Tag Archive | "Pitchers"

Although injured, Jason Motte might hold key to St. Louis Cardinals bullpen

The man who closed out the 2011 World Series championship for the St. Louis Cardinals and saved 42 games for them a season later has not pitched in a competitive situation in more than a year, but he might turn out to be one of the most important pitchers on the 2014 team’s staff.

JasonMotte

Jason Motte tore a ligament in his right elbow during spring training in 2013 and had Tommy John surgery to fix it, but that operation requires about a full year of rehab before a pitcher can return to the mound in a Major League Baseball game.

Motte has thrown bullpen sessions and batting practices in spring training camp this year, but he had the surgery May 7, 2013, so the Cardinals will most likely be about one month into their 2014 regular season before Motte is available.

Indications are Motte will become the eighth-inning setup reliever for closer Trevor Rosenthal once he is fully healthy, and that should make the back end of the team’s bullpen extremely dangerous, if not dominant.

However, the Cardinals likely have to get through the first month of the season, which includes 12 games against their top divisional opponents, the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates.

Those first several weeks of the season are certainly important, even though the team survived the Mitchell Boggs disaster in April a year ago, and the Cardinals have potentially better pitchers set to again try to fill an April void left by Motte, but those options carry nearly as many questions.

The pitcher who starts the season as the righthanded setup reliever in the bullpen could easily be the one who loses the battle for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation that has waged between rookie Carlos Martinez and third-year big leaguer Joe Kelly.

Martinez has had an exceptional spring training with a 1.76 earned-run average with nine strikeouts in four starts, while Kelly struggled in his first two starts before he settled down for 5.1 innings Saturday when he allowed one run and struck out three in a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez has made a Shelby Miller-like impression on the spring training mounds this year, but he still might be the better choice to start the season in the bullpen than Kelly.

For one, Martinez shined as the eighth-inning pitcher during the 2013 postseason with 11 strikeouts in 12 appearances, while Kelly started four games, including a 5.1-inning outing in Game 3 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox to lead the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory and one of their two wins in the series.

Kelly was also not particularly stellar as a bullpen pitcher during the first half of the 2013 season after he lost the race for the No. 5 spot in the rotation to Miller in spring training. Kelly’s ERA was at 6.75 through 16 appearances before he got his first start of the season June 5 and gave up one run in 5.2 innings in what turned out to be a 10-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Much of that debate won’t matter on the bullpen side when Motte comes back because he should be able to fill the eighth-inning role and take some pressure off of Martinez, Kelly or anybody else Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wants to use in the meantime.

The challenge then will likely be to get enough appearances in middle relief for whichever pitcher does not get the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

And if that is the biggest problem the Cardinals have once May begins, they will probably be off to a pretty good start.

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Carlos Martinez could follow Shelby Miller path to starting rotation

St. Louis Cardinals righthanded starting pitcher Shelby Miller had to beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the rotation through somewhat of a spring training-long duel between the two pitchers in 2013, and Kelly faces a similar challenge that could produce a similar result in 2014.

JoeKelly2

Miller has a lock on a starting job for the 2014 season, so righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez has taken his spot as the rookie on the verge of a spot in the rotation and in competition with Kelly, who could easily fall victim to another young Cardinals pitching sensation.

Martinez has done plenty to impress through roughly the first half of camp. He is 1-0 after a four-inning, two-hit performance Wednesday in a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets. That was his third start of the spring, and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 to go with five strikeouts.

Kelly, meanwhile, struggled his first two starts of the spring. He allowed seven runs and walked four batters in a combined four innings before he settled down for a 5.1-inning winning performance Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves when he allowed one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts.

Kelly did not pitch particularly poorly during the 2013 spring training camp, but Cardinals management obviously thought Miller was capable of a strong rookie season that started with him in the rotation on Opening Day, even though Kelly ended up in the rotation in the postseason while Miller sat in the bullpen unused aside from one inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Division Series.

Miller still set the bar high for Martinez or any of the other young Cardinals pitchers after he went 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average and finished third in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting, but Martinez has the talent to have a comparable first full season in Major League Baseball.

Martinez pitched in 21 games for the Cardinals in 2013 and became the eighth-inning setup reliever toward the end of the regular season and in the postseason, where he posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings.

Still, the Cardinals were cautious in how much they used Martinez in 2013. They first called him up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in May but sent him back to the minor leagues in June and late July to try to keep his arm fresh, as well as let him start at Memphis to maintain his endurance in case an injury befell one of the other starting pitchers with the big-league club.

They would obviously take care of Martinez again in the upcoming season, and he could very well move start the season back in the eighth-inning role because the Cardinals have few options for that spot, particularly if righthanded reliever Jason Motte is not yet fully recovered from the elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of spring training a year ago.

Martinez has all but guaranteed himself a roster spot for when the team opens the season March 31 against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, but he has pitched so well in his first three starts of the spring that he will await his first appearance from the dugout rather than the bullpen, just the way Miller did the year before.

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

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

Wainwright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The St. Louis Cardinals Versus Left Handed Pitching

FransiscoLiriano

 

The St. Louis Cardinals struggle against left-handed pitching so goes conventional wisdom. I really can’t remember a time that this wasn’t said. During the 80’s, The Cards struggled against lefties like Sid Fernandez (as if any of The Cardinals today have anything at all to do with the players in the 80′s) while being able to score runs off of great right-handers like Nolan Ryan. It was credited to the fact that Fernandez was a lefty and not the fact that at his height, he was almost at the level of Ryan as a pitcher.

I bring up the past, not because it means anything to today, but I wonder if that conventional wisdom that is part of the team’s history may be why people are so quick to repeat it today. The point is, if The Cardinals struggle off of a righty, the struggles are credited to other factors. But against lefties, it’s almost always credited to the fact he is just a lefty.

So with the playoffs coming up, and some great lefties on the horizon like Francisco Liriano and Clayton Kershaw, I want to study how successful The Cardinals really are against lefties.

A recent Post-Dispatch article pointed out The Cards were 15-20 against lefties. The article stated:

Those wins stand out because the Cardinals this season are 15-20 against left-handed starters. They’re the only team in the National League with a winning record that has a losing record against lefties.

The Cardinals have the highest average in the National League overall at .272, but they are hitting just .239 against left-handed pitchers, which puts them 11th. In the three games against left-handed starters before Sunday, they were hitting .306. And even if you add in the struggles they had against Minor, they’re still at .281 in their past four games. That’s a big step forward.

The article was written on August 30th. Since then The Cards have gone 2-2 against lefties. The problem is more to do with small sample size than actual facts. The Post-Dispatch articles argues that the Cardinals are improving against lefties by winning 3 in a row before losing to Mike Minor. So if you add the 2-2 record in since then, they are 5-3. But the article then desperately tries to figure out a reason why The Cardinals are improving, even crediting Kolten Wong.

The recent success the Cardinals have had against lefties started right about the time they called up Kolten Wong from Memphis and the team shifted to more of a platoon concept. It’s not a strict platoon, since right-handers David Freese and Pete Kozma still get starts against opposing right-handers. But the Cardinals’ lineup Sunday had just one lefty, second baseman Matt Carpenter. Otherwise, Matheny went with his right-handed options when he could: Shane Robinson instead of lefty Jon Jay in center, Kozma instead of lefty Daniel Descalso at short and Freese at third instead of the Wong-Carpenter parlay

But as we now know, Wong struggled greatly this year hitting .163/.196/.184. But regardless of his struggles, The Cards winning pct improved against lefties. The article even points out The Cardinals are 2-0 against Kershaw, but even that doesn’t mean too much as both games they won because of good pitching. On Aug 6th they beat Kershaw by scoring 2 runs off of him and on May 26th they scored 4 runs off of him.

So more than likely the “struggles” against lefties is more overevaluting a small sample size, as any 35 game period for the best teams in baseball can produce a slightly below .500 record. As did the 35 games The Post-Dispatch viewed.

But when we look deeper at the stats, and not focus so much on wins and losses, this is what we see:

Versus righties The Cards are: .279/.341/.410/ with a WRC+ 110.

Versus lefties The Cards are: .235/.297/.370 with a wRC+ 85

Now when you compare The Cardinals to other teams, you do see slightly inferior numbers.

Other teams against lefties

Pirates 263/.332/.410 wRC+ 110

Dodgers .266/.328/.396 wRC+ 104

Reds .242/.318/.391 wRC+93

So why do The Cardinals struggle against lefties? It would show proof if you saw lefties shutting down left-handed hitters on the team. But against lefties, Matt Carpenter has a great OPS of .803, Matt Adams a slightly below average OPS of .667 and Jon Jay has an OPS of .602, which could be deemed as struggling if it wasn’t for the fact that Jay has struggled as a hitter altogether this year.

So who is really struggling against lefthanders? Molina’s OPS is .891; Holliday’s OPS is .770; even Freese’s OPS is .787 despite having an OPS of .691 against righties. Most of the starting players on the team have an OPS over .700 against lefties.

The big anchor on the team seems to be (surprise surprise) Pete Kozma. Kozma has the third most at bats against lefties this year at 137 with a horrible OPS of .551. By allowing someone so underachieving to rack up so many at bats is sure to bring the team average down. By removing him from the equation, The Cardinals numbers are more equal to the other teams in comparison. That may be an irrelevant point, as someone has to play shortstop this post season, and it’s either him or Descalso who has an OPS of .586 against lefties. But it does bring some assurance that an outlier is hurting the team as opposed to it being a team epidemic.

It appears the conventional wisdom that The Cardinals can’t hit lefties is created for several reasons. 1) It is a smaller sample size 2) fans are over evaluating the randomness of the win-loss record against lefties, which is actually just under .500 and 3) Kozma played so poorly this year over so many at bats that it brings the numbers down.

Whatever theory you accept, at least take solace in knowing the numbers against lefties are improving, either by strategy or just the numbers regressing back to the mean as more games are played.

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Royals September call-ups playing a different role this season

From September 1 to the end of the season, Major League Baseball allows teams to expand their rosters from 25 to a maximum of 40 players. Teams call up players from the minors to give them major league playing time, or to add depth for a team’s potential playoff run. For many years, the Royals were out of the playoff hunt by September. So to make games somewhat interesting, the team called up minor league prospects to give them a taste of the majors and give fans a glimpse of the future. But this year, things are different.

Johnny-Giavotella

The Royals called up eight players from the minors this week: Catcher Brett Hayes, pitchers Francisley Bueno, Louis Coleman, Wade Davis and Donnie Joesph, and infielders Johnny Giavotella, Pedro Ciriaco and Carlos Pena. Except for Ciriaco and Pena, the others spent time on the Royals roster this season and only Joseph could be considered a prospect. But these players aren’t with the team to just get some playing time and audition for a roster spot next season. They’re with the Royals to provide depth on the bench and the bullpen and help the Royals win games down the stretch.

Hayes provides catching depth while Bueno and Joseph join Tim Collins and Will Smith as the Royals lefty relievers. Coleman shuttled between Omaha and Kansas City this season, giving the team solid outings while the struggling Davis is in the pen to regain his consistency. Giavotella will play second base as Chris Getz recovers from a possible concussion. Ciriaco will backup Alcides Escobar at shortstop. Pena signed with the Royals last week and played a few games for Omaha before joining the major league club. He provides a power bat off the bench and lets Eric Hosmer DH and Billy Butler play at first if needed.

With 23 games left in the season, each player will make the most of their playing time to help the team and to help themselves. And barring injuries by the starting players, their role will be to provide depth from the bench or the bullpen. How they play this month may decide if the Royals make the playoffs, or finish above or below .500. Whatever happens, it’s good to see the Royals play meaningful games in September.

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John Axford not enough for St. Louis Cardinals to give up Michael Blazek

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak made his first and only trade of the season Friday when he got right-handed reliever John Axford from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jun 25, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay (19) celebrates with relief pitcher Michael Blazek (67) after defeating the Houston Astros 13-5 at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Axford is a nice pickup for the Cardinals. He brings a veteran presence to the team’s young bullpen and has shown flashes of dominance in the past. The problem is the Cardinals gave up right-handed rookie Michael Blazek in return.

Blazek pitched in 11 games for the Cardinals this season and gave up eight runs in 10.1 innings, but he is the 24-year-old who has the tools to be an effective major-league reliever for years to come.

Sure, he had an earned-run average of 6.97 with the Cardinals, but Blazek allowed runs in just four of his 11 appearances and allowed more than one run in only two of those games. Otherwise, he averaged a strikeout per inning while he dealt with getting called up to the big leagues and sent down to the minors three times in one season.

It would be tough for any young pitcher to find consistent success while in such a tenuous position. Even highly touted rookies such as Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have struggled at times as they’ve taken the road back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis several times this season.

Yes, Blazek also walked 10 hitters to nearly match his number of strikeouts, but the Cardinals have had plenty of pitchers who struggled with their control but steadily improved as they matured at the big-league level.

For example, Jason Motte came to St. Louis as a 26-year-old in 2008, and it wasn’t until 2010 that he got his career ERA below four. However, the Cardinals stuck with Motte and he became the pitcher who not only closed out the 2011 World Series but also the team’s closer who saved every one of the team’s 42 save opportunities in 2012.

But, perhaps the Cardinals though Blazek would not grow out of his control issues and decided to cut their losses. Unfortunately, they got a pitcher who is not substantially better.

Axford was much better at one time, but not anymore. He broke into the big leagues with Milwaukee in 2009 and by 2011 was one of the best closers in Major League Baseball, with 46 saves, a 1.95 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 73.2 innings.

Those were the good days. The more recent days have not been so nice.

Axford’s ERA ballooned to 4.67 in 2012, and he gave up twice as many homeruns (10) during that season than he had in his entire career (five) and lost the closing job in the process as the Berwers fell from a team two games from the World Series in 2011 to a third-place team that barely finished above .500 in 2012.

Axford has given up long balls even more frequently in 2013. He already allowed 10 in 62 appearances for the Brewers with a month yet to play.

Cardinals officials figured they needed veteran depth in the bullpen, and that’s exactly what they got. Axford is nothing more nor nothing less at this point in his career.

Maybe he will fill the role Octavio Dotel held during the 2011 run to the World Series championship. He could be a knowledgeable reliever who gets crucial outs during the late stages of a ballgame that is packed with the pressure that is certain to come with September games when the top three teams in the division are separated by fewer than three games.

But he could also be the 4.50-ERA pitcher who gives up back-breaking homeruns late in those same games while Blazek becomes an integral part of the bullpen renaissance the Brewers sorely need to return to relevance in the National League Central Division.

The Cardinals took a gamble not only for the rest of the 2013 season but also for many years to come.

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Now is the time for Kansas City Royals’ Duffy

After missing much of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, it appears that Danny Duffy is ready to claim a spot in the Kansas City Royals’ rotation for the rest of this season and possibly next season as well.

DannyDuffy

Duffy, who has replaced the struggling Wade Davis in the starting rotation, shut down the Twins in his latest start. He pitched 6.2 innings, allowing just five hits and no runs, while striking out seven. Perhaps the most important stat from that start, however, was that Duffy did not allow a walk. It was the first start in his career that he didn’t issue a free pass.

The knock on Duffy has always been his lack of control. And pitchers that come back from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle finding a feel for the strike zone initially. In his only other two starts this season, Duffy walked two batters in 3.2 innings and three batters in 6 innings.

In Duffy’s three years pitching in the majors, he has a walk rate of 4.5/9. While the walks tend to pile up for the talented southpaw, he has always shown strike out potential, with a strike out rate of 8.0/9 for his career.

Duffy was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft and coming into the 2011 season, he was ranked as the 68th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. So the potential has always been there.

The 6-foot-3 lefty spent six years in the minor leagues, earning 30-16 record, with an impressive 2.88 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His minor league K/9 is 10.6 and his BB/9 is 3.0, considerably less than his 4.5 mark in the majors.

Duffy debuted in 2011, starting 20 games and finishing with a 4-8 record and a 5.64 ERA. He showed improvement in 2012 before his injury. He started six games and recorded a 3.90 ERA.

While the Tommy John injury delayed his development, Duffy appears to be back on track. He has a chance to show that he is a big part of the Royals’ future. If he can finish this season strong and continue to improve with his control, he should lock up a spot in next year’s starting five and perhaps beyond.

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St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff roulette about to mercifully end

The St. Louis Cardinals made two more roster moves Thursday when they sent rookie right-handers Michael Wacha and Michael Blazek to Triple-A Memphis after each pitch the night prior, which continued a trend of incredible pitcher movement between Memphis and St. Louis this season.

Michael-Wacha

The Cardinals have used 23 different pitchers this season as injuries plagued the staff early in the season and ineffectiveness has crept in the past month or so, but the game of musical chairs is about to end, thank goodness.

Major League Baseball allows teams to expand their rosters from 25 players to 40 on Sept. 1, so manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak will be able to keep all of the young pitchers they have brought up at different points during the season.

Wacha and Blazek might be in the minors now, but their stay will most likely last just a couple of days, which should be a familiar role for them now. Of the 11 rookie pitchers the Cardinals have used, only Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist have stayed with the team full time since they were first called up, or in Miller’s and Ronsethal’s case, when they made the team out of spring training.

The Cardinals use of the minor leagues has been dizzying in 2013. Matheny and Mozeliak have taken full advantage of the rules that allow roster movement.

When the team needed an emergency starter, Wacha, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez stepped in to fill the spot. When they needed a reliever, pitchers such as Blazek, Keith Butler, Seth Maness and Sam Freeman had stints of various lengths in the bullpen.

Often, those pitchers would pitch for Memphis and St. Louis multiple times in the same week.

Still, Matheny and Mozeliak deserve credit for their wild use of the minor league roster to supplement the big-league club. It might have been extremely confusing to try to track the incredible amount of moves the team has made, but it has been perhaps the largest factor outside of catcher Yadier Molina that has kept the team in contention for a playoff spot as September approaches.

And now the Cardinals will have all of those options available throughout the remainder of the season.

Yet at the same time, they still have several important decisions to make.

Each team has to restrict its roster back to 25 players for the playoffs, but those decisions have to be made Sept. 1, as well.

Given how the Cardinals have used their bullpen throughout the season, Siegrist, Rosenthal and Maness are locks to be with the team in postseason. The pitchers on the bubble figure to be Wacha, Blazek and Martinez.

The team sent Butler and Fernando Salas to the minors in July and neither has been much of an option anytime the big club has recently made one of its myriad of moves. They will likely fill the final spots in the bullpen for the next month, but October will probably be a different story.

But at least postseason rosters cannot change unless a player needs to be replaced because of injury. Teams can change their rosters between rounds but not during them.

In any case, the Cardinals pitching staff could probably travel the world with all of the frequent flyer miles it has racked up on the team accounts this season.

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Matt Harvey Can Find Answers In Adam Wainwright

The following excerpt is from my latest article for Yahoo! Sports on the Yahoo Contributor Network.  You can read the entire article by clicking here.

MattHarvey

COMMENTARY | The New York Mets were delivered a substantial blow to their future when they found out that Matt Harvey has a partial tear of his UCL, an injury that may require the infamous Tommy John surgery. Surgery could put Harvey on the shelf for the entirety of the 2014 season and impact his effectiveness for even longer. The St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright can provide a solid road map for Harvey and the Mets to follow.

Wainwright has been down the road that Harvey now faces. A partial tear of the UCL does not ensure that Tommy John surgery is necessary. It can be handled through rehabilitation and surgery can be delayed. It is a slippery slope, but one that Wainwright’s career is familiar with.

The partial tear
Wainwright suffered a partial tear of the UCL very early on in his career. He was able to continue pitching at a very productive level for over five years from the initial diagnosis. Other pitchers have tried to go the route of rehab with little-to-no success but Adam Wainwright proves that it is not impossible. Harvey may not see any significant time lost beyond the 2013 season.

Recovery time varies
It was early 2011 when Wainwright realized he did not feel right and was headed for surgery. The typical diagnosis can project almost a year-and-a-half recovery time for most pitchers. Wainwright surprised everyone when his rehabilitation from surgery was moving forward at a pace that had him throwing from a mound by the end of 2011. He showed up to spring training in 2012 ready to go and opened the season as a member of the rotation, just over 12 months removed from surgery.

That first season back is different
Once Wainwright was back on the mound, expectations were high and Cardinal fans were convinced that their ace had returned. While Wainwright’s first season back was successful by most accounts, it was not the season he is capable of that we are seeing in 2013. In 2012, Wainwright was able to throw over 198 innings and strikeout hitters at a pace similar to his career numbers before the surgery. He walked more hitters than normal, did not work as deep into games, and struggled with his command occasionally. He was back on the mound but he wasn’t completely back to normal.

Finish reading how the Wainwright Road Map can help Mets fans know what’s ahead by clicking here.

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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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