Tag Archive | "First Appearance"

Jake Westbrook start a nice gesture, but not worth losing home-field advantage

The St. Louis Cardinals have starting pitcher Jake Westbrook to thank for helping them win the National League Central Division this season and make the playoffs in each of the last three years, but an attempt to recognize him for those contributions could cost them dearly in October.

jake westbrook I70

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced before Saturday’s game that Westbrook would start the final game of the season Sunday because the organization wanted to honor him for his Cardinals career, which is likely about to end.

Westbrook was the first of several Cardinals starters to go on the disabled list this season when he went down with elbow inflammation May 12. He was 2-1 at the time of the injury and had given up four runs total in his first five stars before a May 8 loss when he gave up four runs in 5.1 innings in his last start before the injury.

He returned to the rotation June 14 and won five of his next eight starts, but his performance dropped precipitously in August when he gave up 24 runs in four starts, and then the Cardinals put him back on the disabled list, citing back soreness.

Westbrook came back from that injury Sept. 6 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowed three runs in 1.1 innings and has not pitched since.

Still, Matheny plans to use him to start Sunday with the best record in the National League on the line instead of Joe Kelly, who will be the first pitcher used in relief.

Westbrook might pitch well in his first appearance in nearly a month and the Cardinals will cruise to a win over the lowly Cubs, but Matheny is taking a large risk with an important achievement left to get.

In the best-case scenario, the Cardinals will enter play Sunday with a  one-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage in the National League Championship Series if they make it that far.

But the Braves would get home-field advantage if the teams finish with identical records because they own the tiebreaker since they beat the Cardinals in four of their seven games during the regular season.

The location of those games was a significant factor in those games. The Braves swept a three-game series from the Cardinals in late July at Turner Field in Atlanta, but the Cardinals won three of four games against the Braves about a month later at Busch Stadium.

Plus, both teams have played exceptionally well at home compared to their performance in away games. The Braves were 31 games above the .500 mark heading into their final two home games against the Philadelphia Phillies but had just a 40-41 away record. The Cardinals were 25 games over .500 at home heading into play Saturday compared to five games above .500 on the road.

Based on their overall records and head-to-head games, home-field advantage would figure to be vital in a matchup between the Braves and Cardinals in a seven-game series.

The Braves will send rookie Julio Teheran, with his 13-8 record and 3.09 earned-run average, to the mound Sunday to try to clinch home-field advantage.

The Cardinals will rely on a veteran with a 7-8 record and 4.67 ERA who has not pitched in nearly a month.

A lot still has to happen for the Braves and Cardinals to meet with a trip to the World Series on the line, but one of the keys to that potential series could be decided Sunday simply because the Cardinals want to honor one of their pitchers.

It’s a courteous move, but the game is too important to leave open the possibility of a loss because it could lead to a much bigger loss a couple of weeks later.

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Fernando Salas could be St. Louis Cardinals most important reliever in late-July

St. Louis Cardinals right-handed reliever Fernando Salas returned to the team Friday to start the second half of the regular season after a 56-day stint on the disabled list.  The results of his first outing weren’t pretty but the Cardinals need Salas to pitch well possibly more than any pitcher in their bullpen.

salas, molina I70

Salas allowed a run on two hits and a walk in the eighth inning Friday in a 9-6 win over the San Diego Padres in his first appearance since he went on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation May 22 after the Cardinals finished a three-game series against the Padres in San Diego.

Up to that point, Salas had plenty of less-than-stellar performances. He took a 3.86 earned-run average to the disabled list with him, and that was his lowest ERA of the season. He allowed runs in three of his first four outings but then settled down to become positive part of the bullpen.

He needs to pitch to that form to help the Cardinals in the second half of the season, but he could also be a valuable trade chip if he pitches well in the next two weeks.

The Cardinals had the best record in the Major League Baseball at 58-36 heading into play Saturday but still have room to make some improvements. They could use another starter or a shortstop, but any team on the other end of the deal is almost certainly going to ask the Cardinals to part with one of their dominant, young pitchers.

Whether it’s Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Blazek, Michael Wacha or Keith Butler, the Cardinals have an incredible stockpile of pitching talent in their organization that could keep the team competitive for years to come, or the Cardinals could use it for short-term gains that could be the difference in a run toward the 2013 World Series championship.

The Cardinals would likely have to part with at least one of those afore-mentioned pitchers to complete a trade for a top-tier player such as Philadelphia Phillies left-handed starter Cliff Lee or Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera, but Salas might provide enough value to lessen the load of young pitchers the Cardinals would have to give up in a trade.

Although Salas has been a valuable part of the Cardinals bullpen for the past three seasons, he does not have the potential of nearly all of the Cardinals rookies who could be the core of one of baseball’s best pitching staffs since the Phillies loaded their rotation with Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

And the Cardinals group would have youth on their side. None of the six rookie pitchers are older than 24 years old. Right-handed starter Shelby Miller is just 22 years old, but he and 23-year-old right-handed reliever Trevor Rosenthal have made so much of a positive impact already the Cardinals would be very unlikely to make either available in a trade.

Salas is 28 years old and hasn’t ever shown the dominant stuff many of his younger teammates bring into a game on a regular basis, but he has been a solid reliever for the Cardinals throughout his career and even saved 24 games in the 2011 season that ended with a World Series title.

But it was Jason Motte who closed out games in the World Series, the postseason and much of the final month of the season when the Cardinals made their remarkable comeback from 10.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves for the wild-card spot with about six weeks to play.

What was true then is true now. Salas pitches well more often than not, but the Cardinals have more talented pitchers around him. And that makes him expendable.

The big question is if any team would find Salas to be a quality piece to a trade. He almost certainly isn’t valuable enough to warrant a one-for-one trade. The Cardinals would probably have to add him into a trade with one of the other young pitchers.

Whether or not they decide to make that type of move will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the next 10 days.

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David Freese Cracks Top Ten Right Now

Fans of MLB Network know that they have been subjecting players to “The Shredder” for statistical analysis to determine the top ten players at each position right now.

In an episode of the show, hosted by Brian Kenny, that will air Friday night, i70baseball has learned from an MLB Network executive that St. Louis Cardinal David Freese will indeed be featured as one of the top 10 thirdbaseman in baseball.

Photo Courtesy of/Copyright Erika Lynn

Photo Courtesy of/Copyright Erika Lynn

The “Top Ten Right Now” series is enjoying it’s third incarnation and will feature a Cardinal third baseman for the first time when Freese’s name is revealed.  Sabermetric Godfather Bill James and former Oriole second baseman Bill Ripken will be on hand with Kenny to help analyze The Shredder’s results and provide their own lists for comparison.

Bill James:
“The only thing you like about him really is the bat. He [has] a terrific bat, quick bat, hits the ball hard [to] straightaway center. He’s not a defensive wonder, he’s not a base stealer, but he does hit.”

Freese has garnered some attention since his now famous heroics in the 2011 Post Season.  However, it was 2012 that helped solidify that Freese could be seen as a consistent contributor to the Cardinals roster.   A player that has battled injuries for most of his career, Freese was able to take the field for 144 games last season and show solid production while he was at it.

Bill Ripken:
“When King Albert left and went out to Los Angeles to play with the Angels, here’s one of the guys that picked up the slack.”

He would reach career highs in almost every offensive category, posting a .293/.372/.467 “slash line” while hitting 20 home runs and driving in 79.  He was a spark plug at times for the 2012 team and added much needed depth in the lower part of the lineup.  He would achie his first appearance in the midsummer classic after being voted in as the final roster spot by fans on the heels of a very successful social media campaign for the position.

Brian Kenny:
“Freese has established himself now as a solid contributor to the Cardinals.”

“He’s a player who isn’t great at any one thing, but is above average everywhere and that makes you an excellent player.”

“Last year, [he had] 20 homers, .293 batting average, 57 walks. Just enough power, average and plate selection to add up to sixth in OPS among qualifying third basemen last year.”

Freese’s future looks bright for the team and the team is currently in negotiations with the home town hero to avoid arbitration and possibly secure him to a long term deal.

The show will air at 8pm Central Time on MLB Network, Friday February 8th.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame votes should frame Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds debate

The result of this year’s Hall of Fame election, in which no payers were elected, is already controversial enough, but the number of votes for some players who appeared on the ballot for the first time is what could set the stage for vehement arguments for years to come.

MarkMcGwire

Known steroid users Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds graced the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year, and each received slightly more than one-third of the vote. That’s fine. Two-thirds of the Baseball Writers Association of America voting members said they don’t think steroid users should be in the Hall of Fame, at least not yet.

The “not yet” part is what could get really messy in future years.

Mark McGwire, who was one of the first steroid-era players to reach the Hall of Fame ballot, received about one-quarter of the votes in his first year of eligibility, and his percentage of votes has steadily decreased each year. This time he received 16.9 percent of the vote.

Similarly, Rafael Palmeiro, who has more than 3,000 hits and 500 homeruns but tested positive for steroids, received just 8.8 percent of the vote. He received 11 percent in his first appearance on the ballot three years ago.

In one sense, the relatively high number of votes Clemens and Bonds received could mean attitudes have softened toward steroid users in part because time continues to distance the sport from the height of the steroid years.

It’s human nature for old wounds to begin to heal. Someone who gets punched in the face will want to punch the other person back immediately at the time of the altercation, but it takes a heck of a lot of effort to hold a grudge that burns just as hot many years later.

However, if Clemens and Bonds receive more votes in future years because voters start to think steroid players should be elected, players such as McGwire, Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa should also see their vote totals rise. Otherwise, Clemens and Bonds simply got lucky to retire years after other players took the brunt of the punishment for using steroids.

Some people try to use the logic that Clemens and Bonds were great before they started using steroids. That’s a possibility, but none of us know when these players started using steroids.

Yet even with that sort of reasoning, McGwire set the rookie record for homeruns in a single season with 49 homeruns in 1987. Surely he was already considered a special player at that point.

The greatness-before-steroids argument shouldn’t even matter. We don’t know when players began using steroids, and we never will. But, if Clemens and Bonds start to receive more Hall of Fame votes in upcoming years, so should McGwire, Palmeiro and Sosa.

This problem even extends to current players. People talk about Alex Rodriguez as a future Hall of Famer even though he’s admitted he used steroids. He’s done the exact same things the 1990s steroid guys did, so why should his chance at being elected to the Hall of Fame be any better than the rest?

There’s no easy answer to any of the current Hall of Fame debates. Given the voters relative inconsistencies, the cruelest part might be that the generation of baseball fans who watched and attended games in the steroid era might never know what to think of the greatest players of their time.

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Royals Invite 16 To Major League Camp

ROYALS INVITE 16 TO MAJOR LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING

KANSAS CITY, MO (January 25, 2012) — The Kansas City Royals announced today that the club has invited 16 players to Major League Spring Training in Surprise, Ariz.  The Royals have invited seven pitchers, three catchers, three infielders and three outfielders.

Pitchers (7):

Francisley Bueno, 30, made 15 starts last season for Monterrey in the Mexican Summer League.  Born in Havana, Cuba, the left-hander now resides in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and was signed by Kansas City as a minor league free agent on November 17, 2011.

23-year-old left-handed pitcher Chris Dwyer will participate in his second Major League spring training.  The Royals fourth round pick in 2009 out of Clemson University was 8-10 with a 5.60 ERA in 27 starts for Northwest Arkansas (AA) in 2011, finishing third in the Texas League with 126 strikeouts.

Tommy Hottovy, 30, will make his first appearance in Major League spring training for his hometown Royals after inking a minor league deal on November 18, 2011.  Born and raised in Kansas City and a graduate of Park Hill South High School and Wichita State University, the left-hander received his first big league call with the Red Sox in 2011, making eight relief appearances.

29-year-old right-hander Zach Miner makes his second straight appearance in Royals Major League camp, although he did not pitch last spring due to rehab from Tommy John surgery.  Signed as a minor league free agent on January 3, 2011, Miner was 25-20 with a 4.24 ERA in 157 games (35 starts) for the Tigers from 2006-2009.

Recently rated as the top prospect in the Royals organization by Baseball AmericaMike Montgomery, 22, will make his second consecutive appearance in Major League spring training.  Montgomery was 5-11 with a 5.32 ERA in 28 games (27 starts) with Omaha last season.  The 6-foot-4 left-hander was the Royals supplemental first round selection (36th overall) in 2008.

21-year-old right-hander Jake Odorizzi joins Royals Major League camp for the first time in his second season in the organization.  Odorizzi was acquired with shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitcher Jeremy Jeffress from the Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Zack Greinke and infielder Yuniesky Betancourt on December 19, 2010.  Born and raised in Illinois, he made 27 combined starts during the 2011 season between Wilmington (A Advanced) and Northwest Arkansas, and was named the Wilmington Pitcher of the Year.

Will Smith, 22, will join Major League spring training for the third straight year, the second with the Royals after the club acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels along with pitcher Sean O’Sullivan for infielder Alberto Callaspo on July 22, 2010.  Smith, the 2011 Northwest Arkansas Pitcher of the Year, led the Texas League with 13 wins and 161.1 innings pitched.

Catchers (3):

Cody Clark, 30, enters his sixth season in the Royals organization after playing in 2011 with Omaha (AAA).  The resident of Conway, Ark., signed with Kansas City as a minor league free agent on October 26, 2006.

27-year-old Max Ramirez joins the Kansas City system after signing as a minor league free agent on December 14, 2011.  The resident of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, has appeared in the Majors with the Texas Rangers in 2008 and 2010.

Julio Rodriguez, 22, was acquired by the Royals with left-handed pitcher Antonio Cruz from the Detroit Tigers for infielder Wilson Betemit on July 20, 2011.  The Hato Mayor, Dominican Republic resident was a minor league All-Star in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and named the Dominican Tigers Player of the Year in 2008.

Infielders (3):

Tony Abreu, 27, is a switch-hitting infielder who has batted .251 in 146 career Major League games with the Dodgers (2007, 2009) and Diamondbacks (2010).  The Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic resident signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent on December 1, 2011.

28-year-old switch-hitter Irving Falu batted .301 in 111 games for Omaha (AAA) last season. The Carolina, Puerto Rico resident was selected by the Royals in the 21st round in 2003.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 30, signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent on January 18, 2012.  The six-year Major League veteran from Evergreen, Colo., is a career .255 hitter with 137 doubles, 85 home runs and 261 RBI in 672 games for the Indians (2006), Padres (2007-09), A’s (2010-11) and Rockies (2011).

Outfielders (3):

Greg Golson, 26, joins the Kansas City organization as a minor league free agent, signing on December 13, 2011.  A native of Austin, Texas, Golson has seen time in the Majors with the Phillies (2008), Rangers (2009) and Yankees (2010-11).

22-year-old outfielder Wil Myers will be a part of Major League spring training for the first time in his career.  The converted catcher and Royals third-round pick in 2009 followed up his 2011 season at Northwest Arkansas with a tremendous campaign in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .360 while finishing in the top three in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.

Paulo Orlando, 26, was invited to his first big league camp.  The right-handed hitting outfielder played at both Omaha and Northwest Arkansas in 2011.  Acquired by Kansas City from the Chicago White Sox on August 9, 2008 in exchange for pitcher Horacio Ramirez, Orlando is attempting to become the first player born in Brazil to make it to the Major Leagues.

Pitchers and catchers will report to Surprise on Monday, February 20.  Workouts for pitchers begin the following afternoon, Tuesday, February 21.  The remainder of the squad will report on Friday, February 24 and begin workouts for the 2012 campaign on Saturday afternoon, February 25.

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A Look Back: 1982 – Game Five

The year 1982 marked the first of three 1980′s appearances in the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals. It also marks the one and only time that the Milwaukee Brewers reached the World Series.

With the two teams, now in the same league, prepared to face off for the National League Pennant, i70baseball brings you a look back to that series in 1982. A monumental series that took all seven games to decide a winner. A series that would see would see both teams win a game by a double digit margin as well as each team winning a game by two or fewer runs.

You can read more about Game One by clicking here.
You can read more about Game Two by clicking here.
You can read more about Game Three by clicking here.
You can read more about Game Four by clicking here.

The Series had been tied as of the night before, but it appeared that the Brewers had all the momentum. A six run seventh inning gave the game four victory to the Brewers as they headed into the Sunday night game at County Stadium, looking to take a three games to two lead. The Cardinals, still the heavy favorites to win it all, would look to reestablish a lead in the quest for their ninth World Championship.

Game Five: October 17, 1982
The night would be of historic value, even if the two teams were not aware of it at the time. While 1982 was the Milwaukee Brewers first appearance at the Fall Classic, it was not the first that Milwaukee’s County Stadium would see. The stadium had hosted series while being home to the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and 1958 against the New York Yankees. On this night, the ball yard would host it’s final World Series game. In addition, Robin Yount, who had four hits in game one, would record four hits on this night as well, becomming the first player in history to record two, four hit games in a single World Series.

The Cardinals would send lanky hurler Bob Forsch to the mound to try to regain the upper hand. Forsch had a solid season, going 15-9 with a 3.48 earned run average. He threw six complete games, including two shut outs, and an impressive 233 innings. The Cardinals depended on him to anchor the rotation, and hopes were high with him on the mound, despite him being the pitcher of record in the 10-0 blowout loss in game one.

The Brewers countered with their game one winner, Mike Caldwell, a seventeen game winner on the season. A similar pitcher to Forsch, Caldwell had the same level of confidence from fans and teammates. The game was lined out to be a classic, and it would not take long to get things going.

It may very well have been the defense that set the tone for this game and it happened in the first inning. After Lonnie Smith would lead off the game with a base hit and promptly steal second base, he would be gunned down trying to steal third by Brewers catcher Ted Simmons with Keith Hernandez at the plate. Hernandez would stroke a single in that at bat, but the run had already been erased.

It was not just good defense that set the tone, however. After Forsch retired Paul Molitor on a flyball, Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper would each single. Forsch would then have Yount picked off of second base, but he threw the ball away and into centerfield. Both runners would advance and Yount would score on Ted Simmons ground out to first base. The score after the first was 1-0 in favor of the Brewers.

Cardinal leftfielder David Green would stroke a two-out triple in the top of the third, scoring on Keith Hernandez’s double in the following at bat and suddenly the score was tied. Milwaukee would not let it stay that way, however, as they would make Forsch pay for walking Paul Molitor with one out in their half of the third. A Robin Yount double would put runners at second and third and Milwaukee would score their second run the same way they scored their first, on a groundout to first base. The third inning came to a close with Milwaukee up 2-1.

Milwaukee would add on in the fifth inning when Cecil Cooper would lead off the frame with a two base hit down the left field line and moved to third on the efficient groundout to the right side by Jim Gantner. Molitor’s single would follow and drive in the run, and the Cardinals uphill battle would increase. The first five innings were complete and the Brewers were now up 3-1.

The seventh inning would continue the theme of the night. The Cardinals, utilizing a leadoff walk to Ozzie Smith, would plate a run in the top of the frame on a George Hendrick base hit to center and close the gap a little. However, the Brewers would once again answer quickly, this time off a solo home run into right field by Robin Yount. The seventh had come to a close, and the Brewers still led, now 4-2.

Bruce Sutter would take the mound in the bottom of the eighth and the Brewers would build a bit of a cushion. Sutter would surrender a one out single to Ben Oglivie and a two out walk to Dan Money, setting up the bottom of the order to do some damage. Charlie Moore, hitting eighth, would drive a single to right field, scoring Oglivie. Ninth place hitter Jim Gantner would follow with a single of his own to score Money and the Brewers would head to the ninth winning by a score of 6-2.

Caldwell would take the hill in the ninth, looking for the complete game and get himself into some trouble early on. A one out double to Green would lead to a run scored as Hernandez would make it back-to-back doubles. George Hendrick would follow with a single to center field, chasing Hernandez home and Caldwell from the game. Brewers closer Bob McClure would enter the game and surrender a single to catcher Darrel Porter. After McGee would strike out swinging for the second out, Whitey Herzog would enter Mike Ramsey to pinch run for Porter and send Gene Tenace to the plate to pinch hit for Kent Oberkfel for the second straight night. Tenace would not strike out like the night before, but his harmless fly ball to center field would bring and end to the game.

The teams would be set to return to St. Louis for the final two games of the World Series. The Brewers would simply need to take one of those games to claim the franchise’s first title. The Cardinals would need a sweep to extend their lead as the top franchise in the National League.

The next day was an off day for travel and we will bring you the game six recap on the same night of game six in the 2011 NLCS between the two teams.

Stay tuned as i70baseball brings you game recaps for all seven games of the 1982 World Series on game days of the 2011 National League Championship Series.

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.

Posted in Cardinals, Classic, I-70 Baseball ExclusivesComments (0)

Royals’ September Call-ups Audition For 2012

The 2011 campaign is now officially in the books, but for the Royals, the season was finished by mid-summer. Early season auditions for Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur turned by mid-season to development projects for Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy and Mike Moustakas. And then late season tryouts were held for Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez.

The only thing left on the calendar: September call-ups – when rosters were expanded from 25 to 40.

From September 1st to the end of the season, any player that is on a team’s 40-man roster is eligible to play in a major league game. Minor league playoff races kept the Royals from bringing some players up at the very start of September. But then the Royals weren’t exactly anxious to get their regulars off the field, anyway. September games allowed several of the day-to-day Royals a little more time to blossom.

In late September, Cabrera reached 200 hits, Hosmer made a run at Rookie of the Year, and Perez and Moustakas got extended action to prove they belong. So, the Royals’ September call-ups really only saw significant action the final week of the season.

The Royals’ farm system is still pretty well stocked with talent. But there weren’t many of those top prospects eligible for this September call up. So the team spent the week checking out a few players who could play minor roles in its future. The appearance of two players was worthy of note, however. One minor-league all-star got his long-overdue chance in the Royals’ outfield, and the team’s top relief prospect completed the astonishing climb from the A-ball level to the big leagues.

No one expected when the Royals dealt Zack Greinke to the Brewers that Lorenzo Cain wouldn’t make his first appearance in KC until September. Cain was a key piece in the deal, and it was presumed that he would be the Royals’ starting centerfielder. Even with Melky Cabrera signed as a free agent, it looked like only a matter of time before Cain patrolled center. After all, it was Melky Cabrera we were talking about. But who would have expected Cabrera to post 201 hits? The Royals just kept riding out Cabrera’s success, and the season elapsed with Cain doing all that could be asked for in Omaha. The Royals will have to do something with Cain next year, whether it’s carry him as a fourth outfielder, give him a crack at centerfield full time, or trade him. So for Cain, the last week of September wasn’t so much an audition as a sneak peak to 2012. Cain played six games, in two of which he recorded two hits. His totals for September – 6 for 22 with a double, and an RBI.

While Cain’s arrival in KC was long overdue, Kelvin Herrera’s appearance couldn’t have been much more unexpected. After all, going into 2011, he had pitched in a mere 34 professional games, and none above low A-ball, but Herrera was all but unhittable this season. At just 21, he was unflappable too, pitching at each level like a savvy veteran. That is, until he took the mound in KC. Suddenly he looked like the fresh pup that he is. First pitch? Plunk. Then a few moments later, game winning homer. Herrera’s nightmarish first inning probably means nothing, but it certainly was painful to watch.

Herrera bounced back from that disaster to put up his typical line in his other appearance – one inning, no hits, no walks. Absent only were his customary strikeouts, but he’s likely to record plenty of those before he’s done.

If any of the other September call-ups play a role in KC in 2012, it will likely be a minor one. We’ve seen most of them before, and what they bring to the table amounts to very little.

Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro – like gas and flame, Sully and Maz proved to be a combustible combination in the second to last game of the season. In his one September start, O’Sullivan dutifully loaded the bases. And Mazzaro predictably unloaded them with his first pitch. September was no more dreadful than the rest of 2011 for O’Sullivan and Mazzaro, and Royals fans can only hope this is the last time they are seen in KC.

Luis Mendoza – his age and his track record could cause his appearance in KC this September to be overlooked. But unlike O’Sullivan and Mazzaro, Mendoza quietly made himself a candidate for the team’s rotation for next season. After winning the Royals’ minor league pitcher of the year award, Mendoza pitched flawlessly in two starts in KC. Mendoza shut down playoff-bound Detroit for seven innings, allowing just one earned run. Then he went a bit further, holding the White Sox to one run in 7.2 innings. Altogether, he scored two wins with a 1.23 ERA. With that showing, Mendoza has to figure in the running for a spot in the 2012 rotation.

Jerrod Dyson – his role will probably always be as a pinch runner and outfield fill-in. Cain may squeeze him out in 2012. Dyson went 4 for 15 with 3 RBI’s in September.

Yamaico Navarro – he may well play a key role in KC’s fortunes in 2012, as the team needs a versatile sub. Navarro can play second, short, third and the outfield, so his chances of making the team next year are good. Navarro played in just four games in September, recording 4 singles in 16 at bats.

Jesse Chavez – predictably gave up a ton of runs in just 6.2 innings in September. The only way he should be in KC next season is if the team needs a batting practice pitcher.

Manny Pina – filled in when needed in August, but Perez has doomed Pina’s future in KC. Pina didn’t appear in September.

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Crow Matches Record Of His Mentor

When Aaron Crow got blasted last Saturday, giving up three straight hits, including a home run, it ended a string of thirteen appearances without surrendering a run.

That run of success to kick off his major league career left Crow tied for the Royals record of consecutive scoreless appearances to start a career. He tied a team rookie record held by another current Royal.

No, it was not Joakim Soria. And you know it was not Luke Hochevar or Kyle Davies.

It was none other than pitching coach Bob McClure, who began his playing career with KC back in 1975.

As a coach, McClure has done a fine job coaxing positive results out of his young bullpen this season. He’s made a star out of Soria. And he probably deserves some credit for Zack Greinke’s Cy Young Award.

But he’s not exactly worked wonders with Hochever and Davies.

You win some, you lose some. Nobody’s perfect.

But as a rookie pitcher, McClure was flawless.

McClure came up at the end of 1975, making his first appearance out of the bullpen on Aug. 13. In that game he pitched an inning of scoreless relief. He would be unscored upon for the next 11 outings.

In his final performance that season, on Sept. 23, McClure relieved an ailing Doug Bird in the second inning. McClure pitched the next six frames, surrendering just one hit and striking out eight. He earned the first win of his career that night.

McClure ended the season having finished four games and notched one save. In 15.1 innings, he gave up just four hits. He walked 14, but somehow managed to prevent any runners from reaching the plate.

He would record one more scoreless outing in 1976. The record of 13 straight appearances without surrendering a run still stands, shared now by his pupil, Crow.

McClure would surrender four earned runs in the four innings he spread out over eight appearances on the big league level in 1976. McClure spent most of that season at Double-A, trying to re-establish himself as a starter.

Following the 1976 season, the Royals dealt Jamie Quirk, Jim Wohlford and a player to be named later to Milwaukee for Darrell Porter and Jim Colborn. During spring training of 1977, McClure was named as that player to be shipped to the Brewers.

McClure spent the next 17 seasons honing his skills and developing a wealth of knowledge that he now shares with his Kansas City protégés.

In the highlight of his career, McClure served as an integral cog on the Milwaukee team that went to the World Series in 1982. Converted to a starter that season, went 12-7 with a 4.22 ERA. His performance out of the bullpen in the series with St. Louis was significant, if not ultimately successful. He posted two saves, but also was saddled with two losses in relief.

McClure finished a solid, if not spectacular, career in 1993. In 19 seasons, he suited up for seven different teams and finished with a 68-57 record and a 3.81 ERA. He pitched in 698 games, nearly all in relief, and he recorded 52 saves.

McClure would seem to be able to relate to nearly every pitcher on his staff. He experienced being a rookie reliever thrown into a pennant chase, and he experienced starting, working in long relief, and closing games. He struggled with control. And he survived the demise of his natural talents to prolong his career as a crafty veteran. And he pitched on the biggest stage – the 1982 World Series.

I bet McClure enjoyed seeing his exploits as a young rookie be relived this year. He can tell the young kids on his staff “Yeah, that was me. I did that.”

Let’s hope McClure can work magic with the young talent he will see matriculate to his club over the next few seasons. Let’s hope he can help several youngsters like Crow to forge successful major league careers and lead the Royals back to a World Series of their own.

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Two Big Bats

Two big bats landed in the NL central this December. One, Lance Berkman, returns to the division and will don a once rival St. Louis Cardinal’s jersey. The other, Carlos Pena, makes his first appearance in the National League and joins a different Cardinal rival, the Chicago Cubs.

Each of the players received more money by accepting one-year deals with their respective clubs. Pena signed for 1 year at $10M and Berkman signed on for 1 year at $8M. With the Cards-Cubs rivalry and the similarity in the contracts let’s take a look at each addition and see the value they may bring to their teams as they battle for the same division crown.

Carlos Pena, 32, once a top ten draft pick, struggled to find his way early in his career. With stops in Texas, Detroit, Boston, and other places, Pena finally made his mark in Tampa with the Rays. In 2007, at age 29, Pena had his career year belting 46 home runs and driving in 121, all while batting .282. From 2007-2009 Pena was one of the more valuable first basemen in the league. Last year, Pena plummeted in production squeaking out a mere .196 AVG. His power was still evident in his 28 home runs, but even with that his ISO (SLG-AVG) dipped from .310 down to .211. Pena did suffer from a little more bad luck on balls hit into play (.222 BABIP) and from hitting more ground balls in general (1.11 GB/FB). Some of that should rebound this next season as he moves to a more hitter-friendly field- according to StatCorner, Tropicana Field depresses HR production by 11 percent compared to a neutral park, while Wrigley increases it by 19 percent. Offensively, Pena should be able to rebound. While his peak performance days are most likely behind him, he could near his career line .241/.351/.490.

Lance Berkman, enjoyed a consistent career as a Houston Astro. Since 1999, Houston’s mainstay, produced at a clip of .296/.409/.545. From 2000 to 2009, he hit 20+ home runs while playing both the outfield and first base. As a Cardinal, Berkman will be patrolling the outfield, either left or right, but also has some experience in center. However, he has not played outfield since 2007. The good news is that Cardinal’s outfielders face fewer fly balls than most teams as they are fueled by a ground ball pitching staff. In any regard, the front office still sees enough left in the 34 year-old’s tank to march him out to the outfield for 2011.

Like Pena, Berkman is coming off a down season. His .248/14/58 line was his career worst since becoming a regular. Some of that production decline came because of Berkman missing the first two weeks of the season after knee surgery; some of it also comes from the switch hitter’s inability to hit verses lefty pitching. From 2008 to 2010, his average while batting right against lefty pitching has slid from .277, to .230, to. 171. As a switch hitter, Berkman will probably face lefties less as LaRussa will find ways to move his bat down in the order against a left-handed starter or pinch hit for him against a left handed pitcher late. Along, with the natural production decline that comes with age and eliminating some left-handed pitching match-ups, Berkman should be able to rest some where just shy of his 2009 line of .274, .399, .509.

When one compares the two, Pena fills a big hole for the Cubs at first base and carries more offensive weight on his shoulders, as Chicago will be counting on his production to supplant Derrek Lee. Pena still has good plate discipline and is excellent at taking the walk. His defense at first is not as good as the three-time gold-glove winner Lee but Pena did garner a gold glove of his own in 2008. At $2M more per year, with the greater need the Cubs had, the difference in salary might be a bit more justifiable for the Cubs.

At $2M less a year and a track record that has screamed nothing but consistent production, the Cardinals have to be happy with what they have received in Berkman. As the third big bat in the line-up (depending on what Rasmus can produce) he should be able to “earn” what the Cardinals will pay him.

With the Cubs needs, and what they were willing to pay, one wonders why they did not make a run at Berkman. Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, or even an attempt to bring back D. Lee would have also made some sense. However, when you run down the list of sizeable long term contracts in Chicago (Soriano, Zambrano, Ramirez), the long-term deal may have been exactly what the team was looking to stay away from, especially in a declining player. Perhaps the organization will slide Ramirez over to first as the break in prospect Josh Vitters at the hot corner in 2012.

Obviously, the proverbial proof will be in the pudding. If both aging sluggers remain healthy and produce they will no doubt have an impact on the division race and in perhaps a big at-bat or two in the timeless Cards/Cubs rivalry.

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Royals Farm Report

PLAYER PROFILE

John Lamb

Starting pitcher

Northwest Arkansas Naturals

20 years old

Bats: left

Throws: left

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 195

Drafted by Royals in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB Draft

The hottest pitcher in the Royals organization this year just earned a promotion to Northwest Arkansas, a reward for his early-season success in Single-A.

Twenty-year-old John Lamb, an eighth-round draft pick in 2008, was not a highly-touted prospect before this season. But after posting an eye-popping 1.49 earned-run average with 133 strikeouts over 114 innings across both levels of Single-A ball, Lamb is finally turning heads. He leads the Royals’ minor league system in ERA and strikeouts, and he’s also fifth in wins (8), fifth in WHIP (1.02), and third in batting average against (.208).

Lamb is considered the Royals’ seventh-best prospect by Baseball America. The organization also lists Lamb as having the best control of any Royals’ minor league pitcher.

Now he’s in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and he should make his first appearance soon. Will the pressure of stronger competition get to the young Lamb?

It sure didn’t the last time he was promoted. Lamb was promoted from A- Burlington to A+ Wilmington after only eight starts. Despite his 2-3 record, Lamb had posted a 1.58 ERA in those starts and kept opponents to a .188 average. If anything, he’s gotten better since the promotion: a 6-3 record and a 1.45 ERA over 13 starts at Wilmington, including 90 strikeouts and only 15 walks over 74.2 innings.

Is John Lamb a part of the Kansas City Royals in the immediate future? No. He’ll likely spend the rest of the season in Double-A and will probably start there again next season. But look for him to get serious consideration in Spring Training and perhaps a promotion to Triple-A Omaha next season.

After that, Lamb could project as a solid middle-of-the-rotation candidate for the Royals.

MiLB WEEKLY ROUNDUP

AAA – Omaha Royals

Record to date: 55-51, fourth place in the PCL American North

The past week: 4-5, including two doubleheader splits against New Orleans on consecutive days.

Transactions: Alex Gordon was promoted to Kansas City from Omaha; Jarrod Dyson moved up from Northwest Arkansas to the O-Royals; Gil Meche was sent to Omaha from Northwest Arkansas to continue his rehab assignment; Meche’s rehab assignment ended; Bryan Bullington was promoted to the MLB team; Manauris Baez was demoted to Wilmington; Greg Holland was promoted to Kansas City; Anthony Lerew was sent from the Royals to the O-Royals; and Victor Marte was promoted to Kansas City.

Coming up: The O-Royals travel to Memphis for a series tonight, then host Portland for four games to wrap up next week before Tacoma comes to town for a four-game set next weekend.

AA – Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Record to date: 20-12 in the second half (first place), 63-40 overall

The past week: 2-5, losing three out of four against Springfield.

Transactions: Shane Costa was promoted from Wilmington; Jarrod Dyson was sent up to Omaha; Gil Meche was sent to the O-Royals to continue his rehab assignment; Costa was placed on the seven-day disabled list; Chris Chavez was activated from the DL; Edgar Osuna was promoted to Omaha; and John Lamb was received from Wilmington.

Coming up: The Naturals head back to Springfield for five games, including a Sunday doubleheader, and then come home to host the Tulsa Drillers for three games and the Arkansas Travelers for a four-game set.

A+ – Wilmington Blue Rocks

Record to date: 20-14 in the second half (first place), 52-52 overall

The past week: 4-4, winning two out of three against Potomac

Transactions: Adrian Ortiz was activated from the temporarily inactive list; Danny Duffy was sent up to Northwest Arkansas; Manauris Baez was promoted all the way to Omaha; Josh Worrell was called up from A- Burlington; Eric Basurto was placed on the 7-day disabled list; and Shane Costa was promoted to the Naturals.

Coming up: The Blue Rocks finish a series with Kinston this weekend before traveling to Winston-Salem and Salem next week.

Paulo Orlando

POSITION PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Paulo Orlando, left fielder, Northwest Arkansas Naturals

8 for 25, .320 batting average, 1 home run, four RBI

Orlando has been one of the Naturals’ hottest hitters this season, hitting at a .343 clip over 88 games in the outfield for Northwest Arkansas. He has also clubbed 48 RBIs and now that Mike Moustakas has been promoted to Omaha, he leads the team in batting average.

PITCHER OF THE WEEK

Patrick Keating, closer, Northwest Arkansas Naturals

3 games, 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 save, 2 K

Keating leads the Royals’ minor league system in saves this year, pitching as a closer for both Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. He has dominated opposing hitters in the late innings with a 1.96 ERA and 70 strikeouts over 55 innings.

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer for I-70 Baseball. Contact him at mattkelsey@i70baseball.com.

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