Tag Archive | "Contenders"

The Royals get knocked out of the Wild Card chase

It was fun while it lasted, but the Kansas City Royals playoff hopes came to an end with Wednesday night’s 6-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Once again, the Royals offense went into a slump, not scoring a run since the 12th inning of Monday night’s 6-5 win.

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The last few weeks, the Royals were one of five contenders vying for a Wild Card spot. They caught and passed the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, but they couldn’t gain ground on the Tampa Rays, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers.

But the Royals didn’t give up. After they lost last Saturday’s game against the Rangers, they bounced back the next day with Justin Maxwell’s ninth inning grand slam off of former Royal All-Star Joakim Soria, giving the Royals a 4-0 victory. Then a four hour, 12 inning win the next day against the Mariners kept the Royals slim playoff hopes alive. But Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Mariners and an Indians walk-off home run win by Jason Giambi a few hours earlier hurt their playoff chances. Then Wednesday night’s loss and wins by Cleveland, Tampa and Texas put an end to the Royals playoff hopes.

It’s disappointing the Royals didn’t make the playoffs. But for the first time in almost a generation, the Royals looked like a credible Major League Baseball team. Finishing with a record above .500 for the first time since 2003 and being in the Wild Card hunt, the Royals gave hope to a long-suffering fan base that the team has turned a corner.

But there’s room for improvement. The offense is still weak and despite having five of six winning months, May’s dismal 8-20 record put the Royals in a hole they couldn’t get out of. With last month’s seven game losing streak and their recent critical losses to the Detroit Tigers and the Indians, the Royals doomed their chances of making the playoffs. Look at it this way: if the Royals went .500 in May with a 14-14 record, they would have an 89-69 record and be tied with the Rays in the Wild Card standings.

With an 83-75 record, the Royals have four games left against the Chicago White Sox. They need to win the series and finish with their best record since 1993, when they went 84-78. Their offseason focus will be improving the offense and rebuilding their starting rotation around James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie. They also need to maintain their good defense and bullpen.

Will this happen? With the Royals, it’s hard to say. In the past they’ve shown promise and then crashed and burned. If any team can mess it up, it’s the Royals. But they’re a better team than they were a couple of years ago. They were on their way to another losing season, but after the All-Star break they turned it around and for a while they made themselves into Wild Card contenders. They bounced back from many games and situations that would have doomed them in years past. The Royals have a ways to go, but their experience playing through the highs and the lows of 2013 should help them contend in 2014.

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Bike Spokes and Shoe Boxes – Trade Deadline

This is the time of year when we find out who the contenders and pretenders are. Does your team sell for prospects for next year? Or do they buy a player with pending free agency to be a hired gun for the last part of the season? In this fan’s case, the Tigers need to pick up an experienced closing pitcher.  As the season winds down, teams make roster moves to squeak out a few more wins. Or in some cases pick up an available player so a rival does not. If nothing else, trading players is the professional version of what many of us do everyday in trading cards.

Spokes

In 1974 Topps introduced the first “Traded” cards. These cards highlighted players who switched teams throughout the season and pictured the player in the new team’s uniform. The cards were inserted in packs of both low and high series base cards. The cards had bold, block letters across the card front that read ‘TRADED.” Even though they were produced later in the year, these cards were produced in the same quantity as the regular base cards and are not considered any harder to obtain.

In 1981 Topps, and other card companies started making stand alone ‘traded’ sets. These sets varied in size, but the cards themselves could look very much like the regular base set card designs. Often the only thing to differentiate a base card from a ‘traded’ card would be a different picture and the numbering on the back. Each company had their own ‘traded’ set. There was Topps Traded, Fleer Update and Donruss “The Rookies.’ These sets not only included players who changed teams during the season, but also in-season call-ups of rookies. Companies would often race each other to produce the first card of a player who changed teams or the first true rookie card (RC) of a promising call-up.

Some of the more famous and valuable of these early traded/RC cards are of Hall of Fame quality players. 1982 Topps gave us the first RC card Cal Ripken Jr. 1984 Fleer Update is still a popular set with the first cards of Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett. This week Bike Spokes and Shoe Boxes will look at some traded and update cards.

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1985 Topps Traded Rickey Henderson. One of his first cards as a Yankee, this card is numbered 49T on the back.

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1989 Topps Traded Rickey Henderson. Headed back to the A’s, Rickey has the distinction of being the only other player in MLB history to be traded for the same player twice! He and Eric Pluck swapped spots on the Yank’s and A’s in 1985 and 1989.

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Actually an insert card from the 1994 Score Rookie/Traded set, this “Changing Places” card shows Rickey with starting his third stint with the A’s.

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1994 Topps Traded has the same design as the regular cards, just a different picture and card number on back.

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1998 Upper Deck SPx ‘Trade Winds’ sub-set card. Actually a regular base set card and one of my all-time favorite card designs shows Rickey embarking on his fourth tour of duty with the A’s.

Enjoy the thrill of the chase tracking down your favorite players who moved or your team’s new pick-ups this year with traded cards!

Until next week, keep collecting, collect for the joy of the hobby and collect for the fan in all of us.

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The Aftermath Of The First Half

Did you think the teams that are first in their division would actually be the ones there by the All-Star break? Taking a look at who is on top half way through the season, I am actually not that surprised with most of them.

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American League

The Red Sox and the Tigers lead their respective divisions. Both of these teams have proven to be strong contenders and they continually show their worth. They will need to stay focused and energized, because both are capable of getting rattled. They may find themselves having to climb uphill to get out of a mess if they obscure team unity, and lose sight of the ultimate goal.

The Yankees have been disappointing so far this summer, but they still have plenty of time to make up for it. The talent is there. They just have been hit with so many injuries that they are trying to get by with a skeleton crew wondering who is going to go down next. The Yankees have managed to not plummet to the bottom of the AL East during all of the broken bones, twisted knees, and MRIs. So, that says something about their team and the potential they have after the All-Star Break.

I am not shocked that the Blue Jays are in dead last heading into the second half of the season. The team, suddenly packed with celebrity sluggers and household names, needs to learn how to work together before they can win the division. They certainly have not met the high expectations that come with the blockbuster trade headlines over the off-season, and now they are feeling the extra pressure. The good part is they know it, and they can start sewing the seams of the club and begin to make some progress together. They have the capability, they just need to smooth out the chemistry if they want to start inching their way closer to the play-offs. But it will not be easy.

The Royals were fierce in the beginning of the season, but has since cooled off. They can get that fire back if they just find out what killed their momentum. Perhaps, they lent it to Cleveland. There has been some contagious energy going around among the Indians. The confidence and attitude of the team as a whole, is making them intimidating. They seem to be doing something right at the moment and are on the heels of the first-place Tigers. Sometimes the mid-season break can put a hiccup in a team’s performance. Maybe the players get too relaxed? Or they lose their steam? But this club seems to have an extra boost of agility that might just last the rest of the year.

In the AL West, the always powerful Rangers have found themselves in second place to the Oakland Athletics. Although, Texas is only 2 games back at the moment, the A’s seem to have an unstoppable ambition about them this year while gaining MLB and fan attention with their Home-Run Derby winner, and the way they love to walk-off games in style.

I would not have thought that the Angels would be 11 games back by the All-Star break, but I do not doubt their drive to plow down those teams that are in the way of the pennant. They have a lot of talent and should be seen as a threat in the NL West.

National League

Defending Champions, San Francisco Giants, find themselves almost to the bottom of their division with the last-place Padres close behind. Making minor adjustments and amping the club up a bit might help them out considerably. It is just a matter of finding their groove.

Arizona has had a strong first half and leads the NL West. The amount of seemingly random changes the Diamondbacks made to their roster over the off-season, apparently was a clever plan. Collectively, the Diamondbacks have been fairly consistent and have learned how to lean on each other like a team should. They have average talent with some big potential sprinkled throughout their club, but they need to keep channeling that inner animal the entire season, or they can easily be tamed.

The Dodgers have been on a roller-coaster. The consistency is not quite there yet this season, but even while having to fight for each game, they are still in a close second at the All-Star Break. They too, had significant changes to their team, but are still ironing out the wrinkles. The Dodgers are getting healthy, pulling it together, and slowly creeping up to the lead. If they stay persistent, the Diamondbacks better have their defense ready.

Pittsburgh has been fighting to keep that division lead and fell short just before the All-Star break, taking second to the Cardinals. The Pirates have a history of coming in strong and simmering down a bit after the break. If they can forget about last years second half and remain at the top of their division, they will have a chance to finally end their play-off drought. But with the ever aggressive Cardinals, and the Reds with their boxing, er uh… baseball gloves ready, the NL Central is still up for grabs.

I honestly did not think the Braves would be this effective right away. I thought they would have had a little more chaos before they gained momentum, but they are ahead by 6 games while the Nationals and the Phillies battle for second. Atlanta’s adventure this season has had some curves, but whatever they are doing, it is working. Their recent injuries might create a weakness in the club and that will give the chance for the rest of the division to plot their attacks.

And now we enter the second half, where trades and attitude can change any team’s course.

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Francoeur had his chance, Giavotella gets another chance

Last Saturday, the Royals cut ties with outfielder Jeff Francoeur, designating him for assignment. Taking his place is infielder Johnny Giavotella, who will get regular playing time at second base.

Johnny-Giavotella

Royals fans clamored for these moves, but it’s too early to tell if they will make a difference. This year, Francoeur spent most of his time on the bench and ended up with a .208/.249/.322 line with three home runs and 13 RBI. Giavotella went three for four with two RBI in his 2013 debut against the Minnesota Twins and went 0-3 with a walk against the Cleveland Indians Tuesday night.

Giavotella will get plenty of playing time at second, with Chris Getz being sent down to AAA Omaha. Giavotella still doesn’t have the defensive prowess of an Elliot Johnson (or Chris Getz for that matter), but he does have offense, something desperately needed in the Royals lineup. Giavotella didn’t make the most of his opportunities at second base the other times he was on the team, but with Getz in Omaha, Giavotella will get an opportunity to see if he belongs in the Big Leagues.

As for Francoeur, it was a move that needed to be done. He couldn’t find his hitting stroke and with David Lough and Jarrod Dyson playing well, the Royals weren’t doing themselves or Francoeur any favors. The players and the team like Francoeur and he does have leadership qualities, but he wasn’t getting it done on the field. And Francoeur would be the first to admit he wasn’t playing well enough to stay with the Royals.

These moves needed to be done, but there’s still more issues the Royals need to overcome if they hope to become contenders in the A.L. Central. Mike Moustakas is improving with a .218/.279/.326 average, but he still has a long way to go. Wade Davis is 0-3 in his last three starts and Jeremy Guthrie went 1-1 with a no decision. In those games, the Royals went 1-5. Billy Butler is still being Billy Butler, but he isn’t hitting with power, with only one home run in June. Alex Gordon had a rough June with only three extra base hits, but with his grand slam Tuesday night, he appeared to be getting on track again. That is, until Gordon left Wednesday night’s game with a concussion and a hip contusion. Let’s hope Gordon makes a quick recovery.

Given all the Royals troubles this year, they’re still hanging in there. They had a 16-11 June and were 38-42 on July 2, 5.5 games back of the Indians. But they need to do more than tread water. They need to win games and win series to get above .500 and contend.

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The Evolving Kansas City Royals: The Pitching

For several years now the Royals have had one of the better farm systems in Major League Baseball.  Most teams should be so lucky.  The Royals however haven’t been able to translate this advantage into success on the field and there would seem to be one very good reason for this.

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You can’t win the World Series with the AAA Storm Chasers.  It takes time to scout and develop major league talent.  While developing young talent can be exciting, it usually comes with long periods of growing pains while the fans wait for the team to assemble all of the necessary pieces to win consistently.  And if you’re a mid-market team like the Royals then you hope that you have enough players developed each year to keep costs down.

In a weak division, the offensive core might be enough to keep the Royals out of the basement for the foreseeable future but to be yearly contenders they are still missing something.  Pitching, pitching and maybe a little pitching.  This is where general manager Dayton Moore earned his paycheck this offseason.

Moore started his offseason by acquiring Ervin Santana (and cash) from the Angles in exchange for LHP Brandon Sisk.  The Angles are of course currently attempting to outspend every other team in baseball and thought they could do better than Santana.  Forced to exercise his buyout option, the move seems more about dumping Santana to try and buy up more expensive pitching arms than it was about picking up prospects.  Santana isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a team ace but he can definitely eat up innings and has the potential to strike out a ton of guys.  Unfortunately he also has the potential to give up a lot of runs.

Santana is coming off of a pretty bad year where he gave up a league leading 39 of said home runs as well as one of the more undesirable ERAs (5.16).  The Royals are hoping that the Santana they get is the Santana that can strike out 200 plus batters while posting a 3.49 ERA like he did in 2008 and so far so good.  In 7 starts, Santana has a 2.79 ERA.  What probably scares the Royals is that fact that almost half of his earned runs have come off of the long ball.  Still, it seems like a smart move, especially since Sisk, the minor league pitcher they gave up to acquire Santana, now needs Tommy John surgery.

Sisk, who has been a career minor league pitcher, seemed ready to come up and take on a bullpen position.  He posted a 2.54 ERA at the AAA level in 2012 but elbow surgery puts his future into question.  The Angles did place Sisk on their 40 man roster which means they still see potential, but for now the Royals seem to have come out on top of this trade.

But by far the biggest move for the Royals this offseason was the 6 man trade with Tampa Bay.  The trade sent starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City in exchange for minor leaguers Patrick Leonard, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers.

Wade Davis probably isn’t going to win over the hearts and minds of the ever patient Royals fans.  Just another arm for an under achieving starting rotation.  James Shields is another matter as he’s the closest thing to an ace the Royals have had since the departure of Zack Greinke.  He’s had a strikeouts per 9 innings rate of over 8 since 2010 and pitches deep into games.  But even if he’s everything the Royals hope he will be, he is only signed through this year with a $12 million dollar option for 2014.

The Royals gave up the 2012 minor league player of the year for what seems to be a 2 year shot at winning a weak division.  The Rays, who can’t draw a crowd and can’t ever hope to spend the kind of money that other teams in their division do have to rely on smart moves in order to compete and this is one of them.  The Royals have an incredibly deep farm system but giving up what some people consider to be baseball’s best prospect for an outside chance at a championship is risky but it does send a message.  The Royals want to win and they want to win now.  They haven’t been to the post season since they won the World Series in 1985 and they want that to change.

Early in the season they hold a winning record but their hopes of making the playoffs are probably tied to beating the Tigers.  Their offensive core will remain in Kansas City for the time being but the pitching that they have literally bet the farm for will not.  The silver lining here is that the Royals fans finally have something to be excited about, that is unless Wil Myers turns out to be an annual MVP candidate.  If that turns out to be the case, nothing short of a World Series will be worth the cost.

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Welcome To Kansas City Royals Baseball James Shields

The biggest move of the winter took center stage on Opening Day for the Kansas City Royals.  No longer a team that is rebuilding, David Glass and company took steps this off-season to become contenders.

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The top prospect in the organization was packaged away in order to get the one thing the Royals felt they needed more than anything else: a pitcher that could truly be an ace.  In addition, they got a pitcher who possesses the nickname to define his role with the club.  Welcome to 2013 Royals baseball, let us introduce “Big Game” James Shields.

Opening Day showed the fans exactly what they wanted to see.  Shields took the mound and pitched like the ace that he is.  He got in small bits of trouble, refused to be shook up about it, and fought out of the jams.  He struck out six batters without issuing a single free pass.  He battled, giving up eight hits and still managed to pitch six innings.  He showed Royals fans that he was exactly as advertised.

Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera furthered what fans already knew.  The rebuilt rotation would be supported by the strength of the team the last few years: the bullpen.  They were not perfect, but the were close enough.  Three strikeouts, one walk, and two innings later, the Royals pitching staff had put the team in a great position to win a baseball game.  With the exception of one poor pitch from their starter, the Royals were great.  All they needed was two runs to win the game.

That, on the other hand, proved to be difficult.  White Sox starter Chris Sale was Shields-like in his own right.  He scattered hits, kept guys off the bases, and stayed out of trouble.  He went deep into the game and then allowed his bullpen to close the door.  The Royals had their chances, but simply could not deliver.  Ultimately, it came down to the top of the ninth inning with the potential game-tying run sitting in scoring position at second base.  Eric Hosmer had drawn a walk and stole second, trying to ignite something to happen.

Jeff Francoeur grounded out weakly to the shortstop, unable to beat out a possible infield single and drawing the curtain on the first game of the season.

Do not fret, Royals fans, this offense will not sputter like this frequently.  If Shields continues to give up one run per outing, he will find himself winning a lot of games in Royals blue.

But for one day, at the beginning of the 2013 campaign, it sure felt a lot like deja vu.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by 
clicking here.

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The Revolving Door At Second

No aspect of the 2012 Cardinals comes with more questions than the middle infield, where one position has no clear starter and one has a veteran with something to prove. Rafael Furcal returns on a two-year contract with the Redbirds, hoping to show he can still play at the high level he displayed as recently as 2009, while the team goes into Spring Training with an open competition for the starting second-base job.

If Furcal’s performance is an unknown, at least his role is not. On the other side of the keystone, there’s a different kind of uncertainty. Three players go into camp with a shot at winning time at second base: Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso and Skip Schumaker. Any of the three could win the lion’s share of the job, or manager Mike Matheny could fashion a job-sharing arrangement among two or three of the contenders.

This is one spot where the Cardinals find themselves far from the top of the division, both offensively and defensively as it stands today.

Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney hit .276 in 2011, with a pair of homers, nine steals, 43 RBIs and 66 runs scored.  Barney secured the starting second base job in Spring Training and never looked back. A .238 batting average in the second half dampens any enthusiasm for this youngster, who hasn’t shown much power or speed.

The Reds exercised Phillips’ $12 million option on Oct. 31, but the three-time National League Gold Glove winner has long trumpeted his desire to re-sign with Cincinnati for many years.  Phillips, 30, has also been firm about his lack of willingness to accept a hometown discount to remain with the Reds.  Phillips recorded his first .300 season but the numbers weren’t all as rosy. His home run total was the lowest since 2006 and his 14 steals were the lowest since 2005. Phillips remains a quality second baseman but at age 30, it remains to be seen if he can climb back to the 20-20 level.

Astros rookie second baseman Jose Altuve hit .276 with a pair of homers, seven steals, 12 RBIs and 26 runs scored in 221 at-bats during his inaugural season.  Altuve was hitting .389 in the Minors when the Astros gave him the call to the show. The 21-year-old showed some speed and the ability to collect hits against Major League pitchers but his lack of power and elite speed will limit Altuve’s potential in the short term.

Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks finished up an injury-plagued 2011 season with 20 homers, nine steals, 49 RBIs, 77 runs scored and a .269 batting average in 453 at-bats.  Weeks launched 17 homers in the first half of the season but suffered a serious ankle injury near the end of July and registered only 83 at-bats in the second half. The 29-year-old is an attractive asset heading into 2012 because of his ability to hit for power as a second baseman.

Without a lot of fanfare, this second-year player  produced a solid 2011 with .273 with 12 homers, nine steals, 83 RBIs and 76 runs scored.  Walker has settled in as a solid, but not spectacular second base option. Don’t look for major improvements in 2012 but at age 26 he could still make small gains. A  reasonable expectation for him and a solid season cound make him one of the few second baseman to collect 90 RBIs.

Schumaker, 31, hit .283 in 117 games last season, including a .299 mark after the All-Star break. He batted .381 in the playoffs and had the game-winning RBI in the decisive fifth game of the National League Division Series against the Phillies.

By the time 2012 is said and done here is how I see things shaking out amongst the NL Central second basemen

  1. Brandon Phillips
  2. Rickie Weeks
  3. Neil Walker
  4. Darwin Barney
  5. Skip Schumaker
  6. Jose Altuve

Looking ahead:

Descalso and Greene are likely slicker fielders, but Schumaker has established himself as a solid hitter for a middle infielder. Whereas at the start of the winter it sounded as though he was being removed from the second-base picture, later indications have made it clear that Schumaker can compete for the job.

Greene and Descalso both come from other positions. Descalso has played plenty of second, but in the Major Leagues, he’s spent more time at third. Offensively, he’s a bit similar to Schumaker, a line-drive hitter with some on-base ability but not much power. Defensively, he is probably a superior second baseman. But his versatility is also an asset that Matheny may covet.

Then there’s Greene, who sometimes sounds like the favorite coming into the spring. A former first-round Draft pick and a shortstop by trade, he has tremendous tools but has yet to turn them into dependable production at the big league level. Greene’s upside is the highest of the contenders, but of the three, he has proved the least in the Majors.

One advantage for Greene is that he is a shortstop, and there’s no clear backup to Furcal. If Greene doesn’t win the starting job, he could well stick as a utility player. Descalso is also almost certain to be on the roster for his positional flexibility, defense and pinch-hitting savvy, while Schumaker will be on as a utility man if not the starter.

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Cardinals, & Squirrels & Torty’s…Oh My

What makes up a winner? Talent? Sure. Good team chemistry? Maybe. A great Manager? Overrated. No, it all comes down to the intangibles that “it” factor. You know turtles, squirrels and what not.

Okay, well maybe not entirely. The players do their part and the rest just seems to sort itself out. But if you look at the post season success of some recent World Series teams they all have one thing in common. They all seem to have a certain flair or element to them that adds to the story and sets them apart from the other contenders.

The 2002 Angels had the Rally Monkey, the 2004 Red Sox were a bunch of drunken idiots (their words not mine…okay I may have added the drunken part) and the Giants, last year’s champs, had Brian Wilson’s beard and whatever is living in there. These teams didn’t just win, they were and are remembered. Quick, without looking it up, who won the 1973 World Series?

My point exactly. I am not saying that what the 1973 Athletics accomplished was not impressive, just that it’s not the kind of story you remember and tell over and over again. Hell, even the 2006 Cardinals team is still talked about. Granted it is usually in conversation as the worst team to ever win a World Series, but they are still talked about. Take that ’73 A’s.

Let’s take a look at this year’s run by the Cardinals. Impressive, yes. But after their September comeback for the ages culminated in Houston whose name was being shouted throughout the clubhouse amidst all the champagne…you guessed it. Torty Craig. For those out of the loop, Torty is Allen Craig’s pet turtle.

Next up, and not to be out done was the Busch Squirrel. Out doing his wild kingdom counterpart by actually making multiple on-field appearances in the NLDS. To follow was twitter accounts for both, credits and mentions on SportsCenter and even a press conference. Not convinced of the impact and relevancy of @tortycraig and @buschsquirrel? Look no further than Philly for game five of the NLDS to see fans hanging fake squirrels from nooses in the stands or the nearly 40,000 followers between the both of them on Twitter.

Long known for the serious approach TLR’s teams take and the perception they don’t have a lighter side or any fun on the field this is a welcome addition. Whether or not it has anything to do with the team the players seem to have embraced it and as evidenced by their chants of “torty” upon clinching the Wild Card even seem to be enjoying the irreverence.

A manager wants and needs his players to be loose and relaxed during the playoff run. The 162 grind of the regular season takes its toll and teams that hold on too tight often seem to fall short. See this year’s Phillies and Yankees.

So here’s to you Cardinals, enjoy the ride, have some fun, go ahead and win the World Series. You’ve already started writing the story so why not finish it. Leave it up to me to explain to my daughter in 15 years my strange affection for a squirrel named Busch and a turtle named Torty much the same way my dad explained to me the importance of “The Heat is On.”

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

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

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

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So, You’re Saying There’s A Chance?!

“St. Louis Cardinals sweep Milwaukee Brewers.” It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Throw in “at Miller Park”, and if you’re a Cards fan and not smiling, check your pulse. As a Cardinals fan, and the guy who believes every February that the redbirds are legitimate contenders to win the National League Central divsion, I was pretty stoked about this series in Milwaukee that just wrapped up. Sweeping the Brewers in a 3-game set, and doing so in their house shouldn’t be a big shock, based on the way the Cards played in this series. I can only wonder where that kind of play has been all year.

But, a 3-game sweep of the division leaders does not a playoff caliber team make.

This Cardinals club has lacked “it” all season long, and nailing down while three wins in Wisconsin is nice, the reality is that it’s just too little too late. If you’ve not looked at the numbers, let me sum it up for you. If the Cards play .500 ball (go 13-12) the rest of the way, the brew crew needs to go 4-20. Let that sink in. Four wins. For the rest of the month. Derrick Goold tweeted the same thing another way last night. So, while it’s not mathematically over…Cue her.

FatLady

She's Warming Up

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like the Cardinals to go on a ridiculous run, and capture another division title. I’d also like to win a couple hundred million bucks in the Powerball drawing. A house in Milan where Jessica Alba just hangs out all day and waits for me to come visit would be nice too, while we’re at it. Ain’t gonna happen.

Not only am I tired of reading tweets about the 2006 season, I’ve been kinda tired of reading them for most of the season. I suspect that only because the level of social media interaction is elevated primarily among those born since 1970 or so, are we not hearing even MORE about the 1964 season. That’s right, folks, just like right now, the redbirds were 7 ½ games back on September 2nd. And yes, I know, one of those ten flags has 1964 on it, but that was a friggin’ miracle. In those last couple of weeks, every play that could possibly go right, did, and went the redbirds way, while at the same time, every play that could possibly go wrong for Philadelphia did, and went against the Phillies.

So, you're saying there's a chance?

The ‘64 Cardinals, who by the way had Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, Lou Brock, Curt Simmons, Bill White, Ken Boyer, Tim McCarver and others, rattled off an 8-game winning streak in the last week and a half of the season. That Cardinals team won 9 of their last 11 games (.818), including a sweep of the first place Phillies. Meanwhile, the 1964 Phillies lost 10 of their final 12 (.167) games that year, and today that “choke” is STILL what Gene Mauch is best known for, especially in the Philadelphia area.

If the 2011 Cardinals go 20-5 over their final 25 games of the season, and the Brewers go 4-20, the last four weeks of the 1964 will be pretty much mirrored. Your mind should be blown in two directions right now:

1) Ok, I see his point. College football starts tomorrow, right?
2) Wow, I knew the ‘64 team was good, but I had no idea it was such an exciting finish!
2a) I should read more Netherton.

So take your pick of long shots, and no matter how minuscule the chance, there’s always that tiny bit of hope until the math says otherwise. The rest of the month should end the Cards season, and that’s what I expect. You should too, even if you’re rooting the other way. I’m rooting for them to win, but my realistic expectation is they’ll fall short. But just like the powerball, even when the odds are long, and the expectation is to lose, you have zero chance win if you don’t play.

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Can The Cardinals Hang?

The NL Central has seen its share of weirdness throughout most of the 2011 season. The division leader has been a revolving door that the Cardinals, Reds, Brewers, and even the Pirates enjoyed a few turns through. But as the All Star Break shrinks in the rear view mirror, so does the number of contenders for what will likely be the only playoff spot to come out of this division.

Berkman

The Brewers currently occupy first place, and the Cardinals are not far behind them. These two teams play each other nine more times this year; fortunately for the Cards, six of those meetings are in St. Louis. Playing in Milwaukee this season has roughly resembled walking into a minefield, which means the Cardinals must make the most of the Brewers’ visits to Busch Stadium. Those two series will be about as “must-win” as any regular season set.

And the two teams have remarkably similar schedules the rest of the way. They actually play all the same teams in the same number of series except for one; the Cards still have to play the Atlanta Braves, and the Brewers have one more series against the Astros than the Cards do.

The similarities don’t stop there, either. The Cardinals and Brewers are pretty even in most team stats. The Cardinals have the edge in a lot of offensive categories; the Brewers have a little better pitching overall. It probably comes as no surprise that the Cardinals have ground into way more double plays than the Brewers, but the fact that the Cards only have one more blown save is a little surprising. And the two teams have committed about the same number of errors, too.

If the teams are so even, then why is Milwaukee in front now? For starters, the Brewers are hot right now and the Cardinals are playing good—but not great—baseball. In the first half of the year, the opposite was true—and the standings were flip-flopped. But with less than a third of the season left, that seems like eons ago. Now every win is important and every loss has the potential to be disastrous. Falling five or six games out of first place at this point in the year could be the death knell, even for the Cardinals and that dynamite lineup.

For the Cardinals to keep pace and make a move to overtake the Brewers in the standings, they have to do the following:

1. Get the maximum out of the rotation. This does not mean every starter has to throw eight innings or 120 pitches every night. But these four and five inning outings have to disappear. The Cards have a stronger bullpen than before the trade deadline, but they will come apart quickly if overexposed. The five starters have to pitch efficiently, something that may be a little easier with Rafael Furcal manning shortstop.
2. Finish games. It hasn’t been pretty every time out, but the bullpen has certainly been better than it was in the first half of the season. That must continue. If the Cardinals win the division, it will be in spite of the numerous blown saves and ineffectiveness of pitchers who were so bad they were dumped by the team. If they lose the division, those shortcomings will catch a lot of the initial blame.
3. Beat the Brewers at Busch. It sounds oversimplified, but considering how good the Brewers are at home the Cardinals cannot afford to lose either of the remaining series against Milwaukee in St. Louis. Those are easily the six most important games of the stretch run in 2011.
4. Dominate the three weeks around Labor Day. Pirates, Brewers, Reds, Brewers, Braves, Pirates. Those are the Cardinals’ opponents August 25-September 14. Emotions will be high and position in the standings will be on the line every night. Winning most of those games would make a huge statement. So would losing most of them.
5. End on a high note. The Cardinals’ final three series of the regular season are against the Mets, Cubs, and Astros. All three teams could be showcasing a lot of youngsters to see what they have for next year. The Cards need to take it to them, especially with the Brewers finishing with six home games.

The Cardinals will have every opportunity to win the NL Central title this year. But the Brewers show no signs of folding, and the Reds or even the Pirates could nudge their way back into relevance. Even the Cubs are riding a six game winning streak. The Cards would do well to put together something similar. In fact, this would be a good time for a couple winning streaks like that. Stranger things have happened, and 2011 has already been strange enough.

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