Tag Archive | "Batters"

Five storylines from Kansas City Royals camp

This has been an interesting spring for the Kansas City Royals. Some position battles have been settled, while others are still being hotly contested. Some players have sizzled in the Cactus League, while others have struggled. There is no shortage of news as Opening Day is inching closer and closer. Here are five storylines from Royals camp:

1) Yordano Ventura will crack starting rotation

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Ventura was in a battle for a spot in the Royals rotation this spring, with his main competition being Danny Duffy. Well it didn't end up being much of a battle in the end. Ventura has dazzled this spring forcing manager Ned Yost to name him as one of his five starters. After Ventura pitched six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Rangers on Monday there really wasn't a choice for Yost.

"We knew this was probably the way it was going to go," Yost said after Ventura pitched six innings of four-hit ball in a St. Patrick's Night, 6-0, greening of the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. "After tonight I think we've just seen enough. There's no reason not to announce this now." -Royals.com


Yost also told Royals.com that Ventura will slide into the third spot in the rotation behind James Shields and Jason Vargas, rather than as a fifth starter like many expected. This spring, Ventura has a 1.76 ERA over 15.1 innings and has held batters to a .185 average.

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Carlos Martinez could follow Shelby Miller path to starting rotation

St. Louis Cardinals righthanded starting pitcher Shelby Miller had to beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the rotation through somewhat of a spring training-long duel between the two pitchers in 2013, and Kelly faces a similar challenge that could produce a similar result in 2014.

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Miller has a lock on a starting job for the 2014 season, so righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez has taken his spot as the rookie on the verge of a spot in the rotation and in competition with Kelly, who could easily fall victim to another young Cardinals pitching sensation.

Martinez has done plenty to impress through roughly the first half of camp. He is 1-0 after a four-inning, two-hit performance Wednesday in a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets. That was his third start of the spring, and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 to go with five strikeouts.

Kelly, meanwhile, struggled his first two starts of the spring. He allowed seven runs and walked four batters in a combined four innings before he settled down for a 5.1-inning winning performance Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves when he allowed one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts.

Kelly did not pitch particularly poorly during the 2013 spring training camp, but Cardinals management obviously thought Miller was capable of a strong rookie season that started with him in the rotation on Opening Day, even though Kelly ended up in the rotation in the postseason while Miller sat in the bullpen unused aside from one inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Division Series.

Miller still set the bar high for Martinez or any of the other young Cardinals pitchers after he went 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average and finished third in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting, but Martinez has the talent to have a comparable first full season in Major League Baseball.

Martinez pitched in 21 games for the Cardinals in 2013 and became the eighth-inning setup reliever toward the end of the regular season and in the postseason, where he posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings.

Still, the Cardinals were cautious in how much they used Martinez in 2013. They first called him up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in May but sent him back to the minor leagues in June and late July to try to keep his arm fresh, as well as let him start at Memphis to maintain his endurance in case an injury befell one of the other starting pitchers with the big-league club.

They would obviously take care of Martinez again in the upcoming season, and he could very well move start the season back in the eighth-inning role because the Cardinals have few options for that spot, particularly if righthanded reliever Jason Motte is not yet fully recovered from the elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of spring training a year ago.

Martinez has all but guaranteed himself a roster spot for when the team opens the season March 31 against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, but he has pitched so well in his first three starts of the spring that he will await his first appearance from the dugout rather than the bullpen, just the way Miller did the year before.

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Luke Hochevar out for the 2014 season, will have Tommy John surgery

In an otherwise quiet Royals spring training, the team announced Friday relief pitcher Luke Hochevar will have Tommy John surgery to fix ligament damage in his right elbow. A specific time and date for the surgery hasn’t been announced, but it’s likely to happen in the next two weeks.

Luke  Hochevar 2014

 

The injury occurred during last Monday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Hochevar felt pain in his elbow on his next to last pitch and went to get a medical opinion in Los Angeles. The doctors gave him the option of rehabbing the elbow or Tommy John surgery. Hochevar and the Royals decided surgery was the best option.

Hochevar has a history of elbow problems. In 2010 he suffered a 20-40 percent tear in his ligament and rehabbed the elbow to continue pitching for another four years. But last Monday’s injury tore the ligament another 25 percent and made Tommy John surgery the only real option. Unfortunately for Hochevar, this happened after the Royals had their best season since 1989. With the Royals poised to be playoff contenders, Hochevar will not play an on-field role this season.

In the overall scope of the team and this season, Hochevar’s loss isn’t devastating. The Royals possess an already strong bullpen and Hochevar wasn’t considered as a starting rotation candidate. Wade Davis, a contender as a fifth starter, will take Hochevar’s spot in the bullpen.

The real devastation is to Hochevar. After several seasons as a starting pitcher where he didn’t live up to expectations as the overall number one pick in the 2006 Draft, Hochevar resuscitated his career as a reliever. Last season, Hochevar had a 1.92 ERA and two saves in 58 appearances, striking out 82 batters in 70.1 innings. In the final year of his contract, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. For a player in his final year of his contract before free agency, the surgery is an untimely blow.

In hindsight, perhaps Hochevar should have opted for Tommy John surgery back in 2010. He might have recovered enough to be a more effective starter and instead of being a part of the Royals bullpen, he would be one the team’s better starters. But at the time, he struggled as a starter and it’s likely Hochevar and the Royals decided that rehabbing the elbow was the better option. Looking at that now, it appears to be the wrong decision.

Hochevar faces an uncertain future. Instead of getting the chance of showing himself as a good bullpen pitcher before reaching free agency, he will have to sign for less years and money, wherever he ends up. It’s possible we’ve seen the Royals story of Luke Hochevar as a promising number one overall draft pick end with Tommy John surgery and an uncertain baseball future.

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Wacha, The One Hit Wonder

It’s been quite the year around Michael Wacha thus far. Long before his nearly historic outing last night, the rookie righty has put together an enticing showing in his first rodeo, one that is just getting started. The reward for the pick that Pujols brought to St. Louis, is quickly establishing himself in the fashion that was so eagerly awaited since nearly his first day with the team this spring.

Washington Nationals  vs St. Louis Cardinals

The most impressive things on the surface level for Wacha are the hard fastball, which and the fast rise that it has afforded from college to the Majors in under a year. Yet, as last night’s performance has showcased, it is the poise that is his greatest ally. Balancing upper 90’s fastballs with strategic placement both in the zone and offsetting them with a changeup that he deploys with the knowledge of a hurler 10 years his senior is one thing, but handling the breaks was the most impressive part of his outing last night.

After missing his chance at becoming the third Cardinal rookie to throw a no-hitter in as many of the memorable outings as the franchise has hosted, his demeanor told the story of where he was. Despite missing finishing his fantastic effort by inches, as Ryan Zimmerman’s heart-breaking single bounced through the infield, he did not make a big deal of the situation. He held his head steady as he was removed from the game after that 112th and final pitch, and took a convincing approach to the “failed” outing, which in actually won a crucial series for the club.

While the concern with young hurlers is if they can stand up to pressure of the moment, a closer look at Wacha’s year shows another encouraging factor in his readiness for the postseason. While batters have hit .281 on his pitches 51-75, he does his best work after passing that point, with opposing batters having to .167/.210/.190 split from pitches 76-112. It’s that fortitude that makes him a promising option for the type of arduous games ahead.

The levity of the no-hitter wasn’t his focus, as much was delivering a solid start in a tight game, as well as keeping it in focus. The magic number for clinching the National League Central, and thus avoiding the trap of the Wild Card Game, was in need of yet another strong outing, which he delivered unequivocally. As he relayed to MLB.com’s Jennifer Langosch, he accomplished what he set out for:

That focus is what can make him as much of an asset as the fastball, the eye-popping compliment pitches and the imposing 6’6 frame packaging it all. In a clear cut sense of this, the disappointment from teammates such as David Freese and Pete Kozma, both of celebrated postseason form, was far more evident than his own. And while without a doubt, he will have a time where he runs the scenario back through his mind, his poise in a personal defeat, yet team victory says a lot about what he can bring to the team in the upcoming week when every game hinges on such major moments.

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Avoiding a Red October for Wainwright

The struggles of Adam Wainwright have caused for a red alert about if the Cardinals rotation can hold up to the demands of the remaining pennant chase. Amid his worst back-to-back starts in his career, finding there is a common denominator to his struggles: the Cincinnati Reds. Finding an answer to his approach to facing the club on a collision course with the Cardinals this October is key to the immediate, and final, success of the 2013 Cardinals.

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There’s no easy to put it: the Reds have owned Wainwright in the past week. In two outings, he’s thrown a total of eight innings, but has surrendered a brutal 15 earned runs on 18 hits, five walks and 150 pitches. It has been a study of opposites in his usual habits, his location has been off, he has worked deep into counts and has had back-to-back starts with multiple walks, something that has only happened one other time this year.

Wainwright’s focus pitch is his curveball. It is the pitch he throws more than any other pitcher in the game, and with a success rate that favors why this is his weapon of choice. Yet, regardless of how often he uses it, no breaking pitch can be fully successful without a fastball to work off of. And in recent starts, the problem has been simple: he has not been able to get his fastball over and the Reds batters know this, and have been able to wait on it.

The mysterious part of it is how he has lost his location. Wainwright at his best lives in the bottom of the strike zone, and on either side of the plate. But has he’s reached to find ways to work for outs versus the Reds batters, he’s began to lose the ball inside and up, and the Reds batters response to it has been brutal. Just a sample size of their core versus Wainwright comes off like this:

Jay Bruce: 4 for 4, three doubles, home run, walk and four RBI

Shin-Soo Choo: 3 for 6, HR and 2 RBI

Joey Votto: 1 for 3, HR and two walks

Ryan Ludwick: 2 for 5, 2 RBI

Obviously, that will not suffice for success against the Reds. In light of his last two outings, Wainwright’s line on the season versus the Reds features a 1-2 record, with a 7.31 ERA and 13 runs in 16 innings, spurred by a .308 Reds batting average. These are all high marks on the year for an opponent he has faced more than once.

Considering the situation that the club finds itself in, it begins to beg the question of if Wainwright would be the right choice for a potential one game Wild Card playoff that the two clubs would be on track to face off in if the season ended today. On one hand, not pitching one of the best arms in the National League in a winner takes all scenario seems unreasonable, but considering what the match up as brought thus far, the idea that he is not the ideal option to take the ball if the club is pitted against Cincinnati is more than realistic, it should be deemed as likely.

There’s a month of season to go before that scenario becomes a potential reality, but the match up game is not a favorable one for the Cardinals when it comes to facing their divisional foes recently, and finding a way to separate Wainwright from the Reds for the remainder of the year would be more than just ideal at this point; it could be a matter of seasonal life and death.

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Now is the time for Kansas City Royals’ Duffy

After missing much of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, it appears that Danny Duffy is ready to claim a spot in the Kansas City Royals’ rotation for the rest of this season and possibly next season as well.

DannyDuffy

Duffy, who has replaced the struggling Wade Davis in the starting rotation, shut down the Twins in his latest start. He pitched 6.2 innings, allowing just five hits and no runs, while striking out seven. Perhaps the most important stat from that start, however, was that Duffy did not allow a walk. It was the first start in his career that he didn’t issue a free pass.

The knock on Duffy has always been his lack of control. And pitchers that come back from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle finding a feel for the strike zone initially. In his only other two starts this season, Duffy walked two batters in 3.2 innings and three batters in 6 innings.

In Duffy’s three years pitching in the majors, he has a walk rate of 4.5/9. While the walks tend to pile up for the talented southpaw, he has always shown strike out potential, with a strike out rate of 8.0/9 for his career.

Duffy was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft and coming into the 2011 season, he was ranked as the 68th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. So the potential has always been there.

The 6-foot-3 lefty spent six years in the minor leagues, earning 30-16 record, with an impressive 2.88 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His minor league K/9 is 10.6 and his BB/9 is 3.0, considerably less than his 4.5 mark in the majors.

Duffy debuted in 2011, starting 20 games and finishing with a 4-8 record and a 5.64 ERA. He showed improvement in 2012 before his injury. He started six games and recorded a 3.90 ERA.

While the Tommy John injury delayed his development, Duffy appears to be back on track. He has a chance to show that he is a big part of the Royals’ future. If he can finish this season strong and continue to improve with his control, he should lock up a spot in next year’s starting five and perhaps beyond.

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Triple Play: Clayton Kershaw, Edinson Volquez, Ichiro

In this edition of the Triple Play, we look at the best starting pitcher in baseball, an amazing career achievement that unexpectedly is drawing some controversy, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

IchiroSuzuki

Who’s Hot?

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Just as people are running out of superlatives for Miguel Cabrera’s hitting; so too are we struggling to find the words to accurately describe just how sensational Kershaw has been for the Dodgers this season. You’ve seen the ERA (1.72) that is far and away the best in baseball, but Kershaw also leads the National League in the following categories:

  • Games started (27)
  • Shutouts (2, tied with Adam Wainwright)
  • WHIP (0.857)
  • Hits per nine innings (5.8)
  • ERA+ (207)

He has surrendered just nine home runs in 198 1/3 innings pitched and is on pace for 240 strikeouts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 188/32. The last time he allowed more than two runs in a start was July 10 against the Rockies. His ERA hasn’t been above two since June 26. The only thing separating him from a second 20-win season in three years is the Dodgers’ slow start to the season. Barring an incomprehensible late-season collapse, he looks like a shoo-in to win the NL Cy Young Award. The only questions left are whether the voting will be unanimous, and if he will win the MVP award as well.

Who’s Not?

Edinson Volquez, San Diego Padres

Edinson Volquez has been part of two major trades in his career. The first saw him dealt from the Rangers to the Reds in the Josh Hamilton deal; he was traded from the Reds to the Padres as part of the package for Mat Latos. He teased everyone with an impressive rookie year in 2008, going 17-6, with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts. But the warning signs were there even then: he walked 93 batters, hit 14 more (which led the NL), and threw 10 wild pitches. His WHIP was a career-best 1.327 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 2.22-to-1.

After being plagued by injuries for several years, Volquez made 32 starts with San Diego in 2012. He was credited with 11 wins, but led the league with a staggering 105 walks. If you owned him in your fantasy league, you either dropped him or watched your ERA/WHIP categories sink lower and lower thanks to his lack of control.

The Padres finally ran out of patience with Volquez on Saturday, designating him for assignment one day after failing a ghastly start that saw him fail to make it out of the first inning in a no-decision versus the anemic Cubs. This season, he went 9-10 with a 6.01 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 95 earned runs allowed (worst in the NL). He averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per start this season. There are a few teams out there desperate for pitching, but they would be wise to look elsewhere.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .266/.358/.484, 24 HR, 64 RBI, 80 runs, 7 SB, 128 OPS+

Player B: .182/.263/.292, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 27 runs, 11 SB, 52 OPS+

Player C: .253/.347/.423, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 60 runs, 2 SB, 109 OPS+

Player A started the 2013 like a house afire, leading his league in home runs. Then he fell into a two and a half-month slump that had fantasy owners wondering if they should sell low on him just to rid themselves of the headache. Since the All-Star break, though, he has been much better; not quite the beast he was in April, but still an elite outfielder. In a recent game, he was tossed out of a game while running out a ground ball to first base.

Player B has had a season to forget, despite being one of the big free-agent signings of this past offseason. Never one to hit for a high average, he had always been able to provide power and great speed for fantasy owners. This season, he hasn’t provided much of either. His struggles have resulted in more frequent days off, even when healthy. The extra rest hasn’t helped, however, as he has 1-for-34 in his past 13 games.

Player C is the player who was recently injured, and may miss the rest of the regular season. The timing couldn’t be worse, either, as he was punishing the ball to the tune of a .348/.419/.621 slash line this month. In his place is a player who has never produced an OPS+ greater than 75 nor had more than 360 at-bats for the season.

Player A is Justin Upton, Player B is B.J. Upton, and Player C is Jason Heyward. Their up-and-down seasons (or in BJ’s case, just down) illustrate just how good Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, and Brian McCann have been in anchoring the Braves lineup this season. The bullpen has been stellar as well, despite the injuries to stalwarts Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters. The Braves’ biggest benefactor, though, has been the putrid NL East division. If they were in any other division, they would be in a dogfight for first place. Instead, though, the Braves can worry about getting their players healthy and ready for October baseball.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. After handcuffing the Cubs last week, Wainwright was even better last Friday night versus the Braves: he spun a six-hit, complete-game victory in which he walked no one and fanned nine. The start was Wainwright’s ninth this season in which he hasn’t issued a free pass (by comparison, Kershaw has six starts where he didn’t allow a walk). It also was his fifth complete game this season, most in the majors (Kershaw has three). Wainwright’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is back up to 7.24-to-1, still far and away the best in the majors. He is on a big-time roll at the perfect time, as the Cardinals go into a crucial stretch where their next 13 games are against the Reds and Pirates.
  • Jose Fernandez has allowed a total of eight runs in his seven starts since the All-Star break, with an ERA of 1.31. Opponents are slugging .225 against him in those games, and he has a 62-to-11 strikeout/walk ratio. He turned 21 on July 31. Mercy.
  • Meanwhile, the clock has struck midnight for Royals pitcher Bruce Chen. From July 12-August 13, he turned in six consecutive quality starts as the Royals elevated themselves into wild-card contention. His past two starts, however, have been brutal. After allowing just four runs total in those previous six starts, he has allowed 13 runs in just nine innings. Detroit and Washington both knocked him around like a piñata. He may get another opportunity or two, but Kansas City can’t afford any more clunkers if they want to hang in the wild card race.
  • If Miguel Cabrera is still feeling the effects of his abdominal injury, he’s doing a whale of a job covering it up. The past two weeks, he’s bashed seven home runs, with 19 RBI and .689 slugging percentage. For the season, his batting line is a ridiculous .360/.450/.685 (all of which lead the AL). He is on pace for 51 homers, 159 RBI, and 115 runs scored. If Chris Davis slows down at all, Cabrera has a terrific chance to become the major leagues’ first back-to-back Triple Crown winner.
  • The aforementioned Davis is showing little signs of slowing down, however. He has 46 homers on the season (five more than Cabrera), to go with 117 RBI. After seeing his strikeout totals soar in June and July, Davis is back to being more selective at the plate and he is reaping the benefits, as shown by his 1.119 OPS this month.
  • Then there’s the other Davis – Khris Davis, that is. The Brewers’ rookie outfielder is having himself a fine August as well. He entered August with a .231/.310/.538 slash line; now it looks like this: .338/.416/.727. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but the Brewers will take any bright spot they can get right now.
  • Boston’s win over the Dodgers yesterday marked the first time that a team has beaten the Dodgers in a series since June 14-16, when Pittsburgh won two of three from L.A.
  • Jordan Danks hit a home run Sunday in a game that his brother John started. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the first time a player hit a home run in support of his brother since Billy and Bobby Shantz achieved the feat for the Kansas City A’s in 1955.
  • Sadly, that is probably the highlight of the White Sox’s season.
  • Sunday’s Diamondbacks-Phillies day game started just 11 ½ hours after Saturday’s 18-inning marathon ended. Casper Wells was unavailable to pitch.
  • Welcome back, Roy Halladay.
  • If you haven’t read the story about the eight-year-old Indians fan with cerebral palsy who asked Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis to hit home runs for him Sunday (they both did, by the way), do yourself a favor and read it. Here’s to you, Niko Lanzarotta.
  • We wrap up this week with our final Ichiro Hit Tracker. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, Ichiro collected career hit #4,000, a single off Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey. As more and more national writers started taking note of this milestone (AFTER I started noting it in the Triple Play), there was a major backlash by many fans and media members. While the 1,872 hits from his career in Japan obviously don’t count towards the major-league numbers, it is still a noteworthy achievement. Some writers grumbled that Japanese baseball was of no better quality than the minor leagues, which is an apples-to-oranges argument. The point that Ichiro is one of the greatest pure hitters ever to play the game still holds. As such, here are a few more numbers that illustrate just that:
    • He has compiled ten 200-hit seasons. The only other player to do that? Pete Rose.
    • Ichiro has done that in 13 years. It took Rose 17 years to do that.
    • Ichiro has five seasons with more than 220 hits. Rogers Hornsby has four. Rose has one.
    • With 2,533 hits, Ichiro is the all-time leader in Mariners history (more than Edgar Martinez or Ken Griffey Jr.)
    • Ichiro has hit successfully off 756 pitchers in his major-league career.
    • Since 2001, the player with the second-most hits is Albert Pujols (2,347).

Let’s just appreciate the greatness we have had the privilege of watching for the past 13 seasons. There will be plenty of time to debate Ichiro’s place in history after he has retired.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Playoff Push Begins With St. Louis Cardinals 14-inning Victory Over Pittsburgh Pirates

The St. Louis Cardinals had been struggling. They had won four of their past 17 games, dropped to second place in the National League Central Division and were creeping ever closer to falling to third, but all of those problems washed away as the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates played the most intense game of the season.

AdronChambers

There was good pitching, timely hitting, defensive miscues and enough strategy to make the most devoted baseball purists giddy as they first- and second-guessed the multitude of decisions managers Mike Matheny and Clint Hurdle had to make.

The Pirates jumped ahead with three runs in the first two innings, but then starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals bullpen held them scoreless for the next 12 innings as the Cardinals charged toward a comeback win against a rock-solid team.

The Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth inning to close within one run of Pittsburgh’s lead, and then Pirates left fielder Starling Marte dropped a fly ball with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and the Cardinals cashed in to tie the game two batters later on a base hit by Allen Craig.

Each team had multiple opportunities to win the game as they both put runners in scoring position in the 10th, 11th and 13th innings, but each time the team in the field came up with a critical play to save the game.

The game ended in the 14th inning when left fielder Adron Chambers singled to left to score Jon Jay. The Cardinals got a crucial extra-inning victory to close within two games of the Pirates for the division lead, and for the first time they showed the toughness and will to do whatever possible to try to win the game.

Tuesday’s victory was the Cardinals first in 41 tries when they had trailed after eight innings. For whatever reason, this has not been a good come-from-behind team. It jumped out to leads in the first few innings seemingly every night early in the season as they racked up the best record in Major League Baseball, but they had yet to show the unwavering fight to win a game in the late innings, which was a hallmark trait of the 2011 World Series championship team and the 2012 team that came within one win of the World Series.

But the 2013 edition of the Cardinals looked very similar to those previous two teams Tuesday at Busch Stadium. Wainwright made it through seven innings without allowing a run after the second inning, and five relievers, including four rookies, kept the Pirates scoreless in what turned out to be the second half of the game.

That is the type of win that should give a team a burst of confidence to realize they can come back from a late-inning deficit and beat a good team such as Pittsburgh. Even though the Cardinals had a great record in the first half of the season, they had not played many winning teams and had not been tested nearly as strong as they have so far in the second half.

The Pirates, Cincinnati Reds. Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers won 11 of 15 games from the Cardinals in a two-week stretch, and that shook the baseball world in St. Louis. Suddenly the game wasn’t coming nearly as easily as it had earlier in the season, and the team had to toughen up.

More than anything, toughness was the trait that shined through as the Cardinals won a thrilling game Tuesday over the Pirates.

Perhaps the team has found the edge it needed to make this a fun and intense six-week race for the division title and another hold-your-breath type of October.

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Second half story lines for the Royals

The Royals needed the All-Star break to refresh and regroup after losing five straight games. Kansas City now has a record of 43-49 and sits eight games behind the first place Tigers. The second half of the season should offer up many story lines for the Royals. Here are a few worth highlighting:

Eric Hosmer Savior

Can Eric Hosmer continue his hot hitting?
After a very slow start, especially in the power department, Hosmer has turned around his season in a big way. Over the past month, Hosmer is swinging a hot bat. He is hitting .317 with 7 home runs, 16 RBI and 16 runs. The 7 home runs are significant because Hosmer didn’t hit his second homer until June 13. The Royals are currently a below average offensive team (24th in runs scored and 29th in home runs) and they will count on Hosmer to provide a resurgence in the second half.

Will Billy Butler rediscover his power stroke?
Butler had a breakout year in 2012, clubbing a career-high 29 homers and driving in 107 runs. The big DH has only 8 home runs and 49 RBI before the All-Star break and his batting average is down to .271. Butler has three seasons with a batting average over .300 and is a .297 lifetime hitter, so his average should see a boost in the second half. But the question is whether his power will return or if 2012 was just an anomaly. Before last season Butler was known as more of a doubles hitter than a home run masher. His previous high in home runs was 21 in 2009. As mentioned previously, the Royals are second to last overall in home runs. If they want to move up in this category, their clean up hitter will need to pick up his pace.

Will Danny Duffy join the starting rotation?
Duffy is currently rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in June of 2012. On Wednesday, Duffy fanned 13 batters in 5.1 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Duffy is clearly talented enough to earn back a spot in the rotation, and there is an opportunity with Bruce Chen now in the fifth spot. The question is really whether Duffy will make a complete comeback from the surgery and become the promising pitcher he was before the operation.

Is Wade Davis better off in the bullpen?
It’s no secret that Davis has struggled as a starting pitcher this year. After coming over from Tampa Bay in the off-season, the Royals had high expectations for the right-hander. So far he has disappointed. His ERA is approaching 6.00 and he is 4-8 in the first half. Davis had a career year with Tampa Bay in his 2012 role as a reliever. He appeared in 54 games, all in relief, and pitched to a 2.43 ERA and posted a career-high 11.1 K/9. He clearly has the skills to be effective pitching out of the bullpen. If the Royals want to make the move, it could be a major shot in the arm for what is already a very good bullpen.

Will anyone emerge at second base?
The Royals just optioned Johnny Giavotella to Triple-A Omaha after what was basically a 10-game audition. Giavotella was not impressive in his limited time with the Royals, posting a line of .210/.289/.265. The choices now at second base include Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and Miguel Tejada. Johnson has flashed good speed this season, with 12 stolen bases in the first half. He stole 18 last year in limited action with the Rays. His batting average is not good (.210), however, so he will need to improve in that regard. Getz isn’t hitting much better at .214 for the year. Tejada has only started seven games at second base this year, but is the best hitter of the three, sporting a .278 batting average. Three of his last six starts have come at second base though, so he might be settling in as the top option.

Will the group of Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and David Lough be enough in the outfield?
Alex Gordon is locked in to the job in left field, but the other two outfield spots are going to be split between Cain, Dyson and Lough. With Jeff Francoeur no longer on the roster, this outfield trio will be counted on in the second half. Cain is an intriguing source of speed with some power, while Dyson is an even better source of speed with virtually no power. Lough is more of a pure hitter with some speed and power. One, or even two, of these three will need to have a strong second half if the Royals want to be competitive this year.

Will the Royals be buyers or sellers?
The Royals should be active at the deadline one way or the other. If they can hold their ground or move up in the standings, they could become buyers. Because they were so aggressive in the off-season, it may be tough to sell assets at the break. There are plenty of players that could fetch good returns, but the Royals saw themselves as contenders after a busy off-season and might be reluctant to give up on the season. The schedule leading up to the July 31 trade deadline includes a three game set with the Tigers, four home games against the Orioles, three road games against the White Sox and two road games against the Twins. The first seven games will be tough and could be key in determining the Royals’ course of action. One option if they do become sellers would be to target a big return for current closer Greg Holland. Holland could return the Royals a package of top-tier prospects and they have depth in the back-end of the bullpen with Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera. If things go well after the break, the Royals could look for an upgrade at second base (there have been some Chase Utley rumors) or to add another arm for the starting rotation.

Can the Royals make a move in the AL Central?
The Royals have a big opportunity to quickly make up some ground in the division. They open the second half with a three games series with the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. If they want to contend in the Central, the Royals will have to catch up to the Indians as well, who currently sit 1.5 games behind the Tigers. In order to climb the standings over two very good teams, the Royals will need to make some savvy moves (whether buying or selling). They will also need many of the previously mentioned story lines to end up in their favor. It should be an exciting second half of the season and the Royals will play a role in deciding the outcome of the AL Central. Whether it is as a contender or as a spoiler remains to be determined.

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Could another Cardinal arm be needed?

Pitching has been the strength of the Cardinals throughout their league-best season opening. But as the trade deadline approaches, could adding to their greatest asset be necessary? And if so, how would they go about doing so? One thing is for certain: the team has the assets and the market would be open to listening on what they could offer.

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So far, so good has been the order of the year for the Cardinals starting rotation. Coming into today, they have a MLB-best 38 wins and a 2.97 ERA. Yet, looking a bit deeper, and the forecast may not be as good as the moment. Only Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook have more than one season of 30 plus starts among the current staff, and as a year ago showed, the pitfalls of a youthful staff become more evident the later it gets. Lance Lynn noticeably wore down by last August, and while he has become more economical in his approach recently, he is still has to show he can breakthrough over the full course of the year. Add into the equation the presence of Shelby Miller, who has never topped 139 innings in his pro career, and some combination of  Tyler Lyons (152 inning career-best) and potentially Joe Kelly (179.1 innings total a year ago), and there’s not much long-term experience that September and October bound seasons can lean upon.

This bring into question if the presence of another proven arm is a must to ensure the club has the legs to run the full marathon of the season. With the loss of Jaime Garcia and the uncertainty of Chris Carpenter injury: Cardinals right-hander gacing live batters” href=”http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2013/6/4/4395400/chris-carpenter-injury-cardinals-rehab-shoulder-neck-return”>the availability of Chris Carpenter, there is a definite forced youth movement to the bottom half of the rotation. If Lyons, Lynn or Miller falters over the second half, the presence of another arm could be necessitated.

However, the question begs, to what extent could the club pursue an outside addition? In recent weeks, there have been rumors of the potential availability of the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, as well as the Blue Jays’ Mark Buehrle. Both veteran lefties have been tied to the club before, and could be highly sought after if their respective clubs stay far enough outside of the pennant race to concede. Lee has a limited no-trade clause, yet the Cardinals are not a team listed on it. The Arkansas native is 8-2 with a 2.55 ERA in 14 starts this season, and grew up a fan of the team, and would provide a much needed left-handed presence to the rotation. However, he is due another $50 million guaranteed over the next two years of his contract, in addition to likely costing multiple high-potential prospects, an approach GM John Mozeliak has balked at engaging with in recent history.

Buehrle, who was dealt to the Blue Jays this past winter, is also a battle-tested lefty that would provide a similar presence in the rotation, at a slightly friendlier price to both acquire and maintain. The 34-year-old is due $37 million over the final two years of his deal, carrying through 2015. He also would probably not carry quite as steep of a price to acquire from the young talent pool, but wouldn’t be a discount acquisition either. The St. Charles native does not have any trade restrictions on his deal, and has stated publicly before his desire to pitch in his hometown.

Other potential targets could include a group of expiring contracts after the season in Ted Lilly, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Edison Volquez. All would fit into the scheme of short-term arms, that wouldn’t cost much in regards to top tier talent being moved to acquire, and having contracts that will come off the books after the season.

Potentially, nothing could come of this as well. The team could choose to stick with what’s in the fold, and rotate in the bevy of internal to fill in space. For a team that’s 20 games over .500, blockbuster moves may seem like the ultimate vanity play, but digging a bit deeper, it could truly be an investment in staying where they started.

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