

ST. LOUIS — Lost in the Yu Darvish Experience and the case of the missing offense, Jose Quintana has quietly struggled to get on track in 2018.

The left-handed pitcher changed everything when the Cubs pulled off a crosstown shocker last July, acquiring Quintana for top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease.

The move — and the statement it made that the front office was doubling down on this roster — jumpstarted a hungover Cubs team that exploded out of the All-Star break before fading in its third straight trip to the National League Championship series.

Quintana was everything the Cubs hoped he'd be in 2017 — going 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and striking out 98 batters in 84.1 innings. He didn't allow a run in 6.1 innings (including a rare relief appearance) in the NLDS and held his own with Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the NLCS (before getting knocked around by the Dodgers in the NLCS clincher).

Things haven't been anywhere near as smooth in the first six weeks of 2018.

Quintana hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 11.1 innings, but even still, he's sporting a 4.99 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in six starts. He was hit with his second loss of the season Friday night, lasting just 4 innings against the Cardinals and surrendering 3 unearned runs on a three-run shot by Tommy Pham in the second inning. 

That one bad pitch to Pham — a 2-0 fastball over the heart of the plate that had catcher Willson Contreras crossed up — came a few batters after a Javy Baez error kept the door open and it was the only offense the Cardinals needed all night.

"He had to fight through that [88 pitches] after 4 innings," Joe Maddon said. "Just could not get in a solid rhythm strike-throwing. Although, almost got through it outside of a home run.

"I know they were kinda not on the same page with that pitch — 2-0 count, lefty on deck. There was no reason to go after Pham right there. So I think that was just a little bit of a mix-up.

"...Deep counts, walks, they got a couple knocks, we made an error — that was a big play. But overall, you could see he was just not in any kind of a groove at any time tonight."

Much like Darvish, Quintana's overall season numbers are also boosted by two stellar starts against the Milwaukee Brewers, a team he has absolutely dominated in the recent going (24 straight scoreless innings vs. MIL).

In two starts against the Brewers, Quintana hasn't allowed a run in 13 innings, permitting just 5 hits and 3 walks while striking out 13.

Against all other teams, the veteran southpaw has given up 20 runs (17 earned) on 26 hits and 13 walks in 17.2 innings.

So that's a 0.00 ERA and 0.62 WHIP vs. Milwaukee and an 8.90 ERA and 2.27 WHIP vs. everybody else.

Quintana has admitted his delivery has been off for parts of the season and that's led to falling behind hitters much more than he'd like to.

"It's really frustrating for me when you wait for five days to get the best result out there and you get a start like that," he said Friday. "But that happened and now focusing on the next one."

Quintana said his main focus next time out Wednesday against the Miami Marlins will be on getting ahead and hitting spots early in counts so he can limit opposing hitters and hopefully work deeper into games.

The Cubs are having conversations in trying to get Yu Darvish back on track, but they need Quintana to right the ship consistently just as much as they need their new free agent prize to pitch up to his capabilities. 

For a 29-year-old who has been remarkably consistent over the course of his 7-year MLB career, it's still pretty likely Quintana will finish with some pretty solid numbers in 2018. It's probably just a matter of when he starts to display that level of effectiveness each time out.

Jon Lester picked Ryan Braun off in hilarious fashion

Jon Lester picked Ryan Braun off in hilarious fashion

MILWAUKEE — Moreso than any other team in baseball the last few years, the Brewers know how to exploit Jon Lester's Achilles' heel.

Lester's yips at throwing the ball over to keep runners close on the basepaths is something that has caused him some issues against Ryan Braun and the Brew Crew in recent seasons.

And due to the way the schedule played out, Lester wasn't initially supposed to even face the Brewers in this series. He was supposed to go in the final game in Cincinnati, but since that was rained out, Lester got the ball for Game 1 in Milwaukee Thursday night.

When asked before the game how the Cubs plan to combat the Brewers' extreme aggressiveness on the basepaths against Lester, Joe Maddon shrugged and admitted, "there's not much you can do. Just try to keep them off base."

Well, Braun reached base with two outs in the first inning of the Cubs' 8-0 win Thurdsay and he proceeded to steal second before Lester even wound up and fired a pitch to cleanup hitter Travis Shaw.

Braun got greedy and tried to swipe third, too, but Lester was ready with the bounce-pass he's been working on since spring training:

So was all that according to plan from the bounce-pass ("Pippen to Jordan") Lester worked on in spring training?

"We got an out. So yes," he said.

It wasn't a surprise for Lester or the Cubs that they would try to test him early. This is part of the reason why Lester has always been a bad matchup with the Brewers and why he hasn't faced them since 2016. But you can't steal first, and Lester permitted just three hits on top of that Braun walk in six innings.

"They're an athletic team," Lester said. "I think they led the league last year in stolen bases, so you know they're going to bring that to the table. If you don't allow baserunners, then it's OK."

After Braun was thrown out, Javy Baez ran by him in getting off the field and said, "I told him only once, not twice."

Lester caught the St. Louis Cardinals by surprise last year when he picked Tommy Pham off first base and now he's done the same thing to the Cubs' other division rival.

And this is only Lester's second start of the season. He's gonna set a new career high for pickoffs in 2018. You better believe the rest of the league is taking notice.

"It's big. It's very big," Maddon said. "It's all written down. Now that he's done it. Picking Pham off last year. ... I like what he's doing. I think he's really going to get comfortable with that and that's all he needs to do to fulfill what we need to get done."