Tag Archive | "Oakland Athletics"

LaRussa Carved Distinct Path On The Road To Cooperstown

Monday morning, the inevitable became reality as the announcement was made that Tony LaRussa had been selected for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For the most successful manager born within the last century, the decision was honestly not a difficult one to reach. Rather, it is a due that shows that persistence truly does pay off in the end.

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LaRussa was the backbone and identity shaping presence for two of the memorable runs for a pair of baseball’s most distinguished franchises. And despite not ever being one to shy away from stating his mind or bulldogging his tactics through anything—or anyone, who may doubt them, the results stood for themselves: LaRussa was simply the best at what he did for over three decades.

After cutting his managerial teeth with the Chicago White Sox, it was in Oakland where first made his major bones by building the American League powerhouse of the late 80’s and early 90’s around the Hall of Fame (and Hall of Fame-caliber) talents of Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Mark McGwire, Dave Stewart and Jose Canseco, among others. After taking the head job in 1986, over the next nine seasons the A’s won three American League pennants, with the peak being their victory in the 1989 World Series.

However, it was his tenure in St. Louis that will stand as the definitive run of his career. When he arrived in St. Louis, the Cardinal franchise was on a downturn. After being the most successful National League franchise of the 1980’s, they had not been to the playoffs in 10 seasons and had struggled to keep their head above water within their own division.

All of that changed when LaRussa took the helm.

The organization underwent sweeping changes in 1996 with the new management group headed by Bill DeWitt took over, and one of the first changes made was to acquire LaRussa to lead a revival from the bench. With new general manager Walt Jocketty, he was armed with a new look Cardinal club, and LaRussa swiftly led the group back to the top of the newly minted National League Central and within one game of the World Series. Over the following 15 years, he would reach the postseason 10 more times, including three World Series, with victories in 2006 and 2011. By the time he decided to call it quits, his mark on the franchise was indisputable. Of his 2,728 victories, 1,408 came in the Cardinal uniform, making him the most successful St. Louis manager ever by 367 wins. He won seven divisional titles and never went more than three years without reaching the postseason. All things considered, he restored the luster to the Cardinal name.

However, these means were not reached without some friction along the way. His non-compromising style was unapologetic and was not questioned without one of his signature glares, the look of which you could almost read him attempting to gather himself to not respond with too much hostility, verbally at least. This approach caused notably friction between him and even his most talented players. Ozzie Smith mostly stayed away from the team during his tenure, due to his disagreement with how his final year was handled under LaRussa. His rift with the Rasmus family is well known, as was the resistance between Scott Rolen and himself, leading to Rolen’s departure. TLR’s persistence on doing things his way annually ruffled even the feathers of the masses that came out to support his team.

But ultimately, his way proved more often than not to be the best way. If there is one thing he cannot be tied to, it is the textbook. His championship teams in ’06 and ’11 stand in as a stark reminder that he had a skill for making the unlikely seem like the best option, and ultimately triumphing. His reliance on a succeeding with an powerful American League approach in the slash-and-dash National League furthered this methodology. As a manager, he staunchly stood by his guys, and took the hits when things went wrong. Case in point remaining in the blame he takes for the improbable collapse of Rick Ankiel’s career. He believed in players earning their stripes, but once they did, he would stick with them throughout the rest of their career. Much of this is shown in his career-spanning relationship with Dave Duncan, as well as the carryover of many of the standouts of his Oakland days contributing in St. Louis as well. The acquisition, and coaching return, of Mark McGwire only furthers the point: once you were in, you were in for life.

He believed in the game being played the right way, and quite often, whether it was clear in the moment or not, that was his way. Although the motive may have seemed seemed cloudy, the outcome often was not. While he never captured the people the way that Herzog did, nor was he a face of the organization in the way that Matheny is, but he would not have been who he was if he had been the congenial type. It was not in his nature to be welcoming or too often engaging, but it was his focus and demeanor which often raised his teams above both their talent and pay level. Regardless of how many MVP’s, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year winners he may have had in tow, there was no doubt who ran the show. It was undoubtedly Tony’s team.

In the end, success breed acceptance, and he became a part of the Cardinal family, as his permanently shelved #10 on the outfield walls proves. Only two others have outdone him in the wins category, Connie Mack and John McGraw. Of that trio, him and Mack are the only coaches in North American sports history to manage over 5,000 games.

And while he heads to Cooperstown with joined by another duo of greats in his contemporaries Bobby Cox and another former Cardinal skipper in Joe Torre, with all due respects, neither did what Tony did to reach this pinnacle. LaRussa will on in time as a complicated, but undeniably incomparable presence in both Cardinal and baseball lore.

Posted in Cardinals, Cooperstown Choices 2013, MinorsComments (1)

Triple Play: Coco Crisp, Derek Jeter, Bartolo Colon

In this week’s edition of the Triple Play, we look at an unlikely power hitter, the Captain’s lost season, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

DerekJeter

Who’s Hot?

Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics

Crisp has suddenly transformed from a slap-hitting, base-stealing leadoff man into a slugger. In the past three weeks, Crisp has belted eight home runs, driven in 14 and scored 19 runs. For the season, he has a career-high 18 homers, 54 RBI, 17 steals and 77 runs scored. His previous career high was 16, back in 2005 with Cleveland. Since starting this power binge on August 21 against Seattle, Crisp has batted a scorching .344/.386/.813, with a 1.198 OPS. While fantasy owners no doubt miss the stolen bases (he’s on pace for his lowest total since 2009), they have to be enjoying the unexpected power just as much as the A’s. The power could dry up at any time, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Who’s Not?

Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

If anyone would like a mulligan on the 2013 season, it has to be Jeter. After fracturing his ankle in the ALCS against Detroit, he finally made his season debut July 11. He went 1-for-4 with a single and an RBI, fueling hopes that he could help turn the Yankees’ season around. However, he left that game with a strained quad muscle and missed another 17 days. He returned again July 28 and played just four games before being injured again. This time, he was out until August 26. He made it through 12 games before having to depart yet again, this time in the 6th inning of Saturday’s game against Boston. His season stat line is .190/.288/.254, with one lone home run, seven RBI, and eight runs scored. The combination of Eduardo Nunez, Luis Cruz and Reid Brignac has not exactly filled the gap, production-wise. At age 39, there has been talk of just shutting Jeter down for the season, but that would be surprising. The Captain will likely try to return to the lineup before season’s end. One thing is certain: with the Yankees scrapping for a wild-card spot in the brutal AL East, his presence has been missed greatly.

Playing the Name Game

Name this pitcher: after being credited with a win yesterday, this pitcher became the first pitcher in American League history to win at least 15 games with four different teams. When he first came up in the 1990s, he was a power pitcher, but has never consistently been a strikeout artist. In 2000, he averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings, but has never again approached that level. Over the years, he has compensated for his diminishing strikeout rate with excellent control. In 2002, he was traded for a package of players that would go on to include three All-Stars. The next year, he was dealt again and became a free agent at the end of the season. He would go on to win a Cy Young Award for his next team, with which he spent four seasons. The A’s are his fourth different team since 2008. Know who it is yet?

After his Cy Young season, this pitcher endured four injury-plagued seasons before rebounding to make 26 starts in 2011. Those starts were inconsistent (4.00 ERA, 21 home runs allowed in 164 1/3 innings), so that team cut him loose. The end of the line appeared close. He signed with his current team in 2012, partially to serve as a mentor to a stable of young pitchers. Then, at age 39, he rediscovered the control that served him so well during his career peak. He became a vital starter to a team surprisingly in contention for its division. Then in August 2012, he was suspended for 50 gamed for a positive drug test. Although his team went on to win its division, he did not pitch again. You must have it by now, yes?

This year has been this right-hander’s best season since winning the Cy Young while with the Angels in 2005. He leads the AL with three complete-game shutouts and was his team’s lone representative at the All-Star Game. Yes, it’s Oakland’s Bartolo Colon. He won at least 15 games twice while with Cleveland (1999, 2000), once with the White Sox (2003), twice with the Angels (2004, 2005) and now this year with the A’s. If nothing else, he can say he has had a long, interesting career in baseball.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. Saturday night, at home against the Pirates, Wainwright righted the ship, pitching seven innings of shutout baseball. The Cardinals’ 2-0 victory lifted them past Pittsburgh, back into first place in the heated NL Central. Wainwright allowed two hits and two walks, while fanning eight. For the season, he has walked 31 batters in an NL-leading 213 2/3 innings with 195 strikeouts. That’s good for a 6.3-to-1 K/BB ratio, which is still tops in the major leagues. He also leads the league in wins, complete games and walks per 9 IP (1.3). His next start should be Thursday at home against Milwaukee, against whom Wainwright tossed his first complete-game shutout of the season back in April.
  • If the Orioles end up missing one of the wild-card spots by one game, they’re going to look back on Sunday’s game as the one that cost them. Chris Dickerson, a 31-year-old journeyman outfielder who has never had more than 255 at-bats in a season, entered the game in the 9th inning as a pinch runner. He fell for a fake by White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who made it appear that a ball hit by Brian Roberts was in play. In fact, it had been a foul pop-up near first base and Dickerson was easily doubled off to end the game. Ouch.
  • Another problem for the Orioles has been Chris Davis’ untimely slump. Since the calendar rolled over to September, Davis has hit just .222/.370/.670 in seven games with only one home run. Baltimore can ill afford to have him slump down the stretch.
  • The Indians also might have a September 8 loss to lament at the end of the season. Three weeks after dumping Daisuke “The Human Rain Delay” Matsuzaka, Cleveland could only muster three hits and one run against him. Had to be especially sweet for Dice-K, having been in the minors all season until the Mets picked him up. Ouch again.
  • They still have nine games remaining against the Kansas City Royals, who have won 11 of their past 15 games and continue to play meaningful September games.
  • Kansas City fans are understandably confused and have reportedly contacted fans in other cities to learn how they should handle the situation.
  • Texas seems to have adapted fairly well to using their team speed and relying less on outslugging opponents. In 47 games in the second half of the season, the Rangers have stolen 59 bases, which is how many they stole in the 95 games leading to the All-Star break. Now, about that pitching staff…..
  • Jacoby Ellsbury (who leads the majors with 52 steals) has a compression fracture in his right foot. He hopes to return before the playoffs, but given the way the Red Sox are hammering the ball, they are well-positioned to weather his absence.
  • Furthering that point, over the past two weeks, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks have combined for 15 homers, 40 RBI, five stolen bases and 39 runs scored for the Red Sox.
  • That had to be a discouraging weekend for the Yankees, losing three straight games in which they scored at least eight runs. With the lineup they’re using these days, scoring four or five runs is fairly impressive. Now, about that pitching staff….
  • Considering that baseball nicknames nowadays generally consistent of shortening a player’s name (i.e. CarGo, Tulo, Miggy, Astro-Cab), what is Atlanta’s Joey Terdoslavich’s nickname?
  • Billy Hamilton might be the fastest player I’ve ever seen in baseball. He has stolen four bases – including two(!) off Yadier Molina – and scored three runs since being recalled from the minors. Number of plate appearances: zero. Games he has helped decide with his speed: three – and counting.
  • The Reds have morphed into a team nobody wants to face. The lineup contains three of the more dangerous bats in the NL (Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce), plus Brandon Phillips. Mat Latos and Homer Bailey have formed a potent top of the rotation, while Aroldis Chapman may be the most intimidating closer in the NL; he regularly hit 100 mph versus the Cardinals last week, with at least one fastball clocked at 103.
  • Although, as Cubs and Giants fans will tell you, never underestimate Dusty Baker’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. His suicide squeeze in extra innings last week against St. Louis was classic Baker mismanagement.
  • Speaking of the Giants, Hunter Pence needs one more home run to become the first Giants player with a 20 homer/20 steal season since Barry Bonds in 1998. That’s about the best thing we can say about San Francisco baseball this year.
  • Raise your hand if you can name the team for which J.B. Shuck, Kole Calhoun, Andrew Romine and Buddy Boshers play. Without looking them up, I mean.
  • Yeah, I couldn’t either.
  • Rumor has it that Joe Morgan was unhappy about his new statue at Great American Ballpark. Something about statues being made better back when he played the game or something….
  • Finally, congratulations to Jason Giambi on becoming the 245th player in major league history to reach the 2,000 hit mark. At age 42, the sun is setting on his playing career. He seems like a sure bet to become a manager sometime within the next five years.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

Posted in Cardinals, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, MLB, RoyalsComments (0)

Triple Play: Jayson Werth, Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro

In our latest installment of the Triple Play, we look at an outfielder who’s been worth every penny the past few weeks, a new Yankee who has made himself at home (again) and more, including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch and the Ichiro Hit Tracker. Let’s dive in:

JaysonWerth

Who’s Hot?

Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals

The 2013 season has mostly been a season gone wrong for the Nationals, but you can’t say that outfielder Jayson Werth hasn’t been pulling his weight – and then some. He has hit safely in 10 consecutive games and racked up 10 multi-hit games so far this month. He is hitting a scorching .500/.574/.692 (26-for-52) with an OPS of 1.266 and two homers, four doubles, 10 RBI, and three steals in 15 August games. Actually, the Werewolf has been raking since July, when he posted a batting line of .367/.450/.622 with seven home runs, 22 RBI and 17 runs scored. He has posted an OPS of .850 or better each month since returning from the disabled list in early June. For the season, Werth has compiled a slash line of .334/.407/.531, along with 17 HR, 53 RBI, 7 stolen bases and 61 runs scored. Despite his performance, Washington has been unable to gain any ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves, as the Nationals have tumbled to 15½ games behind Atlanta and are scuffling to reach .500.

Who’s Not?

Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics

Colon, one of the best pitchers in the AL for most of the season, has hit a rough patch this month. It started out well enough, with him not facing any additional discipline due to his involvement in the Biogenesis issue. But his fortunes changed against Cincinnati on August 7, where he was knocked around for seven hits, three walks and five runs in 2 2/3 innings. It marked his shortest outing of the season and dropped the A’s into a first-place tie with Texas. His most recent start, against Houston on August 13, wasn’t much better, as the offensively-challenged Astros touched him up for seven hits and five runs in just four innings. Colon’s month got even worse this past Friday, though, as he injured his groin during a flat-ground workout session and was placed on the 15-day DL Saturday. A’s manager Bob Melvin tried to look on the bright side, saying that the time off might be good for the 40-year-old Colon. The A’s (and fantasy owners) certainly hope so, because losing Colon would be a blow for the collective hopes of each.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .254/.287/.467, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 10 SB, 103 OPS+

Player B: .329/.361/.658, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 3 SB, 173 OPS+

Player A is Alfonso Soriano while with the Cubs this season. Player B is Soriano after being traded to the New York Yankees. It’s clear that being dealt back to where he started his career – and a team trying to reach the postseason – has energized him. The Yankees were seeking production from a right-handed hitter; Soriano has delivered an excellent month’s worth in three weeks. During a four-game stretch last week, he tied a major-league record with 18 RBI in four games. While he obviously won’t continue to put up these video-game numbers, he is showing plenty of life remains in his bat.

Name that player

This pitcher has been the picture of durability in his career, starting at least 30 games each of the past eight years. In seven of those, he threw at least 200 innings and tallied no fewer than 12 wins. In 2009, he led his league in WHIP (1.003) and K/BB ratio (5.87-to-1). He has never finished higher than fifth in Cy Young balloting. Need more info?

This pitcher has been traded multiple times, often with some big names going the other way in the deal. He has bounced back and forth between leagues and had equal amounts of success in both. He made his first trip to the disabled list in 2012, but still made 30 starts. After not being re-signed by his previous team, he signed a one-year deal with a new team. This signing was somewhat of a surprise because most analysts thought they already had a fine pitching staff.

How about now? Know who it is?

This pitcher is in the midst of a career-worst season; he leads the league in home runs allowed and has the worst WHIP since his rookie season in 2003. Although he has pitched much better recently, it is probably too little, too late for his team. Did I mention some of the players for whom he was traded? They include Mark Mulder and Carlos Gonzalez. Finally, he recently cleared waivers, meaning he can be traded to any team in need of a starter. Got him yet? Sure you do: it’s Dan Haren.

Haren was pounded for six runs in his initial start of the season – including four home runs – and things hadn’t improved much until the past month. In his first 18 starts, opponents battered him to the tune of a .297 average and 5.79 ERA. However, starting with his July 27 start versus the New York Mets, Haren has been more like his old self, tossing four consecutive quality starts and a sparkling 1.29 ERA. Opposing batters have hit just .158 off him in those games (and only one solo home run). Haren has had a history of wearing down after the All-Star break, but in 2013, he appears to be improving instead of declining. Then again, after the first half of his season, it HAD to get better.

Given his recent success, it is somewhat surprising that he cleared waivers. His contract isn’t exorbitant – he’s owed somewhere around $2-3 million for the remainder of the season. There are teams in the playoff hunt who could use another solid starter (Baltimore, Cleveland, Arizona, Texas, St. Louis). If one of those teams is willing to take on the balance of the salary, one would think they could bolster their rotation without sacrificing a top prospect. Just something to ponder with the August 31 trade deadline less than two weeks away.

Random Thoughts

  • Ichiro Hit Tracker: Future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, at age 39, is closing in on 4,000 hits in his professional career (including the 1,278 he tallied playing in Japan). Last week was a slow week for Ichiro, as he only batted .167 (4 for 24) with a walk, including a two-hit night Sunday against Boston. He sits at 3,997 hits with the Yankees hosting Toronto for four games starting Monday, followed by three-game visits to Tampa Bay and Baltimore. In a perfect world, Ichiro would be facing his old team (Seattle) as he notched hit number 4,000. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t face the Mariners again this season.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. Wainwright started twice in the past week. In the first game, he lasted seven innings, but walked a season-high three batters and allowed two solo home runs in a no-decision against the Pirates (a game St. Louis eventually won 4-3). Sunday at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, Wainwright turned in one of his most dominant outings of the season, spinning seven innings of one-run ball with 11 strikeouts and only one walk. This season, Wainwright has walked just 25 hitters and still tops the majors with a 6.92-to-1 K/BB ratio and leads the NL with an average of 1.1 walks per nine innings. His next start comes this Friday when the Cardinals host the Braves.
  • While Pittsburgh fans have embraced the 2013 Pirates (witness the sellout crowd on national TV Saturday), many fans still fear another epic collapse like the past two seasons. Who can blame them? It has been 21 years since the Pirates last finished above .500, let alone reached the postseason. One day after being humiliated by the Diamondbacks at home 15-5, the Pirates lost a 16-inning marathon 4-2, trimming their division lead over the Cardinals to one game. However, this team has a different feel than the 2011-12 versions. We’ll find out if this is truly the case as the Pittsburgh heads west to face the Padres and Giants. This is a perfect opportunity for the Pirates to right the ship and stay in first place.
  • Speaking of teams that have not qualified for the postseason in a generation, the Kansas City Royals may be starting to cool off following that 17-3 run from July 23-August 12. After taking three of four from Boston, the Royals dropped two of three to Miami and three of five to division-leading Detroit. They remain well out of the playoff picture, but the fact that they are even discussing October baseball in Kansas City is progess, no?
  • Don’t look now, but Ubaldo Jimenez has quietly put together a respectable season for Cleveland (9-7, 4.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 123 Ks). While he clearly is not the ace the Indians thought they were getting when they dealt away top prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, it’s become clear that the Tribe got the better end of the deal. White was traded to Houston and hurt his arm, while Pomeranz has won only four games total with the Rockies and has spent most of 2013 in Triple-A. Jimenez still walks too many batters (less than a 2-to-1 K/BB ratio) and his prone to unraveling in tough situations, but he has become a serviceable starter for a Cleveland team on the fringe of the wild-card race.
  • So, Ryan Braun plans to “distance himself” from Alex Rodriguez in an effort to improve his own public image. Yeah, good luck with that, fella.
  • Thanks to Miguel Tejada for getting suspended for 105 games for testing positive for a banned substance for the third time. Because we haven’t had enough performance-enhancing drug news in baseball this month.
  • Random Statistic Guaranteed to Enrage Brian Kenny: After winning Sunday to push his record to 18-1, Detroit’s Max Scherzer became the fifth pitcher in baseball history to win 18 of his first 19 decisions in a season. The others are Roger Clemens (2001), Roy Face (1959), Don Newcombe (1955), and Rube Marquard (1912).
  • Good thing the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel a few days ago, or else they never would have been able to take advantage of Hanley Ramirez’s errors Sunday and rally for the win. Clearly, that was all due to the managerial change.
  • News: With the bases loaded against the Cardinals on Saturday, the Cubs’ Starlin Castro caught a fly ball in shallow left field and then sort of stood there. Meanwhile, it was only the second out of the inning and the Cards’ Jon Jay took advantage of Castro’s brainlock to race home to score. By the time Castro realized what was happening, Jay was halfway to the plate. Cubs manager Dale Sveum was not amused by this latest knucklehead move by his shortstop and yanked him from the game. Views: After the game, to his credit, Castro stood at his locker and owned his latest blunder, apologized and offered no excuses. Still, how much more can Sveum be expected to take? I envision him eventually having the same kind of meltdown that Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan had that classic scene in A League of Their Own where Evelyn keeps missing the cut-off man.
  • This past Saturday, August 17, marked the 40-year anniversary of Willie Mays’ final home run – No. 660 – in his career. There are many players I wish I could have seen play in person; Mays is in the top five.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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St. Louis Cardinals need to give Shelby Miller a break

The second half of the Major League Baseball season is still a week away, but St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-handed starting pitcher Shelby Miller is throwing as if the calendar is about to turn to September, not July.

ShelbyMiller4

Miller had the worst outing of his brief career Friday when he gave up five runs in 1.2 innings in a 6-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics, which continued a downward trend that suggests Miller could use a few extra days off as the regular season reaches its midpoint.

Miller had a sensational start to the season. He won five of his first seven starts, including a one-hit, complete-game shutout in a 3-0 win May 10 over the Colorado Rockies. He followed that with a five consecutive quality starts to establish a 7-3 record with a 1.91 earned-run average that earned him a prominent spot on the Major League Baseball pitching leaderboards.

Then reality started to set in. The weather warmed up as Miller crossed the 80-inning plateau in early June, he has given up four or more runs in fewer than six innings in three of his last four starts and his ERA has risen to 2.79, which has him tied for the 17th best ERA in baseball with the man who beat the Cardinals on Friday, Bartolo Colon.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals are still one solid pitcher short of living close to Easy Street in terms of how to work their starting rotation. The team could’ve given Miller some additional off days in the past two weeks if left-handed starter Jaime Garcia hadn’t had to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery in May.

With four off days between June 24 and July 8, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny could’ve set the rotation in a way that would’ve had Miller start maybe twice during that stretch. However, Matheny has had to use that strategy with the No. 5 spot in the rotation after lefty starter Tyler Lyons faltered and dropped back to pitch for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds June 22 after four straight poor starts in June.

Right-hander Joe Kelly replaced Lyons in that role, but he won’t make his first replacement start until July 6 because off all the off days. If Garcia hadn’t gotten hurt, the Cardinals could’ve put Miller in Kelly’s spot and given him some much-needed rest before the All-Star Break that begins July 15.

But that’s life in Major League Baseball. Part of the challenge for teams is how to navigate a six-month, 162-game schedule when players get hurt.

Thankfully, the schedule continues to offer the Cardinals a chance to lighten Miller’s workload before the All-Star Break. With off days the next two Mondays, Miller will likely make just two more starts before the break, and then he’ll have the four days of the break to rest, as well, assuming he doesn’t make the All-Star Team for the National League.

He probably would’ve been named an All-Star if they game had been played in mid-June instead of mid-July, but his numbers have dropped enough now that others will likely get the call ahead of him.

That’s OK. He needs the break, and the Cardinals dearly need him to be good in the second half of the season in what is shaping up to be one heck of a battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds.

The Cardinals had 11 scheduled off days in the first half of the season but will only get five after the All-Star Break, so Miller and all of the Cardinals young pitchers will likely be pushed to the limit down the stretch in the heat of the pennant race.

With that intense schedule ahead, it is vital for the Cardinals to get their young players rest while they can, or the team’s incredibly fast start could become a distance memory if the Pirates and Reds end up as the NL Central Division playoff representatives.

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Triple Play: Oakland A’s, Rick Ankiel, Vernon Wells

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we examine the hottest team in baseball, take a look at what could be the end of one of the most fascinating careers in recent baseball history, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

RickAnkiel

Who’s Hot?

Oakland Athletics

Here they go again. The A’s are on another one of their white-hot streaks. Since last losing two games in a row on May 14-15 versus the Rangers, the A’s have gone 18-5 and now sit a half-game behind first-place Texas in the AL West. It’s not just a home-field advantage, either; Oakland has played 15 road games during this stretch. Whereas previous A’s teams have had dominating starting pitching, it is the bullpen that has been the most dominating feature of the 2013 team. Closer Grant Balfour and setup men Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook have slammed the door on the opposition, each boasting an ERA below 2.00 and park-adjusted ERA+ numbers over 200. The rotation is anchored by 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who has walked six batters in 77 innings this season. He doesn’t strike out batters the way he used to, but he adapted quite well, as demonstrated by his two complete-game shutouts. Everyone else in the A’s rotation is 26 or younger. The oldest position player is 33-year-old outfielder Coco Crisp, who serves as the team’s spark plug, with a .383 on-base percentage, 13 steals, 40 runs scored and 22 RBI. The blossoming star of the team, though, is outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who leads the team with 13 home runs, despite hitting only .236/.305/.492. The flashes of brilliance from the 27-year-old Cuban defector are tantalizing, to say the least. But the real revelation this season has been third baseman Josh Donaldson, who we discussed in last week’s Triple Play. His .328/.395/.528-9-42-2-33 hitting line has deepened the A’s lineup and eased pressure on Josh Reddick, who has battled injuries and an awful slump so far this season. Obviously, the A’s won’t continue to play at a .750-plus clip, but even if with the inevitable regression to the means, they have a strong enough team to be the challenger to the Texas Rangers that most analysts expected the Los Angeles Angels to be. Underestimate the Athletics at your own risk.

 

Who’s Not?

Rick Ankiel, New York Mets/???

Unfortunately, it looks like this might be the end of the line for one of the most intriguing players of the past 12-15 years. The Mets, desperate for competent outfielders, designated Ankiel for assignment prior to Sunday’s game against the Marlins. If this is in fact the end for Ankiel, Saturday’s game was not a satisfying conclusion: four at-bats in the 20-inning marathon, three strikeouts. Between his time this season with the Astros and Mets, Ankiel did manage to bash seven home runs and drive in 18, but he hit just .188/.235/.422 with 60 strikeouts in 136 plate appearances and drew only eight walks. His combined OPS+ was 79. That was just too far below replacement level for any team to accept. Since leaving the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2009 season, Ankiel played for the Royals, Braves, Nationals, Astros and Mets. He was a serviceable part-time player with Washington in 2011, but was overexposed due to too much playing time. Since then, his strike zone discipline, never great to begin with, has further deteriorated. The Mets are going nowhere this season and are much better served to give Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 25, and Juan Lagares, 24, a chance to stick in the majors. If it is in fact the end for Ankiel, he can look back at two distinctly different career paths – both of which ended up in the major leagues. From the dominating rookie year, to the shocking meltdown in the 2000 playoffs, to the switch from pitcher to outfielder, to the legendary home run in his first game back in the majors as an outfielder (all with the Cardinals), to the journey around baseball as a part-time player, Ankiel has had one of the most fascinating careers of any professional athlete. He will, and should, be remembered as one of the most unique baseball players of his generation.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: 4-6, 5.82 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 78 ERA+

Player B: 2-4, 6.30 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 72 ERA+

Talk about ugly. Player A is Jon Garland, who was designated for assignment Saturday by the Colorado Rockies. Player B is Jeff Francis, who replaced Garland in the rotation Saturday and pitched four largely ineffective innings in his return. Remember that scene in The Last Boy Scout, where Bruce Willis’ character catches his best friend hiding in his bedroom closet and asks him “head or gut?” That’s the kind of choice that Rockies fans have to endure with these two pitchers. Frankly, neither one has any business being on a major-league roster. Garland was tolerable in April, but has been shellacked regularly since then. Francis, who barely throws harder than knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, is hopefully just holding a place in the Rockies’ rotation until Roy Oswalt is ready to go (he is scheduled for two more starts at Double-A Tulsa). If you are a fantasy owner who actually had Garland or Francis on your team, your first move isn’t to dump them from your roster – it’s to ask yourself whether you should even be playing fantasy baseball in the first place.

Player A: .241/.285/.409, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB, 25 runs

Player B: .220/.364/.429, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB, 26 runs

Player A is the Yankees’ Vernon Wells. Player B is Josh Willingham of the Twins. Remember Wells’ fast start, where he smacked six homers and slugged .544 with a .911 OPS in April? Yeah, that’s just a fond memory now. Wells may as well be wearing concrete shoes with the way he is sinking. It started in May, when his average slumped to .221, but he hit four more homers and ended the month with 24 RBI. He was still being reasonably productive, especially considering what had been expected of him before the season started. The wheels have completely come off the wagon now. Wells is hitting a pathetic .115 in June with no extra-base hits. If fantasy owners haven’t dumped him yet, the time has probably come. Willingham, on the other hand, might be snapping out of a funk that dogged him the entire month of May. Since the calendar flipped to June, though, Willingham has hit a home run and driven in six. Despite the poor May, Willingham is still on pace to hit 28 dingers and drive in close to 90. Hopefully you weren’t expecting the 34-year-old to repeat the 35-110-85 line he put up in 2012, as that was clearly an outlier compared to the rest of his career. Isn’t it interesting, though, how similar these two stat lines are for these two players? One is slumping his way to the bench, while the other is showing signs of heating up.

Random Thoughts

  • Time for our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. All season long, we are keeping track of how stingy the Cardinals’ ace is being with the free passes. In his most recent start Friday night against the rival Reds, Adam Wainwright tossed another seven brilliant innings, striking out seven Reds and issuing just one walk. That brings his season total to seven walks (in an NL-leading 96 innings), versus 91 strikeouts. His K/BB ratio is 13-to-1, still tops in either league. He has also allowed only two home runs this season.
  • Kyle Blanks, who looks like a defensive end trying his hand at baseball, is giving San Diego’s lineup a much needed jolt of power (6 HR, 21 RBI, 17 runs) since being recalled in mid-April. Chris Denorfia and Will Venable are acceptable 4th outfielders, but neither has any business playing regularly ahead of Blanks.
  • I don’t understand all the surprise about Jeff Baker and his 8 home runs for the Rangers this season. He’s not an unknown rookie, folks. In 2008, he thumped 12 long balls with the Rockies. He held the utility job with the Cubs from 2009-12 (until Theo Epstein started his Windy City rebuilding project). Always had some pop in his bat; now he’s in a great hitter’s park. Perfect situation for Baker.
  • Speaking of puzzling fantasy analysis, what’s with all the love for Casey Kotchman in Miami? He was the Opening Day first baseman, but was injured April 3 spent two months on the disabled list. Upon his return, he’s gone 0-for-16. He doesn’t have a hit this season. All he was doing is filling a roster spot until the REAL first baseman of the Marlins’ future returned: Logan Morrison (who was activated Sunday). That’s the name that smart fantasy analysts should have been filing away.
  • Tell me whether you recognize this feeling: you see a slugfest, like the Padres-Rockies 11-9 game Friday night and you think to yourself “Sweet! Lots of fantasy goodness here!” Then you check the boxscore and…..nothing. Your fantasy player contributed a big fat ZERO to the game (coughChaseHeadleycough). If there is a more annoying feeling in fantasy sports, I don’t know what it is.
  • Is the Frenchy love-fest finally over in Kansas City? It should be. Jeff Francoeur has been as terrible the past few weeks as well (one measly homer, four extra-base hits, five RBI since May 1). Never a player interested in drawing a walk, Frenchy has seen his OPS drop to a ghastly .375 in June. At least fans can take solace knowing that Wil Myers is on the way….er, um, wait. Never mind.
  • The 18-inning game, 5 ½-hour tilt between the Rangers and Blue Jays on Saturday was the longest game in the history of either franchise.
  • Here are some notes from the longest game of the season, the 20-inning marathon endured by fans Saturday between the Mets and Marlins (won by the Marlins 2-1):
    • The two teams combined to leave 32 men on base (22 by the Mets!) and whiff 35 times.
    • Four pitchers turned in quality starts: original starters Jose Fernandez (6 IP, 1 ER, 7 Ks), Matt Harvey (7 IP, 1 ER, 6 Ks), plus Miami’s Kevin Slowey (7 IP, 8 hits, 8 Ks) and New York’s Shaun Marcum (8 IP, 5 hits, 7 Ks). Despite his yeoman’s job out of the bullpen, Marcum was charged with the loss.
    • Daniel Murphy had two of the most eventful outs of the game: first, he was thrown out at home to end the 12th inning, then his potential game-tying homer was caught on the warning track to end the game.
    • Marlins’ rookie outfielder Marcell Ozuna’s throw to gun down Murphy at the plate was part of a beautiful double play to end the 12th. Ozuna sprinted to the right-field line to rob Marlon Byrd of a hit, then he fired a strike to catcher Rob Brantly, who held on to the ball despite a ferocious collision with Murphy.
    • Entering Sunday’s game, Ozuna is hitting .328 in 35 games since being called up. At 22, he is giving Marlins fans (all six of them) another reason to keep watching while Giancarlo Stanton is on the DL.
    • Mets fans have got to be holding their breath after their ace, Harvey, depart the game with back pain. Harvey and David Wright are all that separates the Mets from being Marlins Part 2.
  • How the Rockies remain above .500 is beyond me. In addition to trotting out Garland and Francis far too often this year, their bullpen (other than Rex Brothers) has been putrid. Friday night, some guy named Rob Scahill allowed five runs without retiring a batter, as the Rockies twice gagged away a six-run lead. I was there. It was one of the worst relief performances I have ever seen in quite some time. Sunday was just as bad. Juan Nicasio was perfect for 5 1/3 innings before tiring. By the time the bullpen finished pouring turpentine on the fire, the Padres had gone from trailing 4-0 to leading 7-4. Even with help on the way (Roy Oswalt, Tyler Chatwood), it’s probably time to start searching for relief help. If the bullpen doesn’t get upgraded soon, all the hitting heroics in the world won’t save the Rockies season.
  • Sending good thoughts to Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy. Already on the DL with shoulder inflammation last week, McCarthy suffered a seizure that doctors said was related to his head injury last season. Scary stuff. McCarthy has told reporters that he is fine now. I hope that is truly the case.
  • Finally, heartfelt condolences to the family of legendary Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, whose wife lost her battle with brain cancer last Thursday. She was just 64.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Triple Play: Domonic Brown, Justin Upton, Wainwright Walk Watch

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we turn our focus to an outfielder finally meeting expectations, a one-time red-hot slugger who has cooled WAY off, and more – including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. Off we go:

ChrisDavis

Who’s Hot?

Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies finally are finding out what Brown can do for them. In what is becoming a dismal slog of a season in Philadelphia, Brown has been the brightest spot. After a scorching two-week stretch, during which he hit .400/.423/1.060, Brown has taken over the NL home-run lead with 16 (along with 40 RBI). Many fantasy analysts are saying “it’s about time,” but it’s easy to forget that Brown is just 25. During auditions in the 2010-12 season, Brown was never given much of a chance to get comfortable, never compiling more than 212 plate appearances in a season. Here, in early June, Brown has already exceeded that total and has entrenched himself as an everyday player for the Phillies. I do wonder, though, if the power binge is sustainable. Brown became the first player to hit at least 10 homers and draw zero walks in a calendar month. That tells me that the plate discipline isn’t quite there yet. Pitchers will adjust to Brown’s power stroke, and then he will need to adjust to them. Also, Brown has stolen only four bases so far this season. For a player with above-average speed, as Brown possesses, that number needs to improve. However, fantasy owners shouldn’t complain too much yet. This month-long surge has allowed Brown to meet or exceed most season projections for Brown that I have seen. It’s always a welcome surprise for fantasy owners when a late-round pick like Brown can offer them more than they expect. It will be interesting to see how much more he can deliver this season for Phillies fans and fantasy owners.

Who’s Not?

Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

It’s always hilarious to read baseball articles making “bold” proclamations – in April. I recall one such article, in which Atlanta’s front office was lauded for fleecing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton trade. The article mocked Arizona for trading away a superstar player for what amounted to spare parts. I didn’t agree with that article at the time – and I still don’t. Arizona traded from a position of strength – outfield talent – to shore up areas that were weak (infield, pitching). For the season’s first month, it may have looked like a monumental blunder – Upton smashed 12 home runs and won the NL Player of the Month award, but look now. Upton launched just two long balls in May and has fallen into a ghastly slump. Including his three-hit day Sunday against Washington, Upton has hit only .175 over his past 10 games with no homers, one lone RBI and two steals. He may still be on pace to hit 40+ home runs, but the projected RBI total is now below 90. Stolen bases? Forget them. He’s on pace to pilfer just 12 bases. Are those the numbers of a mega-star outfielder? Arizona obviously didn’t think so. Atlanta fans may have thought they were the beneficiaries of a modern-day Brock-for-Broglio trade, but the numbers say otherwise. Fantasy owners may want to send out some feelers to see what they could get for the junior Upton brother, but don’t sell low. He’s not as good as he was in April, but he’s also not as bad as he was in May.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: ..305/.361/.527, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 38 runs, 0 SB
Player B: .319/.392/.529, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 31 runs, 2 SB

Player A is Evan Longoria of the Rays. Player B is Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. As you can see, their stats are very similar. Longoria, of course, was a high draft pick in fantasy leagues, despite a lengthy injury history. Donaldson was, um, not a high draft pick, due to a history of not being a very effective player. Look at them now. Longoria is on pace for 30 HRs, 100 RBI, close to 100 runs scored – all numbers of an elite fantasy third baseman. Donaldson is on a similar pace in those three categories. Is this to say that Donaldson is Longoria’s equal as a player? Well, no. Longoria has established a track record as one of the best third baseman in either league. Donaldson, however, is in his age 27 season – when many a player enjoys his breakout season (incidentally, so is Longoria). Is it within the realm of possibility that the Donaldson we are seeing now is for real? Sure. It’s also within the realm of possibility (and much more likely) that Donaldson is on an extended hot streak, with a big regression coming. One positive on which to focus is that his walk rate is up, while his strikeout rate is down. That’s a sign of an evolving hitter, one who is providing his fantasy owners with more bang for the buck than Longoria. That is not to say Longoria has been a disappointment. On the contrary, given good health, Longoria could challenge his career-high numbers set in 2009. But fantasy owners paid for Longoria, whether it was with an early draft choice or big bucks at their fantasy auctions. Donaldson has been a revelation for fantasy owners thus far in 2013. The only question is if he will continue to be.

Player A: 17 saves, 31 strikeouts, 2.01 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 12.5 K/9 ratio
Player B: 22 saves, 41 strikeouts, 1.05 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 14.4 K/9 ratio

Player A is Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel. Player B is Jason Grilli of the Pirates. This is Exhibit A for why you should not use high draft picks or use big auction dollars on closers in fantasy baseball. Kimbrel was the clear-cut top closer (especially in NL-only leagues) coming into the 2013 season. Grilli was handed the closer’s job in Pittsburgh after Joel Hanrahan was traded to Boston. Prior to that, Grilli had a grand total of five saves in his career. So far this season, he is 22-for-22 in save chances, with 41 strikeouts in 25 2/3 dominating innings. Kimbrel, who has saved 17 games for the Braves, was the first closer off the board in two of my fantasy leagues; Grilli wasn’t drafted in my mixed league and was a late-round $1 pickup in the other (not by me, unfortunately). Now, is Grilli going to continue to be this untouchable for the entire season? Probably not. Relievers in their mid-30s don’t generally become shutdown closers. But you shouldn’t dismiss Grilli as a fluke, either. His WHIP and K/9 ratios have been excellent since joining the Pirates in 2011. Kimbrel should continue to excel as a closer, but that’s to be expected by his owners, who paid market value for his services. Grilli was a golden ticket plucked off the scrap heap. Once again, this is why it has become conventional wisdom to say “never pay for saves.”

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: all season long, we are looking at how many free passes the Cardinals’ ace is NOT issuing to opposing hitters. After his most recent gem of a start, a complete-game manhandling of the San Francisco Giants in which he allowed one run and struck out 10, here are Wainwright’s stats: 84 strikeouts, 6 walks, 2.33 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8-3 record, three complete games in 12 starts. The 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is so far beyond ridiculous I can’t even quantify it. He’s on pace to walk 18 batters this season (or, as many batters as Jason Marquis walks in three starts).
  • The American League version of Wainwright is Oakland’s Bartolo Colon. Through 11 starts, Colon has walked only four batters in 11 starts (70 1/3 innings), albeit in about three fewer games than Wainwright. The thing is with the 40-year-old Colon: you just don’t know how much more he has in the tank. Can he hold up, or will he blow?
  • Follow-up to last week’s column: after the Rockies’ painful-to-watch loss to the Giants in extra innings on May 25, on Angel Pagan’s walkoff inside-the-park home run, I noted that Colorado has had a long history of letting such gut-wrenching losses affect them for days. That loss was no exception. The Rockies promptly lost the next game to the Giants (thereby losing the series), then followed that up by dropping three of four to the Quadruple-A Astros. They did manage to take two-of-three from the last-place Dodgers, but lost closer Rafael Betancourt to the disabled list.
  • Some baseball fans and analysts were pretty rough on the Nationals for their extra-TLC approach with Stephen Strasburg last season. Seems to me they should really be on their case this season for their bungled handling of Bryce Harper. After his collision with the Dodger Stadium outfield wall in mid-May, Harper should immediately have gone on the DL to allow his knee to heal. Instead, the offense-starved Nationals kept running him out there in hopes that he could spark the offense. Finally, Harper was placed on the DL last Saturday and we discover that he also was injured in another outfield-wall crash (in April against the Braves). If you’re going to coddle a prized pitcher with innings limits, shouldn’t you also take some precautions with a prized outfielder who is blossoming at age 20?
  • Garrett Jones of the Pirates becomes the second player (and the first in 11 years) to launch a home run into the Allegheny River on the fly. Distance measurement was an estimated 463 feet. Yowza.
  • Speaking of yowza, Chris Davis is on pace for 55 home runs, 150 RBI and 120 runs scored this season.
  • Who am I? I am the only regular active starter in the majors who has more walks than strikeouts. Despite this being only the second season in which I have made more than 6 appearances, I am developing a reputation as a me-first guy on a team that should have no “me” guys whatsoever (as reported by Ken Rosenthal). Who am I? I am Lucas Harrell of the Astros.
  • A day after Shelby Miller and Wainwright absolutely dominated the Giants and swept a doubleheader by a combined score of 15-1, the Cardinals are shut down by 62-year-old Chad Gaudin, who hadn’t started a game since 2009, when he played for the Yankees. Baseball is a really strange game sometimes.
  • As further evidence of this deep observation, I offer you the New York Mets. From the penthouse of a four-game, home-and-home sweep of the Yankees to the outhouse of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Miami Marlins. Gotta be tough to be a Mets fan these days.
  • Josh Hamilton is getting lots nominations for “worst free-agent signing” award. Here’s another candidate: Edwin Jackson. Since signing his $52 million-dollar deal with the rebuilding Cubs, E-Jax has put together a 1-8 record with a 6.29 ERA. The Cubs could have paid someone the major-league minimum salary to do that. I’d be willing to wager that thought has crossed Theo Epstein’s mind a time or two.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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St. Louis Cardinals face much tougher schedule to begin June

The St. Louis Cardinals have rolled through the second month of the season with a 20-6 record heading into the final two days of May, but they’ll face much stiffer competition as the calendar turns to June.

ShelbyMillerYadierMolina

The Cardinals played just four games in May against teams that have a winning record. They opened the month with a win in the final game of a three-game series against the second-place Cincinnati Reds and took two of three from the second-place Colorado Rockies a week-and-a-half later.

Other than that, the Cardinals played 22 games against teams with losing records and won all but five of them.

June, however, presents a much different challenge. The Cardinals will play 15 games against five teams that have winning records. The first two weeks are the most difficult, as the Cardinals face the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and Reds in consecutive series.

They then get a respite against the New York Mets, Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs, but series against the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics surround a two-game set with the Houston Astros to finish the month.

So hopefully the Cardinals have all of their pitching injuries out of the way. The team thrived in May even though it had to use rookie starters John Gast and Tyler Lyons as Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list. It also had to rely on rookie relievers Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez when it sent Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds because of ineffectiveness.

Those issues didn’t disrupt the team at all. In fact, it played five games better in May with the injuries than it did in April when everybody was healthy.

But that was also against some of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. Now the Cardinals will find out how good they really are as they face a run of playoff-caliber teams.

The pitching staff will be tested against better lineups, but the Cardinals hitters will also face superior pitching staffs. The Diamondbacks (3.38), Reds (3.28) and Rangers (3.48) are all ranked in the top six in earned-run average, while the A’s and Giants are 16th and 17th, respectively, but are teams built around their pitching staffs.

That means the Cardinals will spend the month facing more pitchers such as Patrick Corbin, who is 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA for the Diamondbacks, and fewer pitchers such as Dillon Gee, who is 2-6 with a 6.34 ERA for the Mets.

Thankfully, the Cardinals established the best record in baseball during their recent stretch against sub-.500 teams, so they have some insurance in the bank if they struggle against some of the better teams ahead on the schedule.

However, these are the types of teams the Cardinals will have to eventually beat to reach the playoffs and then win meaningful games in October.

If the Cardinals post a winning record in the next two weeks, especially considering the injuries they’re battling, they could be poised to put together a season-long record that would rival some of the best in franchise history.

It’s been nice to watch the Cardinals consistently win in the past month, but they are now headed into an important part of the schedule that should give us a good idea about how tough this team will be late into the season.

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The month of May could decide the Kansas City Royals 2013 season

After a good April and keeping up with A.L. Central leading Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals are 3-3 so far this May. But for the rest of the month, they have a tough schedule. They have a game against the Baltimore Orioles, then they play the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros, the Angels again, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Texas Rangers. Except for the lowly Astros and struggling Angels, the other teams are above .500 and possible playoff contenders.

May 2013

Despite this month’s 3-3 record, there’s reasons for concern. So far this month, the Royals have six errors, with four of them committed in their two losses against the Orioles. The usually strong Royals bullpen lost a 2-1 decision to the White Sox Monday night and Luke Hochevar‘s errant pickoff throw to first in Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles led to a 4-3 loss. And in four of the six games played this month, the Royals offense scored three or less runs.

But it’s not all bad. It took until May 8 and 30 games into the season for the Royals to lose three games in a row. Last year, they lost three games in a row by April 14, eight games into the 2012 season. The starting rotation is pitching well, especially Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar are playing well. If Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland cut down their walks and settle into their roles, the defense quits making errors and the offense scores more runs, the Royals could get through May with a .500 or above record. Or they could implode and have losing record. Either way, we’ll know by June 1.

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Batter Up: Fans Guide To Spring Training

Batter Up: The Fan's Guide To Spring Training Source: Sports Management Degree Hub

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Royals Claim Kottaras Off Waivers

GeorgeKottaras

KANSAS CITY, MO (January 25, 2013) – The Kansas City Royals today have claimed catcher George Kottaras on Outright Waivers from the Oakland Athletics.  To create room on the 40-man roster, the club designated infielder Tony Abreu for assignment.

The 29-year-old Kottaras (kuh-tar-us) has played for the Red Sox (2008-09), Brewers (2010-12) and Athletics (2012), batting .220 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI in 249 Major League contests.  The left-handed hitter posted a .351 on-base percentage while drawing a career-high 37 walks in 85 games for Milwaukee and Oakland in 2012 while helping the A’s win the American League West after being acquired on July 29.  He blasted six home runs for Oakland in just 27 games and then appeared in four games during the A’s Divisional Series vs. Detroit.  Born in Scarbourough, Ontario, Canada, Kottaras now resides in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Abreu, 28, hit .257 in 22 games for the Royals in 2012 after spending a majority of the campaign at Triple-A Omaha.

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