Tag Archive | "Nl West"

Triple Play: Chris Sale, Lance Berkman, Brandon McCarthy

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we examine an ace lefty, a couple of Giant pitchers who are anything but, a pitcher rebounding nicely from a horrific injury, and more. Here we go:

San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum works against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 20, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Who’s Hot?

Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

Sale has been breezing through opposing lineups. Since getting rocked for eight earned runs against Cleveland on April 13, Sale has allowed a total on seven earned runs in his next six starts. In fact, he hasn’t allowed a run in 23 innings. The Angels are certainly tired of facing him. In Sale’s past two starts (both against the punchless Halos), Sale shut them down for 16 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and four walks, while punching out 19. For the season, the lanky lefty is 5-2 with a 2.53 ERA and a glowing 0.92 WHIP. That puts him on pace to win 20 games with 240-plus strikeouts, and a 4-to-a strikeout-to-walk ratio – all numbers are pure gold for fantasy owners. His Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) ratio is 3.19, which indicates that a small regression may be on the way, but it would be unreasonable to expect Sale to continue his current pace. Make no mistake, though. Sale is a stud, and you should be ready to pay accordingly if you’re looking to deal for him in your fantasy league.

Who’s Not?

Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants

It’s safe to say that whatever magic spell that turned Vogelsong into such an effective pitcher in 2011-12 has expired and he has turned back into a pumpkin. Simply put, Vogelsong has been terrible. How terrible, you ask? In eight starts, he has allowed an NL-worst 37 earned runs – that’s more than half the earned runs he allowed the entire 2012 season in 190 innings. He currently sports an ERA over 8 and a 2.67 WHIP. Stats like that will kill an entire fantasy pitching staff. But manager Bruce Bochy is going to stick with Vogelsong for the time being. You should not. The rest of the NL West is a muddled mess, so the first-place Giants don’t seem to believe finding a replacement is a priority. You should, however, if you’re stuck with Vogelsong on your fantasy team. You’d be better off with a middle reliever who isn’t single-handedly destroying your ERA and WHIP categories. A middle reliever might also vulture the occasional win or save.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .121 avg, .319 OPS
Player B: .123 avg, .319 OPS

Player A is actually the collective batting average and OPS for the Seattle Mariners’ shortstops so far this season. Player B represents the same stats for National League pitchers. NBC Sports HardballTalk reported this hilariously eye-popping stat a few days ago. Upon closer review, Seattle’s Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino have combined for 1 homer (plus 11 RBI, two steals, and 12 runs scored). Meanwhile, the following NL pitchers have homered: Clayton Kershaw, Wade Miley, Tim Hudson, Gio Gonzalez, Jeff Samardzjia, and Eric Stults. All of this leads me to ask: how much longer are the Mariners going to wait to call up Nick Franklin? He’s hitting .328/.451/.509 with 4 homers, 17 RBI, 5 steals and 26 runs scored at Triple-A Tacoma. Talk about an instant upgrade. This should be a no-brainer. Come on, Jack Zduriencik. Fantasy owners are waiting, rather impatiently.

Player A: .210/.258/.347, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 17 runs, 1 SB
Player B: .293/.416/.455, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 18 runs, 0 SB

Player A is Josh Hamilton. Player B is Lance Berkman, the man the Texas Rangers signed to replace Hamilton after his defection to Los Angeles. Thanks to the DH, the Big Puma has been able to avoid playing the field – thus keeping his legs healthier than during his injury-plagued 2012 – and focus on hitting. At 37, Berkman remains a terrific hitter. His OPS+ of 130 ranks second on the team (to Mitch Moreland), and he is on pace to hit close to .300 and drive in 80 runs. Hamilton, meanwhile, is on pace for 46 RBI and an average below the Mendoza Line. Advantage: Texas. Fantasy-wise, Berkman was most likely had in your league at a bargain-basement price or a late round due to his injuries last season. He is on pace for around 15 homers and 75 runs scored in addition to those 80 RBI. Hamilton is on pace to hit just 19 home runs this season, plus 65 runs scored and a handful of stolen bases. After clubbing a career-high 43 long balls in 2012, fantasy owners no doubt paid big bucks to land Hamilton on their team. Barring a huge turnaround, he’s going to leave owners and Angel fans wishing they had picked up the Berkman instead.

Random Thoughts

  • After Baltimore closer Jim Johnson saw his team record of 35 consecutive saves snapped last week, he really imploded in spectacular fashion Saturday against the Rays: six batters faced, three hits, two walks, FIVE earned runs, one out. Yeesh.
  • Raise your hand if you predicted that the Rockies would be supplying the Yankees with a consistent supply of infielders this season (first Chris Nelson, then Reid Brignac over the weekend). Notice I left the word “quality” out of the previous sentence.
  • And yet, the Yankees keep winning. How long before the New York media starts touting Vernon Wells as an MVP candidate?
  • Tony Cingrani made six starts, pitching 33 innings with a 41-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.02 WHIP. Mike Leake has made eight starts with a 34-to-13 K-to-BB ratio and a 1.49 WHIP. Naturally, it’s Cingrani being sent to the minors to make room for Johnny Cueto instead of Leake. Brilliant move, Cincinnati.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: The Cardinals’ ace pitched 37 innings this season before issuing his first walk. So far this season, he has walked six batters while striking out 71. Among NL starters who have tossed at least 50 innings, only Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann (9) has walked fewer than 10 batters.
  • Conversely, Boston’s Ryan Dempster walked six Minnesota batters in less than five innings Saturday. Guess that little glove shake before he throws the ball doesn’t fool the umpires any more than it does the hitters.
  • Did you see Tim Lincecum lose his balance and fall off the mound while winding up Saturday night against the Rockies? It resulted in the runner on first being balked to second, then the runner came around to score on a single by Tyler Chatwood (the opposing pitcher). A train wreck of an inning – and a perfect summation of Lincecum’s career the past few years.
  • It’s not yet Memorial Day, but it might be time to stick a fork (phork?) in the Phillies. Getting a runner to third ONCE against a salad tosser like Bronson Arroyo? That’s ugly. I would suggest that Philly unload their veterans and rebuild, but outside of Cliff Lee, who would want them?
  • It appears that Braves lefty specialist Eric O’Flaherty is going to join teammate Jonny Venters in elbow-surgery land soon. Last one in the Atlanta bullpen, please turn out the lights.
  • What a great sight Saturday night, watching Brandon McCarthy spin a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Marlins. Although it’s his first win of the season, McCarthy has been pitching pretty well this season. His 37-to-8 K-to-BB ratio is stellar, and his FIP rating of 3.74 indicates that he has been better than the results show. Focus on that if you’re thinking of picking him up in your fantasy league. In any case, Saturday night had to be extra satisfying for McCarthy, even if it was against the worst team in baseball. After that horrifying skull fracture last September, I’ll bet he doesn’t care who his opponent is, as long as he is out there able to play in good health. Here’s to continued success for him. Baseball is better with guys like McCarthy on the field.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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An in-depth look at the National League Wild Card

(Editor’s note: All stats used in this piece are as of Monday, 8/27)

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This past offseason, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig expanded the playoff system. Two wild card berths were added, one to each league. A single elimination game would be played to determine the Wild Card winner. The current standings are like this:

Atlanta 73-55 (home field advantage for playoff)

San Francisco 71-57* (lead NL West by 1 game over LA Dodgers)

St. Louis 70-57

LA Dodgers 69-59* (1.5 back of STL, 1 game back of San Francisco in NL West)

Pittsburgh 68-59 (2 back of STL)

Arizona 64-64 (6.5 back of STL)

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It’s safe to say that Arizona is likely out of playoff contention, barring anything dramatic and unusual. The Wild Card will be a five-team race, and an exciting one at that. We’ll begin the preview with our own St. Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals took 2 of 3 from Cincinnati this past weekend, and gained a game in the NL Central. Still, the Reds hold a 6 game lead in the Central and should be able to maintain that lead through the rest of the regular season. If St. Louis can maintain their offensive production, they should have an advantage at maintaining a spot for Game 163. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals’ rotation will play out, with Joe Kelly pitching in Lance Lynn‘s rotation spot for the time being. September’s expanded rosters may help the Cardinals in their quest.

The Cards have the toughest remaining schedule of any Wild Card contender. They have five series against teams with records above the .500 mark, three of which are against division leading teams (two against Washington, one against Cincinnati).

Cardinals fans will likely remain nervous from now until playoff time, and have good reason to be that way. Everything will have to be clicking for the Redbirds. They cannot afford to give many games away. It can be done, but they have a tough hill to climb to get there.

Remaining games vs WC teams: at PIT (Aug 28 & 29) at LA (Sept 13-16)

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers, in pursuit of the playoffs, may have just become the biggest threat to the Redbirds” Wild Card hopes.

A nine-player trade took place between the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox on Saturday. Boston sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to LA, while the Sox received James Loney and four prospects. For the Red Sox, the trade was a salary dump and concession for the 2012 season. For LA, the trade showed that the Dodgers are serious about the playoffs, and the near future, under their new ownership. The trade could turn out to be much like the Cardinals trading Colby Rasmus to Toronto last season, and we all know how that turned out for St. Louis.

The Cardinals, Nationals and Reds are the only non-division opponents that the Dodgers face in the rest of the regular season. Washington and Cincinnati have the upper hand in their respective divisions (4 1/2 and 6 games respectively). Of the Wild Card contenders, Los Angeles may be the toughest opposition St. Louis has for the next month and a half. The Dodgers’ dangerous pitching and newly-revamped offense, combined with the easy schedule, should strike fear in their opponents and give LA an edge in the race.

Remaining games vs WC teams: at SF (Sept 7-9), vs STL (Sept 13-16), vs SF (Oct 1-3)

San Francisco Giants

Tim Lincecum has been a huge disappointment in the otherwise stellar season so far for San Fran. The PED-suspension of Melky Cabrera will certainly hurt the Giants’ chances at an NL West title. Despite these events, the Giants have been able to hold a slight division lead on the Dodgers. The only non-division opponents remaining on the schedule for the Giants are the Astros and Cubs. The NL West is pretty much a two-team race between the Dodgers and Giants. The advantage, at least on paper, goes to LA because of the trade boost. The battle for the West (and subsequent Wild Card spot) should go down to the final days of the regular season, but don’t be surprised if LA runs away to a division title before then.

Remaining games vs WC teams: vs LAD (Sept 7-9), at LAD (Oct 1-3)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Other than St. Louis, the Pirates have just three series left with teams that have winning records (two with Cincinnati, one with Atlanta – one Reds series and the Braves series at home). The Pirates are much better at home than on the road (38-25/30-34). Pittsburgh’s contention will depend on their pitching, which has been a major plus for them in 2012. Led by James McDonald and AJ Burnett, the Bucs’ rotation has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. Barring a late season collapse or injuries, Pittsburgh should remain in the three-team race for Wild Card spot number two.

Remaining games vs WC teams: vs STL (Aug 28 & 29), vs ATL (Oct 1-3)

Atlanta Braves (current leader of first Wild Card spot, 2.5 games ahead of Cardinals for position)

The Braves have a big strength of schedule in the remainder of the regular season.  Thanks to a weak NL East, Atlanta faces only two opponents with winning records, Washington and Pittsburgh. It would take a Braves slump and Cardinals surge for St. Louis to take the number one spot and home field for Game 163. It happened in 2011, but given the schedule and sure-thing Braves pitching staff, don’t expect history to repeat itself. Atlanta should be hosting Game 163 in October. The only question they should have is who they will be facing on that day.

Remaining games vs WC teams: at PIT (Oct 1-3)

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The 2012 Wild Card race will be exciting to watch. It won’t quite have the excitement of the 2011 Wild Card, but the first year with the new system won’t disappoint. Expect some good baseball in the season’s last month and a half!

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Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Priorities

There is no major question about how much money the Cardinals will spend this off-season. Their payroll for 2012 almost certainly will land in the $110 million range, give or take a few million, just a small increase from this year’s total.

Bullpen

The important question is, How will they spend all of those millions?

Last winter it was all about the offense. The Cardinals’ braintrust admitted they were willing to make sacrifices on defense, believing the expected extra offensive boost would make up for those shortcomings.

Through Sunday, that “extra” offense amounted to less than 1/4thof an extra run per game, an average of 4.7 runs a game instead of 4.5 runs a game scored by the Cardinals in 2010. The result is that the Cardinals most likely will fall short of the playoffs once again, now trailing the Brewers by 9 ½ games in the NL Central and the Braves by 8 ½ games in the wild card race with 22 games to play.

So as the planning begins to determine their spending priorities for 2012, here’s some unsolicited advice for Bill DeWitt, John Mozeliak and company:

Go get pitching, pitching and more pitching.

All it takes is one look at the current National League standings, and a check back at the results of the past few seasons, to realize that pitching is what wins games. Home runs are nice, and fans really like the fireworks, but if a team wants to win, pitching is paramount.

The best team in baseball, the Phillies, leads the NL with a 3.08 ERA. The Giants, the worst offensive team in the league, have stayed in contention in the NL West because of a 3.15 team ERA. The Braves follow with a 3.35 ERA.

Before one thinks this is a one-year aberration, consider that the Giants led the league in ERA in 2010 and won the World Series. The Dodgers led in ERA in 2009 and 2008 and lost in the NLCS both years.

The Cardinals came into Sunday’s game with a 3.91 ERA, 10th in the NL, up nearly half a run, from the team’s combined 3.57 ERA, which ranked fourth in the league, and nearly half a run per game below the league average. If the Cardinals hold on to their current spot among NL teams, it would be their worst ERA ranking since the 2007 staff finished 11th in the league with a 4.65 ERA.

That information kind of makes their league-leading batting average and league-leading runs total a little less important.

Another fact which shows it is even more important than ever to improve the pitching staff — if the Cardinals want to contend in 2012 — is the NL trend which has seen the league’s average ERA decline every year since 2006. The 2011 season could mark the first time the league’s composite ERA drops below 4.00 since 1992 – meaning that at a time when the Cardinals’ numbers are getting worse, the other team’s numbers are getting better.

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While no one is suggesting the Cardinals come close to matching what the Phillies spend on starting pitching – a combined $65 million this year for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton – they should be able to be competitive with the other top pitching clubs in the league – the Giants, Braves and Brewers.

The Giants’ starters this year earned a combined $44 million, the Brewers $31 million and the Braves just under .$30 million, although both of those totals will no doubt increase due to raises for their own pitchers in 2012.

After picking up Adam Wainwright’s $9 million option for 2012, the Cardinals have $33 million committed to four starting pitchers for 2012 – Wainwright, Kyle Lohse ($12.2 million), Jake Westbrook ($8.5 million) and Jaime Garcia ($3.3 million). Chris Carpenter has a $15 million option, or $1 million buyout, as well.

If the Cardinals choose to buy out Carpenter, and try to re-negotiate a new contract, they basically will have about $38 million at their disposal if they keep the total team payroll near this year’s total.

That extra money, of course, comes from Carpenter and not re-signing Albert Pujols and Ryan Theriot, which brings up the biggest question facing the Cardinals this winter – do they want to keep Pujols, or do they want to win?

From a simple economic standpoint it doesn’t seem possible to do both.

If Pujols had not hit free agency until after 2013 or so, it might have been possible because the Cardinals’ farm system is loaded with young talented pitchers, but all of them except Shelby Miller are probably at least two years away from arriving in St. Louis. That stable of good, cheap talent would allow the Cardinals to spend a higher percentage of their payroll on one player, but it just doesn’t seem possible for 2012 – if the priority is to win. Those pitchers are now in Class A ball or lower, and the fact is the Double A Springfield staff, even with Miller, had the worst ERA in the Texas League and allowed the most walks and most home runs in the league this season. Their bullpen also blew 25 saves. Almost all of the pitchers at Triple A Memphis are not prospects.

There is no question that Pujols is a Hall of Fame player and a great citizen of St. Louis. But what we have learned, once again, over the past five seasons is that baseball is not, never has been and never will be a one-man game. As great as Pujols has been the last five years – including two MVP awards – the Cardinals have won zero playoff games in that time span.

If they can re-sign Lance Berkman for a reasonable increase over the $8 million he made this year, the Cardinals have a short-term answer to replace Pujols in the lineup. Their long-term answer might be 23-year-old Matt Adams, the Texas League Player of the Year this season who hit 32 homers and drove in 101 runs to go along with a .304 average at Springfield. Allen Craig can take over Berkman’s place in right field.

The Cardinals need to make the tough choice that it will be much wiser to make those moves and take the money it would cost to re-sign Pujols and re-sign Carpenter to a lesser contract, go sign another starting pitcher and a closer. A new shortstop would be nice too, but let’s try not to be greedy.

There will be four above-average left-handers on the market this winter, C.C. Sabathia, C.J. Wilson, Cole Hamels and Mark Buehrle. Because of his St. Louis connections, and the fact he likely would take a shorter contract, Buehrle has to be the focus of the Cardinals’ attention, and sooner rather than later.

Getting Carpenter to come back for less money would also be a plus, allowing the team to explore what the market could possibly bring by trading either Westbrook or Lohse. A starting rotation for 2012 of Wainwright, Buehrle, Carpenter, Garcia and either Westbrook or Lohse would definitely be an upgrade over the 2011 rotation.

How good is Buehrle, who will be 33 next March? Before having his worst start of the year Sunday night against the Tigers, he had gone 10-3 in his previous 20 starts for the White Sox and had the second best ERA in the American League since May 1. Justin Verlander was at 2.04 since that date, Buehrle was at 2.47 before the Tigers erupted for seven earned runs against him in just 3 1/3 innings.

As for the bullpen, Sunday’s 10th inning loss to the Reds marked the 22nd time this season the Cardinals have lost a game in the opponent’s final at-bat. The Cardinals’ total of 23 blown saves is tied for the second highest total in the NL, behind Washington’s 25. The Phillies have six blown saves all season.

The best closer on the market this winter will be Heath Bell, but others to consider would include Jonathan Papelbon and Matt Capps. Bell and Papelbon have had the most success and experience in their careers, but also will cost the most. Capps has not had a great year this season with the Twins, saving 15 of 23 opportunities while splitting the job with Joe Nathan, but he is 31 of 41 the last two years and is only 29 years old.

It will not be easy for the Cardinals to say goodbye to Pujols. Many fans no doubt will protest and be upset. Winning, however, will calm them down and bring them back to Busch Stadium.

And as history shows, the road to the pennant starts on the pitching mound.

Head over to RobRains.com to read Rob’s notes on the rest of Major and Minor League Baseball.

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October 9, 1987 – The Day Jeffery Leonard’s One Flap Went Down

Earlier this month, we took a look at how the 1987 Cardinals overcame a slew of injuries to win the National League East Division Title, holding off a late run by both the New York Mets and the Montreal Expos. John Tudor would miss half of the season with a broken leg, newcomer Tony Pena a month and a half with a broken hand and long disabled list stints by Danny Cox, Tommy Herr, Curt Ford, Joe Magrane and Jack Clark. Of these, Clark’s injury hurt the Cardinals the most as he was their only legitimate power threat in the lineup. Behind the dual running threat of Vince Coleman and Ozzy Smith and the reliable bat of Tommy Herr, Jack Clark feasted on opposing pitchers. He put together one of the best offensive seasons since a guy named Stan Musial roamed in the right field corner at Grand and Dodier (Sportsman’s Park). That is until the sixth inning of the game in Montreal on September 9 when “The Ripper” tried to avoid a tag on an errant throw by Expos third baseman Tim Wallach and ended up tearing some ligaments in his ankle, ending his season. For many Cardinal fans, their hopes for post-season ended with that awkward slide.

Thanks to some late season heroics by Terry Pendleton and the pitching of Greg Mathews, Joe Magrane, Danny Cox and John Tudor, the Redbirds were able to hold onto the lead that they had built earlier in the season and would face NL West Champions, the San Francisco Giants, in the National League Championship Series. While the Cardinals limped into post-season, the Giants stormed into the series. A long winning streak in mid-September separated the Giants from both Houston and Cincinnati and the outcome of the division was really never in doubt after that. The Giants were also entering the playoffs with all of their regulars in the lineup.

Bad Blood, Lots of it

Not that post-season needs any more drama than the best-of-seven game series provides, this one featured just a bit more than the others in the decade. There was bad blood between these two teams, and a lot of it. It all dated back to a game the previous season. To be specific, a Tuesday night game in St. Louis on July 22, 1986. Both pitchers would get off to a rough start. Giants starter Vida Blue was being beaten up, one single at a time. At the same time, John Tudor could not retire the Giants in order and surrendered a game tying home run to Bob Brenly just moments after being given an early lead. It was going to be one of those kind of games.

Things fell apart for the Giants in the fourth inning when the Cardinals sent 11 men to the plate against Blue and relievers Mark Davis and Juan Berenguer. Andy van Slyke did most of the damage with a triple and a home run, but it was the aggressive base running of Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith that got under the Giants skin. By the time Berenguer got the last out in the inning, the Cardinals plated 8 runs for a 10-2 lead.

In the next inning, John Tudor would single with one out. Vince Coleman would ground out, forcing Tudor at second. With a 10-2 lead, Coleman was back off to the races and would steal both second base as well as third. The last straw came when Vince Coleman tried to score on a wild pitch to Willie McGee. Catcher Bob Brenly threw out Coleman and pitcher Juan Berenguer slammed the ball into the ground to show his displeasure of Coleman’s aggressive play with such a big lead. Both benches emptied, but nothing happened quite yet. Coleman added fuel to the fire when he tipped his cap to Berenguer in mock appreciation of his play.

You know what comes next, right ? Exactly. When Coleman comes up to bat the next time, he take his punishment – which in this case was a pitch in the rib cage, but not before the first attempt failed to hit the Cardinals speedster. Both benches were warned, but that apparently wasn’t a deterrent as Frank Williams’ next pitch hit Coleman in the mid-section, prompting an automatic ejection of Williams and manager, Roger Craig. That’s when the melee broke out, and a good one it was. Even Whitey Herzog got into the act when Jeffrey Leonard threw Cardinals pitching coach Mike Roarke to the ground. A huge mound of players exchanged blows with Tommy Herr getting the worst of it, receiving 8 stitches to the face.

The Giants would make the game more interesting by jumping all over reliever Ray Burris, but Todd Worrell would close the game out, preserving the win for the Redbirds. But the Giants would get their revenge, it just took a bit over 14 months for another opportunity to present itself.

NLCS Games 1 and 2

Even though the Cardinals had won 5 more game than their Western Division foes, injuries to Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton made the Giants the favorites in this series. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the series would start in St. Louis where young left-hander Greg Mathews won Game One with 7 1/3 innings of 4 hit baseball. Mathews would even drive in the eventual winning runs with a 2 out single in the sixth inning. Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley would bail Mathews out late in the game, preserving the win for the home team.

Dave Dravecky would even the series with the best post-season pitching performance since Jim Lonborg’s 1 hitter in the 1967 World Series. The Giants lefty would hold the Cardinals to just 2 hits as they pecked away at John Tudor for a 5-0 win. In this game, Jeffrey Leonard would hit his second home run in as many games. That was starting to get under the skin of the Cardinals.

Game 3

While the first two games featured some very good pitching on both sides of the diamond, the first game at Candlestick Park looked to be more of an offensive battle. Whitey Herzog would give the ball to his star rookie, Joe Magrane. On the other side, Roger Craig would call on his big lefty, Atlee Hammaker. Hammaker had been a bit of a Ray Sadecki pitcher for the Giants. He had great stuff and could completely shut down the opposition, but for some reason could not get any run support. If the current group of baseball writers were voting for the Cy Young award in 1983, Hammaker would probably have won it. Even though he only compiled a 10-9 record, he led the league in ERA (2.25), walks per 9 innings (1.7) and K/BB ratio of almost 4. After missing the entire 1986 season with an injury, Hammaker turned in a solid 1987, finishing with a 10-10 record.

The Giants would draw first blood in this battle, getting all over Joe Magrane in the bottom of the second inning. A double by Chili Davis, single by Will Clark and double from the bat of Bob Brenly would give the Giants a quick 2-0 lead. That would lead would soon grow to 3-0 when Bob Brenly scored on a Magrane wild pitch to leadoff hitter, Robby Thompson.

What the box scores don’t tell you is that the Cardinals were being beaten on every aspect of the game. They were being out-pitched, out-hit and out-hustled. If something didn’t change, and soon, the series might not return to Busch Stadium.

The last straw for the Cardinals in this game came in the bottom of the third inning. Jeffrey Leonard would lead off with his third home run of the series. In front of the large home town crowd, Leonard took his time rounding the bases. As he did so, he ran with his right arm dangling limply – he called that his “one flap down.” It was a huge insult to the opposing pitchers, and that was not lost on Bob Forsch who was getting ready to enter the game.

Bob Forsch Knocks One Flap Down

The dean of the Cardinals pitching staff would take over for Joe Magrane in the fourth inning. After a failed bunt from Robbie Thompson and a sharp single by Kevin Mitchell, Jeffrey Leonard stepped into the batters box. In a bit of old school retribution, Bob Forsch puts a pitch right in Leonard’s rib cage. Leonard takes it like a professional and quietly takes his base. After some shaky infield play, Forsch closed out the inning without any further damage. But he did make a big statement – if the Cardinals bats could just show some sort of life, this could be a game again.

That would happen in the next inning. With two outs and Ozzie Smith on first base, Jim Lindeman, filling in for the injured Jack Clark, surprised everybody by blasting a 2 run homer. After tearing up spring training and making it possible for Dal Maxvill to deal Andy van Slyke to the Pirates for Tony Pena, Lindeman struggled through the regular season, finishing with a disappointing .208 average with 8 home runs and 28 RBIs. With this one hit, Lindeman gave the Cardinals some much needed life.

If Lindeman was feeding off Forsch’s efforts in the previous inning, Forsch in turn feed off the bats waking up by setting down the Giants in order without a ball leaving the infield. That put the Cardinals bats back into the game quickly, and they would break the game open against Hammaker and relievers Don Robinson and Craig Lefferts. Unlike the previous inning, the Cardinals did it this time by pure Whitey-ball: singles, stolen bases and sacrifices. Jim Lindeman, who drove in the first two runs, would drive in the last run with a sacrifice fly. By the time the inning ended, the Cardinals enjoyed a 6-4 lead and were standing much taller than they were an hour earlier.

Whitey Herzog would turn the game over to Todd Worrell for a 3 inning save. A 2 out home run in the 9th inning by Harry Spilman would make it a one run game, but Worrell would retire Kevin Mitchell to end the game.

Games 4 and 5

In Game 4, the Cardinals got to Giants starter, Mike Krukow, early but failed to tack on any more runs. Cardinals starter, Danny Cox, ran into trouble with the long ball as Robbie Thompson, Jeffrey Leonard and Bob Brenly would victimize the big right hander. Leonard’s game winning homer was his 4th in as many games. Fortunately, this would be the last we would hear out of Leonard.

Game 5 was a back and forth affair as each time the Cardinals would score, the Giants would come back and tie the game. San Francisco would have the final word, scoring 4 runs in their half of the fourth inning. Neither team would allow another run and the Giants would leave San Francisco with a 3-2 lead in the series.

Games 6 and 7

When the series returned to Busch Stadium, John Tudor pitched one of the best post-season games in his career. He gave the Giants fits, scattering 6 hits in 7 1/3 innings of work. Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley would retire the five batters they would face, three by way of the the strikeout. The only run in the game came on a Tony Pena fly ball that Candy Maldonado misplayed into a triple. Jose Oquendo would drive him in two batters later with a sacrifice fly.

Game 7 would feature Danny Cox against Game 3 starter Atlee Hammaker. In a complete reversal of fortunes from Game 3, it was Hammaker that would fall apart early. Three consecutive singles by Tony Pena, Terry Pendleton and and Willie McGee in the second inning would set up the big play of the game. Jose Oquendo would break the game open with a three run homer, giving Danny Cox a lead that he would not surrender. The Cardinals would tack on two insurance runs later in the game, but Cox didn’t need them as he would go the distance in the 6-0 shutout, further adding to his reputation of being a big game hurler.

Epilogue

As much as Jeffrey Leonard irritated opposing players and fans, he had a truly remarkable post-season in 1987. He would be rewarded by taking home the NLCS Most Valuable Player award, the first one given to a player on the losing team. Willie McGee and Tony Pena had a good series for the Cardinals, but nothing like the .417/.500/.917 that Leonard put up. He would finish the series with 4 home runs, but just 5 RBIs. Yes, he deserved the award more than any other player.

But one player deserves an even bigger award. Bob Forsch gave his team a much needed lift when he sent the series MVP down in the dirt at that pivotal moment in Game 3. He won’t receive any iron for that, but he should get the respect of Cardinals fans, young and old. If not for some old school payback, the 1987 NLCS might have ended in San Francisco.

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Royals Receive Pitcher To Complete Guillen Trade

The Jose Guillen era in Kansas City officially came to a close on Oct. 15 when the Royals received right-handed pitcher Kevin Pucetas as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Guillen to the San Francisco Giants in August.

Continuing to add to their arsenal of young players as they build for the future, the Royals add a 25-year-old candidate for their pitching staff in exchange for Guillen, who was shipped to free up room in the KC outfield.

With their roster loaded with right-handers, the Royals hope Pucetas can rebound from a rocky 2010 to play a part in their rebuilding effort – something the 34-year-old Guillen no longer fit.

Pucetas made a push to be included in the World-Series-bound Giants pitching staff during the spring, but wound up spending the entire season struggling for Fresno of the Triple A Pacific Coast League. Having won numerous awards at lower levels of the minor leagues, Pucetas ran into a wall in 2010, going 5-7 with a 5.69 ERA.

The graduate of Limestone (SC) College shone in three seasons at low levels of the minor leagues, winning MiLB.com’s award for Class A Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2007 and being named California League Pitcher of the Year in 2008. In 2009, however, Pucetas’ ERA ballooned to 5.04 in his first year at Fresno, in spite of a 10-6 record.

The Giants acquired Guillen as a power bat in their drive to win the NL West. Now if the Giants are to bring home their first MLB championship since 1954, they’ll have to do it without him. A nagging neck injury prompted the Giants to leave him off their playoff roster.

The Giants gave Guillen every opportunity to contribute, using him in 42 of the 45 games following his acquisition on Aug. 13. Guillen batted .266 with three home runs and 15 RBI’s, but languished down the stretch. Over the last 10 days, when the Giants needed every bit of help they could get to make the playoffs, the slugger mustered just 2 hits in his final 24 at bats.

Pucetas, a 6-4, 225 Spartanburg, SC native who was selected by the Giants in the 17th round of the 2006 draft, was added to the Royals 40-man roster.

This is Todd Fertig’s debut article for I-70 Baseball.
You can follow his exploits as a displaced worker at his website by clicking here.

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Series Preview – Cardinals and Rockies

St Louis will play its last series of the 2010 season this weekend against the Colorado Rockies. Both teams were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday night.

For both teams, their seasons are similar. Early on it looked like Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez was a lock for the Cy Young, and would make a serious run at 30 victories, especially after opening the season 15-1. He’s 4-7 since. Carlos Gonzalez has been hyped as a potential MVP Candidate, and made a run at the Triple Crown, despite some serious difference in his home and road productivity (.386/.431/.749 home; .293/.327/.459 road). Troy Tulowitzki has had a memorable September (15 HR, 40 RBI). And the Rockies put together another late season surge, winning 13 of 15 to start September and climb within a game of the NL West lead.

St Louis? They have a Cy Young Candidate too in Adam Wainwright and perennial MVP candidate in Albert Pujols. The club got a searingly hot July from Jon Jay,and had one final hot streak in August, when they a swept Cincinnati to take over first place.

Just when both teams seemed ready to pull away and take the division, they met their Waterloos on the road. St Louis’ infamous 2-8 mid-August road trip through Pittsburgh, Washington, and Houston, right after that series sweep, doomed them. Colorado dropped 4 straight on the road in mid-September following the 13-2 stretch, including a devastating sweep in Arizona, then lost 2 of 3 at home last weekend to the Giants.

With nothing left to play for, the teams are making plans for next year. St Louis has already shut down Jamie Garcia for the season. Wainwright’s season is now over thanks to a strained right forearm muscle. Yadier Molina is already at home resting his knees. The last few games have seen an infusion of youth in the Cardinal lineup. Take last night, where Pujols and Matt Holliday were the only position players at least 30 years old.

  1. Tyler Greene
  2. Daniel Descalso
  3. Pujols
  4. Holliday
  5. Allen Craig
  6. Cody Rasmus
  7. Matt Pagnozzi
  8. Brendan Ryan

Colorado will probably do something similar in their lineup, playing Chris Nelson more at second, possibly starting Jonathan Hererra a lot at third, perhaps giving Chris Iannetta the lion’s share of games behind the plate the rest of the way. Figure this series will have a Spring Training feel to it out in the field as the clubs move on to 2011.

The projected pitching match ups,however, include the regular suspects:

Thursday 30 Sept – Jason Hammel vs Jake Westbrook. Hammel has not started against the Cardinals in his career. Westbrook will have a final opportunity to impress the Cardinal Front Office heading into the off-season. He probably does not need to do anything more; he has been fantastic in his 2 months with the Cardinals. I for one would like to see him return for 2011, if the price is right.

Friday 1 Oct – Jorge De La Rosa vs Chris Carpenter. De La Rosa has largely been the same pitcher this season (ERA+ 109) as last (ERA+ 107) when he won 16 games. More data on how fickle the win is. He also spent an extended amount of time on the DL in 2010. He has won his last 3 starts against the Cardinals. Carpenter has already started 34 games this season, the third time in his career he’s done so. With 226 IP on a 35-year old repaired arm, I would not be surprised if he missed this start. St Louis has lost his last 2 starts against the Rockies.

Saturday 2 Oct – Jimenez vs Kyle Lohse. Jimenez will make this start (barring an heretofore unreported injury), and it will be his third try to win his 20th game. No Colorado Rockie has ever won 20 games in a season. No Rockie pitcher had ever won 18 games until now. Jimenez beat the Cardinals in July, and is 2-2 career against them. Lohse continues trying to regain his form following his mid-season arm surgery. He has struggled since returning to the rotation in August (in 37.2 IP, 7 HR allowed, 13 BB, 2.069 WHIP). Lohse is due a $3 million raise in 2011, and all his money is guaranteed. He has not beaten Colorado as a Cardinal.

Sunday 3 Oct – Jeff Francis vs Jeff Suppan. It’s been a tough year for Francis as he tries to return from major arm surgery. He missed the first 6 weeks of the season while finishing his rehab, then missed an additional month in August/September. Interestingly, Colorado has only lost one game to the Cardinals when Francis starts – and that was way back in 2006. A bittersweet season will end with a bittersweet start for Jeff Suppan. This will probably be his last start as a Cardinal (his contract includes a 2011 Option for $12.75 million but has a $2 million buyout). St Louis has lost 10 of his 14 starts. I do not envision him returning.

At 35 this might be his last major league start ever. He’s been hit around a little bit (OPS against of .831), and although his ERA is better by 3 runs as a Cardinal his xFIP is almost identical to what it was in Milwaukee (5.04 before, 5.23 now). If this is the end of the line for Soup, thanks for the memories (especially 2006 NLCS Game 7) and best of luck in your future.

With that we will close the book on the 2010 season. Oh, what might have been for both franchises.

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Series Preview – Cardinals and Padres

This series was supposed to feature two teams headed to the post-season, but both have hit significant pot-holes in the road. St Louis’ odds of making the playoffs have rapidly reduced to a very low order of probability; after Monday’s loss to the Chicago Cubs, they stood only a 5.7% chance of playing October baseball. San Diego has weathered a recent 10-game losing streak while managing to hold onto first place in the NL West. It is a testament to how well they played the first 5 months of this season that they could endure such a cold spell and still have any shot at all. Visiting Busch III poses a tough challenge in an already tough September for the Padres; they are 7-26 along the Mississippi since 2000, and have lost 9 straight.

This series will also mark Ryan Ludwick’s first return to St Louis since being traded to San Diego on 30 July. I expect he will receive a warm welcome when he steps into the box Thursday night.

Current Snapshot

St Louis: 74-69, 2nd place NL Central, 7 games behind Cincinnati; 7.5 back of Atlanta in the Wild Card. It’s basically over for 2010. The Cardinals were handed a recent gift when Cincinnati went on a 5-game losing streak; they made up exactly one game, and have since handed that game back. All that remains is for Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to chase the Cy Young award, and Albert Pujols the League MVP and possibly Triple Crown. There is the remote chance this team will get hot over the last 18 games of the season, and climb back into the playoffs; but that would require them to play their best extended streak of baseball since April, and for at least 3 other teams to tank.

San Diego: 82-62, 1st place NL West. The Padres lost 10 straight, then swept LA, then lost 3 of 4 to San Francisco, then snapped the Colorado Rockies 10-game winning streak. It has been a bizarre three weeks by the Pacific. Through it all they have somehow remained in first place (although San Francisco did tie them on two separate occasions over the weekend). San Diego is not getting much offense at all. Miguel Tejada has been better than expected offensively, Ryan Ludwick has been in an extended slump. Their starting pitching is showing signs of fraying. Kevin Correia and Wade LeBlanc have lost their starting jobs, replaced by Tim Stauffer and Cory Luebke respectively. Jon Garland has been shelled his last two times out. But Mat Latos and Clayton Richard continue to pitch well, and the bullpen continues to be the best in baseball, and they simply will not go away.

Probable Pitching Matchups

Thursday 16 Sept: Tim Stauffer (4-3, 1.54 ERA) vs Jake Westbrook (1-3, 3.78 ERA). The Cardinals may be out of the playoff hunt, but it sure as heck is not Jake Westbrook’s fault. Westbrook has really pitched well since coming over. He’s lasted at least 6 innings in all 8 of his starts, and allowed 4 runs only once. Yet the Cardinals are 2-6 behind him. Westbrook has 2 career starts against San Diego, but the last one was 2005 so it really is not worth talking about. Tim Stauffer is one of the unsung heroes of the Padres. He, Wade LeBlanc, and Mat Latos competed for the fifth starter slot in spring training. Latos won, LeBlanc went to AAA, Stauffer was sent to the bullpen. Stauffer did not give up a run in his first 15.1 innings this season. He made an emergency start when Correia’s younger brother died unexpectedly in May, and threw 5 shutout innings at the Astros. After missing two months recovering from appendicitis (which he diagnosed himself, by the way, using WebMD) he returned to his bullpen duties and resumed his stingy pitching. Since returning to the rotation he has made 2 starts, and has allowed 1 run in 10 innings. San Diego has won all of his starts this season.

Thursday’s game is also Social Media night at Busch.

Friday 17 Sept: Mat Latos (14-6, 2.43) vs Kyle Lohse (3-7, 6.85). On paper this game is heavily lopsided in favor of the Padres. Mat Latos is a Cy Young candidate having his breakout season at age 22. He is a power pitcher (174 K in 166.2 IP) who has allowed one more baserunner than innings thrown (120 hits, 45 walks, 2 HBP). Mat Latos is the reason Jake Peavy became expendable last season. Latos has faced St Louis once before. The Cardinals roughed him up last August for 7 runs in 4 innings of a 9-2 St Louis victory. Lohse beat Atlanta his last time out, and has pitched OK since getting shelled in Washington on August 28. The Cardinals have not lost to San Diego at Busch when Lohse starts (2-0). As you might have imagined, Adrian Gonzalez truly enjoys hitting off Lohse (7-18, HR, 1.272 OPS).

Saturday 18 Sept: Cory Luebke (1-1, 4.59) vs Jamie Garcia (13-8, 2.70). Luebke made the leap from AA to the majors on 3 September. This will be his fourth major league start. He throws a fastball that runs 89-92 MPH, a change-up, and a slider. Luebke has allowed 8 runs in his 15.1 big league innings, all to the Colorado Rockies (he shut out the Dodgers for 6 innings in his other start). He is not as overpowering as Latos, but he has shown he knows how to pitch. Luebke pounds the strike zone, so Cardinal hitters should be aggressive early in the count against him. Garcia is a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year honors. He has one career start against San Diego, throwing 6 scoreless innings on 26 May in a game the Padres eventually won 2-1 in 13 innings. You might remember this game, for it included one of the most boneheaded sequences of baserunning I’ve ever seen at the major league level in the top of the eleventh inning.

Sunday 19 Sept: Jon Garland (14-11, 3.44) vs Adam Wainwright (18-11, 2.50). Garland was signed by San Diego this off-season for his experience, but mostly because he is an innings eater. Garland has thrown 173.2 innings this season, living up to that reputation. That said, he has struggled in two of his last three. He lasted only 4.2 innings against Colorado on 4 Sept. allowing 4 ER in a 6-2 loss. He surrendered 3 HR to the Giants on 9 Sept, going 5 innings in a 7-3 loss. More alarming, every ball hit off him was well struck. Both of those starts were in San Diego. Garland seemed to fix those flaws in his last start in Denver, throwing 7 innings and allowing only 3 runs. Garland beat the Cardinals 1-0 on May 25. It is his only career win against St Louis. Adam Wainwright famously vowed not to lose again in 2010 following his loss to the Reds on 4 Sept. His team rallied behind him, sending him to an 11-4 win over Atlanta, but could not keep the momentum going on Tuesday, losing 7-2 to Chicago. Wainwright has only made 2 career starts against San Diego, and is 1-1. He lost to Garland on that May night, in what might be one of his best career starts (7 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 1 BB, 12 K). Wainwright will tie his career high in wins with a Victory on Sunday.

Prognosis

The Padres are playing for their playoff lives. The Cardinals are playing for pride. This will be a tense, hard fought series. There is a modicum of bad blood in this rivalry, from last year’s shoving match between Albert Pujols and Will Venable up the first base line, all the way back to the 3 NLDS series these teams have played (St Louis is 9-1 in NLDS games against the Padres). San Diego appears to have put its swoon behind them, and is playing better baseball (even though the bats still aren’t fully awake yet). Probably the best St Louis can hope for is a split, although I will not be surprised if the Cardinals sweep this series – they seem to always beat San Diego in St Louis.

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Series Preview – Giants vs Cardinals

St Louis is limping through a 1-4 homestand, and now faces a team as desperate as they are in the San Francisco Giants. This series between two playoff hopefuls portends as a taut affair.

Current Snapshot:

St Louis- 65-53, 2nd place NL Central, 3.0 behind Cincinnati. The euphoria over sweeping Cincinnati quickly evaporated while losing 4 of their next 5 to the lowly Cubs and Brewers. Cardinal frustration continues to mount, whether it be from late-game rallies falling just short, a lack of offense from anyone on the infield not named Albert Pujols, or jello-style shaky starting pitching from the back of the rotation. At least the aforementioned Pujols is on a tear at the moment (since 29 July: .400/.447/.800, 8 HR).

San Francisco- 67-54, 2nd place NL West, 6.o behind San Diego. Jonathan Sanchez predicted a series sweep against the Padres last weekend. The Giants instead lost 2 of 3, and have been clubbed by the Phillies in back-to-back games. Their starting pitching, always thought to be their biggest strength, has fallen apart a bit recently (0-9, 5.73 ERA over their past 14 starts). Offensively they have improved mightily since the start of the season, with ROY candidate Buster Posey (.338/.386/.512) and mid-season acquisition Pat Burrell (.283/.373/.549, 12 HR) leading the charge.

Probable Pitching Match-ups:

Friday: Madison Bumgarner (4-4, 4.28 xFIP) vs Jake Westbrook (1-0, 2.06 xFIP). Bumgarner is the Giants 2007 first round draft choice and was ranked the fourteenth best prospect overall in that draft. He had a cup of coffee at the major league level last season and was promoted into the Giant rotation starting on June 26. There had been concerns in the Giant organization regarding a drop in velocity on his fastball, but if his performance at the Major League level is any indication it has not affected his ability to get people out. Bumgarner features a fastball that averages 91 MPH, a slider, and a curveball. He also throws the occasional changeup. His off-speed pitches are all above average, according to fangraphs, although it must be noted that’s with less than 1000 pitches thrown.

He’s never faced the Cardinals. As you might expect, he handcuffs lefties (.553 OPS career) but not really righties (.802 OPS).

Westbrook has pitched pretty well since joining the club (.592 OPS allowed, 19K in 19 innings) despite the 1-2 team record when he starts. Another data point you can’t judge a pitcher by his won/loss record. Jake’s xFIP is obviously unsustainably low and a correction will happen at some point, but for now let us enjoy the ride. He has never faced the Giants in his career. That said, a couple of Giant hitters have a history with him. The guy with the highest success rate? Aubrey Huff (.368/.417/.474 in 24 PA). Juan Uribe has homered twice off Westbrook in his career.

Saturday: Tim Lincecum (11-7, 3.38 xFIP) vs Chris Carpenter (13-4, 3.75 xFIP). Two of the top three finishers in last year’s NL Cy Young voting square off Saturday. (WARNING – Fox Game of the Week bash follows) This is the only game Saturday featuring two playoff hopefuls, so naturally most of the country will be treated to Atlanta vs the Cubs. Lovely (END BASH).

There is a lot of concern in the Bay Area regarding Tim Lincecum and his stuff. He has lost an average of 3 MPH off his fastball over the last two seasons, yet he’s still 5th in the league in xFIP and second in the league in strikeouts. His last two starts have been brutal, however; he hasn’t survived the fifth in either and allowed 11 ER total. He has recorded 10 of his 23 outs by strikeout, for what that’s worth.

As you might expect for a guy with back-to-back Cy Young’s, Lincecum has owned the Cardinals. St Louis has never beaten him (5-0 in 5 starts). In St Louis he’s 3-0, and working on a 16 consecutive inning scoreless streak at Neo-Busch. He beat Jamie Garcia in San Francisco on 23 Apr 4-1, going 7 innings, striking out 8. The Cardinals do not enjoy hitting against him (.254/.313/.333 in 125 PA), except maybe Skip Schumaker (.375/.412/.625!), with the lone HR off Lincecum on this roster.

Carp lost a tough one to Chicago last weekend snapping a personal 4-game winning streak, but he continues to pitch very well this summer. The Giants handled Chris pretty well the last time he faced them in St Louis. That game remains his only charged loss to San Francisco in his career. St Louis has won 2/3 of the games he starts against San Francisco. Again, Carp’s on a major roll right now, so I wouldn’t worry about last year’s game.

Pat Burrell, who as we mentioned above is pretty locked in right now, has owned Chris Carpenter in his career (.287/.381/1.000, 4 HR in 21 PA). The rest of the roster is a little more pedestrian (.246/.265/.451 in 102 PA).

Sunday: Barry Zito (8-7, 4.60 xFIP) vs Kyle Lohse (1-5, 5.21 xFIP). By most traditional and sabermetric measures, Barry Zito is having his finest season as a Giant. A possible reason could be his fastball is not killing him like in recent seasons. Or it could be the return of his changeup as a weapon. Zito’s fastball averages about 85MPH, and he also throws a slider, changeup, and that ridiculous 12-to-6 curveball. Zito’s second best start in 2010came at St Louis’ expense; he went 8 full and struck out 10 on that day in April. Interestingly that counts as the only time Zito beat St Louis. Random chance? Perhaps, perhaps not.

What can we say about Kyle Lohse? As predicted, he got shelled by the Small Bears, so this start can’t help but be better, right? Lohse has not faced the Giants since 2008 (a win the second week of April, against Zito of all people), and has never faced them in St Louis. As a group the current Giants are hitting .248/.295/.416 against him, which is far better than the .6oo+ OPS Chicago had put up off him. The Cardinals badly need Lohse to reprise his form of two seasons ago, and there is no time like the present to start down that road.

Prognosis. Both teams are struggling and both badly need to win this series. Based on how each pitcher has fared recently, St Louis should have the advantage on Friday and Saturday, with the Giants getting the edge on Sunday. As schizophrenic as the Cardinals have been lately, however, it is hard to predict who will win. Pencil me in as predicting the Cardinals drop 2 of three this weekend, with the clear caveat that I hope I’m wrong.

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The Cardinals Appear To Be Taking Over

A team that stumbled and limped its way to the All-Star Break does not look like the team that we have been seeing since. The Cardinals are back in first, and they absolutely deserve it. The team has been on fire the first five games out of the gate after the break, sweeping a Dodgers team that is duking it out in the brutal NL West and kicking them out of town in style with a late inning comeback win that featured tough pitching, smart baserunning, key hits and solid defense, then coming back last night with a second come from behind win in two days. This is the team fans have been waiting to see!

On his Sunday morning KTRS radio show this week Tony LaRussa admitted that the lineup has basically been triaged together. The manager is very gracious, taking every question with a chuckle, and the people that suck up to him with a ‘Thank you Mr. LaRussa, you’re a great manager and I hope you stay here for a real long time,’ always get a laugh. This week a caller requested that TLR not have any more C-team lineups. Tony was trying not to laugh himself when he said that although he did not think there had been any such lineups this year, the caller might not appreciate the lineup for that game. Oops!

People were ready to fight on Sunday when they saw a lineup that had no Colby Rasmus, no Albert Pujols, no Yadier Molina and no Tyler Greene, but the truth of the matter is that every one of those guys is dinged up, battered, bruised and desperately in need of a rest. It was even noted on the TV telecast on Sunday that Albert did not fight to get into the lineup when he saw the list, which means he needed that rest more than anyone knew. Matt Holliday almost did not make it into the lineup Sunday either after fouling a ball sharply off his ankle on Saturday. It was definitely a patchwork lineup that no one expected to play tough, especially not with Jeff Suppan on the mound. To be fair, Sup pitched a very nice game.

Monday’s game brought out a more ‘regular’ lineup, with only Matt Holliday hanging out in the dugout for the night. The tandem of Allen Craig and Jon Jay continued their strong play since receiving their calls to rejoin the big league club from AAA Memphis, and they worked hard to earn their starts Monday night. The rookies combined to go 3 for 7, and each player drove in a run, with Craig actually hitting his first career home run in a St. Louis uniform. The team went into an early hole behind pitcher Blake Hawksworth, but battled back, scratching out runs in the first and second innings and then smashing three home runs in the fifth to blow the game wide open. Blake battled his way through six innings and handed the game off to the bullpen, who continued their strong collective performance and finished off the win with little drama.

The fact of the matter is that the team is not back on top because the Reds finally started to fizzle. In all honesty the Reds just got better by bringing back Edinson Volquez from the disabled list. They have more starting pitching than they know what to do with, while many of the Cardinals have standing appointments with the training staff before and after every game. These Cards have been battling lately, and fought tooth and nail to make it back on top. They were not handed first, they took it by force.

For Cardinal fans right now, the best news is that this team is not playing at full strength, and they are still finding ways to win ballgames. As for that lengthy disabled list, Ryan Ludwick was dispatched to AAA Memphis for a rehab assignment on Monday. The plan is for him to hopefully return to the big club in time for this weekend’s series in Chicago against the Cubs. The news is not quite as bright for David Freese, as a report leaked out at the end of Monday’s game that the rookie third baseman dropped a dumbbell on one of his toes and broke it. The team hopes that this will not alter his progress towards rejoining the starting lineup, but time will tell. As for the pitchers, it is not even fair to guess when they will return anymore, because no one seems to know!

The team has been on fire out of the gate for the second half. Many of the players and coaches stated before play resumed last Thursday that they were about to catch on fire, and they certainly have. This is the team fans have been waiting for, and if this kind of play keeps up, they will not win every game like they have so far in this half, but it is fair to say the Central will not be decided anytime soon.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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