Tag Archive | "Los Angeles Dodgers"

Maybe St. Louis Cardinals discount rate suggests Aledmys Diaz isn’t worth the hype

St. Louis Cardinals officials said they wanted to make a “big splash” in the market for Cuban baseball players when they signed infielder Aledmys Diaz on Sunday, but their first signing might turn out to simply be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

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The Cardinals signed Diaz, 23, to a four-year, $8-million contract and will likely send him to the Double-A Springfield Cardinals to begin his American baseball career.

However, the excitement Diaz generated when the Cardinals brought him to their spring training headquarters in Jupiter, Fla., nearly three weeks ago suggested they were about to sign a player more similar to Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder sensation Yasiel Puig rather than someone who would have to labor to take a spot away from utility players such as Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso.

The organization’s interest and subsequent offer are not unfounded, to be sure. The $8 million it will pay Diaz in the next four years is substantially less than the $15-20 million many people thought it would take to sign Diaz with teams in play such as the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, San Franscisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays.

Those teams ultimately steered clear of Diaz and the Cardinals might have gotten him at a discount, which could be important if he never develops beyond the Kozma-Descalso level and yet another incredible Cardinals bargain if he becomes a starter in Major League Baseball.

But he has plenty of work to do to get there. Although he hit .315 and had 12 homeruns in 2012 in the Cuban professional league, he has not played since because he falsified his age when he defected after that season and Major League Baseball suspended him for a year before he could sign with an American team.

So the projected start in the minor leagues is well-founded, and the Cardinals have little reason to rush Diaz up to St. Louis after they signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53-million contract in November to be the starting shortstop.

Yet the fact Diaz is now in spring training camp with the Cardinals does not mean fans should expect him, rookie second baseman Kolten Wong and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras to be the next Albert Pujols-Jim Edmonds-Scott Rolen trio that will carry the team to World Series championships.

That’s a possibility, but it’s a small one at this point.

While some reports say Diaz will be an impact righthanded hitter at the major-league level, others suggest he will be merely a utility infielder.

Of course, projections about former Cuban players are always difficult because the information on them is so scarce.

The Oakland Athletics lucked out in 2012 when they signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million contract. He has hit more than 20 homers and had 80 or more runs batted in, in each of his first two years although many people around baseball thought the A’s made a misguided move to sign an unknown player to such a large contract.

Other Cuban players such as Puig and Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman have also made big splashes in the big leagues within the past three years, but those three players signed contracts worth a combined $105.25 million.

Maybe the Cardinals have gotten away with one of the greatest steals in the history of the Cuban-American baseball, but any further hype about Diaz should probably wait until he at least gets to the top level of the minor leagues, much less the majors.

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Matt Holliday and Measuring the Moment

For all that can be said about Matt Holliday, one thing that can’t be taken from him is his flair for the moment. On Tuesday night, for the second time in this season’s playoff run, he delivered a decisive and momentum swinging blow for the Cardinals, and has once again delivered them to brink of moving to the next round.

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Yet when looking at his plain performance, it is easy to see why he receives some of the criticism he does. Despite being leaned on to be the main producer for the struggling Cardinal lineup, he has more often than not failed to live up to that billing. In the NLCS, he is hitting .125 and hadn’t had a hit in over 10 at-bats before his massive fourth inning home run against Ricky Nolasco, which drove in Matt Carpenter and was a resounding moment in reviving a Cardinal offense that seemed to be on the verge of an early hibernation for a second year in a row.

The motivation of this big statement was very familiar, because it was the same thing his Game 4 home run in Pittsburgh did just last week. With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, he provided the support to make Michael Wacha’s masterful performance stand up, via a two-run seventh inning home run. And now, as a revived Cardinal team finds itself awakened and with three chances to advance itself to the World Series, the team’s fortunes have been pulled in place by the most incorrectly criticized player in recent Cardinal history.

The image of Holliday is tarnished by the shadows it stands in, as well as the image it is supported by. From day one, there was the idea that he was rental player, which cost the team too much to land (the now laughable expense of Brett Wallace and two other minor leaguers who never made it far). Yet in his first postseason, it was one dropped fly ball in Game four of the NLDS during the Cardinals last October trip to Los Angeles which remains the highlight of his first campaign in St. Louis. Much more than the .353 average he hit once coming over from Oakland which provided much needed non-Pujols created offense and helped the team win the NL Central by a runaway 7.5 games.

He was John Mozeliak’s first blockbuster acquisition, as well as his first big dollar contract dealt out. The purpose of Holliday’s acquisition was to be the second half of a potent heart of the lineup along with Pujols, but to also be security in case he was not able to be retained. Ultimately, the latter became reality, albeit after the Cardinals won a World Series in a season where Holliday put up a .296 average, All-Star effort. At this point Holliday replaced the then irreplaceable hitting third in the Cardinal lineup. But he also carried the tag of being the “highest paid player in Cardinal history”, which became more curse than reward in the court of public opinion. This was fueled by his pay grade was not deemed as necessary stroke of foresight, but rather being a prime reason why Pujols couldn’t stay, for financial reasons.

Holliday’s career thus far has been better than it has been bad. In St. Louis, his career numbers during the regular season have been the most consistent of any player on the team during his four-year tenure, averaging .306/23/90 split as a Cardinal. Despite the notion of not being “clutch”, he turned in a .390 average with runners in scoring position this season, which increased to .426 in same scenario, but with two outs.

Those numbers are a pretty fair regular read out of his “clutch” tendencies, as well as a showing of regular value.

However, the postseason struggles have happened and cannot be denied. A team needs its power conduit to be churning at the highest points of the year, and Holliday has let the club down in those scenarios over the past two years. In most situations, a season is not made by the moment, but the postseason is an exceptional time, and the same rules do not apply. While consistency is still not his ally this October, he has made amends in many regards by showing up when most needed. And that is not a presence that should be glazed over lightly, even if that has been the trend for many of his greatest contributions thus far.

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Legend of the Fall: Beltran Continues His Quest

The heroics of Carlos Beltran in the month of October are nothing new. He ranks in the top 10 nearly every major postseason category that an individual can find himself in. However, in last night’s game one of the National League Championship Series, he had his signature effort as a Cardinal during the season’s final month. In the process he single-handedly carried the team to series-opening victory, as well as continued to make an increasingly convincing case for how his legacy will be rewarded.

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Beltran took the world on his shoulders, as his two-run third inning double started the offense, and remained the entire output until his RBI single ten innings later earned a grueling win to a grueling start to the NLCS. In a matchup that saw just three lead changes scattered across 13 pitchers for both sides, it was the two defining hits by Beltran that made the complete difference in the Cardinals 3-2 victory.

Yet, the moment of the game came in the top of the tenth inning, when Beltran showcased why the team leans on him so heavily at this point. After Jon Jay misplayed a Mark Ellis line drive into the right center field gap, which resulted in a one out triple, the club found itself in about as big of a bind as possible. After intentionally walking Hanley Ramirez to reach Michael Young with a double play situation in play, Trevor Rosenthal found himself in a do or die scenario.

Young did exactly what he has supposed to do, which was put the ball in the air to the outfield. The ball he hit would have been Jay’s to take in any other scenario, but this was far from that; it was the game on the line. With this crossroads clear and evident, Beltran moved over from right to overrule his outfield mate, and uncorked the type of throw which helped make him a Gold Glove center fielder three times over, cutting down Ellis at home plate and giving the Cardinals another life.

Helping to make good on a dominant, seven scoreless inning collaboration from the Cardinal bullpen, poetically, the game came back around to Beltran came back to the plate again in the thirteenth inning and capped his legend securing evening. With two on and one out in the 13th, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly finally unleashed his closer Kenly Jansen, owner of one of the most dominant fastballs in the game. But Beltran worked the count in his favor so he could face that pitch on his terms, which resulted in him lining a base hit in right field, which brought in Daniel Descalso (who had a clutch flare hit to start the inning) and closed out a hard-fought win to start the series.

For Beltran, his reputation simply grows at the highest peak of the season again. It has been nine years since his record-setting eight home run October debut with the Houston Astros. In the time since, he has grown his career, seemingly lost his peak to injury and then rebuilt it in a new role. All along, he’s become a new player in the season’s final month, the type of postseason legend that is rightfully mentioned along the lines of Jeter, Jackson and Ruth.

There are a few things each name in that group has in common, and it is that their efforts evenly resulted in a World Series victory. Despite reaching the NLCS four times and reaching the seventh game of each appearance, he has yet to be able to breakthrough to game’s final level. The debate continues on whether Beltran is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but one thing that is a consensus is that the conversation starts, and finishes, with the efforts he turns in during this point in the season. And when it comes time for that discussion to ultimately be decided on, the game he began this season’s NLCS with will be remembered as a strong indicator of just how exceptional he truly has been. But where the season ends, and how much further he can fuel this particular Cardinal team, could ultimately be the decider.

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Seven Point Preview For Cardinals/Dodgers NLCS

Tonight, the National League Championship Series kicks off at Busch Stadium, in an ironic scenario. It pits the best team, by record, in the St. Louis Cardinals versus the best team, in the view of the odds makers, in the Los Angeles Dodgers. This could be seen as a slight to a Cardinal team that not only finished with the best record in the NL, but tied for the best in all of the baseball, but the Dodgers are a bit more than just their record.

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After a desperately terrible start, the Dodgers played insane baseball over the second half of the season, finishing with a winning percentage of .665 after June. They pulled from the bottom of the NL West to winning their division by 11 games, the largest margin of any in baseball. Yet, they find themselves facing four games on the road against the best October franchise in baseball over the last three seasons, and it is the type of series where intangibles and talent collide, to make for a narrow decision.

So who has the edge: the hottest team in baseball or the most proven team in it? Here’s how it shakes out:

Starting Lineup: The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored this season, owed mostly to the new high mark they set hitting with runners in scoring position. As a team, they hit .330 on the year, and had five batters drive in over 75 runs on the season. Save for the injured Allen Craig, four everyday Cardinals hit over .296, with high marks of .319 and .318 from Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter.

For the Dodgers, the production was spread around. Hanley Ramirez hit .345 in 304 at-bats between a series of injuries, while Yasiel Puig hit .319 on the year after debuting in June, adding in 19 home runs, 21 doubles and 11 stolen bases. From the Opening Day Dodgers, Adrian Gonzalez led the team in the Triple Crown categories, with a .293/22/100 split on the year.

The Cardinals have the best everyday ensemble left in the game, as well as a knack for finding hits when they are needed. LA conversely has more talent in the everyday lineup, but without Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp healthy, it simply isn’t a more threatening lineup as a whole. Advantage: Cardinals.

Starting Pitching: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are the best back-to-back duo of starting arms in the game, and are the greatest advantage the Dodgers have on their side. Throughout the year, they combined to go 31-13, with a 2.17 ERA and 380 strikeouts. But depth is also the Dodgers ally, as Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano all providing an intriguing matchup options as well.

Everything is based around Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals, but this time it won’t be able to start with him. There is a chance that he will be surrounded by three rookies in Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller in the Cardinals NLCS rotation. They are not average, but well-tested youngsters that won’t be intimidated in the moment, but will carry a heavy burden.

St. Louis is high on talent, but clearly outmatched against the two former Cy Young winners, which are slated to start four of the seven potential games in the series. Their best hope is to spring an upset against one, ride Wainwright’s opportunities and win the swing game that pits starter four vs. four. Advantage: Dodgers.

Bullpen: St. Louis relies most heavily on its young arms out of its bullpen, where no less than four can factor into any game, including the ninth inning, which has been inherited by Trevor Rosenthal (108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings, 29 holds). The presence of former closers-turned-fill in arms Edward Mujica (37 2013 saves) and John Axford give the Cardinals a solid group of mid-to-late game options, albeit with some risk.

The Dodgers rely on mix of proven specialists, closers and pure flame throwers. Kenley Jenson threw the second most pitches over 100 mph in the MLB this year after Aroldis Chapman, and closed out 28 of 32 save opportunities after moving to the ninth inning in early June. Joined by a resurgent Brian Wilson (0.66 ERA) and JP Howell (.164 average against by lefties) and they have a tough crew to crack.

The Cardinals pen has been solid throughout the year, but somewhat unnerving of late in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a bevy of options that miss bats easily, and instant outs are huge in the playoffs. Advantage: Dodgers.

Defense: Despite some notably limited players in Matt Holliday and David Freese in the starting lineup, the Cardinals can field. They tied of the least amount of team errors and the best fielding percentage in the National League this season. This is due in part to a strong quad up the middle of Molina, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma.

The Dodgers conversely were not a good defensive team. Puig’s insertion in the outfield provided some much needed range, and AJ Ellis is a plus backstop, but they finished with the second most errors in the NL and wait more for strikeouts than created ones. Advantage: Cardinals.

Bench: Andre Ethier’s availability to play in the field is in question, but he can swing the bat still and is joined by Michael Young, who was acquired to add needed depth to the bench. These veteran presences loom huge in the Dodgers ability to create mismatches on-demand. Dee Gordon is instant speed boost, while Nick Punto is a defensive plus at three infield spots.

The Cardinals bench is not an offensive stock hold, after Matt Adams was forced into everyday action after the injury to Allen Craig deemed it necessary. However, Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson are defensive bonuses that are an important part of the late game strategy for the offense-heavy Cardinal attack.

Despite the versatility of the Cardinal approach, LA’s ability to continue to create offense late in the game is major advantage that will be a factor throughout the series. Advantage: Dodgers

Manager: Mike Matheny’s major contribution in his second season leading the Cardinals has been to install the crucial team identity, as well as strategically groom the rookie base that much of the team is built around. However, he has grown as a strategist as well and uses his full roster to his advantage.

Don Mattingly has come a long way in just this season. He was one week away from losing his job when the Dodgers took off, and has become an essential part of holding together the big money, multi-personality team together.

With that said, Matheny holds an edge in the chemistry department, as well as the experience lane at this part of the calendar as well. He has already shown some positive adjustments from a year ago, and will take on a new personal distance mark in his career. Advantage: Cardinals

Injury Factor: There are two major injuries that holding both teams back from their full potential in the series. For the Dodgers, it is Matt Kemp, who only played only 73 games on the year. The team’s best player in name, but not much a part of the run the team took this season. Ethier’s foot injury is also compounding the Dodger situation, whereas he can’t be a part of the daily lineup, due to not being able to handle the demands of the field.

Conversely, the Cardinals are missing a major part of their success in Allen Craig. The run producing machine ran up 97 RBI and a hit a mind-blowing 59 for 130 on the year with runners in scoring position (.454). The absence of the All-Star first baseman has been padded by the presence of Adams, but he is an irreplaceable quantity in the steadiness of the Cardinal attack.

While the Cardinals are missing a major portion of their attack, the alternate option for the Cardinals is actually not as far of a step down as the Dodgers have faced without two-thirds of their best possible outfield. Advantage: Cardinals.

Intangibles: Momentum is everything in the postseason, and both teams come into the series with plenty. The Cardinals will be fresh off an inspiring effort from Wainwright to close out their NLDS series, and will be in front of the same home crowd buzz that it took place in. Conversely, the Dodgers will cross the country again after a similarly inspiring close out to their NLDS matchup, which concluded with Juan Uribe’s two-run, bottom of the 8th inning home run.

On the season, the Dodgers won the season’s seven game series, 4-3. Over the last month, including the playoffs, the Dodgers are 15-16, while the Cardinals are 22-10.

On the year, the Cardinals are 56-28 at Busch Stadium, and 44-39 elsewhere. At Dodger Stadium, LA is 49-34, while 45-37 on the road. Home games for the Cardinals are the biggest outstanding factor in the series for either side.

Summary: These are two teams with clear strengths, but close margins at the same time. Protecting home field advantage will be a task for the Cardinals, who will be confronted with Greinke and Kershaw in their own park, which is a powerful equalizer. Finding their groove in offense will be tough this way, for a team that has struggled to string together a consistent offering over the last week offensively, and they will need to get runs early in the game throughout the series to make it.

The Cardinals face an uphill battle from the start, but with two Dodger aces out of the way early, if they can split the first two games before sending Wainwright to the mound in game three, they have a chance to get a decisive advantage before the anything goes game four, and then the return of Greinke and Kershaw in games five and six. On paper it seems to be a long series ahead, but one with some very decisive pitfall chances early and often. The Cardinals take the edge in the head-to-head factors department 4-3, and have some important intangibles leaning in their favor as well. This bides well in their favor for a series that looks primed to go the full distance, and end in a Cardinal final advantage.

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Edward Mujica eerily similar to Ryan Franklin for St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2009 playoffs with a closer who barely reached 90 mph with his fastball after years of a closer who threw in the mid-to-upper 90s yet had a nearly perfect season before the Cardinals faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.

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Ryan Franklin had replaced Jason Isringhausen when Izzy got hurt, or got too ineffective, late in the 2008 season and saved 38 games in 43 opportunities.

The situation at the back end of the Cardinals’ bullpen four years later is nearly exactly the same. The Cardinals lost their flame-throwing closer, Jason Motte, to elbow surgery during spring training and eventually gave the ninth-inning job to Edward Mujica late in April.

Mujica’s fastball tops out around 91 mph, but as was the case with Franklin, he has masterfully induced dozens upon dozens of groundballs on the way to 37 saves in 41 chances with nine games left in the regular season.

And the Cardinals are set up to again play the Dodgers in the National League Division Series if they hold on to win the NL Central over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

The last time the Cardinals and Dodgers met in the division series is when Franklin’s almost magical run came to an end and never returned.

Dodgers first baseman James Loney hit a line drive to left field in Game 2 that Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday dropped. Franklin then walked two hitters and gave up two singles, the final one to pinch hitter Mark Loretta to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the series that ended in a sweep two days later.

That playoff series was the beginning of the end for Franklin, who had been an All-Star in 2009. He saved 27 games in 2010 but he blew four of his first five save opportunities in 2011 and did not make it to the end of June before the Cardinals released him.

Obviously, the Cardinals hope the matchup against the Dodgers ends a little differently this time around, but the lesson from 2009 is clear. Mujica has been terrific for the Cardinals so far this season, but he is not an overpowering pitcher and not a long-term answer for the team at the closer position.

Thankfully, the Cardinals have a more solid backup option this time than they did two season ago, even though it is the same person.

The Cardinals tried seven different pitchers in the ninth inning in 2011 before manager Tony La Russa settled on Motte in September. Motte saved nine games in the regular season, closed out the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers and the World Series against the Texas Rangers, but he had a total of three career saves before that season.

Motte now has a world championship ring and 54 career saves to his name, and manager Mike Matheny will likely give him every possible chance to take back the job when he returns healthy to spring training in 2014.

Until then, Mujica has a lot of work to do, and he has shown some weaknesses lately. After he converted 21 consecutive save chances to start the season and was a perfect 9-for-9 from July 19 through Aug. 26, Mujica has blown two of his four save chances in September and has given up 12 hits in his last 6.1 innings.

Mujica is one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals are in a solid position to make the playoffs, but the team will need more of his first-half performances than his September outings if it is going to beat the Dodgers this time around.

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St. Louis Cardinals will have little excuse not to win NL Central

The St. Louis Cardinals have played as tough of a schedule as any team in Major League Baseball this season. They spent the majority of the first half on the road and then came back from the All-Star Break to face 10 playoff-bound teams in their next 15 series.

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After six games to open the second half against the lowly San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Philles, the Cardinals faced the Atlanta Braves twice, the Los Angeles Dodgers once, the Pittsburgh Pirates four times and the Cincinnati Reds three times, for a total of 33 out of 48 games.

The Cardinals have survived that difficult stretch, going 25-24 headed into Sunday’s game against the Pirates, and they will soon reap the benefits of completing facing all of those potential playoff teams as the schedule balances out through the rest of September.

St. Louis will have 19 games left in the 2013 season after they finish their final three-game set with the Pirates on Sunday, and they will face just one team with a winning record, the Washington Nationals, who visit Busch Stadium Sept. 23-25.

Otherwise, the Cardinals face the likes of the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies through the end of the regular season. Those teams were a combined 63 games under the .500 mark headed into play Saturday.

So the Cardinals will have every opportunity to win the National League Central Division, especially since the Pirates face the AL West-leading Texas Rangers to begin this next week and still have six games against the Reds, which are the third contender in the NL Central.

Of course, a light schedule to finish the season is far from a guarantee of success. Sometimes the worst teams play well against playoff contenders late in the season as they bring up young players from the minor leagues and try to play the spoiler role.

The Cubs could be particularly troublesome, which is a problem considering they come to St. Louis for a three-game series to finish the season.

The Cardinals are 9-7 against the Cubs this season, but luckily those final three games will be played in St. Louis, where the Cardinals were 42-25 headed into play Saturday, compared to a 39-35 record on the road.

Along with the bevy of opponents with poor records, the schedule also helps the Cardinals in that 12 of the final 19 games are at Busch Stadium, and that could also give the Cardinals momentum headed into October.

The Cardinals are in a three-way battle for the division title with the Pirates and Reds, and they have held the first wild-card spot for much of the second half, but it is crucial they at least hang on to that position if they don’t win the division because they have played so much better at home.

One of the staples of the clubs managed by former manager Tony La Russa was their ability to play well on the road. The 2013 Cardinals still have a winning road record, but they have not played well away from St. Louis at all in the second half, going 9-15 since the All-Star Break, so home-field advantage could be particularly important for this ballclub.

They’ll have every opportunity to win that advantage given their remaining schedule, and they’ll have no one to blame but themselves if they have to open the postseason with a one-game wild-card playoff in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.

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Triple Play: Clayton Kershaw, Edinson Volquez, Ichiro

In this edition of the Triple Play, we look at the best starting pitcher in baseball, an amazing career achievement that unexpectedly is drawing some controversy, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

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Who’s Hot?

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Just as people are running out of superlatives for Miguel Cabrera’s hitting; so too are we struggling to find the words to accurately describe just how sensational Kershaw has been for the Dodgers this season. You’ve seen the ERA (1.72) that is far and away the best in baseball, but Kershaw also leads the National League in the following categories:

  • Games started (27)
  • Shutouts (2, tied with Adam Wainwright)
  • WHIP (0.857)
  • Hits per nine innings (5.8)
  • ERA+ (207)

He has surrendered just nine home runs in 198 1/3 innings pitched and is on pace for 240 strikeouts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 188/32. The last time he allowed more than two runs in a start was July 10 against the Rockies. His ERA hasn’t been above two since June 26. The only thing separating him from a second 20-win season in three years is the Dodgers’ slow start to the season. Barring an incomprehensible late-season collapse, he looks like a shoo-in to win the NL Cy Young Award. The only questions left are whether the voting will be unanimous, and if he will win the MVP award as well.

Who’s Not?

Edinson Volquez, San Diego Padres

Edinson Volquez has been part of two major trades in his career. The first saw him dealt from the Rangers to the Reds in the Josh Hamilton deal; he was traded from the Reds to the Padres as part of the package for Mat Latos. He teased everyone with an impressive rookie year in 2008, going 17-6, with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts. But the warning signs were there even then: he walked 93 batters, hit 14 more (which led the NL), and threw 10 wild pitches. His WHIP was a career-best 1.327 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 2.22-to-1.

After being plagued by injuries for several years, Volquez made 32 starts with San Diego in 2012. He was credited with 11 wins, but led the league with a staggering 105 walks. If you owned him in your fantasy league, you either dropped him or watched your ERA/WHIP categories sink lower and lower thanks to his lack of control.

The Padres finally ran out of patience with Volquez on Saturday, designating him for assignment one day after failing a ghastly start that saw him fail to make it out of the first inning in a no-decision versus the anemic Cubs. This season, he went 9-10 with a 6.01 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 95 earned runs allowed (worst in the NL). He averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per start this season. There are a few teams out there desperate for pitching, but they would be wise to look elsewhere.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .266/.358/.484, 24 HR, 64 RBI, 80 runs, 7 SB, 128 OPS+

Player B: .182/.263/.292, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 27 runs, 11 SB, 52 OPS+

Player C: .253/.347/.423, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 60 runs, 2 SB, 109 OPS+

Player A started the 2013 like a house afire, leading his league in home runs. Then he fell into a two and a half-month slump that had fantasy owners wondering if they should sell low on him just to rid themselves of the headache. Since the All-Star break, though, he has been much better; not quite the beast he was in April, but still an elite outfielder. In a recent game, he was tossed out of a game while running out a ground ball to first base.

Player B has had a season to forget, despite being one of the big free-agent signings of this past offseason. Never one to hit for a high average, he had always been able to provide power and great speed for fantasy owners. This season, he hasn’t provided much of either. His struggles have resulted in more frequent days off, even when healthy. The extra rest hasn’t helped, however, as he has 1-for-34 in his past 13 games.

Player C is the player who was recently injured, and may miss the rest of the regular season. The timing couldn’t be worse, either, as he was punishing the ball to the tune of a .348/.419/.621 slash line this month. In his place is a player who has never produced an OPS+ greater than 75 nor had more than 360 at-bats for the season.

Player A is Justin Upton, Player B is B.J. Upton, and Player C is Jason Heyward. Their up-and-down seasons (or in BJ’s case, just down) illustrate just how good Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, and Brian McCann have been in anchoring the Braves lineup this season. The bullpen has been stellar as well, despite the injuries to stalwarts Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters. The Braves’ biggest benefactor, though, has been the putrid NL East division. If they were in any other division, they would be in a dogfight for first place. Instead, though, the Braves can worry about getting their players healthy and ready for October baseball.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. After handcuffing the Cubs last week, Wainwright was even better last Friday night versus the Braves: he spun a six-hit, complete-game victory in which he walked no one and fanned nine. The start was Wainwright’s ninth this season in which he hasn’t issued a free pass (by comparison, Kershaw has six starts where he didn’t allow a walk). It also was his fifth complete game this season, most in the majors (Kershaw has three). Wainwright’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is back up to 7.24-to-1, still far and away the best in the majors. He is on a big-time roll at the perfect time, as the Cardinals go into a crucial stretch where their next 13 games are against the Reds and Pirates.
  • Jose Fernandez has allowed a total of eight runs in his seven starts since the All-Star break, with an ERA of 1.31. Opponents are slugging .225 against him in those games, and he has a 62-to-11 strikeout/walk ratio. He turned 21 on July 31. Mercy.
  • Meanwhile, the clock has struck midnight for Royals pitcher Bruce Chen. From July 12-August 13, he turned in six consecutive quality starts as the Royals elevated themselves into wild-card contention. His past two starts, however, have been brutal. After allowing just four runs total in those previous six starts, he has allowed 13 runs in just nine innings. Detroit and Washington both knocked him around like a piñata. He may get another opportunity or two, but Kansas City can’t afford any more clunkers if they want to hang in the wild card race.
  • If Miguel Cabrera is still feeling the effects of his abdominal injury, he’s doing a whale of a job covering it up. The past two weeks, he’s bashed seven home runs, with 19 RBI and .689 slugging percentage. For the season, his batting line is a ridiculous .360/.450/.685 (all of which lead the AL). He is on pace for 51 homers, 159 RBI, and 115 runs scored. If Chris Davis slows down at all, Cabrera has a terrific chance to become the major leagues’ first back-to-back Triple Crown winner.
  • The aforementioned Davis is showing little signs of slowing down, however. He has 46 homers on the season (five more than Cabrera), to go with 117 RBI. After seeing his strikeout totals soar in June and July, Davis is back to being more selective at the plate and he is reaping the benefits, as shown by his 1.119 OPS this month.
  • Then there’s the other Davis – Khris Davis, that is. The Brewers’ rookie outfielder is having himself a fine August as well. He entered August with a .231/.310/.538 slash line; now it looks like this: .338/.416/.727. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but the Brewers will take any bright spot they can get right now.
  • Boston’s win over the Dodgers yesterday marked the first time that a team has beaten the Dodgers in a series since June 14-16, when Pittsburgh won two of three from L.A.
  • Jordan Danks hit a home run Sunday in a game that his brother John started. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the first time a player hit a home run in support of his brother since Billy and Bobby Shantz achieved the feat for the Kansas City A’s in 1955.
  • Sadly, that is probably the highlight of the White Sox’s season.
  • Sunday’s Diamondbacks-Phillies day game started just 11 ½ hours after Saturday’s 18-inning marathon ended. Casper Wells was unavailable to pitch.
  • Welcome back, Roy Halladay.
  • If you haven’t read the story about the eight-year-old Indians fan with cerebral palsy who asked Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis to hit home runs for him Sunday (they both did, by the way), do yourself a favor and read it. Here’s to you, Niko Lanzarotta.
  • We wrap up this week with our final Ichiro Hit Tracker. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, Ichiro collected career hit #4,000, a single off Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey. As more and more national writers started taking note of this milestone (AFTER I started noting it in the Triple Play), there was a major backlash by many fans and media members. While the 1,872 hits from his career in Japan obviously don’t count towards the major-league numbers, it is still a noteworthy achievement. Some writers grumbled that Japanese baseball was of no better quality than the minor leagues, which is an apples-to-oranges argument. The point that Ichiro is one of the greatest pure hitters ever to play the game still holds. As such, here are a few more numbers that illustrate just that:
    • He has compiled ten 200-hit seasons. The only other player to do that? Pete Rose.
    • Ichiro has done that in 13 years. It took Rose 17 years to do that.
    • Ichiro has five seasons with more than 220 hits. Rogers Hornsby has four. Rose has one.
    • With 2,533 hits, Ichiro is the all-time leader in Mariners history (more than Edgar Martinez or Ken Griffey Jr.)
    • Ichiro has hit successfully off 756 pitchers in his major-league career.
    • Since 2001, the player with the second-most hits is Albert Pujols (2,347).

Let’s just appreciate the greatness we have had the privilege of watching for the past 13 seasons. There will be plenty of time to debate Ichiro’s place in history after he has retired.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Flopps: The 8 Bit Baseball Card

I am a sucker for this stuff, I admit.

Flopps

Craig Robinson is the author behind one of the best infographic style books I have ever read, Flip Flop Fly Ball.  Where the book left off, the website took over.

Craig continues his great work over at his site keeping track of what hat he wears everyday and all kinds of graphically represented statistical anomalies.  We’ve featured some of that work here on i70 before, bring you galleries of his Lego Baseball Players and his infographic on Albert Pujols.  Just last week we brought you other 8-bit baseball players from another site.

Today we bring you a sampling of Craig’s newest creation, Flopps.  The Flip Flop Fly Ball baseball cards dedicated to all things baseball.  Browse the images in the slideshow below and then head on over to the site to see the entire collection.  (Don’t miss the Steve Bartman card below)

Use the “next” and “previous” buttons below the slides to browse through all the images.

Albert Pujols

Picture 1 of 14


Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters in recent memory. Perhaps he will forever be remembered as he is depicted here, in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

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Difficult Start To Second Half Could Help St. Louis Cardinals In October

The St. Louis Cardinals have unquestionably played their worst baseball of the season the past three weeks, going 4-11 against the four best teams in the National League, but that rough stretch could be a large dose of the medicine the team needs to be ready for the playoffs.

MikeMathenyArguing

Despite the awful finish to July and start to August, the Cardinals still entered play Saturday in the first wild-card spot and 6.5 games from falling out of a playoff position. Therefore, they have little reason to stress over making the playoffs, but a little frustration could add an edge any team needs to succeed in the postseason.

Sure, the Cardinals had their fair share of injuries during the first half of the season. Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter never recovered from his arm injury, closer Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, Jaime Garcia had season-ending shoulder surgery in May and Jake Westbrook missed significant time while on the disabled list, but none of those problems were big enough to keep St. Louis from jumping out to the best record in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals cruised to a 57-36 record in the first half while primarily playing teams that are not going to come anywhere close to making the playoffs. Their combined 28-11 record against the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants largely accounts for why the team was more than 20 games above .500 by the All-Star Break.

They began the second half of the season 5-1 in six games against the lowly Padres and Philadelphia Phillies, who were each 11 games under .500 heading into play Saturday, but then they went out to play the good teams in the National League.

And they got smoked.

The Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers would fill out the postseason bracket along with the Cardinals if the season ended anytime soon, and those teams won 11 of 15 games against St. Louis.

Of course, catcher Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a sprained right knee less than a week into that stretch and that has certainly affected the offense considering he was second in the league with a .330 batting average when he got hurt.

Yet, the Cardinals’ problems have been bigger than just Molina’s absence. The team has hit .260 since the All-Star break, which is 16 points lower than it hit before the break.

The pitching staff’s earned-run average has ballooned from 3.40 to 3.98 in the second half as the team struggles to mix and match starters to fill in gaps left by an intense schedule and more injury problems such as Shelby Miller’s sore elbow that could cause him to miss a start after he took a line drive directly off it on the second pitch of his outing Wednesday against the Dodgers.

But more than anything, the team needs to relearn how to win, particular against good teams it will likely face in the playoffs.

Remember, the 2013 Cardinals are a young team. They have a second baseman (Matt Carpenter) and shortstop (Pete Kozma), who are in their first seasons at those positions at the major-league level, and they have used 11 rookie pitchers. All but four of those 13 players were on the postseason roster in 2012 and many had never spent a day in the big leagues until earlier this season.

Also, every team, good or bad, goes through a rough patch in their season. The 2006 World Series championship Cardinals team lost eight games in a row in late June, and the 2011 world championship team lost seven in a row in early June, along with a 3-8 stretch in mid-August before it caught fire through the rest of the season.

The 2013 team had not had a losing streak of more than three games in a row at any point before the seven-game losing streak a couple of weeks ago. The team had battled around injuries, but it had yet to develop the resilience that only a stretch of losing baseball can provide.

Plus, the team now knows the level of play required to compete with the best teams in the league.

It certainly isn’t fun for Cardinals fans to watch their team struggle, but the recent run of losses seemingly night after night could help the team develop the mental and emotional toughness it will need to make a run at the 2013 World Series championship.

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St. Louis Cardinals season could be defined by upcoming road trip

The St. Louis Cardinals have embarked on one of their longest, and undoubtedly toughest, road trips of the season to face the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds for 11 games in 10 days that will give the team a chance to measure itself against the National League’s best and give a preview of what type of competition the team will face in the playoffs.

MolinaInge

After three games Friday through Sunday against the Braves, the Cardinals will head to Pittsburgh for five games in four games, including a doubleheader to make up for a rainout April 16, and finish with three games the following weekend in Cincinnati.

The Cardinals were 10.5 games from falling out of a playoff spot as they began the first game of the trip Friday in Atlanta because of the two possible wild-card spots Major League Baseball introduced in 2012, so this road trip won’t determine whether or not they’ll make the playoffs, but it could help show how much success the team could have once it gets there.

The Braves, Pirates and Reds had a combined 176-129 record heading into play Friday, which is by far the best combined record the Cardinals will face at any point in the 2013 season. All three are likely headed toward the playoffs. The Braves lead the NL East by eight games over the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Pirates and Reds hold both of the NL wild-card spots.

This road trip will also give the Cardinals a chance to prove they can play with the best teams in baseball. So far, St. Louis has built its best record in baseball at 62-37 on the backs of losing teams. The Cardinals are 48-21 against teams with losing records and 14-16 against winning teams.

The Cardinals have a very good team, no doubt, but aside from various injuries and a first half with a schedule full of away games, the Cardinals have not had to face much adversity in the form of good teams that were on a roll when the Cardinals played them.

The Texas Rangers swept St. Louis June 21-13 at Busch Stadium, and the Oakland A’s took two of three from the Cardinals the next weekend in Oakland. Otherwise, the Cardinals had been fortunate to play teams in the middle of their own struggles.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were near closer to the bottom of the NL West than the top when the Cardinals won two of three May 24-26 in Los Angeles, and although the San Francisco Giants had not dropped to the bottom of that division when the Cardinals played them in April and May, the Cardinals’ 4-2 record against them doesn’t look as impressive now that the Giants are 46-55 and eight games behind the now first-place Dodgers.

The Cardinals played much of the rest of their early season schedule against losing teams such as the Chicago Cubs (10 games), Milwaukee Brewers (10 games), New York Mets (seven games) and Houston Astros (four games).

The Mets have the best record of those four teams at 46-53, 11 games out of a playoff spot, and none of those teams will try to add players at the trading deadline to make a push toward the playoffs.

So for the first time this season, the Cardinals will start to get a feel for what the competition will be when they reach October.

The Cardinals won’t be in danger of missing the playoffs based on this road trip even if they lose most of these 11 games, but this 10-day stretch will likely expose whether the Cardinals really should be favorites to win the World Series or if they are a team that has simply taken advantage of poor teams’ mistakes.

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