Tag Archive | "Phillies"

Pull Together, NL East

We all know that the Braves have been hot this season. And by hot… I mean insanely hot. It is hard to ignore the intensity they have right now. No matter what team they are up against, they are all in it until the very last out. But what about the rest of the NL East?

One-Ball

If you just glance at this division you would see the Braves completely dominating, and then all the other teams left looking weak and helpless in a path of destruction. But if you take away the magnificence of the Braves this year, the rest of that division is actually not as pathetic as Atlanta is making them look. It is only comparatively, do they seem that no one knows what they are doing.

The Nationals, on paper, should be a brilliant team. They have Bryce Harper, one of the most promising young All-Stars, who has blasted 17 home runs and is on his way to completing another productive season. Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, and Ryan Zimmerman, have done their fair share at the plate. And outfielder, Jayson Werth, is contributing with an average of .334. Their pitching has not been quite as dominating as it was last year with the starting rotation not as consistent. But again, if you take away the Braves, the Nationals really have not been much of a let down this year. They are just engrossed in a raging fight against seemingly one of the greatest teams in baseball at the moment. That is what a team wants, right? To go against the best of the best? But I am sure they would like to be winning.

The Phillies and the Nationals are close competitors. The teams average out to be somewhat similar in overall strength. Outfielder, Domonic Brown, is pulling in some wicked numbers right now with 27 homers already this season, and knocking in 78 RBIs. And the rest of the team as a whole seems fairly consistent.

The Mets granted David Wright the honor of being the Face of the Mets this season. As difficult as it is to live up to a title like that, Wright is handling it with class and precision. He has raked in 54 RBIs with an average of .309, all while winning the hearts of the fans over with those pearly whites. His teammate outfielder, Marlon Byrd does not get quite the recognition as Wright does, but he has knocked in even more runs this season, and blasted even more long balls. And the All-Star Matt Harvey with the potential for a Cy Young award, brightens up the Mets’ pitching future. They have always been a quieter team, but are certainly able to make some noise… especially if Atlanta cools off.

And the Marlins? They could use a little help. The monstrous Braves have made them look even smaller, although, they have had their good moments this year. A semi-average team with some sparks here and there, the Marlins have some work to do if they want to make any kind of dent in this division and leave the season with some pride.

Atlanta is charging full speed at the head of the NL East leaving the rest of the division in their dust, and not one of these teams are even close to winning the wild card. If the rest of the division wants a shot at the playoffs, or maybe even just a chance to hold their heads up a little higher, they are going to have to do something to stop Atlanta. They will have to work together to slowly tear down the confidence of the first place Braves.

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Five reasons the Cardinals DON’T need Jonathon Papelbon

Earlier this week, a Boston-based baseball writer speculated in his column that the Phillies believe that St. Louis might be interested in Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.

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Mind you, there was no real substance behind his assertion, but it made the usual rumor-mill rounds all the same. This move would make no sense for the Cardinals, and here are five reasons why:

1) Salary.
Papelbon makes $13 million, which is ridiculous money for a pitcher (not named Mariano Rivera) at such a fungible position on the diamond. Every year, closers lose their jobs, whether due to injury, ineffectiveness or trade. A large-market team like Philadelphia can absorb that kind of salary commitment much easier than St. Louis. Papelbon has pitched 70 innings in his career exactly ONCE (last season). From what I’ve read, the Cardinals try to keep their budget for salaries in the $100-110 million range. Earmarking over 10% of that to one reliever would be a stupid decision for any team in that salary range, especially one on the downside of his career, which leads me to my second point…

2) Papelbon is not a sure thing
The 32-year-old Papelbon, who has blown two of his past three save opportunities, including last night against Washington – has developed some troubling patterns since joining the Phillies: 1) he is allowing home runs at the highest rate since his rookie season in 2005; 2) his K/9 ratio has dropped from almost 12-to-1 in 2012 to 8-to-1 this season; and 3) his fastball velocity is dropping. In 2012, his average heater was 93.8 mph. This season, it has fallen to 92.6. When the difference between a fastball and slider decreases, both pitches become easier for hitters to pound. Papelblown, er, Papelbon used to be able to blow hitters away with his pure power stuff. That ability is starting to abandon him; and once the fastball goes away, it usually doesn’t come back. He might still be able to get by as a reasonably effective reliever, but that’s not exactly the best use of $13 million, is it?

3) No need.
This is perhaps the most obvious point. The Cardinals HAVE a closer with whom they are quite happy, thank you. Edward Mujica is 21-for-21 in save opportunities. Can’t be much more of a shutdown closer than that, can you? Now, is he the “prototypical” power closer who overwhelms batters with 95-plus gas or a devastating slider? No. In fact, he primarily has thrown a split-change since becoming the closer in April. But he has thrown the pitch so effectively that hitters are batting below .200 against him for the season. Is he the type of closer you can count on in October? Well, let’s look at the closers of the past five World Series champions:

Obviously, Rivera is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and maybe the greatest reliever of all time. But Romo? A career set-up guy who took over the closer’s job due to injury (very similar to Mujica). Wilson? More known for his beard and goofy antics than his dominant pitching. Lidge? Briefly dominant with the Astros (2004-05), imploded, then rebounded for one last great year with the Phillies in 2008. Motte, of course, was Tony LaRussa’s unofficial closer during the glorious run in 2011 and was superb in 2012, but he’s out for the year and an unknown quantity for the future. Other than Rivera, Mujica’s effectiveness matches up quite well with any of the other four.

4) Organizational depth.
Even if Mujica blows up in July or August, the Cardinals have alternatives on the roster. Trevor Rosenthal has been overpoweringly filthy in his 8th inning role, striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings of work and regularly touching 98 mph on the radar gun. Many people expected him to take the closer’s job instead of Mujica. He could be just as effective as Motte was in 2011-12, given the chance. Joe Kelly is another reliever whom I believe could succeed in the role. He has a mid-90s fastball and no fear of opposing hitters. Heck, I’d give Carlos Martinez or Seth Maness a shot at the job before I would even think about considering whether Papelbon was an option. The point is, the team has several in-house options that would be preferable.

5) What would the cost be to acquire Papelbon?
Philadelphia isn’t going to just give him away, of course. They have a barren farm system and need to rebuild.  Given that, you have to figure that they would ask for a top prospect like Martinez, Michael Wacha, or Oscar Taveras. Such a request should cause John Mozeliak to burst into a fit of laughter as he hangs up the phone. Sacrificing six years of cost-controlled Wacha for an overpriced closer with a declining fastball? PASS. Decisions like that get general managers fired. This is not something Mozeliak has shown any inclination to do since taking the reins as GM. Even if the Phillies requested lesser prospects or offered to pay, say, half of Papelbon’s contract, such a move would make little sense. This is another area where Cafardo’s speculation makes little sense. Has anyone with actual knowledge of the team reported any interest in Papelbon? If so, I haven’t seen it. This strikes me as a classic “let’s throw this against the wall and see if it sticks”-type rumor. That might have made more sense when Walt Jocketty was the GM, but that was many years ago.

If the Cards were to consider acquiring a veteran reliever, they would be better off with someone like the Rockies’ Rafael Betancourt – reasonable $4.25 million option for 2014, plenty of experience pitching for a contender, or Luke Gregerson from the Padres (which would give St. Louis the chance to reclaim Gregerson for its bullpen after the disastrous Khalil Greene trade). Not lobbying for Betancourt or Gregerson; just pointing them out as better options than Papelbon.

Finally, Papelbon doesn’t seem like a Cardinal-type player to me. Fox Sports loved to focus the cameras on him when he pitched for the Red Sox, and he comes off as an attention hog with a big mouth. It went over well in Boston when they were winning, but as the Red Sox struggled, he fell out of favor and they made no effort to sign him after the 2011 season.  Given how tight the free-agent market has become towards relievers, he was extremely fortunate to land a huge contract from Philly. Personally, I find the idea of him possibly wearing the Birds on the Bat as distasteful as I would Manny Ramirez or Ryan Braun. If they wanted an obnoxious relief pitcher with declining skills, they could have signed Wilson. Since that hasn’t happened, I’m going to assume the team doesn’t wish to waste its money in such a fashion, but I digress.

All one has to do is look at the situation logically, and frankly, it makes no sense for the Cardinals’ business model. The combination of drastically overpaying for Papelbon in terms of salary AND young talent is one that makes no sense for a team like the Cardinals. The only surprising aspect is how much attention it has drawn from other national baseball “experts,” when in fact it should be filed in the circular file where most rumors end up.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Could another Cardinal arm be needed?

Pitching has been the strength of the Cardinals throughout their league-best season opening. But as the trade deadline approaches, could adding to their greatest asset be necessary? And if so, how would they go about doing so? One thing is for certain: the team has the assets and the market would be open to listening on what they could offer.

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So far, so good has been the order of the year for the Cardinals starting rotation. Coming into today, they have a MLB-best 38 wins and a 2.97 ERA. Yet, looking a bit deeper, and the forecast may not be as good as the moment. Only Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook have more than one season of 30 plus starts among the current staff, and as a year ago showed, the pitfalls of a youthful staff become more evident the later it gets. Lance Lynn noticeably wore down by last August, and while he has become more economical in his approach recently, he is still has to show he can breakthrough over the full course of the year. Add into the equation the presence of Shelby Miller, who has never topped 139 innings in his pro career, and some combination of  Tyler Lyons (152 inning career-best) and potentially Joe Kelly (179.1 innings total a year ago), and there’s not much long-term experience that September and October bound seasons can lean upon.

This bring into question if the presence of another proven arm is a must to ensure the club has the legs to run the full marathon of the season. With the loss of Jaime Garcia and the uncertainty of Chris Carpenter injury: Cardinals right-hander gacing live batters” href=”http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2013/6/4/4395400/chris-carpenter-injury-cardinals-rehab-shoulder-neck-return”>the availability of Chris Carpenter, there is a definite forced youth movement to the bottom half of the rotation. If Lyons, Lynn or Miller falters over the second half, the presence of another arm could be necessitated.

However, the question begs, to what extent could the club pursue an outside addition? In recent weeks, there have been rumors of the potential availability of the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, as well as the Blue Jays’ Mark Buehrle. Both veteran lefties have been tied to the club before, and could be highly sought after if their respective clubs stay far enough outside of the pennant race to concede. Lee has a limited no-trade clause, yet the Cardinals are not a team listed on it. The Arkansas native is 8-2 with a 2.55 ERA in 14 starts this season, and grew up a fan of the team, and would provide a much needed left-handed presence to the rotation. However, he is due another $50 million guaranteed over the next two years of his contract, in addition to likely costing multiple high-potential prospects, an approach GM John Mozeliak has balked at engaging with in recent history.

Buehrle, who was dealt to the Blue Jays this past winter, is also a battle-tested lefty that would provide a similar presence in the rotation, at a slightly friendlier price to both acquire and maintain. The 34-year-old is due $37 million over the final two years of his deal, carrying through 2015. He also would probably not carry quite as steep of a price to acquire from the young talent pool, but wouldn’t be a discount acquisition either. The St. Charles native does not have any trade restrictions on his deal, and has stated publicly before his desire to pitch in his hometown.

Other potential targets could include a group of expiring contracts after the season in Ted Lilly, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Edison Volquez. All would fit into the scheme of short-term arms, that wouldn’t cost much in regards to top tier talent being moved to acquire, and having contracts that will come off the books after the season.

Potentially, nothing could come of this as well. The team could choose to stick with what’s in the fold, and rotate in the bevy of internal to fill in space. For a team that’s 20 games over .500, blockbuster moves may seem like the ultimate vanity play, but digging a bit deeper, it could truly be an investment in staying where they started.

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Cardinals/Phillies: Three Things To Walk With

The Cardinals leave the second leg of their 10-game road trip from Philadelphia in a series that wasn’t a complete loss, but also was an example of problems of both the past and current showing their head. Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn authored fantastic efforts in two wins, yet in the games in-between two winnable games were booted. On Friday, Jaime Garcia looked like the version of him that has been most criticized; the one that was killed on the road. However, Sunday night’s loss was the most detrimental, with another late inning failure that lost a winnable game and continued to keep the club floating around .500.

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Yet at the same time, they did manage to split another series on this tough East Coast road swing, and remain close to the picture atop the National League Central. How long they can remain there however, considering the amount of issues that are being to peak late in games, is anybody’s guess. As they begin a return to Washington DC, here are three things to look back at from the series that was.

 

1. Bogged Down: The resounding moment from the weekend was yet another implosion from Mitchell Boggs on Sunday night. Entering a tie game in the eighth inning, Boggs was blitzed to the tone of four runs on four hits, including the game breaking RBI single from Ben Revere, and the following nail in the coffin, three-run homer from Eric Kratz (who entered the at-bat hitting .190 on the year). This raised Boggs ERA on the year to 12.46, and became his fourth late-inning collapse in three weeks.

If there’s one thing to take away from the sudden assault that ended Sunday night’s ballgame is that it cleared up the dilemma of who is going to close games down, because Boggs has to be out of the picture now. Whether it’s a mechanical issue or something more, it can’t be worked out in high pressure situations, and Mike Matheny has to recognize that. Boggs broke down and began throwing by the time Kratz hit his home run, and looked lost in the woods. The frustration of his effort has derailed him to the point where it’s clear that he can’t pitch the last inning, but what type of game situation will be safe to utilize him in at all? How this situation is handled in the upcoming games will show a lot about if there is potentially another long-term issue in the pen regarding utilizing Boggs in any capacity.

2. Crisis Averted: On Sunday night, Matt Adams stepped to the plate having already reached base twice on the night, and sporting a .565 average and with the bases loaded ahead of him. Although it has become nearly a habit for him to destroy the ball in any given situation, this time he struck out looking on a Chad Durbin cutter, which if he’d connected on in his usual fashion, would have taken the push for more at-bats to him to a code red explosion level. He’s hit in every situation thus far, and went 2 for 3 on Sunday with his third double of the year. While he continues to be a dangerous presence off the bench, and a once per series starter, the torches that his growing group of supporters for an everyday position are waving may have gotten thrown into Mike Matheny’s office if he’d come through in that moment. Considering the amount of controversy on the who’s, when’s and where’s that are already in play, that would have been the last thing needed right now for him.

3. Beltran’s Back: While the offense as a whole continues to struggle to get on the same page at the same time, perhaps Carlos Beltran had his turning point versus a team that he has been particularly brutal on over his career. Beltran launched three home runs in the first three games of the series, raising his career totally vs. the Phils to 30, his most against any team in his career. For the weekend, he hit .437 (7 for 16), and has hit .375 over the past week.

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Royals Sign Endy Chavez

EndyChavez

KANSAS CITY, MO (December 31, 2012) – The Kansas City Royals today announced the club has signed outfielder Endy Chavez to a minor league contract for 2013.  The Royals plan to announce the club’s Major League camp non-roster invitees at a later date.

Chavez, 34, is an 11-year Major League veteran.  He made his debut in 2001 with Kansas City after the Royals selected him from the New York Mets organization in the 2000 Rule 5 Draft.  The 6-foot resident of Valencia, Venezuela, is a career .269 hitter with 118 doubles, 32 triples, 26 home runs, 229 RBI, 341 runs and 100 stolen bases for the Royals (2001), Expos (2002-04), Nationals (2005), Phillies (2005), Mets (2006-08), Mariners (2009), Rangers (2011) and Orioles (2012).  The left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder appeared in 64 regular season games with Baltimore last season, also playing in three Division Series games against the Yankees.

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Interactive Article: Choose Your Own Cliche

Game. Five.

While saying, reading, or hearing it doesn’t quite carry the same weight as “Game 7”, there’s no difference to the players, managers, coaches, and fans–it’s an elimination game. The bad news is that if the Cardinals lose tonight, their 2011 season is over.

The good news is that the same holds true for Philadelphia, a far less experienced team than St. Louis when it comes to games that are:

Choose one:
[] A: Do or die
[] B: Win or go home
[] C: Down to the wire
[] D: Backs against the wall
[] E: Gut-check time
[] F: All of the above
[] G: Other _______________

*yawn* The Cardinals have been playing “that game” for a long time now, and I believe they’re mentally prepared to handle that aspect of tonight’s 7:37 (CT) contest. They’ve won when they needed to (though you shouldn’t fully trust me enough to read on, unless I mention that the Cards’ successful run doesn’t happen unless teams that need to lose do just that). The question tonight is: Will the Phillies lose, like the Cardinals need them to? One thing about tonight’s game that differs from the redbirds’ run over the last 5 weeks of the regular season is that the answer to that question is something they control.

After August 25th, the Braves lost 20 of their final 30 games, a winning percentage of .333. Examined more closely, we learn that they lost 9 of their last 12 (.250 winning %), including 5 of their final 5 games (.000). The Braves squandered a sure thing. They were an absolute lock for the NL Wild Card, all they had to do was not have a meltdown of historic proportions. But they did.

The Cardinals never gave up, and kept winning when they needed to, and as we all know, clinched a playoff spot by the narrowest possible margin on the last day of the regular season. I guess that’s what happens when you write one thing…another happens. But again, the Cards handled what they could, yet still needed Atlanta to lose–fortunately they obliged.

But for as many ways as tonight represents many of the same things the Cardinals have become familiar with since the end of August, it’s not the same. In fact, it’s quite different. The fate of the Cardinals postseason hopes is theirs to determine. No playing in another city while scoreboard watching to see if the Phillies lose, no hoping to gain ground on the opponent’s off day, this is it. And I think most of Cardinal nation would agree that there is no better man for Tony LaRussa to send to the mound this evening than Chris Carpenter. Big games call for big game pitchers, and he’s the biggest game pitcher they’ve got.

But Roy Halladay’s no slouch, to make the understatement of the year. The redbirds will have their work cut out for them as they face one of the game’s premier pitchers tonight in his home park, where (another) new attendance record could fall. Say what you will about Verlander and Sabathia, this is the pitching matchup of the postseason so far!

Plenty has been written and discussed about the relationship and history between tonight’s two starters, a topic that I’ll gracefully sidestep today. I would, however, like to remind you that as improbable as the Cardinals appearance in the postseason seemed 6 weeks ago, they’re here now. The secret to a championship has long been: Get in, get hot. The Cardinals are trying a slightly different approach: Get hot. Get in. Stay hot. Hopefully that formula works…we’ll know in a few hours!

If you’re a fan of great pitching, tonight, you’ll be in paradise! I recall back in May of 2000 there was a regular season pitching matchup between Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson (link here), and I had a final the next morning. REALLY should’ve been studying for that exam, but just could not not watch! West coast game with a late start? Didn’t matter. That was an amazing pitching duel to sit back & enjoy, and after each starter had completed 8 innings, it was up to the bullpens. When grabbing that link, I had to look to see who ended up winning that game–I was so much more enthralled with the pitching performances that I’d forgotten. Probably having a lot to do with that was the fact that it was a regular season game in early May, and had little to no bearing on much of anything at all. Tonight, however, will be so different that if one baseball game could be the opposite of another, this just might fit the bill. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to miss one single pitch of tonight’s game. And I assure you, I’m not going to forget who wins.

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Cards Take The Fans For A Ride

This season has been anything but smooth for the Cardinals and their fanbase. An up and down, rollercoaster of a ride has seen fans start thinking towards 2012 and the team exploring options to trade some potential free agents, only to realize the Braves were falling apart and the team might be able to salvage something in 2011.

The season's hopes are on the shoulders of EJax

The playoffs, or the three games that represent the playoffs to this point, seem to have taken that idea to the next level. The Cardinals had Roy Halladay on the ropes and the fans were excited to see that their team was, in fact, worthy of being in the playoffs. A few innings later, however, the team would show a weakness to pull through and see the victory all the way through and ended up being blown out in the first game. The blowout seemed to confirm to most fans that the team was overmatched and that the Phillies truly were the powerhouse. The road was not going to get any easier, either, as Cliff Lee still had to pitch before they could leave Philadelphia.

Game two rolled around and the Cardinals worked hard against Lee, taking his pitch count high early on and scraping out a few runs. The bullpen, used in a match up environment despite an early exit by the starter, would pin down a solid victory. Fans were back on the bandwagon seeing that the team could hang tough, compete hard, gain a victory against a top of the line starter, and band together for a win. The series was shifting to St. Louis and the fans were clamoring about a potential National League Championship Series appearance.

Game three had the potential to be one of two things: a great performance for the team or an extreme statement by Philadelphia. It turned out to be a bit of both but ultimately, simply a let down for the Cardinals. Behind a strong start by Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals kept Cole Hamels on the ropes throughout the entire game. The problem this time around was lack of follow through. Why Hamels labored and constantly found himself in a threatening position, he did what any ace pitcher would do and worked his way out of it. The Cardinals failed to drive the point home with the youngest of the “Four Aces” on the mound and found themselves in trouble when Garcia left a pitch up and surrendered a pinch-hit, three run home run. Much like the season, the Cardinals would not let this go down without a fight, and scraped together a few runs of their own. As happened often in 2011, the team found themselves coming up just short.

This has been one of the most heartbreaking and exciting versions of the Cardinals to watch. If there is one thing this team has earned from the fans, it would be the support knowing that they just will not give up. On Wednesday evening, the team will take to the Busch Stadium field facing yet another elimination game. They hand the ball to Edwin Jackson and ask him to keep hope alive. They face a familiar foe in Roy Oswalt and will look to use that to their advantage.

Win or lose, they will go down with a fight. Fans deserve a team that leaves it all on the field. This team deserves fans that will get behind them and fight with them. This is the highs and lows of baseball. The fans may be rewarded with one more game in Philadelphia. The fans may be let down and left feeling like it was not enough.

Who says you cannot be romantic about this game?

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Playoffs Provide Endless Possible Ironies For Cardinals, And That’s A Good Thing

Thanks to an improbable come-from-behind victory in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Cardinals now arguably have the upper-hand in this best-of-five series against the team that helped get the Redbirds into the playoffs to begin with. It’s an ironic twist of fate that everyone knew was possible when the Phillies went toe to toe with the Atlanta Braves during the last three games of the regular season, who the Cardinals were desperately trying to catch in the National League Wild Card race.

The Phillies had a couple of things to consider that series: 1) Do we want to rest our star players for the playoff run? 2) Do we want to knock the struggling Braves out of the playoffs and face the red hot Cardinals in the 1st round? We could just keep the Braves in and play the Arizona Diamondbacks. 3) Do we need to step it up and right the ship before the playoffs begin (Phillies had lost 8 of 9 games since clinching the NL East title)?

Fortunately for the Cardinals, the Phillies chose No, Yes, and Yes… and the Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season. Ironically, the Cardinals now have a chance to come back to Busch Stadium with a chance to knock Philadelphia out. But the ironies don’t end there.

Rematch with Milwaukee

Raise your hand if you’d like to see the Cardinals get another shot at their division rivals to the north? The Brewers played a role helping the Cardinals back into the playoffs, too… going 1-5 against St. Louis down the stretch run when they had all but locked up the division title. When the Brew Crew last played St. Louis September 7th, the Cardinals were still 7 ½ games out of a playoff spot with 19 games to go. Resident pest, Nyjer Morgan, lit a fire under the Cardinals, apparently yelling and taunting them so much that ace Chris Carpenter finally decided to yell back after striking him out. Morgan then threw chewing tobacco in Carp’s direction, leading to a benches-clearing situation. After the brief encounter, Morgan called Albert Pujols “Alberta” and Cardinals’ Manager Tony La Russa said Morgan needed to “Get a clue.” Much of the trash talk from Morgan, one would think, came with the assumption that it would be the last time the Brewers played the Cardinals this season. But now, who knows.

In early August, you might recall LaRussa going off at the Brewers, accusing them of pitching dangerously to Albert Pujols after he was hit in the hand with a pitch high and tight. Later in the game, Ryan Braun was thrown at twice by Jason Motte, who drilled the Brewers slugger square in the back with his second pitch.

Overall, the Brewers and Cardinals split a season series of 18 games with 9 wins apiece? Who wouldn’t want to see this epic battle between two division rivals continue for another 7 games to settle the score once and for all?

World Series Possibilities

There would also be an number of storylines worth following no matter who the Cardinals face in the World Series, should the team get that far. The most ironic matchup would be with the Texas Rangers, who had a chance to add a huge bat to their lineup and give the Cardinals a knockout punch once and for all. I’m talking, of course, about the Lance Berkman trade that wasn’t. Berkman was the talk of the Major League Baseball trade rumors in late August. Texas was looking to add an impact bat, and the Cardinals were seemingly sellers who were out of the race and would be willing to deal a soon-to-be free agent. The Cardinals put Berkman on waivers at the 11th hour, but Texas wouldn’t up the ante enough and the deal never happened. The trade would’ve almost certainly kept the Cardinals out of the playoffs, and obviously would’ve kept Texas pitchers from facing Berkman in the World Series.

Adding to the ironies, the New York Yankees, who as you might recall can buy pretty much any baseball free-agent they want, elected not to resign Berkman in the offseason after Lance had a disappointing stretch run with the club. Meeting New York in the World Series would give Berkman a chance for some payback, and to prove himself, against his former team.

Should the Tampa Bay Rays square off with the Cardinals, it would be a matchup of the two miracle teams from the regular season. These teams have already become the teams with the biggest (Rays) and second biggest (Cardinals) September comebacks in baseball history, so why not become the first 2 wildcard teams ever to meet in the Fall Classic?

And the Detroit Tigers, of course, would provide a rematch of the 2006 World Series… a year in which, like this season, nearly everyone gave up on the Cardinals’ chances.

Pujols’ Prime

Much has been written over the past couple months about how the Cardinals’ have essentially “wasted” the Prime Years of the best player in baseball. “How,” they asked, “could the Cardinals only make the playoffs once in 5 years and not win a playoff game with Albert Pujols anchoring their lineup?”

The Cardinals, who are locked in a 1-1 series tie with the Phillies, obviously have a long way to go in the playoffs before they reach the World Series, but image how the tune would change if they pulled off the unthinkable and made it back to the Fall Classic. What was just months ago considered a “wasted opportunity” suddenly sounds like this:

“The Cardinals are back in the World Series for the 3rd time in 8 seasons.”

“Pujols and the Cardinals have won their second World Championship in 6 seasons.”

Funny how one miraculous 5-week playoff run could change everyone’s perspective on the past half-decade.

Winning Streaks

Like the “Pujols’ Prime” discussion, the Cardinals inability to win games in bunches has also been highlighted time and time again. The team put together just one 5-game winning streak all season, and swept only 4 series all season long (not including two 2-game sweeps). But with the way this team is playing right now, I don’t know, it just feels like a 6-game winning streak is coming. Maybe they were just saving it for the playoffs all along? Maybe not. Time will tell.

Got Rings?

Colby Rasmus, Ryan Franklin, Trevor Miller. These names are among those who would be eligible for championship rings. Yes, really.

Injuries and Champions

Injuries to the Cardinals have been a story since virtually Day 1. From Adam Wainwright to David Freese to Matt Holliday to Albert Pujols to Matt Holliday again and about a dozen other key players in between, this Cardinals team had found a way to will itself into the playoffs. It reminds me of another team that did they exact same thing earlier this year, the Green Bay Packers, who won the Super Bowl despite having 19 players on injured reserve (more than a third of the opening day roster).

I’m pretty sure you all have the idea by now. The Cardinals’ playoff run and potential road to the World Series features more irony than the work of William Shakespeare.

As we head into Games 3 and 4 at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals will be looking for their first home playoff win since clinching the team’s last World Series Championship in October of 2006. Jaime Garcia will take on Philadelphia’s former #1 and now #3 ace, Cole Hamel’s, who was roughed up in his final appearance of the season vs the Atlanta Braves. Game 4, Edwin Jackson will take the hill vs I’m assuming Roy Halladay if the Cardinals lead 2-1 and Roy Oswalt if the Phillies lead 2-1.

It should be another heart-stopping, nerve-wracking week of baseball for Cardinals fans as St. Louis continues its series with the National League’s best team. Of course, if the Cardinals go out and breeze by the Phillies, that would just be another thing we could add to our list of ironies.

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Cardinals Split In Philly, Home Cooking In Order

The end of the regular season was one of the most exciting in history for the Cardinals and the post-season seems to be living up to the hype.

I have been covering the NLDS between the Cardinals and Phillies for Baseball Digest. You can read my in depth thoughts on the series daily at that site or by clicking here.

The Phillies set out to send a message in game one of the series, and they did just that, beating the Cardinals easily despite an early lead provided by a three run blast from the Big Puma himself, Lance Berkman.

Game two seemed to be everything the Cardinals needed it to be. Chris Carpenter struggled in three innings of work in his first every start on short rest in his career. After spotting the Phillies four runs with Cliff Lee on the mound, the Redbirds went to work and overcame the deficit to win the game 5-4.

The series now shifts to St. Louis for games three and four and has the Cardinals looking to do the exact thing that skipper Tony LaRussa preaches, just win two out of three.

In order to do that, the Cardinals will turn to their home field advantage pitcher, Jaime Garcia. It is time for St. Louis fans to come out in droves and join the Honkin’ For Jaime bandwagon. The Cardinals lefty is much better at home this season and has the opportunity to put the Cards in the driver’s seat for this series.

The Cardinals quest for 11 in ’11 continues on Tuesday night on TBS at 5 p.m. CDT.

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

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Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Priorities

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

Bullpen

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

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

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

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

Go get pitching, pitching and more pitching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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