Tag Archive | "Game Season"

The Royals hang on in playoff hunt

When a team like the Royals are in a Wild Card chase, every game is like a playoff game. And when they play six games against two teams ahead of them in the division, it’s important to win those games. In last Friday’s game against the A. L. Central leading Detroit Tigers, the Royals didn’t play well and lost 6-3. They rebounded in Saturday’s game and won 1-0, evening the series. In Sunday’s series finale, the Royals were tied 2-2 through seven and a half innings. Manager Ned Yost made the decision to have Jeremy Guthrie pitch the bottom half of the eighth, who at the time kept the Royals in the game.  But it was a costly decision, with Guthrie giving up a home run to Alex Avila, handing the Royals a 3-2 loss. In a crucial series, the  Royals lost two out of three games to the Tigers. It was a series the Royals really needed to win, but they didn’t.


Next up, the Cleveland Indians. With their two losses to Detroit, the Royals needed to sweep the Indians to move up in the Wild Card standings. And after their 7-1 victory Monday night, a sweep looked possible. Royals top pitching prospect Yordano Ventura was on the hill for Tuesday’s game and for six innings, Ventura kept the Indians to one run, striking out three and walking two before handing a 3-1 lead the the Royals reliable bullpen.

But the bullpen wasn’t reliable that night. A shaky outing from Kelvin Herrera tied the game at 3-3 and Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar each gave up a run, giving the Royals a 5-3 loss. In a 162 game season, one loss isn’t a big deal. But in a tight Wild Card race, a loss could mean missing the playoffs. Had the Royals won, they would be two games back of the second wild card spot with 11 games to go. Instead, they ended up 3.5 games back. It was a game the Royals needed to win, but they didn’t.

But if there’s a theme for the 2013 Royals, it’s resiliency. With their playoff chances on the line, the Royals came back Wednesday night with a 7-2 victory. While the win keeps their playoff hopes alive, the Royals still have three teams ahead of them in the Wild Card chase, and they’re 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. With ten games remaining and an 80-72 record, time and games are running out. But the next three games at Kauffman Stadium are against the struggling Texas Rangers, one of the Wild Card hopefuls. From there, the Royals finish the season on the road against the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox.

With ten games to go and 8.5 games back of the Tigers, the only chance for the Royals to make the playoffs is a Wild Card berth. To do that, they need to win seven or eight games and have key losses from other teams in the Wild Card hunt to make the playoffs. It’s a long shot, but it’s up to the Royals to win their games and make it happen.

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Royals Announce Opening Day Ticket Opportunity

Fans May Register for Chance to Secure Tickets for Twins-Royals Home Opener


KANSAS CITY, MO (January 8, 2013) –  The Kansas City Royals will hold an online Opening Day ticket opportunity program to give fans the chance to secure tickets for the club’s home opener presented by Sprint.  The 2013 Royals home opener is set for Monday, April 8 against the Minnesota Twins.  First pitch is scheduled for 3:10 p.m.

To be eligible for the Opening Day ticket opportunity, fans must register online at www.royals.com/openingday.  Online registration is currently open and will close on Wednesday, February 6 at 5 p.m. CST.  A random drawing for the opportunity to purchase up to two tickets to Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium will be held later that week, and winners will be notified by Monday, February 11 via the email address submitted on the registration form.  Those applicants whose names are selected will then have an opportunity to purchase tickets to Opening Day at a date and time to be indicated in the winning email.  As an added benefit, all fans that register for the Opening Day ticket opportunity will have the chance to purchase tickets to any other 2013 Royals home games prior to the general public through a special presale, which will take place on Thursday, February 14 on royals.com.

Fans can also guarantee themselves tickets to Opening Day by purchasing a full-season, half-season or 21-game season ticket plan.  The 15 Game Pick ‘em Pack, which starts at just $150 for a minimum of 15 games, also includes an Opening Day seat.  All plans are currently available online at royals.com.  Fans may also contact the Royals Sales Department by calling (816) 504-4040, option 2, or emailing seasonsales@royals.com.

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2012 Key Player: David Freese

Will David Freese build off his postseason success?

Had things gone slightly differently last season, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

Had the world champion St. Louis Cardinals not clawed back from 10½ games behind in the wild-card race with 31 games to play — or 8½ games back with 21 to play, or three back with five to play — to sneak into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, David Freese wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion as fantasy owners prep for draft day.

David Freese earned MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series, but is that enough for fantasy owners to make him a top option at a weak third base position?

Entering 2011, Freese barely cracked the ESPN top-20 rankings at third base, and he did little during the regular season to boost his stock, finishing outside the top 250 on the ESPN Player Rater and ranking just 22nd among third basemen by hitting .297 with 10 dingers and 55 RBIs in 333 at-bats.

Oh, what a difference a few extra weeks can make. Freese looked like a different player over the course of the Cardinals’ 18-game postseason run, batting .397 with five home runs and a playoff-record 21 RBIs and earning MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series. Not only that, but his game-tying, two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth inning (with two outs and two strikes, no less) and his game-winning, walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th in Game 6 to force a Game 7 will go down as two of the biggest postseason hits of all time, which could inflate Freese’s draft day price tag by themselves.

The first problem with gleaning too much from Freese’s postseason outburst is obviously the small sample size. An 18-game hot streak in June or July, no matter how impressive, would go largely unnoticed in the grand scheme of a 162-game season, so we shouldn’t put extra stock into a hot streak that happens in October. One can argue that a hot streak late in the season is more telling than one in the middle of the year, as I suppose it’s more likely to be a sign of growth, but there isn’t precedence for players showing new skills in October and having them carry over into the following season. In 2008, for example, B.J. Upton hit just nine home runs in 531 regular-season at-bats and then went on to hit seven homers in 66 at-bats in the postseason, causing many to predict that we’d see a power surge in 2009. Upton did eventually cash in on some of his untapped power potential, but it didn’t happen in 2009, when he hit just 11 dingers in 560 at-bats.

So if we remove last year’s postseason from the equation and take a step back to get a big-picture, helicopter view, what do we see? Despite turning 29 years old in late April, Freese has just 604 big league at-bats under his belt over three seasons. And that leads us into the major concern with Freese: his ability to stay healthy. The Cardinals third baseman missed more than half of the 2010 season with an ankle injury, and a left hand injury sidelined him for 51 games last year, not to mention a concussion that forced him to miss time in August. We currently have him projected for 470 at-bats — a plateau he could very well reach — but if we’re simply going off his big league track record, expecting even that many may be optimistic.

Injuries aren’t the only problem when evaluating Freese. Despite the .794 slugging percentage in the playoffs last year, there are questions about how much power potential he really possesses. While Freese hit 26 home runs at Triple-A in 2008, he hasn’t hit more than 13 homers in a season since and has just 15 dingers in 604 big league at-bats. Yes, part of that is attributed to his inability to stay healthy, but the metrics don’t say there’s a ton of power upside here. Last year’s fly ball rate was just 23.1 percent — down from 29.1 percent in 2010 — and his 16.7 percent HR/FB rate could regress in 2012, which obviously doesn’t bode well for a future power spike.

That said, we shouldn’t completely rule out the possibility for some future power growth, either. At nearly 29 years old, Freese is in his hitting prime, and it’s fair to assume that his power numbers last year were at least somewhat negatively affected by his hand injury. He wouldn’t be the first player to have some of his power sapped by a hand or wrist injury, after all.

As mentioned, Freese hit 26 homers in 131 Triple-A games in 2008, so it’s not like he’s never shown the ability to hit for power. And while his isolated power (which measures a player’s raw power in terms of extra-base hits) last year was just .131, he posted a .238 ISO in 664 Triple-A at-bats between 2008 and 2009. That’s not to say his minor league power will ever fully translate, but let’s face it, he probably hasn’t even been in the big leagues long enough for us to make that determination considering we’ve basically seen only one full season’s worth of playing time from Freese. Heck, it took former top prospect Alex Gordon nearly 1,500 big league at-bats before he finally put things together last season, and Freese wasn’t even half the prospect Gordon was. A full season of at-bats — still far from guaranteed, obviously — could result in a level of power production we haven’t yet seen from him at the big league level.

If all else fails, there’s one thing Freese has already proved he can do, and that’s hit. Despite a less-than-ideal contact rate (77 percent) in his big league career, he boasts a .298 batting average in 604 career at-bats, he improved his strikeout rate last year, and had he qualified, his 24.6 percent line-drive rate would’ve ranked fifth in the National League. He was also a career .307 hitter with a .384 OBP in the minors. Perhaps his batting average last year was aided by his .356 batting average on balls in play, but he’s been a high BABIP guy his entire professional career, so that’s not a huge concern. Projecting Freese to settle in as a .280-.300 hitter seems like a safe bet.

However unlikely it may be, the absolute best-case scenario with Freese in 2012 is that he stays healthy all year, shows growth in the power department and continues to hit for average. Should all of that happen, the result could be something close to a .300 average with 20-25 homers and 90-100 RBIs. Those numbers would mirror the season fantasy owners just got from Aramis Ramirez, who hit .306-26-93 last year and was a top-five fantasy third baseman. The odds are that Freese will fall well short of those numbers (particularly the home run total), whether because of injury or simply failing to produce, so don’t draft him with that kind of production in mind. Still, it’s reasonable to think there could be some untapped potential in Freese’s bat, with the upside being a top-10 fantasy third baseman, and potentially more given the lack of many high-end options at the position.

Based on current ADP data at Mock Draft Central, Freese is being drafted 162nd overall and 11th at third base. That’s several spots higher than our ESPN rankings, which rank him 16th at the position. (Note: ESPN live draft data will be available in early March.) This means that, in a standard 10-team league, Freese can generally be drafted in the 17th round or later. For the injury risk involved, that’s not a bad spot. If you’re going to draft Freese, it’s best to plan for some time on the disabled list and not expect more than the 10-15 home run power he’s displayed thus far. That way you won’t be disappointed if the injury bug bites again or he fails to make strides in the power department, and you still have some potential upside built into his draft slot if everything goes right.

David Freese is the subject of the April 2012 Computer Desktop Calendar from D-Two.net.  Get yours here.

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Royals Announce Opening Day Ticket

Fans May Register for Chance to Secure Tickets for Indians-Royals Home Opener

KANSAS CITY, MO (January 20, 2012) –The Kansas City Royals will hold an online Opening Day ticket opportunity program to give fans the chance to secure tickets for the club’s home opener presented by Sprint.  The 2012 Royals home opener is set for Friday, April 13 against the Cleveland Indians.  First pitch is scheduled for 3:10 p.m.

To be eligible for the Opening Day ticket opportunity, fans must register online at www.royals.com/openingday.  Online registration is currently open and will close on Tuesday, February 21 at 5:00 p.m. CST.  A random drawing for the opportunity to purchase up to two tickets to Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium will be held later that week, and winners will be notified by Monday, February 27 via the email address submitted on the registration form.  Those applicants whose names are selected will then have an opportunity to purchase tickets to Opening Day at a date and time to be indicated in the winning email.  As an added benefit, all fans that register for the Opening Day ticket opportunity will have the chance to purchase tickets to any other 2012 Royals home games prior to the general public through a special presale, which will take place on Thursday, March 1 on royals.com.

Fans can also guarantee themselves tickets to Opening Day by purchasing a full-season, half-season or 21-game season ticket plan.  The Pick 15 Plan, which starts at just $165 for a minimum of 15 games, also includes an Opening Day seat.  All plans are currently available online at royals.com.  Fans may also contact the Royals Sales Department by calling (816) 504-4040, option 2, or emailing seasonsales@royals.com.

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Power In Left

Left Field may not be a power position in the National League Central, but with Matt Holiday, it is shaping up to be one of the key positions for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Matt Holliday is a great player.  After his first season in 2004, when he batted .290, he has failed to hit .300 only once, and that was last year at .296 which was plagued by injury. His average stats over a 162 game season are .315 with 29 home runs and 110 RBI. He has been incredible consistent. He hit .319 with Colorado, and has hit .314 with St. Louis over the last three seasons.  Oh yeah, and he’s a five time All-Star. Not bad.

The National League Central is shaping up for the Cardinals to take. The Brewers will be weakened, are about to part with Prince Fielder and will lose MVP Ryan Braun for 50 games.  Cincinnati looked like a rudderless ship last year. Houston and Pittsburgh are terrible, and Chicago is rebuilding.  A 2012 return to the postseason will surely ease St. Louis’ collective minds about the future of the team. Which brings the conversation back to Matt Holliday.

Holliday seems as good as any to fill in the third spot in the order where Pujols used to reside.  And if 100%, which he looks and claims to be, with Carlos Beltran in place forms, in my opinion, the best outfield in the National League Central and one of the top in all of MLB.

Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano smacked 26 long balls in 2011, to go along with a pair of steals, 88 RBIs, 50 runs scored and a .244 batting average.  Soriano drove collected his highest RBI total since 2006 and highest home run total since 2008. However, the 35-year-old hasn’t hit over .260 in any of the past three seasons and 17 of those homers came in two months (April & August). At his age, it’s more likely that Soriano’s power drops off than his average rises in future campaigns.

Reds outfielder Chris Heisey made the most of his 279 at-bats in 2011, swatting 18 homers and hitting .254 with six steals, 50 RBIs and 44 runs scored.  Heisey smacked three homers in one game against the Yankees on June 22 and pushed for more playing time all season.  His 30-homer potential is hard to ignore with power hitting on the decline these days. The 26-year-old needs to cut down on the K’s (78 in 279 at-bats) but his power and defensive skills are an enticing package for manager Dusty Baker.

Astros rookie outfielder J.D. Martinez went deep six times, drove in 35 runs, scored 29 times and hit .274 in his initial Major League action during 2011.  After the departure of Hunter Pence, somebody had to step up and knock some run for the Astros. That somebody was Martinez.   With 35 RBIs in 208 at-bats, Martinez drove in more than his share of runs in the second half. The 24-year-old flashed enough power to earn a full-time job in 2012.

Ryan Braun had an outstanding five-category season in 2011, hitting .332 with 33 homers, 33 steals, 111 RBIs and 109 runs scored. He nearly won the NL batting title, hit over .400 in the postseason and at age 27; it’s likely that Braun will be among the top hitters for several seasons. Testing positive for steroids puts a dark cloud over Braun and his MVP campaign but perhaps more damaging to his and the Brewers 2012 is the possibility of him missing 50 games.

The 26-year-old Alex Presley put together a 2011 season that would warrant the chance to start in left. In 87 games with Triple-A Indianapolis, Presley batted .333 with 31 extra-base hits, 41 RBIs, 58 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. That earned him a midseason call up, an opportunity Presley also seized. Plugged into the starting lineup immediately, Presley posted a .298 batting average and .339 on-base percentage. He swiped another nine bases and scored 27 runs in 52 games.

Matt Holliday hit 22 homers, with 75 RBIs, 83 runs scored, a pair of steals and a .296 batting average in an injury-plagued 2011 regular season. A strange season for Holliday who had two DL stints in 2011, as an April appendectomy a June quadriceps injury hurt his at-bat total. A wrist injury ended his postseason run one game early.  He was off to an MVP pace coming out of the gate until injuries like these and freak other occurrences like a moth flying into his year stalled his season. He’s expected to be fine for Spring Training and when healthy is one of the best outfielders in all of baseball.

My Rankings

  1. Matt Holliday
  2. Ryan Braun
  3. Alfonso Soriano
  4. Chris Heisey
  5. Alex Presley
  6. J.D. Martinez

This year looks to be different for Holliday. He will now be playing in the key spot in the lineup for the defending World Series champions. Holliday, who usually flies below the baseball radar, will be front-and-center in 2012 to see how he and the Cardinals respond to Pujols’ departure.

Still, if the Cardinals can get one of those patented .315/29/110 RBI seasons I don’t think anyone will be too upset.

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Royals Introduce Bruce Chen Joke Of The Day

Club Invites Fans to Submit Jokes for CrownVision Feature

KANSAS CITY, MO (January 12, 2012) – The Kansas City Royals, in conjunction with pitcher and funnyman Bruce Chen, have announced details of a new “Joke of the Day” promotion for the 2012 season. Fans are encouraged to submit their favorite funny line for an opportunity to have it delivered by Chen on the CrownVision video board during a 2012 Royals home game. To be considered, fans may submit their joke in 300 characters or less at www.royals.com/jokes by Friday, February 10.

Royals fans can guarantee Opening Day tickets with any Full Season, Half Season or 21-Game Season Ticket plan in addition to the opportunity to purchase 2012 MLB All-Star Game ticket strips. Royals season ticket holders also receive reserved parking, the priority to purchase additional tickets for all 2012 home games, access to special events and more!

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12 Reasons to be Excited for 2012

1) Eric Hosmer

This one’s too easy. One of the front-runners for 2011 A.L. Rookie of the Year, Hosmer is easily the Royals’ most exciting player to watch going into 2012. This year, he hit .293 with 19 Homeruns, 27 doubles, 78 RBI’s, and a .799 OPS. He did all this while only playing in 128 games. His defense was stellar and his baserunning turnEd Heads because of his size (6’4” 228 lbs). He is the complete package and it will be interesting to see what he can do in a full 162 game season.

2) Offense, Offense, Offense

While starting pitching is the biggest concern this offseason, the lineup looks set in stone. There could be a few order changes here and there, but the players should remain the same. The only thing that could be different is if Melky Cabrera gets traded and Lorenzo Cain replaces him.

This is what this offense’s 2011 MLB Ranks look like:

Runs Scored: 10th

Hits: 3rd

Doubles: 2nd

Triples: 2nd

RBI’s: 6th

Average: 4th

On-Base Pct: 8th

Slugging Pct: 7th

You would have to think that these numbers should only go up considering nobody in the lineup will be over 28 going into 2012.

3) Jeff Francoeur’s Arm

Seriously, how much fun is it to watch this guy? Frenchy is always wearing that grin that looks like it came straight off an 8-year-old’s face during a little league game. You can tell he genuinely loves playing the game and doing it for the Kansas City Royals.

His arm strength is nothing short of unbelievable and he has shown it throughout his 6 years (yes, only 6) in the league. If you aren’t pumped every time Francoeur gets the chance to throw out a runner then its pretty likely that you don’t like the sport of baseball.

4) Alcides Escobar’s Glove

It sure was nice to have a daily human highlight reel at the most important defensive position that isn’t called “catcher.” Rarely did a game go by without Escobar making one of those “Wow, did you see that?” plays in the field.

His glove saved more games in 2011 than most fans would realize and he will only be 25 at the beginning of next year. His ceiling is sky-high.

5) Salvador Perez’s Arm/Glove Combo

Speaking of amazing defense, what about Salvador Perez? He made an instant impact behind the plate picking off runners at first and third in his major league debut. He was also close to completing a catcher’s hat-trick by missing a pick-off at second base by about an inch. No other Royals catcher picked off a runner (did they even attempt one?) and Perez’s glove work was easily tops in the organization.

He will still only be 21 on Opening Day 2012 and it’s safe to say he isn’t too far away from winning a Gold Glove. Look for his pickoff numbers to increase from here on out.

6) Mike Moustakas’ Bat

Throughout Moustakas’ professional baseball career, he has struggled while moving up levels in the Royals’ farm system. He proved that to be no different when he jumped from Triple A to the Majors in early June. He went through major hitting droughts and his batting average got as low as .182 in the middle of August.

He ended the year with a .263 average, after having a tremendous September. He hit .352 for the month and recorded 4 HR’s, 6 doubles, and 8 RBI’s in the last 14 games of the season. His learning period is over and 2012 should give him a fresh start.

7) An Opening Day Lineup Kansas City can really get behind

2011 Opening Day Lineup

Mike Aviles 3B
Melky Cabrera CF
Alex Gordon LF
Billy Butler DH
Kila Ka’aihue 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Alcides Escobar SS
Matt Treanor C
Chris Getz 2B

2012 (Projected) Opening Day Lineup

Alex Gordon LF
Melky Cabrera CF
Billy Butler DH
Eric Hosmer 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Mike Moustakas 3B
Johnny Giavotella 2B
Salvador Perez C
Alcides Escobar SS

Looks a lot better, huh?

8) The “Old Vets”

Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Luke Hochevar, and Joakim Soria have been the only impact players that have been on the team since 2007. They all debuted in Kansas City during that year and are still major pieces going into 2012.

The leadership they have shown on and off the field were a major reason the youngsters made such big strides in 2011. Barring any trades, it will be fun to watch their continued success within this organization.

9) The “New Arms”

Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, and Danny Duffy highlight the young pitchers who will continue to make an impact in 2012. Crow had a slow finish but was still the Royals’ representative at the 2011 All-Star Game. He could find his new home being in the starting rotation rather than the bullpen next year, which would help fill a huge need for Kansas City.

Holland was the best bullpen pitcher this year and should be the anchor of next year’s bullpen as well. He was the guy to get the Royals out of late-inning jams and is expected to continue his role as “fireman” next year.

Duffy should only get better next year. He will provide the rotation a solid 3 or 4 starter, as he has the most electric stuff on the staff.

10) More filled seats at “the K”

If the last homestretch of the 2011 season is any indication of what 2012 will be like, Kauffman Stadium will be a brand new environment. Over the final 8 home games, there was an average of over 25,400 people. That includes two Tuesday games, and two Wednesday games, while the team was 20 games out of first place.

Expectations haven’t been higher since Dayton Moore arrived, and the fans are ready to have a contender. Kauffman will maintain a solid average throughout the season, as long as the team is winning. If that’s the case, all fans under the age of 25 will experience Royals’ games like they never have before.

11) New player walk-up songs

Let’s be real. At the beginning of the season, it was pretty cool hearing/watching Alex Gordon walk up to the plate to Drake’s “Over.” I’m not gonna lie, every time I hear “I Wanna Rock” or “Take Me Home Tonight,” I think of Jeff Francoeur. Billy Butler’s “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean didn’t exactly get me pumped up, but it seemed like a song that “Country Breakfast” would sing at the top of his lungs in his car (or most likely truck).

By September though, these songs definitely wore out. It’s time for new, hopefully better, walk-up songs. It’s time to put 2011 in the rear-view mirror. Who has any suggestions for new player walk-up songs?

And last but not least…

12) The 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City

Kansas City hasn’t been the center of the baseball world since Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. The Royals haven’t hosted the All-Star Game since 1973.

The All-Star festivities will bring new life to Kansas City and especially bring attention back to the Royals. Baseball hasn’t been the top sport in this town since the 80’s, but the tide could be turning.

With these 12 reasons listed above, how could you not be excited for the Royals’ future?

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Just When I Thought I Was Out…They Pull Me Back In

Michael Corleone must have been a Cardinal fan because he said it better than anyone. In excruciating agony the Cardinals toy with us. We love them in the begining and throughout the season. Then as has been the case the last six seasons, the August-September lull kicks in. Not the grind of the 162 game season, I am referring to the now annual late season Cardinal decline.

Carp Yelling

No one starts looking for their out quite yet, but the world outside of organized crime, rather baseball, becomes more and more appealing heading into Milwaukee August 1st for a three game series the Cardinals were with 3.5 games of first place. August usually marks the official dog days of the season when the grind is in full effect. With 53 games remaining anything is still possible and a pennant race begins.

Entering the August series at Busch against the Brewers the Cards were 3.5 games out with a 57-52 record with a chance to pull within a half game. This would be their best chance to sniff first place since June 9th when the Cardinals were a season best 12 games over .500 and had a 2.5 game division lead and promptly coughed up three in a row and the division.

In what was a crucial three game series the Birds had a chance to put some real distance between themselves and the Brewers. Instead they decided to go another direction. The Cardinals kicked off the dog days in spectacularly disappointing fashion losing all three to Milwaukee and the division lead in the process. One could hear a collective “here we go again” throughout Cardinal Nation.

Five years running the Birds had swooned big time come August and September and this season looked to be no different. Leaving Milwaukee the Cardinals nose dived to long time low of 10.5 games out of first on August 28th. Now was time to panic, time to let go…time to move on.

This was fine with me. It is hard to let go when it’s five or six games. Start getting into double digits and my attention can justifiably turn elsewhere. The Cards dinked and dunked a bit and were still 10.5 out on September 5th. The division was lost and the wild card well out of reach.

Still mathematically alive so much would have to happen for the Cardinals to make a serious run at the wild card. Well wouldn’t you know it all started to fall into place. The Cardinals found their pride while the Braves lost the ability to win.

Cue Michael Corleone and work on your best Al Pacino impression… “Just When I Thought I Was Out…They Pull Me Back In”.

As the Braves lost four in a row and seven of ten. The Cardinals, a team without a five game winning streak all season, won five in a row to pull within 4.5 games of the Wild Card with 15 games left to play. Dammit. I was done, seriously. With six games against Milwaukee and Atlanta sure to be the nail in the coffin it was over. Dammit.

I want off the roller coaster. Just win it all or stop all together. The odds are still heavily stacked against St. Louis but not out of reach. The Birds are back to 12 games over .500 and out of the 14 remaining games only four are against a team with a winning record. We have to accept that it could happen.

Just as I was ready to block Fox Sports Midwest and focus entirely on the Rams the Cardinals have pulled me back in and become must see TV once again. Dammit.

These are just my thoughts…keep on reading and you’ll get up to speed.

Derek is on Twitter @SportsbyWeeze and also writes for the Rams at RamsHerd.com

Also on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SportsByWeeze

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Two Outta Three Ain’t Bad

Over the course of a 162-game season, there are all sorts of ups and downs. Winning streaks, losing streaks, close plays, blown calls…etc. Players go on, and come off the disabled list, attendance figures rise and fall–a lot of things fluctuate over such a long season. Ask every manager in baseball about blown calls by the umpires during a regular-season game, and you’ll probably get 30 very similar responses: some will go your way, and some will go against you, but, over 162 games, it all evens out. A wise man once said, “Two out of three ain’t bad”. Held to today’s Major League Baseball schedule, that equates to a team winning 108 games–”not bad” indeed–in fact, within striking distance of the all-time record.

Not the “wise man” referred to a moment ago, but nonetheless a man who said “Two out of three ain’t bad”.

Last week, part of what I wrote was about the schedules of the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds, stating that the Cardinals were in a position to really put some distance between themselves and the rest of the National League Central division. To “win the series” is a good frame of reference for success, in my opinion. This isn’t the NFL, where you MUST play each and every down to win that game, because so few games are played. Baseball’s schedule has ten times more games than that of the NFL, so winning the series is a good goal for baseball teams to aim for. One that, as previously mentioned, would bring wild success if achieved each and every time.

I took at a look at the Cardinals season to this point, and scanned the schedule & corresponding results for a series won or lost. The Cards have played in 20 different series’ so far in the 2011 campaign, and have won at least two games in a robust 14 of those (roughly two out of three). They entered play on Wednesday with the best record in baseball at 37-25, and a 2 ½ game lead in the division. Truly, two out of three (or in a couple of cases two & four) hasn’t been bad at all for this Cardinals team–it’s been pretty good, in fact!

Despite some defensive deficiencies around the diamond, they’ve managed to quietly win night after night without much fanfare or spectacle. That’s not to say we’ve not seen our share of exciting games, we certainly have. It just seems to me that our redbirds have enjoyed a lot of this success without much media attention (I mean, you know, less than usual for teams not named Red Sox or Yankees).

I think if the Cards keep going about their business they way they have up to this point, they’ll be in good shape come late September. The team might not be 100% healthy right now; but injuries are a part of the game, and no team is immune from being bitten by the injury bug. The pitching rotation has been ok without Kyle McClellan’s arm, and while the defense in the field may suffer some, with the (at least temporary) loss of Allen Craig, it isn’t like we’ve lost a gold glove, irreplaceable type of defender in Craig. Offensively? Yes, Matt Holliday is currently missing from the triple-threat of Pujols-Holliday-Berkman…but don’t be sad, ‘cause two outta three ain’t bad!

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Three plays that defined the Cardinals 1967 season

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

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

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

Not so Great Expectations

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

May 30 – Imperfection

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

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

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

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

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

Dick Hughes (1967)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do It Yourself

Mike Cuellar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Bad Breaks

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

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

A Savage Play

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

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

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

Ted Savage

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

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

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

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

But Wait, There’s More

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

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

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

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

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