Tag Archive | "Makeup"

Mitchell Boggs and finding a new answer for the ninth

With the unknown status of the full extent of Jason Motte’s injury, the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen will be the next unit that is forced to adjust on the run. However, with their closer on the mend, a brand new set of questions will have to be answered in a short amount of time.

Mitchell-Boggs

When it was revealed that Motte is suffering from a mild sprain in his elbow on Saturday, it immediately reshuffled the entire bullpen’s responsibility. While the depth of arms on the roster, and within the organization, has been much hallowed, the role of closer is not one that is easily passed along. Motte became the first pitcher in team history to gather every save on the season for the team, and his 42 saves tied for tops in the National League. And despite only being the technical closer for the team for a year and a half, he remains one of the most indispensable parts of a team that has long looked for a definite lock on the end of games.

Finding anybody that can take up a mantle that was absolutely held by another is a tall task. While it makes sense to place a similar styled arm in the role, finding the right makeup to match the arm is a tougher equation. There’s a lot more that goes into ending games than just throwing hard for one inning. It’s a mentality, and often it’s not one that is developed; it is it there or it isn’t. “Jason has it. You could tell even before he took on the role,” said assistant general manager and former All-Star Cardinal closer Ryan Franklin said during the Cardinals Winter Warm Up. “Either you have it or you don’t, and you will find out soon enough along the way.”  Little did he know it was a question that the team would have to find an answer for in the near future.

For the time being, Mitchell Boggs will be the answer. After the strides he took a year ago, it is right that he does so. He was the undisputed eighth inning answer last season, and his 34 holds led the National League and he is accustomed to preserving games. Boggs has the attitude and the fire to do so; he has embraced the late-inning role that he has been trusted with. Just one spring removed from having his place on the team questioned, he developed the competitive mentality to continue to compete night in and night out just to stay relevant to the team. The question is not in his arm, next to Trevor Rosenthal, he may have the liveliest arm on the team, but for a team that struggled to win late with some regularity last summer, how he transitions to having his nights moved back one inning could tell the story of how the season goes.

Boggs shift in the mix changes the demand of the rest of the pen as well. The push to replace Boggs in the setup role could prove to be a tougher equation than him replacing Motte. Edward Mujica, who was the defacto setup man for Boggs last fall, will likely become the favorite to be the new setup man, but the role will likely be a time share. Rosenthal, who was the fireman for pitching the club out of tight spots late in the season, will also get the ball in the eighth inning more often. Fernando Salas also receives a more concrete role on the team, with the seventh inning becoming a prime situation to use the former closer in. Joe Kelly will likely see a more variable role in the fashion that Rosenthal and/or Salas had been pegged for out of the pen, if he loses out on the fifth starter slot to Shelby Miller.

The trickledown effect of the loss of Motte for the time being changes what was a definite strength of for the team, a deep and matchup heavy bullpen. With Rosenthal not being able to float as easily between the sixth and eighth innings, it changes how quickly Mike Matheny can let his starters off the hook. And it puts an even higher demand on scoring enough runs early for the offense that the tight game isn’t as often of an occurrence.

Yet the question for Boggs finds it’s way to every other arm in the bullpen equation: can they answer the call to their new demand as easily as their previous one? The answer will have to be found on the run, and if there isn’t one, it won’t be able to be planned for. Whether its the  return of Motte, the emergence of Boggs or even who takes the ball in the sixth inning now, with the end of the story changing, nothing else earlier is the same.

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Video: Adron Chambers Has A Day

Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson are battling hard for spots on the St. Louis Cardinals roster this Spring Training.

Adron Chambers

Up until now, Robinson is leading that charge, putting up much better offensive numbers and playing solid defense.  Chambers had been his normal self, showing great speed in the field and on the base paths.

It was his speed that allowed Chambers to show off a flashy defensive play Friday as the Cardinals played the Astros.  Chambers chased a fly ball into the left field corner, eventually sliding and producing a stellar grab on the warning track.  Courtesy of MLB.com, here’s the video:

Adron brought a part of his game Friday that most had not seen real well until now, however.  His 3-for-3 performance was capped off by a three-run home run in the sixth inning.  Again, courtesy of MLB.com:

Chambers has long been intriguing to the makeup of the roster due to his speed and athletic ability.  If he can start to find his stroke at the plate, he may just find himself in St. Louis instead of Memphis.

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

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Early Patience Is Encouraging For Hosmer

The Kansas City Royals are poised to turn a corner in 2013.  Eric Hosmer and his return to form would be a big part of that.

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars - copyright i70baseball

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars – copyright i70baseball

In a dismal sophomore year for Eric Hosmer, there was an encouraging statistic that jumps out.  His power numbers took a big dip but he started to show patience at the plate and was able to increase his walks dramatically.  During his rookie campaign, Hosmer drew 34 walks and increased that number to 56 during the 2012 season.  Early on in Spring Training, he is showing good pitch selection once again.

It is hard to make much of Spring stats.  It is even harder to try to find something substantial about the stats this early.  The one thing that jumped out of the recent box scores to me was Hosmer drawing two walks and then drilling an RBI triple on Tuesday.

The two walks brings his Spring total to three, in eleven plate appearances.  His average is still low and, other than the triple, there are no extra base hits on his early record.  Still, he is driving in runs early, striking out less, and driving a higher on base percentage.  If he can translate that into his game come time for the regular season, the Royals and their fans will be very happy.

Hosmer’s power numbers will increase as his plate selection gets better.  Many fans are frustrated with the under performance from Hosmer last season and rightfully so.  The team is poised with a strong pitching staff to alter their makeup and show a willingness to win this season.  To get there, Hosmer will need to be a big part of it.

Patience will be the key to his season.

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

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After 100 posts, there’s more to baseball than wins and losses

The Royals are like your kids. You don’t love them because they’re good. You love them because they’re yours.

For more than two decades I’ve loved a loser. But like a parent, I could never give up on my kid and move on to another.

After 100 posts covering my favorite team in all sports, I’ve come to the conclusion that loving a baseball team can’t be about winning and losing. And further, writing about baseball can’t be about winning and losing.

As a journalist, I’ve covered floods, storms, arrests, trials, legislative proceedings, and business and religious events. All those would seem infinitely more important than sports.

Yet I spend most of my time covering sports. Why? Is it because I’m lazy or unable to focus my feeble mind on more important matters?

Maybe.

But there is something about sports that draws me. When I see children playing on a playground, my eyes are unavoidably drawn to those who are competing at a sport, rather than the ones on the swings or playing imagination games. Why is that?

I recently came to the conclusion that I’m drawn to any sport where I see people trying to accomplish a task. Whether it’s a small child trying to put a ball in a hoop, or a general manager trying to rebuild a loser through the draft, there is some challenge that requires determination, resilience and effort.

So perhaps floods, trials and elections are no more important than the Royals snapping a 12-game losing streak. After all, the human struggle to overcome, persevere and achieve is played out no more gloriously than on the athletic field.

The Royals continue to dredge the depths of the baseball world. They continue to lose far more games than they win. But they persevere in the battle to overcome. And that’s why I’m drawn to watch.

When it comes to the Royals, I am more drawn to write stories about minor leaguers and about the draft, and about roster makeup than I am about the wins and losses of the big league club. And I think that’s because I’m more into the grind to develop than I am about the wins and losses.

The losses keep coming. We hoped this year would be different. But so far it’s not. Still, I keep watching, keep writing, keep caring.

 

After 100 posts, I’m still just as passionate about my team as a parent is about their child. Some day they’ll win, but that doesn’t matter. What matters most is the struggle the Royals engage in, to overcome, to persevere, and to achieve.

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Inside Baseball With Rob Rains: The Trade Market

If, and that still is a very big two-letter word, the Cardinals decide to try to trade Colby Rasmus — in the next two weeks, over the winter, or a year from now — there are two things which will have to happen. One, the Cardinals will have to find a team willing to trade for Rasmus, and two, that team must be willing to give the Cardinals players who they consider either equal or of greater value than Rasmus.

The Marlins' Randy Choate may be of great interest to the Cardinals

The first part should be easy. There are at least nine teams in need of a center fielder, and Rasmus, even with his inconsistencies and defensive issues, would provide an immediate upgrade at the position for all nine of those teams. It’s the second part which becomes the tricky issue for the Cardinals. If Rasmus could be convinced that it might be in his best interest long-term to become a leftfielder, the list probably expands to more than nine teams which would be interested in him.

The Cardinals’ biggest need right now appears to be for a left-handed reliever who can retire a left-handed batter at a key moment in the game. With 12 games to play against Milwaukee, and Prince Fielder, and three games left against the Reds, and Joey Votto, that one factor might be the one which decides the pennant race in the NL Central.

That player alone, however, no matter his importance to the current makeup of the Cardinals, would not be sufficient value to obtain in a trade for Rasmus. More than likely, the Cardinals need to pick up a couple of high-level prospects, probably pitchers or a shortstop, if they are going to part with their former number-one draft pick, who people forget, is still only 24 years old.

If the Cardinals want to talk now about a possible trade for Rasmus, it would seem to make the most sense for GM John Mozeliak to be calling his counterpart on these teams, which are listed in alphabetical order:

Atlanta – Through the All-Star break, the Braves had the worst batting average for centerfielders in the NL (.222) and had only four home runs and 18 RBIs combined between Jordan Schaffer and Nate McLouth. The Braves actually have two quality left-handed relief specialists in All-Star Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. They also have a promising left-handed starter, Mike Minor, in Triple A, and their 2010 No. 1 draft pick, shortstop Matt Lipka, playing in Class A.

Chicago White Sox – The White Sox owe Alex Rios a lot of money, but he is having a terrible year. Their combined centerfielders hit even worse than the Braves, .210, before the All-Star break and Rios was only slightly better with a .213 average with six homers and 21 RBIs. When John Danks comes back off the disabled list, the White Sox will have six starting pitchers. Most observers believe they will trade Edwin Jackson, who threw a shutout on Saturday in front of several scouts, including one from the Cardinals. Another starter might interest the Cardinals more, however. How about left-hander and St. Charles native Mark Buehrle, now 32, who has talked openly about one day wanting to pitch for the Cardinals before he retires. He is a free agent after the season and would have to approve any trade.

Florida – The Marlins traded for veteran Mike Cameron before the All-Star break, but he is not the team’s long-term answer. Putting Rasmus in the middle of Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton would give Florida a talented young outfield for years to come. Combined, the Marlins’ centerfielders hit .234 before the All-Star break and had just seven home runs. The Marlins have pitching to trade, both starters and relievers, and names such as Ricky Nolasco, Annabel Sanchez and Leo Nunez certainly should come up in any discussion about Rasmus.

San Diego – The Padres like Cameron Maybin, which is why they might be included to move Rasmus to left field. Everyone knows about Heath Bell and Mike Adams in their bullpen, but another name to consider is former Cardinal prospect Luke Gregerson, and they also have a young flamethrower in the minors, right-hander Brad Broch, who was just promoted from Double A to Triple A. The Padres actually think they might get more in return for Adams than Bell since he is under contract through next season.

Seattle – The Mariners’ centerfielders had the worst average in the majors before the All-Star break, .196, with five homers and only 21 RBIs. The Mariners don’t really have the pitching depth to trade off the major-league roster, but they do have two young talented shortstops in the minors, Nick Franklin and Marcus Littlewood, who might interest the Cardinals.

San Francisco – A lot was said and written before the break about the Giants’ interest in Carlos Beltran, but the asking price for the Mets’ outfielder is going to be very high and will attract interest from a lot of teams. The Giants do need a centerfielder after posting only a .248 average with 3 homers and 24 RBIs before the All-Star break. If the asking price for Beltran gets too high, maybe the Giants would look at Rasmus. They have quality left-handed relief specialist in Javier Lopez, another very good setup reliever in Sergio Romos and two young minor leaguers, a left-handed starter named Eric Suskemp and an outfielder named Francisco Peguero.

Tampa Bay – Like the Beltran talks, the buzz about Rasmus before the break seemed to center on the Rays. Their only interest in Rasmus would seem to be if they could also move B.J. Upton at the same time, either in that or another trade. There would seem to be no incentive for them to trade starter Jeremy Hellickson, although James Shield would appear to be a more likely target for the Cardinals. They also have left-handed reliever Jake McGee, who was just promoted to the majors this week from Triple A.

Toronto – The Blue Jays centerfielders had a combined .244 average before the All-Star break with only four home runs, although Rajah Davis had 24 stolen bases. Toronto has several relievers who are said to be available, but the Cardinals would likely want a higher return for Rasmus.

Washington – The Nationals primary centerfielder before the break was former Cardinal Rick Ankiel, who is struggling and without former Cardinal connection Jim Riggleman there, his playing time could start to diminish, B.J. Upton’s name has been linked to the Nationals for some time, but it isn’t known the actual level of their interest. What would or should interest the Cardinals would be if the Nationals would consider trading All-Star Tyler Clippard, a right-hander who also has been very effective against left-handed batters.

The market for left-handed specialists

With or without bringing up Rasmus, the Cardinals are expected to be exploring the market for a left-handed specialist between now and the July 31 trading deadline. These six would appear to be the best of the lot, and again, at least worthy of a phone conversation:

Jonny Venters, Atlanta – There probably is no way the Braves would consider trading the All-Star, but they do have another lefthanded reliever in Eric O’Flaherty and rookie Craig Kimbrel gets the bulk of the save opportunities. Through Saturday he had allowed only seven hits in 51 at-bats to left-handed batters, a 137 average, and had four walks and 20 strikeouts. For his two-year career, lefthanded batters have only posted a .177 average against Venters.

Randy Choate, Florida — The 35-year-old veteran is a target for several teams, including the Yankees, which figures to bring up the asking price. He has allowed only five hits in 53 at-bats to lefthanded hitters this season before Saturday, a .053 average, with one walk and 23 strikeouts. For his career, Choate has held left-handers to a .205 average.

Marc Rzepczynski, Toronto – The 25-year-old has been outstanding this season for the Blue Jays, holding left-handed batters to a .152 average (10-of-66) with six walks and 21 strikeouts. He has held opposing left-handers to a .209 average for his career.

Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta – He is the same age as Venters, 26, but has not received the same level of attention. Quietly, however, he has been very effective, holding left-handed batters to a .182 average this season (10-of-55) with two walks and 12 strikeouts. O’Flaherty actually has more experience than Venters and for his career has held left-handed opponents to a .219 average.

Cory Luebke, San Diego – The Padres moved Luebke into their starting rotation in late June, but before then he was very effective against left-handed batters, holding them to a .152 average. For his career, opponents are hitting only .181 against the 26-year-old Luebke.

Javier Lopez, San Francisco – The 34-year-old left-hander has been a key setup man for Brian Wilson with the Giants, holding opponents to a .111 average (7-of-63) while issuing seven walks and 20 strikeouts. Left-handers have a career .220 average against Lopez.

Check out news from around Major League Baseball in this rest of this article over at RobRains.com.

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Predicting The Royals’ 2011 Rotation

Royals pitching coach Bob McClure was interviewed on 610 Sports Radio Friday afternoon, and he was asked to guess at what the team’s starting pitching rotation would look like on Opening Day. McClure hemmed and hawed before saying that hadn’t been decided yet.

McClure might not be ready to admit it yet, but I have a feeling the Royals know exactly who those five starters will be. I also have a feeling the rotation will look just like this come Opening Day:

1. Luke Hochevar, RHP

The team has as much as admitted Hochevar would be the “ace” next season (although I heard an interesting theory a few years ago that just because you’re the No. 1 starter doesn’t mean you’re an ace. And some teams can have more than one ace. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are aces. CC Sabathia is an ace. Tim Lincecum is an ace Zack Greinke is an ace. Luke Hochevar, sadly, is not an ace – though I’m hopeful he has the potential to turn into one.)

When it became clear Hochevar would probably get the nod to start Opening Day over Jeff Francis, I was a little confused. Francis is clearly a more proven pitcher with a lot more wins under his belt. But now I’m starting to get it. Hochevar has shown sparkles of brilliance, and if anybody on this current roster could turn into a true ace, it’s him. 2011 is a throwaway season, we all know it. We might as let Hochevar lead this staff – if only to see if he’s capable of doing it in the future.

2. Jeff Francis, LHP

It’s been a while since the Royals have had a really good, productive left-handed starter. And, as I wrote last week, the Francis free-agent signing was the smartest move of the Dayton Moore era.

Francis should do nicely in the No. 2 spot, even though he’ll clearly be the veteran leader of this team. And from what I’ve read about Francis’ makeup, he won’t mind that role at all.

Bruce Chen

Bruce Chen

3. Bruce Chen, LHP

I can’t remember the last time the Royals had two lefties in their starting rotation. I think the Royals will leave them next to each other in the rotation, too, because that presents some interesting challenges for opposing teams.

Besides closer Joakim Soria, Chen was the best pitcher on the team last season. That being said, I don’t expect him to repeat that performance. If he does, it’ll be terrific. But I’m afraid if he regresses at all, he’ll be called a flash-in-the-pan, and Dayton Moore will be criticized for re-signing him.

4. Kyle Davies, RHP

I’m afraid this is inevitable. Davies is not a very good starter, but he was able to make every scheduled start last year, and that’s not nothing. I think this is Davies’ last shot in Kansas City, though; too much fresh meat is coming up behind him.

5. Vin Mazzaro, RHP

Although it’s probably not a make-it-or-break-it situation for Mazzaro like it is for Davies, 2011 is without a doubt going to be a major milestone in Mazzaro’s career. This will be his first shot to pitch regularly in the majors, and we’ll all be watching to see if he can handle the pressure. And, we’ll also be watching to see if we truly did let Oakland steal David DeJesus.

Other possibilities

I think those five pitchers are going to comprise the starting rotation, but one of these guys could break in if there’s an injury:

Sean O’Sullivan, RHP: He showed improvement at the end of the 2010 season, but not enough. He’ll be a bullpen arm or, more likely, an Omaha StormChaser (that still doesn’t sound right).

Everett Teaford, LHP: Teaford got quite a bit of buzz in the offseason, and he probably had the best season of any pitcher in the organization last year. But it was at the AA level, and I don’t see him making the rotation this year.

Aaron Crow, RHP: It’s an extreme long-shot, but the Royals said they’ll take a look at the first-round draft pick during spring training.

Joakim Soria, RHP: Many fans have been hoping the team would convert the all-star closer into a starter. It’s next to impossible to believe it would actually happen this spring, but… this is the Royals we’re talking about. Anything goes.

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the associate editor of I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey14@yahoo.com.

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2010 In Review: Cardinal Clubhouse Leadership

Is it time for a change in Cardinal clubhouse leadership?

Wednesday night’s United Cardinal Blogger Radio Hour discussion touched on a variety of the stories from 2010, and naturally the off-season moves came up. While analyzing those moves, clubhouse chemistry and leadership therein was touched on. The fast-pace of the show prevented an in-depth conversation.

Two off-season moves bug me because of the reported reasoning behind them.

The Cardinals shipped their starting shortstop to Seattle for a marginal Class A pitching prospect. Brendan Ryan was sent out because he was a clubhouse problem: Mozeliak remained circumspect about off-field elements that contributed to the deal except to say, ‘Changing the culture of the clubhouse was important to us. Given the personalities involved, we felt this an appropriate way to make a change’ (Comments made following the trade announcement).

The Cardinals signed an aging hitter to play a position he has not manned in 3 years. Lance Berkman was brought in to improve the lineup and clubhouse chemistry: ‘Lance’s talent, his character and what he brings to club makes us a better team and changes the makeup of the clubhouse. It’s a big add.’ (Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa comment following the trade announcement).

How is it the clubhouse atmosphere was allowed to grow so poisonous it necessitated drastic change?

There has never been a collection of free individuals united in a common cause who approach the problem or the job exactly the same way. If it were possible to find 25 free individuals who could do that, it is a virtual guarantee they would not all possess the talent to play baseball at the major league level. It is the job of the leaders on the team – be they players or on-field management – to blend the parts into a cohesive whole, to guide them in order to achieve the team goal of winning baseball games, advancing to the playoffs, and winning the Championship.

I would have thought someone possessing the breadth and depth of leadership experience Tony LaRussa does would understand that. These two moves suggest a disturbing lack of flexibility on the part of LaRussa to work with the personalities he’s assigned.

Ryan is not an isolated case. Anthony Reyes. Colby Rasmus. Jason Marquis. Heck, going back a decade Ozzie Smith and Ron Gant had issues with LaRussa, although in the past, the Cardinals were able to succeed in spite of any off-field discord. LaRussa’s record of six division titles, six League Championship Series appearances, two NL pennants and 1 World Series title from 1996-2006 reflect that.

The Cardinals have not had that level of success since the 2006 championship. One playoff appearance in the intervening 4 years, and that ended as they were swept from the 2009 NLDS. Additionally, the Cardinals have struggled down the stretch every year since 2006, including the 2010 pratfall that essentially handed Cincinnati the Central Division. Many of these personality issues have surfaced either during or since that 2006 run. Has Tony LaRussa’s inflexibility as a leader contributed to the lack of success on the field? I think so.

Brendan Ryan was the best defensive shortstop the Cardinals had, and has been replaced by Ryan Theriot, who statistically is an inferior defender. The Cardinals have weakened their team, and hurt their chances for success in 2011, largely because of a personality conflict.

Lance Berkman’s story is not quite the same but still curious. Berkman has been brought in for his bat, but also to improve the clubhouse. Whether Jon Jay or some other player mans right field, it is relatively assured they would be a better defensive outfielder than Berkman. This is not a knock on Berkman per se; he has not played right field at all since 2007, and not played more than 50 games in the outfield since 2004, and is coming off knee surgery. Berkman was exactly average (based on UZR/150) in 2004, the only time he posted a positive number in RF in his career (according to Fangraphs). Signing him makes the team’s defense weaker.

Yet the Cardinals justify his acquisition based on his bat (which if it returns to his previous levels will be a big lift) AND his clubhouse presence (per the quote above). I don’t get it – why does a team boasting Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols need another veteran to help police the clubhouse?

LaRussa’s fingerprints are all over both these moves, and his inflexible leadership style is probably the root cause as to why they were made. LaRussa’s intractability is hurting this team. He is the manager for 2011, so as fans we can only hope he is able to work better with this collection of individuals than he did with the 2010 roster. Despite all his past success in St Louis, though, I believe this season should be his last season in a Cardinal uniform.

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