Tag Archive | "August And September"

Royals Add Infield Insurance

The Kansas City Royals recent play has them a contender in both the AL Central and the race for a wild card spot. Now playing meaningful games in August and September for the first time in years, the Royals have made several moves recently to add depth to their team as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

Emilio Bonifacio

Kansas City recently placed Miguel Tejada on the 60-day DL. The absence of Tejada coupled with Mike Moustakas nursing a sore left calf led the Royals to make two moves to bolster their infield depth.

First they acquired 12-year MLB veteran Jamey Carroll from the Twins and then they added super-utility player Emilio Bonifacio from the Blue Jays. Both players cost the Royals cash and/or a player to be named later.

Carroll is a light-hitting infielder who started 46 games for the Twins this year and did not hit a home run, while driving in nine runs. Offense is not Carroll’s game, but he does provide veteran leadership and he can fill in at multiple positions on the infield. He is a good defender, even at this time in his career.

Carroll started Tuesday’s game against the Marlins at third base and was 0-4 with one strike out. He also pinch hit in Monday’s game and was 0-2.

Bonifacio is also expected to have a utility role. Like Carroll, Bonifacio can fill in all over the infield. Unlike Carroll, Bonifacio has also logged time in the outfield and can play a corner spot or in center field. Bonifacio doesn’t hit for average (hit .218 with the Jays this year), but he does offer speed. He can steal bases when he gets regular at-bats and can also come into the game as a pinch runner, providing a threat on the bases in late-game situations.

These moves have gone under the radar in baseball circles. However, Royals’ GM Dayton Moore identified a need and got two players without giving up much in return. As the Royals enter the dog days of the season, these acquisitions could loom large. The young Royals have never been in contention and they can learn from veterans Carroll and Bonifacio who have experience on winning teams.

 

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What’s On Second?

Spring Training starts in about a month. Barring injury or a terrible performance, the Kansas City Royals lineup is pretty much set, except for second base. Like last year, Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella will compete for the job at second. But this year, Tony Abreu and Irving Falu could be in the mix as well.

ChrisGetz

Going into Spring Training, Getz is the likely favorite, despite an injury-filled 2012 and only playing 61 games at second. While the Royals praised Getz’s ability to drive the ball, he hit only 10 doubles, three triples and no homers with a .275/.312/.360 average and a 0.4 WAR in 210 plate appearances.

But the Royals were more concerned about his defense, where he had a .983 fielding percentage at second and a 4.43 RF/9. The league average fielding percentage was .983 and the league RF/9 was 4.63, making Getz a league average second baseman. If he keeps that up, he’ll be the Royals starting second baseman. If he stays healthy.

Many fans would like to see Johnny Giavotella at second, but so far he hasn’t done enough to win the job. He struggled last spring and started the season in AAA Omaha. He played 21 games with the Royals in May and June before coming back for good in August and September after Getz suffered a season-ending thumb injury.

In the Minors, Giavotella played well offensively, but needed work on his defense. But in 189 Major League plate appearances, Giavotella hit seven doubles, one triple and one home run with a .238/.270/.304 average and a -0.6 WAR. Giavotella played 45 games at second, with a .967 fielding percentage and a 4.23 RF/9. the league average fielding percentage was .983 and the league RF/9 was 4.63, which made Giavotella a below average second baseman. He’ll get an opportunity to win the second base job, but unless he starts hitting Major League pitching and his defense improves, Giavotella will start the season in Omaha.

Tony Abreu was a Spring Training non-roster invitee last year and got called up in August after the Royals released Yuni Betancourt. Abreu saw limited playing time, appearing in 22 games, 11 of those at second. In 74 plate appearances, Abreu hit two doubles, one triple and one home run with a .257/.284/.357 average and a -0.2 WAR.

With a small sample size of 11 games at second in 2012, it’s better to compare Abreu’s career playing second. In four seasons at second, Abreu has a .975 fielding percentage and a 4.59 RF/9. The league fielding percentage was .984 and the league RF/9 was 4.77, which at best makes Abreu a utility infielder. Seeing the most games Abreu played at second was 25 in 2007, the League tends to agree. If he makes the club, it will be as a utility infielder.

A possible dark horse at second is longtime Royals farmhand Irving Falu. In 24 games with the Royals last year, Falu played 14 of those games at second. In 996 games over his Minor League career, Falu played 315 of them at second. The most games he played in a season at second was 63 with Omaha in 2009, so even in the Minors, Falu was a part-time second baseman. He’ll get his opportunities in Spring Training, but it’s a long shot for Falu to make the Opening Day roster, much less as the Royals starting second baseman.

Second base was a weak position last year and it will be again in 2013. If the Royals can get league average offense and defense out of second, they’re in good shape, as far as second base goes.

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Should Soria stay, or should he go?

Last week, the Royals declined closer Joakim Soria‘s $8MM 2013 option and invoked a $750,000 buyout, making him a free agent. This wasn’t a surprise move, seeing Soria spent 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery and he’s not expected to pitch until May or June of 2013.

The Royals would like to sign Soria to a lower cost deal with performance bonuses. But his agent, Oscar Suarez, claims eight MLB clubs have an interest in the closer. Soria would also be open as a setup man for the New York Yankees, if they were interested. So far, the Yankees haven’t haven’t contacted Suarez or Soria.

It’s still early in the offseason and Soria doesn’t have any serious offers yet. Whatever the offer, it’s likely to be a low cost deal with performance bonuses. Soria is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, but he still would generate a lot of interest.

Over his five year Major League career, Soria has 160 saves, a 2.40 ERA and a 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio, making him one of the better closers in the Majors. He did struggle in 2011 with a 4.03 ERA, 28 saves and 3.53 SO/BB ratio, prompting the Royals to briefly move Soria to a set-up role early in the season. His 2012 spring wasn’t much better before the Royals shut him down due to his elbow injury.

There’s some uncertainty how Soria will pitch when he does come back. Will he be the Soria of 2007-2010, or the Soria of 2011? There’s enough uncertainty where a team is unlikely to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract.

Is Soria worth the Royals trying to re-sign him? After he when down, the Royals used Jonathan Broxton as their closer before they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in late July. Then Greg Holland took over, who had 16 of 20 save opportunities, finishing with a 2.96 ERA and a 2.68 SO/BB ratio.

The Royals say they’re comfortable with Holland being the closer, despite the small sample size of August and September. Holland will be 27 this month, just a year and a half younger than Soria, so age isn’t an issue. However, the team has Holland until 2017, so he could be a long-term solution as the Royals closer if Soria doesn’t come back or only stays a season or two.

It’s safe to say if other teams take a chance signing Soria to a two plus year contract, the Royals will let him walk. A healthy 2012 Soria could have made an already good bullpen that much better, but with Holland’s performance as closer and club-friendly salary, the team figures they could get close to Soria-like results with Holland. Even if Soria signs a one-year, club friendly deal, there’s a good chance they will let Soria walk after 2013, especially if Holland has a great season.

If Soria was a starting pitcher, there’s a good chance the club would pay the $8MM option and hope he would contribute to the starting rotation. But the Royals believe they have a capable, low-cost closer in Holland and while having Soria in 2013 would be nice, he’s not essential. The team will make an effort to sign him, but they’re not going to be too disappointed if Soria goes elsewhere.

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Sub-Par Cardinals – Right Where Royals Want To Be

Royals fans may not quite be giddy about their 71 wins, but they certainly are optimistic about the way their season ended, with their talented collection of youngsters rolling to 11 wins in their last 16 games.

And rightly they should be. They have had little to feel good about for years. And this young lineup certainly has potential.

But perspective is a funny thing.

You see, at the same time – August and September – that KC was celebrating the smallest of victories, St. Louis was muddling through what seemed like a disappointing season. Injuries and poor relief pitching had primarily undermined the perennial contenders, and at the end of August, the Cardinals trailed in both their division and in the Wild Card race by what seemed an insurmountable margin.

But miraculously, just when the season seemed lost, an Atlanta collapse suddenly became a possibility. Then it became a reality. And just like that, the Cardinals slipped into the playoffs, deservedly or not.

Now even though I lived in Missouri for years, surrounded by those annoying St. Louis fans, I never developed a full-blown case of Cardinal envy. In fact, I can honestly say I rarely paid enough attention to the National League even to develop a healthy appreciation for the Cardinals’ consistent success.

But this season provides a valuable lesson on the importance of perspective.

I hate to admit it, but this season proves more than just about any other that the Cardinals are where the Royals want to be.

Not because the Cardinals might win the World Series, even though they might.

No, the Cardinals are where the Royals want to be because even though they struggled and fumbled and limped their way through what was, for them, a sub-par season, they ended up in the playoffs anyway. The Royals meanwhile fielded an exciting collection of “prospects” (for the umpteenth time) and still ended up so far out of contention that we stopped paying attention to the standings mid-summer.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the difference. The Royals perennially field a few decent hitters, some horrible pitchers and some promising prospects. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have a few great hitters, and some excellent pitchers. Then they pull together a collection of solid role players that, in the hands of Hall-of-Fame caliber management, just win because that’s what you do when you are the St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s the getting there that seems to be the hard part.

Good luck in the playoffs, Redbirds. Win or lose, you are always winners. We in KC can only hope that someday we can have sub-par seasons like the one you’re having.

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Just When I Thought I Was Out…They Pull Me Back In

Michael Corleone must have been a Cardinal fan because he said it better than anyone. In excruciating agony the Cardinals toy with us. We love them in the begining and throughout the season. Then as has been the case the last six seasons, the August-September lull kicks in. Not the grind of the 162 game season, I am referring to the now annual late season Cardinal decline.

Carp Yelling

No one starts looking for their out quite yet, but the world outside of organized crime, rather baseball, becomes more and more appealing heading into Milwaukee August 1st for a three game series the Cardinals were with 3.5 games of first place. August usually marks the official dog days of the season when the grind is in full effect. With 53 games remaining anything is still possible and a pennant race begins.

Entering the August series at Busch against the Brewers the Cards were 3.5 games out with a 57-52 record with a chance to pull within a half game. This would be their best chance to sniff first place since June 9th when the Cardinals were a season best 12 games over .500 and had a 2.5 game division lead and promptly coughed up three in a row and the division.

In what was a crucial three game series the Birds had a chance to put some real distance between themselves and the Brewers. Instead they decided to go another direction. The Cardinals kicked off the dog days in spectacularly disappointing fashion losing all three to Milwaukee and the division lead in the process. One could hear a collective “here we go again” throughout Cardinal Nation.

Five years running the Birds had swooned big time come August and September and this season looked to be no different. Leaving Milwaukee the Cardinals nose dived to long time low of 10.5 games out of first on August 28th. Now was time to panic, time to let go…time to move on.

This was fine with me. It is hard to let go when it’s five or six games. Start getting into double digits and my attention can justifiably turn elsewhere. The Cards dinked and dunked a bit and were still 10.5 out on September 5th. The division was lost and the wild card well out of reach.

Still mathematically alive so much would have to happen for the Cardinals to make a serious run at the wild card. Well wouldn’t you know it all started to fall into place. The Cardinals found their pride while the Braves lost the ability to win.

Cue Michael Corleone and work on your best Al Pacino impression… “Just When I Thought I Was Out…They Pull Me Back In”.

As the Braves lost four in a row and seven of ten. The Cardinals, a team without a five game winning streak all season, won five in a row to pull within 4.5 games of the Wild Card with 15 games left to play. Dammit. I was done, seriously. With six games against Milwaukee and Atlanta sure to be the nail in the coffin it was over. Dammit.

I want off the roller coaster. Just win it all or stop all together. The odds are still heavily stacked against St. Louis but not out of reach. The Birds are back to 12 games over .500 and out of the 14 remaining games only four are against a team with a winning record. We have to accept that it could happen.

Just as I was ready to block Fox Sports Midwest and focus entirely on the Rams the Cardinals have pulled me back in and become must see TV once again. Dammit.

These are just my thoughts…keep on reading and you’ll get up to speed.

Derek is on Twitter @SportsbyWeeze and also writes for the Rams at RamsHerd.com

Also on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SportsByWeeze

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Taking Care of Business: A Preview of the 2011 Cardinals vs. Pirates Series

Though the 2010 series was won by the Cardinals (9-6), the Pirates took 5 of their 6 series victories in August and September. To Cardinals fans, this period is known as the great late season slump that killed the Cardinals hopes for winning the 2010 NL Central Division. The losses the Cardinals suffered at the hands of the Pirates were inexcusable and a huge reason why they failed at achieving their goals. The Pirates are traditionally terrible. A team that hopes to capture the NL Central Division can and must beat the Pirates consistently.

In 2011, the Cardinals are once again favored to challenge for the division title. The Pirates, once again, are rebuilding. They have some talent, but not nearly enough to make a run at the pennant. Here is how the teams match up:

Starting Pitching

The St. Louis Cardinals once again boast one the best one-two punches in starting pitching. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are arguably two #1 starters. Both of them could be a #1 starter on most rotations. Last year Wainwright won 20 games with a 2.42 ERA. Carpenter went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA. A down year for him, but if he can bounce back the lethal 1-2 combination of 2009 could be back.

The #3 and #4 starting positions are between Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook. In 2010, Garcia broke onto the MLB scene by posting a 13-8 record and a 2.70 ERA. Though, he did fatigue by year end. The Cardinals are going to have to watch him closely and possibly limit his pitch count again.

Jake Westbrook was added to the 2010 roster late in the season via the controversial Ryan Ludwick trade. He did well enough to entice GM Joe Mozeliak to resign him. Westbrook posted a 4-4 record with a 3.48 ERA. The good news about Westbrook was that he posted his best numbers toward the end of the year. With a full spring under Dave Duncan, perhaps he can improve and challenge Garcia for the #3 spot.

The #5 spot in the Cardinals rotation “should” belong to Kyle Lohse. The last two years have been huge disappointments for Lohse. Some of it can be blamed on injury. Some of it has been inconsistency. Hopefully Lohse can bounce back this year and become a solid starter again.

For the Pirates, there isn’t much to be excited about. The one bright spot on the Pirates rotation is Paul Malhom. In 2010 he led the team with 9 wins and a ERA of 5.10. Those are not dominant numbers in any respect, but, it’s the best the Pirates have to offer.

Edge: No contest. The Cardinals have a huge edge in the battle of starting rotations.

Bullpen

Similar to the starting pitching comparisons, the edge is clearly with the Cardinals. In 2010 the Cardinals had the 11th ranked bullpen in MLB compared to the Pirates, who ranked 28th. The Cardinals closer spot is not completely stable in my opinion. Ryan Franklin is just a game away from a melt down. But they are loaded with young RHP talent like Jason Motte. Not to mention Trevor Miller from the left side.

Octavio Duel collected 21 saves for the Pirates but has departed for the Blue Jays. Once again the Pirates bullpen will be pieced together.

Edge: Cardinals.

Infield

For the last 3 years most of the infield positions outside of 1st base have been a question mark for the Cardinals. In hopes of stabilizing the middle infield, Mo added SS Ryan Theriot to the roster. I believe 2010 was an anomaly for Skip Schumaker who, in a “down year, batted .265. The tandem of Schumaker and Theriot must work hard to keep the number of errors down. Catcher Yadier Molina provides the most stability outside of Pujols. The Golden Glove catcher is remarkable at calling games and as a clubhouse leader. The main key to the Cardinals infield is 3rd base. If David Freese can play the whole year and if he can contribute as he did before going down last June the Cardinals infield could be significantly better than in 2010.

The Pirates added 1st baseman Lyle Overbay to their roster this offseason. Overbay brings a fair amount of power but not a lot of consistency to the Pirates infield lineup. The rest of the Pirates infield is decent, but not overwhelming. Neil Walker and Ronny Cedeno and Pedro Alvarez make up the middle infield, with Pedro Alvarez at 3rd base. Chris Snyder, and his .167 average, will be catching for the Pirates.

Edge: Cardinals.

Outfield

The Cardinals outfield has the potential to be extremely dangerous. The key is going to be if that potential pans out. General Manager John Mozeliak took a gamble on Lance Berkman, aka the “Big Puma”, this offseason. Most teams were put off of considering Berkman for the outfield. However, Berkman has gotten back into great shape. If he can stay healthy and put up big numbers up again, his bat is going to be a huge addition. In left field there are not as many questions, to say the least. Matt Holliday had another huge season with a .312 average while putting up 28 home runs. He remains a vital piece in the Cardinals lineup, providing “protection” for Pujols. The catalyst is going to be the promising but puzzling CF Colby Rasmus. Colby batted .276 and hit 23 home runs last year. The biggest being a grand slam against the Reds on his birthday. But he must get past his personal feud with TLR. And, he must be more consistent against LHP. If he gets the AB’s he deserves, he has the potential for a break out season.

The Pirates outfield is the lone bright spot for the team. Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen is a dynamic hitter and fielder. He led the team in average in 2010 hitting .286 with 16 home runs. He also fielded .987. McCutchen will remain the one player for Pirates fans to watch. In right field the Pirates will showcase Garret Jones. In 2010 Jones led the Pirates in home runs with 21, though he only hit for an average of .247. The outfield is rounded out with Jose Tabata. In 2010 he only played 102 games but he did hit for a .299 average with 4 home runs.

Edge: Cardinals.

The Cardinals clearly have the edge in all aspects of their team. The 2011 season should see the Cardinals dominate the Pirates once again. But, it can not be as close as it was in 2010. And, most importantly, the Cardinals must take advantage of their matchups with the Pirates in August.

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All-Stars At The All-Star Break

The All-Star game gives a chance for baseball’s best players to get together on one field and showcase their talent. This year, the Cardinals are sending five players to the All-Star game: Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Matt Holliday. All of these players have had very different first halves this year, ranging anywhere from completely dominant to slightly disappointing. Let’s take a look and see what we can find…

Albert Pujols: This will be Albert’s ninth appearance in the All-Star game in only ten seasons. So far this season he’s hitting a solid .305/.413/.567 (batting, on base, slugging), which is actually low for him when looking at his numbers spread out over his career. His average line for the first half is .325/.422/.617. I would in fact venture to say that these are the lowest his numbers have been at the midway point in the last five years. That’s on the surface. Digging in a little deeper, with runners on base, Albert is hitting .341/.482/.611. That looks significantly more like numbers we are used to seeing. Pull down another level – batting with runners in scoring position. Here we see a slash line of .356/.533/.630, and you can attach 26 hits in 73 at bats to those numbers, as well as tacking on 31 walks. This man really is a machine.

As far as the second half goes, things are actually looking up in terms of what we can hope to see for our MVP first baseman. His two best months over the course of his career are August and September, and overall he has averaged a line of .342/.432/.634 for the second half. Now, Albert has already declined to participate in the Home Run Derby, and after being the face of St. Louis during last year’s break, having his only responsibility being the actual playing in the game might be a welcome relief for him.

Yadier Molina: This is Yadi’s second appearance in six full seasons. He is having a rough year at the plate, however his line of .229/.309/.302 is deceiving, as Yadi has hit into some bad luck. Many have pointed out that he is making solid contact at the plate, but hitting it right at people. His June and July numbers do, however, show a rather prolonged slump. Like Albert, Yadi is coming up much better when batting with runners in scoring position, putting up a much more respectable .265/.370.426 line.

For his career, Yadi doesn’t do a lot of up and down as the season goes on. There is the slightest increase from his first to second half numbers, so slight it’s hardly worth mentioning. Month by month, nothing much changes, with exception to starting slowly in April, then staying on an even keel from May through the end of the season. I expect that some of those hits that have been finding gloves will eventually start finding holes again, and we will see a more consistent hitter to go along with Yadi’s Gold Glove defense in the second half.

Adam Wainwright: This is Adam’s first appearance in five full seasons (four as a starter). Literally every statistic you look at will tell you that this is his best year yet, and last year he was third for the Cy Young award! His ERA of 2.24 is third in the NL, he has four complete games, is second in innings pitched, first in strikeouts, and is giving up fewer hits and walks than in years past. That’s impressive!

Are you ready for the best news? Things get better for Adam in the second half! His ERA goes down, his walk rate goes down, and his strikeouts go up. That’s including the fact that his best first half ever is padding the first half numbers tremendously! This is the first one that really surprised me, because I was not prepared to think that his first half numbers would get any better in the second half. It is going to be an absolute dog fight for the Cy Young this season, and it would be a mistake to think that Adam’s name will not be near the top of the list.

Chris Carpenter: This is Chris’ third appearance in thirteen full seasons. What a deceptive sentence. It is very difficult to look at his career statistics and not cringe, thinking ‘What if?’ It is not easy even trying to compare his career statistics, since he was a very different pitcher in his years with Toronto. What I will say is that in his healthy years in St. Louis, this is a slightly abnormal year. His home run rate is very obviously up (1.1 HR per 9 innings), as are his ERA (3.16) and walks (2.7 per 9). Another number that is elevated is his strikeout rate. This is the highest his strikeout rate has been since his Cy Young winning 2005 season, but the similarities between the two seasons start and end there.

Make no mistake – Chris Carpenter is still having a good year. However, due to his sporadic history, I am struggling to come up with a solid comparison on first and second half statistics. Looking at things year by year did not help either, as his second half in 2009 was better, but his first half in both 2005 and 2006 was the stronger half. For Chris, the safest thing to say might be that as long as he stays healthy, things should look at least as good in the second half as they were in the first.

Matt Holliday: This is Matt’s fourth appearance in seven seasons. A lot has been made of his ‘slow’ start this season. Whether Matt is feeling pressure due to the fact that he signed a record contract with the Cardinals over the winter, he has hit into some bad luck, of he is just having a bad year, it is probably one of the most talked about ‘issues’ of the first half for the team. Truth be told, Matt’s .326 batting average on balls in play is the lowest this year than it has been at any other point in his career. If that corrects itself, his .298/.374/.493 line will move more towards the mean as well.

Do not live under the assumption that Matt Holliday is a second half player, because the splits do not agree with that. It looks more like Matt gets consistently better throughout the months of April through July. He has been getting better this season, while his numbers are still under the ‘normal’ range for Matt by far. Look for things to keep improving as the year goes on, due to the weather continuing to warm up and his continuing to become more comfortable in the grass of Busch.

If I had to make the call, I would say that between the pitchers and hitters listed here, it is more important for the hitters to step up in the second half. It would be ridiculous to ask too much more of either Wainwright or Carpenter to do more than they already have been doing this season. They have both gone out and very rarely left the game without giving the team a strong chance to win. Thinking about how many games the Cardinals have been shut out of this year by pitchers that are getting ripped to shreds by the rest of the league (Looking at you Bud Norris. You started this.), my head starts to hurt. Your ace pitchers should not lose games with 1-0 scores.

I mentioned this on Baseball Digest on Tuesday, but the team has been hit with the injury bug. Combine this with the fact that our hitters have failed to all figure out how to hit at the same time, and things should eventually get better. It will depend on how the bats respond to the heat to see if the Cardinals push for the NL Central crown this year.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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