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Prime Time Playing

Our generation of sports fan has been influenced immensely by the players that can dial it up another notch and perform at a higher level when the spotlight falls directly on their shoulders. Football great Deion Sanders made a career out of it and introduced a nation of sports fans to the term “primetime” in a whole new way.

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The St. Louis Cardinals will play tonight against the Colorado Rockies in St. Louis. The game will mark the eleventh time this season that the Cardinals will find themselves aired on ESPN as a featured game. The spotlight has burned bright on the team with only the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Philadelphia Phillies having appeared more times on the national stage. Their Rockies will make their second appearance on the network this season, having lost in Philadelphia on May 18th.

The bright lights of center stage have not treated the Cardinals well, dealing them losses at home against the Padres on March 31, the Giants on June 1, the Phillies on June 22, and the rival Cubs on July 31. They have also lost road games in Chicago to the Cubs on May 11 and New York to the Mets on July 20. They have only managed to win four of the ten games broadcast by the sports network, all of which occurred at home, defeating the Reds on April 24, the Phillies on May 16, the Giants on May 31 and the Reds on July 5. Overall, the Cardinals are 4-6 when featured on the network with all four wins coming at home. Over the course of ten games, while it is a small sample size, we find much of the same story lines that have made up the Cardinals season.

Five different starters have taken the mound this season for the Cardinals in these situations with Jake Westbrook starting in half of them himself. Westbrook’s five starts have resulted in a 2-2 record with one no decision. To his credit, he has one start that lasted six innings of shutout ball and another that was seven innings with only one run crossing the plate for his wins. However, consistency has not been the Cardinals strong point this season and Westbrook has also put up a six inning-four run outing and a two and one third inning-six run debacle in his losses. In his no decision, he would give up three runs over five and a third innings.

Jaime Garcia holds the only other Cardinal victory for the starting rotation, having pitched well in the July 5 game against the Reds. Jaime would only go six innings in that game but would also only surrender one run, strike out four, and walk three gaining his eighth win of the season.

Kyle Lohse is the only other starter that has taken a decision, having taken a heart breaking loss to the Phillies on June 22. Lohse, who holds the best earned run average and longest start of any Cardinals pitcher this year during ESPN games, would go eight innings and surrender three runs and be saddled with his fourth loss of the season as the Cardinals would get shut out 4-0.

The remaining three games would be split between the team’s ace, Chris Carpenter, who started in two of them and the man that has been relocated to the bullpen, Kyle McClellan, who has appeared as a starter and a reliever. Carpenter has pitched well, giving up two runs in each game, one over five innings and the other over seven. While he has not been lights out on national broadcasts, he has been very impressive for a guy that does not get a win in either game. McClellan’s start looks very similar to the majority of his starts this season having lasted six innings and allowing four runs while walking two and striking out two.

A look at the starting pitching stats for ESPN games this season
Pitcher G IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Chris Carpenter 2 12 9 4 4 4 12 0 3.00
Jaime Garcia 1 6 2 1 1 3 4 0 3.23
Jake Westbrook 5 27 25 13 13 12 13 0 4.33
Kyle Lohse 1 8 7 3 3 0 0 2 2.91
Kyle McClellan 1 6 6 4 4 2 2 1 4.34

The bullpen has not been overly impressive but the also have not been overly disappointing in prime time games on ESPN. Due largely in part to solid performances from closer Fernando Salas and setup man Jason Motte, the bullpen has maintained a good presence when being showcased to the nation.

A look at the relief pitching stats for ESPN games this season
Pitcher G IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Fernando Salas 5 5.1 5 2 2 1 4 1 3.53
Jason Motte 4 4.1 4 2 1 1 4 0 2.20
Kyle McClellan 1 2 4 2 2 0 2 1 4.30
Mitchell Boggs 4 4 4 2 2 3 7 2 4.50

The offense has not exactly taken to the spotlight for a reason to break out of the funk fans have found it in all season long. Struggling superstars, surprising production elsewhere and mediocre numbers have littered the season and nationally broadcast ESPN games would be no different.

When you are on the big stage, you turn to your big stars to produce. There is little doubt who the big offensive stars of the St. Louis Cardinals are, the combination of Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols have had people talking off and on all season long. The biggest surprise of the season has been Lance Berkman. While his numbers on ESPN games are nothing to be laughed at, they are not quite as dominant as his season would suggest. He has managed a pair of home runs, five runs, five runs batted in, and a .265 batting average to go along with a disappointing 12 strikeouts. Albert Pujols has continued his frustrations in big spots this year and the national spotlight will show no difference. The best hitter in the game has only two extra base hits, both doubles, two runs scored, three runs batted in and an abysmal .207 batting average. The one stat that has seemed to haunt the big slugger this year rears its ugly head here as well, Albert has grounded into four double plays over the ten games in front of the world. Matt Holliday is the saving grace for the powerful trio, having hit .310 with a double, three home runs, seven runs, and eight runs batted in. Holliday went deep twice in the July 5 game with the Cincinnati Reds, driving in four runs in that game alone.

Sometimes, when faced with the big stage, players that are sometimes overlooked due to the stars on the team start to produce at a higher level. Sometimes they follow suit and under-perform themselves. David Freese, who was injured for much of the season during these games, has not been able to seize the opportunity to step out from the shadows a bit and show that he can be the clutch performer the Cardinals expect him to be. In seventeen at bats on ESPN this season, Freese has yet to notch a run batted in or a run scored and is hitting just .235. Yadier Molina has shown a consistent bat throughout this season and has managed to post a .344 batting average in front of the world this season. Add in three runs scored and four runs batted in to go with a home run and Molina seems to be enjoying the attention.

Delving deeper past the players considered to be stars and looking at the supporting staff finds a few guys that are performing well in the spotlight, namely, Ryan Theriot. Theriot has been very impressive on ESPN games this year, posting a .367 batting average while driving in five runs and scoring two more of his own. Meanwhile, his frequent partner in the middle infield Skip Schumaker has shown that he is not afraid of a little attention himself. Skip is hitting .304 during these games with a pair of doubles, three runs batted in and two runs scored. Finally, Jon Jay continues to try to break out of his shell and does well with a .286 batting average and three runs batted in of his own.

A look at the offensive stats for ESPN games this season
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO Avg
Albert Pujols 29 2 6 2 0 0 3 3 2 .207
Allen Craig 14 2 3 1 1 0 3 0 2 .214
Daniel Descalso 21 2 5 0 1 0 0 4 6 .238
David Freese 17 0 4 1 0 0 0 2 3 .235
Gerald Laird 9 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 4 .333
Jon Jay 28 3 8 1 0 0 3 0 4 .286
Lance Berkman 34 5 9 2 0 2 5 5 12 .265
Matt Holiday 29 7 9 2 0 3 8 3 9 .310
Ryan Theriot 30 2 11 1 0 0 5 5 2 .367
Skip Schumaker 23 3 7 2 0 0 2 0 3 .304
Yadier Molina 32 3 11 0 0 1 4 2 3 .344

Overall, it is time for someone to step into the spotlight and claim their rightful spot in “Primetime” for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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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