Tag Archive | "Angels Of Anaheim"

St. Louis Cardinals maintain long-term focus with limited deadline deals

The St. Louis Cardinals moved two pitchers during this season’s non-waiver trading period, but neither were one of the team’s vast supply of pitching prospects that could be the foundation of the team for much of the next decade.

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General manager John Mozeliak traded relievers Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski for international signing money and a minor league position player, but he kept everybody else.

Sure, the Cardinals could have improved at shortstop, rumors leading up to the July 31 deadline had them linked to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim shortstop Erick Aybar, or they could have got a starting pitcher such as Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox or Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies. They even could’ve gone after a catcher with Yadier Molina on the disabled list.

But all of those options would have been short-term fixes that could have helped the team win the World Series this season since the Cardinals will likely enter the playoffs with an extremely young team, particularly on the pitching side, but those moves would have also mortgaged the team’s equally as bright future.

The Cardinals have a treasure trove full of young pitchers that includes Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Michael Blazek, Keith Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness and John Gast, not to mention injured closer Jason Motte, who closed out the 2011 World Series but is just 26 years old.

That group could be an entire big-league pitching staff in itself if everyone stays healthy and continues to progress as they have thus far through the minor leagues, and for many, their first season in the majors.

Those 12 pitchers, excluding Motte, had made a combined 209 appearances up until the trading deadline and were a large part of a staff that has the fourth-best earned-run average at 3.42. The Cardinals have possibly never had that kind of young talent in their system at one time.

But, that youth also leaves a distinct possibility for problems in the immediate future. Yes, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook are veterans with great leadership skills who are vital to the development of the young pitchers, but mentorship only goes so far in terms of wins and losses in October.

Most of this young pitching corps has never experienced postseason play and just recently got a taste of high-leverage games on the current road trip through Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, they went 1-7 in the first two stops before they won two of three over Cincinnati.

Maybe those intense games will give the young players experience that will benefit them in the playoffs, but then again, postseason games are yet another notch higher on the intensity and pressure dials.

Still, Mozeliak made the correct decisions at the trade deadline even if the Cardinals lose in the wild card game or are knocked out in the first playoff series. Trading some of the team’s young talent might have helped this season, but keeping it has greatly enhanced the chances the Cardinals will go deep in the playoffs for the next several years.

Yes, it might hurt if one of the young pitchers gives up a back-breaking home run or young position players Pete Kozma, Matt Carpenter or Matt Adams make a crucial error that ends the team’s 2013 season, but sometimes wisdom isn’t revealed until years later.

Mozeliak might have just set the Cardinals up as a potential powerhouse team for years to come by saying, “No,” to trade offers and setting down the phone.

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St. Louis Cardinals better without designated hitter

The St. Louis Cardinals lost one a spot for one of their many sluggers Friday when they mercifully returned to Busch Stadium to face the Miami Marlins.  The loss of the designated hitter in their return to National League play might actually help the team.

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The Cardinals 6-5 Independence Day loss on Thursday to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finished the worst two-week stretch of the Cardinals’ 2013 season.

They went 2-8 against nearly the entire American League West Division. The Texas Rangers swept the Cardinals at home, the Houston Astros split a two-game series in Houston, and the Cardinals lost two of three on the road to the Oakland A’s and the Angels.

The Cardinals had the designated hitter available for all of those games except the three against Texas since the rest were played in American League ballparks, but the Cardinals were actually worse with the extra hitter. They lost a key bat off the bench, and the DH created an unbalanced lineup that disrupted what had been the National League’s best team.

The Cardinals scored four or fewer runs in six of the recent 10 games against the American League teams, but the larger factor was how much the designated hitter disrupted the team’s lineup, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny still couldn’t get all of his hitters regular at-bats.

For much of the season, the pitcher’s spot appeared to be a roadblock that simply didn’t allow first baseman Matt Adams to play every day. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 260 pounds, Adams has the look of a designated hitter. He could walk up to the plate four times a day, hit a homerun, get a base hit and his team would get a win more often than not.

But that wasn’t how interleague play worked out this season. Adams went 7-for-30, including six starts, in those 10 games, but rightfielder Carlos Beltran, first baseman Allen Craig, third baseman David Freese or leftfielder Matt Holliday were often placed in the DH role while Adams played first.

Holliday had a pinched nerve in his neck during the series against the Angels, and Matheny surely wanted to give the other hitters half a day off while he could, but the disjointed lineup showed on the field as the Cardinals made seven errors in those 10 games, or nearly one-third of the 36 errors they have committed this season.

Plus, Matheny shuffled the batting order to try to fit in the extra bat. All of a sudden catcher Yadier Molina was a regular sight in the No. 2 spot and Holliday dropped to the No. 5 spot.

Second baseman Matt Carpenter was about the only hitter not moved from his regular spot atop the lineup, and he mashed during the 10-game stretch, hitting .340 with eight hits for extra bases and 10 runs batted in.

The Cardinals lineup returned to normal Friday outside of a day off for Beltran to rest. Centerfielder Jon Jay filled the No. 2 spot, and the team broke out for four runs in the first three innings to establish their lead for a 4-1 win.

The lineup felt comfortable again, and it will be even more so with Beltran as a regular presence near the top of the order. Yes, Matheny will still have to be creative to get Adams enough at-bats, but the Cardinals played 20 games above .500 with that problem. They were six games under .500 when American League rules allowed the team an extra hitter.

The Cardinals have enough good hitters to produce an American League lineup, but as a whole they are still a National League team. Perhaps they can get back to their dominating ways now that they’re back in their own league.

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Remember when St. Louis Cardinals spring training was more about baseball than contracts?

St. Louis Cardinals players reported to Jupiter, Fla., last week to kick off spring training 2013, but that first week was full of contract talk instead of baseball talk, an unfortunate situation that has become the norm at Cardinals camp in recent years.

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The Cardinals even went bigger than usual in the first week this year by having three contract announcements, but at least two of those were positive announcements. The organization picked up the option on manager Mike Matheny’s contract for the 2014 season, and it signed general manager John Mozeliak to a three-year extension.

The other announcement wasn’t so joyful. Adam Wainwright and the team said contract negotiations with the pitcher are not active at the moment, and there is not a timetable for when that situation will be put to rest.

All of these are necessary procedures for a Major League Baseball organization, but it takes away from the excitement of spring training and shifts the focus away from what we all want to enjoy: players on the field preparing for the upcoming season.

Unfortunately, early spring training workouts have been an afterthought in the past three seasons.

In 2010, Albert Pujols arrived at spring training camp in much the same situation Wainwright walked into camp this year. Pujols was headed into the final year of his contract with the Cardinals, and people spent an incredible amount of time talking and analyzing Pujols’ situation, nevermind the team was actually preparing for a season that would end with a World Series championship.

Spring training in 2011 wasn’t as bad, but that’s more because the result turned out much better for the Cardinals. Pujols had left the Cardinals and signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in December 2010, but the Cardinals had another important part of their team heading into the dreaded final year of a contract.

That important player was Yadier Molina. People were already speculating about him joining Pujols in Anaheim after his contract expired at the end of the year, but Molina and the Cardinals squashed that talk early in spring training when he signed a five-year, $75-million extension to stay with the club.

Then came this year, and the Cardinals are again stuck in contract negotiations with a star player. It’s anybody’s guess how Wainwrights contract situation will play out, but that’s what keeps people talking about it even though we are less than a week away from the start of actual spring training games.

Understandably, high-profile contract negotiations are part of the way of life for Major League Baseball teams these days as salaries rise to the next astronomical amount and the performance-enhancing drugs topic refuses to go away.

However, the quality of life for teams, players and their fans might be better if people spent more time talking about exciting new players or position battles instead of off-the-field issues.

Spring training is a seemingly magical time of year when teams go to the tropics to work on aspects of their game so they are ready to debut for an excited fan base when they return home for Opening Day.

Baseball is great when it is little more than those quaint storylines. It’s too bad much of that gets overshadowed by the modern realities of the sport.

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Wainwright Comments Sound Similar To Pujols

St. Louis Cardinals ace starting pitcher Adam Wainwright announced Tuesday that contract talks between himself and the Cardinals have stalled for the time being. It’s not time to panic that Wainwright won’t come back, but the result wasn’t pretty the last time contract talks between the Cardinals and a superstar fell apart in spring training.

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That last time was in 2011 when Albert Pujols arrived at spring training in Jupiter, Fla., with one year left on his contract with the Cardinals.

“I have made it very clear that I do not want any of this to be a distraction during the season, and it was for that reason, that we came up with a deadline,” Pujols said Feb. 16, 2011, the day contract talks officially ended until after the season.

Wainwright has not set that type of deadline, but time is becoming precious for him and the Cardinals to hammer out a new contract before the season starts.

Wainwright’s biggest concern is the same reason Pujols wanted to set a deadline in his negotiations: He doesn’t want the contract situation to become a distraction.

“There does need to be some urgency on both sides just to try to get this done if it’s going to happen before the season starts, just for peace of mind for everyone,” Wainwright said earlier in the week.

Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t adding up no matter how much both sides want to get a deal done. Sound familiar?

Pujols and the Cardinals both suggested they wanted to get a deal done quickly so Pujols would remain with the Cardinals for the remainder of his career, but it didn’t happen. Pujols is now set to enter the second year of his 10-year, $240-million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

As was the case with Pujols two years ago, Wainwright’s value is something of a mystery right now. He’s a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher who is unquestionably going to be the ace of the Cardinals’ pitching staff this season. But, he’s also a 31-year-old pitcher who has already missed an entire season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

Pujols was considered the greatest player in the game heading into the 2011 season. He had just come off of a season when he hit .312 with 42 homeruns and 118 RBIs, but people still asked the same questions about Pujols as they are currently asking about Wainwright.

Pujols was 31 years old, and a long-term deal could create many problems for a team if he gets hurt or simply doesn’t produce nearly as much as he ages. That’s the great unknown that factors into all contract negotiations with star players.

Still, the Cardinals would do well to sign Wainwright before the season starts. They signed catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75-million contract before the 2012 season, nobody said a word about contract negotiations for the rest of the season and Molina had the best season of his career.

Pujols and the Cardinals didn’t get a deal done a year earlier, and Pujols had the worst season of his career. That was the first time he hadn’t hit at least .300 or had at least 100 RBIs.

Wainwright’s value will also likely increase, possibly dramatically, if he has a stellar 2013 season. The price of pitching rises exponentially each offseason, and there is little doubt the asking price for good pitchers during next year’s free-agent period will again produce eye-popping contract numbers.

These are anxious times as the Cardinals and another star player battle through contract negotiations in February. And with each passing day, the situation only gets scarier with the possibility Wainwright might not be a Cardinal beyond 2013.

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Fourteen Players, Three Roster Spots

For the first time in several years, the Royals lineup, starting rotation and bullpen is pretty much set, barring injuries. But opportunities exist for some players to get a spot on the bench.

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It’s likely Manager Ned Yost will go with 12 pitchers and a backup catcher. Add the eight position players and the designated hitter and there’s only three reserve player spots available. How many players are vying for those three spots? Fourteen.

Of the fourteen, three of them are long shots. Infielder Brandon Wood signed a Minor League contract and is a non-roster invitee. A former top prospect with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Wood’s last stint in the Majors was 99 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.

Royals Minor League infielder Anthony Seratelli is a non-roster invitee who provides Spring Training depth, but little else.

Non-roster invitee outfielder Luis Durango played 39 Major League games from 2009-2011 with the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros. He’s likely be in AAA Omaha’s outfield or could be released.

The next group could make the club, but a few things are going to have to go their way. Non-roster invitee Xavier Nady is an 11-year Major League veteran who’s played with several different teams. He’ll get an opportunity as a reserve outfielder or first baseman.

Former Royal and non-roster invitee Endy Chavez will see some time in the outfield during Spring Training, but barring a great spring performance or injuries to other players, Chavez has a slim chance.

The Player to be Named Later in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade is utility infielder Elliot Johnson, who played 123 games for the Tampa Rays last year. Being the Royals newest player, Johnson will get a long look as a backup to shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Non-roster invitee outfielder Willy Taveras provides some speed and seven years of Major League experience. If he has a good spring, he could be a reserve outfielder if Jarrod Dyson falters.

Royals infield prospect Christian Colon only has two seasons of pro baseball, but if he plays well, he might be in the mix for second base. But if the Royals think he needs more seasoning, he’ll go back to the Minors.

Outfielder David Lough played 20 games last year for the Royals, but Dyson will have to stumble for Lough to make the club.

And there’s longtime Royals farmhand Irving Falu, who played 24 games for the Royals in 2012. Seeing how few opportunities the club gives him, it’s likely Falu ends up in Omaha, even if he deserves a real shot of making the club as a utility infielder.

The next group is the most likely to make the club, due to their contributions to the Royals last year or their veteran status.

Whoever loses the second base battle between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella will end up on the bench, so that leaves two spots on the bench.

Outfielder Jarrod Dyson had a solid 2012 filling in for the oft-injured Lorenzo Cain. Dyson isn’t much of a hitter, but he’s got speed and plays a decent outfield. If Cain stays healthy, Dyson is a good fourth outfielder and will take the second spot on the bench, with one spot left.

So who gets the last reserve roster spot? I believe the Royals will give it to six-time All-Star and 2002 MVP infielder Miguel Tejada. He’s not the player he was ten years ago, but as a bench player in a limited utility role, he can play a serviceable third base, shortstop and even second. Perhaps “veteran leadership” is a baseball myth, but Tejada has the right attitude to provide guidance for a young team.

Sure, some fans might think the Royals have no business giving a roster spot to a 38-year old player whose best days are behind him. But he’s not taking the starting job of a younger player and you have to admit he’s probably a better player than Yuni Betancourt.

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St. Louis Cardinals will likely be forced to give Adam Wainwright record contract

As another offseason of eye-poppingly large free-agent contracts begins to wind down, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in an unfortunate, yet familiar situation as one of their biggest stars heads into the final year of his contract.

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It was Albert Pujols in 2011; it will be Adam Wainwright in 2013.

The Cardinals co-ace is headed into the final year of his six-year, $59.4-million contract. That number is almost laughably low for a  Cy Young Award quality pitcher with a career 80-48 record, 3.15 ERA. In the past year, pitchers with less impressive numbers have signed contracts nearly triple the size of Wainwright’s current deal.

The San Francisco Giants signed Matt Cain in April to a six-year, $127.5-million extension. That was, of course, before he had a career season that included starting the All-Star Game and pitching a perfect game June 13 against the Houston Astros. The Los Angeles Dodgers also recently signed former Cy Young winner Zack Grienke to a six-year, $147-million contract. And those are just the big-name pitchers.

Even mediocre pitchers got paid big bucks this offseason. The Detroit Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez, who has a career 48-51 record and 3.75 ERA, to a five year contract worth $80 million. The Chicago Cubs were in the hunt for Sanchez, but they quickly turned around and gave Edwin Jackson, a 70-71 career pitcher with a 4.40 ERA, a four-year, $52-million deal.

If those types of pitchers are getting around $15 million per year, a pitcher with Wainwright’s record could honestly be looking at the possibility of a contract that pays him closer to $30 million than $20 million per year. That’s one heck of an investment.

The Pujols situation blew up in Spring Training of 2011 when Pujols cut off contract negotiations, and that issue lingered throughout the entire season. Pujols, of course, ended up signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 10 years and $254 millions the following offseason.

The Cardinals avoided a similar situation with catcher Yadier Molina when they gave him a five-year, $75-million contract extension in Spring Training before the 2012 season even began.

If the Cardinals and Wainwright don’t reach a deal before the 2013 season starts, the unrest in St. Louis concerning the team’s best pitcher will build and build whether Wainwright pitches great or pitches poorly.

The Cardinals have plenty of incentives to get a deal done quickly, but Wainwright could play the system and cash in at the end of next season. The Cardinals would likely be able to sign Wainwright at a cheaper price now because no other teams are currently able to offer him contracts, and if Wainwright pitches great in 2013, that will also drive up his price.

The team’s other co-ace, Chris Carpenter, currently holds the record as the highest-paid pitcher in Cardinals history. He signed a five-year, $63-million contract in 2006.

Like it or not, the Cardinals need to be prepared to shatter that record with Wainwright because the price for good starting pitchers continues to skyrocket. It’s not impossible to think Wainwright could sign the largest pitcher’s contract in the history of the game, exceeding the seven-year, $161-million contract the New York Yankees gave CC Sabathia before the 2009 season began.

Otherwise, St. Louis baseball fans might spend next Christmas bemoaning the fact that one of the best pitchers in franchise history moved on to take a huge sum of money somewhere else.

After Pujols’ departure in December 2011, that’s probably a Christmas story few Cardinals fans would want to relive.

Correction: a previous version of this article claimed Adam Wainwright was a former Cy Young Award winner.  That has since been corrected.

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2013: The Royals time to go after starting pitching

With the 2012 season winding down, The Kansas City Royals are in familiar territory, finishing below .500 and looking forward to 2013. The Royals lineup is solid, the bullpen is good, but the starting pitching is hideous.

Despite what some fans might think, the Royals know they need to improve their starting rotation. A September 24 article in the Kansas City Star says Royals owner David Glass plans to increase payroll to improve the starting rotation.

How much Glass will spend and the pitchers the Royals pursue is uncertain, but for 2013, there’s 45 free agent starting pitchers on the market. Some are aces, some are journeymen and some are hanging on to their baseball careers. I’ll keep my focus on five unrestricted free agent pitchers who might wear Royal blue next season.

Zack Greinke: He’s the top free agent pitcher this offseason with and up and down tenure with the Royals from 2004-2010. After being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010, the Brewers traded Greinke to the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim this July. Between 33 starts with the Brewers and Angels, Greinke had a 3.42 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 8.6 SO/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 3.79 SO/BB ratio. Despite his early struggles with Anaheim, Greinke is pitching better and has similar 2012 numbers with the Brewers and Angels.

Greinke has a well documented history with Kansas City, going through anxiety issues in 2006 and winning the Cy Young Award in 2009. He’s a front of the rotation starter and Greinke would likely entertain an offer by the Royals if he believes the team could be a contender. But are the Royals willing to pay? Some believe Greinke will command a six year, $125MM contract and unless the Royals are willing to spend almost $21MM a year on one player, Greinke will stay with the Angels or go elsewhere.

Jeremy Guthrie: When the Royals traded Jonathan Sanchez to the Colorado Rockies for Guthrie, the hope was he would be decent. Guthrie wasn’t. He was much better.

In Colorado, Guthrie had a 6.35 ERA, 1.668 WHIP, 4.5 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a 1.45 SO/BB ratio. That’s almost Sanchez like numbers. But with Kansas City, Guthrie has a 3.00 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 5.8 SO/9, 1.6 BB/9 and a 3.57 SO/BB ratio. Being a flyball pitcher, Guthrie fits well in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium and pitching coach Dave Eiland worked on Guthrie’s delivery.

Guthrie is good number three starter. There’s a chance he could regress, but not as bad as his Colorado performance. If the Royals sign Guthrie for around $16MM and two years, he’ll be an asset to the rotation. But the Royals still need to get another starter in addition to Guthrie.

Shaun Marcum: With his ties to the Kansas City area, Marcum is a name bandied about as a potential free agent target for the Royals. With the Brewers this season, Marcum has a 3.86 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 2.94 SO/BB ratio. He’s struggled with injuries for most of the season, pitching only 112 innings. When he’s healthy, he’s good. Marcum made $7.7M this year and if the Royals make a offer in the $16MM for two years range, he might be a welcome addition. If he stays healthy.

Edwin Jackson: For 2012, the Washington Nationals signed Jackson to a one-year $11MM contract. With the Nationals, Jackson has a 3.77 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9, 2.6 and a 3.06 SO/BB ratio. He’s been pretty durable with 29 starts and 181.3 innings pitched. He’s an important part of the Nationals rotation and helped them reach the playoffs.

Depending how Jackson and the Nationals do in the playoffs, Jackson might command a high salary, a multi-year contract and the interest of several teams. Or he might be affordable enough for the Royals to sign him.

Anibal Sanchez: The Detroit Tigers got Sanchez from the Miami Marlins late July and With Miami, Sanchez had a 3.94 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 8.2 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 3.33 SO/BB ratio. With Detroit, Sanchez has a 3.95 ERA, 1.288 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 3.79 SO/BB ratio. However, his 2012 9-13 win-loss record isn’t impressive.

Despite the losing record, Sanchez has a decent ERA, pitched 189.1 innings this season, has a fair amount of strikeouts and doesn’t walk many batters. If the price and years are right, Sanchez could be a solid number three starter.

The Royals need to get two number three starters like Guthrie, Marcum or Jackson. Getting at least two of these pitchers will improve the starting rotation and make the Royals more competitive in the A.L. Central.

But if the Royals are serious, Glass has to take a risk in money and years and make an effort to sign Greinke. It would send shock waves through baseball and show the fans and other teams in the American League Glass is serious about winning. Adding Greinke is not a guarantee the Royals will contend in the A.L. Central, but it does improve the starting rotation. And if the team could get Guthrie or Sanchez for a reasonable price, perhaps 2013 could be the Royals time.

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St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina should be NL MVP

While much of the National League Most Valuable Player talk has shifted out West to campaign for San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, the catcher who should receive that award is in St. Louis.

No discussion about the NL MVP award should leave out Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, but most breakdowns of the MVP frontrunners inexplicably don’t include Molina.

For years, people could point to Molina’s offensive numbers as a way to keep him out of an award that honors what a player does at the plate much more than what he does with his glove. But this year Molina is hitting a career-best .332 with 19 homeruns, 66 RBIs and even 11 stolen bases heading into play Saturday. Each of those numbers is already a career-high, and there is still nearly 20 games left in the season.

Despite Molina’s numbers, Posey still surpasses him in every category except stolen bases. Posey would be a solid choice for MVP. His return to the Giants this year after missing most of 2011 after a horrific collision at the plate has made the Giants a better team. But Molina’s skills beyond the stat sheet should give him the edge.

Molina’s defense has always been his hallmark trait. He already has four Gold Gloves and has caught 47 percent of baserunners this year, which is substantially better than Posey’s 29 percent rate. But Molina has also allowed just 33 stolen bases compared to Posey’s 80. Baserunners don’t often steal against Molina because he has such a strong reputation as a great throwing catcher, a reputation that is well-earned. Molina also has a wins-above-replacement of 6.3 compared to Posey’s 6.0.

Molina is a force behind the plate with just his presence. When Albert Pujols left in the offseason to join the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Molina stepped in as the unquestioned leader of the team. Sure, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday are also team leaders, but Molina is the drive-train that has carried the Cardinals through the 2012 season.

Interestingly, Holliday is getting more MVP attention than Molina. Holliday is hitting .298 with 27 homers and 96 RBIs. Those are certainly impressive numbers, but they don’t stand out so much that he should be considered the best, or most important, player in the league this year. Holliday is an offensive force, but Molina is the complete package. There hasn’t been an area of the game Molina hasn’t excelled in this year.

Need to catch a baserunner? Molina has thrown out 29 this year. Need the pitcher to drop a pitch in the dirt with two strikes? Molina has just four passed balls. Need a hit in a clutch situation? Molina is hitting .337 with runners in scoring position. He has also played in 123 games, the fifth-most on the team.

He will also defend the plate even if it means getting hit by a truck. Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison mowed down Molina in the second inning of a game Aug. 28. Amazingly, Molina held onto the ball for the out. He had to come out of the game, but he was back in the lineup after missing just one game.

That’s not to say Posey isn’t as tough because he no longer blocks the plate. Posey’s ankle was destroyed in a collision early last season, and it would be stupid to ask him to risk another similar injury because he is an important part of the team.

The National League has other worthy candidates outside Posey and Molina. Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is having a great season, as is Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun. But, neither of those players play fantastic defense, and their position is not nearly as demanding defensively.

Many MVP races are decided by which team makes the postseason, but for some reason Posey is much more likely to win the award even if the Giants and Cardinals both make the playoffs. Maybe there is still a stigma against Molina’s hitting abilities.

Molina doesn’t play for a bad team, but voters have already shown they will vote for the best player regardless of the team’s record. They gave the Cy Young award to Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez in 2010 even though he went 13-12 and the team had a 61-101 record.

In any case, Molina is a deserving candidate for this year’s NL MVP award. Now it’s up to the voters to recognize his brilliance includes more than a golden glove.

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St. Louis Cardinals suddenly look like good team again

After a rough start to the second half of the season that included five losses in six games to the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the St. Louis Cardinals woke up and are back to looking like the team that led the NL Central through April.

The Cardinals have lost just twice since leaving Milwaukee on July 18, and the upcoming schedule suggests they could go on a bit of a run. The Cardinals play the Colorado Rockies and the Brewers after they finish up Sunday with the Chicago Cubs.

Both the Rockies and Brewers are well below .500 and both teams have recently traded significant parts of their team. The Rockies sent starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to the Kansas City Royals and infielder Marco Scutaro to the San Francisco Giants. The Brewers sent starter Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

After those two series, the Cardinals could look back and see one heck of a nice stretch. Unfortunately, the Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates are playing just as well as the Cardinals. The Reds have won nine of their last 10 games, and the Pirates have won eight of their last 10.

Still, the Cardinals have shown progress of late. They took three of four games from the Los Angeles Dodgers last week in what could turn out to be a turning-point series for the club. Winning three out of four is a lot different than splitting the series.

The Dodgers are a good baseball team, and a split would have been an example of how the Cardinals have plodded through much of the summer, but winning the finale of the series Thursday showed they have a killer instinct and will play well enough to compete for a playoff spot.

Yes, the Cardinals have also fattened up on the 41-58 Cubs during this stretch by winning four of five heading into play Sunday, but the Cubs have won series against every other team they’ve played following the All-Star Break.

The Cardinals’ offense has kicked into gear of late, scoring three or more runs in all but one game against the Dodgers and Cubs, but as has been the case most of the year, the bullpen’s success has been a large factor in the team’s success. The bullpen has not given up a single run in any of the Cardinals’ last seven wins. It gave up two runs in the seventh inning Monday against the Dodgers, and that opened the game up enough so the Cardinals couldn’t come back.

The starting rotation has been good for the most part this season, and a consistent bullpen would make the Cardinals nearly a complete team. Those are the types of teams that make deep runs into the playoffs, and this team certainly has that potential.

Recently called-up reliever Brian Fuentes should provide a veteran presence in the bullpen, and that could make a big difference in the make-up of that group.

The Cardinals needed a veteran to take some of the pressure off of all the young guys in the bullpen, and Fuentes might be the right guy for that job. That could also allow General Manager John Mozaliak to look for a starting pitcher as insurance in case one of the current guys breaks down.

Regardless, a deadline deal is not nearly as necessary this year as it was last year. If the Cardinals can add somebody to the roster Tuesday, that’s great. If not, the Cardinals still have enough talent to make the playoffs.

The great unknown is whether or not that talent can play consistently enough to get the Cardinals into the postseason.

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Final All Stars Named

ALL-STAR GAME MLB.COM FINAL VOTE SPONSORED BY FIRESTONE ENDS
Freese, Darvish outlast contenders to win roster spots on All-Star Teams; First-ever Twitter vote attracts strong fan support, trending topics during final hours

 

NEW YORK, July 5, 2012 – David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals and Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers were chosen by fans as the winners of the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Firestone in online voting on MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball, the individual Club websites and Twitter, where designated player hashtags counted during the final four hours of balloting today.

The National League winner, Freese, topped all vote-getters with 8.4 million votes and was followed by Michael Bourn of the Atlanta Braves; Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals; and Aaron Hill of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was removed from the ballot after being named to the NL All-Star team.

On the American League ballot, Darvish will make his All-Star debut after holding off a furious final day charge from Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox with a final tally of 7.3 million votes. Darvish, the third rookie to win the All-Star Game Final Vote, and Peavy were followed by Jason Hammel of the Baltimore Orioles; Jonathan Broxton of the Midsummer Classic host Kansas City Royals and Ernesto Frieri of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Firestone concluded this year’s program with the first-ever Twitter vote as tweets with a player’s designated hashtag counted in his overall total. This effort drew a sustained average of more than 2,500 tweets per minute, highlighted by a peak of 8,881 at 3:59 p.m. EDT, and accounted for nine percent of the total votes cast during the four-hour window. The leading Twitter vote-getter was #VoteBourn, followed by #FreesePlease, #VoteYu, #TakeJake and #BryceIn12 in the top five. All of the leading contenders had their hashtags trending in the U.S. and worldwide and all nine candidates trended in their local markets, ultimately leading to 50 million total votes cast.

Here is the complete list of previous winners: Paul Konerko (AL, 2011); Shane Victorino (NL, 2011); Nick Swisher (AL, 2010); Joey Votto (NL, 2010); Brandon Inge (AL, 2009), Victorino (NL, 2009); Evan Longoria (AL, 2008); Corey Hart (NL, 2008); Hideki Okajima (AL, 2007); Chris Young (NL, 2007); A.J. Pierzynski (AL, 2006); Nomar Garciaparra (NL, 2006); Scott Podsednik (AL, 2005); Roy Oswalt (NL, 2005); Matsui (AL, 2004); Bobby Abreu (NL, 2004); Jason Varitek (AL, 2003); Geoff Jenkins (NL, 2003); Johnny Damon (AL, 2002); and Andruw Jones (NL, 2002).

The 83rd All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International’s independent feed.  Pregame ceremonies will begin at 7:30 p.m. (EDT)/6:30 p.m. (CDT).  ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game.  MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.  For more information, please visit allstargame.com or royals.com/asg.

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