Tag Archive | "Losing Streak"

Things are getting weird in Royals Nation

Remember when the Royals were 17-10 and near the top of the A. L. Central? It seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? But now the team is in a free-fall and things are getting strange. No, I’m not talking about the lack of offense or the losing streak. That’s business as usual for the Royals. I’m talking about the wacky things happening off the field.

NedYost2

Take Royals manager Ned Yost. Please. (Ta Dum! I’ll be here all week.) I believe the Royals woes are making him goofy. When questioned about the lousy play of third baseman Mike Moustakas, Yost quipped in a May 18 article in the Kansas City Star, “You know what? Maybe when we get home I can go to the third base tree and pick another third baseman. Obviously, third basemen who can hit for power, they must grow on trees.” Well, if there’s a third baseman tree somewhere, it’s not in Kansas City. When Yost said this, Moustakas was hitting .189. Now he’s hitting .178 and showing no signs of improving. Forget the third baseman tree, the Royals need to find a baseball offense tree.

When Yost made about the comment about the third base tree, the Royals were 20-19. But after a 1-9 skid and a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night, Yost was asked about how he holds players accountable. Yost replied, “What are you asking me to do? Take my belt off and spank them? Yell at them? Scream at them? What do you want? These kids, every day, we go through the process. We’re talking constantly about approach.” Yost continued, “Do we need to make changes? This can’t continue. Somewhere down the road, yeah, we’re going to have to make some changes.”

It’s a bad sign when a manager has to ask the media what to do about a woeful team. Of course it was a rhetorical question, but it’s pretty obvious if the Royals don’t start winning again and playing better baseball, firing Ned Yost is the likely change. Will it make a difference? Ask Tony Muser, Buddy Bell and Trey Hillman if it makes a difference. But I guess the Royals have to do something.

So what’s a manager of a struggling team to do? Hey, the Chiefs are next door and having a minicamp. Maybe Yost can go over there and get some advice from Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. So Yost jogged over to the Chief’s offices to see what was going on. Well, maybe he should called coach Reid first because Yost was surrounded by Chiefs security when Yost dropped by and was not allowed in. Thankfully for Yost, security didn’t tazer or spank him for the unauthorized visit, despite the wishes of most fans.

And if that wasn’t enough, later in the day Major League Baseball had Yost take a random, routine drug test. Given his recent statements and behavior, maybe the drug test wasn’t that random. Just saying.

It’s not news the Royals aren’t hitting many home runs. As of Wednesday, the Royals have 28 home runs, just one shy of the last in the Majors Miami Marlins. But home runs aren’t that important. Don’t believe me? Just ask Royals hitting coach Jack Maloof.

In a Fox Sports article, Maloof said, “There is just no reward here (for us) to try and hit home runs, (at Kauffman Stadium). We try to stay down on the ball, be more line-drive oriented, and do more situational hitting at least through the first two or three rounds (at home) here. That’s why I’m not overly concerned because I think we’ll lead the league in fewest home runs again this year. We don’t have a 40-homer guy in the middle of the lineup.”

Never mind one of the reasons former Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer was fired and Maloof and Andre David were hired so the Royals would hit for more power and home runs.

But what about the opposing teams who come into Kauffman Stadium and have no problem hitting home runs? Maloof has an explanation: “Here’s the thing: Other teams come in here from Anaheim or wherever and they have their swing already down,” Maloof said. “This park doesn’t even enter into their minds when they hit here. They have their swings, the same swings, because it pays dividends for them at home.”

Uh, so it’s not a good idea to have the Royals try to hit for power and hit more home runs? Other teams have their swings down, but the Royals don’t? You know what the dividend is for a home run? You score at least one run. And if you score runs, you have a better chance to win. Sure, situational hitting and moving runners is important. But if the lineup isn’t hitting or has much power, situational hitting doesn’t matter. If the Royals are looking for a change, they might want to take a look at Jack Maloof. As for fellow batting coach Andre David, he’s keeping his mouth shut.

Oh yeah, after the game Tuesday night the Royals had to ride the bus to St. Louis because their plane had mechanical issues. There was no word if Yost spanked the plane or if Maloof was thrown under the bus.

It’s one thing to lose if you’re expected to lose like the Marlins or the Houston Astros. But with all the “improvements” the Royals made this year, the team should be playing better. But they’re not and it’s hard to say when they will. I haven’t given up on the Royals yet, but like Yost said, “This can’t continue.”

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Who Is Number Two In KC Rotation?

The Kansas City Royals took huge measures this offseason to fix their number one on-field issue, the rotation.  The addition of James Shields gave them a legitimate ace pitcher at the front of their rotation.  The rebuilt rotation looks stronger but leaves the question open: Who’s number two?

Rotation

Throughout 2012 the opinion around the Royals fanbase was very similar.  Many people felt that the team was full of pitchers that projected as the fourth or fifth best pitcher in a rotation.  There was no clear cut “ace” nor was there anyone that the fans felt confident in taking the mound to stop a losing streak.  The team had major league quality pitching, it just was not elite.

Dayton Moore seemingly set out to fix that during the end of 2012 and into the offseason.  A three year contract was reached with Jeremy Guthrie, who had pitched very well after joining the Royals during the second half of 2012, and trades were made for Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana.  The fifth spot is up for grabs this spring and eventually Danny Duffy will join these four to round out the starting five.

Shields obviously will head line the starting rotation for the Royals and is the type of pitcher that would headline most rotations across baseball.  Last year was a team full of rotation guys that projected as four and five starters, this year, it appears that the rotation may be full of guys that are top-three style pitchers.

Looking at the four starters that are set into the rotation this season, where will they rank at the end of 2013?

Wade Davis: Number Four
WadeDavis
Davis has been a solid Major League pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays.  In four seasons he has proven to be a durable starter and a reliable relief pitcher.  The Royals brought him in as insurance and an upgrade over the pitchers they currently had, but he was never projected to be near the top of the rotation.  Davis will provide some inning-eating starts throughout the summer and be serviceable in his role, but ultimately will remain as a lower-rotation starter that may end up back in the bullpen before long if other pitchers are pitching well when Duffy returns.

Ervin Santana: Number Three
MARINEROS-ANGELINOS
Santana is the pitcher that the Royals most hope can realize his potential.  In eight seasons of starting pitching for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Santana has won 16 or more games three times in his career.  He has also lost 12 or more games three times as well.  An up-and-down career has seen moments of brilliance and frustration for Santana.  The Royals will hope that Dave Eiland can work with Santana on mechanical flaws in his delivery and help him regain his top-of-the-rotation form.  Santana should be able to be the number three starter when the smoke clears, though Kansas City may be hoping he is better than that.

Jeremy Guthrie: Number Two
JeremyGuthrie
Looking at past performance of all three starters would rank Guthrie much lower in this conversation.  However, in recent interviews Guthrie has talked very openly about a renewed confidence, a satisfaction with management and coaching and overcoming a mental block that he felt kept him for being a better pitcher in Colorado.  He has spoken to the fact that Kauffman Stadium is a pitcher friendly environment and that he feels that he has one of the best defenses in the league behind him.  The confidence shows in his statistics from last season, with nearly all of his stats showing best in his career type numbers.  He is pitching to contact, keeping the ball in the park, and letting his defense do the work.

By the time the smoke clears on the 2013 season, the Royals will be looking at a rotation that will feature top-tier players at most of the slots.  Jeremy Guthrie has every opportunity to become a great part of that rotation for the next three years.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Royals Mid-Term Report Card By Position

As we sit at the All-Star Break, we take some time to reflect on the Kansas City Royals performance by position in the first half of the season.

There is no denying that expectations were higher for this Royals team. With this being the first year having most of the young players Royals’ fans have been hearing about starting the season with the team, it is only natural that fans expected to see production right away. Well, for the first week, things looked pretty decent. Then Johnny Broxton blew a game in Oakland and everything went to hell in a handbasket for 2 weeks. The Royals proceeded to get blown out on their home opener in front of a sold out crowd, in the second of 12 consecutive losses. Once the Royals finally snapped their losing streak, they actually began playing well. Despite several more injuries to key players, they managed to claw back to 5-6 games out of first place. Then they hit a swoon last week that puts them currently at 37-47 and 9 1/2 games out of first place in the division. How has each position performed? We will fill you in on that right now:

Starting Pitcher-C minus

People may feel like this is being too generous. But based on the injuries to guys like Duffy and Paulino, what more could you expect? Bruce Chen has regressed a little, and Luke Hochevar has been his same unreliable and inconsistent self. But Luis Mendoza has been a pleasant surprise, and guys like Vin Mazzarro, Nate Adcock, and Everett Teaford have done an ok job filling in. If it wasn’t for Jonathan Sanchez, I might be able to give this group a B minus.

Catcher-B
Brayan Pena will always be Brayan Pena. But this year he has solidified himself as a solid clubhouse presence as well as a high quality backup catcher. He and Humberto Quintero had to start more games than the Royals would have preferred due to Salvador Perez‘s knee injury, but that’s what they’re there for. Quintero is now gone, and since Perez returned from injury, he has been a monster in every respect. It would not surprise me if the Catcher position receives an A for its final grade based on what Perez is able to contribute in the second half of the season.

First Base-D plus

Eric Hosmer now has his batting average up to .231. This is saying something, considering it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was hitting a meager .179. The Royals and their fans expected more out of Hosmer this season, as they should have. I believe he will turn it around and have a very solid 2nd half of the season.

2nd Base-B

The tandem of Yuniesky Betancourt and Chris Getz (when he as been healthy) has certainly outpaced expectations for this year. Johnny Giovatella’s less than inspiring performance after getting called up is certainly a downer, but overall I think the Royals have gotten more offensively than they expected to out of the 2nd Base position.

3rd Base-A

Mike Moustakas has exceeded all expectations both offensively and defensively. He is currently on pace for 29 HR’s and 91 RBI. While nobody doubted he could put up numbers like this eventually, nobody expected it to come this year. On top of that, he is playing gold glove calibur defense.

Shortstop-A

Alcides Escobar is hitting .307 and slugging .410. He also has 21 doubles at the break. And is probably the best defensive shortstop in the game. Yes, we will take that.

Outfield-C

Defensively, the trio of Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur, and Jarrod Dyson has performed quite well. Offensively, however, the production coming from the 3 outfield spots is well below where it was last year and well below where anyone expected it to be this year. After a slow start, Alex Gordon has now raised his batting average to .274 with 27 doubles. However, his 5 HR’s are well off the pace of the 23 that he clubbed in 2011. His speed on the basebaths has also somehow disappeared, as he sits at 3 SB’s after swiping 17 bags last year. Jeff Francoeur has been similarly disappointing at the plate. After hitting .285 with 20 HR, 85 RBI, and 22 SB’s a season ago, he currently sits with a batting average of .251, 7 HR, 25 RBI, and just 1 SB. This is far from the kind of production they were hoping for in 2012, and is the primary reason Royals fans are clamoring for Wil Myers to replace Frenchy in RF. And the lack of production in CF is almost entirely due to the injury of Lorenzo Cain, who is scheduled to return this coming weekend. Jarrod Dyson is a nice player with a limited skillset, so he is performing about as well as one could reasonably expect him to. So once Cain comes back we should see an uptick in production from the CF position.

Bullpen-A minus

A lot has been asked of this bullpen and for the most part they have delivered. Even with Joakim Soria going down before the season, Jonathan Broxton has stepped up and performed admirably in the closer’s role. Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Jose Mijares, Greg Holland, and Aaron Crow have also been very reliable options out of the pen. The hope is that this group was not over-used in the first half of the season and doesn’t break down, but time will tell.

Looking at these performances, it is hard to not feel somewhat optimistic about the 2nd half of the season. With drastic increases in production expected from Catcher (Perez), Right Field (Myers), Center-Field (Cain), and the opportunity for Gordon to show improvement from the first half, the Royals could find themselves in position to make some noise in the 2nd half of 2012.

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To Buy or Not To Buy?

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is still a couple of months away, but the St. Louis Cardinals have to be contemplating the direction this 2012 season will take. And the way things have gone so far, it may not be an easy decision.

It is fair to say there is no way the Cardinals will be sellers, even with the absurd rash of injuries they have endured. A team that sells is a team that has no hope to make it to the postseason and a few expensive, desirable players that are nearing the end of a contract. This does not describe the Cards in any way. While they may have a handful of big contracts due to come off the books at the end of this season, it does not appear like they are contracts the team would be able to move without eating significant money and obtaining an upgrade at the same time. Plus, the Cardinals are still in second place in a weak division—far from out of it.

The Chicago Cubs are already 10 games out of first and are well under .500 after a lengthy losing streak last week. But they’re in full rebuild mode, and everyone knows it. They are sellers. The same goes for the San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins. These teams need to shed payroll, build prospects, and plan for contention years down the road. The Cardinals are still good enough to win now, and are positioned to win in the near future as well.

So will the Cards be buyers at the deadline? That’s where the tough call comes in. They do have needs: bullpen depth, starting pitching that can eat innings, veteran bench help, stability at second base and center field. But they have a problem: many of those holes can be filled by guys they already have on their roster; unfortunately those guys are currently on the disabled list.

This isn’t a newsflash to anyone who has been paying attention. The Cards’ DL looks like their active roster, and their active roster looks like their Triple A roster.

And therein lies the problem: Do the Cardinals stand pat and bet on injured players not only returning to the lineup but also returning to form and contributing to a team committed to winning now? Or do they try to acquire talent (at the expense of prospects, mind you) to keep the team up in the near-term, and deal with extra players if and when they have to? Let’s not forget the calendar just flipped to June. There’s no way this team has seen the last of the injury bug. If Matt Holliday or Rafael Furcal or Yadier Molina goes down, this team is screwed…with a capital F.

Things were a lot different last year. When dealing with ineffectiveness—such as the Cards did with Ryan Franklin, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, et al.—and knowing they had depth, moving guys like Colby Rasmus to acquire the role players needed for success was easier. But the Cardinals are short on depth right now. The depth is in the starting lineup. And the minor leagues are nearly tapped, at least of guys who are close enough to ready for the big leagues. Who could they possibly move at this point?

Players will be available come July but the Cards must be sensible in their dealings. The injuries this year have been of epic proportions. Maybe karma has come to collect after an otherworldly 2011. Or maybe this is just a test, like 10.5 games out in late August was. Hope the Cardinals studied this year as well as they did then.

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A positive sign for May

After a rough start down in Houston the St. Louis Cardinals picked up right where they left off in April. With Tyler Greene leading the charge.

Second baseman Tyler Greene showed all those offensive skills Sunday that have labeled him still a prospect although he more often than not has been suspect at the big-league level.

Greene, mostly a reserve who was starting at second base against Houston LHP J.A. Happ, clubbed two homers and a double and drove in four runs as he bumped his average to .256. He stole one base and nearly had another and he also turned in a nifty double play in the field as the Cardinals captured the finale of a three-game series from the Astros, 8-1.

First baseman Allen Craig, knocked out for two months last May when he slid into a railing here and suffered a broken right kneecap, got his revenge on Minute Maid Park by homering and doubling and knocking in three runs.

As the Cardinals stopped their losing streak at three games and the Astros’ winning streak at five, RHP Adam Wainwright did what he always does against the Astros. Wainwright, winning his second straight, held the Astros to one run on seven singles in seven innings and struck out seven. It was Wainwright’s 10th win in 11 career decisions against the Astros and his earned-run average for that body of work is 1.54.

But what Greene did certainly was less expected than the feats of the other two. In fact, he did what no other Cardinals second baseman ever has done.

According to SABR research, Greene is the first Cardinals second baseman to have as many as four RBI, three hits and two homers and at least one stolen base in the same game.

“Hopefully, I was able to earn a couple of days out there (in Arizona),” said Greene. “Everybody wants to be out there every day. You just take whatever circumstance you’re given and do the best you can with it.”

A few notes

–1B Allen Craig is hitting .375 and slugging .750 after his first four games, including three doubles and a homer, after leaving the disabled list. “I can’t wait for the year I can see 500 to 600 at-bats from that guy,” said hitting coach Mark McGwire.

–RHP Adam Wainwright is getting closer to the form he displayed in 2009-10, when he won 39 games for the Cardinals before losing last season to an elbow operation. After pitching poorly in his first three starts this season, amassing an unsightly 9.88 ERA along with three losses, Wainwright is 2-0 and 2.70 since then, including a one-run, seven-hit allotment over seven innings on Sunday. “You could see he had a good feel for all his pitches. I don’t think (Wainwright) is very far away now,” manager Mike Matheny said.

–CF Jon Jay turned in his sixth spectacular play of the three-game series when he avoided LF Matt Holliday, who had pulled up, and made a sliding catch on Justin Maxwell‘s drive to left center in the fifth inning.

–Injured 1B Lance Berkman ran in the outfield for some 10 minutes before the game and said his strained left calf “felt a lot better than the other day. Marked improvement.”

–Matheny had pondered giving 34-year-old SS Rafael Furcal a day off Sunday. But too much was happening for Furcal and not enough was happening for the Cardinals.

–Furcal, matching Lou Brock in 1974, had led off six straight games with hits and he had scored in the first inning after five of them. Matheny said, “He was excited about getting in there and facing a lefty (J.A. Happ). And there’s no question that everybody’s pretty excited about winning a game here.” The Cardinals won but Furcal’s streak was snapped with a first-inning fly out.

–St. Louis has scored in the first inning for eight games in a row.

–The Cardinals’ five homers in Monday night’s game were their most since hitting six on July 5, 2007, against Pittsburgh.

–Beltran needs two stolen bases to become the eighth player in major-league history with at least 300 steals and 300 homers.

–Westbrook followed his most difficult outing of the season — a 6-3 home loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates — with his most dominant. He has as many quality starts through this season’s six outings as he managed in the first 16 in 2011

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NLDS Preview – Cardinals vs Phillies

Now that the euphoria has subsided a little bit, it is time to take a look at the next team standing in St Louis’ way, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Philadelphia finished the regular season with the best record in baseball. Their vaunted starting rotation performed as advertised, more than making up for their average offense. They are the odds-on favorite not only to win the National League, but the World Series. Let us take a closer look.

St Louis will face Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA, 2.71 xFIP, 220 K), Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA, 3.02 xFIP, 194 K), and Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA, 2.68 xFIP, 238K) in the LDS. The best part of this rotation is the Cardinals faced Halladay and Hamels, and beat both, barely 2 weeks ago in Philly. The other starter, Lee , has faced St Louis twice this season. The Cardinals beat him in May, with Lee returning the favor in June. So their top three, who were a combined 50-25 this season, have all suffered a loss at the hands of these Cardinals this season. They’re good, but the Cardinals know they can defeat these three.

St Louis will counter with Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Chris Carpenter, and Jamie Garcia for Game 4. Lohse (14-8, 3.39 ERA, 3.31 xFIP, 111K) beat Halladay on 19 September. That victory was his first over Philadelphia since 2008 and snapped a 3-game personal losing streak against the Phillies. Lohse has been the best Cardinal starter during their September surge. Jackson (5-2, 3.58 ERA, 4.03 xFIP, 51K) gets a much deserved playoff start. He has allowed 3 or fewer runs in all but two of his starts since joining the Cardinals. Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45 ERA, 3.31 xFIP, 191K) pitched St Louis to the playoffs with a dominating start against Houston, but the price is his unavailability until Game 3. In 19 starts since June 23 he is 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA.

The Cardinals are not grossly outclassed, but the statistically the Philly starters are better. Starting pitching advantage: Philadephia.

Statistically Philadelphia’s bullpen was better than St Louis’, but with a difference of less than 1 fWAR it is a minor difference. Philadelphia’s best 2 relievers are Ryan Madson (currently the closer) and Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo was pretty close to lights out for the first 2/3 of the season, but has faded noticeably down the stretch. Their bullpen will be bolstered with the presence of starters Roy Oswalt (although he could start Game 4) and Vance Worley. Michael Stutes has also seen significant work out of the Phillies bullpen.

St Louis remade their bullpen in the Colby Rasmus trade, and have turned a liability into a strength. Jason Motte comes in for high leverage situations late in games but is not the ‘closer’ per se. Kyle McClellan, Octavio Dotel, Mark ‘Scrabble’ Rzepczynski, and Arthur Rhodes will all see action out of the bullpen. This bullpen blew 2 of the last 7 games this season, but without them the Cardinals don’t close on a 23-8 tear.

Cardinal bullpen improvement since the trade deadline makes this a dead heat. Bullpen advantage: Even.

Offensively, Philadelphia boasts a formidable lineup of aging stars. Only trade deadline acquisition Hunter Pence is under 30. Still, one takes Philadelphia lightly at their own peril. They were the sixth best offense in the NL (12th overall) this season, again by fWAR. Shane Victorino had a career year hitting mostly out of the leadoff or #2 slot. St Louis’ ability to keep him in check will be a key to winning this series. Pence, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmie Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz all posted wRC+ of 106 or better. They are capable of scoring a lot of runs, but they don’t need to with the starting pitching they have.

The Cardinals field the most potent offense in the National League, anchored by Albert Pujols and the resurgent Lance Berkman. However this offense will not be the one Philadelphia saw two weeks ago. Matt Holliday is hurting, his status uncertain; he was to receive a cortisone shot for his ailing right hand. Rafael Furcal, a catalyst who hit 7 home runs after coming to St Louis, is probably out for the year with a hamstring injury. That’s the bad news. The good news is Allen Craig has stepped into Holliday’s shoes and capably replaced him, hitting .303/.329/.606 since August 25. St Louis will probably platoon at short, with Nick Punto, Ryan Theriot, and Tyler Greene seeing some time. Furcal’s defense was shaky down the stretch, so there won’t be a large drop off there, but there will be a big offensive drop.

Even without Holliday this lineup has not lost a beat. Offensive Advantage: St Louis.

Defense is the Phillie Achilles heel. Using Bill James’ Team Runs Saved as the metric, Philadelphia had the third-worst defense in the NL this season, grading below average at pitcher, catcher, first, left, and right, and exactly average at short. St Louis’ defense was below league average, but graded out 3 spots higher than Philadelphia. Their weakest positions are (worst to best) short, catcher, third, and second. The Cardinals were exactly average at first.

So basically the Phillies have the better infield, and the Cardinals have a better outfield. Defensive Advantage: Even.

Summary and Prediction

Does good pitching stop good hitting or good hitting stop good pitching? This series will be a case study. Good hitting stopped good pitching back in mid-September, but that series did not have the pressure this one will. Sure, the pressure was there for the Cardinals, but not for Philadelphia; they came in with a magic number of 1 and clinched with their lone win. Philadelphia will play at a higher level starting Saturday then they did back then.

That’s not to say the Cardinals should not bother to show up. There is no more confident team in the NL than St Louis as this post-season starts. They were all but eliminated from the post-season 5 weeks ago, yet here they are. The team is playing with house money and they know it. All the pressure in this series resides in the dugout and clubhouse of the team anointed as World Champions before spring training started. If any team can upset the Phillies, it is the Cardinals.

So long as Halladay does not no-hit them tomorrow. Cardinals in 4.

Mike Metzger is a life-long Cardinals fan currently based in San Diego. He blogs about the San Diego Padres, and you can follow him @metzgermg

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The Cardinals’ Window Of Opportunity

I said a couple of weeks ago that I thought the most important upcoming series on the Cardinals schedule was the 4-game set at Busch against the Giants. Check out that show here. Seeing as how that series is the one currently being played, now is hardly the time to reflect on it. The good is news is that while the Cards & Giants duke it out, the Reds & Brewers have been beating up on each other roughly 350 miles to the east. So, the standings in the National League Central remain largely unchanged over the past couple of days, and I think that even if the Cards end up losing the series to San Fransisco, all is not lost.

I cited San Fransisco’s starting rotation (to say nothing of the bearded one) & the fact that it’s 4 games, not 3, as the main reasons why this would be an important series to watch. With four games, there’s no break from facing exceptional pitching when the Giants come to town. I recall being at a game last year when we faced the (then future) World Champs, and the redbirds chased Lincecum after 5 ⅓ that night.

Photo courtesy: The City Graphics

When your team struggles to score runs off Ryan Vogelsong (1 ER Tuesday night), that makes it hard to win games. Not to take anything away from Vogelsong, he pitched well, but he’s yet to prove himself worthy of the same conversation as two-time (back-to-back) Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and others like Sanchez and even Bumgarner. Of course, if you don’t score “early & often” it’s easy to find yourself “late & close”, as the Cardinals often have this season. Enter a three-run 8th inning rally (that included a slide into first base by Skip Schumaker), and you get an exciting comeback for a Cardinals victory.

I figure as long as the Cardinals don’t hit a long losing streak, and can keep their pace until they’re back to full health…or at least get Holliday’s bat back into the lineup, and McClellan back on the mound, they’ll be in good shape. Try to imagine the Reds in first place, losing Jay Bruce to the 15-day DL, and staying in first place during his entire stint on the DL…and what that would do to your confidence as a team in the NLC vying for that top spot in the division. Knowing they were able to defend their position without the aid of such a slugging threat in the lineup everyday would give me pause…especially once he came back. So, imagine how some might be feeling if the redbirds were able to do that during Holliday’s absence.

A closer look at the next couple of weeks for the three teams at the top of the division looks to me like opportunity served at the Cardinals’ feet, on a silver platter, with a cherry on top. I’m not saying the Cards will sweep the next 5 series’, but I am saying that each of the next 5 are definitely “sweepable”.

The upcoming schedule for the Cards, Brewers & Reds stacks up like this:

STL:
vs. CHC for 3; @ HOU for 3; @ MIL for 3; @ WAS for 3; vs. KC for 3 – very winnable series’ there, in which the Cards need to capitalize while Holliday & McClellan are out. As long as the Cardinals play their kind of baseball, and not the “playing down to the level” of bad teams, as was a huge problem last year (I still have nightmares of the 2-8 road trip to PIT, WAS, & HOU late in the season), this could be the couple of weeks that allow the team to really put some distance between themselves and the rest of the NLC. No reason the Cards can’t end this particular stretch with a dozen wins, anything short of ten and they’ve left wins on the table.

MIL:
@ FLA for 4; vs. NYM for 3; vs. STL for 3; @ CHC for 4; @ BOS for 3; vs. TB for 3 – The Brew crew is slated to face Nolasco, Volstad, Sanchez, & TBD…VERY tough pitching! Notice the 4 games in Chicago–they dodge a bullet here, as they play 3 night games, then a day game on getaway day. Usually a trip to CHC is good for jacking up your schedule, as they play so many day games, so they got lucky there. That’s good, because following that series, they head straight to Boston, which is sure to be a hard series!

CIN:
vs. LAD for 3; vs. CHC for 3; @ SF for 4; @ LAD for 3; then 3 vs. TOR & 3 vs. NYY – those are some tough games coming up for them. The 4 in San Fransisco will show the Reds very good pitching (as earlier stated, the Cards are currently seeing), and with Jose “The-Beast-Ah” bringing his Bluejays to the Great American Small Park for three before the Bronx Bombers come to Cincinnati, the Reds will have their work cut out for them.

All in all, I think the next two weeks will be a window in the season that we may all very well look back on as critical, once the calendar turns to August or September. The schedule is very favorable for the situation the redbirds are in right now, especially given MIL & CIN’s position in the standings. I realize June is a little early for “make or break” and “must win” talk, but the Cardinals really need to make the most of this opportunity. Every game won over the next couple of weeks is one that doesn’t become a “must win” come September!

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Young And Restless

The Royals have not won since last Friday night against the Cardinals. That game the Royals showed patience and poise against a Cy Young winner in Chris Carpenter and eventually were able to scratch enough runs to win the ball game. After analyzing the box scores and scorecards from the rest of the week’s games, the reasons for the Royals current losing streak all comes down to certain fundamentals that for some reason or another they are failing to execute on the field.

Editor’s note: Due to the late, extra-inning game the team played on Friday night and the deadline for article submission, this article was written prior to the Royals clawed out a win against Texas in 14 innings.

Photo Courtesy Of Minda Haas

At the plate during the first 5-6 weeks of the season, the Royals showed remarkable patience and selection. This resulted in having a handful of starters batting above .300, some near the .330 mark or better (now there is only one starter hitting above .300). They waited for their pitch and tried to put into play. This past week they have not, while their opponents have seemed to battle through and find ways to get on base. In the past week, the Royals struck out thirty-five times vs. their opponents thirty-one times. This may not seem like much but some of these strikeouts have occurred when they had runners in scoring position. They Royals batted an anemic ten for forty-five with runners in scoring position, which left a small village of base runners nearly every single game.

This lack of patience has also left the Royals with fewer opportunities to score due to having only working their opponents to issuing twelve walks while their opponents’ batters were able to coax out twenty-seven walks (including thirteen in one game against the Cardinals). The Royals defense can stop the ball and get people out. However, they are going to have a tough time this summer if their pitchers cannot locate the strike zone on a consistent basis. Is this a sign of the Royals young pitching staff unraveling due to the pressure of the majors (which can be fixed with time and tutelage from the veterans and coaches)? Or, is this a sign that the Royals just outplayed their potential for the first six weeks and now every other team has them scouted down to a ‘T’?

Baseball is a game of many things and one of those is patience. The stereotype for many young players in this league is that they are not patient. They are not patient at the plate, they are not patient when the team is not winning and they end up trying so hard that they frustrate themselves into a complete slump in their game. I am all for playing hard and being ready before every single pitch but the greatest players who have ever played this game eventually figured out how to be patient enough and willing to make needed adjustments in order to make them better players.

These changes did not happen over night. George Brett did not all of a sudden become a feared hitter at the plate. Albert Pujols did not become a superstar with the wave of Tony Larussa’s magic wand. The only way to learn patience is to continue on your course (keep on keeping on) regardless of the passage of time. Eventually these young guys will learn patience and grow into a solid team. Remember, Rome was not built in a day, and we should not expect these young players to become perennial pennant chasing veterans overnight. We should expect them to compete and stay the course that Ned Yost and his staff have laid, and eventually they will reap the benefits.

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Another Quality Week in the Books

The Royals are heading in the right direction once again. Sweeping the Twins at home and looking good while doing it gives more sparks to the fire of success that has started to grow in Kansas City this baseball season. The Twins, who have plagued this franchise for over a decade, were absolutely out hit and pitched the whole series.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

The series against Baltimore proved to be a challenge against not only their opponent but also the very stadium in which it was played. In the Wednesday night game Aviles hit a rocket to the gap and circled the bases for what appeared to be an inside the park home run. This score was wiped out due to the ball being stuck at the bottom of the outfield fence. (So much for home field, advantage) If this had happened to last year’s team, it would have sent them spiraling into one of their five game or more losing streak. Not this year though. The Royals responded the next night with a 9-1 shelling to clinch the series. Who knew Bruce Chen was this good?

Jason Kendall and Robinson Tejada are recovering and rehabbing but are being very cautious though. The Royals called up Eric Hosmer from Omaha, and demoted the struggling Kila Ka’aihue. With this move, it definitely has the potential of increasing an offense that needed at least one stronger bat in the lineup. Although, one could make the case that the Royals were doing okay by platooning Betemit and Aviles at third and first base since both are hitting well.

Friday night marked the return of David DeJesus to Kansas City. The Athletics pulled out a tight one but if this season has taught us anything, it will not keep this young team down for too long. They are still above .500 and in second place in their division, which is still exceeding any expectations. They have a tough week coming up going to New York and then to Detroit.

The Yankees struggled this week at Detroit, losing the last three games of the series. Detroit is nipping at the Royals heels in the division. A little bit of pressure early in the season against these quality teams will be a very good barometer of how far the Royals have come since last year.

The Royals hot bats have ended the week on top of the American League rankings in batting average, doubles and triples, while finishing second in on-base percentage. Their defense and pitching are on the upward swing. A call up on the pitching side of things could be in the near future if the young prospects continue to show promise and current roster members continue to struggle.

Being positively consistent is the key to success in this game and the Royals are showing that they are very capable of being just that.

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