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The St. Louis Cardinals were barreling toward their third consecutive

Mike Matheny and turn the reins over to Mike Shildt.They still wound up missing the playoffs.But oh , what a run they made.A club that was hovering around .500 when Matheny was dumped in July set a record for consecutive series wins, and climbed into the playoff race well into September. St. Louis was finally eliminated on the season’s penultimate day, but the organization was left feeling much better about the future.“We’ve been in postseason mode since virtually the All-Star break,” Shildt said, “so you appreciate what went well, and you appreciate and grow through experiences and you grow together. There’s a lot of takeaways, and the good news is we’ll take advantage of it. I can promise you that.”Shildt, who never played the game beyond college, was so impressive in righting the course as a first-time manager that the Cardinals stripped him of the interim tag before the end of the season. That answered the biggest question heading into the offseason.Now, the Cardinals can begin planning around their young core for next season. Erstwhile cornerstone Adam Wainwright, first baseman Matt Adams and pitchers Tyson Ross and Bud Norris are not expected back Jonny Venters Jersey , which means the Cardinals will head to spring training largely intact.“What I take away is really simple, really how you respond,” outfielder Harrison Bader said. “Kind of got kicked in the teeth a little bit, but to have 162 games and then ultimately it come down to the last four or five, playing meaningful baseball that late in the season is what it’s all about.“Unfortunately this year we didn’t come out on the right side of where we really wanted to be,” he said, “but it very easily could have gone another way. To set us up in that position with such a young team and young in terms of age and experience, it’s no excuse but it’s very promising.”REBOUND CANDIDATESDexter Fowler hit just .180 with a handful of stolen bases, and considering he is due $16.5 million each of the next three seasons, the Cardinals need their offensive sparkplug to be more spark and less plug. Pitchers Alex Reyes and Brett Cecil also struggled, the former with injuries and the latter with effectiveness.STILL CATCHINGYadier Molina proved he’s still one of the best backstops in the game Matt Moore Jersey , even though he missed some time with an injury. The 36-year-old catcher hit .261 but slugged .436, and he belted 20 homers with 74 RBIs while helping to bring along a young pitching staff.ABOUT THAT STAFFInjuries decimated the staff early in the season, but that merely thrust some young guys into the mix. Now they’re poised to form a formidable rotation next season, and competition to crack it will be brutal in spring training. Miles Mikolas and Michael Wacha are sure things, but Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez, Austin Gomber and others are eyeing a job.ERRORS GALOREThe Cardinals had the most errors in the majors with 133, or more than double the club with the fewest (Houston with 63). All those mistakes put more pressure on that injury-riddled pitching staff and an offense that finally started humming late in the year.“We’ve got some room for improvement in some of these areas,” Shildt acknowledged. “I think in general there is optimism about how this team is going about competition and the style of play and excited about what it looks like moving forward. I think there’s a real good energy behind our fan base right now. It should be , at least.”BIG SPLASHDespite so many returning pieces, the one thing the Cardinals could use is a middle-of-the-order slugger. Manny Machado or Bryce Harper would fit the bill, but quite frankly, the bill is also quite large. Regardless, the Cardinals could use a consistent force in the middle of the lineup.“Three straight years of coming up short. We as an organization, as a total group top to bottom everybody in this clubhouse, all the staff, we have to find a way to get better,” first baseman Matt Carpenter said. “We’re headed in the right direction. The second half was definitely a good starting point, but we’ve got to find a way to get there.” GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — David Bell used a relief pitcher in center field and a catcher at shortstop Bartolo Colon Jersey , showing a willingness to try unusual strategies in his first spring training as Cincinnati Reds manager.“This whole camp has been different,” starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani said.Bell, the third generation of a prominent Reds baseball family, has allowed his coaching staff to make significant changes. Pitching coach Derek Johnson, on Milwaukee’s staff the previous three seasons, has pitchers playing soccer as part of their conditioning drills instead of running foul-pole to foul-pole.“You can see them having fun and get their conditioning in,” Bell said.Johnson also has his staff throwing more frequently, though fewer pitches each time.One of the most notable moves by Bell is allowing reliever Michael Lorenzen to both pitch and play center field — Lorenzen’s position in college — during the same game. Lorenzen has lobbied for the dual role, which is unusual in the major leagues. Lorenzen is getting into condition by chasing fly balls in the outfield during batting practice.“It’s pretty cool they are letting me do this,” Lorenzen said.Kyle Farmer, drafted as a catcher Jon Niese Jersey , has played shortstop. Bell intends to use infielder Connor Joe as a catcher, a position Joe hasn’t played since college.Bell has used extreme shifts that employ four outfielders and leave one side of the infield open.Reds players have welcomed the changes, especially the individually tailored plans for getting players ready.“They’re asking us how we feel and what we need physically to continue to get better,” reliever Jared Hughes said. “If guys need a day or if they need extra work, there is a really good system of communication.”After four straight seasons of at least 94 losses, the Reds are ready to consider different approaches.“Why not try new stuff?” second baseman Scooter Gennett said. “We have the ability to do it. I think Lorenzen should definitely be out there. I think he’s nothing but prove that he can hit, that he can throw. He can do it all.”Bell’s willingness to try new things also fits with a trend of nontraditional methods.“The game gets better when people think outside the box because you push the limits of what the game could be,” Hughes said. “They are looking at how we can get better and take that extra step. If you get 2 percent better over 162 games, that’s three extra wins and that could be the difference.”
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