Tag Archive | "Midst"

Chen making the most of move back to rotation

The Kansas City Royals continued their winning ways on Thursday night, getting a great performance from Bruce Chen. Chen shut down the best offense in baseball, the Red Sox, in 7.2 innings of dominant pitching.

BruceChen

Chen didn’t allow a run against first-place Boston. He only recorded two strikeouts, but he continually changed speeds and forced weak contact from Red Sox hitters.

Chen, a 15-year MLB veteran, has been a revelation for the Royals this year since moving back into the starting rotation. He replaced Luis Mendoza in the Kansas City rotation, with his first start coming July 12 against the Indians. Chen earned a no-decision, despite not allowing a run, and the Royals lost 3-0.

After that loss, Chen reeled off four great starts, culminating with the win over Boston. Through five starts with the Royals this year, Chen is 2-0, and the Royals are 4-1 in those games.

Chen also excelled in his role as the long-man in the bullpen earlier in the year. But he is more valuable in the rotation especially when he pitches as well as he has over the past five games.

This season, Chen is 5-0 overall, with a sparkling 1.79 ERA through 65.1 innings.

The Panamanian-born lefty does have experience as a starting pitcher in his career. He has 208 career starts, including 34 for Kansas City last year. He was 11-14 with a 5.07 ERA in 191.2 innings in 2012.

Chen has three seasons with the Royals of more than 10 wins. His best season was in 2011, when he was 12-7 with a 3.77 ERA. He also won 12 games in 2010.

The Royals are Chen’ s 10th Major League team, and his stint of five years with Kansas City is the longest stretch with one team in his career.

The Royals clearly value what Chen provides. He is a quality pitcher, whether used in the bullpen or as a starter. He is in the midst of the best season of his career and should give the Royals’ rotation a shot in the arm as they continue their quest for the postseason.

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Royals/Angels: Three To Walk With

MikeMoustakas2
The Royals took two out of three against the Angels and now stand at 20-17, a game and a half back of the division leading Detroit Tigers. In the midst of a nine game road trip, the Royals will now head to Oakland to take on the A’s in a three game set. Here are three things we can take away from the series in Los Angeles (read: Anaheim).

1. Alex Gordon is raking: After going 6/13 with a double against the Angels, Alex Gordon has now posted a scorching hot  .357/.362/.571 line in 58 plate appearances in May.

2. Jeremy Guthrie is who we thought he was: We couldn’t have expected Jeremy Guthrie to win every start, but he certainly fun to watch, having gone nearly a half season’s worth of starts without registering a loss. It appears Guthrie has begun to regress to his career averages, but he’s still going to be a solid starter who will be able to eat innings and will pitch well enough to the Royals in the game and give them a chance to win.

3. It’s time to panic for Mike Moustakas: Struggling mightily coming into the series, Moustakas’ woes continued as he went 1/14 against the Angels, lowering his line to a meager .194/.266/.339 in 139 plate appearances this season. Moustakas hasn’t shown any signs to suggest that he’s going to figure it out anytime soon and the Royals front office should be thinking about other options at third base, if they aren’t already. I assume the front office would prefer to promote from within, so they might consider giving Anthony Seratelli a shot. Seratelli has put up a solid .326/.423/.516 in 111 plate appearances at AAA Omaha this season.

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Is Lance Lynn Out Of Line?

The St. Louis Cardinals opened camp on Tuesday morning with the traditional pitchers and catchers workouts.  It did not take long for the first quote to fire up the fan base to come out.

LanceLynn4

Lance Lynn has arrived at camp looking fit having dropped a reported 40 pounds.  He has successfully avoided using the phrase “best shape of my life”, is on the heels of an 18 win season, and addressed the one thing that critics had for him last year by improving his offseason diet to hopefully address the fatigue that set in at the end of 2013.  In the midst of losing starter Chris Carpenter and the buzz around three young rookies hoping for a rotation spot, Lynn is a bright spot in early camp.

Then, on Tuesday morning during a media scrum, a quote came flying out from Lance Lynn.  It may or may not be “out of context”, but it seemed to fire up the fanbase pretty quickly.  Via Twitter, beat writer Jenifer Langosch shared Lynn’s thoughts on the rotation competition this spring:

Lynn on rotation competition: "I was an 18-game winner last yr w/ an All-Star appearance. I have to do a lot of things to lose a spot, IMO."
@LangoschMLB
Jenifer Langosch

It is easy to see how that could rub some fans wrong.  That is not the way players tend to act around St. Louis.  Players that have been in the league for years, won multiple awards, and are solidified in their positions for years to come say “I’m here competing for my spot on the team”.  It shows a cockiness and brash attitude that this team, and it’s fans, are not accustomed to hearing.

The question here is: was it really wrong to say?

He is right, isn’t he?  I would say, due to the news of Chris Carpenter’s injury, that Lynn’s spot in the rotation is his to lose and in order to lose it, he would have to collapse pretty hard this spring.  His season last year was impressive, especially considering the second half issues he ran into.  The work he has already put in to attempt to fix that part of his game deserves accolades.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch ran an article on Tuesday as well, discussing Lynn with his manager.  Matheny had high praise for his starter and his offseason work.  The manager also had this to say about early perceptions that Lynn was not guaranteed a spot in the rotation this year:

“I know (that) made Lance a little frustrated,” said Matheny “I told him, ‘We want you coming in competing for a spot. We don’t want you rolling in thinking this is yours.’”

It is not easy to say if there is a right or wrong here.  Some will say “Carp would have never said anything like this.”  Others will point out that Lance Berkman was a breath of fresh air and would tend to be brutally honest with the media and the fans.  It is easy to see that type of quote being attributed to Berkman and fans would have applauded his honesty.  So why the outrage that Lynn is doing so?  Is it because of his age?

I freely admit that my immediate reaction was negative.  I don’t like it.  I don’t want a young player who, in my mind, still has some things to prove to sound so cocky.  I want him to talk about working hard to prove that last year was not a fluke.  I also admit that this is a personal preference.  Personally, I don’t like what Lynn said.  However, I also don’t feel what he said was incorrect.

The basic thought is there: an All Star pitcher made a statement that most of us were already thinking.

Is there anything really wrong with that?

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

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Ballpark Village represents a signature opportunity

For all that baseball is in St. Louis, in some ways it also isn’t. Busch Stadium is a remarkable building in the midst of mostly drab downtown scenery, but by and large that’s it when it comes to the St. Louis Cardinals visual imprint on the city. Made worse by that is the fact that much maligned, graveyard of where the majority of the current stadium’s predecessor stood takes away from some of the luster of the current parks atmosphere.

BP_Village

In many ways, the only true way to understand the real impact of the Cardinals’ franchise on the city is by word of mouth, by spending time amongst the people of the city and unavoidably coming to know what the team truly represents at its epicenter. The Cardinals are an institution, and a point of unmatched civic pride, and Ballpark Village is a chance to create a striking visual showcase as well, and as there should be.

The story of BP Village is one that’s been told many times. The promise of a “fan’s mecca”, a district full of traces of both the city and its greatest organization, was to accompany the new ballpark that was to grace the city. That was 2007, and all that the area has been since is a parking lot, an occasional softball park and location of the infamous “Lake DeWitt” when the rain sticks around too long. However, the $100 financing package agreed upon earlier this week will begin the process of delivering on what has become the most skeptical civic subject in decades.

It’s important to know that this will not be what was originally planned for the area, at least not initially. The idea of large scale social gathering ground, with condominiums, nightclubs and an all expansive area to cover the entirety of the old stadium grounds this will not be. Yet what the goal is currently is a mix of a variety of social mixing experiences, dining and most importantly, the spirit and experience of the team.

But make no mistake; what the project has evolved to be is far from a compromised effort. The amenities of the grounds have been highlighted and are very promising. It’s a chance to have an interactive, year around Cardinal experience, and to bring life to a downtown area that has needed it for some time.  “It’s really exciting, and a relief to be moving be moving into this next phase,” says team president Bill DeWitt III, on the process of securing Ballpark Village, which will break ground next week to debut for Opening Day 2014.

St. Louis is a city in need of a great deal of things, and more unfulfilled promises are not one of them. Take the walk from Busch up Broadway towards the Edward Jones Dome, and you’ll see a bevy of those on display. No, it’s time for a change, and the last great homegrown entity in the city is finally on the verge of delivering it. The single most dependable aspect of a year in the life of a St. Louisan is that the Cardinals will bring life to the summer. Here’s the opportunity to not only keep that spirit year around, but to be beacon of change in the city as whole.

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The Cupboard Is Not Bare

The discussion as of late has began to center around improvements that need to happen to the 2012 team. Even the Cardinals front office has started working towards next season. The rotation is set, potential veteran free agents are having open discussions about possible returns, and everyone is beginning to focus once again on Albert Pujols.

In the midst of all the September call-ups that should be getting playing time to determine if they are, in fact, ready for the big leagues, another player is slowly establishing himself in a key 2012 role for the team.

Jason Motte has become a closer.

He was one of the few back of the bullpen guys to not get a shot early in the season when Ryan Franklin fell apart. The pitchers that the team went through were generally given a few games to see what they could do. While Motte was being used in late inning situations, he was not being given the opportunity to close the door for the team. In the midst of it all, Motte started stringing together an impressive 2011 season. Consider some of the facts…

The most obvious show of dominance has occurred from July 26th through September 3rd. During that time frame, Motte would make 21 appearances over 18 2/3 innings pitched without being credited with a single run allowed. He would inherit 15 base runners, allowing one to score on August 22nd against the Dodgers in St. Louis. His command, which has frequently been in question, would stabilize as he would strike out 15 batters over this stretch of the season while only walking two.

Overlapping that time frame was a span of games from July 26th through August 28th in which Motte would pitchin 14 1/3 innings and only surrender one base hit. Gaby Sanchez would reach on a line drive that hit Motte on the sixth of August as the Cardinals played the Marlins in Florida.

This month alone, Motte has made eight appearances, striking out seven hitters over 8 2/3 innings, walking one, surrendering one run, and compiling a record of one win and six saves.

In short, Motte has started becoming the dominant pitcher that the Cardinals have hoped he would become. His control has been much better and his effectiveness has risen to the challenge.

When it comes to 2012, the Cardinals may not need to be looking for a closer to nail down the bullpen.

Seems to me, they already have their guy.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Sometimes You Just Have To Be A Fan

When I started writing on a regular basis and beginning the arduous task of attempting to make a career of it, I was hired for a brief time to put together a staff for a large website that was trying to get a solid start. While putting together the staff for that site, I asked for the writing sample that I prefer to ask for from all my writers, “Why I Love Baseball”.

Building a staff that size, I was not prepared for the answer that started coming up more and more frequently.

“I don’t enjoy baseball anymore, I have been covering it for too long.”

It was the worst thing I could hear. I have grown up on the game, been raised with the game, and love this game above just about anything else. The thought that I would, at any point in my life, find myself not able to enjoy the game terrified me. I asked questions. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know what they would do different, if they could. No one could really answer.

I challenged writers across the country with a plan to overcome this. I challenged writers to put down their computers, pens, voice-recorders, and media guides. I asked them to forget everything they were doing and just go watch a game. Little league, high school, minor league, or major league, I did not care. Just buy a ticket and go watch a game. Clap along with the organ player. Talk with the fans around you. Catch a foul ball and give it to a kid. In the midst of it all, remember why you started writing about this game. Remember what made you fall in love with it.

Earlier this week, I stopped by the ticket office of the Springfield Cardinals and purchased tickets to take my 7 month old son to his first baseball game on Saturday. On Friday night, I received the press release that the Cardinals and the Frisco Roughriders had been rained out and they would play a traditional double header on Saturday, with the first game starting at 2 pm.

So, this past Saturday, that is exactly what I did. I took my son to his first game. We sat four rows from the field and watched two, seven inning games. The home team dropped the first game, though they found themselves with a dramatic come back in the final inning. The second game would see a huge home run from the home team’s first baseman and a good effort by both teams that ultimately resulted in a win for the home team.

In the midst of it, I met a photographer for a major trading card company. I yelled at the poor umpiring and inconsistent strike zone of the home plate umpire. My son had his picture taken with the mascot. I met people from around the area and talked baseball. I cheered and yelled. I joked with the players and even heckled a few of them. I kicked back and had some fun. Through it all, I realized something…

…I love this game.

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When Athletes Become Role Models

One of my favorite projects that I have the pleasure of putting together on a regular basis, Baseball Digest Classic Discussions takes on some of the hard hitting and more personal issues surrounding the game. At the end of August last season, the Discussion series took on the subject role models and higher standards for athletes.

In the series, I suggested that parents and fans take time to learn more about the players that they take their kids to see. Take a look at how the player interacts with fans, the charity work that is done off the field, and the projects that he involves himself in. Today, in the midst of a season ending injury and one of the most disappointing moments in his career, Adam Wainwright moved himself into Role Model status in my mind. In an open letter on a blog site set aside for discussions of fellowship, Wainwright addressed the 2011 season.

I truly believe I was better prepared to play ball this year than ever before. This was supposed to be my year. Everyone I know, and don’t know, was telling me this was my year to win the Cy Young. I had thrown 7 bullpen sessions in preparation to face hitters for the first time, and everything was going great. I honestly can’t remember a time where my delivery and overall confidence in my stuff was even close to where it is now. But, God had different plans than all that for me this year. While facing hitters the first time I felt a twinge in my elbow, and long story short I am scheduled to have Tommy John surgery on monday morning.

Strong in his faith, the result was a heart tugging, inspiring, and emotional. He takes his reader through the thought process of a teammate, an athlete, a husband and a Christian. During one point of his open letter, he stated:

I believe I can still greatly impact God’s Kingdom from this disabled list. And if any of you people who I just bragged about catch me slippin….please slap me around.

Not many people can admit the challenge they face is minor in the grand scheme of things. Very few athletes take the time to thank God for an injury instead of a strikeout. Not many athletes would take the time, just days after a season ending diagnosis, to reach out with a very personal letter to his fans.

The Cardinals have an ace on their staff and in the clubhouse. It is not because of his 20-win seasons or climbing strikeout rates. It is not because of his bull dog attitude or ability to command respect. It is because he is a teammate, a friend, a hard worker, and a man strong in his faith.

You can read the entire transcript here.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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La Russa And Rasmus: Examining The Situation

The Cardinals are in the midst of a season that appears to not be heading towards playoff baseball. This leaves the team in a position that it is not accustomed to. It leaves the fan base, the media that covers the team and the players to discuss things that are not normally a focus in the first week of September.

It is a dangerous situation that leaves many in the media over analyzing everything that comes across the television. It leads to cameras wondering why players are snapping at each other, puts focus on a manager that is not under contract the following year, and amplifies already touchy situations like a looming contract for one of the franchise’s most famous players.

Prior to the Sunday competition between the Cardinals and Reds, news broke of confirmation from the manager that there was indeed issues during this season with center fielder Colby Rasmus. It seems Rasmus had requested a trade due to disagreements with his manager, Tony La Russa. In addition, Rasmus had requested a trade during 2009 as well. From there, things began to spiral out of control.

For reasons that I do not begin to understand, Albert Pujols was asked for his opinion on the situation and he replied as any good teammate would, with a simple but firm “love the team or leave the team” type response. The discussions, the quotes, the responses and the statements have been covered by everyone from Fox Sports Midwest to Yahoo Sports to NBC Sports and even Fan House and everyone in between.

The problem I have here is that we are discussing this in any way, shape or form. That responsibility, in my opinion, lies squarely at the feet of the manager. In this instance, the player (Rasmus) that was requesting the trade responded to reporters with various ways of saying “no comment”, keeping it behind closed doors. The manager (La Russa), as he has done in the past, was more than happy to discuss it with the media when asked about the relationship between him and a player.

Multiple times throughout La Russa’s career, and frequently over the last few seasons, it seems the manager has used his ability to talk to the media to get what he wants out of a situation. He is more than happy to ensure that a player that is displeased with his style of managing is exposed and begins to get looked down upon in the media. He makes no secret about the his disagreements with the way management above him builds the team he is to manage. He is openly defiant and seems to get his way by keeping the media involved, getting fans on his side, and ensuring that he will look like the victim at each and every turn when the team makes a decision.

This situation that came about today really has no winners. There were three main people involved in this specific situation and all three of them made it much worse. Let us examine all three:

Colby Rasmus
While the situation in the media was handled very well by this young man by refusing comment and not wanting to openly discuss his complaints with management, he is not above some level of blame. After all, this did start with his request to be dealt. Colby has always felt that he should be a run producer that hits in the middle of the lineup and provides power and run production. Do not be diluted by what this means. Colby is a smart kid who will be looking to make large amounts as soon as possible. Power hitters, run producers, and solid bats make more money than number seven hitters and leadoff men. He is attempting to keep his value as high as he can. His time in St. Louis, like him or not, is on notice, but the Cardinals will need to keep him under control as long as possible to continue to be successful.

The Media
It is our duty as members of the media to ask the hard questions, dig deep into the reality of a team and report to the public what we find. However, in my opinion, it makes no sense to feel that a discussion about a manager and a player should be taken to another player, regardless of that person’s stature on the team, to discuss openly. Not to mention, if you intend to quote the player’s reaction to a question you ask and that player’s response seems to be one that is “edgy”, then print your question verbatim. It leaves a lot of speculation over what exactly was said to Pujols to initiate the response that was received.

Tony La Russa
The Hall Of Fame bound manager has been here before. Throwing a player to the wolves when the player has enough respect for you to avoid the questions is borderline irresponsible. Consistently doing this time and time again as well as bringing your disagreements with the teams player development and roster decisions is simply combative and self preservation at its finest. He is quickly putting himself into a position to be able to claim “not my fault” should the situation turn any more sour that what it already has.

All things considered, it seems to me that it is time for Tony La Russa to move on. I am a big fan of Tony’s and I feel that he will most likely find another team in a position to benefit from his leadership in a system built a little closer to his style of managing. I am not the first writer here at I-70 that feels this way. The team will benefit from bringing a manager in to help provide stability and leadership to a team that will be built primarily around youth with cornerstone players in place and the ability to get the most out of that type of makeup. Colby will need to show the willingness to cooperate with the new leadership if he expects to remain in St. Louis for any period of time.

Cardinal fans have not had to deal with a team that is not truly in the hunt for a playoff run in a long time. When the team starts falling apart and the media starts reaching for ideas for columns instead of warm and fuzzy player profiles and dreams of world series championships, things get ugly from time to time. Minor flaws are exposed and exploited. Small disagreements become major arguments and things that are normally kept quiet are brought to light.

The look to the offseason will soon take hold, the team will be discussing additions and subtractions that will improve the team and put together a slightly new look for 2011. The optimism towards our favorite club will return soon. For now, we just have to ride the waves.

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Series Preview: Cards at Wrigley

In the midst of their hottest streak this season, St Louis charges into Chicago to battle the Cubs.

Current Snapshot:

St Louis: 54-42, First Place NL Central, 1.5 games ahead of Cincinnati. The Cardinals had their season best 8-game winning streak snapped in extra innings on Thursday by Philadelphia. St Louis took 2 of 3 from the Cubs in Chicago back in May.

Chicago: 43-53, Third place NL Central, 11 games back. They have split their last 10 games (5-5). Since last meeting the Cardinals, Aramis Ramirez found his stroke, Carlos Zambrano melted down (again) and was held accountable for once, and Lou Piniella announced his retirement at the end of the season.

Pitching Matchups:

23 July: Jeff Suppan (0-3, 5.45 xFIP) vs Randy Wells (4-7, 3.72 xFIP). These two have never faced each other. Suppan pitched very well in his last outing against Los Angeles and threw six full innings for the first time this season. He’s already pitched at Wrigley this season, a game Milwaukee eventually won. Suppan is 4-4 career in Chicago, with his last win coming in 2008. Jeff has a lot of history against the guys in Chicago’s line-up; of the players who have faced Suppan 20 or more times (Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano, Ramirez, Derrek Lee), only Theriot hasn’t homered, and only Soriano and Ramirez are hitting under .300. If the wind is blowing out, look out. Lee has absolutely killed Suppan in his career (6 HR; .429/.529/.875 in 68 plate appearances).

Wells has only faced the Cardinals three times, all at Wrigley, and his last start is one he likely wants to forget. Wells features a fastball about half the time, and mixes a slider or changeup in the other half. His slider is his best pitch, and one of the better sliders in the league. Given the three appearances, Cardinal hitting statistics against him are the epitome of small sample size; no one has more than seven plate appearances. They do lead to some interesting data, though – Wells has never retired Matt Holliday (1 for 1) or Colby Rasmus (2 for 2 with 2 walks). Only Yadier Molina has an extra base hit off him, and Randy Winn has never reached base (0 for 3).

24 July: Blake Hawksworth (4-5, 4.49 xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (5-5, 4.03 xFIP). No one foresaw this as a mid-July matchup back in April, but here we are. Hawksworth will make his seventh career start and none of the previous six were against Chicago. He’s thrown 3 2/3 innings total against the Small Bears in his career, most recently on 29 May in Adam Ottavino’s first career start. Blake throws his fastball about 60% off the time, mixing in a changeup, curveball, and cutter for the rest. According to Fangraphs his cutter is his best pitch, but he only throws it 5% of the time. One wonders if some cutters were mis-identified as fastballs by Pitch f/x. No Cub has faced him more than twice. Hawksworth benefited from St Louis’ power surge on Monday night as he didn’t pitch well but came away with the win. That said, he has pitched better his last four games (ERA under 4.00), but his BABIP has been high (.333), so perhaps he is pitching even better than that.

Gorzelanny will make his first career start as a Cub against the Cardinals. He did make six starts opposing the St Louis Nine while a Pirate, the last time in June 2008, which also was the last time he pitched to the Redbirds. Pittsburgh was 2-4 in those six games (Gorzelanny went 1-3). He has pitched pretty well in those appearances; 16 ER in 37 2/3 innings (3.82 ERA). Fastball-slider-changeup are his weapons of choice, with the fastball and changeup being his best pitches.

Only Aaron Miles and Albert Pujols have more than 15 plate appearances against Gorzelanny. Miles is slashing a robust .467/.529/.533, so expect to see him in the lineup on Saturday. AP has a .979 career OPS against Gorzelanny.

25 July: Chris Carpenter (11-3, 3.73 xFIP) vs Ryan Dempster (8-7, xFIP 3.86). ESPN’s Sunday Night game promises to be a good one. Dempster has pitched better this season than his record indicates, and Carpenter has been lights out (16 IP, 10 K, 1.13 ERA, 2-0) in both starts since the All-Star break. Carpenter has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 2004, and his record in Chicago is no exception (7-2, 3.66 ERA career). Chris has already beaten the Cubs at Wrigley this season. Oddly only a trio of current Cubs has more than 20 plate appearances against him (Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano). Soriano leads the way (.333/.351/.528) with 2 HR. Lee and Ramirez have also homered off him in their careers.

Dempster faced the Cardinals on 30 May and got smacked around, surrendering 6 in 6 2/3 innings pitched of a game the Cubs eventually lost 9-1. He’s made three other starts versus St Louis at Wrigley and had not lost before this year. Dempster throws a fastball and slider, with the occasional split finger as well for flavor. His slider is also excellent, though it is not quite as good as Wells.

Expect AP to chomp at the bit for this game to start. Pujols has tortured Dempster during his career (4 HR; .310/.412/.643). Expect Randy Winn to have something else to do while Ryan’s on the mound (2-22, 3 walks career). Skip Schumaker (.400 average) and Holliday (1.000 OPS) have enjoyed success as well.

Prognosis. No matter where these teams sit in the standings, this series is taut and well played. The Cardinals are hot; the Cubs are not, but it will not matter come first pitch Friday. Based on the matchups, I would expect Chicago to win Friday, St Louis Sunday, and Saturday’s game to be a toss-up.

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