Tag Archive | "Rookie Campaign"

Early Patience Is Encouraging For Hosmer

The Kansas City Royals are poised to turn a corner in 2013.  Eric Hosmer and his return to form would be a big part of that.

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars - copyright i70baseball

Photo courtesy of Charles Sollars – copyright i70baseball

In a dismal sophomore year for Eric Hosmer, there was an encouraging statistic that jumps out.  His power numbers took a big dip but he started to show patience at the plate and was able to increase his walks dramatically.  During his rookie campaign, Hosmer drew 34 walks and increased that number to 56 during the 2012 season.  Early on in Spring Training, he is showing good pitch selection once again.

It is hard to make much of Spring stats.  It is even harder to try to find something substantial about the stats this early.  The one thing that jumped out of the recent box scores to me was Hosmer drawing two walks and then drilling an RBI triple on Tuesday.

The two walks brings his Spring total to three, in eleven plate appearances.  His average is still low and, other than the triple, there are no extra base hits on his early record.  Still, he is driving in runs early, striking out less, and driving a higher on base percentage.  If he can translate that into his game come time for the regular season, the Royals and their fans will be very happy.

Hosmer’s power numbers will increase as his plate selection gets better.  Many fans are frustrated with the under performance from Hosmer last season and rightfully so.  The team is poised with a strong pitching staff to alter their makeup and show a willingness to win this season.  To get there, Hosmer will need to be a big part of it.

Patience will be the key to his season.

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

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Royals Add Shields, Davis Trading Myers, Odorizzi

KANSAS CITY, MO (December 9, 2012) – The Kansas City Royals tonight acquired right-handed starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named or cash considerations from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for minor league outfielder Wil Myers, right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi, left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard.

Shields, who will turn 31 on December 20, has established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the American League. He followed up an All-Star campaign in 2011, in which posted a 16-12 record with a 2.82 ERA and finished third in the A.L. Cy Young voting, by posting a 15-10 record with a 3.52 ERA in 33 starts with Tampa Bay last season. In 227.2 innings, Shields allowed 208 hits, walked 58 and struck out 223, just two shy of his career best set in 2011 and the third-most in the league. Shields is joined by the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander as the only four pitchers in baseball to record at least 220 strikeouts in the last two seasons.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander has compiled an 87-73 career record with a 3.89 ERA in 218 games (217 starts) all for the Rays since making his debut in 2006. Since tossing 124.2 innings in 21 starts during his rookie campaign, Shields has won at least 11 games, made at least 31 starts and topped the 200-inning mark in six straight seasons. He joins the Jays’ Mark Buehrle, the Giants’ Matt Cain, the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and Verlander as the only five pitchers in baseball to post at least 200 innings in six straight seasons. In 2011, his 11 complete games were the most by a Major League pitcher since Arizona’s Randy Johnson had 12 in 1999.

Shields and his wife, Ryane, reside in Clearwater, Fla., with their two daughters. The couple is active with a number of charities specifically geared toward foster children and James was the Rays recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The 27-year-old Davis made a combined 64 starts for the Rays from 2009 to 2011 before pitching exclusively in the bullpen for Tampa Bay in 2012. He went 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA last season, allowing 48 hits and 29 walks with 87 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder made 29 starts in both 2010 and 2011 and finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting after posting a 12-10 record with a 4.07 ERA in 2010. Davis is 28-22 with a 3.94 ERA in 118 career outings, including 64 starts. He is 25-22 in his career as a starter with a 4.22 ERA, including an 8-2 mark with a 3.38 ERA in 30 games (18 starts) against A.L. Central foes.

Davis and his wife, Katelyn, reside in Lake Wales, Fla. Davis organized the Full Count Foundation to help children who are at risk or have special needs or chronic illnesses.

Myers, who will turn 22 on December 10, was the 2012 Baseball America, USA Today and Topps Minor League Baseball Player of the Year after hitting a combined .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI in 134 games for Northwest Arkansas (AA) and Omaha (AAA). He was the Royals’ third round selection in the 2009 June Free Agent Draft.

The 22-year-old Odorizzi went 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 26 outings (25 starts) for Northwest Arkansas and Omaha in 2012 before making two starts for the Royals in September, going 0-1. He was acquired by Kansas City in a six-player trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on December 19, 2012.

Montgomery, 23, split his season between Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, posting a 5-12

record with a 6.07 ERA in 27 starts. He was the Royals’ supplemental first round selection (36 th

overall) in 2008.

The 20-year-old Leonard batted .251 with 14 home runs and 46 RBI in 62 games for Burlington (R) in 2012. He was the club’s fifth-round pick in the 2011 Draft.

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2012 Key Player: Eric Hosmer

“The Process”, as Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore has often referred to the Royals’ journey from cellar dweller to perennial contender, is dependent on many things happening, and many players producing. One of those players is First Baseman, Eric Hosmer. If the Royals are to make any waves in 2012 and beyond, it is critical that Hosmer build off of his strong 2011 rookie campaign.

Hosmer, who will be only 22 years old for the entire 2012 season, is likely the most hyped player to wear the Royals uniform since Bo Jackson, who was patrolling center-field for the Royals in the year Hosmer was born. He is represented by “super-agent” Scott Boras, who has made it clear that he will not be advising his client to commit to any sort of long-term deal with the Royals prior to hitting free-agency in 2018. So assuming Hosmer does not make up his mind on his own to remain a Royal for his career, the Royals will have him for 7 more seasons. And they need to get maximum production out of him during that time.

In Spring Training 2011, Hosmer tore the cover off of the ball and probably warranted making the opening day roster. However, the Royals had committed to giving Kila Kilahaue a shot at holding down the First Base job. So, while Hosmer went down to Omaha and continued to rake, Kila could not hit a lick. After just over a month of the way through the 2011 season, the Royals decided that Hosmer had forced their hand, and they had to bring him up. He immediately became the everyday First Baseman and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting, putting up the following numbers;

Games: 128
At-Bats: 523
Avg : .293
HR : 19
RBI : 78
SB : 11
SLG : .465
OBP : .333

You might look at those numbers and say “yeah, they look pretty good, but they don’t jump off the page”. Then you have to remember, he was only 21 YEARS OLD!! He is literally still learning the game. According to baseball-reference.com, there is one player that most compares to Hosmer at the age of 21. His name is Eddie Murray, and he is in the Hall of Fame. Does that mean I think Hosmer will be a hall of famer? It is entirely too soon to tell. But it is very clear that the sky is the limit for Hosmer.

It is entirely possible that Hosmer could progress as a hitter this season, have an all-star caliber year, and the Royals still stink because other things went wrong. But it is nearly impossible to envision a scenario where Hosmer regresses in 2012 and the Royals have a winning season. It is for that reason, that he is as important of a player as any for the Royals in 2012.

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Cooperstown Choices: Phil Nevin

With the Hall Of Fame election announcement coming on January 9, 2012, it is time to review the ballot, go over the names, and decide who belongs in the Hall Of Fame.

There are twenty seven men on the ballot this year and we will take a look at each one individually prior to official announcements. You can find all of the profiles in the I-70 Baseball Exclusives: Cooperstown Choices 2012 menu at the top of the page.

Tune in Saturday, January 7, 2012 as I-70 Baseball Radio will host a panel of writers discussing the Hall Of Fame Ballot in a 2-hour special.

In this article, we take a look at Phil Nevin.

Phil Nevin
Phil Nevin spent 12 season playing for seven teams in Major League Baseball. His career was set in motion to spend time with multiple teams from the beginning, as he opened his rookie campaign in 1995 with Houston and finished it in Detroit. Just to ensure consistency, Nevin would play for the Rangers, Cubs, and Twins in 2006, his final year in baseball. This is his first time on the ballot.

1995 TOT 47 156 13 28 4 1 2 13 1 18 40 .179 .281 .256 .537 44
1995 HOU 18 60 4 7 1 0 0 1 1 7 13 .117 .221 .133 .354 -1
1995 DET 29 96 9 21 3 1 2 12 0 11 27 .219 .318 .333 .652 70
1996 DET 38 120 15 35 5 0 8 19 1 8 39 .292 .338 .533 .872 116
1997 DET 93 251 32 59 16 1 9 35 0 25 68 .235 .306 .414 .720 87
1998 ANA 75 237 27 54 8 1 8 27 0 17 67 .228 .291 .371 .662 70
1999 SDP 128 383 52 103 27 0 24 85 1 51 82 .269 .352 .527 .880 127
2000 SDP 143 538 87 163 34 1 31 107 2 59 121 .303 .374 .543 .916 136
2001 SDP 149 546 97 167 31 0 41 126 4 71 147 .306 .388 .588 .976 158
2002 SDP 107 407 53 116 16 0 12 57 4 38 87 .285 .344 .413 .757 108
2003 SDP 59 226 30 63 8 0 13 46 2 21 44 .279 .339 .487 .825 121
2004 SDP 147 547 78 158 31 1 26 105 0 66 121 .289 .368 .492 .859 130
2005 TOT 102 380 46 90 16 1 12 55 3 27 97 .237 .287 .379 .666 77
2005 SDP 73 281 31 72 11 1 9 47 1 19 67 .256 .301 .399 .699 88
2005 TEX 29 99 15 18 5 0 3 8 2 8 30 .182 .250 .323 .573 48
2006 TOT 129 397 54 95 13 0 22 68 0 48 106 .239 .323 .438 .761 93
2006 TOT 62 218 28 46 9 0 10 35 0 31 54 .211 .313 .390 .703 81
2006 TEX 46 176 26 38 8 0 9 31 0 21 39 .216 .307 .415 .721 84
2006 CHC 67 179 26 49 4 0 12 33 0 17 52 .274 .335 .497 .832 108
2006 MIN 16 42 2 8 1 0 1 4 0 10 15 .190 .340 .286 .625 67
12 Seasons 1217 4188 584 1131 209 6 208 743 18 449 1019 .270 .343 .472 .814 114
162 Game Avg. 162 557 78 151 28 1 28 99 2 60 136 .270 .343 .472 .814 114
SDP (7 yrs) 806 2928 428 842 158 3 156 573 14 325 669 .288 .359 .503 .862 129
DET (3 yrs) 160 467 56 115 24 2 19 66 1 44 134 .246 .317 .428 .745 91
TEX (2 yrs) 75 275 41 56 13 0 12 39 2 29 69 .204 .287 .382 .668 71
MIN (1 yr) 16 42 2 8 1 0 1 4 0 10 15 .190 .340 .286 .625 67
CHC (1 yr) 67 179 26 49 4 0 12 33 0 17 52 .274 .335 .497 .832 108
ANA (1 yr) 75 237 27 54 8 1 8 27 0 17 67 .228 .291 .371 .662 70
HOU (1 yr) 18 60 4 7 1 0 0 1 1 7 13 .117 .221 .133 .354 -1
NL (9 yrs) 891 3167 458 898 163 3 168 607 15 349 734 .284 .355 .496 .851 125
AL (6 yrs) 326 1021 126 233 46 3 40 136 3 100 285 .228 .304 .397 .700 80
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/18/2011.

Why He Should Get In
Nevin found himself in his one and only All Star Game in 2001 as a member of the San Diego Padres, the only franchise he seemed to find a home in. Nevin would also post three seasons of 100 or more runs batted in during his tenure with the Padres.

Why He Should Not Get In
Playing for multiple teams does not put a player into Cooperstown. Nevin’s career gave memories to fans from various cities but his numbers do not stack up well enough to see him bronzed in the hall.

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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Future Headline: Tough 1st Half Paves Way For NL Central Title

…at least that’s my opinion. The Cardinals finished the unofficial first half of the season with a 49-43 record and in a tie for first in the NL Central. While this might not seem very remarkable to most baseball fans, to those of us who have followed this team since losing to the division to the Reds last October, it is.

In the nearly ten months that have passed so much has taken place. Adam Wainwright finished in the top five of yet another Cy Young vote, while Albert Pujols just missed out on his 4th MVP award. On top of that Jaime Garcia had put up a strong rookie campaign winning 13 games with a sub 3.0 ERA and Matt Holliday put together a great first full season as a Cardinal. Then…

The offseason came. What should have been an exciting few months waiting for Pitchers & Catchers to report turned in to the Pujols contract watch. In addition to that was the annual TLR mulling-over-returning-contract-situation. What joy it was. Finally it was time for the Cardinals to head down to Jupiter and we could get back to baseball. Then… (time elapsed for story purposes)

Adam Wainwright felt a twinge in his elbow, nuff said, Freese broke a bone in his hand, Holliday missed nearly a month of games, Kyle McClellan landed on the DL and Ryan Franklin forgot how to pitch and Pujols had the micro-fracture. Suddenly (or not so suddenly) a season of promise was headed the wrong way. Then…

In the midst of it all Lance Berkman re-discovered his Astro-MYP type form; Lohse & Garcia combine to win 17 games, Holliday, Freese and the rest got healthy, Fernando Salas pitched his way to 16 saves and of course there was Pujols’ super-human recovery. Most importantly the Cardinals kept finding a way to win. Yes it was back and forth, up and down first half full of streaks but the team survived and did more than stay afloat. They sit atop the NL Central as we enjoy the All Star break.

The old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” This is the case in St. Louis. Tony’s guys did not pack it in or give up any of the numerous times they could have. Without the injuries, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay, Tony Cruz, etc would not have had the chance to show their value and add depth to a bench that was initially seen as a weakness. Salas, Lance Lynn and others have found important roles as well. The Cards head in to Cincinnati to start the second half with nearly all their pieces intact. Most importantly they can look forward to Carpenter and Pujols both averaging out to their career norms. That means a lot more production from your two most important players.

The Cardinals and TLR have been here before and know how to win. Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will fade off as the summer heats up…quote me and St. Louis will once again rise up. All NL Central teams be warned the Cardinals are getting healthy and coming back to claim what is rightfully theirs..the NL Central crown.

As usual these are just my thoughts…if you’re smart you’ll most likely agree. If not keep on reading and you’ll get up to speed.

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Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

Coming into the season, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the Cardinals’ ball club, not the least of which was how the Cardinals rotation would perform. With Adam Wainwright lost for the season to an elbow injury, the Red Birds would only be returning two starters who pitched the last full season with team: Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. With Carpenter, the team knew what it was getting: a perennial contender for the Cy Young Award who was coming off a 16-9 season with a 3.22 ERA. Garcia had a sensational rookie campaign, but faded towards the end of last season and really struggled during spring training.

Courtesy of Erika Lynn

As for the “other” pieces in the rotation, the Cardinals really couldn’t know what to expect. Jake Westbrook had a less than stellar switch from the AL to the NL late last season after being acquired via trade. Kyle Lohse hadn’t pitched a full season since 2008, compiling a 10-18 record over two consecutive injury-plagued campaigns in ’09 and 2010. Kyle McClellan had gotten stronger each of the past three seasons in the Cardinals bullpen, but there were no guarantees his success would convert from reliever to starter.

With a third of the season in the books, the starting rotation has turned out to be one of the Cardinals’ biggest strengths. Consider for a moment that last year’s starters combined for 63 victories, and effort that left the Cardinals 5 games short of a playoff berth. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright combined for 36 of those 63 victories… or 57%. As of June 7th, the Cardinals have gotten 1 win out of Carpenter, and of course none out of the injured Wainwright. Yet the Cardinals still hold a comfortable lead over the Brewers for 1st place in the NL Central.

Back in March, I projected what I thought the team would get (and what it would need) from the rotation in order to stay in contention.

As a whole, I figure the rotation at the very least would need 60 wins from the rotation. Here’s a look at how those projections are panning out:

Pitcher Projected Wins Necessary Wins Current Wins Current Win Pace
Carpenter 15 15 1 3
Garcia 15 15 6 16
Lohse 12-15 10 7 19
Westbrook 12 10 5 13
McClellan 10-12 10 6 16
Team Totals 64-69 60 25 67

Carpenter’s win total is the glaring discrepancy, but that’s ok thanks to the 2-5 pitchers. All four of them are on pace to exceed expectations and help the Cardinals stay in contention into September.

The common theme among Cardinals fans this season has been this: “One win from Carp, a significant fall-off in production from Pujols, and we’re still in first place. Imagine what the division standing would look like if those two got back to ‘normal.’”

This past week, the world saw the resurgence of Albert Pujols. Carpenter had been pitching great and it’s only a matter of time before he starts racking up wins.

And then, we’ll see what this team is really capable of.

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The Other Guys

If someone had told me a month ago that by the end of April Albert Pujols would be hitting in the mid-.200’s and had ground into more double plays than home runs, I would think the Cardinals probably would be struggling to find offense. If that same someone had also told me Chris Carpenter would have more losses than wins and Jake Westbrook would have a 7.40 ERA by now, I would think the Cards had major rotation issues.

I also would not think that despite the above numbers, the League Leaders would still be littered with Cardinals. And I also would not think the Cardinals would be in first place. But it’s true—all of it.

It may not be fair to label Matt Holliday an “other guy.” He is, after all, the highest paid player on the roster. He should have great numbers. But Holliday started off so slowly last year it’s almost comical to see that he’s hitting over .400 for the month of April. And maybe Jaime Garcia really is as good as his rookie campaign in 2010, so with that in mind his 3-0 start and 2.08 ERA could just be a continuation of the type of pitcher he really is.

But Kyle Lohse of all people has been the best pitcher on the team, and is one of the best in the league. He is 4-1 with a 1.68 ERA. He and Garcia both already have complete game shutouts this season. And Kyle McClellan has shown he really can be an effective starter after finally getting his shot: he is 4-0 with a 3.23 ERA. The Cards are the only NL team with two four game winners; one is a guy who missed the better part of the last two years to injury and the other is a converted reliever.

And what can be said about Lance Berkman that hasn’t already been said? He won player of the week once this season, and he could win it again this week. Berkman and Holliday are pacing the league in batting average, and Berkman is among the leaders in home runs, too.

David Freese is off to a hot start, too, joining Berkman and Holliday in the top 10 in the majors in batting average. Colby Rasmus is up over .300 as well. If these guys have a knock against them, it’s their strikeouts…they are the top two K-machines on the team. But they only barely crack the highest 50 whiffers in the majors. So it could be a lot worse. Remember the little tirade Tony LaRussa had earlier this month? It looks like he was right. The Cards lead the league in team hits, batting average, on-base percentage, and RBI and are top 10 in slugging, home runs, and fewest strikeouts. This team can hit, and they still are not seeing much out of Pujols.

Everyone knows about the bullpen troubles, but I believe that to be a temporary speed bump. Roles have completely changed and guys have been injured. Is it serious? Certainly. But it’s hard to get completely down on pitching with Dave Duncan in the dugout. The bullpen will get sorted out; it may not ever be stellar but it will be better than we’ve seen this month.

All in all, the Cardinals have been surprising this month. I remember talking to a friend at the beginning of the year—during their slow offensive start—and saying I wanted to see increments before I believed this could be a good team. I wanted to see a good game, then a good series of games, then a good week, then a good couple of weeks, etc. So far the Cards have produced all of the above and could finish with a good month. If these numbers keep rolling and others elevate their levels to their norms, there will be no denying the 2011 Cardinals are in fact a great team.

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Where Are They Now: JD Drew

J.D. Drew’s career was legendary long before he arrived in St. Louis. The young outfielder started making headlines while he was in High School and made a big splash on the major leagues the year before the Cardinals selected him in the Amateur Draft.

Fresh from high school, J.D. was selected in the 20th round of the 1994 draft, but elected to go to college instead. When he came out of college in 1997 and entered the draft, experts everywhere had him pegged as the top young player in the draft that year. The Phillies agreed and with the second pick overall (the Tigers took right handed pitcher Matt Anderson from Rice University) drafted J.D. into the organization. The only problem was, J.D. wanted premium money despite never having played in the major leagues. Agent Scott Boras had made no secret of the fact that they would seek a $10 million signing bonus from any team that drafted his client and the Phillies elected to take the gamble. The league had placed a value on the number two pick of the draft at $2.6 million and that is as far as the Phillies would go. J.D. would call their bluff and sit out the entire season, re-entering the draft the following year and joining the Cardinals as the fifth overall pick in the 1998 draft.

The Cardinals would waste no time getting the talented young man to the majors, despite some critics saying that he may have been rushed. The outfielder would struggle through his rookie campaign in 1999, hitting .242 with 13 home runs and 39 runs batted in. It was 2001 before the Cardinals and their fans got a glimpse of the potential of Mr. Drew. That season he would hit .323 (still a career high), club 27 home runs, drive in 73 runs and post a .414 on base percentage.

J.D. would stay with the Cardinals through 2003 before leaving a whole new mark on the organization on the way out. He would leave the team with just under 100 home runs for his career (96), just under 300 runs batted in for his career (280) and a career .282 batting average. In an effort to improve the team in the here and now, Drew and utility man Eli Marrero were sent to Atlanta in exchange for reliever Ray King and starting pitcher Jason Marquis. However, the Cardinals would not pull the trigger on the deal until the Braves included one of their prized prospects, Adam Wainwright.

Georgia native Drew would only spend one season wearing the Braves uniform before he was on the move. J.D. would hit the open market and sign a lucrative, five-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. J.D.’s first season in Los Angeles would be interrupted by injury. It was the following year, 2006, that J.D. would drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career. At the end of that season, J.D. and his agent would execute an “escape clause” in his five year contract and J.D. would be back on the open market.

This time, J.D. would find himself square in the middle of the “East Coast Bias” as he would sign a five year contract with the Boston Red Sox. He has been productive, less injury prone, and a strong piece in the Red Sox franchise over the last four years since that contract was signed. He has hit for a .270 batting average, 76 home runs and 264 runs batted in since joining the team.

News broke this week that J.D. is seriously considering retirement at the end of his contract, based on many factors. He has cited the desire to talk to his friends and family, pray about it, and see where his body is physically at the end of this season before he determines the next step. J.D. had discussed the possibility of retirement during the 2010 season as well and most sources close to him say they are not sure which way he is leaning.

He may not be remembered as a Cardinal when all is said and done, but he started in St. Louis and fans in that city will always remember him for what he did for the team, what he did as he entered the league, and the return the team got for him as he left.

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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The Rivalry Continues: Cardinals v. Cubs 2011 Preview

This rivalry transcends the game on the field. Nothing is off-limits when it comes to St. Louis and Chicago. Which city has the better landmark, the better pizza, the better fans? All questions argued between April in September. But it all eventually boils back down to one thing: the teams. Who’s winning, who’s not? And that’s what we’ve come to do here today… to break down both teams, and decide who’s got the edge as this century-old rivalry continues in 2011…

Starting Pitching

Heading into spring training, the Cardinals should be feeling pretty good about their rotation. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are perennial aces, each finishing in the top 3 in Cy Young voting as recently as 2009. Wainwright is coming off career years in ERA (2.42) and Wins (20), while Carpenter turned in another solid season (3.22 ERA) and is an astounding record of 84-33 since 2004. Jaime Garcia had a great rookie campaign (13-8, 2.70 ERA) and could be the left-handed starter the Cardinals have been looking for since Rick Ankiel’s pitching career when up in flames back in 2002. Jake Westbrook is a solid number 3 pitcher (career .500 pitcher with an ERA of 4.22) that the Cardinals will have the luxury of running out as their number 4. The only question that remains is the 5th spot. Kyle Lohse was very unimpressive in his road back from injury late last season (4-8, 6.55 ERA in 18 starts) but may be the Cardinals best option. Brad Penny is now a member of the Detroit Tigers, and while there was some thought of possibly moving set-up man Kyle McClellan into the rotation, that seems very unlikely now with the trade of Blake Hawksworth in the Ryan Theriot deal.

The Cubs have a few more question marks in their starting rotation heading into spring training. They have 3 solid pitchers in Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Garza. All three had ERAs under 4.00 and winning records. Garza was a great pick-up. While it’s hard to what a 15-10 record and 3.91 ERA translates to in the NL Central, I think it’s safe to say those numbers will substantially improve from his time in the AL East. The Cubs will try to catch lightning in a bottle again with Carlos Silva, who started last year 9-2 with a 2.48 ERA before struggling with injuries in the second half of last season. Tom Gorzelanny is about attractive a number 5 pitcher as Kyle Lohse is for the Cardinals, but with a decent ERA of 4.09 last year, he’s definitely in the running.

Edge: Cardinals. Cards have as good a 1-2 punch as anyone in baseball, and too many question marks for the Cubs.

The Bullpen

IN 2010, the Cardinals Bullpen was head and shoulders superior to the Cubs. Chicago was 15th in the NL in bullpen ERA at 4.72. The Cardinals were nearly a full run below that at 3.73. The Cardinals lost a critical, up and coming piece to their staff in Blake Hawksworth, and the Cubs have reacquired veteran Kerry Wood. And while Cubs closer Carlos Marmol gave blew more saves (5) than Ryan Franklin (2), his ERA was nearly a full run better (2.55 vs Franklin’s 3.46).

The Edge: Cardinals. Both teams certainly have holes to fill, but the Cubs have more work to do if they plan to erase that big gap separating their bullpen and the Cardinals’.

The Infield

As always, the Cardinals have a big question marks at every position west of Albert Pujols (which by the way, the Cubs $10 million dollar contract they gave to first baseman Carlos Pena was very cute, but he’s a .241 career hitter coming off a .196 season, and Pujols is a future Hall of Famer. Let’s not waste any more time on first base: Advantage: Cardinals).

The Cardinals will hope Skip Schumaker figures things out at the plate and returns to his .300+ form of his earlier years with the Cardinals. It’ll be interesting to see how Ryan Theriot experiment works out; certainly won’t be worse than the Khalil Greene era, right? At third, David Freese is a big question mark heading into the season as well coming off his injury. It’s easy to forget he’s only had a few months experience in the big leagues. Although he appears to have a bright future, you just never know how the native St. Louisian will bounce back. Yadier Molina is a perennial gold glove candidate behind the plate, but his average has dipped of late.

The Cubs have the luxury of a proven anchor in Aramis Ramirez over at 3rd. Although he had a terrible season by his standards, hitting just .241, he still managed 25 HRs and 83 RBIs. It was his first full season coming off an injury plagued 2009, and I would expect him to return to his usual .300+ average with 30+ HRs and 100+ RBIs. That might be more than the left side of the Cardinals infield combined. Chicago also has a promising young middle infield. Starlin Castro hit .300 in his rookie campaign (he’s only 20) and Blake Dewitt wasn’t spectacular, hitting .261 with 19 errors, but 82 RBIs from a second baseman is definitely nothing to scoff at. Geovany Soto isn’t as good a catcher as Molina, but makes up for it with his power and average.

Edge: Cubs. Even with Albert Pujols, the Cardinals have some big questions at every other infield position. The Cubs will get major power from both corner spots, and quiet, top of the order production from the middle of their infield.

The Outfield

The Cardinals outfield could be scary good this season. If Colby Rasmus gets the 400+ at bats he deserves and doesn’t have to sit every third day or vs left-handed starter, he is a .290/30 HR/85 RBI/20 Steal waiting to happen. But will he get the Abs, and will he stay healthy? Speaking of health, Lance Berkman could do some serious damage as well. He’s shown in the past he can be a .350 hitter with 40+ HRs and 100+ RBIs, but he isn’t getting any younger. The Cardinals will have to hope he has at least one more spectacular season left in him. We all know what Matt Holliday can do. His only downfall has been hitting early in the season with runners in scoring position. After huge pressure in his first season after a major contract, expect Matt to relax and produce even more than last year.

The Cubs outfield was a disaster last season. Kosuke Fukudome has been disappointing for three years now, hitting just .263 with 13 HRs while making $14 million. Alfonso Soriano has had two straight down years, hitting around .250 since ’09 with dropping power numbers. Marlon Byrd, the Cubs only “All Star” last year, hit .293 with just 12 HRs and 66 RBIs. Need we go further?

Edge: Cardinals.

Despite the clear advantages in many areas, the Cubs had the Cardinals’ number last year. The Red Birds only won 6 of 15 games against Chicago. It was just one of many examples of the Cardinals’ struggles to beat bad teams last year. More than two-thirds of the Cardinals’ losses in 2010 came at the hands of teams with records that were .500 or worse. St. Louis needs to take care of business against teams like the Cubs this season if they plan to play in October.

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The St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 Resolutions

Happy New Year! It is time to flip the calendar once again. The St. Louis Cardinals would probably prefer to forget most of 2010. Bright spots like Jaime Garcia’s breakout rookie campaign, the continued ascendance of Adam Wainwright, and solid offense from the middle of the order were overshadowed by devastating injuries, down production from the top and bottom of the lineup, and focus/attitude issues that led to the early ouster of Felipe Lopez and eventual trade of Brendan Ryan.

But New Year’s Day provides an opportunity for rebirth. Bad habits are identified and eradicated; fresh outlooks and routines are established. And then by Mardi Gras we’re all smoking, drinking, and overeating again. Such is life. The Cardinals also need to examine their collective reflection in the figurative mirror and find things to work on. Some are big and some are small. But all are important to the type of team that they will field in 2011. In fact, their success or failure this year pretty much depends on them.

Sign Albert Pujols – Yeah, yeah yeah…let’s bring out the dead horse for another beating. But is there really anything more important for the Cardinals to do over the next month or so? I mean, the entire future (and a good chunk of the legacy) of the franchise hangs in the balance here. Do they make Pujols the richest player in baseball? Does he walk if they don’t? Can the team compete with that salary on the books? Will they trade him? It really is unbelievable how big this decision is—probably bigger than acquiring Lou Brock or deciding to dump Steve Carlton—and it will be made within the next few weeks.

Address organizational depth issues – Part of the reason the 2010 team fell short is the injuries sustained during the season. The pieces used to compensate for those losses were woefully inadequate. Aging veterans are fine as role players and late-inning replacements, but when they’re asked to start for weeks or months in a row it leads to trouble. Obviously it may not be feasible to stock the bench with top-notch talent, but the Cards have to find a middle ground. The players in the Cards’ farm system have to step up when called upon, and the front office needs to be a little more selective regarding the veterans they bring in.

Stay healthy – This may seem like another obvious one, but that does not make it less important. Kyle Lohse, David Freese, and Lance Berkman will all be expected to make major contributions to the 2011 Cardinals after recent injury issues. And their importance pales in comparison to what it would mean to the Cards to lose Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright, or Yadier Molina for an extended period of time. Yes, a little luck is involved here. But keeping this team together and humming for the majority of the year will go a long way toward establishing them as a contender in the NL Central.

Beat the teams they’re supposed to beat – How many times did we see the 2010 Cardinals beat the crap out of the Phillies or the Dodgers only to turn around and lose two of three to the Pirates and Nationals? And the only NL Central team they were able to beat handily last season was the division-winning Reds. That must change in 2011. All the Cardinals needed was one more win per month to take the NL Central in 2010. Kind of puts a 5-10 record against the Houston Astros in perspective, doesn’t it?

Play a Hard Nine – Tony LaRussa’s philosophy seemed to be lost on the 2010 Cardinals, especially when playing sub-.500 teams. The moves made by the team are clearly meant to upgrade attitude and focus rather than overall talent. The 2011 Cardinals are going to have to bear down for what could prove to be a grinding season. They must learn to play more effective small ball. They have to take extra bases and play smart, effective defense. They have to play like underdogs, because that is exactly what they will be in 2011. The Cards can no longer win on reputation alone.

So here’s to hoping the Cardinals do better than most of us with their New Year’s Resolutions. If they want to win a more competitive NL Central in 2011, they really have no choice.

Chris Reed is a freelance writer from Belleville, IL who also writes about the Cardinals for InsideSTL on Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he wants. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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