Tag Archive | "Four Games"

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

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

Royals Twins Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The St. Louis Cardinals Versus Left Handed Pitching

FransiscoLiriano

 

The St. Louis Cardinals struggle against left-handed pitching so goes conventional wisdom. I really can’t remember a time that this wasn’t said. During the 80’s, The Cards struggled against lefties like Sid Fernandez (as if any of The Cardinals today have anything at all to do with the players in the 80′s) while being able to score runs off of great right-handers like Nolan Ryan. It was credited to the fact that Fernandez was a lefty and not the fact that at his height, he was almost at the level of Ryan as a pitcher.

I bring up the past, not because it means anything to today, but I wonder if that conventional wisdom that is part of the team’s history may be why people are so quick to repeat it today. The point is, if The Cardinals struggle off of a righty, the struggles are credited to other factors. But against lefties, it’s almost always credited to the fact he is just a lefty.

So with the playoffs coming up, and some great lefties on the horizon like Francisco Liriano and Clayton Kershaw, I want to study how successful The Cardinals really are against lefties.

A recent Post-Dispatch article pointed out The Cards were 15-20 against lefties. The article stated:

Those wins stand out because the Cardinals this season are 15-20 against left-handed starters. They’re the only team in the National League with a winning record that has a losing record against lefties.

The Cardinals have the highest average in the National League overall at .272, but they are hitting just .239 against left-handed pitchers, which puts them 11th. In the three games against left-handed starters before Sunday, they were hitting .306. And even if you add in the struggles they had against Minor, they’re still at .281 in their past four games. That’s a big step forward.

The article was written on August 30th. Since then The Cards have gone 2-2 against lefties. The problem is more to do with small sample size than actual facts. The Post-Dispatch articles argues that the Cardinals are improving against lefties by winning 3 in a row before losing to Mike Minor. So if you add the 2-2 record in since then, they are 5-3. But the article then desperately tries to figure out a reason why The Cardinals are improving, even crediting Kolten Wong.

The recent success the Cardinals have had against lefties started right about the time they called up Kolten Wong from Memphis and the team shifted to more of a platoon concept. It’s not a strict platoon, since right-handers David Freese and Pete Kozma still get starts against opposing right-handers. But the Cardinals’ lineup Sunday had just one lefty, second baseman Matt Carpenter. Otherwise, Matheny went with his right-handed options when he could: Shane Robinson instead of lefty Jon Jay in center, Kozma instead of lefty Daniel Descalso at short and Freese at third instead of the Wong-Carpenter parlay

But as we now know, Wong struggled greatly this year hitting .163/.196/.184. But regardless of his struggles, The Cards winning pct improved against lefties. The article even points out The Cardinals are 2-0 against Kershaw, but even that doesn’t mean too much as both games they won because of good pitching. On Aug 6th they beat Kershaw by scoring 2 runs off of him and on May 26th they scored 4 runs off of him.

So more than likely the “struggles” against lefties is more overevaluting a small sample size, as any 35 game period for the best teams in baseball can produce a slightly below .500 record. As did the 35 games The Post-Dispatch viewed.

But when we look deeper at the stats, and not focus so much on wins and losses, this is what we see:

Versus righties The Cards are: .279/.341/.410/ with a WRC+ 110.

Versus lefties The Cards are: .235/.297/.370 with a wRC+ 85

Now when you compare The Cardinals to other teams, you do see slightly inferior numbers.

Other teams against lefties

Pirates 263/.332/.410 wRC+ 110

Dodgers .266/.328/.396 wRC+ 104

Reds .242/.318/.391 wRC+93

So why do The Cardinals struggle against lefties? It would show proof if you saw lefties shutting down left-handed hitters on the team. But against lefties, Matt Carpenter has a great OPS of .803, Matt Adams a slightly below average OPS of .667 and Jon Jay has an OPS of .602, which could be deemed as struggling if it wasn’t for the fact that Jay has struggled as a hitter altogether this year.

So who is really struggling against lefthanders? Molina’s OPS is .891; Holliday’s OPS is .770; even Freese’s OPS is .787 despite having an OPS of .691 against righties. Most of the starting players on the team have an OPS over .700 against lefties.

The big anchor on the team seems to be (surprise surprise) Pete Kozma. Kozma has the third most at bats against lefties this year at 137 with a horrible OPS of .551. By allowing someone so underachieving to rack up so many at bats is sure to bring the team average down. By removing him from the equation, The Cardinals numbers are more equal to the other teams in comparison. That may be an irrelevant point, as someone has to play shortstop this post season, and it’s either him or Descalso who has an OPS of .586 against lefties. But it does bring some assurance that an outlier is hurting the team as opposed to it being a team epidemic.

It appears the conventional wisdom that The Cardinals can’t hit lefties is created for several reasons. 1) It is a smaller sample size 2) fans are over evaluating the randomness of the win-loss record against lefties, which is actually just under .500 and 3) Kozma played so poorly this year over so many at bats that it brings the numbers down.

Whatever theory you accept, at least take solace in knowing the numbers against lefties are improving, either by strategy or just the numbers regressing back to the mean as more games are played.

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Examining the Royals’ rest of season schedule

The end of the season is drawing closer and closer and the playoff race is heating up in the American League. The Kansas City Royals, despite dropping two of three games in Detroit, still have hopes of catching one of the two wild card spots.

JamesShields

Kansas City currently sits 3.5 games behind the Rays and the Rangers who are both 81-67 and would be the two wild card teams if the season ended today.

The problem for the Royals is they would have to pass four teams in order to make the postseason. The Indians are just 0.5 games out of the wild card, while the Orioles are 2.5 and the Yankees are 3.0. The Royals have 13 games remaining and need to get hot quickly. Let’s take a look at the Royals’ remaining schedule:

3-game home set with the Indians starting Monday
This is a big opportunity for the Royals to make up games in the standings. Kansas City is 7-9 on the season against the Indians, but they took two of three at the Tribe a week ago. The Royals will have ace James Shields on the mound to open the three-game set, going up against lefty Scott Kazmir of the Indians. Shields beat Kazmir back on September 11 in Cleveland.

3-game home set with Rangers starting 9/20
This is another chance for the Royals to make up ground in the wild card race. Texas has struggled in September after leading the AL west for a large portion of the year. The Royals are just 1-2 against Texas this year, after losing a series back in early June.

3-game set at the Mariners starting 9/23
The Royals are 3-1 this year against Seattle after taking three of four in a home series with the Mariners back in the first week of September. All four games in that series were deciding by two runs or less, so this should be a challenging series for the Royals in a time where they need to pick up victories.

4-game set at the White Sox starting 9/26
The Royals close the season in Chicago facing the last-place White Sox. This could be a dangerous series as the White Sox have little to play for except for spoiling the Royals’ season. Chicago actually leads this season series 8-7, but the two teams haven’t met since the end of July.

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Home-field advantage could be vital for St. Louis Cardinals

Although the St. Louis Cardinals did not have full possession of first place in their own division heading into play Sunday, they were just three games away from having the best record in the National League, which could be a vital advantage come October.

Busch_Stadium Retired Numbers

The Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates had identical 86-62 records as of Sunday and both trailed the Atlanta Braves by three games for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, until the World Series, of course, because the American League won the All-Star Game in July.

But that nonsense aside, home-field advantage is a strong reward for having the best record. The term includes the word “advantage” for a reason. Part of what doomed the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants was the same factor that helped St. Louis win the World Series the year before.

Those winning teams played games 6 and 7 at home where they felt more comfortable and could feed off of the energy from their fans and the home environment.

Now, home-field advantage certainly does not guarantee success. The Cardinals won every postseason series in 2006 despite never having home-field advantage, and they beat the Washington Nationals in the 2012 division series even though the final three games were in Washington, D.C.

But home-field advantage certainly does help, and it could help the Cardinals this year more than normal, especially with the glut of young pitchers on the roster and potential postseason starters in second-year pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

Along with a much better record against teams below the .500 mark, the Cardinals other lopsided record is their home and away splits.

St. Louis has played 20 games above .500 at Busch Stadium compared to four games above .500 on the road. Not surprisingly, their stats fall in line with those records.

The Cardinals hit for a .271 batting average at home compared to .260 on the road, but the bigger difference is how the pitching staff performs in away games. The Cardinals’ staff has a 3.29 earned-run average in home games but a 3.73 ERA on the road.

It would also be important for the Cardinals to finish with the best record in the National League because their potential postseason opponents have even more dramatic home and road splits.

The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers pitch to a 3.13 ERA at home compared to 3.47 on the road, and the NL East-leading Braves have a National League-best 2.47 home ERA but a 3.70 ERA away from Turner Field.

The only aspect of the game that would benefit a road team is the Dodgers offense, which hits .258 at Dodger Stadium and a Major League Baseball-best .274 on the road.

The Cardinals also lost three of their four games at home to the Dodgers in early August, but that was also during a stretch when they lost 13 of 17 games that included a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta.

Once the Cardinals got their season back together, they took three of four from the Braves in late August at Busch Stadium. They have also won six of nine games against the Pirates at home while losing seven of 10 in Pittsburgh. Against the third-place team in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals have also won six of nine home games and split the away games 5-5.

The Cardinals are nearly guaranteed a spot in the 2013 playoffs and have an excellent chance to win the NL Central with just one opponent with a winning record, the Washington Nationals, remaining.

But they also still have a chance to catch the Braves for the best record in the National League, and that accomplishment could make a large difference in which team represents the league in the World Series.

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Triple Play: Coco Crisp, Derek Jeter, Bartolo Colon

In this week’s edition of the Triple Play, we look at an unlikely power hitter, the Captain’s lost season, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

DerekJeter

Who’s Hot?

Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics

Crisp has suddenly transformed from a slap-hitting, base-stealing leadoff man into a slugger. In the past three weeks, Crisp has belted eight home runs, driven in 14 and scored 19 runs. For the season, he has a career-high 18 homers, 54 RBI, 17 steals and 77 runs scored. His previous career high was 16, back in 2005 with Cleveland. Since starting this power binge on August 21 against Seattle, Crisp has batted a scorching .344/.386/.813, with a 1.198 OPS. While fantasy owners no doubt miss the stolen bases (he’s on pace for his lowest total since 2009), they have to be enjoying the unexpected power just as much as the A’s. The power could dry up at any time, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Who’s Not?

Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

If anyone would like a mulligan on the 2013 season, it has to be Jeter. After fracturing his ankle in the ALCS against Detroit, he finally made his season debut July 11. He went 1-for-4 with a single and an RBI, fueling hopes that he could help turn the Yankees’ season around. However, he left that game with a strained quad muscle and missed another 17 days. He returned again July 28 and played just four games before being injured again. This time, he was out until August 26. He made it through 12 games before having to depart yet again, this time in the 6th inning of Saturday’s game against Boston. His season stat line is .190/.288/.254, with one lone home run, seven RBI, and eight runs scored. The combination of Eduardo Nunez, Luis Cruz and Reid Brignac has not exactly filled the gap, production-wise. At age 39, there has been talk of just shutting Jeter down for the season, but that would be surprising. The Captain will likely try to return to the lineup before season’s end. One thing is certain: with the Yankees scrapping for a wild-card spot in the brutal AL East, his presence has been missed greatly.

Playing the Name Game

Name this pitcher: after being credited with a win yesterday, this pitcher became the first pitcher in American League history to win at least 15 games with four different teams. When he first came up in the 1990s, he was a power pitcher, but has never consistently been a strikeout artist. In 2000, he averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings, but has never again approached that level. Over the years, he has compensated for his diminishing strikeout rate with excellent control. In 2002, he was traded for a package of players that would go on to include three All-Stars. The next year, he was dealt again and became a free agent at the end of the season. He would go on to win a Cy Young Award for his next team, with which he spent four seasons. The A’s are his fourth different team since 2008. Know who it is yet?

After his Cy Young season, this pitcher endured four injury-plagued seasons before rebounding to make 26 starts in 2011. Those starts were inconsistent (4.00 ERA, 21 home runs allowed in 164 1/3 innings), so that team cut him loose. The end of the line appeared close. He signed with his current team in 2012, partially to serve as a mentor to a stable of young pitchers. Then, at age 39, he rediscovered the control that served him so well during his career peak. He became a vital starter to a team surprisingly in contention for its division. Then in August 2012, he was suspended for 50 gamed for a positive drug test. Although his team went on to win its division, he did not pitch again. You must have it by now, yes?

This year has been this right-hander’s best season since winning the Cy Young while with the Angels in 2005. He leads the AL with three complete-game shutouts and was his team’s lone representative at the All-Star Game. Yes, it’s Oakland’s Bartolo Colon. He won at least 15 games twice while with Cleveland (1999, 2000), once with the White Sox (2003), twice with the Angels (2004, 2005) and now this year with the A’s. If nothing else, he can say he has had a long, interesting career in baseball.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. Saturday night, at home against the Pirates, Wainwright righted the ship, pitching seven innings of shutout baseball. The Cardinals’ 2-0 victory lifted them past Pittsburgh, back into first place in the heated NL Central. Wainwright allowed two hits and two walks, while fanning eight. For the season, he has walked 31 batters in an NL-leading 213 2/3 innings with 195 strikeouts. That’s good for a 6.3-to-1 K/BB ratio, which is still tops in the major leagues. He also leads the league in wins, complete games and walks per 9 IP (1.3). His next start should be Thursday at home against Milwaukee, against whom Wainwright tossed his first complete-game shutout of the season back in April.
  • If the Orioles end up missing one of the wild-card spots by one game, they’re going to look back on Sunday’s game as the one that cost them. Chris Dickerson, a 31-year-old journeyman outfielder who has never had more than 255 at-bats in a season, entered the game in the 9th inning as a pinch runner. He fell for a fake by White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who made it appear that a ball hit by Brian Roberts was in play. In fact, it had been a foul pop-up near first base and Dickerson was easily doubled off to end the game. Ouch.
  • Another problem for the Orioles has been Chris Davis’ untimely slump. Since the calendar rolled over to September, Davis has hit just .222/.370/.670 in seven games with only one home run. Baltimore can ill afford to have him slump down the stretch.
  • The Indians also might have a September 8 loss to lament at the end of the season. Three weeks after dumping Daisuke “The Human Rain Delay” Matsuzaka, Cleveland could only muster three hits and one run against him. Had to be especially sweet for Dice-K, having been in the minors all season until the Mets picked him up. Ouch again.
  • They still have nine games remaining against the Kansas City Royals, who have won 11 of their past 15 games and continue to play meaningful September games.
  • Kansas City fans are understandably confused and have reportedly contacted fans in other cities to learn how they should handle the situation.
  • Texas seems to have adapted fairly well to using their team speed and relying less on outslugging opponents. In 47 games in the second half of the season, the Rangers have stolen 59 bases, which is how many they stole in the 95 games leading to the All-Star break. Now, about that pitching staff…..
  • Jacoby Ellsbury (who leads the majors with 52 steals) has a compression fracture in his right foot. He hopes to return before the playoffs, but given the way the Red Sox are hammering the ball, they are well-positioned to weather his absence.
  • Furthering that point, over the past two weeks, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks have combined for 15 homers, 40 RBI, five stolen bases and 39 runs scored for the Red Sox.
  • That had to be a discouraging weekend for the Yankees, losing three straight games in which they scored at least eight runs. With the lineup they’re using these days, scoring four or five runs is fairly impressive. Now, about that pitching staff….
  • Considering that baseball nicknames nowadays generally consistent of shortening a player’s name (i.e. CarGo, Tulo, Miggy, Astro-Cab), what is Atlanta’s Joey Terdoslavich’s nickname?
  • Billy Hamilton might be the fastest player I’ve ever seen in baseball. He has stolen four bases – including two(!) off Yadier Molina – and scored three runs since being recalled from the minors. Number of plate appearances: zero. Games he has helped decide with his speed: three – and counting.
  • The Reds have morphed into a team nobody wants to face. The lineup contains three of the more dangerous bats in the NL (Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce), plus Brandon Phillips. Mat Latos and Homer Bailey have formed a potent top of the rotation, while Aroldis Chapman may be the most intimidating closer in the NL; he regularly hit 100 mph versus the Cardinals last week, with at least one fastball clocked at 103.
  • Although, as Cubs and Giants fans will tell you, never underestimate Dusty Baker’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. His suicide squeeze in extra innings last week against St. Louis was classic Baker mismanagement.
  • Speaking of the Giants, Hunter Pence needs one more home run to become the first Giants player with a 20 homer/20 steal season since Barry Bonds in 1998. That’s about the best thing we can say about San Francisco baseball this year.
  • Raise your hand if you can name the team for which J.B. Shuck, Kole Calhoun, Andrew Romine and Buddy Boshers play. Without looking them up, I mean.
  • Yeah, I couldn’t either.
  • Rumor has it that Joe Morgan was unhappy about his new statue at Great American Ballpark. Something about statues being made better back when he played the game or something….
  • Finally, congratulations to Jason Giambi on becoming the 245th player in major league history to reach the 2,000 hit mark. At age 42, the sun is setting on his playing career. He seems like a sure bet to become a manager sometime within the next five years.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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The Kansas City Royals aren’t ready for the playoffs yet

If there was any hope the Kansas City Royals would make the playoffs, they were damaged by a seven-game losing streak August 17-24. After sweeping the Friday August 16 doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, the Royals went on to lose two games to the Tigers, three games to the Chicago White Sox and two games to the Washington Nationals. The Royals fell back to .500 and hurt their chances to win a Wild Card spot, much less win the American League Central. But just as the Royals appeared to slip into below .500 oblivion, they won their next four games and as of August 28, they’re four game above .500.

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The Royals aren’t a bad team, but they’re not good enough to be a playoff team either. To sum it up, the team is like Luke Hochevar as a starter: They have spurts of brilliance, then they go on a momentum killing losing streak. If you count winning and losing streaks of four or more games, the Royals have three four-game winning streaks, one six-game winning streak and one nine-game winning streak. Conversely, the Royals have three four-game losing streaks, one eight -game losing streak and one seven-game losing streak. The team is 26-27 in winning and losing streaks of four or more games. And it’s a big reason why they’re just a few games above .500.

The Royals are 8.5 games back of Detroit and seven games back in the Wild Card. The only way the Royals will make the playoffs is to keep winning. And they haven’t showed enough consistency to do that. Yes, they just won four games in a row, but they can just as easily lose four games in a row. And there’s too many A.L. teams who are better than the Royals in the Wild Card race, like the Tampa Rays, the Oakland A’s, and the Baltimore Orioles. The Royals have an easy schedule, but time is running out. They can keep winning games, but if the teams ahead of them in the playoff hunt keep winning games, it won’t matter.

It’s frustrating, but the Royals are playing better than they have in years. And they’re playing well enough to finish above .500. But they’re not playing well enough to make the playoffs.

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Cardinals-Braves: A Birds Eye View

The Cardinals return home from a suspenseful, yet successful road trip to face the Atlanta Braves for a four game tilt starting Thursday night. A matchup between two teams basically working on their best postseason alignment at this point, as well as a showdown between the two leading hitters in the National League, Yadier Molina and Chris Johnson, both carrying .332 averages on the season into the series.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Houston Astros

There are also other underlying themes as well however. The recent history between the two teams has been a checklist of baseball extremes. The Braves have won three of the last four games head up versus the Cardinals, sweeping their first encounter of 2013 in Atlanta from July 26-28th. However, the sole St. Louis victory was a huge one, where they beat the Braves, and a then undeniable Kris Medlen, in the one game Wild Card Playoff game back in October. Highlighted by the immediately infamous “infield fly” rule call, the Cardinals started their need run back to the World Series in Atlanta, and also started what’s become a mild rivalry between the two teams.

Here’s the current story of the two teams that will meet through this weekend in St. Louis:

Cardinals coming in: The Cardinals are coming with a record of 73-53, second place in the NL Central and winners of their previous three series, all against NL Central foes in the Pirates, Cubs and Brewers. They are winners of seven of their last ten contests, two games ahead for the first Wild Card spot and 7 ahead of the third place position. Their 37 road wins are the most in either league, and they lead the NL in runs scored for the season, with 606.

The team is 5-1 in games started by Molina since he returned from the disabled list last Thursday….Jon Jay leads the team in hits (24), RBI (17) and total bases (41) in August….After going hitless in his first eight at-bats, Kolten Wong has hit .500 (5 for 10) with two runs scored and three stolen bases in his last two games….Matt Carpenter has nine doubles in August, raising his NL-best total to 41. He is on pace for 53 on the season, which would be the best Cardinal season since Albert Pujols’ 51 in 2003 & 2004….Across a combined 32.1 August innings, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Edward Mujica have not surrendered a run.

Braves coming in: Atlanta enters with the best record in baseball, at 77-49 and is 15.5 games ahead in the NL East. The three wins they landed against St. Louis in late July propelled them to a 14-game winning streak, their second run of at least 10 consecutive wins on the year. They have had some health challenges, with Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward and Taylor Pastornicky all going to the disabled list in the past week, which brings the current total of Braves on the DL up to 10. Despite this, they are second only to the Cardinals in runs scored this season, with 559 and have earned at least a split in their last 10 series.

Heyward, who was placed on the DL with a broken jaw yesterday, was hitting .359 in August, with a team-best 23 hits….after a mid-season dry spell, Justin Upton has hit seven home runs this month, raising his total to 23….first baseman Freddie Freeman is scorching currently, entering the series with multi-hit games in last four contests, good for a .450 average (9 for 20)….as a staff, Braves pitchers have a 2.50 ERA in August

 

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7:15)—Joe Kelly (4-3) vs. Paul Maholm (9-9): Maholm is making a return start after a stint on the DL battling a wrist injury. A long-time Pirate, the lefty is 4-7 with a 4.06 ERA in 18 career starts versus the Cardinals. Kelly enters as the hottest arm in the St. Louis mix, with a 3-0 record on the month and since returning to the rotation, allowing 1 or less runs in six of nine outings.

Friday (7:15)—Adam Wainwright (14-7) vs. Kris Medlen (10-11): Wainwright broke a five game winless streak on Sunday in Chicago, allowing one run in seven innings, while reaching double digits in strikeouts for the first time since June 1. Medlen will make his first start in 10 days, after being forced to throw three relief innings in 15 inning loss to the Nationals on Saturday.

Saturday (6:15)—Shelby Miller (11-8) vs. Julio Teheran (10-6): The matchup of two of the best young arms in baseball will take place on Saturday. Teheran has been Atlanta’s best arm over the last few weeks, going 3-1 and striking out 26 in his last 23 innings. Miller has been sharper in his second outing back from the line drive that ended his August 7th start vs. the Dodgers. In Milwaukee on Monday, he struck out 8 in five innings, while surrendering five hits over 5.1 innings. He has received a win since August 2nd.

Sunday (1:15)—Lance Lynn (13-7) vs. Brandon Beachy (2-1): Lynn looks to rebound from a laborious start saw him surrender six runs (four earned) in taking the loss on Wednesday night. His August ERA is 4.50, his highest of any month this year. Beachy will be making his fifth start of the year after his July return from Tommy John surgery. Lifetime, the 26-year-old righty is 1-0 vs. the Cardinals, with a 2.08 ERA in two starts.

Injury Impact—St. Louis, 60 Day DL: Jason Motte (elbow), Chris Carpenter (shoulder), Rafael Furcal (elbow), Jaime Garcia (shoulder), John Gast (Shoulder). 15 Day DL: Tony Cruz (forearm). Atlanta, 60 Day DL: Jonny Venters (elbow), Eric O’Flaherty (elbow), Tim Hudson (ankle), Cristhian Martinez (Shoulder). 15 Day DL: Jason Heyward (Jaw), Dan Uggla (eye), Tyler Pastornicky (ACL), Ramiro Pena (shoulder), Reed Johnson (Achilles).

Stadium News

-          It’s Fredbird’s Birthday Bash Weekend at Busch. Giveaways include a Cardinals Canvas Print on Friday, Fredbird kid’s cap (15 and younger) on Saturday and a stuffed Fredbird from Build-A-Bear Workshop on Sunday (15 and younger)

 

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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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The Royals are in the A.L. playoff hunt

Things are going well for the Kansas City Royals. In the last 10 games, they’re 8-2 and have a 58-53 record. Mike Moustakas is finally hitting. Closer Greg Holland won Major League Baseball’s Delivery Man of the Month for July. The Royals team ERA is 3.57, tied for first in the American League. The team is playing well lately and for the first time in a long time, the Royals are in the playoff hunt after being left for dead before the All-Star Break.

Royals Walk Off Win

But the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are playing well and winning too. When the Royals win, they win. If the Royals lose, the Indians lose (and lately the Tigers keep winning) and the Royals don’t gain on the Tigers and Indians.

As of Wednesday night, the Royals are fifth in the Wild Card race, five games back. Of the four teams ahead of them (Tampa Bay, Texas, Baltimore and Cleveland), the Royals only face the Indians for six games and Texas for three games. And the four teams ahead of them in the Wild Card are within 1.5 games of each other.

And if that’s not enough, in the next 11 days the Royals will play four games against the A.L. East leading Boston Red Sox and five games against the Tigers. In between those series, the Royals play the Miami Marlins, so there’s a chance to win more games if they don’t take the Marlins for granted.

The Royals haven’t played an above .500 team since July 25. Since then, the Royals are 10-2, which is good, but winning against below .500 teams should be expected. To be fair, the two teams above .500 the Royals played since the All-Star Break were the Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, and the Royals went 5-2 against them. Since the All-Star Break, the Royals are the only team in the Major League that have won all their series.

The next 11 days will determine if the Royals are for real. If they hold their own with the Red Sox and Tigers (and gain on the Tigers in the standings), the Royals won’t play an above .500 team until they play the Tigers again on September 6. In fact, the Royals play the Tigers and Indians 17 more times, 11 of which are against the Tigers. It’s simple: if the Royals keep winning series, they have a chance to make the playoffs.

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

EricHosmer

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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