Tag Archive | "Cubs Shortstop"

St. Louis Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist having success as if he’s Yasiel Puig

Away from all of the excitement and attention directed toward Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig, the St. Louis Cardinals have a rookie who has arguably had an even better start to his career.

KevinSiegrist

Cardinals left-handed relief pitcher Kevin Siegrist appeared in his 13th career Major League Baseball game Friday against the Chicago Cubs and finally became like every other pitcher in the game, one that has allowed at least one run.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro homered off of him in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Cardinals’ lead from 3-1 to 3-2, but Siegrist recovered in typical Siegrist fashion: He struck out the next three hitters.

Siegrist, now with a 0.69 earned-run average, has been simply dominant in his brief career. He has struck out 20 hitters while walking just three and giving up three hits in 13 innings. He also became the first Cardinals player since 1900 to not allow a run in his first 12 appearances.

Viewed through the narrow lens of the 2013 season, Siegrist’s performance as a big-leaguer came at nearly the perfect time for the Cardinals. The team called the 23-year-old up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds on June 6 in exchange for Maikel Cleto, who had 2.1 horrid innings when he gave up five runs in his only appearance of the season the night before against eh Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Cardinals pitching staff was in strong need of a boost at that point in the season. Yes, the team was 18 games over .500 and had the best record in baseball, but the pitching staff was in the midst of major changes.

Right-handed starter Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 12 with elbow inflammation, and left-handed starter Jaime Garcia succumbed to shoulder inflammation the next day. Then, left-handed replacement starter John Gast went on the DL with a shoulder strain two weeks later.

In the meantime, the Cardinals called up seven rookie pitchers, including Siegrist.

By and large, those pitchers did a fine job. Left-handed starter Tyler Lyons got rocked a few times before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors, but Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Keith Butler, Michael Blazek and Michael Wacha each made positive contributions to the team.

But none more than Siegrist, who could’ve made a case he should have been an all-star if the fans had voted Puig into the game as the Final Vote winner.

The Dodgers called 22-year-old Puig up to the big leagues just five days before Siegrist, and Puig set the baseball world aflame with dramatic plays in the field and at the plate, which caused a large segment of the baseball community to say Puig should be an all-star even though he has only been in the league for six weeks.

Well, so has Siegrist. Puig has a .397 batting average with eight homeruns and 19 runs batted in during his brief career, but Siegrist has arguably played even better.

It is difficult to compare the two players because they play different parts of the game. Puig played in 37 games from June 3 through Friday while Siegrist appeared in 13, but each has surpassed even the greatest expectations for a rookie at their respective positions.

Had the National League Final Vote included middle relievers, as the American League Final Vote did, Siegrist would’ve had a strong case to be a candidate.

Nonetheless, he figures to be a vital part of the Cardinals bullpen in the second half of the season.

The Cardinals haven’t used left-handed specialist Randy Choate much at all (he’s pitched just six more innings that Siegrist although he’s been on the active roster since Opening Day), and they sent left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the minor leagues April 29 for ineffectiveness.

That decision left a gaping hole in the bullpen that Siegrist has filled as well as possible, although he has done much of his work in anonymity up to this point.

The pressure will increase when he ends up in a tight situation late in a ballgame against the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds in the pennant race, but right now he should be the Cardinals go-to reliever when they need to shut down an opponent’s rally even though he received absolutely zero consideration as a potential all-star candidate.

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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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October 15, 1964 – The Other Slide

July 30, 2011 – St. Louis 13, Chicago 5

On this Saturday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs were engaged in a rather entertaining game at Busch Stadium. The Cubs had jumped over Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse early, taking a blindingly fast 5-0 lead in the top of the first. In the bottom of that inning, the Cardinals got two of those runs back, thanks to a home run by Albert Pujols and timely hits by Matt Holliday and Skip Schumaker. Clearly, this was shaping up to be one of “those” games.

Or perhaps not, as the next four innings were played rather uneventfully. Of particular note was Lohse’s dominance as he allowed just a single base runner over the next four innings, on an error by David Freese. A complete turnaround from what looked to be a shaky outing from the veteran right hander.

The momentum of the game changed swiftly and completely in the home half of the sixth inning, and it was one aggressive play that made that happen.

With the score still 5-2 in favor of the Cubs, starter Rodrigo Lopez worked himself into a quick jam. After retiring his opposite number to start the inning, Ryan Theriot would hit a single, and Jon Jay would follow that up with a double. Given the Cardinals woes with the double play in 2011, walking Albert Pujols to load the bases seemed the wise decision, even if the next batter was Matt Holliday. Unfortunately, walking Holliday wasn’t such a good idea, and it would put an end to Lopez’s day.

Matt Holliday

Jeff Samardzija is now into the game to face David Freese, and he gets Freese to ground into an inning ending double play, or so we thought at the time. What nobody expected was a hard charging Matt Holliday, breaking up the play with an aggressive but legal near-slide into second base. Not only did it break up the double play, which would have ended the inning, it shook up Cubs shortstop Sterling Castro so much that Albert Pujols was also able to score on the play. Samaridzija and Cubs were clearly rattled, and before the final out was recorded in the inning, five additional runs had scored, giving the Cardinals a commanding 10-5 lead.

The Cardinals would go on to win the game 13-5, but that’s not the end of the story.

During the pre-game broadcast, and several times throughout the Sunday night game itself, ESPN broadcasters kept talking about Holliday’s slide and now dirty a play it was. Bobby Valentine went so far as to suggest that Holliday be hit with a pitch, making a special point of it when the Cardinals slugger came up to the plate with two outs and no runners on base.

Was it a dirty play ? Let’s take a look back at October 15, 1964 and see what they said about it back then.

Game 7 of the 1964 World Series

There is nothing like the seventh game of the World Series. Two teams have battled through 150 games or more, and just nine innings of baseball stand between the jubilation of a champtionship and the bitter disappointment of a loss.

Mel Stottlemyre

So it was with the Yankees and Cardinals on this beautiful October afternoon in St. Louis. There would be no excuses for either club, as they sent their best to do battle. Starting for the Yankees was young Mel Stottlemyre, who had turned heads in both leagues when he posted a 9-3 record in his rookie season, and a partial one at that. On the mound for the Cardinals was Bob Gibson, pitching some of the best baseball in his career. The two had met twice before with Stottlemyre earning the win in Game Two and Gibson in Game Five. Both pitchers were on the same rest, and this had the makings of being a legendary game.

And it was.

Each pitcher had escaped early trouble and were settling into a nice groove. The game was scoreless heading in to the home half of the fourth inning, where the outcome of the entire series was about to be determined.

National League Most Valuable Player, Ken Boyer, would lead things off with a single. Dick Groat would coax a walk out of Stottlemyre, putting runners at first and second base with nobody out. Defensive miscues had been haunting the Yankees throughout the series, and the next play would be one of the biggest. A tailor made double play ball looked like it might get Mel Stottlemyre out of the jam, but an errant throw by shortstop Phil Linz not only failed to retire the speedy Tim McCarver, it also allowed Ken Boyer to score the first run of the game. Mike Shannon follows that with a smart single, taking Stottlemyre’s pitch the other way. Tim McCarver was able to make take third base on the play.

This brings us to the play of the game.

Mike Shannon

With Dal Maxvill harmless waving at a Mel Stottlemyre delivery, Mike Shannon breaks off first base on something of a delayed steal. Elston Howard’s throw was well wide of the base, but a hard charging, and more barrel rolling than sliding Shannon was able to disrupt second baseman Bobby Richardson enough that Tim McCarver was able to beat his return throw home. Both runners were safe and absolutely nothing was said of Shannon’s aggressive, yet totally by the rules slide into second base. No complaints, no whines, no second guessing, because that was how the game was supposed to be played by teams that wanted to win championships. And if you were looking for a player who played the game hard, Mike Shannon was one of the best.

A Dal Maxvill single would give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead, but we are not quite through with the Moon Man.

Bob Gibson would wobble just a bit in the top of the fifth inning. A leadoff walk to Tom Tresh started a most promising rally from the Yankees. After getting Ken Boyer’s brother Clete to fly out, another walk brought the tying run up to the plate.

For a moment, it looked as it Phil Linz had delivered as he lines a rope into the right-center field gap. Out of nowhere comes a hard charging Mike Shannon, who not only makes the catch, but is able to keep himself upright long enough to get off a strong throw to Dick Groat, beating Tresh who had ventured too far off second base. That was an inning ending double play, and the end of the Yankees rally, the last they would muster in 1964.

The Cardinals would tack on three more runs in the bottom of the inning and one more later on a Ken Boyer home run. Those gave Gibson enough breathing room to survive home runs by Mickey Mantle, Phil Linz and Clete Boyer, and win the game and series.

Bob Gibson would take home MVP honors, but it might not have been that way if not for the hard play of Mike Shannon. That slide and subsequent defensive gem were the keys to taking an earlier lead, and maintaining it.

Just as Matt Holliday’s aggressive, but by the rules slide did in Saturday’s game. In fact, those are the plays that you expect from championship teams. It remains to be seen if the Cardinals are in deed worthy of that label, but for one afternoon in St. Louis, they did play a very hard, and by the rules game. And the fans really liked what they saw.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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