Jon Jay

Cardinals outlast Dodgers to reclaim wild card lead

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This weekend’s series in Los Angeles settled nothing, as the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in 12 innings Sunday to split a four-game series.

Shelby Miller, long the Cardinals’ No. 1 pitching prospect, earned his first major league victory and John Ely, the Dodgers’ ninth pitcher of the day, took the loss in a 5-2 game Sunday.

The win gave the Cardinals the same one-game lead over the Dodgers for the second wild card they held when the series started Thursday.

The Cards jumped right out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first today, but the Dodgers tied it back up in the third on an Andre Ethier homer. That was the end of the scoring until the 12th, when Jon Jay doubled in Matt Carpenter to make it a 3-2 game. The Cards added insurance runs on an Allen Craig single and a Yadier Molina bases-l0aded walk.

The Dodgers got a strong spot start from Stephen Fife in place of injured ace Clayton Kershaw. He struck out nine in his five innings of work. After that, seven relievers combined on six scoreless innings. Only Ely, who gave up all three runs in the 12th, struggled. Josh Wall was brought in to finish the frame, making him the Dodgers’ franchise record 10th pitcher of the game.

The Cards used just five pitchers. Adam Wainwright pitched six innings of two-run ball, and then Trevor Rosenthal and Fernando Salas pitched two innings apiece. Miller probably would have gone two or three innings himself had the game remain tied, but after the Cards took the lead, Jason Motte came in to work the bottom of the 12th for his 35th save.

The Cardinals and Dodgers both have 15 games left, and the Cards would seem to have a big advantage when it comes to the schedule. Their next nine games are versus the Astros and Cubs. The Dodgers are set to go on a nine-game road trip that includes the Nationals, Reds and Padres. Other teams are in the mix as well, with the Brewers and Pirates sitting two games back of the Cards in the loss column.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.