Tag Archive | "Leadoff Hitter"

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

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

EdwardMujica

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

At least his omission wasn’t the fans fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would ease any lingering disappointment.

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Matt Carpenter sets pace for increasingly impressive St. Louis Cardinals team

The St. Louis Cardinals have one of the most balanced attacks in all of Major League Baseball. Their pitching staff leads in earned-run average, the defense has the fewest errors in baseball and the lineup is ranked fourth of the 30 teams, but every power-producing engine needs a spark plug.

MLB Chicago vs St. Louis

For the Cardinals, that’s Matt Carpenter.

Carpenter began the season as a post-Tony La Russa version of Skip Schumaker. Originally a third baseman, manager Mike Matheny wanted him to move to be the starting second baseman in 2013 in a move similar to 2009 when Schumaker, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, moved from the outfield to second base.

Carpenter has committed four errors through 58 of the team’s first 61 games while playing a combination of second base and third base, but he has quickly become an incredibly valuable asset.

Centerfielder Jon Jay began the season as the leadoff hitter, but he struggled to get his season started at the plate (his batting average was .204 in April). Matheny had enough of starting every game with one out, so he moved Jay to the seventh spot in the order May 2 and replaced him in the leadoff spot with Carpenter.

Carpenter was hitting .288 when he became the full-time leadoff hitter, and he’s since gone on a tear. He’s raised his average to .333, including 17 multi-hit games since Matheny moved him to the leadoff spot full time.

His rise to the top of the lineup coincided, not coincidently, with a Cardinals hot streak. The team compiled a 20-7 record in May and has won five of eight games in the first week of June.

They also had baseball’s best batting average (.289) in May, meaning the hitters behind Carpenter also hit well.

Catcher Yadier Molina led the team with a .394 average, but rightfielder Carlos Beltran, third baseman David Freese and shortstop Pete Kozma all hit .267 or better, not to mention Jay’s .284 average and 15 runs batted in, which tied him with Beltran for second most on the team in May.

“I feel like every time I get on there someone drives me in,” Carpenter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after Monday’s 7-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, in which he went 3-for-5 with three runs scored.

In addition, the move down in the order has been as beneficial to Jay as the move up has been for Carpenter. The Cardinals had their cake and ate it, too.

Jay’s batting average improved from .204 May 1 to .286 May 21 before a recent slump that included consecutive hitless two-game series against the Kansas City Royals.

But certainly, the leadoff spot is what makes the rest of the game go. Carpenter gets on base, and Beltran, Molina and Matt Holliday drive him home to establish crucial early leads, which in turn allow pitchers to be more aggressive early in games.

But it all starts with Carpenter, who is quickly putting together one of the most impressive seasons of any Cardinals leadoff hitter since David Eckstein hit .295 with 90 runs scored, eight homeruns, 61 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 2005 on a team that won 100 games.

He’s also tough. Diamondbacks pitchers hit him three times Wednesday, and he came back the next night with four hits in five at-bats.

Carpenter has done exactly what any team needs from a leadoff hitter. He is the ignition that has put the Cardinals on pace toward another historically good record.

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Cardinals Position of Interest: Organizational Outfield

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be breaking down each position/area of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, from the Majors down to the rookie levels. Sparked in part by the organization’s multiple top rankings as “best minor league” system and Major League future, as well as questions about ETA’s and “who’s next” conversations based on injuries and depth. Today, we start in the outfield…and with one of the most obvious questions of the spring…

Tavaras_Jay

Majors: The St. Louis outfield is a position of strength for the club entering into 2012. The lineup could potentially feature all three everyday outfielders hitting in order to start the game off, with Jon Jay leading off, followed by Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday hitting third.   Both Beltran and Holliday stood in as All-Star representatives, and both topped 95 RBI and 25 homers. Jay played his best ball in the second half once he was made an everyday leadoff hitter, and for the season he notch a .303 average and .362 on-base percentage while at the top of the lineup.

Behind them, the backups are mostly situational replacements.  Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers are the clear alternatives for the likely one opening for a full-time back up coming out of the camp. Matt Carpenter spent a good deal of time in right field a year ago, and Allen Craig saw time there as well.  But with Carpenter in the mix for the second base job and Craig taking over full-time at first base, they likely won’t be as available for outfield duty as a year ago.

High Minors: The high minors for the Cardinals obviously yields the most intriguing part of the entire farm system, Oscar Taveras. The consensus top prospect in the organization will open up the season at Triple-A Memphis most likely, where he’ll get work in right field, but perhaps center as well. He’ll be pushing the doors of the St. Louis clubhouse; really he’s already banging on them. Eventually he’ll be let in, and it could be in the same party crashing fashion that Bryce Harper pulled off a year ago.

Outside of Taveras, non-roster invitee Justin Christian is making an interesting case in Spring Training as well. The numbers game will probably force him to Memphis as well, but there could be a chance for him to see some action in a limited role with the Cardinals this year if injuries hit the outfield. Back at Double-A, Mike McNeill hit .359 at two levels last season, including an 18-for-32 rip through Springfield. At 5’9 and around 180 pounds, he could be the next Shane Robinson-type at the upper levels of the Minors.

Low Minors: The depth of interesting prospects for the club starts in the lower rungs of the minors, especially at the center field position. There is legit athletic talent in Cardinals outfield system developing amongst its younger members. CJ McElroy stands out as a unique talent in the system, one with the ability to run up his stolen base numbers in a hurry. He swiped 24 bases in 61 games as a 19-year-old at Johnson City last season. He’s even drove in two runs on two hits in as many at-bats in big league camp this spring.

James Ramsey, the club’s second first round pick a year ago, debuted at High Class-A Palm Beach a year ago. He also manned center field, and struggled a bit at the plate, hitting only .229. But he was a very accomplished collegiate hitter at Florida State, hitting .378 last season as a senior before joining the Cardinals. He’s projected as a fast riser, who should see action at Springfield this year.

Another 2012 first rounder, Stephen Piscotty is getting some work in right field this spring despite being drafted as a third baseman and manning the position for 55 games at Quad Cities (now Peoria) last year.

Another player of note at the lower levels is Charlie Tilson, who was impressive in a brief debut stint in 2011, but missed all of 2012 due to shoulder surgery. And guess what: he’s a speedy center fielder as well.

Prognosis: In the three year picture, the starting Major League outfield projects as set. Holliday has another four guaranteed seasons under his belt, while Jay won’t be eligible for free agency until 2017. While Beltran’s contract ends this year, Taveras is already making it very hard to leave him down south as is and will inherit the right field position, uncontested, from the first day of camp next year.

However, the depth in the outfield in the organization over the next few years is questionable. While there is promising talent in the lower levels of the minors, there isn’t much else besides Taveras who projects to be a safe bet as a contributor at the Major League level. Some of this hinges on how McNeil’s impact translates over a full year in the upper minor leagues.  If Ramsey fares well in his first full season, and Piscotty continues to stay in the outfield consistently and develops quickly, this could ease the need the team to add outside the organization in the next few years.

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Cards Reds Rivalry May Be Best Of 2013

As the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels spent unprecedented amounts of money during the offseason to try to establish dominance, a battle between rivals in the Midwest could be the most intense race of the 2013 season.

CardsReds

The St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds have won the National League Central Division in three of the past four seasons, and each team has made moves this offseason to bolster their chances to do so again next year.

The Cardinals haven’t added much, but they also didn’t have many holes to fill. They signed left-handed relief pitcher Randy Choate to a three-year, $7.5 million contract to fill the team’s biggest need in the bullpen. They also signed bench player Ty Wigginton to a two-year, $5 million deal, but unless Wigginton comes up with a late-inning homer against the Reds, that signing is negligable.

The Reds, who beat the Cardinals by nine games last year to win the division, made more substantial moves. They resigned reliever Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million contract to be the team’s closer for the foreseeable future and resigned leftfielder Ryan Ludwick for $15 million across two years. The Reds also traded for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians to be their centerfielder and leadoff hitter next year.

The Broxton signing should allow flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to be in the starting rotation next year, and the trade for Choo fills a massive hole at the top of the lineup.

Drew Stubbs, who went to the Indians in the trade, held that spot last season, but he hit just .213 with a .277 on-base percentage and 166 strikeouts. By contrast, Choo hit .283 with a .373 on-base percentage and struck out 150 times. That’s still a lot of strikeouts for a leadoff hitter, but Choo provides more power and is certainly an upgrade in a spot the Reds tried to improve at last season’s trading deadline.

Although neither team has made nearly as many moves as several other teams so far in the offseason, the Cardinals and Reds have fortified their rosters to stage quite a battle throughout the 2013 season. They’ll do so without handing out contracts worth more than $100 million, as the Dodgers did by signing pitcher Zack Greinke and Angels did by signing outfielder Josh Hamilton.

The Cardinals and Reds have a recent history full of intense games that have at times led to shouting matches and even a full-out brawl in 2010. With both teams loaded and ready for battle heading into the season, one might think this could be a season series full of more temper tantrums and games that will leave blood boiling for both teams and both fanbases.

But this year’s rivalry might take a more professional turn. Both the Cardinals and Reds know each organization has a good team, and they will likely be the two strongest contenders for the NL Central Division title.

In past years, the Reds were an up-and-coming team that felt it had to rough up the more established Cardinals to gain entrance to the top of the division. Those days are gone. General manager Walt Jocketty has built a roster with a good starting rotation, solid bullpen and increasingly potent lineup filled with stars such as Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.

This year’s Cardinals-Reds rivalry could be similar to recent battles in the AL West between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Both teams had some of the most talented rosters in the league, and they stuck strictly to playing solid, intense yet not over-the-top baseball games.

Although it might be fun for fans to watch for extracurricular activities on the field and in the dugouts similar to a playoff hockey game, it might be even more impressive to watch a season series that has good, high-quality baseball.

So while big-market teams on the West Coast battle each other with dollar bills in the offseason, actual games between the Cardinals and Reds next season could create the most interesting division races in all of baseball.

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If it wasn’t for bad luck…

The St. Louis Cardinals may be in some real trouble now.

An MRI on Rafael Furcal’s injured elbow Friday revealed the shortstop has a torn ligament and will be out for the rest of the season. In a season mired with injuries, the Cards may have finally taken a hit they cannot survive.
The Redbirds have been struggling this week, but the last several games are simply a reflection of a season-long issue they’ve had with sustaining offense. Sometimes they look like the best hitting team in all of baseball; sometimes—like the past few games, for instance—they look like the absolute worst. But they still found themselves holding on to a playoff spot, and as soon as last Sunday were only six games out of first place in the NL Central.

How are they doing it, in spite of such streaky offensive output? Pitching and defense, of course. And that’s going to be the problem going forward.

Furcal is on the wrong side of the prime of his career. Whether he is an elite defender anymore or not is certainly debatable. But he was certainly the best defender the Cardinals had on the infield when he was healthy. When the Cards acquired him at the trade deadline last July, Furcal immediately helped shore up a shaky defense up the middle. When a team’s pitchers are taught to pitch to contact, Ryan Theriot cannot be the everyday shortstop if the team expects to be successful. The Colby Rasmus trade may have been the “blockbuster” everyone drooled over, but without trading for Furcal there’s no way the Cardinal defense holds up for the stretch run.
Offensively, Furcal contributed as a solid leadoff hitter—something the Cards didn’t have up to that point. Again, his slash line wasn’t what it used to be in his prime. But Furcal set the table better than anyone they had before acquiring him, and he made the hitters behind him better.

His 2012 started off good, but recently health became an issue. Manager Mike Matheny started batting Furcal down in the lineup because his numbers nose-dived. He still made plays, but his ailing back had to have an effect on his range and defense. Then, on a throw across the diamond, his elbow gave out. The way things have gone for the Cards this year, their only possible reaction is “It figures.”

But now the Cards have more to worry about than ever before this season, even with Lance Berkman nearing a return and Chris Carpenter appearing to be ahead of schedule in his rehab. After unloading Brendan Ryan and Tyler Greene in the last few years, they have very little depth at shortstop. Pete Kozma has not been the answer before now; there is little reason to believe he’s the answer now. Daniel Descalso plays a decent short, but he is also needed at second base. Ryan Jackson may have a bright future, and it may be at shortstop. But he just made his major league debut a few weeks back.

The Cardinals still have that pitch to contact staff—but when contact is made, who’s going to catch the ball? Less range at short means third base and second base need to get to more balls. The entire infield gets a little more porous. And that is not a good thing for a team like the St. Louis Cardinals. Offensively, while Furcal was struggling, it certainly doesn’t appear anyone they replace him with will be tons better.

It certainly isn’t impossible to overcome this injury, but aside from losing Yadier Molina for an extended period this is just about the worst thing to happen to the Cards’ position players. They may not be chasing a playoff spot, but they have teams on their tail and some tough series yet to play in the final weeks of the season. They need something to break their way…soon.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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Royals get two minor league pitchers for Jonathan Broxton

Just before Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline, the Royals traded closer Jonathan Broxton to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for two minor league pitchers, righty J.C. Sulbaran and lefty Donnie Joesph. The Royals were also willing to trade Yuni Betancourt, Jeff Francoeur and Jose Mijares, but Broxton was the only player traded by the deadline.

The Reds lead the National League Central and were looking for a leadoff hitter to bolster their lineup. They weren’t able to get a leadoff hitter, so they made a trade for Broxton, who will join an already strong Reds bullpen as a setup man for lefty closer Aroldis Chapman. Broxton will be at least a two month rental for the Reds before becoming a free agent in the offseason. In return, the Royals get two young, controllable pitchers for the next few years.

The 22 year old Sulbaran is a starting pitcher with a 4.04 ERA, a 9.5 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9 ratio and a 2.06 strikeout to walk ratio. Sulbaran pitched 104.2 innings over 19 starts and a 7-7 record for the AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Baseball America ranked Sulbaran 12th among Reds prospects, while MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked him fifth among Reds prospects.

Sulbaran’s best pitch is his curveball. Scouts say he’s a highly competitive power pitcher with good stuff, but there are some concerns about his maturity and secondary pitches. Sulbaran was a teammate of Eric Hosmer at American Heritage High School, winning a state championship during Hosmer’s senior year. The Royals assigned Sulbaran to AA Northwest Arkansas. He projects to be a No. 3 starter, and is likely a year or two away from the Majors.

The 24 year old Joseph is a relief pitcher with a 1.72 ERA, a 11.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 ratio and a 2.44 strikeout to walk ratio. Joseph pitched 22 innings over 18 games with a 4-1 record and five saves for the AAA Louisville Bats. Baseball America ranked Joseph 27th among Reds prospects and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Joseph seventh among Reds prospects. He was also the Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010.

Joseph is a power lefty with a mid 90s fastball, a hard slider and curveball. If Joseph can improve his mechanics, scouts say he could be a power reliever in the Majors. The Royals assigned him to AAA Omaha and it’s possible Joesph could be with the big club this year.

The Royals wanted a Major League ready starting pitcher, but to be honest, giving up Broxton to get Sulbaran and Joesph was a better deal. If the Royals got a Major League starter, they probably would get another pitcher like Sean O’ Sullivan, Vin Mazzaro, Jeremy Guthrie or Jonathan Sanchez. The Royals have enough of these type of pitchers. At least with this trade, the Royals have a potential No. 3 starter and a power lefty reliever for the future.

It’s unlikely Sulbaran and Joseph will be star players and the Royals still need to sign or trade for a front line starter this offseason. But fans should be glad the Royals traded for the pitchers they got for Broxton, who was going to be a one year player for a losing team if he stayed. And it gives Greg Holland a chance to be the closer for the Royals, which is another plus.

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OK, So Who Is Responsible For This?

The Kansas City Royals are off to a horriffic 3-12 start and fans are demanding some answers.

It is not HIS fault

Nobody saw this coming. While opinions of what these 2012 Kansas City Royals would be varied some, there was nobody who believed the Royals would be this bad. And we are still less than 10% into the season, starting the season by losing your first 10 home games is no way for an organization to endear itself to its fans. While nobody believes the Royals will continue play at a .200 clip, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify watching games on television, or ponying up the cash to take your family out to the K. It is getting very depressing seeing all of the empty seats, all of the double-plays, a different leadoff hitter every night, and on and on. So it is time that we, the fans of this organization who have had to put up with this garbage for the last 20 years, got some answers.

Imagine for a second, that we, the Royals fans, are the judge and jury on this matter. We have every player and member of the Royals organization in one room. It is time to find out once and for all who is at fault for this nightmare.

In doing so, the easiest thing to do is to acknowledge those whose fault it is definitely NOT. Therefore, we will go ahead and excuse the following individuals from the room:

-Billy Butler-you are hitting exactly as we expected
-Bruce Chen-you have unexpectedly been every bit as good as we could have possibly hoped
-Danny Duffy-despite some struggles in your last outing, you have been pretty darn good
-Alcides Escobar-You have played outstanding defense, stolen some bases, and are hitting better than we could have asked
-Chris Getz/Yuniesky Betancourt-Not much was expected of this 2B duo, and they have been surprisingly somewhat effective

-Sluggerr

-Humberto Quintero/Brayan Pena-See Getz/Betancourt above. Except Pena, will you please stop grounding into double-plays in key situations?
-Mitch Maier-As expected has been used sparingly, but performed alright
-Jason Bourgeois-See Maier above, with the exception of an extremely ill-advised stolen base attempt the other night
-Mike Moustakas-Has been pretty much exactly as expected, with the exception of his defense, which has been far better than expected.
-Lorenzo Cain-your injury excuses you from any blame for this mess

As for the rest of you…

Eric Hosmer, you can leave. You have shown flashes of what you can do, have 3 (4 now as I write this) Home Runs, are hitting the ball hard (just right at the other team), and look to be adjusting to the way you are being pitched to.

The rest of you better make yourselves comfortable. Yes, I’m talking to you Ned Yost, Dave Eiland, Kevin Seitzer, the entire bullpen, Luis Mendoza

On second thought, Mendoza, get out of here. You are performing exactly as we expected you to. Your negative impact on the team should more be blamed on the people who continue to put you in position to hurt the team.

OK, where were we…

If you have not yet been excused, then this is directed at you. We are going to address each of you either as the unit you are a part of or individually. Starting with…

-Royals marketing department-Seriously guys…WTF were you thinking? OUR TIME? Our time for what?!? Dayton Moore has tried to tell the fan base that The Process will likely take 7 years. That would put “our time” at approximately 2014. So what on earth possessed you to declare that this year would be OUR TIME?!? This was a big mistake that has contributed to unrealistic expectations.

-Ned Yost-Ned, when we watch you in your post game interviews, we get the feeling that you are very aware of why you were sent packing from a Brewers team that at was in 1st place in September. You have a reputation for being too tightly wound, and over-thinking every situation. That is why we have been somewhat impressed with the way you have maintained your composure (for the most part) in front of the media during this stretch. At the same time though, we don’t want a manager that second-guesses his decisions. We want a manager with conviction, who makes a decision and defends it. Your players need to know that you are decisive and your blabber about having Jose Mijares pitch to Prince Fielder last Wednesday portrayed you as being anything but decisive.  And on top of that, all of the bunts and ill-advised stolen base attempts have gotten completely out of hand.

-Alex Gordon-You seem like a really great guy, Alex, and your baseball talent is off the charts. There is no doubt you are committed to your craft and are an extremely hard worker. That being said, have you ever done anything of note in the major leagues when there was the tiniest amount of pressure being put on you? If you have, we can’t recall. Your best season (by far) was last year, when pretty much everyone had given up on you being the player you were originally expected to be. And it took place in a season when the Royals had pretty much zero expectations of being competitive. It is still only April, and you have come up countless times in late game situations with opportunities to drive in key runs and have consistently come up empty. This is unacceptable.

-Jonathan Sanchez-By this point in your career you should be able to throw strikes. You have demonstrated an extreme inability to do this. It has to get better.

-Luke Hochevar-With the exception of one inning, you have mostly been decent. But that one inning was likely the most important inning of this whole season. Some may say that it was the final inning in the third game agains the Oakland A’s that sent this season spiraling into oblivion, but my feeling is that it was the first half inning in the home opener against Cleveland. To say this half inning was deflating for Royals fans would be a massive understatement.

-The Bullpen-Wasn’t this supposed to be a strength of this team? Between Broxton’s blown save against Oakland, Greg Holland‘s struggles, Jose Mijares’ struggles, and overall inconsistency from everyone else, this has been a train wreck for the most part. Poor pitching out of the pen has been the reason for more than a few of these 10 consecutive losses.

-Jeff Francoeur-What happened to your power, dude? 0 HR’s and 2 RBI’s at the end of April isn’t the type of production this club had in mind from it’s #5 hitter.

-Dave Eiland-Show us where you’ve made a difference with ONE of our pitchers, Dave. Danny Duffy you say? Ok, show us two. In fact, tell us why all of these pitchers who were good last year with Bob McClure as pitching coach are all of a sudden worse this year?

-Kevin Seitzer-We wanted to excuse you, Kevin. But it is time we got some of these guys going. We don’t hold you responsible yet, but if more of these guys don’t start hitting at their potential soon, we will be looking to you for answers.

-Dayton Moore-Where is our return for David DeJesus? So far, it is not appearing that you maximized the return for Melky Cabrera. Where are the rest of the young starting pitchers?  We are not going to beat up on you too much, Dayton. Underperformance is not the General Manager’s fault. But this losing is getting really old.  And this is the second manager you have hand-picked that appears to be on the verge of a mental meltdown.

And finally…

-You, David & Dan Glass…Yes, we understand you have tried to do things better in the last 5 years. But that does not make up for the previous years of ineptitude. And you are the one constant through all of this misery we have had to endure. And now we are going to host the All-Star Game with the worst team in baseball. Talk about embarrassing.

As you can see, we officially have more places to point the finger than all of us not named Antonio Alfonseca have on our 2 hands combined.  It has unfortunately gotten to this point.

*As I finish writing this, the Royals proceed to drop their 11th in a row to go 0-10 at home and 3-13 on the year. :SIGH:

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The Deadly Sin Of Greed

Alex Gordon and his new contract have been the hot topic of the Kansas City Royals off season.  To pay or not to pay? But the Royals have to take into consideration that if they show they are willing to pay players now, the younger players, with future contract opportunities, will be shown the willingness of the Glass family to spend a little money.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

Young talent can be both a blessing and a curse.  Yes the upside of young talent means that you will be able to have success at a reduced rate.  But, the other side of that is the fact that as the youth of your organization grow older they become arbitration eligible and ask for the big money. So will the Royals be willing to pay these younger generation of players in their organization?

Well, Alex Gordon for example, had a career defining year last year.  Which for his was great timing because not only was it his last chance to show fans that he is the player everyone thought he was but also his last chance for the Royals to keep him on the team.  The one thing that the Royals do not want to do now is lose Gordon.  But they may have to dip deep into their pockets to keep him.  Paying Gordon now will kill two birds with one stone. Not only will the Royals be able to lock up a solid leadoff hitter, who plays great defense, and also is a leader for this team. But they will also show the young guys that the checkbook is open and that they are willing to win.

The problem with the Royals of recent past, i.e. Glass family regime, is that they were all about making money.  While everyone on Earth would love to be able to make money in every venture they are involved in sometimes you have to take risks to get the bigger rewards.  The one thing that every Royals fan wants is to win.  The fact that the organization has been in the green amidst having a team that is a perennial loser should show how loyal this city is to their team.  Now if you make money by losing how could you not think that you will make more money with a winning team.  This city would go bonkers to have a winner at the Truman Sports Complex.  The stadium would be filled every night.  The merchandise flying off the shelves.  The money just rolling in. So making a little they have accomplished by spending a little.  But spending a lot will make them a lot more money in return.

If the Royals are willing to show the Hosmers and Moustakas’ of the world that they money will be their when their time comes, not only will this allow them to keep players in house but also the word will spread and free agents will want to come play in Kansas City.

For example, the 2003 Detroit Tigers lost 119 games.  They spent nearly 46 million dollars on payroll that season.  Over the last nine years they have gone from worst to perennial best in the Central Division. Not only did they do this by developing their young talent that they acquired through high draft slots but also by showing the willingness to pay free agents the big money to play in Motown, i.e. Victor Martinez, Maglio Ordonez, and most recently Prince Fielder. By showing some players that they will pay them whatever it takes, others have come along with them.

This is what the Royals should model themselves after.  Yes everyone want them to win within the next two years and that is a very good possibility but what happens after that. How does this team become a dynasty and perennial contender not only for the division but also for the American League pennant.

They achieve this by spending money now to show potential future Royals that they will spend the money on them as well.

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Tall Contributions From Short

The last three weeks we took a look around the outfield. Beginning this week we start working our way around the infield. Starting with perhaps the most important position within. Where defense, especially where the National League is concerned, carries as much weight as offense. Shortstop.

For the Cardinals the infield figures to look drastically different than opening day in 2011.  Lance Berkman takes over at first base, Rafael Furcal returns to shortstop, and it appears Tyler Greene, yes that Tyler Greene will get a shot as the starting second baseman. This could be the year that David Freese establishes himself as one of the best third basemen in the sport after his breakout October.

I digress. Rafael Furcal gives the Cardinals their best opening day starter at short since Edgar Renteria. Now before all the David Eckstein supporters get all hot and bothered understand, as scrappy and terrific as he was, Furcal offers a better defensive presence and hits leadoff. The hope for St. Louis is they get more of the Furcal they saw in St. Louis after the trade than the one in LA or masquerading as the Cardinal shortstop during the playoffs.

In a division with a legitimate All-Star, Starlin Castro, holding court up on the north side of Chicago and plenty of rookies and new comers 2012 should prove an interesting year in the NL Central. Here is the breakdown.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro logged an impressive 2011. With 21 steals and a .307 average, the 21-year-old has developed a terrific profile for a leadoff hitter and if he can expand on his power next season he could join the top tier of shortstop options. Castro had five hitting streaks of at least 10 games, and he finished the season with a streak of reaching base safely in 40 consecutive games. He finished with 57 multi-hit games, tied for the NL lead with three others, and led the league in at-bats. What Castro does need to improve upon is his defense — he led all Major League shortstops with 29 errors.

Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart had Tommy John reconstructive surgery only 11 games into the 2011 season.  Since the surgery was on his non-throwing elbow, Cozart has already resumed baseball activities and is thought of as a top candidate to ultimately capture the shortstop position full time. During those 11 games for Cincinnati — including nine starts — following a July 7 promotion from Triple-A Louisville, Cozart batted .307 with two home runs and three RBIs. His career in the Majors began with a seven-game hitting streak.  Shortstop has been one of the most unstable positions for the Reds over the past several years, and that’s something they very much want to correct.

New to the NL Central is Jed Lowrie.  Lowrie, a switch-hitter who has been injured often in his four-year Major League career, will become the Astros’ starter at shortstop. In his time with Boston The 27-year-old was never able to accumulate more than 300 at-bats in a season.  Lowrie doesn’t possess great range at shortstop, but his strength is his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He’s a career .326 hitter with a .385 on-base percentage against left-handers, but against right-handers is just a .214 hitter with a .293 on-base percentage. One thing Lowrie will bring is playoff experience, having helped the Red Sox reach the postseason in 2008 and ’09.

The Brewers signed Alex Gonzalez, filling the most glaring hole on their roster before at the Winter Meetings. Gonzalez has played at least 110 games in eight of the past nine seasons — he sat out 2008 because of a family issue — and is considered a plus defensive player. He was with the Braves in ’11, hitting .241 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs. Offensively, he is similar to his predecessor, Yuniesky Betancourt. Gonzalez (.270 on-base percentage) and Betancourt (.271) had the lowest on-base percentage of qualifying National League hitters.

The Pirates have filled their hole at shortstop, replacing Ronny Cedeno with Clint Barmes. Barmes played a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop last season for the Astros who elected not to bring him back in 2012. Barmes led all regular NL shortstops in 2011 with a 7.9 ultimate zone rating, a sabermetric statistic that calculates how many more runs a player saves on defense than an average replacement.  Barmes missed the first couple of weeks of the season after breaking his hand in Spring Training and wound up hitting .244 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs.

The 34-year-old Rafael Furcal came to the Cards from the Dodgers in a Trade Deadline deal and hit .255 with a .316 on-base percentage in 50 regular-season games with St. Louis. Furcal had a rough time at the plate in the playoffs, hitting below .200 in both the NLCS and World Series. What keeps him in the game is his defense. Even at 34 his range and arm are among the best in baseball.  Furcal turned a National League shortstop-high 36 double plays and was ranked second in both total chances (238) and assists (155).

Looking back on 2011 and based on past performance, career trends  and my mood today here is how I see them stacking up in 2012.

  1. Starlin Castro
  2. Alex Gonzalez
  3. Rafael Furcal
  4. Zack Cozart
  5. Jed Lowrie
  6. Clint Barmes

In a division with a legitimate All-Star, Starlin Castro , holding court up on the north side of Chicago and plenty of rookies and new comers 2012 should prove an interesting year in the NL Central.

Follow Derek on twitter at @SportsbyWeeze

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Line ‘Em Up

With Spring Training looming in the curtains, the stage of the 2012 season is soon going to be a reality. The Kansas City Royals, although some being young and still inexperienced, have solidified a pretty easy realization of who will be playing on the field this coming summer.

Having a few newer faces in the dugout to choose from manager Ned Yost will have a bevy of options for a line-up on opening day. With veterans like, left-fielder Alex Gordon, right-fielder Jeff Franceour, and designated hitter Billy Butler, Yost will have players to build a full Major League line-up around.

A projected line-up for opening day may go as follows:

1. Alex Gordon -Left Field
While having a career year last season, Gordon stamped his name into the leadoff hitter for Royals of present and hopefully, with a long-term contract, teams of the future. His switch to left field and leadoff hitter took the pressure off and the nerves went away.

2. Johnny Giavotella -Second Base
Having started his rookie season off slow, Giavotella gradually became a better hitter although his defense still needs to be improved. With his swing he can become someone who hits, with some power, but more importantly a hitter whom can move people into scoring positions for the heavier bats in the line-up.

3. Eric Hosmer -First Base
Not much needs to be said about Hosmer. He going to hit, he is going to hit with power and he is going to play acceptional first base for the Royals. Fans have not yet seen what this man can accomplish but in years to come the ceiling is through the roof and into the clouds.

4. Billy Butler -Designated Hitter
Butler has proven to fans across Kansas City that he can hit for average and has double power. This season may be a little different with Butler though, while foreseeable future has him cutting his average down but hitting with more power. Also, batting behind Hosmer allows him to still hit the doubles in the gaps and drive in people with more speed unlike batting him in front of Hosmer and only getting to third base on a double.

5. Jeff Francoeur -Right Field
Franceour is going to give you his all everyday. As long as he keeps the average around .270 with average power he will stick around in this position in the line-up. With his defensive abilities having him out of the line-up is just not an option for long stints of time.

6. Mike Moustakas -Third Base
Having to fill the George Brett shoes will still be on the mind of this young Royal but with the displays that he has shown at every level, fans should expect nothing more than for him to continue hitting the way he did at the end of the 2011 season. If he does continue this his spot in the line-up will be beneficial for the amount of wins this team earns in 2012.

7. Salvador Perez -Catcher
Arguably one of the best defensive catchers in the Major Leagues, Perez will be given some slack of his bat which by all accounts will not live up to the accomplishments of last season. But if they do, everyone better watch out because this young player may be getting national recognition soon.

8. Alcides Escobar -Shortstop
What you see is what you get. Outstanding defense and a below average bat. If he continues to focus on hitting the ball to the opposite field then he will be able to become an average hitter. What Escobar lacks with the bat, he makes up for tenfold with his glove.

9. Lorenzo Cain-Center Field
Not many have seen or even know what Cain is about. From the Brewers to the Royals was a quick transition of which he hit for power, stole bases and ran down just about every ball in the outfield. Hitters will have to just thread the needle to get it passed this speedy center fielder.

The Royals need two things in their line-up. They need the continued effort of verteran hitters and they need the young guns to step up and get runs on the board. If this happens then the success of the Royals sits on the hands of this pitching staff. Which we all know is as up in the air as a Boeing 747.

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