Tag Archive | "Matt Cain"

Triple Play: Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez

It was definitely a Happy Mother’s Day at our house. Hope it was at yours as well. This week, we’re looking back at the gems the Cardinals’ pitched against the Rockies this weekend, a marquee outfielder who can’t get going, and more. Here we go:

Molina r1

Who’s Hot?

Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals

How do you pick which start was more impressive? I finally had to choose Miller’s since I’ve seen Adam Wainwright’s greatness before. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that the 22-year-old pitched the single best game by a rookie starter since Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece against the Astros in 1998. Miller struck out 13, walked NONE and allowed only a broken-bat base hit against the Rockies. Some of the strikeouts were absolutely jaw-dropping. Perfectly placed fastballs. Breaking balls that dropped right over the plate. You name it. Miller had it all working for him. He said after the game on MLB Network that it was the best game he had ever pitched. Among the many stats and charts I’ve seen over the weekend about the pure greatness of this start, this one really jumped out at me: in the past 10 years, how many starts have there been where the pitcher allowed one hit (or none), struck out at least 13 batters, while walking none? Three. That’s it.  Here they are:

  • 5/18/2004 – Randy Johnson, age 40, Arizona vs. Atlanta (perfect game)
  • 6/13/2012 – Matt Cain, age 27, SF vs. Houston (perfect game)
  • 5/10/2013 – Miller

The fact that the Big Unit pitched a perfect game at age 40 quite a feat as well, but a subject for another day. This is a damn impressive list. Miller is 22 and just scratching the surface of his abilities. If you own Miller on your fantasy team, here are a couple of other stats that will have you patting yourself on the back: he has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 51-to-11. That is dominating for any starter. Of course, it is important to remember that Miller has less than a dozen major-league starts under his belt and there is bound to be some adjustment as opposing teams become more familiar with him. It would be unrealistic to expect no regression. Then again, as he matures, he figures to get even better. So far, it appears that the #1 starter-like projections predicted for Miller are right on target. After Friday night, Rockies hitters are in position to argue that point.

Who’s Not?

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

When your most noteworthy accomplishment of the season is a post-game altercation with another player, you know you’re off to a bad start. Someone please alert Kemp that the 2013 season started over a month ago. Entering Sunday’s games, Kemp’s batting line looked like that of a fourth outfielder on a good team: 1 HR, 14 RBI, 5 SB, .268 average. Okay, the RBI total is a little better than that of a reserve, but that’s about it. He just can’t get on track. How much longer can fantasy owners keep saying, “it’s early – he’ll be fine”? Fantasy owners cannot be happy to see that he is on pace for 4 HRs and 71 runs scored. Kemp has driven in one measly run and stolen a single base since Cinco de Mayo. He might have had an 11-game hitting streak going, but those hits aren’t translating to other stats for fantasy owners (or the Dodgers). Since you likely paid big auction dollars or used a high draft pick on Kemp, you really have no realistic choice but to wait and hope that he gets going soon. Trading him now would be a pennies-on-the-dollar move.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .298/.365/.632, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 10 runs, 1 SB

Player B: .285/.379/.551, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 10 runs, 0 SB

Player A is the Angels’ Mike Trout. Player B is the Indians’ Mark Reynolds. Trout is being viewed by some baseball analysts as a bust, while Reynolds is being hailed as the best bargain free-agent signing of the year. Both are incorrect. Trout is on pace for 27 homers, 112 RBI, 22 steals and 100 runs scored. Reynolds is not going to hit 50 homers and drive in 150, as he is currently on pace to do. But it’s a mighty nice hot streak for the Sons of Geronimo and fantasy owners to enjoy. Anyone who considers Trout a bust, or who thinks Reynolds is going to maintain his current numbers, is an idiot. Let’s check back in a month.

Player A: 1-0, 3.85 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 22 Ks, 14 IP

Player B: 2-0, 2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 16 Ks, 11 2/3 IP

Player A is Yu Darvish of the Rangers. Player B is Ubaldo Jimenez of the Indians. I had to read those numbers three times to make sure I wasn’t mixing them up with, say, James Shields or another front-line AL starter. Jimenez has actually put together back-to-back quality starts for the Tribe. In fact, Jimenez out-pitched Justin Verlander on Saturday, his third straight win.  Results like that are more in line with what the Indians had in mind when they dealt two of their top pitching prospects to the Rockies for the former All-Star starter in  July 2011. Personally, I wouldn’t trust that Jimenez has made some sort of breakthrough, but his success and that of Scott Kazmir, Cleveland is on a roll the past couple weeks and is bearing down on Detroit for first in the AL Central. The Indians have plenty of hitting. If, by chance, Jimenez can continue pitching this effectively, the Indians will be a big step closer to being a genuine contender.

Random Thoughts

  • One final note on Shelby Miller: he has been quoted as saying that he has not shaken off a single pitch Yadier Molina has called for all season. Not only do you not run on Yadi, you don’t shake off Yadi, either.
  • Let’s not forget Jon Lester. He pitched a beauty of his own last Friday night against the Blue Jays. He allowed just one hit, a double by Maicer Izturis in the 6th inning. For the season, Lester is 5-0 with a 2.73 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. It’s not a coincidence that he is pitching like an ace and the Red Sox are winning again.
  • Wainwright’s shutout of the Rockies on Saturday was no slouch, either. He didn’t strike out as many batters as Miller did Friday, but he had dazzling command of that 12-to-6 bender that gets hitters bailing out of the batter’s box, only to watch the ball drop right in the zone. When he gets that pitch going, he’s as fun to watch as any dominant ace.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: 4. That’s four batters that Wainwright has walked this season (in a National League-high 58 2/3 innings), compared with 55 strikeouts. That’s a 13.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is so far beyond ridiculously good that it’s, well, ridiculous.
  • On the other hand, there’s poor Philip Humber of the Astros. First he was banished to the bullpen by Houston. Then, after getting hammered out of the pen Saturday night, his stats sit thusly: 0-8, a ghastly 9.59 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, 43 ERA+. When you see that Humber has allowed 14 hits and nearly four walks per nine innings, it’s no wonder he has been charged with the loss in eight of his nine appearances this season. How did he ever pitch a perfect game?
  • I think enough has been said and written about how terrible Angel Hernandez as an umpire. On second thought, no, it hasn’t been enough – his continued employment in an embarrassment to baseball. Likewise with Bob Davidson. A scientific poll (read: not scientific at all) reveals that the overall quality of umpiring would double if just those two were pink-slipped.
  • As incompetent as Hernandez’s blown home run call was, it pales in comparison to the fiasco the following night with Astros manager Bo Porter just making up rules regarding pitching changes. Botching a call is nothing compared to not knowing the stinking rule book. My idea for an outside-the-box punishment for those umpires? Having to umpire a game while wearing dunce caps.
  • They could borrow them from the ESPN executives who think it’s a good idea to pay John Kruk a salary to talk about baseball on TV.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Matt Adams turns potential into reality for St. Louis Cardinals

When the St. Louis Cardinals waged their annual war with injuries last season as Allen Craig and Lance Berkman went on the disabled list within weeks of each other in May, the Cardinals needed a replacement, and their first choice was minor leaguer Matt Adams.

MattAdams

Adams looked the part. He’s 6-foot-3-inches tall, weighs 260 pounds and hit 82 homeruns in his four years in the minor leagues while compiling a .318 batting average. But that wasn’t the player who showed up in the Cardinals lineup in 2012. Adams hit .244 with two homeruns and 13 RBIs in his 27-game stay with the big-league club.

So where was this power potential that made him the Cardinals first choice to fill-in while two players with power bats sat on the disabled list? Apparently it had left Adams’ right elbow.

Adams and the Cardinals didn’t know it at the time, but he had been hampered by a bone spur in his elbow and eventually had surgery to repair it last season after the Cardinals sent him back to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

And it turns out that injury made a huge difference because the 2013 version of Adams is much more in line with the stories of his powerful approach to hitting and why the Cardinals considered him a top prospect..

Adams crushed the ball throughout spring training. He hit three homeruns and led the team with 17 RBIs in 28 games. He has carried that success into the regular season so far, and at times carried the team.

He got the Cardinals their first extra-base hit of the three-game series last weekend against the San Francisco Giants when he hit a two-run, ground-rule double into right-centerfield in the fourth inning Sunday against Giants ace Matt Cain. He also carried his hot bat into the Cardinals first home series of the season, a three-game set with the division-rival Cincinnati Reds.

The Cardinals trailed the Reds 1-0 in the sixth inning Tuesday against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who to that point in the game had not allowed a hitter to reach base. But Adams, who entered the game as a pinch hitter, waited on one of Arroyo’s trademark slow breaking balls and crushed it into the rightfield seats for a two-run homer.

Then he did the same thing in the sixth inning Wednesday against Reds pitcher Homer Bailey as the Cardinals cruised to a 10-0 win behind a stellar complete-game performance by starter Jake Westbrook.

Adams is in such a groove right now he has the look of a hitter who could hit almost any pitch out of the ballpark. He is getting healthy cuts on pitches he misses, and most of his foul balls have been smashed into the seats down the rightfield line.

That’s the type of hitter the Cardinals management saw in the minor leagues, and it’s the type of hitter who will likely play a very important role for the team throughout the season.

Craig is still the starting first baseman, and he is in no danger of losing that job. But Craig will also have to play rightfield on a fairly regular basis to give 35-year-old Carlos Beltran enough days off to make it through the season, and that could give Adams enough opportunities to be a large part of the Cardinals offense this season.

Even if he is primarily used in a bench role, it’s always nice to have a player who’s hitting over .600 ready to take an important at-bat late in a ballgame.

Sure, Adams won’t continue to hit .600 or better throughout the season, but the Cardinals now have a power hitter who can change the tone of a game immediately.

The Cardinals thought Adams could provide that aspect of the game when he came up in 2012. Now they know he can in 2013.

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Cards’ Past Could Predict Wainwright’s Future

Adam Wainwright made his first “start” in what could be a year full of both starts and stops. Of course he’s still over a month away from his first meaningful appearance of the year, but these days, not much he says or does is without meaning.

Adam  Wainwright

With the high stakes nature of his ongoing contract negotiations hanging over his 6’7” frame, the comparison machine is going crazy in a wild attempt to get a grasp on what a long-term extension for the Cardinals’ ace would look like. Would it be a rather short-term, balanced money deal in the nature of the one Yadier Molina received last spring? Or would it be an extensive, full career (and then some) style deal, such as the one Albert Pujols ultimately received…elsewhere?

The expectation that the pact would be the largest team history isn’t a far fetched idea. In reality, it’s very much a fact. And the best comparison possible is one that is drawn from the terms that the current holder of that distinction agreed to: Matt Holliday.

Holliday turned 29 just days before signing his seven-year, $120 million deal back in 2009. This is was a mid prime deal for him that also would carry him likely through the remainder of his career. It also became the winter’s biggest deal, despite him likely passing on more lucrative offers from the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. It also came during a time when there was rapid contract growth around him, with Jason Bay, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez all recently receiving long-term deals.

This is nearly the exact scenario that Wainwright is placed in right now. He is 31 years old right now, and would be 32 by the end of the year. Yet, the starting pitching position is the middle of a massive salary push, with large scale deals going out to Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez over the past year. If he was to hit the free agent market, he would instantly become among the most sought after free agents available. He stacks up very well in a class that features Matt Garza, Josh Johnson and Tim Lincecum, each of which will also be over 30 years old by the winter. Basically, Wainwright is running out of contractual obligation at a perfect time for his causes.

But what does the organization have to consider? There is much to be considered in how the team has approached its recent dealing, but also many parallels to pull away as well. The differences from the Pujols deal are numerous. In Pujols’ case, he had been playing a far lower rate than his performance would indicate for many years. And while he entered the market a similar age, his value took on historic connotation, not a superb prime for a top-tier performer, which is what Wainwright is, much like Holliday was. In the case of Molina, he took a shorter term extension, which will carry him into his late 30’s. Yet he still didn’t push for every dollar that he could have on the open market, and likely would have earned if he waited a few months.

The differences between the Pujols and Molina deals are clear, but there some similarities as well. All indications are leaning towards Wainwright wants a guarantee on the length of the deal, which was something they balked at with Pujols. The Cardinals have taken a pretty strong stance against signing over the low-to-late 30’s bridge. It was a balk in their offer to Pujols, and both Molina and Holliday’s deals would expire at ages 35 and 37, respectively. If Wainwright is seeking a deal that is comparable in length to either Cain or Hamels, the balance in length would be six years. This would carry him to his 38th birthday, and most likely into a scenario where is paid past his prime and into his decline years. The ability to avoid doing this; and have been able to sign many players to their exact prime years and escaping the decline as it approaches. This is a primary factor for what has kept the small market Cardinals with the ability to field the financially flexible roster it has for so many years.

It doesn’t seem that Wainwright would push to hamstring the financial competitiveness of the team, but he has acknowledged that a lowered value deal isn’t likely. In comparison to his last deal he signed at age 26, his focus has changed, “I’m in a different place from last deal. My family is set up, and I’m looking at different things,” he stated last month regarding his desires for this contract. These are the words of a man that is looking towards the future, his own.

And as always, the organization will do what’s best for its future as well, financially and competitively. Both sides will be forced to concede a portion of their absolute interests to find a deal here. While the Cardinals have proven to be resistant to extreme concession (as the Pujols dealings showed), and prefer shorter term commitment (as they proved with Molina) they also have shown that when the situation requires it, as proved with Holliday, they will throw caution to the wind and compete over the long term.

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Felix Hernandez megadeal should actually help St. Louis Cardinals in Adam Wainwright negotiations

The St. Louis Cardinals enter spring training this week with another star player entering the final year of his contract just two years after the Albert Pujols contract circus. But the Cardinals suddenly have leverage in these negotiations they never got with Pujols.

AlbertPujolsAdamWainwright

Adam Wainwright will be a free agent at the end of the season if he and the Cardinals can’t agree on a long-term contract before the end of the season. This sounds similar to the Pujols situation, but the Cardinals should suddenly be more optimistic this time around thanks to an American League team on the West Coast.

The Seattle Mariners are close to signing pitcher Felix Hernandez to a huge contract that could range from five to seven years and $135 million to $175 million. Either way, Hernandez is going to be a very rich man, but he probably helped the Cardinals in negotiations with their own ace pitcher.

Hernandez could make somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million to $27 million annually, which is close to the price tag many people figured it would take to keep Wainwright in St. Louis beyond this season. However, the Cardinals have a few good reasons not to pay Wainwright that much money, or at least not for that long.

See, Hernandez is just 26 years old even though he’s pitched in the big leagues for eight seasons, but he has never had a major arm injury. Wainwright is 31 years old, missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and struggled at times in 2012 to regain his dominant form.

The bigger concern for the Cardinals was when the San Francisco Giants signed righthanded pitcher Matt Cain to a six-year, $127.5-million contract extension before the beginning of the 2012 season. Cain was 27 years old at the time he signed the deal, but he also had a career record of 69-73.

Granted, the deal worked out last year as Cain led the Giants to a World Series title with a 16-5 record and a perfect game along the way, but Wainwright still looked like the better pitcher at the time.

Maybe it’s been good for the Cardinals to let negotiations with Wainwright drag on into the final year. The constant questions about the contract won’t be pleasant if they don’t get a deal done before the season begins, but the Cardinals would’ve certainly had to pay more for Wainwright if they had signed him to an extension two years ago, and probably even last year. There was a chance Wainwright could have made between $25-30 million per year up until the Hernandez deal.

Wainwright could still shoot for that type of money as a free agent in the offseason if he has a Cy Young Award-caliber 2013 season, but teams will likely be much more unwilling to give a 31-year-old pitcher with a history of arm problems more money than a 26-year-old pitcher who has never spent an appreciable amount of time on the disabled list.

Of course, time will determine if the Mariners made the right decision to sign their righthanded star pitcher. Hernandez could have a Cain-type season, or he could turn into Barry Zito, who hasn’t pitched above .500 since the Giants signed him to a $126-million deal in 2007.

No matter the long-term outcome, news of the Hernandez deal should make Cardinals fans more optimistic their team’s own righthanded star pitcher will take the mound at Busch Stadium in a Cardinals uniform to open the 2014 season, and God-willing, several more seasons beyond that.

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Royals Add Shields, Davis Trading Myers, Odorizzi

KANSAS CITY, MO (December 9, 2012) – The Kansas City Royals tonight acquired right-handed starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named or cash considerations from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for minor league outfielder Wil Myers, right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi, left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard.

Shields, who will turn 31 on December 20, has established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the American League. He followed up an All-Star campaign in 2011, in which posted a 16-12 record with a 2.82 ERA and finished third in the A.L. Cy Young voting, by posting a 15-10 record with a 3.52 ERA in 33 starts with Tampa Bay last season. In 227.2 innings, Shields allowed 208 hits, walked 58 and struck out 223, just two shy of his career best set in 2011 and the third-most in the league. Shields is joined by the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander as the only four pitchers in baseball to record at least 220 strikeouts in the last two seasons.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander has compiled an 87-73 career record with a 3.89 ERA in 218 games (217 starts) all for the Rays since making his debut in 2006. Since tossing 124.2 innings in 21 starts during his rookie campaign, Shields has won at least 11 games, made at least 31 starts and topped the 200-inning mark in six straight seasons. He joins the Jays’ Mark Buehrle, the Giants’ Matt Cain, the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and Verlander as the only five pitchers in baseball to post at least 200 innings in six straight seasons. In 2011, his 11 complete games were the most by a Major League pitcher since Arizona’s Randy Johnson had 12 in 1999.

Shields and his wife, Ryane, reside in Clearwater, Fla., with their two daughters. The couple is active with a number of charities specifically geared toward foster children and James was the Rays recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The 27-year-old Davis made a combined 64 starts for the Rays from 2009 to 2011 before pitching exclusively in the bullpen for Tampa Bay in 2012. He went 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA last season, allowing 48 hits and 29 walks with 87 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder made 29 starts in both 2010 and 2011 and finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting after posting a 12-10 record with a 4.07 ERA in 2010. Davis is 28-22 with a 3.94 ERA in 118 career outings, including 64 starts. He is 25-22 in his career as a starter with a 4.22 ERA, including an 8-2 mark with a 3.38 ERA in 30 games (18 starts) against A.L. Central foes.

Davis and his wife, Katelyn, reside in Lake Wales, Fla. Davis organized the Full Count Foundation to help children who are at risk or have special needs or chronic illnesses.

Myers, who will turn 22 on December 10, was the 2012 Baseball America, USA Today and Topps Minor League Baseball Player of the Year after hitting a combined .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI in 134 games for Northwest Arkansas (AA) and Omaha (AAA). He was the Royals’ third round selection in the 2009 June Free Agent Draft.

The 22-year-old Odorizzi went 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 26 outings (25 starts) for Northwest Arkansas and Omaha in 2012 before making two starts for the Royals in September, going 0-1. He was acquired by Kansas City in a six-player trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on December 19, 2012.

Montgomery, 23, split his season between Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, posting a 5-12

record with a 6.07 ERA in 27 starts. He was the Royals’ supplemental first round selection (36 th

overall) in 2008.

The 20-year-old Leonard batted .251 with 14 home runs and 46 RBI in 62 games for Burlington (R) in 2012. He was the club’s fifth-round pick in the 2011 Draft.

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Regardless of expectations, St. Louis Cardinals were beaten by a better team

Although the St. Louis Cardinals looked poised for another exhilarating run to a championship while up three games to one on the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS, the Giants came back to win the series. Instead of looking at the series as a complete failure by the Cardinals, a more realistic view might show the Giants were simply a better team in 2012.

Sure, the Cardinals had Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse, a trio of starting pitchers who have a combined three Cy Young awards and 30 wins this season. They also had a lineup that had the fourth highest batting average in Major League Baseball.

Unfortunately, the Giants had a team better equipped to win baseball games. There’s probably a reason they won 94 games and the Cardinals won 88. The Giants have a lineup that can produce runs without hitting a homerun. They had 31 RBIs in the NLCS compared to 19 for the Cardinals.

The Giants also have really good pitching. That shouldn’t have been a surprise to people who follow baseball. The starting rotation with Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito is as good of a rotation as any in the league. Closer Sergio Romo also filled in terrifically for injured closer Brian Wilson.

As for the third aspect of the game, the Giants defense was substantially better than the Cardinals. The Giants didn’t give up an unearned run in the entire seven-game series while the Cardinals gave up 10 unearned runs on six errors.

Could the Cardinals have won the series and gone on to win their second World Series in a row? Certainly, they were just one win away, but it would also be unfair to think the Giants are an unworthy opponent for the Detroit Tigers in the Fall Classic. The Giants already proved plenty worthy by winning the first two games of the series heading into play Saturday.

The same thing happened in 1996 when the Atlanta Braves came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Cardinals in seven games. The finish to that series was actually even worse than the 2012 version. The Braves beat the Cardinals 14-0 in Game 5, 3-1 in Game 6 and 15-0 to close out the series in Game 7.

No playoff elimination is going to be even close to fun. In fact, the final three games of the NLCS were about as brutal as it gets for the losing team’s fans. This year’s loss certainly carried plenty of disappointment given how the team had always come back from seemingly insurmountable odds.

But there is also another way to look at it. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have made it as far as they did. The team battled injuries to nearly every position player at some point in the season, the bullpen didn’t get its act together until the postseason and the team lost several key pieces from the 2011 championship team.

Manager Mike Matheny did a wonderful job leading the team in his first season. He has the respect of the players and the team has a collective will power that keeps it from getting left behind on the field and in the standings.

The Cardinals will be back next year. They might not win the World Series in 2013. There will be teams such as the Giants who have a well-established team that can make a run through the playoffs. But, there is little reason to think they would completely fall apart and not play competitive baseball throughout the season.

Unfortunately, next season is still six long, cold months away.

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St. Louis Cardinals refuse to take easy path to World Series

The St. Louis Cardinals entered Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Friday up three games to one on the San Francisco Giants, just one win from securing a spot in the World Series. All they had to do was beat Giants starter Barry Zito, who hasn’t had an earned-run average under 4.03 in six years.

That sounds doable enough. The Cardinals scored eight runs the night before against 2008 and 2009 Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. Instead, Zito, who did win a Cy Young award with the Oakland A’s in 2002, shut the Cardinals down for eight innings, and the Giants won 5-0.

That means instead of a free weekend to rest and prepare for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday at home against the Detroit Tigers, the Cardinals had to trek back out to San Francisco. Additionally, they will face Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in games 6 and 7, against whom the Cardinals have scored a combined four runs in their first starts of the series.

The Cardinals could have wrapped up the NL pennant Friday, but no, that wouldn’t have let them win in their typical pull-your-hair-out, blood-vessel-bursting excitement and drama. This is the 2012 Cardinals, who are an extension of the 2011 Cardinals. They do things the hard way.

The Cardinals could’ve wrapped up the second wild card spot by beating the Cincinnati Reds in the second-to-last game of the season, but they didn’t. They lost 3-1 and had to rely on the Giants to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers later that night to clinch the NL Central.

They also could’ve knocked out the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of the Division Series but lost 2-1 on a walk-off homerun by Jayson Werth. That led into a 6-0 deficit in Game 5 that required a miracle comeback just to make the National League Championship Series.

The Cardinals could have saved lots of stress and heartburn for their fans had they won Game 5 Friday night, but that’s not how the Cardinals operate. They seek out the most tense moments possible and still prevail. Sometimes it feels like the Cardinals are in on a big prank where they know they will win, but they want to make that victory as dramatic as possible.

That now might have to be how they win the NLCS. Vogelsong and Cain are very good pitchers, and the Giants will have both games at home. Of course, the Cardinals will counter with Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse on the mound, but gosh it would’ve been nice to wrap up the series at home with a little bit of a cushion.

The one benefit of all of the close, back-against-the-wall victories is that they are certainly fun to celebrate. Thankfully, the Cardinals have won every one of those games in the last two years, but that possibility of a loss looms over those games larger than a Directv blimp.

But with Friday’s loss, they once again opened the door on the possibility that Game 5 might have been the last game in Busch Stadium this year.

The Cardinals knew going into the series the Giants wouldn’t be easy to eliminate. San Francisco has a very good team that pitches well and can generate runs without having to hit the ball out of the park. That’s going to make the remainder of the NLCS fun to watch for baseball fans, especially fun for the winning team’s fans and heartbreaking for the losing team.

The Cardinals have once again let a postseason series head toward the brink of an elimination, win-or-go-home game that will be seared into the memories of Cardinals fans forever.

It’s more fun that way, right?

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Three To Watch: Cardinals Meet The Brewers

Opening Day is in the books for the defending champions, now the St. Louis Cardinals will play the remainder of the month against the Central Division and it starts with a series in Milwaukee against the Brewers.

It’s time to grab a cold frosty one (heh, heh, heh), make some nachos and settle in on the couch, the season is starting.  Don’t get any cheese on the keyboard and I will tell you the three things you should be watching for during this series.

Ryan Braun
The reigning Most Valuable Player had quite the tumultuous offseason.   Follow that up with a decidedly uncharacteristic Spring Training, and many wonder whether or not it is all weighing on his mind too much to focus on the game.

When faced with a scandal that will get a player ridiculed around the league, there always seems to be an over-enthusiastic level of support at home.  Braun will certainly get some home cooking and be focused in the dome of Miller Park.  With the weight of a scandal, and a franchise, on his shoulders, it may be time that fans learn what Ryan Braun is really made of.  The team will be relying heavily on him to help with the transition away from the Prince Fielder years.

Adam Wainwright vs Zack Greinke
If you are like me and love a good pitching match-up, Saturday’s game is tailor made for you.  Adam Wainwright toes the rubber for the good guys while Zack Greinke is on the bump for the Brew-Crew.

Greinke is in a contract year, which is part of the business of the game that he does not feel we should discuss, and is establishing himself as one of the premier arms on the market this offseason, if not a prime candidate for an extension.  Wainwright took notice this week of Matt Cain‘s deal and will pitch in his first regular season game since 2010.

This setting may feature two hurlers that are in the discussion for the league Cy Young Award before all is said and done.

Matt Holliday
I’m not sure you can take much away from a one game series against the Marlins in a lime green ballpark, but one thing stood out more than anything else to me.   Matt Holliday seemed frustrated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a guy to make a big deal out of the statistics for one game.  It will take more than that to convince me that a player is struggling or on a hot streak.  What I did notice, is that Matt Holliday was visibly upset at the call made by the umpire and at himself when he missed a few pitches.  A player that is that upset this early is one that seems to be pressing, to me at least.  Keep an eye on how the Cardinals’ outfielder not only performs in Milwaukee, but how he reacts if he is not performing well to determine if he truly is struggling.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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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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West Coast Swing

Well on the bright side, the Cardinals won’t face Tim Lincecum this trip.

After dropping 4 of 6 at home to start the season, to the expected lowly Padres and the perennially lowly Pirates, St Louis swings west for 9 games. The Left Coast has not been particularly kind or unkind to the Cardinals since Albert Pujols started pummeling baseballs on their behalf.

Of the three cities they will visit – San Francisco, Arizona, and Los Angeles – only the Giants hold a winning record over them at home. St Louis is 13-17 in the City by the Bay since the start of the 2001 season. In contrast, they are 19-16 in the Desert and 16-14 in the City of Our Lady Queen of the Angels (yes the official name of that hamlet is El Pubelo de la Reina de Los Angeles). Most of those wins came in the early part of the past decade. Since their 2006 World Championship, the Cardinals are 6-9 in Arizona, 5-7 in Los Angeles, and 4-8 in San Francisco.

With that recent trend in mind do not expect the Cardinals Opening Week woes to be cured soon. St Louis has yet to score more than 3 runs in any game this season, and San Francisco’s pitching staff is one of the best in the game. St Louis projects to face Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Barry Zito. Sanchez won his only start against the Cardinals at home (in 2009), Cain and Zito are each 1-2 lifetime at SBC Park versus St Louis. If the Cardinals were firing on all cylinders, those matchups might be encouraging.

In Arizona they project to face Barry Enright, Armando Galarraga, and Ian Kennedy. Arizona will probably not compete for a playoff spot in 2011 but their team, especially their rotation, is intriguing and bodes of future success. Enright, Galarraga, and Kennedy epitomize that bright future. Enright was a mid-season call-up and posted a 109 ERA+ in 17 starts. He beat the Cardinals in his major league debut. Galarraga is the former Detroit Tiger pitcher who famously almost threw a perfect game last year. He started one game 3 years ago against St Louis and did not figure in the decision. Kennedy is a former New York Yankee who came to Arizona as part of the Curtis Granderson trade. He has never faced the Cardinals.

It is a little early to project the Dodger rotation for their series with St Louis, but it could be Kuroda, Kershaw, and Billingsley if (a) the Dodger rotation stays as is, and (b) they throw their #5 starter on Monday 11 April, whomever that will be. The Cardinals would see Los Angeles’ two top pitchers in that series.

The Cardinals have sputtered out of the gate, but it is unreasonable to expect this team to play .333 ball the entire year. There is just too much talent on the roster. St Louis will break out of it. Given their recent troubles on the west coast, it may not be during the next nine games.

Mike Metzger blogs about the Cardinals at Stan Musial’s Stance.

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