Tag Archive | "Divisional Series"

The Cedeno Scenario

The St. Louis Cardinals reached an agreement to bring infielder Ronny Cedeno to the club yesterday. The 29 year old will be paid just over $1.1 million on a one-year deal, with a chance to gain another $800 in performance incentives as well. On the surface, it is a depth move; a chance to add a veteran presence to a club that has multiple questions about the condition of its middle infield. However, is there more to it than that?

Ronny  Cedeno

The team’s hand was forced nearly all of last year at shortstop. Rafael Furcal played a high volume of games by his standards (his 531 plate appearances were his most since 2009) in large part due to lack of comfortable depth behind him on the roster, and in the system at large. When he was finally curbed by a back injury, then finally by the elbow injury that seemed to necessitate surgery (but he has avoided to date), the team was forced to scramble to fill his void. Both Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson were plugged into action, despite neither being considered a strong candidate for the fill-in. Jackson never really worked out, but Kozma rode a hot bat that made him a viable everyday option in September. He hit .333 in 72 at-bats, and played a serviceable shortstop.

However, the postseason brought out the inexperience in him on the highest level. His bat dipped to a .227 clip, much closer to the .232 total he managed during a full-season at Memphis. The moment admittedly also bore down on him as well, “the moment did get a bit big,” Kozma stated, when referring to the crunch of the playofss. Among those moments was a failure to act, ending up in the biggest infield fly rule debate, as well as a late game error in Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series that led to the game winning run.

Kozma’s return to Earth, when coupled with Furcal’s unknown health status, made the position a red-hot spot for debate on if the team would make a move for more security there.  General Manager John Mozeliak didn’t dispel these rumors either, stating as recently as this month at club’s Winter Warm-Up event that “We still have not ruled out any additions in the middle infield, if necessary”. Which was a sentiment apparently not understood by Kozma yet, who revealed it was a point of confidence of his that the team didn’t go outside the organization to make additions in the middle infield this winter.

That possibility became a reality just a bit over a week after he uttered that sentiment when the team added a journeyman in the style of Cedeno to the roster. It is a move that definitively ends any debate about who the top backup shortstop would be, as well as who would be the starter if Furcal is unable to go right away. With Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Ty Wigginton all presumptively on penciled into the Opening Day infield starter/bench scene, the perspective for the spring has to change for Kozma.

Most importantly, the signing put a final emphasis on the mission of the club to get make improvements where it could a year ago. While Cedeno, a career .249 hitter, will not be counted on to win games, he does give the team experience where it couldn’t find it a year ago. If anything, it reduces the risk of the cupboard being bare if Murphy’s Law does take up residence between second and third base at Busch.

It’s not the death sentence for Kozma, Jackson or even another move being made later, but it’s a clear sign that the organization isn’t leaving anything up to chance this summer.

CheapSeatsPlease

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Royals Claim Kottaras Off Waivers

GeorgeKottaras

KANSAS CITY, MO (January 25, 2013) – The Kansas City Royals today have claimed catcher George Kottaras on Outright Waivers from the Oakland Athletics.  To create room on the 40-man roster, the club designated infielder Tony Abreu for assignment.

The 29-year-old Kottaras (kuh-tar-us) has played for the Red Sox (2008-09), Brewers (2010-12) and Athletics (2012), batting .220 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI in 249 Major League contests.  The left-handed hitter posted a .351 on-base percentage while drawing a career-high 37 walks in 85 games for Milwaukee and Oakland in 2012 while helping the A’s win the American League West after being acquired on July 29.  He blasted six home runs for Oakland in just 27 games and then appeared in four games during the A’s Divisional Series vs. Detroit.  Born in Scarbourough, Ontario, Canada, Kottaras now resides in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Abreu, 28, hit .257 in 22 games for the Royals in 2012 after spending a majority of the campaign at Triple-A Omaha.

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BBA Names Arizona’s Gibson, Tampa Bay’s Maddon Top Managers

BBA Names Arizona’s Gibson, Tampa Bay’s Maddon Top Managers
Top Blogger Organization Awards Connie Mack Award For 2011

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon were named the 2011 Connie Mack Award winners today by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. The Connie Mack Award recognizes those considered the top manager for the season.

Gibson took over an Arizona team that finished last in the National League West in 2010 and led them to a divisional title in his first year on the job. Gibson’s Diamondbacks led all year long and finished a comfortable eight games ahead of defending World Champion San Francisco to move on to the postseason stage. Voting was done before the Diamondbacks lost to the Milwaukee Brewers in five games in the National League Divisional Series.

Gibson was a unanimous winner, scoring the top slot on all 21 ballots cast by the portion of the membership that voted on the National League award. Ron Roenicke, whose Brewers defeated Gibson’s squad, finished second in the balloting, while St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony La Russa finished third.

Maddon was rewarded after leading his team to the largest September rally in history, leading his Rays from nine games back in the wild card race to passing up the Boston Red Sox on the last day. As in the National League, voting did not take into account the Rays falling to the Texas Rangers in four games in the American League Divisional Series.

Maddon received the top billing on 22 of the 25 ballots cast for the American League voters, easily outpacing Detroit’s Jim Leyland and Texas Ranger manager Ron Washington. Washington garnered the three first place votes that did not go to Maddon.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay (22) 113
Jim Leyland, Detroit 48
Ron Washington, Texas (3) 37
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles of Anaheim 13
Joe Girardi, New York 9
Manny Acta, Cleveland 5
John Farrell, Toronto 1

National League
Kirk Gibson, Arizona (21) 105
Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee 39
Tony La Russa, St. Louis 16
Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia 13
Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh 7
Terry Collins, New York 5
Bruce Bochy, San Francisco 3
Freddi Gonzalez, Atlanta 1

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of this writing, the organization consists of 316 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into “chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted. The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split between the two leagues.

Chapters generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot. Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Notably, though the Alliance’s awards come out well before their official counterparts, the BBA selections have matched those of the Baseball Writers of America in all but two instances in the past two years. This, of course, does not include the Goose Gossage Award that is exclusive to the BBA.

Ballots are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated on a 5-3-1 point scale for first through third place. In the interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots. Chapter affiliation is in parenthesis. Those chapters that decided on the group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Baltimore Sports and Life (Baltimore)
Baseball Is My Boyfriend (Texas)*
Baseball North (Toronto)
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
Contract Year (Oakland)*
500 Level Fan (Toronto)
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Kings of Kauffman (Kansas City)*
Misc. Baseball (History)
Monkey With A Halo (Los Angeles of Anaheim)
Motor City Bengals (Detroit)
North Dakota Twins Fan (Minnesota)
Old English D (Detroit)
The Rays Rant (Tampa Bay)
Rise of the Rays (Tampa Bay)
Seattle Mariners Musings (Seattle)
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Twins Trivia (Minnesota)
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)

National League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Appy Astros (Houston)
Blog Red Machine (Cincinnati)
Cincinnati Reds Blog (Cincinnati)
Dugger Sports (Philadelphia)
The Eddie Kranepool Society (New York)*
The Flagrant Fan (General)
I70 Baseball (St. Louis)
Left Coast Bias (San Diego)
Misc. Baseball (History)
On The Outside Corner (St. Louis)
Padres Trail (San Diego)
Prose and Ivy (Chicago)*
Raise The Jolly Roger (Pittsburgh)
Rockies Woman (Colorado)
22 Gigantes (San Francisco)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)

Prior Winners: 2010: Ron Washington, Texas; Bud Black, San Diego
2009: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles of Anaheim; Jim Tracy, Colorado

The official website of the BBA is located at baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com. The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba. For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

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Taking A Look At The Cardinals’ Final 2 Games And The Playoff Picture

The Cardinals never said they were making this easy. They didn’t force anyone to get back on their bandwagon a couple weeks ago when it had all but emptied with the start of football season and a seemingly insurmountable deficit in the National League Wild Card race.

On September 11th, with the St. Louis Rams kicking off their season just a few blocks away at the Edward Jones Dome, only 39,710 watched on as the Cardinals closed out their series with the Braves… nearly 2,000 fewer fans than the previous Sunday (and even that was an inflated number as the Cardinals gave away thousands of tickets to military members, police officers, paramedics, and fire fighters). Still 5 ½ game back, chances of getting back in the race still looked bleak.

Interestingly enough, that was the day the Cardinals capped their one (and now certain to be only) 5-game winning streak of the season. The lead was down to 4 ½ games, and people started taking notice.

A lot of things had to go just right (including that sweep of the Braves in mid-September) to give the Cardinals a chance. Lose any of those three games, and the Cardinals would’ve been eliminated from the playoff race with Monday night’s extra-inning loss in Houston. But while things have gone just right enough to keep the Redbirds in it, the list isn’t finished yet.

First, we’ll take a look at what needs to happen over the next 3 days to get the Cardinals into post-season play, and then take a look at how the Divisional Series could play out.

TONIGHT

The Cardinals, for the first time all season, will be in jeopardy of being eliminated from the playoff race. If Atlanta beats Philadelphia tonight and St. Louis falls to Houston, it’s over. So tonight, the Cardinals need to win, no questions asked. Jake Westbrook must bring his “A” game like he did last week against the Mets (we won’t talk about how that game ended). I would also argue that Atlanta must lose tonight to keep the Cardinals’ playoff hopes alive. Philadelphia, with 100 wins and nothing to play for, will most certainly rest the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, et al during the season finale Wednesday… if for no other reason than to take one last look at some bench players who are on the post-season roster “bubble” if you will. And rumor has it that a couple of young pitchers will be sharing the workload for Philadelphia tomorrow, not Cole Hamels. So with that in mind, the Cardinals can’t rely on much help from Philadelphia after tonight. This is the night St. Louis must catch Atlanta, with Roy Oswalt going for the Phillies… and hopefully a full lineup of Philly bats to support him.

TOMORROW

The Cardinals will send Chris Carpenter to the mound. We’ve already addressed what’s likely going to happen in Atlanta… so this hopefully will be a situation where the Cardinals are tied with the Braves coming in, and while it would be nice to get lucky and take the wild card outright, let’s not get too greedy. Cardinal Nation will gladly accept a 1-game playoff at home vs. the Braves.

THURSDAY

This should be interesting. Both clubs will be throwing their respective aces on Wednesday, leaving a matchup of Kyle Lohse vs Brandon Beachy for the win-and-you’re-in game in St. Louis. Beachy has a 3.68 ERA this season, and has only faced the Cardinals once back on April 30th, a 3-2 Cardinals win in which he did not take the decision after giving up 2 runs through 7 innings. Beachy has struggled a bit down the stretch, giving up 4 runs in each of his last 3 starts while failing to pitch past the 6th inning each game. Lohse, meanwhile, did not face the Braves this season. He’d take a 3.39 ERA to the mound with him as well as a 3-game winning streak. He wasn’t taken a loss since August 23rd, right before the Cardinals went on their dramatic run for the playoffs.

FRIDAY

The Cardinals, should they get in, would catch a bit of a break here with an extra off day before the NLDS Starts.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY

Games 1 and 2 at Philadelphia. Perennial Cy-Young Candidate Roy Halladay will take the mound for the Phillies Saturday. Edwin Jackson would likely take the hill for the Cardinals on schedule, though Jaime Garcia would be available on 3-days rest (and only went 4-innings last night, mind you) if Tony La Russa wanted to push it. At this point, I’d assume he’d go with the veteran Jackson, and let Jaime take game 2 vs Cliff Lee.

TUESDAY, Oct. 4th

With another off day Monday, Chris Carpenter will be able to go on full rest vs Cole Hamels in Game 3, a matchup that most would agree favors the Cardinals. If they can find a way to steal game 1 or 2, they’d be sitting pretty.

WEDNESDAY/THURSDAY… Oct 5th and Oct 6th

If Tony wanted to push it again, he could think about Jackson/Garcia on short rest, or take his pick between Lohse and Westbrook. One of these 4 would pitch Game 4, with either Jackson or Garcia pitching Game 5 if necessary.

At that point, the Cardinals would have their rotation set up correctly should they advance to the NLCS… with Carpenter available for game 1, and either Jackson/Garcia ready for game 2. Obviously getting way ahead of ourselves, but the LCS might be a final showdown with the Milwaukee Brewers… and wouldn’t that be something.

But for now, the Cardinals have a lot of work to do (and need some help). The stars need to align tonight, or the team and fans will spend a long winter looking back at about a dozen games that got away this season if they come up 1 win short.

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The 10 Most Disappointing Cardinals Losses – The Top Five

On September 22, a rain delayed Thursday afternoon game, the Cardinals lost a heartbreaker to the New York Mets. Trailing Atlanta by just 1 1/2 games, the Cardinals were just three outs from closing that gap to just a single game, when a tired and perhaps over-used bullpen blew up, and the Mets won.

I70-baseball writer, Dathan Brooks, suggests that the loss is not the end of the season in his most recent article, If Ya Gotta Lose (And You Do), Lose That Game. We now know that the Cardinals also lost the following game to the Cubs, making it that much more difficult to win the NL Wild Card. With fans suddenly exiting the Cardinals bandwagon, I thought it might be interesting to look back at some other disappointing losses, to see if we can put that Thursday afternoon catastrophe in some sort of perspective.

The list started with ten through six in a previous post, which can be read here. With that as background, here are my top five Most Disappointing Cardinal losses.

5. October 8, 2009 – Los Angeles 3, St. Louis 2

Chris Carpenter had pitched the opening game of the 2009 National League Divisional Series on short rest, and it looked like it. The Dodgers were hitting the former Cy Young winner hard, and often. They had taken Game One, at home, but were still looking like the underdog in this series.

That was apparent when Cy Young hopeful, Adam Wainwright pitched one of the best games in his short career. 8 innings, 3 hits, 7 strikeouts and just one walk – in a must win game. A Colby Rasmus double in the seventh inning would give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. It was still 2-1 when Ryan Franklin took the mound with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Manny Ramirez would fly out to center field for the second out. One more out, and the Cardinals would leave Los Angeles with a split in the series, and all of the momentum.

Oops

That’s what we all thought would happen when James Loney lines out to left field. But Matt Holliday lost the ball in the lights, and dropped it for a two base error. Two walks, a passed ball, and two singles later, the Dodgers won the game, and the 2009 season came to an end for the Cardinals.

Oh, there was still one more game to be played, Game Three in St. Louis. That was just a formality as a truly defeated Cardinals team just went through the motions for nine innings to complete the Dodgers sweep.

It is hard to believe that there are more disappointing losses than this one, but there are.

4. October 1, 1974 – Montreal 3, St. Louis 2

This is a game that has been somewhat forgotten over the years, and it is unfortunate. The Cardinals and Pirates entered the last game of the season in a tie for first place. The winner of the division will have the monumental task of playing the Cincinnati Reds at the peak of their Big Red Machine days.

The two teams were playing their respective games at nearly the same time, so there was a huge emotional swing as we paid as much attention to the scoreboard as we did to the game we were watching.

The Cubs would take an early lead against the Pirates, as would the Cardinals in their game with the Expos. Bob Gibson was on the mound for St. Louis, and while he had struggled though injury and sore legs through most of the season, he was vintage Gibson in this game. As the clock passed through 8:15 pm in St. Louis, it seemed as if the Cardinals would win the National League east. By 8:30, that all changed on a pair of home runs, one in Pittsburgh, the other in Montreal. Pittsburgh would win the NL East by one game, and St. Louis would not return to post-season for nearly a decade.

This is perhaps an alternate ending for the fans who questioned Tony La Russa’s decision to remove Chris Carpenter from a tie game with the Cubs on night following the Thursday Afternoon Meltdown. Like Gibson, Carpenter had struggled through most of the season, but had found one more A+ game. Red Schoendienst chose not to remove Gibson, and he would end up taking the loss.

There is a huge difference between these two. Gibson’s game was a must win, Carpenter’s was just a really good one to win. That’s the difference between game 162 and 156. There is still time in 2011.

3. October 2, 1964 – New York (NL) 1, St. Louis 0

After nearly completing a miraculous comeback in 1963, the Cardinals again found themselves in a playoff race in the final series of the season. Holding a slim one game lead over the Reds and Phillies, and facing the New York Mets, still playing like an expansion team, you had to like your chances if you were a Cardinals fan.

Oh, let’s also add in that Bob Gibson, winner of 17 games so far, was on the mound for the Cardinals. Bring on the Yankees.

Not so fast. Al Jackson, the little left-hander with an awful career win/loss record had a different idea. Ed Kranepool would single home George Altman in the third inning for the Mets. It would be the only run of the game as Jackson throws a complete game shutout. The little guy that would flirt with no-hitters several times in his career, held the Cardinals to just 5 hits.

To make matters worse, Ray Sadecki would get bombed in the next game as the Mets won, 15-5. Johnny Keane was forced to use eight pitchers in the game, which left his bullpen in shambles for the final game. What looked most promising on Friday night, was now a Sunday afternoon nightmare.

When Curt Simmons struggled in the final game, Keane took a chance and went to Bob Gibson, pitching on one day rest after throwing 8 innings. It was the gutsiest performance in Cardinals history, pitching on fumes while the Cardinals bats finally woke up, giving him his 18th win.

That final weekend in 1964 was supposed to have been played without any drama.

2. October 10, 1968 – Detroit 4, St. Louis 1

Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers had an amazing season, but they were supposed to be just a speed bump on the Cardinals path to their second consecutive World Series title, the third in five years. That was apparent when Bob Gibson dominated in Games One and Four, and the Redbirds steamrolled to a 3 games to 1 lead. It didn’t matter that the Tigers had roared back to force a Game Seven, so did the Red Sox a year earlier.

For the first six innings in Game Seven, this was as good as baseball gets. Mickey Lolich and Bob Gibson are putting up zeros at an alarming rate. The turning point in the game happened in the home half of the sixth inning. Both Lou Brock and Curt Flood were picked off first base. That just didn’t happen, especially to those two. The momentum swung to the Tigers side of the diamond, and they capitalized in the top of the seventh.

Bob Gibson would quickly retire Mickey Stanley and Al Kaline to start the inning. What happens next caught the entire baseball world off guard. Nobody was concerned when Norm Cash and Willie Horton singled – this was Bob Gibson. Then the unthinkable – Jim Northrup rips a line drive into left center field. Curt Flood had been playing Northrup to pull the ball, so was shading him to right field, and somewhat shallow. Flood misread Northrup’s hit initially, and then slipped on the wet turf as he tried to correct his path to the ball. It flies well over Flood’s head and rolls all the way to the wall for a 2 run triple.

That would prove to the the game winner, as Lolich goes the distance and earns the win.

That brings us to THE most disappointing loss. Although we still argue about why the Cardinals lost this game, I doubt that there is any debate about this being the worst loss in Cardinals history.

1. October 26, 1985 – Kansas City 2, St. Louis 1

This game is remembered for Don Denkinger’s ninth inning call that, more than 25 years later, still divides a state. One half wants the other half to get past it, while the other half still have video tapes of the game buried somewhere in a closet.

What has been forgotten about this game are the performances of the two starters, Danny Cox for the Cardinals and Charlie Leibrandt for the Royals. Of the three big horses at the top of the Cardinals rotation, Cox was the guy you wanted on the mound in a must-win game. And he pitched a gem, going seven scoreless innings, striking out 8.

But Leibrandt was just as effective, as the Vince Coleman-less Cardinals just couldn’t do much against the Royals lefty.

The game was still scoreless in the eighth when pinch hitter, Brian Harper singled with two outs, driving in Terry Pendleton. That gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead with just six outs from a World Series title. Ken Dayley worked a quick bottom of the eighth inning to set up the now famous “Call”.

The Call

Todd Worrell would take over for Dayley in the ninth inning. Worrell had been called up just before the September 1 post-season eligibility deadline and had taken over as the Cardinals closer. To underscore his level of experience, he had not appeared in enough games to lose his rookie status for the following season. That’s what makes the first play in ninth inning such a tragedy.

Jorge Orta starts things off by hitting a ground ball to Jack Clark at first base. He tosses the ball to Worrell, covering first base. That’s one mistake. It is still unclear what Don Denkinger thought he saw, but he called Orta safe at first base. Then the wheels came off, and quickly.

Steve Balboni hits a pop up over in foul territory behind first base. Jack Clark gives chase, and is unable to make the catch. That’s mistake number two. Balboni takes advantage of Clark’s miscue by hitting a sharp single.

Jim Sundberg tries to help the Cardinals cause by bunting the ball back sharply to Worrell, and he is able to throw out the lead runner at third base.

Then comes the final mistake, a passed ball. If any of Denkinger’s call, Clark’s error or Darrell Porter‘s inability to block Worrell’s pitch in the dirt don’t happen, the Cardinals probably win the game. But all three did, and that set up the winning run.

With runners at second and third with just one out, Whitey Herzog has no choice but to intentionally walk Hal McCrae to load the bases. That brings Dane Iorg to the plate, and he delivers a walk-off two run single against his former club. The Royals win 2-1, and that forces a Game Seven.

Game Seven seven was a complete disaster. It was a combination of a complete Cardinals meltdown and a terrific pitching performance by Bret Saberhagen. St. Louis would be embarrassed 11-0 and the Kansas City Royals would win the only World Series in their franchise history – at least so far.

Those are my top 10. And no, the Thursday Afternoon Disaster does not make the list. Do you agree or disagree ? Please let me know in the comments section.

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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Cardinals Schedule Outlook: September

The regular season will come to a close on September 28th this year, but that does not mean the month will be easy for a club that should find themselves in contention.

The Cardinals will face off against some tough division foes and some tough teams in general in September. The team will travel to Philadelphia for a four game series that may be a Divisional Series Preview. A home stand will see six games between the Cards and the Reds and Brewers in a battle for the division title. Relief may be in site the last week of the season, but teams like the Mets, Cubs and Astros always prove to be a strong foe, despite what the records show.

September Breakdown:

Total Games: 26

Home: 15

Road: 11

Vs teams with winning records in 2010: 10

Vs teams with losing records in 2010: 16

Vs teams in the NL Central: 16

Key Series:

September 2-4 vs Cincinnati – the Reds roll into town as the defending Central Division champs and both teams will try to ensure the other is buried in the standings by the end of this one. A heated rivalry that is sure to spark interest in the months leading to Fall, the two divisional favorites will converge for their final three game set to see if one of them can claim supremacy.

September 5-7 vs Milwaukee – are the Reds not enough of a threat to you? Right as they leave town, Milwaukee will square off with the Redbirds for the final time in 2011. The most improved team in the division this off-season will look to leave their mark, and hope to have their pitching staff in tact, in this early September battle for the NL Central crown.

Key To a Hot September:

Again, the Cardinals have to win the games against the weaker opponents and prove that they are a superior team. In addition, with teams like the Reds, Brewers, and Phillies on the schedule, they also need to show their dominance of those franchises and prove that they belong in the post-season discussion.

At the end of September:

If the Cardinals have 16+ wins… they are probably doing just enough to prove that they deserve the division crown and to show they belong in the playoffs. They may need to perform just a little better than this to be considered playoff contenders, though.

If the Cardinals are above .500… they are not doing enough. This team, this late in the season, needs to put the final nail in the coffin of multiple opponents to get the job done.

If the Cardinals are below .500… the only hope is that it’s 2006 all over again and they can back their way into the playoffs. I don’t see it this season, however. The team, the competition, the division is not stacked up that way.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Three plays that defined the Cardinals 1967 season

When looking back at a short series, it is often easy to spot the turning point, when one team takes control and becomes the winner. It might be a game, an individual performance, or perhaps even a single play. In 1964, Ken Boyer’s Grand Slam in Game Four of the World Series, with the spectacular relief efforts from Roger Craig and Ron Taylor to make it hold up is one such example. Who can forget the now famous “go crazy folks” call from Jack Buck in the 1985 NLCS ? Mr. Buck recognized it as such long before the baseball had a chance to leave the field of play.

Oh, they can be quite the other thing too. Cardinals fans still lament Don Denkinger’s call near the end of Game Six of the 1985 World Series. After nearly a decade of flawless defense in center field, a Curt Flood miscue in Game Seven of the 1968 World Series gave the title to the Tigers instead of the heavily favored Cardinals. Still fresh in our memories is a fly ball at the end of Game Two of the 2009 National League Divisional Series that if caught would have given the Cardinals a win and some much needed momentum as the series moved to St. Louis. That fly ball was not caught and the Cardinals did not win, and the Redbirds would be soon be swept by the Dodgers.

Trying to apply this to a full 162 game season, the longest in any professional sport, is a nearly p0intless task. There are just two many ebbs and flows as team momentum can switch as quickly as the winds in Oklahoma. Add in injuries that often seem to come in clusters big enough to overflow the trainers office and turning points can be nearly impossible to spot, if they exist at all. When I-70 Baseball founder, Bill Ivie, suggested a few weeks ago in a Blog Talk Radio segment that historians often spend a great deal of [too much] time trying to find these moments that really aren’t there, he’s largely correct. But, and there’s always a but, reading Angela Weinhold’s latest installment in her Cardinals Through Time series brought back memories of three plays that did exactly that for the 1967 Cardinals: they defined the character of a future champion. Not the loss of Bob Gibson or Ray Washburn, it was three plays that ended three games that tell you all you need to know about that special team.

Not so Great Expectations

The April 1967 edition of Baseball Digest previews all twenty teams in both leagues and they don’t give the Cardinals much of a chance in the upcoming season. They criticize the lack of pitching depth, total absence of power and suggest that there will have to be one or two surprises if they are to contend for the National League Pennant. A ninth place (out of ten teams) finish seemed to be the consensus estimate. As we know from Angela’s article, those surprises did in fact happen in the arms of Dick Hughes (they never saw him coming, nor did we), Nelson Briles and Joe Hoerner. They also missed the effervescence and exceptional play of National League MVP, Orlando Cepeda.

May 30 – Imperfection

The schedule makers must has known something as they put together their matchups for the 1967 season. The Cardinals would come into Cincinnati on Memorial Day and play a three game series against the Reds in just two days. Yes, one was a scheduled doubleheader, something that is rarely done today.

In spite of a rather tepid prediction by the staff at Baseball Digest, the Reds were off to a quick start in the season and were currently sitting alone atop the National League. The only team challenging them seriously were the Cardinals. Much would be learned in this short three game, two day series as fans in both cities would be treated to some of the best baseball of first half.

Over 30,000 fans turned out on Memorial Day to see the Cards and Reds split their doubleheader. Bob Gibson won the opener with a heroic 11 inning performance, allowing just 6 hits and striking out 13. Mel Queen, an outfielder turned pitcher, dueled Gibson for the first nine of those innings but the Reds bullpen could not keep the Cardinals from scoring as Tim McCarver and Julian Javier would each double in the top of the 11th inning to give Gibson the 2-1 victory.

The second game would go to the Reds as they got to Cards starter Al Jackson early. The Cardinals would come back, as they would do all throughout the 1967 season, eventually tying it on a 2 run homer by Curt Flood in the seventh inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Cincinnati slugger Tony Perez would lead off with a triple. After walking the bases loaded, future Cardinal Dick Simpson would hit a fly ball to center, allowing pinch runner Chico Ruiz to score the winning run.

Two great games but the standings didn’t change one bit. The Cardinals were still 1 1/2 games behind the Reds.

Dick Hughes (1967)

This brings us to May 30, and the rubber game of the series. Rookie pitcher Dick Hughes (2-1) would face veteran Jim Maloney (3-1) in one of the most exciting games of 1967. Maloney was nearing the end of a fantastic run with the Reds. In the previous four seasons he had gone 23-7, 15-10, 20-9 and 16-8 with an ERA consistently under 3 runs per game. He was still one of the game’s best strikeout men, averaging almost a strikeout per inning. He would be facing a Cardinals pitcher that was two years his senior, but was in his rookie season. Before the end of this game, nobody called Hughes a rookie again – the greatness of Dick Hughes was about to be unleashed on the National League.

Both hurlers got off to a good start, although Maloney had a hard time finding the strike zone early. The Cardinals would get their first run on a solo home run by Bobby Tolan. Tolan was emerging as one of the most exciting young players on the Cardinals roster and would be a big part of both pennant winning seasons. In an odd piece of irony, he would soon be traded to Cincinnati and help the Big Red Machine become one of the most dominant teams in National League history.

On the other side of the diamond, Hughes was a machine, setting down Reds batters as soon as they came up to the plate. This was not your garden variety sixth starter/long reliever, not with a mid to upper 90 mile per hour fastball and a slider that might even be better than Bob Gibson’s. Hughes had retired the first 21 Red hitters, striking out 12 and allowing only 3 balls to reach the outfield. He also endured a rather long rain delay, which makes his performance even more unbelievable.

In the bottom of the eighth, Hughes would lose the perfect game and shutout as he gave up just three hits: yet another lead off triple from the bat of Tony Perez, a double by future Cardinal Vada Pinson and single to Leo Cardinas. This gave the Reds a slim 2-1 lead, with one inning to play.

This brings us to the ninth inning, and first of our three defining plays.

Orlando Cepeda would lead off the Cardinals ninth with a single to center. Tim McCarver would follow that up with a single to right, which allowed Cepeda to move to third. Cincinnati Manager, Dave Bristol, would go to his bullpen and bring in veteran Don Nottebart to face the light hitting Phil Gagliano. Like Dal Maxvill, Gagliano could barely hit his weight, but somehow seemed to come through in situations like these. The Cards’ third baseman hits the ball to Leo Cardinas at shortstop and the Reds concede the tying run to prevent a big inning as they choose to go 6-4-3 for the double play. Cepeda forgot the first rule of baseball, the home team always plays for the tie and not the win. When Tommy Helms pivots to make the throw to first base, it seemed like an eternity passes before Cepeda decides to break for the plate. A quick throw from first baseman Deron Johnson beats Cepeda to the plate and he is tagged out completing the game ending triple play. What moments earlier had looked like a pr0mising rally, perhaps to pull the Cardinals within a half game of the Reds had just turned into a devastating loss. The Cardinals were now 2 1/2 games out, and the Reds were the ones with the much needed momentum.

A lesser team might have folded at this point, but not the 1967 Cardinals. They did struggle for the next few games, falling as far back as 4 1/2 games after an embarrassing 17-1 blowout at the hands of the Houston Astros. As he would do so many times in his career, Bob Gibson played the role of stopper with a pitching performance that put the Redbirds back on the winning path.

Do It Yourself

Mike Cuellar

After the embarrassment against the Astros, the Cardinals would play some inspired baseball. A four game sweep at home against the Dodgers was just what the Cardinals needed as they embarked on a brutal roadtrip that would take them to Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Houston and finally Los Angeles. The Cardinals took 2 of 3 from both the both Pirates and Giants to start the trip. That would bring us to June 19, and the second of our three plays.

The series opener in Houston would feature two teammates, one already firmly established as star, and one working very hard at becoming one. Bob Gibson would take the ball for the Cardinals against former Redbird, Mike Cuellar. Both hurlers brought their A games, so we knew this was going to be a good one.

The Astros struck first in the home half of the third inning when Mike Cuellar practically came out of his shoes, swinging at a Gibson pitch. It would bang around the right field corner long enough for Cuellar to make it all the way to third. Former Cardinal Julio Gotay would drive in the Houston pitcher with a triple of his own, this time in the left field corner. That’s all Gibson would allow, but against Cuellar, that might be enough.

It wasn’t though as the Cardinals would take the lead in the sixth inning. The big blow was a 2 RBI single from Orlando Cepeda, scoring Dal Maxvill and Curt Flood, who had both reached base with singles.

The heart of the Astros order would get those two runs back very quickly. Jimmy “the Toy Cannon” Wynn would lead off the home half of the inning with a double. Rusty “le Grande Orange” Staub would follow that up with a 2 run homer. The Astros were back on top by the score of 3-2.

Cuellar would begin to tire in the eighth inning, and that’s when the Cardinals would retake the lead. Phil Gagliano, victimized in the earlier triple play, would pinch hit for Bob Gibson. He would coax a walk out of Cuellar. Lou Brock would follow that up with a double, easily scoring Gagliano with the tying run. Julian Javier would sacrifice Brock to third, and Curt Flood would drive Brock in with a single. The Cardinals had a 4-3 lead, if the bullpen could just hold it.

They almost did. Joe Hoerner worked a quick eighth inning, but got into trouble in the bottom of the ninth. Bob Aspromonte, who always seemed to kill the Cardinals in these situations, leads off with a double. The light hitting Bob Lillis sacrifices Aspromonte to third. Red goes to his bullpen for the hard throwing right hander, Nelson Briles. Briles strikes out Joe Morgan, but Julio Gotay drives in the tying run with a single.

Off to extra innings we go. Barry Latman was now the pitcher for the Astros. Both he and Briles had starting experience, so they were probably going to be in there for a while.

It didn’t feel like much of a rally, but in the span of about 2 minutes in the 11th inning, the Cardinals took the lead. It was just a single off the bat of Tim McCarver and a double from Roger Maris, but it was just enough to give the Cardinals a chance for a much needed win.

And now we are to the second of our key plays in 1967, and a most unusual one it was.

Jim Landis would lead off the inning with a single. Playing for the tie, Bob Aspromonte lays down a perfect bunt, moving Landis to second base with just one out. Bob Lillis follows that with what first looked like a game tying RBI single to center. There was no way that Curt Flood was going to get to the looping liner, so Landis took off running for the plate. But the ball hung up just long enough for Flood to make a remarkable shoestring catch, and without breaking stride, he ran all the way to second base to complete the game ending unassisted double play.

The Houston crowd was silenced and the Cardinals all ran to congratulate Flood on the most remarkable play. That win put the Cardinals in a first place tie with the Reds, but only for a few hours as the Giants would defeat Cincinnati, leaving the Cardinals alone atop the leader board.

Some Bad Breaks

Then tragedy would strike, first in Los Angeles, just two days later. With Ray Washburn in cruise control against Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers, a line drive off the bat of Johnny Roseboro would hit Washburn’s pitching hand, breaking his little finger. It would require surgery to repair and he would miss the next month. Just as Washburn returns from the disabled list, Bob Gibson goes down with a badly broken leg, suffered in a game on July 15 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gibson would be out for the next two months.

Any one of these would have derailed a lesser team, but not the plucky 1967 El Birdos. Youngsters stepped up, veterans provided leadership, and an emergency deal bringing Jack Lamabe over from the Mets stabilized a bullpen that might have become a liability. Instead it became one of the Cardinals greatest assets.

A Savage Play

That brings us to the third, and last of “the plays”.

The date is July 25 and this would be the middle of a three game home series against the Cubs. It is not yet August, but the fate of the National League will be settled in this series, and this game would prove to be pivotal. The Cubs had won the opener the day before, and were now tied with the Cardinals for first place. The lead that the Cardinals had taken with the Flood miracle catch in Houston was now gone.

In this game, the Cardinals would get out to a quick lead, scoring 3 runs before Chicago starter Rob Gardner could record the second out. The Cardinals would add another run later, for a 4-0 lead. The Cubs would get two of those back in the sixth inning, but Cards starter Ray Washburn would limit the damage.

Ted Savage

Before describing the final play, some background on one of the player is required. Ted Savage had been in the Cardinals farm system for several years, but had been unable to stay with the big club for any length of time. He was the Joe Mather of his era, lots of tools, but never managed to put them together. He made the team out of spring training, but would be a casualty when rosters were trimmed to their final 25 players in May. Savage refused his reassignment to Tulsa (AAA) and asked that the Cardinals trade him to a team where he might have a chance of playing. The Cubs would buy out his minor league contract and he was soon wearing blue pinstripes on the north side of Chicago.

Now, back to our game, and “the play”. In the top of the ninth, Ernie Banks would lead off with a single. Red Schoendienst would go to his bullpen and bring in the left hander, Hal Woodeshick. Woodeshick hits Ted Savage, not intentionally by any means, but it did put the tying run on base.

Red would again go to his bullpen and call for his go-to right hander, the hard throwing side armer, Ron Willis. Willis would get the first two men as Randy Hundley flied out to left and Adolfo Phillips popped out to short. Al Spangler would step to the plate. On a 3-2 count with two outs, the Cubs start their runners and Al Spangler hits a single to center. Savage was flying around the bases and was being waved home on the play. A perfect throw from Bobby Tolan to the cutoff man, Julian Javier and then a perfect relay to Tim McCarver got the speedy Savage and the Cardinals had a 4-3 win, and a one game lead in National League. One that they would not surrender for the rest of the year. A heads up play by the Reds in May put some doubt in minds of Cardinals fans. A defensive miracle in Houston gave us hope. Now, a spectacular defensive play in July put any remaining concerns aside.

The Cardinals would go on to win the third game and widen their lead en route to a 101-60 finish, 41 games over .500. Many consider this the finest team in franchise history, and I tend to agree. This was a team that did not have adversity in their vocabulary. What they had instead were World Series rings.

But Wait, There’s More

After taking two of three against the Cubs in July, and retaking the lead in the National League, the Cardinals would soon travel to Chicago and take 3 of 4, the only loss being a heart-breaker against Fergie Jenkins on August 1. By the next time the Cubs came into St. Louis, the Cardinals had managed to extend their lead to 8 1/2 games and were firmly in control of the National League. That would be the first of a three game series on August 14. Al Jackson pitched his heart out in three innings of relief, but was trailing 5-3 as the Cardinals came to bat in the ninth inning.

At this point in the season, the Redbirds were playing with so much confidence, a 2 run deficit in their last at bat didn’t seem to be much of a problem. And it wouldn’t be in this game, but not before one more exciting play involving Ted Savage. Bobby Tolan would lead off with a walk. Alex Johnson would ground out, moving Tolan to second. Lou Brock would follow that with single, scoring Tolan to make the score 5-4. One run at a time, no sense of urgency – no mistakes. Curt Flood would follow that with a single, putting the tying run on third with one out.

That brings Roger Maris to the plate, and he was exactly the person you would want batting in this situation. Maris delivers, as he did so many times in 1967. Roger smacks a single to right field. Ted Savage, who was called out on that bang-bang play to end the the game on July 25, bobbles the ball and allows Flood to score the winning run all the way from first base. The Cardinals would go on the sweep the series, building their lead to a staggering 10 1/2 games.

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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Expanding My Roster

October baseball is gearing up! The MLB postseason is scheduled to begin with the Divisional Series on October 6th. FOX and TBS are already airing playoff commercials and baseball excitement is in the air!

Or is it?

This year I am one of those baseball fans whose teams will not be in the big October dance. Back in April I was confident, planning my postseason trip. The Cardinals were projected to be playoff shoe-ins and the season was fresh and exciting. About mid-May the Cardinals fell out of first place and then leapfrogged back and forth with the Reds for division leadership during the next three months. Looking back on it now, it was mid- August when the gap became a gulley, and eventually a big dirty ditch.

Back in August the wiser, more seasoned baseball fans were already moving on emotionally, coming to terms with the death of the Cardinals’ 2010 season. Naively, I was still clinging to hope. So, in these final days I have had a lot of catching up to do.

I too am now reluctantly admitting defeat, but the process has been a slow one.

The 3 Stages of Baseball Grief: A Season Unfulfilled

Step one: Denial

I was queen of this stage for the last two months, mindlessly repeating the same clichés: The Cardinals still have a chance. Lightning could strike. The bats will get hot again. Afterall, it has happened before. It could happen again, right?!

Except sadly, this season seems to be ending in a fizzle instead of a rally.

Step two: Acceptance

During the last two weeks my misplaced hope did continue to glimmer, rising and falling as the boys showed sparks of baseball magic intermingled with the all too familiar head-scratching losses to subpar teams. But the time has finally come to be realistic and move on. Disheartening as it may be to type the words, I can now admit that my Cardinals are done.

The postseason bus will be leaving without them, and I am okay with that now – or at least that is what I am telling myself.

Step three: Expanding My Roster

So here I am at the big fork in the basepath: to wallow in the misery of the Great Cardinal Crash of 2010 or to gear up for Major League Baseball’s grand finale?

The answer to that question was predetermined back in 2006, during game 7 of the NLCS. One Cardinal moment in time forever changed my calendar. A new law was born: all future Octobers will hereafter be planned around baseball.

It was the top of the 9th inning, when Yadier Molina hit his 2-run homerun, giving the Cardinals the lead over the New York Mets and the National League pennant. That was the night that baseball’s glorious postseason drama stole my heart, and I have never looked back.

I am therefore unable to forego the tantalizing pleasures that October baseball offers. The tension, the rivalries, the sights and sounds of a stadium filled to capacity with fans, the all-or-nothing spirit from which unimaginable plays are born – this is October baseball.

Even as I sit down to write this, I have not yet chosen a postseason stepteam. I know I must, but having just moved on from Step Two, I am still cautiously exploring my options. While some baseball fans may carry their backup plan in their pocket all year, I do not. My husband keeps trying (not so subtlely) to pique my interest in the Rangers or the Twins. But beyond the loyalty-driven decision to (of course) root the Reds to an early and easy failure, I am holding out for inspiration.

As it looks now, my choices are narrowing.

NL West: San Francisco Giants or San Diego Padres

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Wild Card: Atlanta (or the NL West 2nd place team)

AL West: Texas Rangers

AL Central: Minnesota Twins

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees

AL Wild Card: *see the AL East

Next week I will again be among baseball’s faithful couch club, glued to the television as the opening pitches in the 2010 playoff games are thrown. And I can almost predict what would decide my postseason stepteam selection. You see, I have become a true sucker for happy baseball players, especially pitchers. My adopted players/teams emerge in those moments when one (usually an infielder, preferably a rookie) makes a diving/spinning/gravity-defying catch to save an inning and the pitcher’s face becomes a window into the true joy of a baseball player’s soul. Teamwork, flashy gloves, happy baseball players: the recipe for my ultimate postseason dream.

So, even though my team will be sitting this one out, I am ready. It is time to switch gears, survey the possibilities and expand my roster. October baseball is upon us!

Play Ball!

Erika Lynn writes about the St. Louis Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and at Cardinal Diamond Diaries . You can find her on Twitter at username @Erika4stlcards.

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