Tag Archive | "Contention"

Justin Maxwell’s blast helps keep Royals’ playoff hopes alive

When Justin Maxwell walked up to the plate in the 10th inning of Sunday’s game against the Rangers, anyone watching could sense that it was a big moment. Whether you were one of the thousands and Kauffman who rose to your feet or whether you were glued to the television, you could sense the enormity of the situation.

Royals Twins Baseball

The score was tied 0-0 in the tenth inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Former Royal Joakim Soria was on the mound for the Rangers. The Royals were battling for their playoff lives against a team that sat ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.

Maxwell worked deep in the count before squaring up a fastball, sending a no-doubter over the fence in left field. After making contact, Maxwell threw both hands in the air, sensing how big the hit he just delivered really was.

For Royals fans who haven’t had much to cheer about over recent years, this was a signature moment in a season that has surprised even the most die-hard fans.

The 4-0 victory gave the Royals a series win against the struggling Rangers. Texas, who once seemed a lock for the postseason now sits 1.5 games behind the Indians, who now hold on to the second Wild Card spot.

It should be an exciting last week, as five teams are still in contention. The Royals are now 3.5 games back, the Yankees 4 games back and the Orioles 4.5 games back.

The Royals have three games in Seattle against the Mariners and close with four games in Chicago against the White Sox. The Royals have their work cut out for them, because they have to pass two teams and hold off the two teams that are nipping at their heels.

Kansas City turns to prized prospect Yordano Ventura, who will start on Monday against the Mariners in one of the biggest games of the year. It is only the second career start for the flame-throwing right-hander.

The Royals need to win nearly every game to make up their 3.5 game deficit and emerge from the five-team clutter.

Every game is important, and as Maxwell showed on Sunday, any moment can become an iconic moment as the Royals attempt to make the postseason for the first time since 1985.

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Royals Add Infield Insurance

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

Emilio Bonifacio

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How to be an Educated All Star Voter and a Loyal Hometown Fan (Part 2)




In part one, I analyzed First Base and Second Base to figure out how egregious it would be to vote for the Cardinal or Royal player at that position over the current leader in votes. This time I analyze Shortstop and Third Base. It breaks my heart that Moustakas is so far out of contention, both by votes and statistically. I didn’t expect him to be Miggy, but it’s becoming sad how hard the adjustments to the big leagues are coming for him. Saying all that, I still have some faith in him.

Freese is also struggling at third. His slugging is so low and is slowly going from a St Louis hero to the player they groan about when the fans see him in the lineup.


Royals: Alcides Escobar .247/.273/.333. WAR: 0.7

Escobar is great on the bases and of course on defense. So his paltry offensive numbers are masked some in his overall performance. I also think his offense isn’t quite as bad as is being indicated this year. Last year his obs was .333 (though his wOBA was a less impressive .265). Regardless, he is better than his numbers show so far.

AL Leader: JJ Hardy – .267/.307/.461. WAR: 2.0

Hardy’s offensive numbers are kind of pathetic to be in the lead. His defense is saving him. But I still don’t understand why he is in the lead, as I don’t imagine the average voter to be overly savvy about defensive stats. His 13 homeruns are, I guess, what makes the Sportscenter highlights (they must forget to mention he only has 14 doubles and zero triples), but it still seems weird he’s in the lead. Peralta is probably the player who deserves it the most.

If you vote for Escobar: MILDLY UNACCEPTABLE. With Hardy in the lead, everything seems out of whack. I don’t get it. So since the leader is a player with an obs barely over .300, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if Royals fans want to vote for Escobar instead.

Cardinals: Pete Kozma – .253/.302/.320. WAR: 0.9

Kozma’s pretty bad. And I can’t mention him without mentioning that I don’t understand why The Cardinals won’t just start Jackson instead. But, regardless, he is our horse in this race. And since there is another player named Tulowitzki in this conversation, everything I’m about to type seems so futile.

NL Leader: Troy Tulowitzki – .347/.413/.635 (!) WAR: 3.9

This guy is good.


Yet he is in 4th place somehow. Good for him.


Royals: Mike Moustakas – .183/.246/.279. WAR: -0.4

I’m not going to shock anyone by telling them that Moustakas has been underachieving badly this year. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other AL third basemen as he’s fighting for the job just on the Royals alone. I don’t know if he will ever be what was expected of him, but he will definitely be better than this someday.

AL Leader – Miguel Cabrera – .358/.451/.638. WAR: 4.3

Remember how I said you can defend voting for Perez by voting saying you didn’t vote for Getz? Well if for some unknown reason you did vote for Getz, you can try to defend that by saying “At least I didn’t vote for Moustakas!” It’s impossible to analyze this, as Cabrera is infinitely better this year than Moustakas and all of the rest of the league.


Look, if for some reason you did decide to vote for Moustakas, you could try to defend it by saying he’s just struggling but has a bright future in front of him and he needs to be in the spotlight. You can maybe say Cabrera is getting luckier with a high BABIP of .381, while Moustakas is getting extremely unlucky with a BABIP of .194.

Cardinals: David Freese – .290/.362/.403. WAR: 0.5

Freese is struggling, even though his OBP is pretty high. His fielding has been detrimental. But he still has name recognition for doing what he did on the national scene 2 years ago. That will help him, but shouldn’t be a real reason you should vote for him.

NL Leader – David Wright – .300/.384/.502. WAR: 3.6

Mix Freese’s sub par season with Wright’s consistently stellar season, and you have your answer. I just hope Wright can win this over whatever is going on in San Francisco that allows them to get so many votes for Panda. Last year Sandoval undeservingly beat Wright (and then ironically had the biggest hit in the game). But this year, with the game being played in Queens, it just has to be Wright.

If you vote for Freese? DON’T DO IT, JUST VOTE FOR WRIGHT. IF YOU CARE ABOUT BASEBALL, HE DESERVES TO REPRESENT THE NL. Seriously, remember being a kid and watching the All Star game? Remember how excited you were to see your favorite player play? Now imagine the kids of NYC going to see Sandoval start. Undeservingly. Just tell yourself Freese is having an off year. Because he is. Vote for Wright

Next up: Catcher and Outfield.

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Oscar Mercado: A Regression in Drafting Philosophy?


The philosophy for the Cardinals while drafting under Jeff Luhnow was always “best player available”. Don’t worry necessarily about specific needs or who is already filling what position on the big league club, but rather create a good problem by having too many players for a certain position. That has created situations where The Cards have both Allen Craig and Matt Adams ready to be big league starters at first. And the idea that it’ll all work itself out was exemplified with the transition of Matt Carpenter to second base, where his fielding has been adequate (enough) and allowed that impressive bat to hit lead-off.

But the philosophy of drafting for need may have permeated itself back into the Cardinals since the departure of Luhnow. I want to focus on the Cardinals 2nd round pick (57th overall), Oscar Mercado. The Cardinals chose Mercado, possibly with pressure to fill the need they have at SS with underachieving Pete Kozma filling the role now and uncertain Ryan Jackson in the minors. Mercado, who was ranked relatively high by Baseball America, was selected over other players who they even ranked higher (and from some analysts and scouts, they believe Baseball America ranked him too high.) Higher ranked players available at the time of Mercado being drafted included RHP Bobby Wahl, RHP Alex Balog and LHP Hunter Green.

Every report on Mercado states he provides basically no offense at all. The 2nd round seems to be awfully high to select a player solely on defense. He is stated as being able to possibly develop a “solid swing” that could lead to high-average, though minorleagueball.com states he COULD, with added strength, have a slash line up .280/.330/.400. But that is implied to be a ceiling for Mercado.

What else is troubling is the contention Mercado is highly overrated at defense. Scouting reports will comment on his skill at defense, including a recent  Post-Dispatch article which quotes from the scouting report at BA claiming him to be a “smooth, fluid defender whose glove will give him a chance to survive as a pro while his bat develops and strength catches up.” But his abilities has been questioned by other writers and scouts who have seen him in person, including Keith Law, who wrote:

Shortstop Oscar Mercado from Gaither HS in Tampa was similarly disappointing when I saw him over the weekend, playing a low-energy game on Saturday that featured two throwing errors to first on routine ground balls and a sloppy uppercut swing that helped him work his way out of hitters’ counts in two of his trips to the plate.

Mercado’s reputation in this draft is that he’s one of the only shortstops who is a lock to stay there, but he didn’t show the hands or the arm for that on Saturday and he certainly didn’t show the effort level, even in pregame warm-ups. He looked better last summer, but another scout who’s seen Mercado this spring said what I saw was representative of his showing so far this spring.” 

2nd Round picks do not always transfer to good major league players, in fact they rarely do. Looking at the Card’s 2nd round picks during the 2000s, with the exception of Dan Haren, who was an all-star pitcher, most of the others never made it up or just had a cup of coffee in the majors. But I fear the draft of a shortstop who is only optimistically projected to have an OPS barely over .700 due to absolutely no slugging, is a predetermined destiny to begin with. And when you add possible holes at defense, which is his strength, it may all signal to a regressive philosophy of drafting on needs and desperation in spite of talent.

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Cardinals/Pirates: Three Things To Walk With


The Cardinals, returning back home after completing their first sweep of the season, experienced another set of firsts this weekend, of the less positive variety. After taking the opening game of the series and reaching a season-high five game winning streak, they dropped the final two games of weekend series versus the Pittsburgh Pirates and in the course also surrendered their lead atop the NL Central.


The team will now move into a second consecutive series with a divisional rival that is coming to town a game behind them, in the Cincinnati Reds. But before the Cardinal rebound effort comes to the forefront, here’s a look back at three points to take from the series that was:


1. Picking their spot: The Pirates showed a flare for the big moment in pulling out the series win, which a suddenly anemic Cardinal offense (three runs over the last 18 innings) could not match. Of the 14 runs scored to win the series, they hit five home runs (four of which were solo shots on Sunday) including three from Russell Martin. For the series, the Pittsburgh catcher hit .461 and drove in five runs, with four extra base hits.

Overall, they managed to hang around long enough to win, and for the second time in a week’s time, won a crucial series over their prime contention in the Central so far this year. And did so with Andrew McCutchen both slumping and out of the lineup on Sunday, and second baseman Neil Walker out of the series completely with a lacerated hand.

2. Late Inning Woes Continue: While the Cardinal bullpen received some encouraging news regarding the potential improving situation regarding Jason Motte, in the mean time it continued to struggle to find outs without damage weaved in-between. In 7.1 series innings, the pen surrendered 10 earned runs, with Mitchell Boggs on the hook for three and Marc Rzepczynski another three in two appearances totaling 2/3rds of an inning. Joe Kelly was credited with the four decisive runs in Saturday’s loss, but a Trevor Rosenthal bases loaded walk to Andrew McCutchen is what pulled Pitt ahead for good. The ninth inning is currently looking good, and potentially looking better, but there’s no sign of an upturn ahead of it in sight as of yet.

3.  Miller’s Maturation: Shelby Miller’s streak of 14 scoreless innings in Busch came to an end on Sunday. He didn’t pitch badly, striking out seven over 5.2 innings and allowing three runs. However, he did give up seven hits, including two home runs. Part of Miller’s success this season has been his ability to work at a quick pace, control the zone, limit walks and win with his fastball with regularity. However, as he sees teams repeatedly, he’ll have to start making the adjustments to overcome them. The Pirates waited him out in many situations to get a fastball they could hit, and they did so with success. These are the scenarios that will call for his off-speed repertoire to develop, so that good fastball hitting teams such as Pittsburgh aren’t able to linger for him pitch to their favor.

The season high seven hits he allowed, coupled with the three walks he surrendered (which is the sum of his previous three starts combined), put him in his toughest spot of the season, and produced his second shortest start. However, he has also pitched in rough situations in his two starts versus Pittsburgh this season as well; the Cardinals have been shut out in both of his starts, limited to just three hits in both contests.


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With Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals have chance to win in playoffs

When St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter surprisingly returned to the mound Friday to make his first meaningful pitches since Game 7 of last year’s World Series, the Cardinals chances to win playoff games jumped substantially – if they get there.

With #29 healthy, the Cardinals could throw a rotation of Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse in the playoffs. On paper, that is a better rotation than the Cardinals had even last year when they won the World Series.

Carpenter is coming off of surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome that people expected to prevent him from pitching at all this season. But Carpenter threw five innings and gave up two runs on five hits Friday against the Chicago Cubs before the Cardinals blew the lead and lost 5-4 in 11 innings. But if that’s how Carpenter throws the first time out, he could be back to a strong seven innings by the time the playoffs begin.

Since Carpenter is returning from injury, the Cardinals might use him third in the rotation, but that could be a bonus. The team could throw Wainwright or Lohse in any combination of the Wild Card game Oct. 5 against the Atlanta Braves and then the start of the Division Series. Those two pitchers have a combined record of 28-16 with a 3.37 ERA, and Lohse is in Cy Young award contention with his 15-3 record and 2.71 ERA.

All of a sudden the Cardinals could match-up well against teams they might face in the Division Series. The problem is games such as Friday in Chicago when the team can’t score enough runs and can’t protect leads when it has them.

The Cardinals are 20-26 in one-run games this season, and much of that record has come from the bullpen’s inability to hold a lead, as it failed to do again Friday.

That has perhaps been the most frustrating part of the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. The starting pitching has been superb for the most part and has kept the team in most every game this season. There have been very few games when the Cardinals got crushed because the starting pitcher was terrible. However, the team has not been able to lock down games at the end, and while the bullpen deserves plenty of blame, the rest of the team isn’t helping.

For example, the Cardinals left the bases loaded in the second inning after scoring one run in Saturday’s 5-4 10-inning win over the Cubs. They also left men on first and third in the sixth and eighth innings without scoring a run. In total, they left 13 runners on base.

That lack of the big hit to take control of a game has been a problem all season. Even though the Cardinals ended April with a 14-8 record, they could have had a much better month.

“We could have had an epic month, and it turned out to be a decent month,” Lance Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “With the potential that this team has, this is a nice month but it’s certainly not our best.”

Unfortunately, that potential never showed up. The Cardinals are still stumbling each time they start to get on a roll. This is the point in the season when opportunities can no longer be wasted because one mistake could allow the Milwaukee Brewers to jump in and steal the second wild-card spot.

But if the Cardinals do make the playoffs, optimism and dreams of another World Series will return when people look at a starting rotation with Carpenter, Wainwright and Lohse. Hopefully the rest of the team can keep up.

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Next two weeks could determine St. Louis Cardinals fate

The St. Louis Cardinals have spent seemingly endless weeks playing inconsistent baseball that keeps the team from moving out of its third-place slot in the National League Central Division. The next two weeks will likely decide whether or not that is where they finish the season.

Following their weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and a day off Monday, the Cardinals embark on a 13-game stretch against four teams, three of which have winning records.

The Cardinals will get a three-game home series against the Houston Astros as an opportunity to build some collateral before they head out on a three-city road trip to play the Cincinnati Reds, Pirates and Washington Nationals.

The Reds and Pirates are the Cardinals two competitors for the NL Central this season, and the Reds might have the division title already locked up. They led the Pirates by 7.5 games and the Cardinals by 8.5 heading into play Sunday.

That means the Pirates and Cardinals are likely left to battle for the second wild-card spot behind the Atlanta Braves. The Pirates held a one-game lead over the Cardinals heading into play Sunday.

The Cardinals have a relatively easy September schedule. After the series in Washington, the Cardinals play just two series against teams with a winning record. They head to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers for four games Sept. 13-16 and finish the season with a homestand against the Nationals and Reds.

All of that means the Cardinals could finish the season strong, but the next two weeks will likely determine whether or not they are within shouting distance for those wins against bad teams to matter.

The Cardinals have struggled against good teams this season. They had a 25-26 against teams currently with a winning record heading into play Sunday. They will have to play at least .500 against the Reds, Pirates and Nationals in the next two weeks to remain in strong wild-card contention, and they will have to do a lot better if they still want a shot at the NL Central title.

Unfortunately, this team currently doesn’t show any signs that it will go on a sustained winning streak anytime soon. The Cardinals can play wonderful baseball for two nights, as they did Tuesday and Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but then they look like a team that doesn’t know how to win the next two nights, losing 2-1 to the Diamondbacks and Pirates.

That inconsistency is going to have to stop at some point. Even if the Pirates fade in September, the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are both good teams and could easily take the second wild-card spot.

Overall, the Cardinals starting pitching has been superb. They now have four pitchers with more than 11 wins, including Adam Wainwright with 11, Lance Lynn with 13, and Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook with 12.

But, as has been the case the entire season, the bullpen to be better and the offense has to be more consistent. Jason Motte was the latest to implode. He has been a reliable closer this year, but he single-handedly gave away Thursday’s game against the Diamondbacks by allowing back-to-back solo homeruns in the ninth. He also nearly lost Saturday’s game against the Pirates, who had the tying run on third base when the Cardinals got the final out.

The Cardinals’ offense has the highest batting average, .274, of any National League team, but they still go through stretches when they can’t score more than one or two runs in consecutive games. Even though the Cardinals won 5-4 Saturday against the Pirates, they still left eight men on base. That isn’t going to work against the good teams up next on the schedule.

Every part of the team is going to have to be consistently productive in the next two weeks if the Cardinals want a chance to have an exciting rather than excruciating final month of the season.

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If The Royals Become Buyers…

Currently, the Kansas City Royals sit at 29-35 and 5 games out of 1st place in the American League Central. If they can continue streaking, could they actually become buyers at the trade deadline?

Royals fans are all too used to the same story at the trade deadline every year. Let’s see what assets we have that other contending teams might want and see if we can turn those into anything useful for the future. Is it possible, that with the way the Royals have played since ending their 12 game losing streak in April, that they could actually become buyers at the deadline this year? One can only hope. And barring any injuries to position players, the primary need will be Starting Pitching. So as we sit about 6 weeks away from the trade deadline, let’s examine what starting pitchers might be available for the Royals to pursue.

Cole Hamels (Phillies)-The Philadelphia Phillies are currently 9 games out of first place in the National League East. Hamels is a free agent after this season, and all signs point to the Phils not being able to re-sign him. Assuming they don’t agree to an extension before the deadline, and that the Phillies don’t right the ship, you can bet they will be listening to offers.

Zack Greinke (Brewers)-Same situation as above. Milwaukee is 8.5 games out of first place, Greinke is a free agent, and the chances of the Brewers re-signing him are very slim. If they don’t right their own ship, they will be looking to trade him for a similar package of prospects that they traded away to get him from the Royals.

Shaun Marcum (Brewers)-Again, if the Brewers aren’t in contention, they will be looking to move Marcum, who is also a free agent at the end of 2012 and a Kansas City native as well.

Brandon McCarthy (Athletics)-McCarthy is having another very solid season, and will be a free agent after this season. And the Oakland Athletics are going nowhere in 2012, so it would be shocking to see him finish the season in an A’s uniform.

Francisco Liriano (Twins)-While it is not likely the Minnesota Twins would be willing to trade Liriano to a division rival like the Royals, he is also the guy on this list that would command the least in return. There is no denying his ability, so he would be worth a gamble for the Royals or another team in need of starting pitching for the stretch run.

Wandy Rodriguez (Astros)-The Astros are trying to rebuild, and though Rodriguez is signed through 2013, they don’t figure to be contending until after that. So he will likely be made available at this year’s deadline. The left-hander would be a solid addition to the Royals staff not only this year, but next year as well if they could land him.

Ryan Dempster (Cubs)-Dempster has pitched very well this season, but the Chicago Cubs are the worst team in baseball and Dempster will be a free agent after the 2012 season. It is highly unlikely the rebuilding Cubs would be willing to invest in a multi-year deal with the 35 year-old Dempster, so he is bound to be made available.

Matt Garza (Cubs)-Garza will be arbitration-eligible after this season, and a free agent after the 2013 season. Like the Astros, the Cubs don’t figure to be competitive until long after 2013, so they might as well move him while he has value.

So as you can see, there should be no shortage of capable starting pitchers available at the deadline. And the Royals have no shortage of desirable prospects to deal away. It would sure be nice to have the shoe on the other foot for a change.

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To Buy or Not To Buy?

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is still a couple of months away, but the St. Louis Cardinals have to be contemplating the direction this 2012 season will take. And the way things have gone so far, it may not be an easy decision.

It is fair to say there is no way the Cardinals will be sellers, even with the absurd rash of injuries they have endured. A team that sells is a team that has no hope to make it to the postseason and a few expensive, desirable players that are nearing the end of a contract. This does not describe the Cards in any way. While they may have a handful of big contracts due to come off the books at the end of this season, it does not appear like they are contracts the team would be able to move without eating significant money and obtaining an upgrade at the same time. Plus, the Cardinals are still in second place in a weak division—far from out of it.

The Chicago Cubs are already 10 games out of first and are well under .500 after a lengthy losing streak last week. But they’re in full rebuild mode, and everyone knows it. They are sellers. The same goes for the San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins. These teams need to shed payroll, build prospects, and plan for contention years down the road. The Cardinals are still good enough to win now, and are positioned to win in the near future as well.

So will the Cards be buyers at the deadline? That’s where the tough call comes in. They do have needs: bullpen depth, starting pitching that can eat innings, veteran bench help, stability at second base and center field. But they have a problem: many of those holes can be filled by guys they already have on their roster; unfortunately those guys are currently on the disabled list.

This isn’t a newsflash to anyone who has been paying attention. The Cards’ DL looks like their active roster, and their active roster looks like their Triple A roster.

And therein lies the problem: Do the Cardinals stand pat and bet on injured players not only returning to the lineup but also returning to form and contributing to a team committed to winning now? Or do they try to acquire talent (at the expense of prospects, mind you) to keep the team up in the near-term, and deal with extra players if and when they have to? Let’s not forget the calendar just flipped to June. There’s no way this team has seen the last of the injury bug. If Matt Holliday or Rafael Furcal or Yadier Molina goes down, this team is screwed…with a capital F.

Things were a lot different last year. When dealing with ineffectiveness—such as the Cards did with Ryan Franklin, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, et al.—and knowing they had depth, moving guys like Colby Rasmus to acquire the role players needed for success was easier. But the Cardinals are short on depth right now. The depth is in the starting lineup. And the minor leagues are nearly tapped, at least of guys who are close enough to ready for the big leagues. Who could they possibly move at this point?

Players will be available come July but the Cards must be sensible in their dealings. The injuries this year have been of epic proportions. Maybe karma has come to collect after an otherworldly 2011. Or maybe this is just a test, like 10.5 games out in late August was. Hope the Cardinals studied this year as well as they did then.

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Spring stats: starters scuffle in the desert

2011 saw the Royals’ top hitting prospects take a step forward, while many of their pitching prospects took a step sideways, down or out.

Spring training saw a similar result, as many of the position players the Royals are banking on flourished, while pitching remained the big question mark.

As of Friday, the games count. But the results from spring training are worth some analysis as the Royals head north with high aspirations.

The Royals’ opening day starter, Bruce Chen, probably deserves a pass this spring. He’s been through this countless times, and he wasn’t pitching to win a spot in the rotation. He was doing what he needs to do to be ready for the season.

Courtesy of Minda Haas

That said, Chen was not good in Arizona. He surrendered 37 hits in 22 innings, including an alarming six homers. Opponents batted .378 against him, and his ERA was an unsightly 9.41.

Another lock to start, Luke Hochevar hopes to put his roller-coaster highs and lows behind him. He was very solid in spring, surrendering just a 2.84 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Best of all, he allowed just one homer in 19 innings pitched.

The stud of the spring was undoubtedly Luis Mendoza. I predicted back in late February that Mendoza could provide the surprise boost the Royals pitching staff needs. The 28-year-old righty got credit for four wins in the spring. Opponents could barely scratch out a hit against him – 11 in 16 innings. His ERA was just 0.54 and his WHIP was 0.84.

If Mendoza was the stud of the spring, then Mike Montgomery was the dud. While KC had a list of about 8 guys who were seriously in contention for rotation slots, the door would certainly have been held open for the 22-year-old Montgomery. But Montgomery flubbed the opportunity and manager Ned Yost was noticeably disappointed in the big lefty. I wrote last week about why Montgomery might be headed in the wrong direction (link).

Not far behind Montgomery was second-year candidate Danny Duffy. The Royals stood by Duffy during his painful learning experience in year one. But this spring, he looked no less lost than in 2011. He struggled his way to an 8.31 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP.

Duffy was terrible, and his main competition, Felipe Paulino, was equally bad. Paulino will start the season rehabbing an injury, most likely in Omaha, and he’ll have to earn a return to KC after posting a 7.71 spring ERA.

Horrifyingly, Duffy and Paulino were not the worst pitchers in Surprise (aside from Chen). That honor goes to Jonathan Sanchez, who got bombed this spring after coming over from San Francisco, supposedly to give the Royals an “ace.”

Sanchez gave up 17 hits and 13 runs in just 11.1 innings. His 2.03 WHIP led all Royals with more than 10 innings pitched. He was even worse in the exhibition game in San Diego, where he allowed two home runs in just two innings.

Last year’s All Star rep Aaron Crow made the switch to the rotation, made one start, then switched back after Joakim Soria blew out his arm. Crow was solid, allowing opponents to bat just .238 in the split role. He looks comfortable back in the bullpen and will look to put to rest fears that he was a half-season wonder.

Crow’s fellow closers, Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland were equally solid in Arizona. Likely bullpen mates Tim Collins, Louis Coleman were ok as well.

Two other pleasant revelations were relievers Kelvin Herrera and Jose Mijares. Herrera has been lights-out at every level, and he was no less dominant in Surprise. He struck out 15 hitters in 13 innings, and his ERA was just 1.38. He gave up just five walks and no homers. I expected him to start the season in Omaha, but the Royals found they just couldn’t leave him behind.

Mijares also will start the year in KC after posting a 0.82 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in Arizona. He struck out just six in 11 innings, but hopefully will continue to lock down left-handed hitters in the big leagues.

One guy KC appeared ready to give up on made a solid case for himself in Arizona – Sean O’Sullivan. The big righty allowed opponents to bat just .268 against him, and his WHIP was a an impressive 1.13. He’ll start the season in Omaha, but hopefully will prove a reliable insurance plan as both a starter and reliever if needed in KC.

The relievers performed about as well as expected in Arizona. Crow shifted to the pen when Soria was lost, and Herrera and Mijares should make the bullpen collection dynamite.

But the rotation candidates, other than Hochevar, performed worse than was imaginable. Were it not for the incredible work by Mendoza, the spring would be a complete failure for the starters.

Only time will tell if Mendoza is as good, and Sanchez is as bad, as the numbers from Surprise would say they are.

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