Tag Archive | "Nlcs"

Umpires for LCS Are Slightly Above Average in NL, Below Average in AL

Umpire Joe West

The American League Championship Series gets underway later today and the National League Championship Series sets to debut tomorrow. All eyes have turned to the release of roster information for the four teams involved. As baseball fans learn which players will be on the bench, the makeup of the starting rotations and who will pitch in relief, Major League Baseball finalized its own rosters.

As reported by ESPN, the league office has named the seven-man umpiring crew for each series. The American League crew will be led by crew chief Joe West. The National League crew chief will be Gerry Davis.

The format for the crew is a little different this year, thanks to instant replay being introduced. The crews will each have an umpire in a replay booth at the stadium with the traditional six umpires on the field.

Mark Carlson, Phil Cuzzi, Greg Gibson, Bill Miller and Bill Welke will be on the field with Davis in the National League. Paul Emmel will start the series in the replay booth for the first two games before switching places with Cuzzi.

Brian Gorman, Marvin Hudson, Ron Kulpa, Tim Timmons and Mark Wegner will be on the field with West for the first two games of the American League. Dan Iassogna will begin the series in the booth. Timmons will take his place after that.

Bloomberg Business Week tracks the effectiveness of the strike zoneas interpreted by each umpire in Major League Baseball. They track every pitch and record the total number of calls as well as every correct and incorrect call based on computer analysis of the zone. The resulting table of information provides a snapshot of the most effective, and ineffective, umpires in the league.

The first thing that jumps off the page when sorting through the data is that Joe West has more incorrect calls than any other umpire in 2014. This is the man tabbed to led the crew in the American League.

Statistics can be a bit misleading if not examined thoroughly. Examining the 14 men chosen reveals that Gorman made the fewest calls among them with 2,325 total calls. There are 64 umpires across MLB that made at least that many calls. That gives an adequate baseline for statistical analysis.

West once again tops the list of these 64 umpires with both the most incorrect calls and the lowest percentage of correct calls. According to Bloomberg’s rankings, West was responsible for 460 incorrect calls and had an 83.91% correct call percentage.

The 64-umpire sampling also yields an 86.23% correct call rate overall. The seven umpires that make up the team that will call the NLCS account for an 86.55% correct call rate, coming in slightly above average. Gibson leads all 14 postseason umpires with an 87.34% rate, placing him behind 11 other umpires in 2014 that meet the total calls criteria.

The opposite is true in the ALCS. The seven umpires on that crew combine for an 85.28% correct call rate, well below the league average. While West is the worst in the group, Kulpa joins him as the only two postseason umpires with a correct call rate below 85%. Kulpa was only correct 84.99% of the time.

Instant Replay may be a factor in the postseason but it cannot be used to help with the strike zone. Major League Baseball has appointed the umpiring crews for this year’s postseason with more regard to seniority than attention to effectively calling the game.

As the two teams left standing in the American League take the field to attempt to advance to the World Series, they will do so with an umpiring crew that is well below average. The two teams left in the National League will fight for supremacy with a simply average crew on the field.

Using the same group of 64 umpires and taking the top 14 as ranked by correct call percentage would yield drastically different crews. In fact, only Davis and Gibson would remain on the new squads.

Dividing up the top 14 umpires by this criteria would provide one crew consisting of Paul Schrieber, Eric Cooper, Dan Bellino, Chris Segal, Brian Knight, Vic Carapazza and C.B. Bucknor. The other group would feature Lance Barksdale, Adam Hamari, Manny Gonzalez, Hal Gibson III, Gerry Davis, Greg Gibson and Pat Hoberg.

The crew headed by Schrieber combine to produce an 87.67% rate of correct calls. The group led by Barksdale comes in at 87.53%. That’s good for almost 1% better than the current National League crew and an astonishing 2.5% better than the American League crew. Those percentages could have a drastic impact on playoff baseball.

The MLB League Championship Series will come down to four of the best teams in baseball. Unfortunately, they will not be judged by the two best teams of umpires.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss baseball year round.

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Matt Holliday and Measuring the Moment

For all that can be said about Matt Holliday, one thing that can’t be taken from him is his flair for the moment. On Tuesday night, for the second time in this season’s playoff run, he delivered a decisive and momentum swinging blow for the Cardinals, and has once again delivered them to brink of moving to the next round.


Yet when looking at his plain performance, it is easy to see why he receives some of the criticism he does. Despite being leaned on to be the main producer for the struggling Cardinal lineup, he has more often than not failed to live up to that billing. In the NLCS, he is hitting .125 and hadn’t had a hit in over 10 at-bats before his massive fourth inning home run against Ricky Nolasco, which drove in Matt Carpenter and was a resounding moment in reviving a Cardinal offense that seemed to be on the verge of an early hibernation for a second year in a row.

The motivation of this big statement was very familiar, because it was the same thing his Game 4 home run in Pittsburgh did just last week. With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, he provided the support to make Michael Wacha’s masterful performance stand up, via a two-run seventh inning home run. And now, as a revived Cardinal team finds itself awakened and with three chances to advance itself to the World Series, the team’s fortunes have been pulled in place by the most incorrectly criticized player in recent Cardinal history.

The image of Holliday is tarnished by the shadows it stands in, as well as the image it is supported by. From day one, there was the idea that he was rental player, which cost the team too much to land (the now laughable expense of Brett Wallace and two other minor leaguers who never made it far). Yet in his first postseason, it was one dropped fly ball in Game four of the NLDS during the Cardinals last October trip to Los Angeles which remains the highlight of his first campaign in St. Louis. Much more than the .353 average he hit once coming over from Oakland which provided much needed non-Pujols created offense and helped the team win the NL Central by a runaway 7.5 games.

He was John Mozeliak’s first blockbuster acquisition, as well as his first big dollar contract dealt out. The purpose of Holliday’s acquisition was to be the second half of a potent heart of the lineup along with Pujols, but to also be security in case he was not able to be retained. Ultimately, the latter became reality, albeit after the Cardinals won a World Series in a season where Holliday put up a .296 average, All-Star effort. At this point Holliday replaced the then irreplaceable hitting third in the Cardinal lineup. But he also carried the tag of being the “highest paid player in Cardinal history”, which became more curse than reward in the court of public opinion. This was fueled by his pay grade was not deemed as necessary stroke of foresight, but rather being a prime reason why Pujols couldn’t stay, for financial reasons.

Holliday’s career thus far has been better than it has been bad. In St. Louis, his career numbers during the regular season have been the most consistent of any player on the team during his four-year tenure, averaging .306/23/90 split as a Cardinal. Despite the notion of not being “clutch”, he turned in a .390 average with runners in scoring position this season, which increased to .426 in same scenario, but with two outs.

Those numbers are a pretty fair regular read out of his “clutch” tendencies, as well as a showing of regular value.

However, the postseason struggles have happened and cannot be denied. A team needs its power conduit to be churning at the highest points of the year, and Holliday has let the club down in those scenarios over the past two years. In most situations, a season is not made by the moment, but the postseason is an exceptional time, and the same rules do not apply. While consistency is still not his ally this October, he has made amends in many regards by showing up when most needed. And that is not a presence that should be glazed over lightly, even if that has been the trend for many of his greatest contributions thus far.

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Legend of the Fall: Beltran Continues His Quest

The heroics of Carlos Beltran in the month of October are nothing new. He ranks in the top 10 nearly every major postseason category that an individual can find himself in. However, in last night’s game one of the National League Championship Series, he had his signature effort as a Cardinal during the season’s final month. In the process he single-handedly carried the team to series-opening victory, as well as continued to make an increasingly convincing case for how his legacy will be rewarded.


Beltran took the world on his shoulders, as his two-run third inning double started the offense, and remained the entire output until his RBI single ten innings later earned a grueling win to a grueling start to the NLCS. In a matchup that saw just three lead changes scattered across 13 pitchers for both sides, it was the two defining hits by Beltran that made the complete difference in the Cardinals 3-2 victory.

Yet, the moment of the game came in the top of the tenth inning, when Beltran showcased why the team leans on him so heavily at this point. After Jon Jay misplayed a Mark Ellis line drive into the right center field gap, which resulted in a one out triple, the club found itself in about as big of a bind as possible. After intentionally walking Hanley Ramirez to reach Michael Young with a double play situation in play, Trevor Rosenthal found himself in a do or die scenario.

Young did exactly what he has supposed to do, which was put the ball in the air to the outfield. The ball he hit would have been Jay’s to take in any other scenario, but this was far from that; it was the game on the line. With this crossroads clear and evident, Beltran moved over from right to overrule his outfield mate, and uncorked the type of throw which helped make him a Gold Glove center fielder three times over, cutting down Ellis at home plate and giving the Cardinals another life.

Helping to make good on a dominant, seven scoreless inning collaboration from the Cardinal bullpen, poetically, the game came back around to Beltran came back to the plate again in the thirteenth inning and capped his legend securing evening. With two on and one out in the 13th, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly finally unleashed his closer Kenly Jansen, owner of one of the most dominant fastballs in the game. But Beltran worked the count in his favor so he could face that pitch on his terms, which resulted in him lining a base hit in right field, which brought in Daniel Descalso (who had a clutch flare hit to start the inning) and closed out a hard-fought win to start the series.

For Beltran, his reputation simply grows at the highest peak of the season again. It has been nine years since his record-setting eight home run October debut with the Houston Astros. In the time since, he has grown his career, seemingly lost his peak to injury and then rebuilt it in a new role. All along, he’s become a new player in the season’s final month, the type of postseason legend that is rightfully mentioned along the lines of Jeter, Jackson and Ruth.

There are a few things each name in that group has in common, and it is that their efforts evenly resulted in a World Series victory. Despite reaching the NLCS four times and reaching the seventh game of each appearance, he has yet to be able to breakthrough to game’s final level. The debate continues on whether Beltran is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but one thing that is a consensus is that the conversation starts, and finishes, with the efforts he turns in during this point in the season. And when it comes time for that discussion to ultimately be decided on, the game he began this season’s NLCS with will be remembered as a strong indicator of just how exceptional he truly has been. But where the season ends, and how much further he can fuel this particular Cardinal team, could ultimately be the decider.

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Seven Point Preview For Cardinals/Dodgers NLCS

Tonight, the National League Championship Series kicks off at Busch Stadium, in an ironic scenario. It pits the best team, by record, in the St. Louis Cardinals versus the best team, in the view of the odds makers, in the Los Angeles Dodgers. This could be seen as a slight to a Cardinal team that not only finished with the best record in the NL, but tied for the best in all of the baseball, but the Dodgers are a bit more than just their record.


After a desperately terrible start, the Dodgers played insane baseball over the second half of the season, finishing with a winning percentage of .665 after June. They pulled from the bottom of the NL West to winning their division by 11 games, the largest margin of any in baseball. Yet, they find themselves facing four games on the road against the best October franchise in baseball over the last three seasons, and it is the type of series where intangibles and talent collide, to make for a narrow decision.

So who has the edge: the hottest team in baseball or the most proven team in it? Here’s how it shakes out:

Starting Lineup: The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored this season, owed mostly to the new high mark they set hitting with runners in scoring position. As a team, they hit .330 on the year, and had five batters drive in over 75 runs on the season. Save for the injured Allen Craig, four everyday Cardinals hit over .296, with high marks of .319 and .318 from Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter.

For the Dodgers, the production was spread around. Hanley Ramirez hit .345 in 304 at-bats between a series of injuries, while Yasiel Puig hit .319 on the year after debuting in June, adding in 19 home runs, 21 doubles and 11 stolen bases. From the Opening Day Dodgers, Adrian Gonzalez led the team in the Triple Crown categories, with a .293/22/100 split on the year.

The Cardinals have the best everyday ensemble left in the game, as well as a knack for finding hits when they are needed. LA conversely has more talent in the everyday lineup, but without Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp healthy, it simply isn’t a more threatening lineup as a whole. Advantage: Cardinals.

Starting Pitching: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are the best back-to-back duo of starting arms in the game, and are the greatest advantage the Dodgers have on their side. Throughout the year, they combined to go 31-13, with a 2.17 ERA and 380 strikeouts. But depth is also the Dodgers ally, as Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano all providing an intriguing matchup options as well.

Everything is based around Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals, but this time it won’t be able to start with him. There is a chance that he will be surrounded by three rookies in Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller in the Cardinals NLCS rotation. They are not average, but well-tested youngsters that won’t be intimidated in the moment, but will carry a heavy burden.

St. Louis is high on talent, but clearly outmatched against the two former Cy Young winners, which are slated to start four of the seven potential games in the series. Their best hope is to spring an upset against one, ride Wainwright’s opportunities and win the swing game that pits starter four vs. four. Advantage: Dodgers.

Bullpen: St. Louis relies most heavily on its young arms out of its bullpen, where no less than four can factor into any game, including the ninth inning, which has been inherited by Trevor Rosenthal (108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings, 29 holds). The presence of former closers-turned-fill in arms Edward Mujica (37 2013 saves) and John Axford give the Cardinals a solid group of mid-to-late game options, albeit with some risk.

The Dodgers rely on mix of proven specialists, closers and pure flame throwers. Kenley Jenson threw the second most pitches over 100 mph in the MLB this year after Aroldis Chapman, and closed out 28 of 32 save opportunities after moving to the ninth inning in early June. Joined by a resurgent Brian Wilson (0.66 ERA) and JP Howell (.164 average against by lefties) and they have a tough crew to crack.

The Cardinals pen has been solid throughout the year, but somewhat unnerving of late in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a bevy of options that miss bats easily, and instant outs are huge in the playoffs. Advantage: Dodgers.

Defense: Despite some notably limited players in Matt Holliday and David Freese in the starting lineup, the Cardinals can field. They tied of the least amount of team errors and the best fielding percentage in the National League this season. This is due in part to a strong quad up the middle of Molina, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma.

The Dodgers conversely were not a good defensive team. Puig’s insertion in the outfield provided some much needed range, and AJ Ellis is a plus backstop, but they finished with the second most errors in the NL and wait more for strikeouts than created ones. Advantage: Cardinals.

Bench: Andre Ethier’s availability to play in the field is in question, but he can swing the bat still and is joined by Michael Young, who was acquired to add needed depth to the bench. These veteran presences loom huge in the Dodgers ability to create mismatches on-demand. Dee Gordon is instant speed boost, while Nick Punto is a defensive plus at three infield spots.

The Cardinals bench is not an offensive stock hold, after Matt Adams was forced into everyday action after the injury to Allen Craig deemed it necessary. However, Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson are defensive bonuses that are an important part of the late game strategy for the offense-heavy Cardinal attack.

Despite the versatility of the Cardinal approach, LA’s ability to continue to create offense late in the game is major advantage that will be a factor throughout the series. Advantage: Dodgers

Manager: Mike Matheny’s major contribution in his second season leading the Cardinals has been to install the crucial team identity, as well as strategically groom the rookie base that much of the team is built around. However, he has grown as a strategist as well and uses his full roster to his advantage.

Don Mattingly has come a long way in just this season. He was one week away from losing his job when the Dodgers took off, and has become an essential part of holding together the big money, multi-personality team together.

With that said, Matheny holds an edge in the chemistry department, as well as the experience lane at this part of the calendar as well. He has already shown some positive adjustments from a year ago, and will take on a new personal distance mark in his career. Advantage: Cardinals

Injury Factor: There are two major injuries that holding both teams back from their full potential in the series. For the Dodgers, it is Matt Kemp, who only played only 73 games on the year. The team’s best player in name, but not much a part of the run the team took this season. Ethier’s foot injury is also compounding the Dodger situation, whereas he can’t be a part of the daily lineup, due to not being able to handle the demands of the field.

Conversely, the Cardinals are missing a major part of their success in Allen Craig. The run producing machine ran up 97 RBI and a hit a mind-blowing 59 for 130 on the year with runners in scoring position (.454). The absence of the All-Star first baseman has been padded by the presence of Adams, but he is an irreplaceable quantity in the steadiness of the Cardinal attack.

While the Cardinals are missing a major portion of their attack, the alternate option for the Cardinals is actually not as far of a step down as the Dodgers have faced without two-thirds of their best possible outfield. Advantage: Cardinals.

Intangibles: Momentum is everything in the postseason, and both teams come into the series with plenty. The Cardinals will be fresh off an inspiring effort from Wainwright to close out their NLDS series, and will be in front of the same home crowd buzz that it took place in. Conversely, the Dodgers will cross the country again after a similarly inspiring close out to their NLDS matchup, which concluded with Juan Uribe’s two-run, bottom of the 8th inning home run.

On the season, the Dodgers won the season’s seven game series, 4-3. Over the last month, including the playoffs, the Dodgers are 15-16, while the Cardinals are 22-10.

On the year, the Cardinals are 56-28 at Busch Stadium, and 44-39 elsewhere. At Dodger Stadium, LA is 49-34, while 45-37 on the road. Home games for the Cardinals are the biggest outstanding factor in the series for either side.

Summary: These are two teams with clear strengths, but close margins at the same time. Protecting home field advantage will be a task for the Cardinals, who will be confronted with Greinke and Kershaw in their own park, which is a powerful equalizer. Finding their groove in offense will be tough this way, for a team that has struggled to string together a consistent offering over the last week offensively, and they will need to get runs early in the game throughout the series to make it.

The Cardinals face an uphill battle from the start, but with two Dodger aces out of the way early, if they can split the first two games before sending Wainwright to the mound in game three, they have a chance to get a decisive advantage before the anything goes game four, and then the return of Greinke and Kershaw in games five and six. On paper it seems to be a long series ahead, but one with some very decisive pitfall chances early and often. The Cardinals take the edge in the head-to-head factors department 4-3, and have some important intangibles leaning in their favor as well. This bides well in their favor for a series that looks primed to go the full distance, and end in a Cardinal final advantage.

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Déjà vu Threatens Cardinals All Over Again

Down 2-1, and faced with nothing elimination games ahead in their Divisional Series match up with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cardinals find themselves in a familiar place. But not the type of “they’ve been behind before” postseason rhetoric that has been tagged to the club so often recently, rather it directly correlates to the way their season ended last time around. While the pitching alignments get the buzz, it is the lineup that is once again failing the Cardinals.


It has now been two full games since the Cardinals had a lead at any point versus Pittsburgh. Along the way, the Cardinals have been buried by the same type of timely hitting from the Pirates core that the Cardinal collective has been prided on. Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin and Marlon Byrd have collaborated to drive in more runs (16) than the Cardinals have combined for as a club (11).

Basically, they are being beat at their own game. After a season where the Cardinals were the second most productive team offense, hitting for a .269 average, they have torpedoed to a .219 average through the first three games of the series. Carlos Beltran’s once again outstanding October effort aside, as well as solid showings from Yadier Molina and Matt Adams, the rest of the lineup has brutally underperformed. Highlighted by a 1 for 11 (.091) spin by Matt Carpenter, a 2 for 12 effort by Matt Holliday (.167) and a pair of 2 for 10 showings from Jon Jay and David Freese, the same type of large scale outage that sunk the team over the last three games of 2012 has made an untimely return.

There is a huge difference in the 2012 postseason Cardinals than any past incarnation however, and it is a simple see: it is not a deep team. Whereas in years past there were Allen Craig, Lance Berkman and Matt Carpenter among others to supply hits off the bench, there is no such presence of that sort this year. Look no further than the final two batters in yesterday’s game, Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, who, respectively, hit .217 and .238 on the year. It’s a striking showing that their were no other bats available to take those opportunities, and proves resoundingly the depth the team lost when Craig was lost for what looks to be the season. The bottom line is simply, what starts is what has to produce, and the group failings to do so (a .192 average from the starting lineup over the past 18 innings) is creating a brutal case of déjà vu.

Over the past the last three games of last season’s National League Championship Series, the Cardinals mounted one run across three games, which unfolded in the same home, then road-road sequence. While the team is guaranteed to score more runs than last with yesterday’s output, there is still simply too much pressure put on the pitching staff to win games.

Game four sees a continuation of yesterday, with Michael Wacha going to the mound for his first postseason appearance of his career. While he has been effective against the Pirates, and is the best available option to start this game, even with his best efforts will be for nil if the team continues to leave runners on base

In a most poetic situation in how the year has unfolded, it is the young arms that have been leaned on to pitch in high leverage situations, and while the rookie staff as performed impeccably throughout the year, they still are young. The postseason is made for veterans to deliver, and for all of the strides the team took this season, it finds itself on the verge of ending in not only the same fashion, but at an earlier clip if it cannot work out the order of things by 5:00 this evening.

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Best record important, but St. Louis Cardinals should have Adam Wainwright ready to start playoffs

The St. Louis Cardinals will be the National League Central Division champions as they enter the playoffs, but where they begin the postseason is still an important mystery.


The Cardinals took a one-half-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the National League into play Thursday when the Braves face the Philadelphia Phillies while the Cardinals wait to begin their final three-game series of the season at Busch Stadium against the Chicago Cubs.

As was the case in the Cardinals’ World Series championship season of 2011, they will face the worst team in the NL Central while the Braves play the Phillies. However, the Cardinals played the Houston Astros to close that season, and the Cardinals and Braves were fighting just to make the playoffs in 2011.

Now they are competing for the best record in the National League, which would guarantee them home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series.

The Cardinals don’t have Chris Carpenter to send to the mound in the final game of the season as they did two years ago, but they still have one of the best pitchers in the league ready to go in the final series, if necessary.

But here’s the thing. It is not necessary.

The Cardinals could pitch Adam Wainwright on Saturday, which would be his regularly scheduled day to start, or they could hold him back until Sunday if they need a win on the final day of the season to clinch the best record in the league.

However, if he pitches Sunday, that would put him on short rest to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series, and the Cardinals would almost certainly push him back to Game 2.

A third option would be to shut Wainwright down until the playoffs regardless, but that opens up a problem of too much rest if he goes from Monday until next Thursday between starts.

He will instead probably pitch Saturday or Sunday, and at this point Saturday would be the much better option.

Sure, the Cardinals might lost home-field advantage in the NLCS if they don’t win enough games against the Cubs this weekend, but with a playoff spot already in hand, the Cardinals would be more prudent to maximize their strategic advantages for the first round of the playoffs because there is no guarantee they will even make it the next round and be able to use what would be their home-field advantage.

At this point, Wainwright in Game 1 of the division series is more important than Wainwright on Sunday against the Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny can still use Wainwright on Saturday and then use a pitcher such as rookie Michael Wacha on Sunday. That setup would still give the Cardinals a legitimate chance to win and gain home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs, but it would more importantly position Wainwright to pitch the first game of the playoffs.

Plus, a winning performance from Wainwright against the Cubs is far from certain. Wainwright has struggled against the Cubs more than any team throughout his career outside of the Atlanta Braves, which would arouse another whole set of questions for later in the playoffs.

Anyway, Wainwright as a career 4.44 earned-run average and a 7-6 record through the seven full seasons he has pitched in Major League Baseball.

So a win from Wainwright on Saturday and Sunday is not nearly as likely as one might first assume, even though the Cardinals are 28 games better than the Cubs heading into play Friday.

The Cardinals would be smart to let Wainwright pitch Saturday on normal rest and be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs instead of having him pitch Sunday and risk losing that game while also losing him until Game 2 of the division series.

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Time Capsule: Cardinals Videos From The 1980s

Spring Training games are in full effect with all 30 teams,  including the St. Louis Cardinals, took to the field to start getting ready for the season.  Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has opened the vaults and given the world access to video clips that were previously locked away.

The Cardinals were a powerhouse team in the National League in the 1980’s.  Three appearances in the World Series, including winning the championship in 1982, as well as some key moments throughout the decade had many people watching the team very closely.

Today, i70baseball brings you nine classic moments from the Cardinals in the 1980’s, courtesy of Major League Baseball.

Use the navigation controls below to take a look at each of the videos.  Leave us some comments and tell us the moments you most remember from the 1980’s in St. Louis.

<b>Bruce Sutter Closes Out 1982 World Series</b>

Picture 1 of 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Fourth Inning Weirdness and Power Outages

Game 5 of the NLCS did not go quite as planned for the St. Louis Cardinals, though that should not have been much of a surprise as the game unfolded. The Redbirds now head back to San Francisco to face the Giants in Game 6 Sunday evening.

Everything started off great for the Cardinals. They weren’t hitting much off Barry Zito, but Lance Lynn held the Giants without even one hit through three innings. But for some reason, this series has been largely defined by what happens in the fourth inning. Maybe the hitters are taking that long to settle in, or maybe the second time through the lineup these starters have been easier to figure out. Regardless, the fourth seems to be the flashpoint for weird stuff to happen. And for the Cards, it was a disaster that meant the game.

Lynn forced a comebacker that could have turned into an inning-ending double play. Instead, his throw was low and Pete Kozma was late getting to second base (the replay clearly showed Kozma hesitated momentarily, like the thought the play was going to first). Lynn yipped his throw, and it caromed off the bag. The Giants scored a run, and it turned out to be the only run they would need. But Lynn never recovered to finish off the inning, and the floodgates opened. By the time the top of the fourth was over, it was 4-0 Giants.

Missed plays in the playoffs seem to have exponentially more impact on the games—and often the series—in which they occur. The list is long and distinguished, from Ian Desmond’s miss in the ninth inning of NLDS Game 5 to Don Denkinger, Bill Buckner, Steve Bartman, and everything in between. The big difference is that last night’s gaffe came early in the game, and the Cardinals had more than ample opportunity to mount a comeback or even simply get on the board. They accomplished neither. And that’s what really cost them Game 5.

In the bottom of the second inning, the Cardinals had second and third with no one out and failed to score. After the debacle in the top of the fourth, Allen Craig led off with a double; again, they failed to score. They outhit the Giants 7-6, but could not push a run across. In fact, aside from Lynn’s meltdown inning, the Giants only collected two hits and plated one run. They were far from great Friday night. But the breaks went their way, most of the Cards’ hardest-hit balls were hit right at them, and now the series shifts back to the West Coast. It was the perfect storm, and this time the Cardinals were on the wrong end.

When the Cardinals win games this postseason, they do it in different ways: scoring early and often, getting stellar pitching, coming through dramatically when it matters most, etc. But when they lose, the formula is always the same: they cannot string hits together and they cannot score runs. The Cards have now lost four games in these playoffs, and in those four losses their run totals are 2, 1, 1, 0. It’s the same as it was all season, really. The bats in this pretty formidable lineup have a knack for going completely silent for an entire game.

So what does it all mean? Nothing, really. Because we’ve seen this before, as recently as Game 2 of this very series. The Cardinals have won the next game after each of the previous three power outages by scores of 12-4, 9-7, and 3-1. Despite the weirdness of the top of the fourth inning, despite having a chance to close out this series at home, and despite being unable to hit Barry Zito of all people, the Cards still look…well, normal, frankly. It’s easy to look at a three games to one lead on the surface and think, “Yes! Close it out! Nail the coffin shut! Giants are done!” But before this NLCS started, who would have honestly thought the Cardinals were that much better than the Giants to predict this thing would be over in five games?

Back to San Fran they go, where Chris Carpenter will face Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6 of the NLCS. When they squared off in Game 2, Carpenter was the victim of a weird four-run fourth inning full of yipped throws and missed calls on the basepaths, and Vogelsong dominated the Cards by allowing one run over seven innings. Sounds familiar, right? Just another day at the office for the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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Magical Numbers

Strange things happen when the baseball gods begin waving their magic bats over the otherwise earthly progressions of the game.

Sometimes the ball bounces funny; sometimes it doesn’t bounce off anything but a seat in the stands. Sometimes it takes an odd, fateful curve fair…or foul. Good teams lose games they shouldn’t, bad teams win games they shouldn’t, and the order of the standings can look completely different from week to week.

But baseball is and forever will be a numbers game. Advanced baseball statistics are a cottage industry these days, yet a .300 average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI will never be looked at as a bad year.

Other numbers seem to just come from nowhere. The St. Louis Cardinals, most recently, were the direct object of such weirdness. By this point, the tale is well-known: 10.5 games back on August 25; three games back with five to play; clinching on the now-infamous night of Game 162. It took 11 postseason wins to clinch their 11th World Series championship in 2011, known forever for the Game 6 heroics that culminated with David Freese’s dramatic walk-off home run in, of course, the 11th inning.

That kind of stuff never happens more than once if it happens at all. That’s why it was so magical. But even the best of the best and the worst of the worst can’t keep baseball from bringing it weird every once in a while. Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost a heartbreaking 19-inning game to the Atlanta Braves on a possibly bad call at the plate. The Pirates never recovered, and soon skidded out of playoff contention—a place they had not been since 1992, when they lost the NLCS to none other than the Atlanta Braves on a Game 7 walk-off single that scored former Pirate and notorious base path clogger Sid Bream. This year, the Pirates and Cardinals hooked up for their own 19 inning affair. The winner would take two of three in the series. It meant the difference between a tie for the second Wild Card spot or the Bucs leaving St. Louis with their heads held high and some breathing room. And the Pirates’ fortunes were different this time around; they beat the Cards to claim a two game lead on the playoff spot. Yet somehow, less than a week later, the Cardinals have leapfrogged the Pirates in a four-game swing that has the Redbirds out in front in the second Wild Card spot by two games. Sometimes even momentum gets smacked back to the ground by karma.

To get there, the Cardinals beat the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds 8-5 Friday night. But this wasn’t a typical victory. The Reds led 5-2 after five innings, and the game was inching dangerously close to getting into the hands of the vaunted Cincy bullpen. Starter Mat Latos was cruising along, as he had done for the entire month of August to this point: going into Friday’s game, Latos had an ERA of less than one over four starts and averaged over seven innings per start. Then, almost out of nowhere, the Cardinals caught fire and torched the Reds in the sixth. When it was all said and done, Latos finished only five innings and allowed seven earned runs, equaling what he had allowed over his last six outings combined.

So now, the Cardinals find themselves looking at that magical date again: August 25. Except they are currently in a playoff spot, and are only one and a half games back of the Braves for the top Wild Card slot. If the season ended today, the Braves and Cards would play each other for the NL Wild Card. Funny how that works, huh? The Cards are also only six games behind the Reds in the Central. They don’t need to rely on a miracle run this year. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have one in them.

Last year, the Cardinals were a team that exceeded expectations at the end of the year to do what they did. In 2012, they have never quite lived up to expectations. Their offensive output and pitching prowess have not translated into the win-loss record everyone expected. The Cards constantly seem to be getting in their own way when it comes to putting together a run of victories. Their current winning streak stands at four, and this would be the best possible time to win six in a row or 10 of 11 or something. Is it possible? Certainly. Is it likely? Who knows…

But that’s why they play 162. The Cardinals got a big win Friday night; a win by the Reds Saturday renders it almost meaningless. And then they’ll do it all over again on Sunday. A pitch here, a bloop there…win or lose, as long as there are outs to give and games to play, nothing is impossible and nothing is decided.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter at @birdbrained.

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