Tag Archive | "Consecutive Games"

Rookie Kolten Wong Expected to Be St. Louis Cardinals’ Starting 2nd Baseman

Kolten Wong’s journey has traveled many directions in his short time establishing himself on the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster. He was the prospect who was poised to take the position over late last season. He became the heir apparent during the offseason. He struggled at the start of spring training.

KoltenWong4

Now he appears to be the starting second baseman when the season begins.

As spring training winds down for the Cardinals, most of their roster decisions have been made. One of the key positions that seemed to demand attention was second base.

General manager John Mozeliak acquired an insurance policy for his young prospect when he signed Mark Ellis to a contract in December 2013. Ellis would challenge the young Wong to produce immediately if he wanted to hold on to his starting role.

Wong responded early in spring training by pushing himself too hard and found himself without a hit in his first 10 at-bats. Speculation was rampant that Wong simply was not ready. The young man was doing very little to change the minds of his critics.

Then something clicked in his progress—Wong relaxed and started showing signs of the talent so many had talked about prior to this season. He finds himself leading the Cardinals this spring with a .372 batting average. He has an impressive .674 slugging percentage and is leading the team in OPS with a 1.100 mark. The offensive production that some predicted seems to have arrived.

Meanwhile, his challenger struggled to take the field often enough to truly create the competition that management seemed to want. Ellis was slowed by a left knee ailment that caused him to miss seven consecutive games, and now finds himself preparing for Opening Day.

Ellis is expected to be ready for the season opener on March 31. When discussing the situation with Rick Hummel the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,Ellis expressed frustration with the injury more than with not being the starter:

I’m always disappointed when I can’t play…. I never want to be the guy in the training room. I want to be the guy who nobody has to worry about. They don’t have to worry about, ‘Hey, is this guy going to be able to play today or not?’ That’s what is disappointing.

Wong seems ready to begin his rookie season, and Ellis is ready to be the veteran backup.

The Cardinals are ready to win with both of them.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Triple Play: Jayson Werth, Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro

In our latest installment of the Triple Play, we look at an outfielder who’s been worth every penny the past few weeks, a new Yankee who has made himself at home (again) and more, including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch and the Ichiro Hit Tracker. Let’s dive in:

JaysonWerth

Who’s Hot?

Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals

The 2013 season has mostly been a season gone wrong for the Nationals, but you can’t say that outfielder Jayson Werth hasn’t been pulling his weight – and then some. He has hit safely in 10 consecutive games and racked up 10 multi-hit games so far this month. He is hitting a scorching .500/.574/.692 (26-for-52) with an OPS of 1.266 and two homers, four doubles, 10 RBI, and three steals in 15 August games. Actually, the Werewolf has been raking since July, when he posted a batting line of .367/.450/.622 with seven home runs, 22 RBI and 17 runs scored. He has posted an OPS of .850 or better each month since returning from the disabled list in early June. For the season, Werth has compiled a slash line of .334/.407/.531, along with 17 HR, 53 RBI, 7 stolen bases and 61 runs scored. Despite his performance, Washington has been unable to gain any ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves, as the Nationals have tumbled to 15½ games behind Atlanta and are scuffling to reach .500.

Who’s Not?

Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics

Colon, one of the best pitchers in the AL for most of the season, has hit a rough patch this month. It started out well enough, with him not facing any additional discipline due to his involvement in the Biogenesis issue. But his fortunes changed against Cincinnati on August 7, where he was knocked around for seven hits, three walks and five runs in 2 2/3 innings. It marked his shortest outing of the season and dropped the A’s into a first-place tie with Texas. His most recent start, against Houston on August 13, wasn’t much better, as the offensively-challenged Astros touched him up for seven hits and five runs in just four innings. Colon’s month got even worse this past Friday, though, as he injured his groin during a flat-ground workout session and was placed on the 15-day DL Saturday. A’s manager Bob Melvin tried to look on the bright side, saying that the time off might be good for the 40-year-old Colon. The A’s (and fantasy owners) certainly hope so, because losing Colon would be a blow for the collective hopes of each.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .254/.287/.467, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 10 SB, 103 OPS+

Player B: .329/.361/.658, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 3 SB, 173 OPS+

Player A is Alfonso Soriano while with the Cubs this season. Player B is Soriano after being traded to the New York Yankees. It’s clear that being dealt back to where he started his career – and a team trying to reach the postseason – has energized him. The Yankees were seeking production from a right-handed hitter; Soriano has delivered an excellent month’s worth in three weeks. During a four-game stretch last week, he tied a major-league record with 18 RBI in four games. While he obviously won’t continue to put up these video-game numbers, he is showing plenty of life remains in his bat.

Name that player

This pitcher has been the picture of durability in his career, starting at least 30 games each of the past eight years. In seven of those, he threw at least 200 innings and tallied no fewer than 12 wins. In 2009, he led his league in WHIP (1.003) and K/BB ratio (5.87-to-1). He has never finished higher than fifth in Cy Young balloting. Need more info?

This pitcher has been traded multiple times, often with some big names going the other way in the deal. He has bounced back and forth between leagues and had equal amounts of success in both. He made his first trip to the disabled list in 2012, but still made 30 starts. After not being re-signed by his previous team, he signed a one-year deal with a new team. This signing was somewhat of a surprise because most analysts thought they already had a fine pitching staff.

How about now? Know who it is?

This pitcher is in the midst of a career-worst season; he leads the league in home runs allowed and has the worst WHIP since his rookie season in 2003. Although he has pitched much better recently, it is probably too little, too late for his team. Did I mention some of the players for whom he was traded? They include Mark Mulder and Carlos Gonzalez. Finally, he recently cleared waivers, meaning he can be traded to any team in need of a starter. Got him yet? Sure you do: it’s Dan Haren.

Haren was pounded for six runs in his initial start of the season – including four home runs – and things hadn’t improved much until the past month. In his first 18 starts, opponents battered him to the tune of a .297 average and 5.79 ERA. However, starting with his July 27 start versus the New York Mets, Haren has been more like his old self, tossing four consecutive quality starts and a sparkling 1.29 ERA. Opposing batters have hit just .158 off him in those games (and only one solo home run). Haren has had a history of wearing down after the All-Star break, but in 2013, he appears to be improving instead of declining. Then again, after the first half of his season, it HAD to get better.

Given his recent success, it is somewhat surprising that he cleared waivers. His contract isn’t exorbitant – he’s owed somewhere around $2-3 million for the remainder of the season. There are teams in the playoff hunt who could use another solid starter (Baltimore, Cleveland, Arizona, Texas, St. Louis). If one of those teams is willing to take on the balance of the salary, one would think they could bolster their rotation without sacrificing a top prospect. Just something to ponder with the August 31 trade deadline less than two weeks away.

Random Thoughts

  • Ichiro Hit Tracker: Future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, at age 39, is closing in on 4,000 hits in his professional career (including the 1,278 he tallied playing in Japan). Last week was a slow week for Ichiro, as he only batted .167 (4 for 24) with a walk, including a two-hit night Sunday against Boston. He sits at 3,997 hits with the Yankees hosting Toronto for four games starting Monday, followed by three-game visits to Tampa Bay and Baltimore. In a perfect world, Ichiro would be facing his old team (Seattle) as he notched hit number 4,000. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t face the Mariners again this season.
  • 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. Wainwright started twice in the past week. In the first game, he lasted seven innings, but walked a season-high three batters and allowed two solo home runs in a no-decision against the Pirates (a game St. Louis eventually won 4-3). Sunday at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, Wainwright turned in one of his most dominant outings of the season, spinning seven innings of one-run ball with 11 strikeouts and only one walk. This season, Wainwright has walked just 25 hitters and still tops the majors with a 6.92-to-1 K/BB ratio and leads the NL with an average of 1.1 walks per nine innings. His next start comes this Friday when the Cardinals host the Braves.
  • While Pittsburgh fans have embraced the 2013 Pirates (witness the sellout crowd on national TV Saturday), many fans still fear another epic collapse like the past two seasons. Who can blame them? It has been 21 years since the Pirates last finished above .500, let alone reached the postseason. One day after being humiliated by the Diamondbacks at home 15-5, the Pirates lost a 16-inning marathon 4-2, trimming their division lead over the Cardinals to one game. However, this team has a different feel than the 2011-12 versions. We’ll find out if this is truly the case as the Pittsburgh heads west to face the Padres and Giants. This is a perfect opportunity for the Pirates to right the ship and stay in first place.
  • Speaking of teams that have not qualified for the postseason in a generation, the Kansas City Royals may be starting to cool off following that 17-3 run from July 23-August 12. After taking three of four from Boston, the Royals dropped two of three to Miami and three of five to division-leading Detroit. They remain well out of the playoff picture, but the fact that they are even discussing October baseball in Kansas City is progess, no?
  • Don’t look now, but Ubaldo Jimenez has quietly put together a respectable season for Cleveland (9-7, 4.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 123 Ks). While he clearly is not the ace the Indians thought they were getting when they dealt away top prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, it’s become clear that the Tribe got the better end of the deal. White was traded to Houston and hurt his arm, while Pomeranz has won only four games total with the Rockies and has spent most of 2013 in Triple-A. Jimenez still walks too many batters (less than a 2-to-1 K/BB ratio) and his prone to unraveling in tough situations, but he has become a serviceable starter for a Cleveland team on the fringe of the wild-card race.
  • So, Ryan Braun plans to “distance himself” from Alex Rodriguez in an effort to improve his own public image. Yeah, good luck with that, fella.
  • Thanks to Miguel Tejada for getting suspended for 105 games for testing positive for a banned substance for the third time. Because we haven’t had enough performance-enhancing drug news in baseball this month.
  • Random Statistic Guaranteed to Enrage Brian Kenny: After winning Sunday to push his record to 18-1, Detroit’s Max Scherzer became the fifth pitcher in baseball history to win 18 of his first 19 decisions in a season. The others are Roger Clemens (2001), Roy Face (1959), Don Newcombe (1955), and Rube Marquard (1912).
  • Good thing the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel a few days ago, or else they never would have been able to take advantage of Hanley Ramirez’s errors Sunday and rally for the win. Clearly, that was all due to the managerial change.
  • News: With the bases loaded against the Cardinals on Saturday, the Cubs’ Starlin Castro caught a fly ball in shallow left field and then sort of stood there. Meanwhile, it was only the second out of the inning and the Cards’ Jon Jay took advantage of Castro’s brainlock to race home to score. By the time Castro realized what was happening, Jay was halfway to the plate. Cubs manager Dale Sveum was not amused by this latest knucklehead move by his shortstop and yanked him from the game. Views: After the game, to his credit, Castro stood at his locker and owned his latest blunder, apologized and offered no excuses. Still, how much more can Sveum be expected to take? I envision him eventually having the same kind of meltdown that Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan had that classic scene in A League of Their Own where Evelyn keeps missing the cut-off man.
  • This past Saturday, August 17, marked the 40-year anniversary of Willie Mays’ final home run – No. 660 – in his career. There are many players I wish I could have seen play in person; Mays is in the top five.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Very Impressive Weekend for the Cubs

Chicago Cubs fans know that their team will always keep them on their toes. In the last week the team traded away ace pitcher Matt Garza for a handful of prospects, and also traded away slugger Alfonso Soriano in a peculiar deal. That same trade left only Jeff Samardzija as the only remaining member from the 2008 team that won 97 games. Also, the team welcomed prospect Junior Lake to the mix. A brief summary of Lake, he is tall, strong, and quick. In a single game, he showcased his speed with two bunt singles and then showed the power with a crushing home run. Soriano himself said he saw a younger him in Lake. The changing of the guard was unfolding.

AlfonsoSoriano

If that was not enough, the Cubs had to make a weekend trip to the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants to end a ten game west coast trip. Not much could have been expected from that. But then in true Cub fashion, they kept the faithful on their toes and ended up sweeping the champions in arguably their most impressive three consecutive games in the last two seasons.

Friday night saw a great effort by Edwin Jackson nearly lost. Jackson was cruising for six innings until finding trouble in the seventh. Trailing 2-1 and down to the final strike, Anthony Rizzo hit a rocket down the first base line through the legs of Brandon Belt that scored two runs to take the lead and ultimately win the game.

Saturday’s game saw another great pitching performance by unlikely Chris Rusin who pitched seven shutout innings. But the pitching performance may have been by Pedro Strop. In the eight, Strop loaded the bases without recording an out and due up were MVP Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence. Cub fans likely had to turn away at that time. But with two infield ground outs to force runners at home and a strikeout of Pence, Strop got out of the inning without allowing a run. Nate Schierholtz proceeded to smack a home run in the top of the ninth and the Cubs won 1-0. That also happened to be the final score of three other Major League games that day as well.

No way could the Cubs sweep the defending champions on the road, right? Wrong. Sunday, saw lone all-star Travis Wood launch a homerun of his own and also pitch seven strong innings. Strop did his thing again in the eighth and Kevin Gregg recorded his third save in as many days with the Cubs winning the finale 2-1 and capping off the winning streak.

The way the team seemingly banded together out by the bay was impressive. It was a collective effort and everyone did their part. It was a team to tip your cap to. The Cubs now come back to Chicago to face the last place Brewers. A key point in the clubhouse will have to be keeping the momentum going. All the great work done out west will be all for not if they cannot beat the Brew Crew.

Following that series, they face the red hot Dodgers, struggling Phillies and a few divisional games. If the team can put a few weeks of good play together the record is getting close to the 500 mark. It is still a long shot, but can this unlikely bunch catch the Reds or Pirates and at least be in the consideration for a Wild Card spot? This past weekend was a great building block for that. Stay on your toes.

 

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St. Louis Cardinals will soon be tested as schedule gets tougher

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a very good start to the 2012 season with 16 wins and a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central heading into play Saturday. But the schedule in May is not quite as easy as the one the Cardinals cruised through in April.

The Cardinals finish up a stretch of 27 consecutive games against NL Central opponents Sunday. They will play only two games against a divisional opponent, the Chicago Cubs May 14-15, for the next 27 games on the schedule.

Although the Cardinals played an odd early season schedule with so many divisional games, it worked out in their favor because the division doesn’t appear to be that strong this year. The Cincinnati Reds were the only other NL Central team to have a winning record heading into play Saturday.

The Cardinals will start to face tougher competition soon, however, and it will come in a hurry. They will play 16 of those upcoming 27 games against teams with a record of .500 or better.

So, while the Cardinals’ starting pitching has been magnificent so far this season, the rotation will truly be put to the test in the coming weeks. This would be a good time for Adam Wainwright to return to Cy Young award-winning form.

Although the upcoming schedule is more difficult, it could also be a bit of a blessing for the Cardinals. Playing divisional opponents all of the time has started to get stale, and different competition might help the team remain sharp.

The Cardinals have shown a few vulnerabilities of late. They had the Pittsburgh Pirates blown out early Tuesday but allowed the Pirates to get back in the game late. The Cardinals still won 10-7 and pounded the Bucs again the next night 12-3.

However, the Cardinals also continued a disturbing trend Thursday when the Pirates beat them 6-3. That was the fourth series the Cardinals had a chance to sweep, and they have yet to put the broom to the floor this season.

That trend can’t continue once the Cardinals venture out against better teams. They likely won’t have as many opportunities to complete a sweep, which is also why it has been painful to see them allow teams to steal the final game of a series so often.

A team that averages two wins out of every three games will have a fantastic season and win more than 105 games, but that is unrealistic. To maintain a first-place worthy record, good teams have to play well against other good teams, but they also have to dominate the bad teams.

The Cardinals have played some bad teams already this season, and they have dominated them in several games. But, they haven’t put the final stamp on a series and prove the point that some teams simply can’t compete with the Cardinals on a day-to-day basis.

Granted, I know we’re splitting hairs here. The Cardinals have gotten off to a wonderful start to the season. They have managed to avoid the devastating Mariano Rivera-type injury despite an old roster.

However, as I said before the season began, pitching will be the key to the Cardinals success. If the pitching staff performs well throughout May, the Cardinals will likely have proved they are a worthy contender for the National League pennant.

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Tall Contributions From Short

The last three weeks we took a look around the outfield. Beginning this week we start working our way around the infield. Starting with perhaps the most important position within. Where defense, especially where the National League is concerned, carries as much weight as offense. Shortstop.

For the Cardinals the infield figures to look drastically different than opening day in 2011.  Lance Berkman takes over at first base, Rafael Furcal returns to shortstop, and it appears Tyler Greene, yes that Tyler Greene will get a shot as the starting second baseman. This could be the year that David Freese establishes himself as one of the best third basemen in the sport after his breakout October.

I digress. Rafael Furcal gives the Cardinals their best opening day starter at short since Edgar Renteria. Now before all the David Eckstein supporters get all hot and bothered understand, as scrappy and terrific as he was, Furcal offers a better defensive presence and hits leadoff. The hope for St. Louis is they get more of the Furcal they saw in St. Louis after the trade than the one in LA or masquerading as the Cardinal shortstop during the playoffs.

In a division with a legitimate All-Star, Starlin Castro, holding court up on the north side of Chicago and plenty of rookies and new comers 2012 should prove an interesting year in the NL Central. Here is the breakdown.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro logged an impressive 2011. With 21 steals and a .307 average, the 21-year-old has developed a terrific profile for a leadoff hitter and if he can expand on his power next season he could join the top tier of shortstop options. Castro had five hitting streaks of at least 10 games, and he finished the season with a streak of reaching base safely in 40 consecutive games. He finished with 57 multi-hit games, tied for the NL lead with three others, and led the league in at-bats. What Castro does need to improve upon is his defense — he led all Major League shortstops with 29 errors.

Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart had Tommy John reconstructive surgery only 11 games into the 2011 season.  Since the surgery was on his non-throwing elbow, Cozart has already resumed baseball activities and is thought of as a top candidate to ultimately capture the shortstop position full time. During those 11 games for Cincinnati — including nine starts — following a July 7 promotion from Triple-A Louisville, Cozart batted .307 with two home runs and three RBIs. His career in the Majors began with a seven-game hitting streak.  Shortstop has been one of the most unstable positions for the Reds over the past several years, and that’s something they very much want to correct.

New to the NL Central is Jed Lowrie.  Lowrie, a switch-hitter who has been injured often in his four-year Major League career, will become the Astros’ starter at shortstop. In his time with Boston The 27-year-old was never able to accumulate more than 300 at-bats in a season.  Lowrie doesn’t possess great range at shortstop, but his strength is his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He’s a career .326 hitter with a .385 on-base percentage against left-handers, but against right-handers is just a .214 hitter with a .293 on-base percentage. One thing Lowrie will bring is playoff experience, having helped the Red Sox reach the postseason in 2008 and ’09.

The Brewers signed Alex Gonzalez, filling the most glaring hole on their roster before at the Winter Meetings. Gonzalez has played at least 110 games in eight of the past nine seasons — he sat out 2008 because of a family issue — and is considered a plus defensive player. He was with the Braves in ’11, hitting .241 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs. Offensively, he is similar to his predecessor, Yuniesky Betancourt. Gonzalez (.270 on-base percentage) and Betancourt (.271) had the lowest on-base percentage of qualifying National League hitters.

The Pirates have filled their hole at shortstop, replacing Ronny Cedeno with Clint Barmes. Barmes played a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop last season for the Astros who elected not to bring him back in 2012. Barmes led all regular NL shortstops in 2011 with a 7.9 ultimate zone rating, a sabermetric statistic that calculates how many more runs a player saves on defense than an average replacement.  Barmes missed the first couple of weeks of the season after breaking his hand in Spring Training and wound up hitting .244 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs.

The 34-year-old Rafael Furcal came to the Cards from the Dodgers in a Trade Deadline deal and hit .255 with a .316 on-base percentage in 50 regular-season games with St. Louis. Furcal had a rough time at the plate in the playoffs, hitting below .200 in both the NLCS and World Series. What keeps him in the game is his defense. Even at 34 his range and arm are among the best in baseball.  Furcal turned a National League shortstop-high 36 double plays and was ranked second in both total chances (238) and assists (155).

Looking back on 2011 and based on past performance, career trends  and my mood today here is how I see them stacking up in 2012.

  1. Starlin Castro
  2. Alex Gonzalez
  3. Rafael Furcal
  4. Zack Cozart
  5. Jed Lowrie
  6. Clint Barmes

In a division with a legitimate All-Star, Starlin Castro , holding court up on the north side of Chicago and plenty of rookies and new comers 2012 should prove an interesting year in the NL Central.

Follow Derek on twitter at @SportsbyWeeze

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Fall League Wraps Up In Surprise

SURPRISE, AZ – The Salt River Rafters topped the Surprise Saguaros last Saturday to claim the Arizona Fall League crown. But that doesn’t discount the strides the Royals’ prospects, particularly the offensive players, made during their eight weeks in Arizona.

Surprise finished with the best record in the 20-year history of the circuit, posting a 26-10 record during the Fall League season. The Saguaros lost consecutive games only once, and the Royals’ three offensive players on the squad, Wil Myers, Christian Colon, and Anthony Seratelli, all fared pretty well. But Myers in particular impressed, as he was named to the Arizona Fall League’s All-Prospect Team.

Myers’ accomplishments for the Fall League season came after a injury-riddled disappointing campaign during the regular season with the Naturals, and may have set the Royals’ top hitting prospect on the fast track to Kansas City. During early October, Royals’ brass was quoted in the Kansas City Star indicating the Myers would begin the 2012 season back in the Naturals’ lineup, but might have turned that timetable over after batting .360 with Surprise. Myers tied for the league lead in walks (20), and triples (5), ranked second in on-base percentage (.481), third in slugging percentage (.674), sixth in both average and runs (24). Even more impressive, he reached base safely via hit or walk in 22 of 23 games he played with Surprise, and scored a run in 18 of 23 contests. He also went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI’s, a run, and a stolen base during the Rising Stars Game.

Myers describes his production as a product of better poise in the batter’s box, which has allowed him to lay off of pitches outside of the strike zone and drive the ball when opposing hurlers are forced to throw strikes.

“Basically, I’m having more confidence at the plate,” Myers said. “Just going up there knowing I can get hits is important. This year (in Northwest Arkansas) I swung at a lot of pitcher’s pitches…now I’m recognizing what they’re throwing and going deep into counts.”

Myers’ plate discipline has also caught the eye of J.J. Picollo, Kansas City’s Assistant General Manager of Scouting and Player Development.

“He’s seeing the ball very well right now,” Picollo explained. “He’s really maturing as a hitter, being more patient and not being so anxious. People in Double-A knew how good he was, so he got a lot of pitches off the plate. Now when they pitch him that way he’s getting into 2-1, 2-0 and 3-1 types of counts.”

Picollo pointed out that Myers’ improvement is even more exciting because the talent level in the Arizona Fall League is so high.

“Pitching in the fall league is a little better than Double-A,” he said. “Arm after arm coming out of the bullpen are good arms. To do what Wil is doing against a high-caliber type of pitching is great to see.”

In addition to his improved plate presence, Picollo thinks Myers’ power will catch up shortly.

“We all know he has a tremendous amount of power,” Picollo said. “That he hasn’t put up huge home run totals is just reflective of a young player in an advanced league. Remember, he’s one of just three players from his high school draft class to reach Double-A. The power will come out at some point in time. Right now he just needs to worry about hitting doubles, finding gaps, hitting to all fields. That’s part of the natural progression hitters make.”

Through three full seasons in the minor leagues, Myers has connected on 27 long balls, including eight homers in 99 games this year in the Texas League. He hit five in 22 games in 2009 and belted 14 in 126 games in 2010, while also ripping 37 doubles that season for Advanced Class-A Wilmington.

Those numbers were enough to rank him No. 10 on Baseball America’s Top-100 Prospects list entering the 2011 season, just behind fellow Royals’ cornerstones Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. While it’s too early to tell if Myers will make the same type of year-four jumps those two made, his confidence is bolstered because of Kansas City’s willingness to call guys up when they are deserving.

“The Royals have a plan for me,” Myers said. “It’s cool to see those guys (Hosmer and Moustakas) move up, knowing that they like to promote from within.”

Picollo said Myers’ work ethic will serve him well as he tries to make his case for a promotion to Kansas City in the future.

“Wil’s competitive nature will help him. He wants to get to the big leagues, but at this point he just needs to worry about things he can control. He needs to work hard every day and play hard every day.”

Both Seratelli and Colon also finished with solid numbers. Colon, playing mostly second base, heated up late and lifted his average from the low-.200s to nearly .300, while Seratelli faded a bit with more playing time late but still finished with a .317 average and .436 on-base percentage against more advanced pitching. Seratelli hopes that the solid showing in the fall league can help his chance to make Triple-A Omaha next spring.

On the pitching end, Jeffress and Lafferty both fanned over a batter per inning but had a couple of rough outings that tainted their numbers. Jeffress was also victimized for four runs in a relief outing during the Championship Game that put the game squarely out of reach for Surprise.

Here is a look at the final statistics for all of the Royals prospects in Surprise.

BATTING

AVG

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

OBP

SLG

OPS

Colon, Christian

.299

19

77

12

23

4

0

2

10

5

10

1

2

.365

.429

.793

Myers, Wil

.360

23

86

24

31

5

5

4

18

20

18

1

1

.481

.674

1.156

Seratelli, Anthony

.317

18

63

9

20

1

0

2

6

14

14

3

3

.436

.429

.864

PITCHING

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SVO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

AVG

Adcock, Nathan

2-2

4.44

6

6

0

0

24.1

27

13

12

1

4

23

1.27

.276

Jeffress, Jeremy

0-1

4.91

11

0

0

1

11.0

16

10

6

0

8

15

2.18

.333

Lafferty, Brendan

0-0

7.16

11

0

0

0

16.1

18

13

13

3

8

17

1.59

.273

Paukovits, Bryan

1-1

5.91

10

0

0

1

10.2

12

9

7

1

7

9

1.78

.267


Naturals/Texas League Notes

Springfield names new manager: Mike Shildt was named Monday as the new skipper of the Springfield Cardinals. He replaces Ron “Pop” Warner, who advances up a level to manage their Triple-A affiliate in Memphis. The remainder of the Springfield field staff remains intact from 2011. Shildt comes to Springfield after three seasons managing their rookie-level Appalachian League club in Johnson City. With Springfield’s announcement, four teams in the Texas League have announced their staffs for next season, with two of them bringing in new managers.

Winter League Report

Several other current and former Naturals are honing their craft this off-season playing in various winter leagues that span the globe.

Puerto Rico: Rey Navarro (Crillos de Caguas) appeared in just one game this past week but his hitless streak continues as his average slumped to .053… Irving Falu (Indios de Mayaguez) has a three-game hitting streak, with three-hit efforts in two of those games including three RBI’s on Sunday… Angel Sanchez, teammates with Falu in Mayaguez, is batting .237 in ten games thus far. He may be in line for more duty next year with the Astros as their starting shortstop from 2011, Clint Barmes, signed with Pittsburgh.

Venezuela: Mario Lisson (Navegantes de Magallanes) had a 2-for-3 effort Sunday to raise his average to .258… Former Natural Jose Duarte (Leones de Caracas), who is currently a minor league free agent, hasn’t had a hit since November 8th, but during that time his playing time has dried up and he’s received only three at-bats, being used primarily as a defensive sub… Ernesto Mejia (Aguilas del Zulia) has hit in five of six games, a couple being multi-hit efforts, as his average lifts to .297. As typical, Mejia is feasting on winter league pitchers, as he has four homers and has 23 runs driven in so far…Manny Pina (Bravos de Margarita) has struggled in 14 games thus far, batting .129.

Dominican Republic: Manauris Baez (Estrellas de Oriente) fanned seven in six scoreless innings in his most recent start, and now has a 1.64 ERA in six outings, including five starts… Mario Santiago (Tigres del Licey) allowed a pair of runs in five innings in his start on Sunday. Santiago has 27 strikeouts and eight walks in 35 1/3 innings…Willy Lebron, Santiago’s rotation-mate in Licey and fellow Royals’ farmhand, hasn’t pitched since leaving a game with an arm injury on November 6th Kelvin Herrera (Leones del Escogido) continues to mount a resume for 2012, as he’s gone scoreless in all nine of his outings. He’s teammates with Everett Teaford, who pitched 5 2/3 scoreless in his last outing on November 16th to lower his ERA to 3.57 in four starts.

Mexico: Federico Castaneda (Tomateros de Culiacan) continues to be one of the busier relievers in winter ball, as his outing Friday was already his 15th of the winter league season. After a couple rough early outings, Castaneda has settled in, keeping the opposition scoreless in his last five games to lower the ERA to 6.97.

These teams and respective leagues will play the round-robin Caribbean Series which takes place in February just before early reports for Major League Spring Training.

Transaction log: Ryan Verdugo, the southpaw the Royals acquired from the Giants in the trade that also brought southpaw Jonathan Sanchez to Kansas City was added to the 40-Man roster on Friday, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft which will occur December 8th at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas.

Check nwanaturals.com every two weeks beginning Friday, December 2nd for our Hot Stove Report, where we’ll continue to follow Royals’ minor leaguers in winter ball as well as cover other off-season baseball information that pertains to the Naturals and the Texas League.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.

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Cause For Concern?

St Louis rode timely hitting and a hot bullpen to a 2-1 series lead. However, including Kyle Lohse’s start on Thursday, a possible chink has appeared in the Cardinal armor. Their starting pitchers are not getting deep into games anymore. This is the exact opposite of the Philadelphia series, where four of the five games saw Cardinal starters throw pitches in the sixth inning or later (the lone exception was Chris Carpenter’s short rest, 3 inning Game 2 start).

Does it matter? Not really. Here’s why.

Tony LaRussa changed his post-season roster to add an eighth pitcher. So armed, he has deployed his bullpen early and often, and matched up his pitchers against Milwaukee’s hitters. He’s also done a good job not overusing his bullpen, as evidenced in the below list. Relievers are ordered based on when they first appeared in the series; ‘bf’ is short for ‘batters faced'; ‘g’ is short for ‘game’.

  • Octavio Dotel: 6 bf (g1), 4 bf (g4)
  • Lance Lynn: 4 bf (g1), 1 bf (g2), 4 bf (g3)
  • Kyle McClellan: 3 bf (g1)
  • Marc Rzepczynski: 2 bf g1), 4 bf (g2), 1 bf (g3)
  • Mitchell Boggs 4 bf (g1), 4 bf (g2), 5 bf (g4)
  • Arthur Rhodes 1 bf (g2), 3 bf (g4)
  • Fernando Salas 3 bf (g2), 3 bf (g3), 7 bf (g4)
  • Jason Motte 3 bf (g2), 4 bf (g3)

LaRussa has spread the workload around. Only Lynn and Salas have appeared in three consecutive games. Even those streaks were broken by the off-day between Games 2 and 3. His middle relievers have seen a lot of action – Boggs and Salas have faced 13 hitters each in this series – but the back of the bullpen has been judiciously used, especially the two lefties and Motte.

Randy Wolf shut down the Cardinals Thursday night, as he has all season, and ensured the NLCS will return to Milwaukee. If St Louis is able to again hit like they did in the first 19 innings of this series it won’t matter how deep their starters get. If, however, the remaining game action settles into a pitching duel the Cardinals starting rotation’s inability to get into the sixth inning may come back to haunt them. The Cardinal starters are better than their middle relievers, and to win this series they will need their best pitchers on the mound pitching well.

Mike Metzger is a life-long Cardinals fan watching the NLCS with bated breath. He is the author of Padres Trail, a San Diego Padres blog. Follow him on twitter @metzgermg.

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Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Cardinals Need Speed

Vince Coleman will celebrate his 50th birthday in September, and he is still confident that he could lead this year’s Cardinals in stolen bases.

“There’s no doubt in my mind I could do it,” Coleman said by phone this week from his home in San Diego. “Have them call me. I’d be glad to go out there and steal a base or two.”

It would not take many more than that for Coleman to become the team’s leader in stolen bases, which has dramatically become a lost art to anyone wearing a St. Louis uniform.

They came within three games of setting a franchise record for the most consecutive games without a stolen base earlier this year, going 33 games in a row without a steal, and since June 4, have stolen a combined five bases as a team in 55 games – with 13 caught stealing. Their season total of 39 steals in 115 games is only one more than the Cubs, but add in the fact that they have had 28 runners thrown out trying to steal, and their success rate of 58 percent is the lowest in the National League.

The last stolen bases they have had out of the leadoff spot in the order came on May 6. The team has a combined seven steals out of that spot, the lowest total in the league, and has had six runners caught stealing.

The individual leader on the team, Tyler Greene with nine steals, has spent almost as much time in Triple A as he has on the major league roster. Of the players on the current roster, Albert Pujols leads the team with six steals. There are 57 players in the NL with a higher total.

What in the name of Coleman and Lou Brock is going on here? A franchise which once stole 314 bases in a season, and had those two players top 100 by themselves, can’t steal more bases than this?

Coleman thinks part of the reason is that the art of stealing bases is not taught in the minor leagues, as it was in his day in the 1980s, and that baserunners in the major leagues do not study the pitchers as and his teammates did in the 1980s.

“If Don Blasingame had not been an instructor in the minor leagues I wouldn’t have learned how to read pitchers as well as I did,” said Coleman, who stole 549 bases in his six years as a Cardinal between 1985-1990. “I knew what to look for and passed that knowledge on to my teammates. Whitey (Herzog) gave us the freedom and the green light to run at will. 

“Every pitcher has a flaw, and I don’t think today they study that and see what the flaw is.”

Coleman disputes the notion that the development of a “quick-step” move by pitchers slowed down the running game in the majors. He said pitchers who try that generally fall behind in the count, and then have to change to try to throw strikes in order to not walk the next batter.

“It just meant I would steal on the third or fourth pitch instead of the first or second,” Coleman said.

The Cardinals have had successful teams which did not steal many bases in the past. The World Champion 2006 squad stole only 59 bases for the season, and the next year’s total fell to 56 – the fewest by any team managed by Tony La Russa in the last 33 years. This year’s team already is ahead of the franchise record for fewest steals in a season – a meager 17 by the 1949 Cardinals.

Despite their lack of steals, which also includes the inability of going from first to third base on a single to the outfield, the Cardinals still lead the NL in runs and hits. Just think how much better off they would be even if they were at least average in the baserunning department? Think they might have grounded into a fewer double plays if they had players who could steal second?

To their credit, the scouting and player development personnel identified speed as an area they would like to improve in this year’s draft. Three of their first 10 picks in the June draft were described as speedy, athletic outfielders with a chance to develop as basestealers.

In addition to the lack of speed on the major-league club, there are only seven players (eight if you add Tyler Greene’s major league and minor-league totals together) out of the close to 200 in the minor league system with more than 10 stolen bases this season. Tied for the organization lead through Saturday’s games were Memphis outfielder Adron Chambers and Johnson City outfielder Steven Ramos, each with 17 steals.

Coleman, who worked briefly as a base running instructor in the minor leagues for the Cubs after his playing career, believes if a player doesn’t learn how to steal bases in the minors he is not going to be able to do it successfully in the majors. 

The lack of players who have the ability to steal bases also makes it hard for Coleman to watch games these days.

“There is no one out there who excites me,” Coleman said. “When fans came to watch the Cardinals in the 1980s the one thing they knew they were going to see was stolen bases, if they didn’t see anything else.

“I patterned myself after Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock. Those guys excited me when I watched them play and steal bases. I learned from watching guys like Joe Morgan when I was growing up. I don’t see that many complete ballplayers in baseball today. When we got on base it was exciting.”

As the Cardinals attempt to add more speed to their lineup, the question is where it will come from – with the two corner outfield spots, the two corner infield spots and the catcher position all unlikely sources – there are really only three choices, shortstop, second base and centerfield.

Newly acquired shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal was supposed to add that dimension to the team, but he has not even attempted a stolen base in his first eight games as Cardinal. Jon Jay, now the regular centerfielder, has five steals but also has been thrown out four times. Now splitting time at second base, Skip Schumaker has no steals and two caught stealing, and Ryan Theriot has four steals and has been thrown out attempting to steal five times.

Head over to Rob Rains website to check out Rob’s thoughts on the National League Central race coming down to two teams and his notes on Major League and Minor League baseball.

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Runs In Bunches

On Wednesday the Cardinals completed a 3-game series against Arizona in the desert. St Louis won 2 of the three games. That in and of itself is not remarkable; as mentioned last week, the Cardinals have had reasonable success in Tucson. What is unusual is how many runs the team scored in those three games.

To recap – St Louis won the opener 8-2 behind the resurgent Kyle Lohse, lost 8-13 behind surprisingly shaky Chris Carpenter, then bludgeoned their way to a 15-5 win in support of a grateful Jake Westbrook. Thirty-one runs in the series, with at least 8 runs in every game. Talk about runs in bunches. More perspective: they had scored only 27 runs total in their first nine games.

That many runs in a series has to be a rarity, right? How often have the Cardinals done that? Well, more often than I initially thought, but less often than one might expect.

Looking back over the past 50 seasons, the Cardinals have scored 8 or more runs in three consecutive games against the same opponent 17 times.

Season Dates Location Opponent Results Length of series
2011 4/11-13 Chase Field Diamondbacks WLW 3-game
2007 8/14-16 Miller Park Brewers WWW 3-game
2005 5/10-12 Busch II Dodgers WLW 4-game (won 1st game 4-2)
2003 6/3-5 Busch II Blue Jays WWW 3-game
2003 6/17-19 Miller Park Brewers WWW 3-game
2002 9/17-19 Coors Field Rockies WWW 3-game
2001 4/6-8 Bank One Ballpark Diamondbacks WWW 3-game
2001 6/15-17 Busch II White Sox WWW 3-game
2000 9/11-13 PNC Park Pirates WWW 3-game
1995 9/11-13 Busch II Giants WWW 3-game
1993 6/29-7/1 Busch II Phillies LWW 4-game (won 1st game 3-1)
1980 5/5-7 Busch II Giants WWW 3-game
1978 8/25-27 Fulton County Braves WWW 3-game
1977 4/7,9-10 Three Rivers Pirates WWW 3-game (off day 4/8)
1973 6/11-13 Riverfront Reds WWW 3-game
1963 8/16-17,19 Sportsman’s Park Giants WWW 3-game (off day 8/18)
1961 7/17-18 Sportsman’s Park Cubs WWW 4-game (won 1st game 7-5)

In 1961, two of the three games were played as part of a double-header (on 17 July 1961). The third game of that set was the first game of a double-header played the next day – yes, on July 17 and 18 the Cardinals and Cubs played back-to-back double headers.

Note that over half of these 3-game sets have happened in the last 10 years. If one needed more proof offensive production has taken off in the recent history of the game, here it is. Additionally the Cardinals have turned this trick before in Arizona, ten years ago to the week.

What is unique about the recently completed series is the Cardinals did not win all three games during this offensive explosion. While not a rarity if the series is scheduled for longer than 3 games, it is a rarity for a three game set. The data presented here only goes back to 1961, however, I searched on Baseball Reference to see if St Louis had ever played a 3-game series in which they scored 8 or more runs in all three games and failed to win all three games. Baseball Reference carries game results back to 1919, and I looked at 2300+ games.

Never before had the Cardinals scored 8 or more runs in a 3-game series and not swept until the recently completed Arizona series.

I counted 36 series where they had scored 8 or more runs in 3 consecutive games on consecutive days against the same opponent through the 1926 season, when I stopped writing them down. In each instance where they lost on of the 3 games the series was at least 4 games long (and in 2 instances, 5 games).

A footnote to history, to be sure. However as a wise man once said, the great thing about baseball is you might see something today you’ve never seen before. We did not know it at the time, but during this mid-week series we all saw the Cardinals do something they had never done before.

Mike Metzger blogs about the Cardinals at Stan Musial’s Stance.

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Aviles Never Had A Chance

Six games?

That’s all Mike Aviles gets as a starter at third base? Six measly games?

Aviles, the fan favorite who has put together a couple of really nice seasons for the Royals at different positions on the infield, struggled at the plate and in the field through the opening homestand in 2011. In game 7, when the Royals traveled to Detroit for their first road trip of the year, Aviles was benched in favor of career journeyman Wilson Betemit.

Now, Aviles will probably be back as a starter, maybe even as soon as today. But to bench a guy for two consecutive games after only six is a little surprising. Let’s give this guy a chance to break out of the slump on his own.

The thing I love about Aviles is he doesn’t hold sacred any set routine when it comes to his approach at the plate. If he doesn’t like his stance, he’ll reposition his feet and take a few swings that way. If his bat doesn’t feel right, he’ll borrow one from somebody else. The other day he ditched his batting gloves and took a few at-bats George Brett style.

What this means is Aviles can tweak himself out of this slump. And I’m sure, given time, he will, and he’ll be the .299 hitter we all know and love.

As far as his defensive struggles go, those will work themselves out, too. He’s clearly not comfortable at third base. Which is fine – the position won’t be his for long anyway, since hotshot prospect Mike Moustakas is bound to be promoted to the majors by mid-season.

When that happens, Aviles will be in head-to-head competition with Chris Getz for the starting second base position. And with the way Getz is playing right now (which is to say terrifically), there’s no competition.

But who wants to bet that Getz will have better offensive stats than Aviles by the All Star Break?

I didn’t think so.

However, if Aviles stays on the bench and Getz continues to play passably…

Well, folks, we could be watching the end of Mike Aviles in a Royals uniform.

Maybe the humane thing to do would be to let him play every day until Moustakas arrives. By then, perhaps his stats will be good enough (and opposing general managers’ memories will be long enough) that the Royals can flip Aviles to a contender looking for middle infield help and a little offensive pop down the stretch.

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and associate editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey14@yahoo.com.

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