Tag Archive | "Los Angeles Angels"

Freese Trade Provides Needed Reality Check

The Cardinals pulled the trigger on one of the most roundly debated moves in many years Friday afternoon, by trading third baseman David Freese to the Anaheim Angels. It is a decision that is good for business, but more difficult for the heart.

David_Freese

With all due respects to Colby Rasmus, perhaps no Cardinal in recent memory has had a steeper roller coaster ride than Freese did over his career. It was a five-year run highlighted by one of the greatest postseason performances of all-time, balanced in the middle by All-Star effort and local celebrity. Yet it also saw some dark recesses of freak injury and spoiled expectation.

However, perhaps he never received a fair shake either. After his incredible October in 2011, he instantly, he became one of the great hometown heroes in the city’s history; the prodigal son turned Cardinal great. It was an irresistible combination that was further in his encore season. In 2012, he hit 20 home runs and made his first All-Star team, a performance which further extended his heroic nature.

Yet what became painfully true was that his peak created that skewed image.  At best, Freese was a sensation, whose had a four week run that raised him to a level of expectation that he never should have been at long-term. Expectations overextended the reality, and when his year in the clouds came back to Earth, the reality became even harder to take. Then, when complicated with active nostalgia and the hope that his peak could be regained, his continued struggles with the strike zone, along with growing compensation due, amplified frustrations to a point where a change of scenery was a must for both side.

Ultimately, change had no choice but to come. He had become a man out of place, as well as out of time. Freese never looked comfortable in 2013, and was creating void far too wide to ignore. His numbers plummeted across the board, and his defensive range followed as well. For a team with few, but glaring, needs that the Cardinals already have, another year with Freese potentially underachieving was not an option. He became a man without a role in the lineup; a presence at a run producing position that could not drive in runs, as well as a single-dimensional player that did neither well enough to warrant a regular position.

And now, he leaves as he came in many regards. He was the return for Jim Edmonds in the trade that sent him to St. Louis after the 2006 season. In the full-circle nature of the life, there is some interesting closure in the departure of Freese. Edmonds arrived in St. Louis as an exciting defensive presence that immediately revived a stagnant Cardinal club. The return for him is yet another former Angel that will bring the same type of ability to a Cardinal outfield that Edmonds did in 2000. Peter Bourjos is a welcome upgrade from the overrated ability of Jon Jay in center and a needed ground covering presence between Matt Holliday and the likely duo of Allen Craig and Oscar Tavares in right. He is an instant upgrade, and in all truth, a steal in regards to return on where Freese’s stock seemed to be.

But now, the slowly grinding reality of trading away one of the preeminent faces of the city to Anaheim will set in, where he will not-so ironically join the last man that left an emotional void in the Cardinal fanbase when he departed. Yet the question begs to be answered, how does the . The organization that turns pages with more ease than any other will do just that, and a fan base that has had a more complicated time in doing so will have to once again.

For Freese, there will always be country within Cardinal Nation. And now with, both his highs and lows in the rearview, his legacy will begin to set itself; as a complicated, yet great flash in team history, and one that will one day have a place within the walls of Busch again, just not in the now.

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Triple Play: Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, Todd Helton

In this week’s Triple Play, we look at the best all-around player in baseball, the best rookie in baseball, a retiring Rockie, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Let’s dive in:

MikeTrout

Who’s Hot?

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

It’s become a popular theme this month, how well Trout continues to hit while Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera struggles (mostly due to injury). Specifically, Trout has hit .356/.540/.489 in September; Cabrera has hit just .179/.343/.214. However, that narrow-minded view completely ignores just how good Trout has been throughout the whole season. Trout’s 1.029 OPS in September is only his fourth highest mark this season. After leading the American League in stolen bases, runs scored and OPS+ as a rookie in 2012, Trout has been even better this year. He again leads the AL in runs scored (103 entering Sunday), walks (99) and his OPS+ is 181. He already has exceeded 2012’s RBI total and is all but certain to better the 315 total bases from last year.

In a year that has seen most everything go wrong for the Angels (horrible pitching, career-worst season for Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton’s awful first year in LA), Trout has been the only thing to go right. For the second straight year, Trout is worth 10 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the only player to do that since Barry Bonds. He might not win the MVP this year, but he probably should. The Angels have been so bad this year, Trout is about the only thing separating the Angels from being the Milwaukee Brewers or the Minnesota Twins.

Who’s Not?

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Speaking of the Twins, they were officially eliminated from the postseason over the weekend. Unofficially, they were eliminated on Easter. Mauer certainly did his part, compiling a .324/.404/.476 slash line. So why is he in this section? Because of the concussion symptoms from which he continues to suffer. The injury supposedly occurred on August 19, when he took several foul tips off his catcher’s mask. But when you’re a catcher, absorbing foul tips and assorted other punishment is all part of a day’s work. Who really knows when the injury happened? He started light workouts several days ago, only to have the symptoms return and he was sent home on September 11. Is there any benefit to have their homegrown star rush back to the field this season? Absolutely not. Further, if there is any team in the majors that should be extra careful when it comes to a superstar with a concussion, it’s the Twins. Justin Morneau’s concussion issues were such that he has never returned to his MVP-caliber level once he sustained his. Here’s hoping that he is able to recover during the offseason and return to Target Field fully healthy for the 2014 season.

Playing the Name Numbers Game

Here are some interesting numbers from the 2013 season (entering Sunday’s games):

Random Thoughts

  • Todd Helton told Troy Renck of The Denver Post on Saturday that he intends to retire after the 2013. “It just seems like it’s time,” Helton said. He is right. Although he reached the 2,500 hit mark, it has become clear that Father Time has caught up to the 40-year-old lifetime Rockie. The power is mostly gone, as is the bat speed that helped produce ten straight seasons with a park-adjusted OPS+ of at least 118. Helton’s slash line this year is just .244/.315/.408, with 13 homers, 52 RBI and 34 runs scored.
  • In his career, Helton sports a lifetime .317 average, .415 on-base percentage, .539 slugging percentage, 367 home runs, 1,397 RBI, and 1,394 runs scored.
  • According to the Post, those 1,394 runs scored represent eight percent of all the runs scored in Rockies franchise history.
  • Think about that for a moment.
  • Although he tarnished his name with the cement-headed decision to drive drunk earlier this year, Helton’s career will be defined by two iconic moments: 1) Sept. 18, 2007, a walkoff home run off Dodgers closer Takashi Saito that jumpstarted the improbable “Rocktober” run of 21 wins in 22 games, culminating in the team’s only World Series appearance; 2) the image of Helton exulting, fists and head lifted toward the sky as he caught the final out of the 2007 NLCS.
  • Helton probably could elect to continue his career as a reserve/DH, much in the way Jason Giambi has, but the Post story indicates that such an idea never seriously crossed his mind. Helton seems weary and ready to step away from the game. He is fortunate that he gets to do so on his own terms.
  • Five years from now, his Hall of Fame case will be a compelling one to watch.
  • In the short term, this is the best thing for the Rockies. His big salary comes off the books, they can shift Michael Cuddyer to first base and use those funds to bolster the ghastly middle relief.
  • Earlier this year, I wrote that the NL Rookie of the Year award was Yasiel Puig’s to lose. I was wrong. That award should go to Miami’s Jose Fernandez.
  • In his final start of the season last Wednesday, Fernandez shackled the division-leading Braves for seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.19, with the 0.98 WHIP. His 5.8 H/9 and 9.7 K/9 are tops in the National League. Since his electric appearance at the All-Star Game, Fernandez seemed to get better each start. In his final 10 starts, he averaged seven innings per starts with 1.32 ERA, 84 whiffs, three homers allowed. A whopping 68% of his pitches were strikes and opposing hitters slugged a paltry .239. Here are some other numbers to chew on from his inaugural season in the big leagues:
  1. Surrendered more than five runs just twice in 27 starts
  2. 20 quality starts (at least 6 IP and less than 3 ER allowed)
  3. 10 home runs allowed in 172 2/3 innings pitched
  4. 187/58 strikeout-to-walk ratio
  5. Four starts in which he gave up two hits or less
  •  With apologies to Puig, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Hyun-Jin Ryu (all of whom would be strong contenders in any other year), this is a no-brainer. Fernandez is the Rookie of the Year. In fact, you could make a reasonable argument for him to win the Cy Young Award ahead of Clayton Kershaw.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. Last Friday, Wainwright spun another gem, an eight-inning, six-hit, one-run performance against Seattle (he did not factor in the decision). The outing lowered his ERA back below 3.00 (2.96), and his WHIP is down to 1.069. He has a 16-9 record, with 201 strikeouts and 33 walks. Although his K/BB ratio remains sterling at 6.09-to-1, he no longer leads the majors in that category. That honor now belongs to Matt Harvey (6.16). Wainwright likely has three more starts this season to raise that ratio and a favorable schedule in which to do so.
  • Which is more surprising, that the Kansas City Royals remain in the wild-card hunt on September 16, or that the Washington Nationals have crept to within four games of the Cincinnati Reds for the 2nd wild-card spot in the NL?
  • Texas’ Yu Darvish became the fourth pitcher in modern era to strike out at least 250 batters in his first two major-league seasons. The others: Herb Score, Dwight Gooden and Tim Lincecum. He has 12 starts this year in which he has fanned 10 or more batters.
  • Darvish has four 1-0 losses this year, including his past two decisions. Three of those losses have been at home, which is mind-boggling, given the hitters’ paradise in which the Rangers play.
  • Last Monday (Sept. 9), Darvish lost to Pittsburgh’s 23-year-old Gerrit Cole. Saturday, he lost to 40-year-old Bartolo Colon.
  • Saturday was the sixth time Colon did not allow a run in one of his starts.
  • The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has done that eight times this season.
  • Raise your hand if you foresaw Ubaldo Jimenez stepping up to become the Indians’ stopper with Justin Masterson on the disabled list.
  • I wonder if Jimenez would be this effective if he were still pitching for the Rockies.
  • News: Dodgers allow 19 runs to the archrival Giants, the most the team has ever surrendered ever at Dodger Stadium. Views: San Francisco can celebrate that feat while watching Los Angeles play October baseball.
  • In news sure to enrage Crazy Brian Kenny: Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka wins his 25th straight start. He has won all 21 starts this season, plus his last four in 2012. Obviously, Japanese statistics do not count in the US, but 25 consecutive wins beats the major-league record of 24 straight starts without a loss set by Carl Hubbell in 1936-37.
  • At 24, Tanaka is a prime candidate to pitch in the majors in the next couple years.
  • Hopefully, Kenny will have to address this news on air.
  • We end this week with a feat achieved only once in baseball history: on September 14, 1990, the Mariners’ Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. became the only father-son duo to club home runs in the same game (off Kirk McCaskill of the then California Angels). Not only that, they did it back-to-back. The elder Griffey was 40, Junior was 20. Both teams finished below .500, out of the playoff picture. But, as is the greatest thing about baseball, history can happen at any time.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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St. Louis Cardinals maintain long-term focus with limited deadline deals

The St. Louis Cardinals moved two pitchers during this season’s non-waiver trading period, but neither were one of the team’s vast supply of pitching prospects that could be the foundation of the team for much of the next decade.

Mitchell-Boggs

General manager John Mozeliak traded relievers Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski for international signing money and a minor league position player, but he kept everybody else.

Sure, the Cardinals could have improved at shortstop, rumors leading up to the July 31 deadline had them linked to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim shortstop Erick Aybar, or they could have got a starting pitcher such as Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox or Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies. They even could’ve gone after a catcher with Yadier Molina on the disabled list.

But all of those options would have been short-term fixes that could have helped the team win the World Series this season since the Cardinals will likely enter the playoffs with an extremely young team, particularly on the pitching side, but those moves would have also mortgaged the team’s equally as bright future.

The Cardinals have a treasure trove full of young pitchers that includes Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Michael Blazek, Keith Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness and John Gast, not to mention injured closer Jason Motte, who closed out the 2011 World Series but is just 26 years old.

That group could be an entire big-league pitching staff in itself if everyone stays healthy and continues to progress as they have thus far through the minor leagues, and for many, their first season in the majors.

Those 12 pitchers, excluding Motte, had made a combined 209 appearances up until the trading deadline and were a large part of a staff that has the fourth-best earned-run average at 3.42. The Cardinals have possibly never had that kind of young talent in their system at one time.

But, that youth also leaves a distinct possibility for problems in the immediate future. Yes, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook are veterans with great leadership skills who are vital to the development of the young pitchers, but mentorship only goes so far in terms of wins and losses in October.

Most of this young pitching corps has never experienced postseason play and just recently got a taste of high-leverage games on the current road trip through Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, they went 1-7 in the first two stops before they won two of three over Cincinnati.

Maybe those intense games will give the young players experience that will benefit them in the playoffs, but then again, postseason games are yet another notch higher on the intensity and pressure dials.

Still, Mozeliak made the correct decisions at the trade deadline even if the Cardinals lose in the wild card game or are knocked out in the first playoff series. Trading some of the team’s young talent might have helped this season, but keeping it has greatly enhanced the chances the Cardinals will go deep in the playoffs for the next several years.

Yes, it might hurt if one of the young pitchers gives up a back-breaking home run or young position players Pete Kozma, Matt Carpenter or Matt Adams make a crucial error that ends the team’s 2013 season, but sometimes wisdom isn’t revealed until years later.

Mozeliak might have just set the Cardinals up as a potential powerhouse team for years to come by saying, “No,” to trade offers and setting down the phone.

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St. Louis Cardinals better without designated hitter

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

MattAdams2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Triple Play: Jay Bruce, Dan Haren, Pittsburgh Pirates

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we look at a Red-hot outfielder, a National disaster of a starter, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

JayBruce

Who’s Hot?

Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

Sorry for the pun up above. But take a look at that the Reds’ right fielder has done over the past two weeks and you’ll understand: a .322/.349/.796 slash line, eight home runs, 14 RBI, and 10 runs scored. What’s more, Bruce had a stretch where seven straight hits sailed out of the park. Red hot, indeed. For the season, he has 18 homers (tied for 4th in the NL) and 54 RBI (5th). The 26-year-old is on track to belt 38 homers, knock in 115 and score 95 runs, which would all represent career highs. Isn’t amazing what happens when Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are on base in front of you regularly? Each season of his career, Bruce’s home run total has gone up, and that’s on pace to continue in 2013. The .279 average and lack of stolen bases prevent Bruce from approaching Carlos Gonzalez-territory in the fantasy baseball world, but you won’t find a Reds fan complaining right now. With Ryan Ludwick’s injury, the team needed Bruce to step up and he has responded in a big way.

Who’s Not?

Dan Haren, Washington Nationals

How far has Haren fallen? While with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, Haren started 34 games and led the American League with a 5.82 K-to-BB ratio while winning 16 games. In 2013, Haren has started 16 games for the Nats and leads the NL in hits allowed (105), earned runs allowed (56) and homers allowed (19). What exactly has happened? Haren has offered no excuses for his ghastly performance, but after his most recent start Saturday, manager Davey Johnson said that his big righty has been dealing with stiffness in his pitching shoulder. Washington GM Mike Rizzo confirmed as much Sunday, saying a trip to the disabled list is imminent. Whether a shoulder injury actually exists is anyone’s guess, but the DL trip should serve as a welcome break to fantasy owners and Nationals fans alike.

Playing the Name Game

Name this team: .239/.306/.384, 283 runs scored, 72 HR, 50 SB, 3.20 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 61 HR allowed, 591 strikeouts.

This team ranks 11th in the National League in most batting statistics, but they are tops in ERA, fewest hits allowed and third in home runs allowed. As this team continues to rise and improve in a virtually unnoticed way, I am reminded of the old American Express commercial from the original Major League movie: “Hi, do you know us? We’re a professional baseball team. But, since we haven’t won a pennant in over (20) years, nobody recognizes us, even in our own hometown.”

Right now, their top starter is on the disabled list, their best position player hasn’t really gotten going yet and their most prolific slugger is hitting below .240. Recognize this team yet? They play in one of the most beautiful parks in all of baseball, where their fans are desperate for a winning season, which last happened when their pre-steroid slugger still played there. Got it now? Yes, it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates, who sit one game back of St. Louis in the NL Central.

The team hasn’t had a winning season since 1992, when Barry Bonds was last seen noodle-arming a throw home that failed to retire the slow-footed Sid Bream in Game 7 of the NLCS. It’s been a long dry spell for Pirates fans. The past two seasons, Pittsburgh flirted with first place in July, only to falter badly down the stretch. This current Pirates team is a fascinating bunch. Their ace, A.J. Burnett, is out with a torn calf muscle in his right leg, but was leading the NL in strikeouts before the injury. Andrew McCutchen, their All-Star center fielder, is currently hitting .288/.357/.453 with only eight homers – a far cry from the 18 he bashed in the first half of 2012. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez is red hot right now (three homers, seven RBI over the weekend against the Angels), but struggles mightily to make consistent contact. When he does, though, the results are mighty impressive. Despite a .234/.301/.498 batting line, he leads the team in home runs and RBI. If the 26-year-old Alvarez could drag his average up to the .275 range, he would be a threat to launch 50 home runs a season.

The keys to the Pirates’ success this season have been huge contributions from unexpected players. Left fielder Starling Marte leads the team with 22 stolen bases. Rookie lefty Jeff Locke is 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and the lowest H/9 ratio among the team’s starters. Veteran Francisco Liriano has been every bit as good, going 6-3 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and the lowest HR/9 ratio in the rotation. Closer Jason Grilli has been among the best in all of baseball, saving 26 games with an eye-popping 15 strikeouts per nine innings. Best of all, prized rookie Gerrit Cole has been worthy of the hype, averaging over six innings in each of his three starts (all wins) while walking just one batter. Set-up man Mark Melancon (acquired in the Joel Hanrahan deal with Boston) has been every bit as dominant, sporting a 0.99 ERA/0.88 WHIP.

What should be frightening for the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals (and the rest of the NL) is that lineup anchors McCutchen and Neil Walker have yet to get going offensively compared to 2012. McCutchen is just too good to keep hitting below .300. Walker isn’t the same kind of force, but he’s much better than he has shown. With Burnett, his injury may prove a blessing in disguise; if he can return from the calf injury rested, it may prevent the fatigue that slowed him down the stretch in 2012. The 2013 Pirates are 16 games above .500, largely on the strength of their starting pitching and dominant bullpen. If they can combine improved hitting with that pitching, they will not fade the same way they have the past two seasons – and the rest of the National League had better beware.

Incidentally, the Pirates and Cardinals still have 14 games against one another this season. It is shaping up to be an exciting season in Pittsburgh.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Adam Wainwright pitched 37 consecutive innings before issuing his first walk of the season. All season long, we are keeping track of how few free passes are handed out by the Cardinals’ ace. Sunday night, he walked one batter (while striking out six) in a 2-1 loss to Texas. That gives him 10 walks on the season (versus 106 strikeouts), leaving him with a better than 10-to-1 K/BB ratio, which is still the best in the NL (as is his 0.8 BB/9 ratio). Sunday’s game was a struggle, though, as Wainwright went to a 3-ball count several times against the Rangers. He has now dropped two straight decisions, leaving him with a 10-5/2.31/ 1.01 pitching line for the season. He will look to bounce back at Oakland this Saturday.
  • Considering how the Rangers had been scuffling coming into the series in St. Louis (their first trip back since the 2011 World Series), their sweep was particularly impressive. Still, I don’t think that Texas truly considers it “revenge.” It’s a little like losing a winning Powerball ticket and having to replace it with a lottery scratcher. Nice, but just not quite the same.
  • Wil Myers’ stats after one week: .280/.440/.720, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 runs. Yasiel Puig really set the bar too high for everyone else.
  • In related news, Jeff Francoeur is still playing right field in Kansas City, where he sports a rally-killing .143 batting average this month.
  • The Angels get a rare quality start from Joe Blanton (7 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 6 K), only to watch the bullpen allow seven runs in the final two innings. It’s been That Kind of Season for baseball in Los Angeles.
  • Speaking of which, Matt Kemp with 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in his first rehab game with Triple-A Albuquerque. Yikes.
  • I have read twice in the past week that Toronto might trade Josh Johnson at the trade deadline. This makes no sense at all. The Blue Jays have won 11 straight and are on the verge of getting Jose Reyes back into their lineup. With no clear front-runner in the AL East (sorry, not buying Boston yet), why would they deal away one of their top starters? Oh, right. It’s coming up on the Silly Season – you know, that time of year when baseball writers start throwing as much stuff against the wall as they can think of, just to see if any of it sticks.
  • During their 11-game streak, the Blue Jays have swept three consecutive series for the first time in 15 years.
  • With each stellar start, I’m becoming more convinced that Matt Harvey should start for the NL at the All-Star Game at Citi Field. It might be the biggest highlight of the Mets’ season.
  • In the AL, Max Scherzer is looking like the guy. First time in Tigers’ history that a starter has gone 11-0 to start the season. Detroit has had some pretty darn good pitchers in its history. Think the Diamondbacks might like a do-over on that trade?
  • The Rockies have made some smart moves recently, namely jettisoning Jon Garland/Jeff Francis from the rotation in favor of Tyler Chatwood/Roy Oswalt, and dumping all-around liability Eric Young Jr. Here’s another they should make post haste: 1) promote Drew Pomeranz into the rotation and move Juan Nicasio to the bullpen, where he could serve as a late-inning weapon. Pomeranz is 8-1 with a 1.35 WHIP down at Triple-A Colorado Springs, with 96 punchouts in 85 innings and only 33 walks. He appears to be ready for his second try at the majors. Beyond closer Rex Brothers, Colorado’s bullpen is a mess. They desperately miss Rafael Betancourt (although he hopes to return within a week), and ballyhooed off-season acquisition Wilton Lopez has been abominable since day one. Nicasio and Brothers could form a strong bridge to Betancourt and allow the Rockies to avoid falling further behind in the NL West.
  • I’m still shaking my head at the Mariners’ box score from Sunday – Jeremy Bonderman and Oliver Perez both pitching well. Is this 2013 or 2006?

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Triple Play: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, CC Sabathia

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Triple Play. This week, we are discussing Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout (but not arguing about which one is better), CC Sabathia, D-backs rookie sensation Patrick Corbin and more. Off we go:

MiguelCabrera

Who’s Hot?

Is there anyone else we can put here besides Miguel Cabrera? We should just rename this section after Miggy. When Albert Pujols was at his best, Cabrera’s brilliance was a little underrated. No longer. The Tigers’ third baseman is in a class by himself as the most feared hitter in baseball. Entering Monday’s game against Pittsburgh (in which he went hitless and struck out three times), Cabrera had gone hitless twice in his previous 34 games. In the past week, Cabrera smashed another three home runs, drove in 10, scored seven runs and hit .364/.481/.818. He’s on pace for 47 home runs, 192 RBI (which would break Hack Wilson’s all-time record of 190), 138 runs scored, and a .384 batting average. Two months into the season, Cabrera leads all of baseball with a 3.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement player) rating. In fact, Cabrera is on track to improve in all fantasy categories except steals, where he is a non-factor anyway. Some analysts are already asking whether Cabrera can repeat as the Triple Crown winner, even though two-thirds of the season remains. That’s a topic for another day. For now, all Tigers fans and fantasy owners can do is marvel at the greatness. The torch has been passed. Pujols used to be the game’s greatest hitter. Now it’s Miguel Cabrera’s turn.

Who’s Not?

Lately, CC Sabathia is about as cold as it gets. He has had a history of starting a season slowly, but usually as Memorial Day hits, he eases into a groove. Not this month. Sabathia is winless in his past five starts, and he hasn’t been fooling opposing hitters at all. He has allowed 79 hits in 72 2/3 innings, including 11 home runs. Sabathia told MLB.com that he was hurting the team after his May 26th start against Tampa Bay. Looking closer, he’s right: his ERA and WHIP ratios would be the worst he has posted since 2004, while his H/9 and HR/9 ratios are the worst of his career. But it’s not all bad news. He continues to average over six innings per start, which has him still on pace for 200 strikeouts and 13 wins. But for fantasy owners to see a fair return on their investment, he needs to improve on the ERA and WHIP categories. You really have to ride out this slump, though. Trading Sabathia now would be selling low and you will have a Grade A case of seller’s remorse if he follows his career path and pitches better as the weather gets warmer. If he is still pitching this inconsistently at the All-Star break, it truly will be time to worry.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .385/.460/.677, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 41 runs, 1 SB
Player B: .302/.379/.564, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 39 runs, 12 SB

Player A is Miguel Cabrera. Player B is Mike Trout, who should not be forgotten when discussing players who are red hot. Entering Memorial Day, this is “all” Trout had done this month: eight home runs, four doubles, three triples, while driving in 20 runs, scoring 24 and stealing eight bases. Is it a coincidence that the Angels have won eight straight? I think not. Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Torii Hunter might make most of the cash, but Trout is the player that makes the Angels go. In his transcendent 2012 season, Trout hit 30 home runs and stole 49 bases. He is currently on pace to hit 32 bombs with 38 steals. The biggest difference is that Trout is on pace to drive in 33 more runs than 2012, which would actually make him a more valuable player for fantasy owners. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan had a fascinating note about Trout in his most recent column: at age 21, Trout has gotten a hit on 35% of curveballs at which he has swung, making him the best curveball hitter in the game. Tons of young hitters can punish fastballs and remain mystified for years by Uncle Charlie. Yet, in his second season, Trout has leaped that hurdle. Think about what he’ll be able to do by, say, age 25.

Player A: 3-5, 2.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 71 strikeouts
Player B: 8-0, 1.71 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 56 strikeouts

Player A is Stephen Strasburg. Player B is Diamondbacks’ starter Patrick Corbin. Obviously, Strasburg has pitched very well for Washington, but fantasy owners have been disappointed because the wins haven’t been there (thanks to poor run support and defensive lapses) and they used a high-draft pick or big auction dollars on the Nationals’ ace. Corbin, on the other hand, probably wasn’t drafted in your league unless it is a deep NL-only league. At 23, he is a year younger than Strasburg. He also has been the ace of Arizona’s staff so far in 2013. The secret to his success isn’t difficult: he has allowed only three home runs so far, and opponents are hitting .206 off him. He was particularly impressive on May 20, spinning a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Rockies at Coors Field. He whiffed 10 Rockies that night, and they looked like a Double-A squad flailing away at Randy Johnson in his prime. He is not an overpowering pitcher, so he will not be able to sustain this level of dominance. Hey, just being realistic here. But the kid can flat-out deal. If you did take a flier on him late in your draft, or snapped him up off the waiver wire, then congratulations; your pitching staff is probably doing pretty well. The big question now is: do you keep him and bank on him to continue to be as good as Strasburg, or do you sell high to fill another hole on your team?

Random Thoughts

• Just when you think the Rockies might be turning a corner, they suffer a loss like Angel Pagan’s walkoff inside-the-park-home-run this past Saturday. The Rockies have a long history of letting painful losses like this affect them for days and it may be happening again: they dropped the finale of the series against the Giants on Sunday, then lost to the woeful Astros Monday night.
Carlos Gonzalez is doing all he can to prevent a tailspin, though. In the past two weeks, CarGo has tallied 6 homers, 13 RBI, 4 steals, 14 runs scored and a .333/.411/.784 batting line.
• Speaking of tailspins, remember that day – April 26, to be exact – when Yuniesky Betancourt batted cleanup while on a hot hitting streak? Yeah, no one else does either. In news that is sure to be reassuring to baseball fans everywhere (except maybe those who are stuck with Yuni on their fantasy teams), Betancourt has returned to his normal terrible self, wet-noodling his way to a .178 average in May.
• Brewers fans had to know going into 2013 that this would be a rebuilding season, but they couldn’t have expected them to be THIS bad. Without that nine-game winning streak, they would be in Astros/Marlins territory.
Cliff Lee 2012, meet Cole Hamels 2013. Cole, Cliff. You two have a lot in common.
• Just when the Yankees were welcoming Curtis Granderson back into the lineup, he gets injured again and they are forced to recall Brennan Boesch from Triple-A. In related news, Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman had to return his Mercedes to the dealership for additional repairs and received a Dodge Neon as a loaner vehicle.
• Wainwright Walk Watch: the Cardinals’ ace pitched 37 innings before walking his first batter and he has walked fewer batters than any other starter in major league baseball. Going into this week (in which he will start twice), he has a 69-6 K-to-BB ratio (11.50), which is far and away the best of any starter in either league.
• At the rate they’re losing starters to injury, the Cardinals may start wanting him to start 3-4 times a week. Rookie John Gast is the latest to visit the trainer’s office. They don’t want to rush prized pitching prospect Michael Wacha, but they may not have a choice.
• At this rate, the Rangers will be printing playoff tickets at the All-Star break. Starter Colby Lewis is on a rehab assignment,
• From the “Apropos of nothing, but still interesting” file: Joe Mauer has broken up three no-hitters in the 9th inning in his career. Could somebody ask Jack Morris if that is considered “hitting to the score?”
• Finally, on this Memorial Day weekend, a sincere thank-you to our men and women who serve our country in the armed forces or as first responders. Freedom is not free and we are able to devote our time and passion for baseball as a result of their actions and sacrifice. I am thankful for each and every one of them.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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The month of May could decide the Kansas City Royals 2013 season

After a good April and keeping up with A.L. Central leading Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals are 3-3 so far this May. But for the rest of the month, they have a tough schedule. They have a game against the Baltimore Orioles, then they play the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros, the Angels again, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Texas Rangers. Except for the lowly Astros and struggling Angels, the other teams are above .500 and possible playoff contenders.

May 2013

Despite this month’s 3-3 record, there’s reasons for concern. So far this month, the Royals have six errors, with four of them committed in their two losses against the Orioles. The usually strong Royals bullpen lost a 2-1 decision to the White Sox Monday night and Luke Hochevar‘s errant pickoff throw to first in Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles led to a 4-3 loss. And in four of the six games played this month, the Royals offense scored three or less runs.

But it’s not all bad. It took until May 8 and 30 games into the season for the Royals to lose three games in a row. Last year, they lost three games in a row by April 14, eight games into the 2012 season. The starting rotation is pitching well, especially Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar are playing well. If Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland cut down their walks and settle into their roles, the defense quits making errors and the offense scores more runs, the Royals could get through May with a .500 or above record. Or they could implode and have losing record. Either way, we’ll know by June 1.

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Remember when St. Louis Cardinals spring training was more about baseball than contracts?

St. Louis Cardinals players reported to Jupiter, Fla., last week to kick off spring training 2013, but that first week was full of contract talk instead of baseball talk, an unfortunate situation that has become the norm at Cardinals camp in recent years.

MoAndMatheny

The Cardinals even went bigger than usual in the first week this year by having three contract announcements, but at least two of those were positive announcements. The organization picked up the option on manager Mike Matheny’s contract for the 2014 season, and it signed general manager John Mozeliak to a three-year extension.

The other announcement wasn’t so joyful. Adam Wainwright and the team said contract negotiations with the pitcher are not active at the moment, and there is not a timetable for when that situation will be put to rest.

All of these are necessary procedures for a Major League Baseball organization, but it takes away from the excitement of spring training and shifts the focus away from what we all want to enjoy: players on the field preparing for the upcoming season.

Unfortunately, early spring training workouts have been an afterthought in the past three seasons.

In 2010, Albert Pujols arrived at spring training camp in much the same situation Wainwright walked into camp this year. Pujols was headed into the final year of his contract with the Cardinals, and people spent an incredible amount of time talking and analyzing Pujols’ situation, nevermind the team was actually preparing for a season that would end with a World Series championship.

Spring training in 2011 wasn’t as bad, but that’s more because the result turned out much better for the Cardinals. Pujols had left the Cardinals and signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in December 2010, but the Cardinals had another important part of their team heading into the dreaded final year of a contract.

That important player was Yadier Molina. People were already speculating about him joining Pujols in Anaheim after his contract expired at the end of the year, but Molina and the Cardinals squashed that talk early in spring training when he signed a five-year, $75-million extension to stay with the club.

Then came this year, and the Cardinals are again stuck in contract negotiations with a star player. It’s anybody’s guess how Wainwrights contract situation will play out, but that’s what keeps people talking about it even though we are less than a week away from the start of actual spring training games.

Understandably, high-profile contract negotiations are part of the way of life for Major League Baseball teams these days as salaries rise to the next astronomical amount and the performance-enhancing drugs topic refuses to go away.

However, the quality of life for teams, players and their fans might be better if people spent more time talking about exciting new players or position battles instead of off-the-field issues.

Spring training is a seemingly magical time of year when teams go to the tropics to work on aspects of their game so they are ready to debut for an excited fan base when they return home for Opening Day.

Baseball is great when it is little more than those quaint storylines. It’s too bad much of that gets overshadowed by the modern realities of the sport.

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Wainwright Comments Sound Similar To Pujols

St. Louis Cardinals ace starting pitcher Adam Wainwright announced Tuesday that contract talks between himself and the Cardinals have stalled for the time being. It’s not time to panic that Wainwright won’t come back, but the result wasn’t pretty the last time contract talks between the Cardinals and a superstar fell apart in spring training.

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That last time was in 2011 when Albert Pujols arrived at spring training in Jupiter, Fla., with one year left on his contract with the Cardinals.

“I have made it very clear that I do not want any of this to be a distraction during the season, and it was for that reason, that we came up with a deadline,” Pujols said Feb. 16, 2011, the day contract talks officially ended until after the season.

Wainwright has not set that type of deadline, but time is becoming precious for him and the Cardinals to hammer out a new contract before the season starts.

Wainwright’s biggest concern is the same reason Pujols wanted to set a deadline in his negotiations: He doesn’t want the contract situation to become a distraction.

“There does need to be some urgency on both sides just to try to get this done if it’s going to happen before the season starts, just for peace of mind for everyone,” Wainwright said earlier in the week.

Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t adding up no matter how much both sides want to get a deal done. Sound familiar?

Pujols and the Cardinals both suggested they wanted to get a deal done quickly so Pujols would remain with the Cardinals for the remainder of his career, but it didn’t happen. Pujols is now set to enter the second year of his 10-year, $240-million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

As was the case with Pujols two years ago, Wainwright’s value is something of a mystery right now. He’s a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher who is unquestionably going to be the ace of the Cardinals’ pitching staff this season. But, he’s also a 31-year-old pitcher who has already missed an entire season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

Pujols was considered the greatest player in the game heading into the 2011 season. He had just come off of a season when he hit .312 with 42 homeruns and 118 RBIs, but people still asked the same questions about Pujols as they are currently asking about Wainwright.

Pujols was 31 years old, and a long-term deal could create many problems for a team if he gets hurt or simply doesn’t produce nearly as much as he ages. That’s the great unknown that factors into all contract negotiations with star players.

Still, the Cardinals would do well to sign Wainwright before the season starts. They signed catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75-million contract before the 2012 season, nobody said a word about contract negotiations for the rest of the season and Molina had the best season of his career.

Pujols and the Cardinals didn’t get a deal done a year earlier, and Pujols had the worst season of his career. That was the first time he hadn’t hit at least .300 or had at least 100 RBIs.

Wainwright’s value will also likely increase, possibly dramatically, if he has a stellar 2013 season. The price of pitching rises exponentially each offseason, and there is little doubt the asking price for good pitchers during next year’s free-agent period will again produce eye-popping contract numbers.

These are anxious times as the Cardinals and another star player battle through contract negotiations in February. And with each passing day, the situation only gets scarier with the possibility Wainwright might not be a Cardinal beyond 2013.

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Fourteen Players, Three Roster Spots

For the first time in several years, the Royals lineup, starting rotation and bullpen is pretty much set, barring injuries. But opportunities exist for some players to get a spot on the bench.

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It’s likely Manager Ned Yost will go with 12 pitchers and a backup catcher. Add the eight position players and the designated hitter and there’s only three reserve player spots available. How many players are vying for those three spots? Fourteen.

Of the fourteen, three of them are long shots. Infielder Brandon Wood signed a Minor League contract and is a non-roster invitee. A former top prospect with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Wood’s last stint in the Majors was 99 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.

Royals Minor League infielder Anthony Seratelli is a non-roster invitee who provides Spring Training depth, but little else.

Non-roster invitee outfielder Luis Durango played 39 Major League games from 2009-2011 with the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros. He’s likely be in AAA Omaha’s outfield or could be released.

The next group could make the club, but a few things are going to have to go their way. Non-roster invitee Xavier Nady is an 11-year Major League veteran who’s played with several different teams. He’ll get an opportunity as a reserve outfielder or first baseman.

Former Royal and non-roster invitee Endy Chavez will see some time in the outfield during Spring Training, but barring a great spring performance or injuries to other players, Chavez has a slim chance.

The Player to be Named Later in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade is utility infielder Elliot Johnson, who played 123 games for the Tampa Rays last year. Being the Royals newest player, Johnson will get a long look as a backup to shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Non-roster invitee outfielder Willy Taveras provides some speed and seven years of Major League experience. If he has a good spring, he could be a reserve outfielder if Jarrod Dyson falters.

Royals infield prospect Christian Colon only has two seasons of pro baseball, but if he plays well, he might be in the mix for second base. But if the Royals think he needs more seasoning, he’ll go back to the Minors.

Outfielder David Lough played 20 games last year for the Royals, but Dyson will have to stumble for Lough to make the club.

And there’s longtime Royals farmhand Irving Falu, who played 24 games for the Royals in 2012. Seeing how few opportunities the club gives him, it’s likely Falu ends up in Omaha, even if he deserves a real shot of making the club as a utility infielder.

The next group is the most likely to make the club, due to their contributions to the Royals last year or their veteran status.

Whoever loses the second base battle between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella will end up on the bench, so that leaves two spots on the bench.

Outfielder Jarrod Dyson had a solid 2012 filling in for the oft-injured Lorenzo Cain. Dyson isn’t much of a hitter, but he’s got speed and plays a decent outfield. If Cain stays healthy, Dyson is a good fourth outfielder and will take the second spot on the bench, with one spot left.

So who gets the last reserve roster spot? I believe the Royals will give it to six-time All-Star and 2002 MVP infielder Miguel Tejada. He’s not the player he was ten years ago, but as a bench player in a limited utility role, he can play a serviceable third base, shortstop and even second. Perhaps “veteran leadership” is a baseball myth, but Tejada has the right attitude to provide guidance for a young team.

Sure, some fans might think the Royals have no business giving a roster spot to a 38-year old player whose best days are behind him. But he’s not taking the starting job of a younger player and you have to admit he’s probably a better player than Yuni Betancourt.

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