Tag Archive | "Horse Race"

Pitching Showcase

Spring Training 2013 was not supposed to be an exciting one for the St. Louis Cardinals.  A team that had made very few offseason moves was primarily set for the upcoming season.  Then, an injury to a veteran starter opened up a door.

 

Cardinals prospect Michael Wacha

Cardinals prospect Michael Wacha

The injury to Chris Carpenter might have opened up a door but the depth within the organization has kicked it wide open.  The arms in camp are plentiful and it will result in someone finding themselves in Memphis waiting for their time to arrive.

Thursday was the showcase of that talent at a very real level.  The day started with all of the focus on the starting rotation and young hurlers Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller bidding to be the fifth starter for the club.  They both reached their pitch counts and there was more baseball to be played, so manager Mike Matheny opened the doors to the trophy case and gave the world a glimpse of the future in St. Louis.

The first arm behind Kelly and Miller was that of flame thrower Trevor Rosenthal.  Rosenthal recently was removed from the three horse race for the final rotation spot but has found himself strongly entrenched in the major league bullpen.  Matheny has been noted as saying that he can see using Rosenthal to help get closer Jason Motte some down time with full confidence.  The young man has wowed the crowds in Florida this Spring with pitches over 100 miles per hour and great control.  His breaking ball is sharp, his changeup is keeping guys off balance, and the heat is definitely there.

Once Rosenthal was done, however, there were two more innings left to play.  The surprise of the Spring has been the emergence of young Michael Wacha as another power arm that is close to ready for prime time.  Wacha would enter the game to pitch the final two innings and secure the win.  The young man proved his continued worth and helped showcase the future of the Cardinals with two solid innings of relief.

The showcase of talent led to some clarity after the game, however.  The Cardinals continued to trim their roster on Thursday with the official announcement coming Friday morning.  Wacha, as expected, was sent to minor league camp and placed on the Triple-A roster.  Joining him in Memphis will be reliever Eduardo Sanchez.

That adds yet another wrinkle to the competition in camp.

The question has remained the same: what happens to the starter that does not make the rotation?  Generally speaking, my opinion has stood that if Kelly is the starter, Miller will be in Memphis to start the year.  On the opposite side of the coin, if Miller was chosen to start, Kelly would most likely find himself in the St. Louis bullpen.  The challenge to all of this is the emergence of a solid Spring showing for Fernando Salas.  His four appearances this spring, which produced four innings, have been solid and have him laying claim to a bullpen spot this year.

As we enter the last few weeks of Spring Training, there are now three arms – Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Fernando Salas – for two spots.  One will be the fifth starter.  One will be in the bullpen.  One will be in Memphis.  The 2013 roster is shaping up with some interesting decisions.

The future beyond 2013 looks very, very bright.

 

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Looking At The Rookies – NL

As we enter the final month and a half of baseball and teams start to divide into the really good and the falling apart. Players are starting to heat up across the league and the cream of the crop is rising to the top.

Daniel Descalso by Erika Lynn

Most fans keep a close eye on the names they know, but it is the names you do not know that start to become important in the stretch run. Not just for the teams that are playoff bound, but those that are looking to their future as well.

Here are three offensive players and three pitchers in the National League that qualify for the Rookie Of The Year award. If you are not watching these guys by now, it is time to start.

Taking a look at the offensive guys in the National League leads to a few names that may be worth examining. Danny Espinosa of the Nationals and Freddie Freeman of the Braves have both clubbed over 15 home runs. Darwin Barney of the Cubs is hitting .288 and has over 100 hits already this season. The Mets Justin Turner can boast 20 doubles to his credit and Dominic Brown of the Phillies has a .393 slugging percentage in limited action. Here’s the top three as I see it:

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
This is becoming a two-horse race but, in my opinion, Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves is pulling away from the competition. Freeman may not lead rookies in home runs, but he has put up a respectable 15 dingers to this point in the season. Add in a .296 batting average, .362 on base percentage, .474 slugging percentage, 55 runs batted in and 40 walks and you have a first baseman that is among the best in the league, not just one of the best rookies in the league.

The Runner Up
Danny Espinosa has been wrecking pitchers with power numbers that are impressive for a young man playing shortstop for any organization. The Nationals’ shortstop has launched 17 balls out of stadiums this season while tying Freeman for the lead among rookies with 55 runs batted in. Equally impressive is 12 stolen bases, showcasing that he is not a one trick pony and will apply some speed to his career as well. His on base percentage is 86 points higher than his batting average, which would be very impressive if he was not hitting .228 meaning he is reaching base at a .314 clip. His .422 slugging percentage places him second when ranked next to other rookies in the league.

He Deserves A Look
The Nationals have put together quite the young team and anchoring it all down behind the plate is Wilson Ramos. Ramos is putting together enough of an offensive season to get himself some looks in the rookie races. Hitting .248 with a .322 batting average and a .405 slugging percentage while parking 9 balls over the fence and driving in 34 runs can get you some press time as a rookie. Back it up with a fielding percentage of .992 and throwing out 35 percent of would be base stealers and a lot of teams would like to have a guy like that on the roster.

What may be more impressive in the National League is the crop of rookie pitchers that will be vying for a Rookie Of The Year nod this season. The obvious stats will see people talking about New York’s Dillon Gee and Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel due to their dominance in wins and saves. Stat heads will point out Josh Collmenter from Arizona and Brandon Beachy of Atlanta as an under-appreciated players due to the lack of punch in the obvious categories. San Diego’s Cory Luebke may have the same problems on top of playing on a under-performing team that will keep him hidden from most fans’ eyes.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
The Atlanta Braves may be cornering the market on this year’s award, depending on if it goes to an offensive player or a pitcher. It is hard to argue against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. He does not just lead rookies, but leads the National League with 34 saves in 39 chances. His sub 2.00 earned run average has earned him three wins and two losses in the five games that he did not save and has been dominant over his 56 innings pitched. So dominant that he finds himself third in strikeouts by a rookie pitcher with 87, behind pitchers with more than 30 innings more than himself. His 87 strikeouts far outweigh his 22 walks and he has only allowed one ball to leave the yard all season.

The Runner Up
Coming in second to a player of that caliber is not a bad effort and if it was not for the season Kimbrel is putting up, it is possible that Cory Luebke would turn a few more heads in San Diego. A swingman pitcher who has appeared out of the bullpen 29 times and as a starting pitcher eight times, he is putting together a solid season for a team that is falling apart. His earned run average is just over 3.00, has pitched in 88.1 innings, and has struck out 91 hitters on the season. Only 22 walks to his credit and a measly six home runs shows that he can be dominant and stingy with the best of them and lands him second on this list.

He Deserves A Look
The New York Mets have struggled to win, been surrounded by rumors of trading their star shortstop and have faced financial ruin this season. In the middle of all of that stands Dillon Gee. He leads all rookies in innings pitched with 112.1, in games started with 18, and wins with 10. His earned run average is under 4.00 and he has struck out 74 batters to only 46 walks. The frustration with Gee is his hit batters, of which he has 11, and his home runs, he has surrendered 11 of those too.

Around the league there are pitchers and hitters that will look to capitalize on solid rookie seasons and avoid the Sophomore Slump. While these players are showcasing themselves around the National League, it is important to take a look at one player that is not on this list that will mean something more to our i70baseball fans. Here is our honorable mention.

i70baseball Honorable Mention
The Cardinals have produced more than a few rookies this season, on the mound and at the plate, but it has been one player that has shown that he not only belongs in the big leagues, but also that he is getting better as the season goes on. Daniel Descalso has built his average up to a respectable .262 while getting on base to a .339 average. His power numbers are low but his value to the team, playing multiple positions and putting the ball in play on a regular basis, is mounting and he is becoming a typical Tony LaRussa type player for many seasons to come.

As the season comes to an end, keep an eye on these seven players and their impact on their teams and the league when the dust settles. One of these players will take home a Jackie Robinson Award and etch their name into the history books. The rest will attempt to build on a solid rookie campaign and make a career out of it. Time will tell how well these names will become known.

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

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Cardinals Finishing Like It’s 2008

Fasten your seatbelts, Cardinals’ fans. The Red Birds are 60 games from the finish line and are sure to be bumping fenders with anywhere from one to three division rivals as they race down the home stretch. The Cardinals find them self in a virtual three-way tie for first in the NL Central with the Reds not lagging far behind the leaders. It reminds me of the 3-horse race in the division back in 2008… only that year it was the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs vying for not only the division crown, but the wildcard as well. Unfortunately, this edition of the race reminds me of 2008 in another way – the Cardinals were historically bad holding leads late in games.

TonyAndAP

A quick history lesson for you: with 60 games to go in the 2008 season, the Cardinals were 2 games out first place in the central, and a game behind the Brewers for the top spot in the wild card race. Does anyone remember how the team finished?
- 11.5 games behind the Cubs for the division title
- 4 games behind the Brewers for the wild card spot… and for good measure…
- ½ game behind the Astros for 3rd place, a team who was 10 games behind the Cardinals with 60 games to go in the season.

In other words, yikes.

So what happened? The team carried a lead into the 8th inning that year 105 times… tops in all of baseball. But the Cardinals failed to seal the deal in 19 of those games, settling for a record of 86-76 when they could’ve been 105-57 (or perhaps more realistically, 95-67, which would’ve still be good enough to clinch a postseason berth).

And that brings us to today. As of now, the Cardinals have already lost 11 games in which they held the lead entering the 8th inning. What stings even more is that 4 times they held the lead with 2 outs in the 9th and failed to get the victory. Making just those four game wins instead of losses would have the Cardinals sitting in the drivers’ seat of the division at 58-44 and a 4 game lead on the Pirates (and just a game behind Atlanta for the wildcard as extra insurance).

Instead, the Cardinals are 54-48, tied with the Pirates, a ½ game ahead of the Brewers, and the Reds are still within shouting distance. But unlike 2008, the blame can’t solely be directed on the bullpen. This season, the defense has let the team down just as often.
The defense has already cost St. Louis three wins since the All-Star Break. Yes, really.

- July 15th in Cincinnati, a throwing error in the 7th by David Freese sets up a 2 run inning, the Cardinals lose by a run on a walk-off home run by Brandon Phillips.
- July 20th in New York, an 8th inning throwing error by Daniel Descalso sets up the tying run in an extra inning loss.
- July 24th in Pittsburgh, a 10th inning throwing set up the winning run.
More Examples:
- April 8th in San Francisco, Albert Pujols’ 12th inning error (the team’s 3rd of the game) sets up the winning run.
- April 9th in San Francisco, Colby Rasmus drops a fly ball that would’ve been the final out of the game, allowing the tying and winning runs to score.
- April 26th in Houston, a 9th inning passed ball and throwing error set up the tying and winning runs.
- May 1st in Atlanta, a dropped 9th inning pop-up (yes, I said pop-up) allows the eventual winning run to reach base and score.

As much as those losses hurt, they’re in the past. The errors and blown saves will continue to stack up just like they did in 2008. That’s unless GM John Mozeliak makes some improvements before the trade deadline. Three years ago, the Cardinals scooped up Mark DeRosa from the Indians in exchange for budding reliever, Chris Perez (ouch).

Can the Cardinals continue to hang around in the playoff race without making a big splash? I actually believe they can and will. But I also think the Brewers are the favorites to come away with the division crown if St. Louis doesn’t do something.

Maybe it’s a big trade for a reliever. Perhaps it’s a move that shores up the defense.

Or maybe, they figure out ways to finish games.

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Cardinals Battered “A-Team” May Finally Be Reunited

Albert Pujols’ is rumored to be ready to return to the Cardinals’ lineup as soon as Wednesday night, but whenever it happens (barring another injury) it will be a sight for sore eyes… and wrists… and elbows… and hands… and even appendices.

That’s because when Pujols returns to the Cardinals’ lineup, it will be the first time since April 15th in Los Angeles that the team will feature its 2011 opening day lineup… their “A-team” if you will.

  1. Theriot
  2. Rasmus
  3. Pujols
  4. Holliday
  5. Berkman
  6. Freese
  7. Molina
  8. Schumaker

If that lineup card looks a little strange to you, that’s because it is. The Cardinals have only featured it four times all season: Opening day, and April 11th, 12th, and 15th. That’s it. And yes… the Cardinals are in first place despite just about as much adversity as you can have injury-wise.

It’s truly been a remarkable run for the Cardinals thus far in the 2011 season, now 5 games beyond its midway point. The Red Birds came into the year as decided underdogs to the Reds and Brewers (and that was before the Adam Wainwright injury). I hate to keep beating a dead horse about the injuries, but what the Cardinals have been able to do this season is perhaps only slightly shy of miraculous.

Despite the injuries, the Cards have found a way to bang out 399 runs, averaging 4.64 a game: 2nd best in the National League. They’ve found diamonds in the rough in Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso. They’ve been able to give Jon Jay a ton of playing time, and he’s met the challenge head-on and flourished both at the plate and in the outfield.

Now that the lineup is (almost) healthy again, it should make Cardinals fans eager to see how the 2nd half playoff push is going to unfold. Right now, it’s a 4-horse race in the Central Division between the Cards, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates (say what?!). The Reds have experience. The Pirates have young guns who are playing their hearts out and don’t know any better. The Brewers have a ton of talent, and a desire to win now. The Red Birds are running on shear desire and heart. It’s truly anyone’s division at this point (ok, I’m going to spoil the ending for you a little, the Pirates don’t win it).

But if the Cardinals continue to fight for wins like they’ve got a hand tied behind their back, then this pennant race is already over.

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