Tag Archive | "Rotations"

Who Is Number Two In KC Rotation?

The Kansas City Royals took huge measures this offseason to fix their number one on-field issue, the rotation.  The addition of James Shields gave them a legitimate ace pitcher at the front of their rotation.  The rebuilt rotation looks stronger but leaves the question open: Who’s number two?

Rotation

Throughout 2012 the opinion around the Royals fanbase was very similar.  Many people felt that the team was full of pitchers that projected as the fourth or fifth best pitcher in a rotation.  There was no clear cut “ace” nor was there anyone that the fans felt confident in taking the mound to stop a losing streak.  The team had major league quality pitching, it just was not elite.

Dayton Moore seemingly set out to fix that during the end of 2012 and into the offseason.  A three year contract was reached with Jeremy Guthrie, who had pitched very well after joining the Royals during the second half of 2012, and trades were made for Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana.  The fifth spot is up for grabs this spring and eventually Danny Duffy will join these four to round out the starting five.

Shields obviously will head line the starting rotation for the Royals and is the type of pitcher that would headline most rotations across baseball.  Last year was a team full of rotation guys that projected as four and five starters, this year, it appears that the rotation may be full of guys that are top-three style pitchers.

Looking at the four starters that are set into the rotation this season, where will they rank at the end of 2013?

Wade Davis: Number Four
WadeDavis
Davis has been a solid Major League pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays.  In four seasons he has proven to be a durable starter and a reliable relief pitcher.  The Royals brought him in as insurance and an upgrade over the pitchers they currently had, but he was never projected to be near the top of the rotation.  Davis will provide some inning-eating starts throughout the summer and be serviceable in his role, but ultimately will remain as a lower-rotation starter that may end up back in the bullpen before long if other pitchers are pitching well when Duffy returns.

Ervin Santana: Number Three
MARINEROS-ANGELINOS
Santana is the pitcher that the Royals most hope can realize his potential.  In eight seasons of starting pitching for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Santana has won 16 or more games three times in his career.  He has also lost 12 or more games three times as well.  An up-and-down career has seen moments of brilliance and frustration for Santana.  The Royals will hope that Dave Eiland can work with Santana on mechanical flaws in his delivery and help him regain his top-of-the-rotation form.  Santana should be able to be the number three starter when the smoke clears, though Kansas City may be hoping he is better than that.

Jeremy Guthrie: Number Two
JeremyGuthrie
Looking at past performance of all three starters would rank Guthrie much lower in this conversation.  However, in recent interviews Guthrie has talked very openly about a renewed confidence, a satisfaction with management and coaching and overcoming a mental block that he felt kept him for being a better pitcher in Colorado.  He has spoken to the fact that Kauffman Stadium is a pitcher friendly environment and that he feels that he has one of the best defenses in the league behind him.  The confidence shows in his statistics from last season, with nearly all of his stats showing best in his career type numbers.  He is pitching to contact, keeping the ball in the park, and letting his defense do the work.

By the time the smoke clears on the 2013 season, the Royals will be looking at a rotation that will feature top-tier players at most of the slots.  Jeremy Guthrie has every opportunity to become a great part of that rotation for the next three years.

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

Posted in RoyalsComments (0)

It all starts with pitching…and ends with it too.

Our final look around the St. Louis Cardinals stops on the pitching staff. As games in Jupiter begin shortly here is a look at the make-up of said staff before they break camp.

 

The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals were admittedly built around their offense. The trade of Brendan Ryan coupled with the acquisition of Ryan Theriot meant a defensive sacrifice at one of the toughest spots in the field. Combining this with Skip Schumaker at second and the rather limited range of the outfield, the team surrendered 84 unearned runs, the most in the majors.

The pitching staff, initially, was thought to be somewhat of an asset, if not overly a huge strength. The tandem of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright would be generally considered one of the strongest 1-2 combinations in the majors. As Murphy’s Law quickly pointed out, that wasn’t the case.

Heading into 2012 the Cardinals, with a healthy Wainwright, look to have the best rotation in the NL Central.

Chris Carpenter;  11-9, 3.45 ERA, 191 K, 105 ERA+, 1.256 WHIP

The first half of 2011 was a pretty rough one for Carpenter. As of June 17, he was 1-7 with an ERA of 4.47. After that, though, something clicked in his head, and he became the Chris Carpenter we’re accustomed to seeing, going 10-2 the rest of the way with a 2.73 ERA.

As an unforeseen consequence of the playoff run, however, Carpenter threw a total of 273.1 innings. Back when teams had four-man rotations, this wasn’t generally a big deal. Nowadays, especially for a pitcher who turns 37 in April and has had two surgeries on his throwing arm, it could be pretty significant. The Cardinals have already announced they will abbreviate his pitching schedule in spring training, and possibly beyond, in order to accommodate his arm. Carpenter signed a new two-year deal in the off-season, likely making the Cardinals the final team of his career.

Adam Wainwright; DNP

As soon as it was announced Wainwright would undergo Tommy John surgery, the season got a lot darker. There’s little question that even with Carpenter on the team, Wainwright had been the ace of the staff the last couple of seasons. In a two-year span, he’d gone 39-19 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.131 WHIP, and 3.48 K/BB ratio.

By all accounts, he’s throwing hard and able to snap off his curveball as effectively as before the surgery. Here’s hoping for a full season of health from him. The Cardinals picked up his option for 2012 and 2013, after which he’ll become a free agent. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the dominant starting pitchers in the league. This is, unfortunately, the second major injury he’s suffered in the last four years (he suffered a finger injury in 2008 that forced him to miss more than two months), so one has to wonder whether durability will become an issue.

Jaime Garcia; 13-7, 3.56 ERA, 156 K, 102 ERA+, 1.320 WHIP

Most likely the biggest factor was fatigue. After Garcia missed part of 2008 and most of 2009 due to Tommy John surgery, Garcia threw 163.1 innings in 2010 (previously, the most he’d thrown was 155 innings…in 2006). Typically, pitching coaches try to limit the increase in innings on a young arm to no more than 25 over the previous season, but Garcia blew past that in 2011: 194.2 in the regular season and another 25.2 in the playoffs.

Garcia has emerged as a legitimate above-average pitcher, and the return of Adam Wainwright should help alleviate some of the pressure on him. He signed an extension to his contract through 2015, with team options for 2016 and 2017, so he’ll be around a while. When his game is on, he’s on; he just has to improve the consistency of when he’s on.

Kyle Lohse; 14-8, 3.39 ERA, 111 K, 107 ERA+, 1.168 WHIP

Lohse is in the final year of his contract, and he was fully healthy last year and produced, unlike the first two years of his contract. He may not be as effective this year (his Batting Average for Balls in Play was an unusually low .269, a full 33 points below his career average), but if he stays healthy, he’s one of the better number four starters in the league. One interesting note about his career is that his best years tend to come every third year: 2002, 2005, 2008, and 2011 were all notable for being better than the rest of his career. Also, he’s the only member of the Cardinals’ starting rotation who hasn’t undergone Tommy John surgery.

Jake Westbrook; 12-9, 4.66 ERA, 104 K, 78 ERA+, 1.533 WHIP

Westbrook was the odd man out in the rotation during the playoffs, but he still played an important role. Westbrook pitched in two games and threw two scoreless innings, including the crucial 11th inning of Game 6. Facing four batters, two of which included Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, Westbrook limited the Rangers to a single base hit, setting the stage for David Freese’s heroics.

Other than the season he missed due to Tommy John, Westbrook’s been a generally durable pitcher. He reported to camp this year having lost about 25 lbs. in an effort to increase his endurance and lighten the workload on his legs. I won’t be so bold as to predict a 20 win, sub-3.00 ERA season, but if Furcal can stay healthy and the Greene/Descalso combination can perform adequately at second base, it’s not unreasonable to expect 13-14 wins and a solid 180-200 innings from him. Coming from a fifth starter, you can’t ask for too much more.

Bullpen

At the end of the 2011 regular season, the Cardinals ranked 17th in bullpen ERA. But this was a group that evolved during the course of the season, as young relievers settled in, and by the time the Cardinals got to the World Series, it was a very different bullpen than it was in the frustrating days of early September. Jason Motte was never formally named the closer under Tony La Russa; maybe he’ll get that title from Mike Matheny. Marc Rzepczynski is viewed as an untapped gem, and maybe with a full season working under pitching coach Dave Duncan, he’ll become a dominant setup man.

Injury Contingencies

Now, should one of the starters go down, the two most likely emergency starters would be Lance Lynn or Kyle McClellan. McClellan held his own as a starter last season for most of the first half, but eventually he faltered, perhaps due in part to lack of stamina (formerly a starter in the minors, he pitched the first three years and the last half of 2011 in the bullpen). Lynn is also a career starter in the minors who found his niche in the majors in the bullpen. He started two games last year, and other than his first rough outing, he was pretty lights out: in his final 17 games, he went 1-0 with a 2.15 ERA and allowed a slashline of just .204/.281/.301 while striking out 35 batters in 29.1 innings. During the playoffs, he was pretty solid. In the NLCS and World Series, apart from Game 6 (when he gave up three earned runs in 1.2 innings), he gave up a total of one earned run in 9.1 innings.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

Cardinal Great Bob Forsch Passes

The news is still very young at this point, but Cardinal great Bob Forsch has apparently died of a heart attack at the age of 61.

You can read the official press release from the club, by clicking here to read a PDF file.

Forsch is best remember in St. Louis for his place in the pitching rotation through the successful “Whiteyball” years. A Cardinal from 1974 until an August trade in 1988 sent him to the Houston Astros for Denny Walling, Forsch was a staple in the starting rotation.

I-70’s resident historical writer, Bob Netherton, had some thoughts on Forsch:

I was saddened to hear the news of Bob Forsch’s passing. He was always a fan favorite, and for good reason. We know all about the two no-hitters, but the fact that he was the only player that Herzog kept from the 70s team to last through all three NL Pennants says far more about him as a player and person than those two magnificent games. Forsch was a mirror of the team he played for, never seeking the spotlight, probably wasn’t the best at his position, but he gave it everything he had each time he was called on. From the rotation, to the bullpen, back to the rotation – whatever the team needed, Forsch was there.

Forsch was a stingy pitcher who walked few but also did not strike out many. A pitch to contact hurler in a spacious Busch Stadium, Forsch was also a work horse that threw over 200 innings seven times in his 16 year career. He would also post double digit wins in all but five of his seasons on the mound, winning 20 games for the one and only time in 1977.

A steady pitcher that anchored many rotations, Forsch was never regarded as the ace of the staff. In fact, he led the league in one category one time in his career with a 1.4 walks per nine innings in 1980. He was also regarded as a very good hitter and would retain two Silver Slugger awards, 1980 and 1987, for his commitment at the plate.

More from Netherton:

My favorite Forsch moment came in Game Three of the 1987 National League Championship Series. The Cardinals were being bullied around by Will Clark and Jeffrey Leonard. Forsch came into the game and immediately took control but hitting Leonard with a pitch. It put a runner in scoring position, but Forsch never let that runner cross the plate. It started one of the greatest comebacks in Cardinals postseason history. What a competitor.

Forsch would throw two no hitters in his time with the Cardinals. His first would come on April 16, 1978 against the Philadelphia Phillies, the second on September 26, 1983 against the Montreal Expos. As impressive as it was for Forsch to throw two no hitters in his career, it was a game that he did not pitch that would etch his name into Major League Baseball’s record books. Almost one year to the day after Bob threw his first no hitter, his brother Ken would throw a no hitter for the Houston Astros on April 7, 1979 against the Atlanta Braves. They are the only brothers to every throw no hitters in Major League Baseball history.

Most recently, Forsch has been serving as the pitching coach for the Rookie League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the Billings Mustangs.

Netherton’s final thought: Bob Forsch was one of my favorite players, and he will be missed.

Bob Forsch’s career statistics:

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
1970 20 STL-min 2 3 .400 4.94 8 5 31.0 38 26 17 19 1.839 11.0 5.5 LEW,CDR · NORW,MIDW
1971 21 STL-min 11 7 .611 3.13 23 23 158.0 140 74 55 41 134 1.146 8.0 2.3 7.6 3.27 CDR · MIDW
1972 22 STL-min 8 10 .444 4.35 24 24 7 2 153.0 158 85 74 47 109 1.340 9.3 2.8 6.4 2.32 ARK · TL
1973 23 STL-min 12 12 .500 4.39 27 27 166.0 169 91 81 66 1.416 9.2 3.6 TUL · AA
1974 24 STL-min 8 5 .615 3.67 15 14 7 0 103.0 95 49 42 33 71 1.243 8.3 2.9 6.2 2.15 TUL · AA
1974 24 STL 7 4 .636 2.97 19 14 0 5 2 100.0 84 38 33 34 39 123 1.180 7.6 3.1 3.5 1.15
1975 25 STL 15 10 .600 2.86 34 34 0 7 4 230.0 213 89 73 70 108 134 1.230 8.3 2.7 4.2 1.54
1976 26 STL 8 10 .444 3.94 33 32 0 2 0 194.0 209 112 85 71 76 90 1.443 9.7 3.3 3.5 1.07
1977 27 STL 20 7 .741 3.48 35 35 0 8 2 217.1 210 97 84 69 95 112 1.284 8.7 2.9 3.9 1.38
1978 28 STL 11 17 .393 3.70 34 34 0 7 3 233.2 205 110 96 97 114 96 1.292 7.9 3.7 4.4 1.18
1979 29 STL 11 11 .500 3.83 33 32 0 7 1 218.2 215 102 93 52 92 100 1.221 8.8 2.1 3.8 1.77
1980 30 STL 11 10 .524 3.77 31 31 0 8 0 214.2 225 102 90 33 87 99 1.202 9.4 1.4 3.6 2.64
1981 31 STL 10 5 .667 3.18 20 20 0 1 0 124.1 106 47 44 29 41 112 1.086 7.7 2.1 3.0 1.41
1982 32 STL 15 9 .625 3.48 36 34 1 6 2 233.0 238 95 90 54 69 105 1.253 9.2 2.1 2.7 1.28
1983 33 STL 10 12 .455 4.28 34 30 3 6 2 187.0 190 104 89 54 56 85 1.305 9.1 2.6 2.7 1.04
1984 34 STL 2 5 .286 6.02 16 11 2 1 0 52.1 64 38 35 19 21 59 1.586 11.0 3.3 3.6 1.11
1985 35 STL 9 6 .600 3.90 34 19 4 3 1 136.0 132 63 59 47 48 92 1.316 8.7 3.1 3.2 1.02
1986 36 STL 14 10 .583 3.25 33 33 0 3 0 230.0 211 91 83 68 104 114 1.213 8.3 2.7 4.1 1.53
1987 37 STL 11 7 .611 4.32 33 30 1 2 1 179.0 189 90 86 45 89 97 1.307 9.5 2.3 4.5 1.98
1988 38 TOT 10 8 .556 4.29 36 18 3 1 1 136.1 153 73 65 44 54 81 1.445 10.1 2.9 3.6 1.23
1988 38 STL 9 4 .692 3.73 30 12 3 1 1 108.2 111 51 45 38 40 94 1.371 9.2 3.1 3.3 1.05
1988 38 HOU 1 4 .200 6.51 6 6 0 0 0 27.2 42 22 20 6 14 52 1.735 13.7 2.0 4.6 2.33
1989 39 HOU 4 5 .444 5.32 37 15 5 0 0 108.1 133 68 64 46 40 64 1.652 11.0 3.8 3.3 0.87
16 Seasons 168 136 .553 3.76 498 422 19 67 19 2794.2 2777 1319 1169 832 1133 98 1.291 8.9 2.7 3.6 1.36
162 Game Avg. 12 10 .553 3.76 37 31 1 5 1 207 205 97 86 61 84 98 1.291 8.9 2.7 3.6 1.36
W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
STL (15 yrs) 163 127 .562 3.67 455 401 14 67 19 2658.2 2602 1229 1085 780 1079 101 1.272 8.8 2.6 3.7 1.38
HOU (2 yrs) 5 9 .357 5.56 43 21 5 0 0 136.0 175 90 84 52 54 61 1.669 11.6 3.4 3.6 1.04
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/4/2011.

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.

Editor’s Note: I feel compelled to include a few Tweets from around Cardinal Nation this morning:

I've always heard stories about Bob Forsch from his playing days. R.I.P. Sad news. #stlcards
@FishSTL
Michael Fisher
Bob Forsch was who I imagined myself to be playing ball in the street as a boy, hitting grand slams & pitching no-hitters for the #stlcards.
@bamatthews
Ben Matthews
Oh man...Bob Forsch. Rest in peace, brother. #stlcards
@deckacards
Kevin Reynolds
Thinking of Bob Forsch's family today. Rest in peace, Bob. #stlcards
@singmichele
Michele
Stunned, saddened to hear the news that Bob Forsch has passed away. We talked last week, before Game 7. I am praying for his family. So sad.
@Ackerman1120
Tom Ackerman
Bob Forsch pitched two no-hitters for #stlcards. I was there to see his first in 1978. Groundball under Reitz glove at 3B ruled an error
@Jeffsteig
Jeff Lloyd

Posted in Cardinals, ClassicComments (0)

Moving Forward Into 2012

Well that didn’t last too long. Not even a week into their off season as World Series champions and the St. Louis Cardinals are forced to move on. Now I am not faulting Tony LaRussa for announcing his retirement when he did. It is actually a refreshing change from his usual post season melodrama of should I stay or should I go.

The timing of his decision is actually in the best interest of the team. By waiting until after the season he kept the focus on the players and their historic post season run, not offering himself up as a distraction. And in turn by letting it be known to the world as soon as he did he gave the organization a head start on finding his successor.

Who Bill Dewitt and John Mozeliak chose to take the reigns as skipper of the Cardinals will have an immediate impact on the look and feel of the 2012 club.

With TLR leaving, and throwing a wrench into my post-Pujols plans (I think he’s gone) the Cardinals could end up with a manager running the same lineup out there day in and day out. How boring and predictable would that be? Over the last 16 years I have grown accustomed to LaRussa using players all over the field and within various rotations and platoons.

The options that present themselves are pretty obvious. Lance Berkman slides in to first base and Allen Craig begins his assault on the National League by becoming the everyday right fielder. There is the possibility of moving Freese over to first and mixing and matching some form of Schumaker, Craig, Berkman, Descalso rotation between right and third-base. I pray that does not happen.

It is because of options such as these that my choice for TLR’s replacement would be someone with an extensive back ground in the National League. Terry Francona is a good manager and I’m sure would do a fine job. But in my opinion he is not the choice here. It has been a while since Tito has had to strategize in a ball game for a 162 games.

The National League game requires anticipating moves innings before they happen and playing the match-ups more so than the game in that other league. Without the abomination that is the DH a manager has to find more creative ways to get his bench players at bats game in and game out.

Terry Francona has not had to think like that in quite a while. You have been growing the replacement for years. He knows the organization, the Cardinal way and most importantly he know the players and the coaches.

Ushering in the Oquendo era is the right move here. Doing so allows the team, most likely, to keep pitching guru Dave Duncan around for at least another year. This would be most helpful while looking for a suitable replacement. Two other reasons; Oquendo is cheaper and you don’t have to trade for him (Maddon).

And finally, failing with Oquendo is much easier to look past than failing with Francona or Maddon. Oquendo is the organization guy who earned his chops under one of the best ever. It is Secret Weapon time.

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (0)

Royals Starters Biggest Barrier To Contention

The Royals surprising start thus far has been built on middle of the order production, defense and shutdown performances from a very young bullpen. As expected, the weak link has been the starting pitching. Royals starters are sporting a collective 5.17 ERA, worst in the American League. That the team with the worst starting ERA has jumped out to a 17-14 record is a minor miracle. It is also the major factor preventing many fans from fully buying into this team as a contender just yet.

photo by Minda Haas

I have delved deep into the numbers to see how the Royals rotation stacks up within the AL Central. The results probably will not be encouraging to the Royals faithful, though there is some reason to hope for minor improvement.

My ranking of the rotations (through May 4):

The White Sox, Indians, and Tigers clearly have the superior rotations to this point, with the Twins and Royals lagging far behind. But here is one reason for (slight) optimism I found:

While the starters have so far allowed runs at a terrible rate, their xFIP suggests some of that is bad luck and the staff ERA has the potential to decrease significantly. The bad news is that their 4.30 xFIP is still only good for fourth in the division.

Here is how that ERA/xFIP discrepancy is distributed among the Royals starters:

Those ugly ERAs from Davies, Francis, and Hochevar are three of the worst five among ALC starters, but there is significant room for improvement if their xFIPs are any indication. Those three have the most “unlucky” ERA to xFIP ratio among ALC starters. The biggest reason I see for this is the high rate of fly balls that are leaving the park: 13% of fly balls have gone for home runs against KC starters, highest in the majors, and a number that should dip closer to the norm of 9.5-10%.

But even with room to expect improvement, the starting staff as now made up will continue to be the achilles’ heel of the 2011 Royals and temper dreams of contending for the division crown. If the team continues overcoming the starting rotation and can hang around .500 or better, the Royals front office will face critical decisions about promoting one or more of the arms from the farm. People who know about these things suggest Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy are close and could have an impact. The early promotion of Eric Hosmer suggests one or more of those pitchers could follow him to KC soon. If the offense, defense and bullpen can carry on at current levels, a shot in the arm to the rotation could really start to make this team interesting.

For more nerd kicks, a look at the AL Central pitchers by their average game score (through May 4):


You may follow Aaron Stilley on the Tweeties if you are into that kind of thing.

Posted in RoyalsComments (0)

Cardinals Schedule Outlook: July

July is an important month in baseball. It represents the beginning of the season’s second half. The Independence Day holiday usually features great series, especially when the Fourth falls on or near a weekend. July features the close of interleague play, the All Star Game and all its festivities, and the trade deadline. Only October can boast being a more important month on the Major League Baseball calendar.

The Cards figure to have as busy a July as ever. With the uncertainty surrounding the team after the Adam Wainwright injury and the absence of a contract extension for Albert Pujols, Cardinal Nation will be holding its collective breath as the All Star honors are bestowed and the trade deadline looms. But aside from all the pomp and circumstance—and possibly drama—don’t forget there are still games to be played…important games, actually.

July Breakdown

Total Games: 26, plus the All Star Game in Phoenix, Arizona

Home Games: 14

Away Games: 12

Vs. NL Central Teams: 16

Vs. Teams with a 2010 Winning Record: 9

Vs. Teams with a 2010 Losing Record: 17

Key Series

15th – 17th @ CIN: This is the first series after the All Star Break. The teams will be rested, the rotations will be reset, and the unofficial second half will kick off at Great American Ballpark. By this point, we should have a pretty good idea of where each team in the division belongs. If things are tight between the Cardinals and Reds (or the Cards and anyone else, or the Reds and anyone else) this series will be a tone-setter.

29th-31st vs. CHC: Come on…it’s July, it’s hot, it’s the weekend, and it’s the Cubs. Not much more to say. Grab your favorite beverage but try not to get in a fight.

Key to a Hot July

Seems redundant, eh? Seriously, the key for the Cards to have a good July is two-fold: utilize the rest afforded them by the All Star Break in the middle of the month, and take care of business against their NL Central counterparts. The Brewers are the only division foe the Cards won’t face in July, but they face the Reds in two different series. The Cards played well against all the Central teams but the Astros in 2010. But this is a different Central division, so who knows what will happen. The non-division July opponents (TB, AZ, NYM) are not good. Beat those guys, beat the Pirates, try to win series against the Reds, Astros, and Cubs, and July can be a resounding success. Make John Mozeliak need to be a buyer on the 31st.

At the end of July

If the Cardinals have 14+ wins…they may be putting themselves in position to make some noise in the divisional race during the second half. If they approach 20 July wins, we definitely have a race on our hands.
If the Cardinals are .500…they may be flirting with danger. The July schedule isn’t exactly a cakewalk, but having a ho-hum month could quickly evolve into a ho-hum or worse year. Phrases like “it’s early” and “small sample-size” no longer apply.
If the Cardinals are below .500…hold on to your hats, folks. If the Cards are out of the race by the end of July, don’t think for a second this team will be immune to personnel changes. And I’m talking BIG names. Not Pujols big…but maybe Franklin, Schumaker, and/or Carpenter big.

Chris Reed is a freelance writer who also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and at Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

2011 Key Player: Kyle Lohse

The 2011 Cardinals were poised to have one of the strongest rotations in the National League. A Cy Young winner still capable of competing at a high level, an ace that has pitched Cy Young caliber seasons the last two years, a young fire baller and an innings eating consistent pitcher. Add to those four the enigma that is Kyle Lohse, and you had a five man rotation that most teams not named the Phillies would love to have.

Before the first pitch of a spring training exhibition contest could be thrown the Cardinals were dealt the blow of the season. Adam Wainwright, their ace and hopeful Cy Young candidate, would be undergoing Tommy John surgery. The injury would bring to an end a season that had yet to begin for the young man and leave the team looking at what they had to fill the role. With the young fire baller (Jaime Garcia) noticeably struggling and a tight hamstring popping up in former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, the roles of the starters were being questioned everywhere.

Lohse was a late spring signing by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008. A young pitcher with something to prove, Lohse put together a season in 2008 that had the Cardinals dreaming of a top of the rotation quality pitcher. After a 15 win season with a 3.78 earned run average, both career bests, the Cardinals decided to lock Lohse up in a contract through 2012. The injury bug would bite Lohse the following year with muscle problems in his right forearm and take the dreams of a top of the rotation starter and bring them crashing down to a overpriced number five starter at best.

After the injury to Wainwright this year, Lohse’s role became one of the most talk about and scrutinized. If the Cardinals are to succeed and overcome the injury to their ace, Lohse will play a key part in that success. The Cardinals need Lohse to become the innings work horse he once was, control his earned run average, keep the ball on the ground and return to form.

Lohse does not need to overachieve. He does not even need to return to the 15 game winner he was when he earned his contract. A twelve or thirteen win season would solidify the middle of the rotation and keep the Cardinals well in the hunt for the National League Central title in 2011. If the last few seasons are more indicative of what Lohse brings to the table, the Cardinals rotation (and their pennant hopes) are in serious trouble. So far this Spring, Lohse is pitching like the guy that earned that contract in 2008.

For the Cardinals sake, he needs to keep it up.

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.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

Taking Care of Business: A Preview of the 2011 Cardinals vs. Pirates Series

Though the 2010 series was won by the Cardinals (9-6), the Pirates took 5 of their 6 series victories in August and September. To Cardinals fans, this period is known as the great late season slump that killed the Cardinals hopes for winning the 2010 NL Central Division. The losses the Cardinals suffered at the hands of the Pirates were inexcusable and a huge reason why they failed at achieving their goals. The Pirates are traditionally terrible. A team that hopes to capture the NL Central Division can and must beat the Pirates consistently.

In 2011, the Cardinals are once again favored to challenge for the division title. The Pirates, once again, are rebuilding. They have some talent, but not nearly enough to make a run at the pennant. Here is how the teams match up:

Starting Pitching

The St. Louis Cardinals once again boast one the best one-two punches in starting pitching. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are arguably two #1 starters. Both of them could be a #1 starter on most rotations. Last year Wainwright won 20 games with a 2.42 ERA. Carpenter went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA. A down year for him, but if he can bounce back the lethal 1-2 combination of 2009 could be back.

The #3 and #4 starting positions are between Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook. In 2010, Garcia broke onto the MLB scene by posting a 13-8 record and a 2.70 ERA. Though, he did fatigue by year end. The Cardinals are going to have to watch him closely and possibly limit his pitch count again.

Jake Westbrook was added to the 2010 roster late in the season via the controversial Ryan Ludwick trade. He did well enough to entice GM Joe Mozeliak to resign him. Westbrook posted a 4-4 record with a 3.48 ERA. The good news about Westbrook was that he posted his best numbers toward the end of the year. With a full spring under Dave Duncan, perhaps he can improve and challenge Garcia for the #3 spot.

The #5 spot in the Cardinals rotation “should” belong to Kyle Lohse. The last two years have been huge disappointments for Lohse. Some of it can be blamed on injury. Some of it has been inconsistency. Hopefully Lohse can bounce back this year and become a solid starter again.

For the Pirates, there isn’t much to be excited about. The one bright spot on the Pirates rotation is Paul Malhom. In 2010 he led the team with 9 wins and a ERA of 5.10. Those are not dominant numbers in any respect, but, it’s the best the Pirates have to offer.

Edge: No contest. The Cardinals have a huge edge in the battle of starting rotations.

Bullpen

Similar to the starting pitching comparisons, the edge is clearly with the Cardinals. In 2010 the Cardinals had the 11th ranked bullpen in MLB compared to the Pirates, who ranked 28th. The Cardinals closer spot is not completely stable in my opinion. Ryan Franklin is just a game away from a melt down. But they are loaded with young RHP talent like Jason Motte. Not to mention Trevor Miller from the left side.

Octavio Duel collected 21 saves for the Pirates but has departed for the Blue Jays. Once again the Pirates bullpen will be pieced together.

Edge: Cardinals.

Infield

For the last 3 years most of the infield positions outside of 1st base have been a question mark for the Cardinals. In hopes of stabilizing the middle infield, Mo added SS Ryan Theriot to the roster. I believe 2010 was an anomaly for Skip Schumaker who, in a “down year, batted .265. The tandem of Schumaker and Theriot must work hard to keep the number of errors down. Catcher Yadier Molina provides the most stability outside of Pujols. The Golden Glove catcher is remarkable at calling games and as a clubhouse leader. The main key to the Cardinals infield is 3rd base. If David Freese can play the whole year and if he can contribute as he did before going down last June the Cardinals infield could be significantly better than in 2010.

The Pirates added 1st baseman Lyle Overbay to their roster this offseason. Overbay brings a fair amount of power but not a lot of consistency to the Pirates infield lineup. The rest of the Pirates infield is decent, but not overwhelming. Neil Walker and Ronny Cedeno and Pedro Alvarez make up the middle infield, with Pedro Alvarez at 3rd base. Chris Snyder, and his .167 average, will be catching for the Pirates.

Edge: Cardinals.

Outfield

The Cardinals outfield has the potential to be extremely dangerous. The key is going to be if that potential pans out. General Manager John Mozeliak took a gamble on Lance Berkman, aka the “Big Puma”, this offseason. Most teams were put off of considering Berkman for the outfield. However, Berkman has gotten back into great shape. If he can stay healthy and put up big numbers up again, his bat is going to be a huge addition. In left field there are not as many questions, to say the least. Matt Holliday had another huge season with a .312 average while putting up 28 home runs. He remains a vital piece in the Cardinals lineup, providing “protection” for Pujols. The catalyst is going to be the promising but puzzling CF Colby Rasmus. Colby batted .276 and hit 23 home runs last year. The biggest being a grand slam against the Reds on his birthday. But he must get past his personal feud with TLR. And, he must be more consistent against LHP. If he gets the AB’s he deserves, he has the potential for a break out season.

The Pirates outfield is the lone bright spot for the team. Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen is a dynamic hitter and fielder. He led the team in average in 2010 hitting .286 with 16 home runs. He also fielded .987. McCutchen will remain the one player for Pirates fans to watch. In right field the Pirates will showcase Garret Jones. In 2010 Jones led the Pirates in home runs with 21, though he only hit for an average of .247. The outfield is rounded out with Jose Tabata. In 2010 he only played 102 games but he did hit for a .299 average with 4 home runs.

Edge: Cardinals.

The Cardinals clearly have the edge in all aspects of their team. The 2011 season should see the Cardinals dominate the Pirates once again. But, it can not be as close as it was in 2010. And, most importantly, the Cardinals must take advantage of their matchups with the Pirates in August.

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (0)

The Value Of Chris Carpenter

Last week, the Philadelphia Phillies shocked the baseball world by signing Cliff Lee. What made the signing so shocking was that it was thought to have become a two-team race for the southpaw. The New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers were in a bidding war. It was assumed that by the end of the week, Cliff Lee would be with one of those teams, and, more than likely, with the New York Yankees.

But Lee decided to sign with Philadelphia and join, arguably, one of the best rotations in MLB history. The signing of Lee had an impact on the Cardinals fortunes in 2011. The goal of winning the NL pennant and the World Series became a lot tougher. But the day after the signing a rumor began to swirl that could have even bigger ramifications for the 2011 Cardinals.

Though there was never any official statement purporting so, there was talk the New York Yankees might be willing to trade for Chris Carpenter. An arm like Carpenter might help ease the blow from missing out on Cliff Lee. He could, in theory, be a great compliment to Sabathia at the top of the Yankees rotation. In return, the Cardinals could possibly acquire some young talent that could help either the lineup or the rotation in years to come. And, most importantly, they could free up some cash for Albert.

There are, of course, an up side and a down side to a trade of this magnitude. Let’s start with the down side of moving Chris Carpenter out of St. Louis.

Anyone who is a Cardinals fan knows how much Chris Carpenter means to the team. He is the quintessential veteran “ace”. He is the foundation of the rotation. When Carpenter is at his best, the Cardinals are in the thick of the pennant race.

Since joining the Cardinals staff in 2003, Carpenter has posted a staggering record of 84 wins and 33 losses. This puts him in the top 3 of all time Cardinals Win-Loss percentages. In the seven years he has pitched for the Cardinals, he has posted an ERA of 2.98. He has pitched 17 complete games, including 8 shut outs.

In those seven years, Carpenter has been a Cy Young candidate three times. In 2006 he finished third in voting. In 2009 he finished second, right in front of St. Louis Cardinals co-ace Adam Wainright. His best finish, of course, was in 2005 when he finished first in Cy Young voting with a 21-5 record and a 2.83 ERA.

The value of Carpenter goes well beyond the numbers and awards, though. His leadership on the staff has been irreplaceable. He has acted as mentor for others on the pitching staff. And, as we saw last year, he has been a clubhouse leader when others have lacked focus.

The impact Carpenter has had on the team is undeniable. With him, the Cardinals have competed for and won division titles, NL pennants, and World Series. Without him, the Cardinals have floundered in mediocrity.

But, as 2010 showed, nothing lasts forever. The numbers put up by Carpenter last year were disappointing by his standards. In 2010, Carpenter posted a 16-9 record with a 3.22 ERA. That is certainly nothing to scoff at. But, more disturbingly, Carpenter gave up 21 home runs in 2010. That is in comparison to the 7 he gave up in ALL of 2009. Even more alarming is number the earned runs Carpenter gave up in 2010, 84. That’s 36 more than the 49 he gave up in 2009.

Again, these numbers are not horrible. But they are not the numbers we are use to Chris Carpenter, the super ace, posting. He is certainly capable of bouncing back. He has posted less than stellar numbers in the past, only to come back stronger the next year.

But, Carpenter has one thing going against him he did not have in the past; his age. During the 2011 season Carpenter will turn 36. He is getting close to that unfriendly age of 40. Which doesn’t bode well because he also has had issues with durability in the past. He missed the end of the 2004 season with a nerve problem in his right biceps. More damaging was when he missed most, if not all, of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with elbow issues.

When considering trading Carpenter, perhaps the most tempting benefit is the amount of money the Cardinals could free up. In 2011 Carpenter is set to make $15 million. That is the kind of money that is desperately needed to help keep the Albert Pujols from leaving via free agency.

That being said, there are no guarantees the Cardinals will be able to resign Albert Pujols. And with that possibility, perhaps it is wiser to go “all in” with what you have now. The division rival, Milwaukee Brewers, have certainly done so.

The Brewers just shipped a handful of young and talented players to the Royals in order to obtain a proven ace in Zack Greinke. With that kind of arm in the division the Cardinals are going to need all the help they can get in their starting rotation. And unless the Cardinals fall out of the race early, I suspect Chris Carpenter will remain a Cardinal.

Hopefully, helping push the Cardinals to the post season once again.

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (2)