Tag Archive | "Month And A Half"

The Lohse and Westbrook Show

The last two nights at Busch Stadium have been indicative of much about the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2012 season. An injury-shortened roster has overexposed the team’s depth, the bullpen has been hit-and-miss, and the offense has sputtered with runners in scoring position. The result: back-to-back 2-1 losses; a total of two runs scored in 18 innings. And the two most consistent pitchers in the rotation this year—Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook—were the hard-luck starters.

Neither of these pitchers has gone wire-to-wire with stellar numbers this season. But they have basically been themselves or better throughout 2012. And if we were talking about Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter or even Jaime Garcia, it might seem par for the course. But this is Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook we’re talking about. They’re supposed to be a number three and a number four or a number four and a number five, but they’re pitching like a number two and a number three. And with Carpenter out for the season and Garcia missing a good chunk of 2012, that’s just what the Cardinals needed. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t been able to respond with any real run support of late.

Lohse has allowed more than two earned runs in just one of his last 10 starts. His ERA currently sits at 2.61 on the season; barring some disastrous starts in the last month and a half of this year, he will finish the season with an ERA under three for the first time in his career. The last time he failed to go six or more innings in a start it was still May. In the starts since, the Cardinals have lost five of the 14 games Lohse has started…and in those losses the Cards game him seven total runs in support, and he allowed seven total earned runs. He’s been great, but the team behind him has been brutal.
Westbrook is enjoying a great season as well. He has pitched at least six innings in each of his last 10 starts, posting just north of a 3 ERA in that time. For Westbrook, that’s fantastic. In fact, if his season ERA of 3.50 holds, it would be the first time he cracked a 4 ERA for a full season since 2004. Westbrook started 2012 hot; he had a 1.76 ERA through his first six starts of the year. But then he regressed to the mean, as they say, and was much more “Jake Westbrook-like” for the next month and a half. And then something happened: Westbrook caught fire again. Starting with a complete game victory in Detroit on June 20, Westbrook’s ERA dipped back below four and has stayed there. In his 11 starts since—including the gem against the Tigers—the Cards have lost three of his starts, scoring a total of five runs. Westbrook allowed six earned runs in those team losses.

One of the great injustices in baseball is watching a pitcher hurl one of his best games or put together a string of great starts and the team ends up with nothing to show for it because they couldn’t score more than one or two runs. Yes, the team on the other side of the field can have a pitcher just as good or better. And the Cards are battling more injuries, with Yadier Molina on the shelf with a stiff back and Rafael Furcal still being hampered by his own back issues. They’ve been battling tons of injuries this season, and ignoring the impact to the team by masking them as “excuses” is just absurd. So that the offense suffers peaks and valleys really isn’t a surprise at all.

But it’s tough to come to grips with the fact that the Cardinals are practically getting career years from Lohse and Westbrook and continue to be looking up at other teams currently occupying the National League playoff spots. If the Cardinals fail to make it to the postseason, the rotation will be the absolute last place anyone should lay blame.
Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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‘Our Time’, for real this time

I know it is hard to believe, but the Kansas City Royals have actually been a very competitive team for the last month and a half. Since starting 3-14 they’ve gone 19-15, against a much tougher stretch of competition than they’re preparing to face. Even at that pace they’d finish the season with 84 victories at the end of the year. In theory, if they do continue playing the same level of baseball, they’ll win many more than 84 games. Why? Take a look at the winning percentages for the Royals past and future opponents:

Last 34 games (19-15 stretch):  .521

Rest of June: .457

That’s a huge difference in quality of opponent. Even after another disastrous start by Luke Hochevar against the worst offense in the American League, the Royals still find themselves in prime position to climb back to .500 by the end of June. Their next 10 games are against teams with losing records, before they face the fading Cardinals on back-to-back weekends. The opponent in between those weekend match ups is none other than the Houston Astros, picked by many to be the worst team in baseball in 2012. In fact, the only formidable opponents the Royals face in June are the Tampa Bay Rays, and they get three against the hapless Twins right after that. All told that leaves 25 games remaining in June, with 22 against teams you could argue the Royals are equal with or better than. Now of course, that only puts the club at .500, does that really even matter?

Yes, when you consider…

-          Salvador Perez is playing in extended spring training games and expected to be back with the club in the next month

-          Jonathan Sanchez is dominating at AAA, looking like his DL stint may have actually helped

-          Wil Myers continues to force the Royals hand, and could be playing center field in Kansas City by the beginning of July

-          Their July schedule is not much tougher as their July opponents currently have a .466 winning percentage

The only good thing about all of the Royals injuries is that they will have a mid season injection of talent without having to trade any of their best prospects. Perez makes this team considerably better, so does Sanchez if he can harness 2010. Does this team look like a contender with those two? Not even close, unless Eric Hosmer wakes up and Wil Myers comes up and mashes. That is the thing about this club, as young as they are, for many of them we are just waiting for the light bulb to switch on. Hosmer could put together a June that almost completely erases April and May. In fact against the teams he is about to face, I would almost be more surprised if he didn’t.

Okay, I’ll pause the hyperbole and get back to math. If the Royals win at a .558 clip against opponents with a .521 winning %, they should in theory play .625 (17-10) ball based on the winning % of their June opponents and .619 (16-9) in July. That would put the Royals at 55-48 on August 1. From August 1st through the end of the year, the Royals play 29 games against the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago White Sox. At the very least they would control their own destiny; they may even be in the driver’s seat.

As Royals fans we’ve been promised a competitive team “in the future” since before the Allard Baird era, and for the most part, the club has failed to deliver. In my opinion, that future starts right now…in June…it’s our time.

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Moose tacos all around

Patience is truly a virtue.  For Kansas City Royals third basemen, Mike Moustakas, there is no statement more true.  Known as a notoriously slow starter, Moustakas seems to finally becoming the Major League baseball player that he looked to become while he was in the Minor League system. It just takes some getting used to before success comes around for Moustakas.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

He struggled at the beginning of every level in his career including his start in his rookie year in 2011.  But just like the Moustakas of the past it seems that after getting used to playing at the level that is needed for success with the big club, he is beginning to come into his own.  All everyone had heard about was this Moose-something kid that was hitting the cover off of the ball at every level that he had been at but that he was not the greatest defensive third basemen in the world.  Well that, so far in 2012, has yet to be seen.  Moustakas continues to dazzle us all with his plays that he makes at third base.  Not only does he make the plays at third base but it also helps to have as sure-handed of a first basemen as the Royals do in Eric Hosmer.  Hosmer, whom Moustakas continues to give credit to after every question that is asked about his defense, is like a vacuum when it comes to making plays at first base.

Last season, Moustakas began to show that his bat would have a little bit of life in the big leagues.  After a horrible start to his career he had about as good of a month and a half as a rookie could have at the plate, but the speculation was still there.  Not anymore, Moustakas is currently hitting a very respectable .318 with 4 home runs and 15 RBIs, 3 of which came in Thursday night’s win against the New York Yankees.  In that game not only did Moustakas seem to put the team on his back at the plate but made a game winning play at the third base on a short ground ball of the bat of Alex Rodriguez.  The play was tremendous but it was a play earlier in that game that showed that Moustakas is becoming a Major League baseball player.  On a ground ball similar to that that resulted in the final out of the game, Moustakas charged at instead of making the play with his bare hand as he should have he went for it with his glove and could not get the ball into his mitt. Now of course for the last out of the game he would have a play that he could not make earlier in the game but he recognized that is was identical and adjusted his route to the ball making a bare handed play and strong throw to end the Royals home losing streak at 10.

Playing in the Major Leagues is all about the results.  But beyond that it is about not only the long term adjustments that have to be made but also the in game adjustments that may go unnoticed that matter.  The fact that he is a slow starter is not what people will begin to see, but the fact that he has made the adjustments necessary to lead a young Royals ball club to the success that everyone wants is what people will notice.  And again, patience is a virtue, and no one in Major League baseball knows that more right now than Mike Moustakas.  The “Moooooose” battle cry could be ringing through Kauffman Stadium for a long time coming.  A cheer that fans will never get tired of.

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Melky Cabrera Dealt To Giants

 

ROYALS ACQUIRE LEFT-HANDED PITCHERS SANCHEZ AND VERDUGO FROM GIANTS FOR OUTFIELDER Melky Cabrera

Kansas City, MO (November 7, 2011) – The Kansas City Royals have announced that the club has acquired left-handed pitchers Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Melky Cabrera. Here is a resource for those interested in getting into sports management.

Sanchez, 28 (will turn 29 on November 19), has posted a 3.75 ERA over his last three seasons with the Giants in 85 games, including 81 starts. In 2011, he was 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA in 19 starts before missing the final month and a half with a left ankle sprain. Sanchez posted a breakout 2010 campaign for the World Series champions, going 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA, tossing 5.0 shutout innings in Game 162 vs. San Diego as the Giants clinched the N.L. West division. The 6-foot-2, 198-pounder is 38-46 with a 4.26 ERA in 174 career outings, including 118 starts. He tossed the 13th no-hitter in Giants history on July 10, 2009 vs. San Diego.

Sanchez has posted 736 strikeouts in 708.0 innings, a rate of 9.355 strikeouts per nine innings which ranks as the third-best in baseball (min. 700 IP) since 2006, trailing only the Giants’ Tim Lincecum (9.87) and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (9.360). He has allowed 607 hits in his 708.0 innings, allowing opponents to bat just .231. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Sanchez has allowed 357 hits in 458.0 innings, 7.02 hits per nine innings, which is the second-best ratio in baseball (min. 400 IP) behind Kershaw (6.70).

Sanchez, the Giants’ 27th-round selection in 2004, was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and now resides in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico. He has one son, Christian.

The 24-year-old Verdugo was 8-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 25 starts for Double-A Richmond in 2011, his first season as a starter in the minor leagues. The 6-foot, 193-pounder is 21-7 with a 3.14 ERA in 101 career minor league appearances, including 26 starts. Verdugo, a resident of Baton Rouge, La., has allowed 185 hits in his 234.1 career innings, striking out 300. The Giants’ ninth-round pick in 2008 out of LSU, where he was a teammate of current Royals reliever Louis Coleman, will be transferred from Richmond to the Omaha (AAA) roster.

Cabrera, 27, hit .305 (201-for-658) with 44 doubles, five triples, 18 home runs, 87 RBI and 102 runs scored for the Royals in 2011.

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Looking At The Rookies – NL

As we enter the final month and a half of baseball and teams start to divide into the really good and the falling apart. Players are starting to heat up across the league and the cream of the crop is rising to the top.

Daniel Descalso by Erika Lynn

Most fans keep a close eye on the names they know, but it is the names you do not know that start to become important in the stretch run. Not just for the teams that are playoff bound, but those that are looking to their future as well.

Here are three offensive players and three pitchers in the National League that qualify for the Rookie Of The Year award. If you are not watching these guys by now, it is time to start.

Taking a look at the offensive guys in the National League leads to a few names that may be worth examining. Danny Espinosa of the Nationals and Freddie Freeman of the Braves have both clubbed over 15 home runs. Darwin Barney of the Cubs is hitting .288 and has over 100 hits already this season. The Mets Justin Turner can boast 20 doubles to his credit and Dominic Brown of the Phillies has a .393 slugging percentage in limited action. Here’s the top three as I see it:

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
This is becoming a two-horse race but, in my opinion, Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves is pulling away from the competition. Freeman may not lead rookies in home runs, but he has put up a respectable 15 dingers to this point in the season. Add in a .296 batting average, .362 on base percentage, .474 slugging percentage, 55 runs batted in and 40 walks and you have a first baseman that is among the best in the league, not just one of the best rookies in the league.

The Runner Up
Danny Espinosa has been wrecking pitchers with power numbers that are impressive for a young man playing shortstop for any organization. The Nationals’ shortstop has launched 17 balls out of stadiums this season while tying Freeman for the lead among rookies with 55 runs batted in. Equally impressive is 12 stolen bases, showcasing that he is not a one trick pony and will apply some speed to his career as well. His on base percentage is 86 points higher than his batting average, which would be very impressive if he was not hitting .228 meaning he is reaching base at a .314 clip. His .422 slugging percentage places him second when ranked next to other rookies in the league.

He Deserves A Look
The Nationals have put together quite the young team and anchoring it all down behind the plate is Wilson Ramos. Ramos is putting together enough of an offensive season to get himself some looks in the rookie races. Hitting .248 with a .322 batting average and a .405 slugging percentage while parking 9 balls over the fence and driving in 34 runs can get you some press time as a rookie. Back it up with a fielding percentage of .992 and throwing out 35 percent of would be base stealers and a lot of teams would like to have a guy like that on the roster.

What may be more impressive in the National League is the crop of rookie pitchers that will be vying for a Rookie Of The Year nod this season. The obvious stats will see people talking about New York’s Dillon Gee and Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel due to their dominance in wins and saves. Stat heads will point out Josh Collmenter from Arizona and Brandon Beachy of Atlanta as an under-appreciated players due to the lack of punch in the obvious categories. San Diego’s Cory Luebke may have the same problems on top of playing on a under-performing team that will keep him hidden from most fans’ eyes.

The Odds On Favorite For Rookie Of The Year
The Atlanta Braves may be cornering the market on this year’s award, depending on if it goes to an offensive player or a pitcher. It is hard to argue against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. He does not just lead rookies, but leads the National League with 34 saves in 39 chances. His sub 2.00 earned run average has earned him three wins and two losses in the five games that he did not save and has been dominant over his 56 innings pitched. So dominant that he finds himself third in strikeouts by a rookie pitcher with 87, behind pitchers with more than 30 innings more than himself. His 87 strikeouts far outweigh his 22 walks and he has only allowed one ball to leave the yard all season.

The Runner Up
Coming in second to a player of that caliber is not a bad effort and if it was not for the season Kimbrel is putting up, it is possible that Cory Luebke would turn a few more heads in San Diego. A swingman pitcher who has appeared out of the bullpen 29 times and as a starting pitcher eight times, he is putting together a solid season for a team that is falling apart. His earned run average is just over 3.00, has pitched in 88.1 innings, and has struck out 91 hitters on the season. Only 22 walks to his credit and a measly six home runs shows that he can be dominant and stingy with the best of them and lands him second on this list.

He Deserves A Look
The New York Mets have struggled to win, been surrounded by rumors of trading their star shortstop and have faced financial ruin this season. In the middle of all of that stands Dillon Gee. He leads all rookies in innings pitched with 112.1, in games started with 18, and wins with 10. His earned run average is under 4.00 and he has struck out 74 batters to only 46 walks. The frustration with Gee is his hit batters, of which he has 11, and his home runs, he has surrendered 11 of those too.

Around the league there are pitchers and hitters that will look to capitalize on solid rookie seasons and avoid the Sophomore Slump. While these players are showcasing themselves around the National League, it is important to take a look at one player that is not on this list that will mean something more to our i70baseball fans. Here is our honorable mention.

i70baseball Honorable Mention
The Cardinals have produced more than a few rookies this season, on the mound and at the plate, but it has been one player that has shown that he not only belongs in the big leagues, but also that he is getting better as the season goes on. Daniel Descalso has built his average up to a respectable .262 while getting on base to a .339 average. His power numbers are low but his value to the team, playing multiple positions and putting the ball in play on a regular basis, is mounting and he is becoming a typical Tony LaRussa type player for many seasons to come.

As the season comes to an end, keep an eye on these seven players and their impact on their teams and the league when the dust settles. One of these players will take home a Jackie Robinson Award and etch their name into the history books. The rest will attempt to build on a solid rookie campaign and make a career out of it. Time will tell how well these names will become known.

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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Silence On The Albert Front

Winter has officially begun, and Spring Training is still a good month and a half away. Around the league, the hot stove is keeping hot. The Phillies landed Cliff Lee, The Red Sox added Adrian Gonzales, and even the Milwaukee Brewers made a big splash by acquiring 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

The Cardinals have thrown a few logs in the hot stove to keep the fire going this winter. The biggest signing to this point has been Lance Berkman. But the elephant in the room remains: “Will the Cardinals re-sign Albert Pujols?” And the silence on the contract talks is worrisome. The Cardinals essentially have about 8 weeks left to lock in Albert before he hits the free agent market: 6 weeks until spring training, and anywhere from 2-6 weeks after the 2011 season ends depending on how deep the Cards go in the playoffs (Pujols says he won’t negotiate during the season).

It’s in the Cardinals’ best interest to get this deal done as soon as possible. The longer they’ve waited to address Pujols’ contract, the more it has cost them. Last winter, they raised the price on themselves by giving Matt Holliday a $120 million, 7 year contract. Holliday helped the Cardinals take over the Central Division in his brief two months in St. Louis before abruptly having a horrendous Division Series vs the Dodgers. He failed to take his bat off his shoulders with the bases loaded and no outs in Game 1, then dropped what would’ve been the 27th and winning out in game 2. The Cardinals got swept in large part to Holliday’s anti-clutch performance. But for that, he was rewarded with $17 million per season through 2017.

Pujols’ price went up again when the Phillies signed Ryan Howard to a $125 million, 5 year contract over the summer. Howard’s a fellow first baseman in the National League, and has a championship ring and an MVP award. It’s a good starting point (yes, starting point) for negotiating a contract for Pujols. Prince Fielder, another big name first-baseman in the National League, will likely also get an enormous contract at the end of next season. The Scott Boras Client will be looking to at least out-do Holliday (another Boras client) if not Howard.

So essentially, a bargain-basement price for Pujols would be in the neighborhood of 5-7 years at $27-30 million per year. Again, that’s assuming Prince Fielder doesn’t somehow get a contract like that, which would drive the price for Pujols even higher.

And as Cardinals fans, you have to begin to ask yourself: “Is he worth it?” I know, I know, what a blasphemous thing to say! Of course he’s worth it, he’s Albert Pujols! Look, I’m not saying Albert isn’t worth that kind of crazy jack. Based on what Ryan Howard got and what Pujols has done in his career, I think it’s fair to say he should become the game’s highest paid player. The question is: “Can the Cardinals field a competitive team with Holliday and Pujols making close to a third of a billion dollars?”

I say no.

You’d be looking at a team with one, maybe two good starters, a low-paid infield, no Yadier Molina, and at least one if not two holes in the outfield. You couldn’t afford a big money closer, and you’d basically be hoping to strike gold in your farm system at multiple positions. Of course, the Brewers and Reds can tell you that only works out once or twice every quarter-century. The Royals and Pirates are still waiting for it to work.

The success of the Cardinals’ franchise has been cyclical. They were good in the late 20s/early 30s, they were good in the 40s, the 60s, the 80s, and this past decade. The team has been in the playoffs in ’00-’02. ’04-’06, and ’09. I wrote last week that perhaps the Cardinals were looking to play for 2011 only, leaving the future of the franchise up in the air.

And maybe that’s the case.

Losing Pujols would be crippling, but keeping him might be crippling as well.

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