Tag Archive | "First Baseman"

St. Louis Cardinals have MVP candidates, probably not MVP winner

The St. Louis Cardinals have had several players jump toward the front of the National League Most Valuable Player discussion throughout the season, but none of them are likely to win the award once the season is complete.

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Catcher Yadier Molina started the season on an incredible tear. He led the National League in batting average for much of the first half, peaking at .367 on June 18. He also has played his typically fantastic brand of defense and will likely win his sixth consecutive Gold Glove Award.

However, Molina’s right knee started to give him trouble at the end of July while the Cardinals were in the middle of their season-worst seven-game losing streak. Molina sat on the disabled list for the minimum 15 days and has continued to be a very valuable player for the Cardinals, but his batting average is now back down to .316, just one point better than his 2012 batting average when he finished fourth in the MVP voting.

Because defense is nearly always undervalued in the MVP vote, Molina probably will not win his first MVP award this season.

First baseman Allen Craig has his batting average at .315 and was near the league lead with 97 runs batted in through the beginning of September. He also has a league-leading .454 batting average with runners in scoring position, but he has hit just 13 homeruns and has not played since he hurt his right foot Sept. 4.

No player has hit fewer than 15 homeruns and won the National League MVP award since former Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee received the honor in 1985 with just 10 homers.

That precedent could also hurt the Cardinals third MVP candidate, Matt Carpenter, who has been incredibly consistent throughout the season and has started to draw attention as a possible recipient of postseason awards, but he has just 10 homeruns.

Of course, homeruns are not an important part of Carpenter’s game.

Carpenter leads the National League in runs scored (121), hits (193) and doubles (53). He is also third in the league in extra base hits, third in batting average, tied for fourth in singles and eighth in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a sabremetric that incorporates data to spit out a number that says how many more wins a player adds to his team than an average major leaguer.

Unfortunately for Carpenter and the rest of the Cardinals MVP candidates, the man who will most likely win the award is first in WAR and has numbers across the board jus slightly better than the Cardinals players. Plus, he has a potentially wonderful storyline that will almost certainly help his chances.

The Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen will probably be the National League MVP if the Pirates don’t lose nearly all of their remaining games and fall from a playoff spot.

McCutchen has a better batting average (.323), more homeruns (20), more RBIs (82) and more stolen bases (27) than any of the Cardinals’ candidates.

And McCutchen is the leader of a team that has clinched its first winning season in 20 years and is on the verge of its first postseason appearance in that same time frame. Like it or not, some of the MVP voters will take that into consideration.

The Cardinals players can’t beat McCutchen with their numbers, and they cannot beat the story of his season in Pittsburgh.

But that’s how the MVP vote has gone for Cardinals players for a generation now. Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa won the 1998 MVP even though Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire set the single-season homerun record at 70 because the Cubs made the playoffs while the Cardinals finished third in the NL Central.

San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds’ assault on the Major League Baseball record books overshadowed the great seasons Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen had in 2004, and Bonds kept Pujols from winning the MVP in 2002 and 2003, as well.

The Cardinals have been blessed with players who have had seasons that rival the best in the game for much of the past 15 years, but sometimes a perennially good team with multiple players who have great seasons can keep any one of them from winning the ultimate individual award.

Of course, not many Cardinals fans or players would probably care if they get the chance to celebrate their third World Series championship in seven years in about six weeks.

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Edward Mujica eerily similar to Ryan Franklin for St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2009 playoffs with a closer who barely reached 90 mph with his fastball after years of a closer who threw in the mid-to-upper 90s yet had a nearly perfect season before the Cardinals faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.

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Ryan Franklin had replaced Jason Isringhausen when Izzy got hurt, or got too ineffective, late in the 2008 season and saved 38 games in 43 opportunities.

The situation at the back end of the Cardinals’ bullpen four years later is nearly exactly the same. The Cardinals lost their flame-throwing closer, Jason Motte, to elbow surgery during spring training and eventually gave the ninth-inning job to Edward Mujica late in April.

Mujica’s fastball tops out around 91 mph, but as was the case with Franklin, he has masterfully induced dozens upon dozens of groundballs on the way to 37 saves in 41 chances with nine games left in the regular season.

And the Cardinals are set up to again play the Dodgers in the National League Division Series if they hold on to win the NL Central over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

The last time the Cardinals and Dodgers met in the division series is when Franklin’s almost magical run came to an end and never returned.

Dodgers first baseman James Loney hit a line drive to left field in Game 2 that Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday dropped. Franklin then walked two hitters and gave up two singles, the final one to pinch hitter Mark Loretta to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the series that ended in a sweep two days later.

That playoff series was the beginning of the end for Franklin, who had been an All-Star in 2009. He saved 27 games in 2010 but he blew four of his first five save opportunities in 2011 and did not make it to the end of June before the Cardinals released him.

Obviously, the Cardinals hope the matchup against the Dodgers ends a little differently this time around, but the lesson from 2009 is clear. Mujica has been terrific for the Cardinals so far this season, but he is not an overpowering pitcher and not a long-term answer for the team at the closer position.

Thankfully, the Cardinals have a more solid backup option this time than they did two season ago, even though it is the same person.

The Cardinals tried seven different pitchers in the ninth inning in 2011 before manager Tony La Russa settled on Motte in September. Motte saved nine games in the regular season, closed out the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers and the World Series against the Texas Rangers, but he had a total of three career saves before that season.

Motte now has a world championship ring and 54 career saves to his name, and manager Mike Matheny will likely give him every possible chance to take back the job when he returns healthy to spring training in 2014.

Until then, Mujica has a lot of work to do, and he has shown some weaknesses lately. After he converted 21 consecutive save chances to start the season and was a perfect 9-for-9 from July 19 through Aug. 26, Mujica has blown two of his four save chances in September and has given up 12 hits in his last 6.1 innings.

Mujica is one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals are in a solid position to make the playoffs, but the team will need more of his first-half performances than his September outings if it is going to beat the Dodgers this time around.

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St. Louis Cardinals can survive without Allen Craig until playoffs

After a season filled with injuries to the pitching staff, now the St. Louis Cardinals will have to deal with an injury to one of their starting fielders, who also happened to be one of their most important hitters.

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First baseman and occasional right fielder Allen Craig suffered a sprained left foot Wednesday in Cincinnati during a game against the Reds that the Cardinals eventually won 5-4 in 16 innings.

Craig went back to St. Louis for further examination Thursday and at least found out he did not have any broken bones in his foot. That probably gives him a chance to return before the end of the season, which is significant.

The Cardinals can likely survive through the rest of September without Craig even though he leads the team with 97 runs batted in and is tied with second baseman Matt Carpenter for the second-best batting average on the team at .315, behind catcher Yadier Molina’s .322 average.

In the worst case scenario, the Cardinals offense would fall flat without Craig’s contributions, specifically his incredible .454 batting average with runners in scoring position, and the team would lose the division title to the Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates and have to play in the one-game Wild Card round for the second consecutive year.

However, the Cardinals do have a solid backup for Craig. Matt Adams has been the Cardinals best hitter off of the bench this season, he has a .269 average with 11 homeruns and 38 RBIs in just 212 at-bats, which is about half of an everyday player. Plus, fans have clamored for Adams to get more playing time through much of the season.

Well, here’s his chance.

He certainly made an impressive first impression Wednesday with homers in the 14th and 16th innings to help the Cardinals win, but becoming a consistent hitter in the middle of the lineup will be vital for Adams now that he will be the starting first baseman for the foreseeable future while Craig’s foot heals.

The Cardinals also have 13 consecutive games against teams with losing records after they finish a three-game series with the Pirates during this upcoming weekend, so they will likely face less-than-dominant pitching that could allow the Cardinals to win even when the offense is not clicking on all cylinders.

But the Cardinals will be in an entirely different scenario come the playoffs in October. Those games are often dominated by good pitchers, and timely hits determine the outcome.

Craig is perhaps the best timely hitter in Major League Baseball, and the Cardinals would sorely miss his bat in the lineup during the playoffs.

The team got good news Thursday when Craig’s X-Rays and MRI came back negative, but it should not push its luck and force him back onto the field during the regular season unless he truly is fully healed.

If Craig can’t play the rest of the regular season, fine. It would certainly be nice to have his production in the lineup during the final weeks of the race for the National League Central Division title, but that will not determine whether or not the Cardinals are considered champions at the end of the year.

The most important title is settled in late October, and that is when Craig will be the most valuable

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David Freese could be right-handed version of Matt Adams for St. Louis Cardinals

The moments of brilliance for St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese come in flashes.

MLB: NLCS-San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals

He hit one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers and just Monday he delivered a vital pinch-hit, two-run double to extend the Cardinals lead to 8-5 in the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers.

But those moments are not enough for a player who the Cardinals have tried to make a cornerstone at the third base position. They are more fitting of a pinch hitter, such as first baseman Matt Adams, who has been a left-handed, pinch-hitting weapon for the 2013 Cardinals.

Sure, Freese is a good guy, he is considered a good teammate and he combined for a .295 batting average in 2011 and 2012, topping out with 20 home runs and 79 runs batted in during the 2012 season, but he has since become an average player, at best.

He started the 2013 season in a horrible rut. He bottomed out with a .163 batting average April 29 and a 20-game hitting streak between May 17 and June 11 raised his average to .284, but he is now back down to .265 with just six home runs and 46 RBIs.

Those aren’t horrible numbers and were good enough when the Cardinals did not have a replacement infielder outside of the .255-hitting Daniel Descalso, who also has a paltry .310 on-base percentage.

However, Freese also has a -0.4 Wins Above Replacement value, meaning he has played slightly worse than would be expected from a typical third baseman, and the Cardinals now have a replacement, although he comes in the form of a second baseman.

The team called up second baseman Kolten Wong from Triple-A Memphis last week, and manager Mike Matheny has started him in three of his first four games.

With Wong getting regular playing time at second, regular second baseman Matt Carpenter has had to move elsewhere. At first, Carpenter got a needed day off, but Matheny has continued to put Wong in the starting lineup so Carpenter has moved to his original position at third base and Freese has moved to the bench.

Freese isn’t buried on the bench, however. Matheny has given other regular starters extended time off throughout the season. He sat center fielder Jon Jay for several consecutive days in April and early May when he was struggling to fix his swing, and shortstop Pete Kozma didn’t play for several days in a row in late July and August when he went in an extended slump at the plate.

But a long-term view of the Cardinals infield suggests Freese could be the odd man out if Wong takes the starting job as second baseman and Carpenter becomes the everyday third baseman.

Carpenter plays solid defense and occasionally replaced Freese late in games in 2012 because Matheny wanted a stronger defensive player at that position in the late innings. Plus, Carpenter has hit .312 with 61 RBIs and has a WAR value of 5.1.

More than anything, the Cardinals figure to get more consistent production with Wong and Carpenter in the lineup than Freese, who has always been a streaky hitter.

Yes, he hit .390 in the 2011 postseason and was the Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series and World Series that year, but his batting average had also dropped from .326 to .297 in the six weeks that led up to the playoffs.

Instead of the everyday third baseman, Freese could take on the role Adams has for the Cardinals throughout the season. Adams has played in the field in just 46 of the 76 games he has played in during the 2013 season, but he has hit .277 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs while primarily coming off the bench.

Freese has some power and could give the Cardinals a reliable right-handed pinch hitter, which has been a lacking aspect of the team for much of the season.

Freese is a good player, but his value to the Cardinals might be higher in the late innings off the bench than throughout an entire game at third base.

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St. Louis Cardinals will go as far as young players take them

The St. Louis Cardinals called up their latest, greatest prospect Friday when they brought second baseman Kolten Wong to the major leagues. That move, combined with another poor outing from 35-year-old starting pitching Jake Westbrook, signaled just how important the young Cardinals will be in the final six weeks of the 2013 regular season.

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Young players have been a vital part of the Cardinals success that had them in a wild-card position as of Friday. First-year players from Matt Adams to Carlos Martinez to Seth Maness to Michael Wacha to Kevin Siegrist and even Tyler Lyons have kept the Cardinals afloat during both good and bad times this season.

When Westbrook and fellow starter Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list in May, rookies Lyons and John Gast came up to fill their spots, and they performed admirably. Lyons won his first two starts before faltering in June. Gast also won his first two starts but injured his left shoulder in his third start and recently underwent surgery for repairs.

The Cardinals bullpen got off to a horrendous start with projected closer Jason Motte out for the season with an elbow injury, Mitchell Boggs struggling to a 12.66 earned-run average through May 2 as he tried to be the closer and lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski pitching only slightly better with a 7.88 ERA, although he was demoted to Triple-A Memphis at the end of April.

With the bullpen in disarray, Martinez, Maness, Siegrist, Keith Butler and Michael Blazek all came to the big leagues and provided stability. Some were terrific (Maness has allowed just 11 runs in 45.2 innings and Siegrist has allowed two in 23 innings pitched) but more importantly, none got torched. Blazek has the worst ERA of the group, at 8.13, but he held opponents scoreless in six of his first eight appearances.

Offensively, Adams has provided ample support at first base when right fielder Carlos Beltran needs a rest and regular first baseman Allen Craig has to play the outfield. Adams has hit nine home runs with a .277 batting average.

But all of those young players, and now others such as left-handed rookie reliever Sam Freeman who was called up Aug. 8, will have to keep playing at that same level, if not higher, if the Cardinals are going to maintain a playoff spot or more optimistically compete for the National League Central Division crown.

By and large, the Cardinals established veterans have been consistent throughout the season. Catcher Yadier Molina has been rock solid behind the plate and is among the league leaders with a .325 batting average. Second baseman Matt Carpenter isn’t far behind with a .315 average, Beltran leads the team with 20 home runs and left fielder Matt Holliday is hitting his typical .291 with 15 homers.

Those players will likely continue to produce as they have through the first three-quarters of the season. Third baseman David Freese and center fielder Jon Jay will still hit about .270 with rare flashes of power, and shortstop Pete Kozma will struggle to raise his average above .230.

So, that leaves any variables to young players such as Wong and the rookie pitchers. The Cardinals still have enough time to blast away from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the division race if the new major leaguers play superbly, or they could fall into another tight race just to make the playoffs if those same players falter in what’s left of August and September.

Molina, Beltran and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright might be some of the well-known faces of the organization, but it will likely be the newcomers who determine how long the Cardinals’ 2013 season lasts.

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Congratulations to The Royals. But What Hosmer is Doing is Probably More Important

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The Royals are on fire. But that’s not the most important thing happening in Kansas City. The Royals are currently four games over .500. They have won the last 5 series and are finishing an 8-1 road trip. They are one of the hottest teams in baseball.

But unfortunately, not to be a downer, it may be too little too late. I would love nothing more for the Royals to make the playoffs, but their percentage chance of making still stands at right around 10 pct. They are still 7.5 games behind The Tigers and 4.5 games out of the Wild Card. That may not sound too far back, but there’s four teams, The Rays, Indians, Rangers and Orioles, all ahead of them. So not only would The Royals have to make up that ground, but everything would have to go right with the other teams too in order for The Royals to pass them all up.

That’s why, even more exciting than the recent success of The Royals, is the success of Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was talked about as being the possible best of the three when compared to Bryce Harper and Mike Trout while coming up. Here’s a Sports Illustrated article from 2011, naming Hosmer as the best power prospect over both Trout and Mark Trumbo. Here is Keith Law talking about the potential of Hosmer, comparing him to Adrian Gonzalez.

“Hosmer had a solid big league debut in 2011 as the American League’s youngest regular, but it only represents a fraction of what he’s capable of producing,” writes Law. “He’s very strong and has great hip rotation to produce power to all fields, and showed great pitch recognition on his way up the Royals’ system before an early promotion in May.

“The surprise of his year on offense was that he didn’t get walks as often as he did in the minors, which could be just a young player making adjustments, or commensurate with a team philosophy that doesn’t value getting on base. Hosmer’s an agile first baseman with a plus arm (he was up to 94 as a pitcher in high school) who’d probably be fine in right field, although the Royals show no inclination to move him. His ceiling is an Adrian Gonzalez-type of player, adding value through average, walks, power, and defense, but with a little more speed as well.”

Royals fans expected so much from him, and he didn’t deliver right away, like Harper and Trout did. With Royals fans becoming more used to top prospects not panning out and fears of problems in the development process of their farm systems, it’s become easier to just accept it when a player’s talents don’t come to fruition.

But what made Hosmer so great along has been his ability to make adjustments. Every step of the way, he has kept up with the level of adjustments that were needed. But besides the hot streak he had when he first came up, he has been rather unimpressive in his tenure as Royals first baseman. And it’s not just his stats, it was also his appearance. You could see the problem in his swing. He had too much going on in the swing. In theory, his swing worked. He was both getting power from dropping his arms back and crouching down to get some uppercut power. But everything happening in it was causing him to not get much on his swings. As you can see from this Royals Review article, his groundball rate was insane.

Groundout – 30.1%
Single – 20.3%
Strikeout – 15.7%
Flyout – 9.3%
Walk – 7.2%

So obviously, he was in line to make another adjustment. And George Brett appears to have been just the man for that.

“When we got here, his hands were in close (to his head),” Brett said. “We moved them back a little bit. So now, he doesn’t have to move his hands back to hit. They’re already back. Now, he just has to bring them forward.” Since the change, Hosmer is batting .296 and has been able to pull the ball in play more often. Brett thinks Hosmer has less going on with his hands now since they’re better positioned, which reduces the movement in his swing.

“His swing is shorter,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s in a better position to pull the ball. His stride is shorter. He’s backed up off the plate. He’s getting more extension to his swing. He’s getting the bat head out on pitches in.”

The narrative about Brett fixing The Royals became annoying after a while, but it is possible he helped fix one player, potentially the best player. And that extra production has helped the Royals that much more. You can see it in Hosmer’s swing. Much more compact, creating less ground balls and he’s getting much more on his hits.

And the statistical results are undeniable also. In March and April, he had an OPS of .643. In May, his OPS was .659. Brett was quoted in the above article on June 18th. In June, Hosmer’s OPS was .889. In July, .847.

So Royal’s fans should be very excited, but maybe not for the obvious reasons. This is the Eric Hosmer we have been waiting for. There may be too many obstacles to overcome this year. And the future may not be quite ready yet, it’s still undeniable, the future is definitely here.

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St. Louis Cardinals got 5 all-stars, but Edward Mujica also deserves honor

St. Louis Cardinals fans haven’t had much to gripe about so far in the 2013 season and should be thankful five of the team’s players made the National League all-star roster, but they can also make a strong case the Cardinals should have one more representative.

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Catcher Yadier Molina, rightfielder Carlos Beltran, right-handed starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, second baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Allen Craig were named to the National League all-star team Saturday, but closer Edward Mujica deserved to join them for the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y.

At least his omission wasn’t the fans fault.

Fans throughout the game had their say in which position players start the game, and they deemed two Cardinals players worthy of a spot in the lineup. Molina received the most votes of any National League player and will start behind the plate, and Beltran will start the game in right field.

Wainwright’s 11-5 record and 2.36 earned-run average heading into play Tuesday might have been good enough for him to start the game, except Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recently shuffled his rotation around so Wainwright will start the final game of the first half Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

Wainwright will still have the honor of being on the roster, as will second baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Allen Craig.

Carpenter was a lock to make the team. He has been arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball this season with a .316 batting average to go along with 25 doubles and 37 runs batted in. His 106 hits are also tied for the ninth-most in baseball.

Craig, on the other hand, has one of the more unique resumes of any all-star. A first baseman with 10 homeruns usually doesn’t make an all-star roster, but Craig has a .325 batting average and his 69 RBIs are second in the National League. Plus, he leads all of baseball with a .476 average when he comes to bat with runners in scoring position.

Those three Cardinals hitters certainly deserve their spots on the all-star roster, but they are the only three. Traditional powers such as leftfielder Matt Holliday and David Freese are hitting .270 or below and don’t have more than 12 homeruns or 43 RBIs heading into play Tuesday. Matt Adams is hitting .319 and has seven homeruns in 49 games, but his limited playing time has him qualified as nothing more than a bench player, yet. His time will come.

On the pitching side, right-handed starters Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller each had an outside shot of making the all-star team, but they have both had too many rough outings in the last month.

Lynn is tied with Wainwright with 11 wins, which is fifth-best in baseball, but he also has the highest ERA among National League pitchers who have 10 or more wins. Plus, he gave up four or more runs in four of his last six starts.

Miller started the season as well as any pitcher in the game. He had five wins by Mother’s Day and carried an ERA under 2.00 into mid-June, but he never made it past the sixth in any of his next five starts while his ERA rose to 2.80. That’s still a good number, but similar to Lynn, Miller has given up four or more runs in three of his last five starts.

The only Cardinals player who could legitimately earn the “all-star snub” tag is Mujica.

Mujica has been as good as any closer in baseball aside from Oakland A’s closer Grant Balfour, who has yet to blow a save in 23 opportunities. Mujica has converted 23 of 24 save opportunities and posted a 2.41 ERA. He’s allowed at least one run in just eight of 37 appearances.

It is difficult to make an all-star roster as a closer partly because starters receive so much more attention. The National League will have 10 compared to three closers.

Jason Grilli, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Craig Kimbrel, of the Atlanta Braves, and Aroldis Chapman, of the Cincinnati Reds are the National League’s only relievers, while starters such as Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez and Chicago Cubs lefty Travis Wood made the team largely because their teams didn’t have another worthy representative.

So Mujica unfortunately won’t be rewarded for his terrific first half with an all-star selection, but maybe he’ll receive the ultimate team reward, the Commissioner’s Trophy, after closing out the 2013 World Series.

That would ease any lingering disappointment.

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St. Louis Cardinals better without designated hitter

The St. Louis Cardinals lost one a spot for one of their many sluggers Friday when they mercifully returned to Busch Stadium to face the Miami Marlins.  The loss of the designated hitter in their return to National League play might actually help the team.

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The Cardinals 6-5 Independence Day loss on Thursday to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim finished the worst two-week stretch of the Cardinals’ 2013 season.

They went 2-8 against nearly the entire American League West Division. The Texas Rangers swept the Cardinals at home, the Houston Astros split a two-game series in Houston, and the Cardinals lost two of three on the road to the Oakland A’s and the Angels.

The Cardinals had the designated hitter available for all of those games except the three against Texas since the rest were played in American League ballparks, but the Cardinals were actually worse with the extra hitter. They lost a key bat off the bench, and the DH created an unbalanced lineup that disrupted what had been the National League’s best team.

The Cardinals scored four or fewer runs in six of the recent 10 games against the American League teams, but the larger factor was how much the designated hitter disrupted the team’s lineup, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny still couldn’t get all of his hitters regular at-bats.

For much of the season, the pitcher’s spot appeared to be a roadblock that simply didn’t allow first baseman Matt Adams to play every day. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 260 pounds, Adams has the look of a designated hitter. He could walk up to the plate four times a day, hit a homerun, get a base hit and his team would get a win more often than not.

But that wasn’t how interleague play worked out this season. Adams went 7-for-30, including six starts, in those 10 games, but rightfielder Carlos Beltran, first baseman Allen Craig, third baseman David Freese or leftfielder Matt Holliday were often placed in the DH role while Adams played first.

Holliday had a pinched nerve in his neck during the series against the Angels, and Matheny surely wanted to give the other hitters half a day off while he could, but the disjointed lineup showed on the field as the Cardinals made seven errors in those 10 games, or nearly one-third of the 36 errors they have committed this season.

Plus, Matheny shuffled the batting order to try to fit in the extra bat. All of a sudden catcher Yadier Molina was a regular sight in the No. 2 spot and Holliday dropped to the No. 5 spot.

Second baseman Matt Carpenter was about the only hitter not moved from his regular spot atop the lineup, and he mashed during the 10-game stretch, hitting .340 with eight hits for extra bases and 10 runs batted in.

The Cardinals lineup returned to normal Friday outside of a day off for Beltran to rest. Centerfielder Jon Jay filled the No. 2 spot, and the team broke out for four runs in the first three innings to establish their lead for a 4-1 win.

The lineup felt comfortable again, and it will be even more so with Beltran as a regular presence near the top of the order. Yes, Matheny will still have to be creative to get Adams enough at-bats, but the Cardinals played 20 games above .500 with that problem. They were six games under .500 when American League rules allowed the team an extra hitter.

The Cardinals have enough good hitters to produce an American League lineup, but as a whole they are still a National League team. Perhaps they can get back to their dominating ways now that they’re back in their own league.

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Dyson stealing his way into fans’ hearts

Speed kills and Jarrod Dyson has speed to burn.

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In the third inning of Tuesday’s game against the Braves, this was on full display. Dyson bunted down the third base line for a single to lead off the inning. He wasted no time stealing second base. He ended up being stranded on third base, but he showed how dangerous his speed can be for opposing teams. Without hitting the ball out of the infield, he had himself in scoring position.

This is what Dyson brings to the table for the Royals. His elite speed gives the team an added weapon that they were missing while Dyson was on the DL (he missed over a month with a high ankle sprain).

The Royals are currently fourth in the majors with 60 steals and Dyson’s return from the DL should only help add to that number. In his first three games back, Dyson had three steals. In 102 games last season, Dyson swiped 30 bases and he stole over 30 bases in four different minor league seasons.

Dyson isn’t the only threat on the bases for the Royals. Alcides Escobar and Elliot Johnson have 11 steals each and Lorenzo Cain has nine. Even first baseman Eric Hosmer has seven steals.

The Royals now have a log jam in the outfield with five players more than capable of manning the position. Alex Gordon should stick in left field. Dyson, Cain, and David Lough can all play center field and Jeff Francoeur is still around to play right field. On Wednesday, Cain played in center with Francouer in right against left-hander Mike Minor. In the previous two games, Dyson played in center with Lough in right, while Cain and Francoeur sat.

With Dyson in the lineup, the Royals are one of the fastest teams in the majors, especially if Dyson, Cain, Escobar and Johnson are all on the field at the same time.

Dyson currently sports a slash line of .292/.320/.604. If he continues to hit and get on base, he should force his way into the lineup, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Because the outfield is so crowded, Dyson may not see everyday at-bats. But even in limited plate appearances, Dyson could threaten the 30 steals mark on the season, which will only help the speedy Royals push the envelope on the base paths.

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Lately the Royals offense is more lucky than good

After being ten games below .500 at one point, the Kansas City Royals made it to the .500 mark early this week before losing two in a row to the Cleveland Indians, falling to a 34-36 record.

Chris_Getz

After the debacle of May, it’s good the see the Royals playing better baseball. But they’re not playing good enough to contend for the A. L. Central, much less be a playoff contending team. Losing two out of three games to the Indians proves that. The team batting average is .257, which is only point better than last week. They’re also dead last in the A. L. with 37 home runs and a .368 slugging average, so the power isn’t there.

While first baseman Eric Hosmer shows improvement with a revised swing, third baseman Mike Moustakas is stuck with a .189 batting average and calls from some fans to send him down to the Minors and move Alex Gordon to third. Sending Moustakas to the Minors might help, but moving Gordon to third is a bad idea. Remember one of the reasons the Royals moved Gordon to the outfield? It’s because he wasn’t that good at third base.

And then there’s the Jarrod Dyson coming back from the DL problem. Dyson isn’t the problem. Outfielder Jeff Francoeur is the problem. Francoeur is at .214/.257/.335 and spends more time on the bench while David Lough patrols the outfield. Lough was called up when Dyson went on the DL, and Lough has done well with a .296/.310/.418 line and made a couple of spectacular defensive plays. He’s proven to be at least a league average outfielder and better than Francoeur is now. Which means Lough will likely be sent down to the Minors when Dyson returns.

Yes, it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes the realities of baseball doesn’t make sense. Dyson doesn’t have options remaining, so if the Royals don’t add Dyson to the major league roster, they have to trade, option or release him, which the Royals won’t do. However, Lough does have options remaining and the Royals can send him back to Omaha with no restrictions.

The Royals could release Francoeur and eat his remaining $4 million salary, but it’s unlikely the team would do that either, seeing they still believe Francoeur will come out of his hitting slump. The likely scenario when Dyson returns is to start him in the outfield, have Francoeur on the bench and send Lough to Omaha. It’s not the fair decision or frankly the most logical decision. But if Francoeur doesn’t show improvement, the club will have no choice but to cut him loose and call Lough up as a Royals outfielder, which could happen sooner rather than later.

Next is Chris Getz, the Jeff Francoeur of the infield. Getz has a .216/.278/.288 average and platoons with Elliot Johnson, who has a better .252/.284/.342 average. But is Johnson an everyday second baseman? Seeing Johnson appeared in 47 games and Getz in 46 games, the Royals don’t think so. Second basemen aren’t known for their power like first or third basemen, but if a team isn’t getting much production from the corners, then the second baseman has to pick up the slack. That’s not happening with Getz and it’s uncertain if it would happen if Johnson was an everyday player.

Then the usual offensive stalwarts, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, are having “down” years. Gordon is at .288/.344/.416 and Butler at .273/.379/.399. They’re not bad numbers, but the Royals need to find offense where they can get it.

The Royals did a good job improving their starting rotation and despite some rough outings from the bullpen, the ‘pen is holding its own. The Royals pitching staff leads the A. L. with a 3.41 ERA and has kept the team from falling into oblivion. But the hoped for production from the lineup hasn’t been consistent. If the offense doesn’t improve, it could be another Royals season like it’s been the last ten to twenty years.

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