Tag Archive | "Roy Halladay"

Triple Play: Justin Upton, Jonathan Papelbon, Alex Rios

In this week’s Triple Play, we look at the hottest of several scorching Braves hitters, a closer who can’t put nor shut up, the man tasked with replacing Nelson Cruz, and plus more items like our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch and the Ichiro Hit Tracker. Off we go:

JustinUpton

Who’s Hot?

Justin Upton, Atlanta

Welcome back, Justin. It’s been quite a while. Remember in April, when the younger Upton was mashing everything in sight, single-handedly carrying the Braves’ offense (and fantasy teams everywhere)? That was the month he blasted 12 home runs with 19 RBI, scored 22 runs and posted an OPS of 1.136. Fans and analysts nationwide praised the Braves for “stealing” Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the following three months, however, Upton only hit four homers and drove in 29. All the “what was Arizona thinking???” noise quieted. Fantasy owners stopped even trying to deal Upton because he wouldn’t bring back equal value. Well, the April version of Upton is back. Thus far in August, Upton is batting a sizzling .395/.452/1.373 with six homers, 13 RBI, and 10 runs scored. The big difference this time, though, is that Upton has a LOT of support around him in the Braves’ lineup right now (more on that below).

Who’s Not?

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia

Oh, it hasn’t been a pretty season in Philadelphia, has it? They lost Roy Halladay to injury and just never seemed to recover. They have strugged to find competent everyday outfielders and enough starting pitchers. Very little has worked. The motor-mouthed Papelbon has grown frustrated and said “he didn’t come here for this.” Well, after watching Pap’s performance the past two months, it seems safe to say the feeling is mutual – the team certainly didn’t bring the former Red Sox closer to town and pay him $13 million a year to watch him blow saves on a regular basis. In fact, Papelbon has Papelblown six of his past 13 save opportunities. Some of them have been spectacularly bad – take August 1, for example: on a night the Phillies honored Brad Lidge for his blown-save-free 2008 season, Papelbon entered the game after Cole Hamels threw eight shutout innings and immediately surrendered four hits and a walk. What had been a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 loss that left a sour taste in the mouths of players and fans alike.

Never one to bite his tongue, Papelbon said after the game, “Obviously I want to go in and preserve wins for these starters, man, because that’s what I take pride in. But some nights, you just go back in the dugout and you kind of scratch your head (and think), what just happened?”

Well, here’s what has happened: Papelbon’s fastball velocity has dropped a mile per hour each season since he left Boston (93.8 in 2012, 92.2 in 2013), making him far more hittable. His strikeout percentage has also fallen off a cliff: 34% in 2012, 23% in 2013. On a team with such poor defense as the Phillies, a “power” closer who can’t strike out opposing hitters the way he once could is just asking for trouble. There were rumors that Papelbon was being shopped around before the trade deadline, but there were no takers. Even the Tigers, desperate for a big-name closer to appease manager Jim Leyland, had no interest. For now – and the foreseeable future – it looks like Papelbon and the Phillies are stuck with each other.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .269/.330/.511, 27 HR, 76 RBI, 5 SB, 49 runs, 123 OPS+

Player B: .279/.331/.427, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 26 SB, 58 runs, 102 OPS+

Player A is the Rangers’ now-suspended right fielder Nelson Cruz. Player B is his replacement, Alex Rios. After failing to make any deals to boost their lineup before the non-waiver deadline, the Rangers finally got their man last Friday, acquiring Alex Rios from Chicago via a waiver claim deal. Two games in, it has looked like a brilliant move. Rios started his Rangers career by going 4-for-7 with a walk, double, triple, three runs scored and two RBI. While Rios doesn’t offer the same power as Cruz, he brings another speed threat to the lineup to complement Elvis Andrus (30 steals) and Leonys Martin (27). With Cruz sidelined for 50 games, the only Rangers hitter with more than 16 home runs is third baseman Adrian Beltre. Don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time a Rangers team had such a dearth of power. I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t done searching for offense.

Team A: 18-5 record since All-Star Break, 2.83 ERA, 14 QS, 5.2 runs scored/game

Team B: 18-5 record since All-Star Break, 2.56 ERA, 17 QS, 4.4 runs scored/game

Team A is the Atlanta Braves. Since the All-Star break, the Braves have turned the National League East division race into a laugher, winning 14 straight games to open a 14½-game lead and turning the Nationals into overly-hyped also-rans. As noted above, Justin Upton has been red hot, but Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson have also been crushing the ball over the past couple of weeks. All four players have driven in at least 10 runs, scored 10 runs and have an on-base percentage over .400 over the past two weeks. After Tim Hudson’s horrific ankle injury, it was widely assumed that the Braves would trade for another starter. It hasn’t happened. Brandon Beachy was activated off the disabled list and stepped right into the void. The results have been mixed, as it typical for a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, but each start so far has been better than the last. Atlanta also has relied on prized rookie Alex Wood, and he hasn’t disappointed (2-2, 2.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, three consecutive quality starts entering Sunday).

Team B is…..are you ready for this?….the Kansas City Royals. Lost amidst all the Braves hubbub is that Missouri’s other team has been every bit as good as Atlanta since the break. All the Royals have done is: 1) reel off an eight-game winning streak (their longest since 2003); 2) twirl their way through the most successful road trip in franchise history (8-1); 3) take three of four from Boston, generally considered the best team in the AL; and 4) win seven straight series, the longest such streak since 1991.

Since the All-Star break, the Royals’ rotation has been the backbone of their success, with 17 quality starts in 23 games. Ace James Shields has spun five quality starts in that time, while Ervin Santana has four and Jeremy Guthrie three. The unexpected surprise, though, has been 36-year-old Bruce Chen; he has given the Royals five consecutive quality starts since being restored to the rotation on July 12. Kansas City also recently recalled fireballing lefty Danny Duffy to fill a rotation spot as well. Suddenly, Kansas City has one of the deeper rotations in the AL. And don’t forget closer Greg Holland (32 saves, 74 strikeouts in 46 innings, 1.57 ERA, 0.91 WHIP).

First baseman Eric Hosmer also has been terrific, sporting a .362/.392/.489 slash line since Aug. 1. After starting slowly the first two months, he has combined with left fielder Alex Gordon and designated hitter Billy Butler to give the Royals an imposing middle of the order. The competition on that July 26-August 4 road trip (White Sox, Twins, Mets) was surely sub-par, but the result perhaps should be taken with a small grain of salt, but one thing is certain: the team is giving its fans reason for serious optimism for the rest of this season and next.

Random Thoughts

  • 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. In his most recent start, Wainwright lasted seven innings against the Dodgers, allowing seven hits, three runs and two walks while striking out five. For the season, Wainwright has walked only 21 hitters versus 156 punchouts, good for a 7.4-to-1 K/BB ratio (still the best in baseball). His next start is scheduled for Tuesday against Pittsburgh. In his last start against the Pirates on July 31, Wainwright pitched seven innings, allowing four runs and one walk. Given the Cardinals’ recent struggles, this start takes on even more importance than usual.
  • Ichiro Hit Tracker: as noted in last week’s column, 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki is closing in on 4,000 hits in his professional career (including the 1,278 he tallied playing in Japan). As you probably know, only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have reached 4,000 in their careers. Following Sunday’s game against Detroit, in which he went hitless, Ichiro sits at 3,993 hits. Next up for Ichiro and the Yankees: four games at home against the pitching-challenged Angels, followed by a three-game set in Boston.
  • If it does happen this coming weekend, here’s hoping that the achievement is appropriately noted by Fox Sports and/or ESPN.
  • I, however, am NOT holding my breath.
  • Pittsburgh entered Coors Field last Friday with the best record in baseball, facing a Rockies team that crawled home following a terrible 1-9 road trip that essentially ended their hopes of contending for a wild-card spot.
  • Naturally, the Rockies broomed the Pirates. Because, baseball.
  • Next up for the Pirates: another showdown with St. Louis, which might miss Yadier Molina more than even they expected. Since he went on the DL July 31, the Cardinals are 5-7 and have fallen into second place, three games behind the Pirates.
  • Chris Davis is on pace to belt 59 homers and knock in 153 runs.
  • Miguel Cabrera is on pace to hit “only” 49 homers and drive in 153. He is not 100% and may not be for the rest of the season. Detroit currently has a seven-game lead in the AL Central – nice lead, but certainly not safe. After all, Oakland had a six-game lead on July 29 and watched it fizzle away by Aug. 7. If the Tigers are able to open a division lead as large as Atlanta’s, you have to wonder if they would consider putting Cabrera on the DL  in an effort to get his abdominal injury healed in time for the playoffs.
  • Apropos of nothing, the only other major leaguer with at least 90 RBI entering Sunday was Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (91).
  • News: Stephen Strasburg notched his first career shutout Sunday against the fading Phillies. Views: I half expected the Nationals to shut him down in the 7th to preserve his arm.
  • Random Baseball Statistic Guaranteed to Enrage Brian Kenny: on August 11, 1970, Jim Bunning became the first pitcher to win 100 games in both leagues.
  • Alex Rodriguez popped his first home run of the season Sunday and represented career home run No. 648 (or, 12 shy of Willie Mays). The two runs he drove in give him 1,952 in his career, passing Stan Musial for sixth on the all-time RBI list.
  • That means that A-Rod now has 648 career homers, which is 12 shy of Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list. He also added an RBI single later in the game, giving him 1,952, which means he’s passed Stan Musial for sixth on the all-time list.
  • In perhaps the ultimate testament to his greatness, Mariano Rivera has blown three consecutive saves for the first time in his career. It took 19 seasons and 937 appearances for it to happen.
  • Still, I expect some dimwitted New York media member to suggest that it’s time to remove the Sandman from the closer role. Mike Francesa, maybe?

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Cardinals/Pirates: Three things to walk with

The Cardinals leave out of Pittsburgh with essentially a split series due to the rain out of Tuesday evening, and also with a series that’s a tale of two halves. After an offensive eruption in game one, which they won 10-6 on Monday, they could barely find their way into the hit column two days later, dropping the final game of the series 5-0 to AJ Burnett. Now, as they depart to see the other Pennsylvania based team in the second leg of their current 10 game road swing, they’ve got nowhere to look but up. Here’s what to take from the Pittsburgh series, which was a revelation of some challenges that are remediable, but are becoming problems quickly.

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1.Runs Parched: Last season, when the Cardinals were on, they were on. But when they were off, it was an ugly thing to see. The offense would turn off completely, and there would be no chance of scoring it would seem, only to then erupt to be able to produce runs seemingly at will. The rollercoaster hasn’t been too wide thus far this season, with them averaging 5.6 runs per game, good for third in the National League. Yet, the team’s average is still struggling (.248, good for 20th in the NL), and they are truly living in the moment to produce runs.

The shutout suffered on Wednesday was the club’s second on the season. Burnett took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Carlos Beltran broke it up. Despite that, they still couldn’t manage to get any runs on the board, and not counting the rained out game on Tuesday, have officially not scored in the last 15 innings. With Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay awaiting, getting out of that funk in this series would have been timely.

2. Free Joe Kelly: Kelly made a rare appearance in Monday’s game, throwing two scoreless innings, while surrendering one hit. He had not pitched since April 7th versus the Giants, and missed the entire home stand. Kelly made the team partially out of necessity due to the Jason Motte injury changing the bullpen’s capacity, but also due to the flexibility he displayed after moving to the pen late last year and throughout the playoffs. While it is good to have him available, this is still a 24-year-old that is a starter by trait. Finding more opportunities for him to work is essential, because if they are only going to present themselves once a week, he would potentially be better used in Memphis.

3. Warrior without a clue: Lance Lynn has been the definition of a workhorse this season…but one that leaves early every day. In his three starts on the season, he has pitched a total of 15 innings, and has thrown a whopping total of 294 pitches already. That is an awful lot of work for a starts that are reaching to hit the middle point of a ballgame. Although his record is 2-0, the numbers outside of it belie what is really at work for his season. His other read outs look are seven walks against 17 strikeouts, better than one hit per inning surrendered, good for a 1.60 WHIP, contributing to a 5.40 ERA.

The problem with Lynn’s efficiency is approach. While the stuff is good, he does not miss many bats or throw in places conducive to strikes (i.e. the off the plate). Also, due to heavy volume he throws in, he wears down very early in the game and virtually guarantees his starts to be heavy bullpen games. He has once again benefit from a heavy amount of run support (8 runs per game), which makes the bad inning not look as bad, because from a certain perspective, it’s not burying the team. But a pitcher should be able to win games, not just benefit from his environment, and the telling stat is what batters are doing to him the second time around. Batters are managing a whopping .433 average on his 31st through 60th pitches, which is usually his second and final time seeing a lineup. Roughly speaking, he’s average one time through, and horrible the next. In order to thrive (or potentially even survive) as a starter, Lynn has to become more deceptive and make location his friend, because the reliever-turned-starter approach he’s taking now is not going to cut it.

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The conundrum of the St. Louis offense

It seems to be one of the great mysteries in Major League Baseball this year: The St. Louis Cardinals have one of the top offenses both on paper and statistically, yet they go through stretches where they can hardly score at all. And though there really is no good time for a team in the middle of a playoff race to slump, the Cards have become really good at maximizing their bad timing skills relative to what the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are doing.

After sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers last weekend and winning the first game against the San Francisco Giants Monday, the Cards have dropped three of four and only scored a total of six runs in the process. This stumble came as the Reds were in the throes of a five game losing streak, and as the division leaders got back into the win column Friday night, the Cards lost another game by giving up runs late. Playing the woulda-coulda-shoulda game helps no one, but the Cardinals had their best chance to make up some ground in the NL Central this week. Instead, they are six games back with Cliff Lee and Vance Worley still to face this weekend.

What is it the Cards need to avoid these stretches of three, four, five games where they can’t average two runs per game? Part of it—at least this week—is the opposing pitching. Facing guys like Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Roy Halladay is never going to be easy. But then again, Monday night the Cards hung five earned runs in 5.2 innings on Matt “Mr. Perfecto” Cain.

The Cardinal offense looks much different with Lance Berkman out and Rafael Furcal ailing. True, they have other players that can fill those vacated roles if and when needed. But as those pieces slide into place, the bench thins considerably. And a presence bat from the right side is sorely needed in on the Cards’ roster.

Another thing they can do is play smarter ball. That joke of a play Friday night where Carlos Beltran got picked off to end the game cannot happen. The “fake to third, look to first” play is so lame MLB is outlawing it for next year. Yet Beltran—representing the tying run at first base, with David Freese at the plate—falls for it to end the game. This isn’t Wiffle Ball, ‘Los.

And for that matter, perhaps Mike Matheny needs to be thinking a little more in the dugout as well. Why not a pinch runner for Beltran in that situation? Certainly the Cards had faster guys on their bench, and Beltran’s run was the most important one.

Regardless, the dearth of runs this week is telling. Yes, the Cardinals are dealing with injuries as they have all season. And yes, they are still in the thick of the playoff race. But do they have enough to make it to game 163 and beyond as currently constructed? Right now they’re 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, which seems so close. But looking at the offense this week, they seem so far away.

The questions are valid and the answers aren’t coming easily. Good hitters don’t just fall from the sky and appear on the roster; deals have to be made and they are even more difficult to pull off in August. The Cards have to find ways to score more runs and avoid beating themselves. There is plenty of time to secure a playoff spot. But do the Cards have what it takes?

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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The Winter Warm Up Files: One Last Thing

The St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up was two weeks ago, but the information that flows from that event covers the past, present, and future over what may be the most comprehensive weekend of the offseason. And its proximity to the start of Spring Training makes it kind of the unofficial straight-from-the-team preview for the season ahead.

Photo Courtesy of Erika Lynn

All of the interviews are interesting, but many are predictable, too. Of course John Mozeliak and Bill Dewitt Jr. will be asked about the circumstances surrounding the departure of Albert Pujols. Of course David Freese will be asked about his whirlwind offseason. And of course Adam Wainwright will get questions about his health and availability for 2012. Not asking questions like these would represent poor journalism at its most blatant. But there really is a lot more going on than what is expected from a series of 10 minute press conferences.

For instance, Chris Carpenter laid out the whole story about his highly publicized fishing trip with Roy Halladay and the rescue of a naked fisherman who had just survived an anaconda attack. Wainwright waxed poetic about Tim Tebow. Freese and Matt Holliday may be building a friendly rivalry over the sport of squash. And Lance Berkman revealed that his comments last season about first base being a tougher position that the outfield was just a joke (Berkman is switching from outfield to first for 2012).

One really cool aspect of the Winter Warm Up is seeing how the prospects react to the attention lavished on players at the event. Many just received word that they are getting invited to their first Major League Spring Training. Others have the pedigree within the system but have not experienced the Winter Warm Up and its crush of fans and media. Regardless, it really is something to see the anticipation on their faces and hear the excitement in their voices. Zack Cox, Ryan Jackson, Jordan Swagerty, Shelby Miller, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, and Brandon Dickson were all in attendance and ready to get to Jupiter, Florida. A lot of what they have to say is boilerplate: they don’t care where they play in the field, as long as they can help the team win; the pitchers don’t care if they start or relieve because they’ll do whatever the team wants them to do; etc. But coming off a Cardinals World Series Championship, their anticipation and enthusiasm is markedly higher…it’s evident when they talk about watching the team on TV and knowing their shot to join the big club is right in front of them.

This offseason has had its lows, too. Based on what everyone close to them said, Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols will be sorely missed. But everyone understands the business aspect of the game, and no one faults La Russa or Duncan for taking control of their personal lives in the manner they did. The best thing the remaining Cardinals can do is go out and win—whether it’s winning for or in spite of a former member of the team.

Finally, the Winter Warm Up provides unique insight into the personalities of these ballplayers off the field. While the season is going on, it is understandable that the intensity of the game dominates their personas so much they cannot shut it off for a handful of interviewers. But in mid-January, things tend to be a little more laid back. So, to close out the I-70 Baseball Winter Warm Up coverage, the following is a few of my favorite one-liners from Cardinals while at the interview podium. It is obvious Berkman is the king of the one-liner; consequently it is easy to see why he is considered such a positive clubhouse presence. But others chimed in with great stuff as well.

“We were both wondering if it would be too early to ask for number five” –Lance Berkman, when asked if anything would change for him or Matt Holliday after the departure of Albert Pujols.

“Oh, is he publicly announcing it? Wow, he must be nervous because I beat him last time so he’s trying to get that record out there.” –David Freese, upon learning Matt Holliday told reporters he had a 4-2 lead over Freese in squash matches.

“I can just relax now, you know. And I’m playing first base, so I can get huge.” –Lance Berkman discussing his offseason program this year versus what he accomplished last offseason.

“Sometimes when you look back you regret certain things, and when I was sitting in front of my TV and they were winning the championship I was like ‘Wow.’” –J.C. Romero on his previous interest in pitching for the Cardinals before signing this offseason.

“I’ll have to work on it. I’m not giving anything away right now.” –Kyle Lohse on whether he plans on having a Mike Matheny costume on hand for this season.

“Well, far be it from me to give anyone financial advice.” –John Mozeliak on whether Kyle McClellan should feel secure enough with the Cards to take out a second mortgage. McClellan signed a few days later.

“He runs pretty out there.” –Lance Berkman on Carlos Beltran. “He runs like a puma.” –Carlos Beltran on Lance Berkman.

(Major Thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals for providing I-70 Baseball—as well as a handful of other United Cardinal Bloggers members—a press credential for this event. I also owe personal thanks to I-70 Baseball’s fearless leader, Bill Ivie, for selecting me to represent this fine site once again.)

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he wants. Follow him on Twitter at @birdbrained.

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Baseball Bloggers Alliance Announces Player Of The Year Awards

KEMP UNANIMOUS PICK FOR NL Stan Musial AWARD
Bautista holds off Ellsbury in American League

There were some outstanding performances this year in Major League Baseball. However, one clearly stood out from the pack.

Los Angeles Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp was named the National League Stan Musial Award winner for 2011 in voting held by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Kemp received all 15 first place votes and completely dominated the rest of the voting field like he did in putting up almost a 40 HR/40 SB season for the Dodgers this year.

Coming in a distant second was Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun, who garnered most of the second place votes from the group. Braun’s teammate, first baseman Prince Fielder, came in third.

Interestingly enough, even though Los Angeles pitcher Clayton Kershaw outpointed Philadelphia hurler Roy Halladay in the BBA’s Walter Johnson Award voting for best pitcher, Halladay received more points for the Stan Musial Award.

Over in the American League, there were more ballots cast, perhaps due to a more intriguing race. When the dust had settled, though, Toronto’s Jose Bautista had held off Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury by a handful of points.

Bautista received eleven of the 22 first place votes and 225 total points, while Ellsbury received five first place selections and 200 points overall. Detroit Tiger first baseman Miguel Cabrera came in third with 183 points and three first place nods. He was followed by two of his Detroit teammates, including Walter Johnson Award winner Justin Verlander.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Jose Bautista, Toronto (11) 225
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston (5) 200
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit (3) 183
Curtis Granderson, Detroit (1) 135
Justin Verlander, Detroit (2) 126
Adrian Gonzalez, Boston 109
Dustin Pedroia, Boston 68
Robinson Cano, New York 55
Ian Kinsler, Texas 35
Michael Young, Texas 28
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay 25
Alex Gordon, Kansas City 20
CC Sabathia, New York 13
Paul Konerko, Chicago 12
Adrian Beltre, Texas 10
Alex Avila, Detroit 8
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles of Anaheim 6
Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay 6
Mike Napoli, Texas 4
James Shields, Tampa Bay 3
Victor Martinez, Cleveland 2
David Oritz, Boston 2
Melky Cabrera, Kansas City 1

National League
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles (15) 195
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee 134
Prince Fielder, Milwaukee 83
Joey Votto, Cincinnati 79
Justin Upton, Arizona 77
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia 49
Troy Tulowitski, Colorado 49
Albert Pujols, St. Louis 46
Jose Reyes, New York 42
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles 31
Lance Berkman, St. Louis 28
Dan Uggla, Atlanta 14
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco 13
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia 11
Hunter Pence, Philadelphia 6
Michael Morse, Washington 5
Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati 3
Ian Kennedy, Arizona 2
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh 2
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado 1

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of this writing, the organization consists of 316 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into “chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted. The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split between the two leagues.

Chapters generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot. Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Notably, though the Alliance’s awards come out well before their official counterparts, the BBA selections have matched those of the Baseball Writers of America in all but two instances in the past two years. This, of course, does not include the Goose Gossage Award that is exclusive to the BBA.

Ballots are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated on a 13-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 point scale for first through tenth place. In the interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots. Chapter affiliation is in parenthesis. Those chapters that decided on the group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Baltimore Life and Sports (Baltimore)
The Bat Shatters (Minnesota)
The Blue Jay Hunter (Toronto)
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
Camden Crazies (Baltimore)
Contract Year (Oakland)*
Detroit Tigers Scorecard Blog (Detroit)
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Kings of Kauffman (Kansas City)*
Lady At The Bat (New York)
Misc. Baseball (History)
The Next Level Ballplayer (Other)
Seattle Mariners Musings (Seattle)
Some Thoughts On Baseball (Toronto)
Tigers Amateur Analysis (Detroit)
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Twins On Twins (Minnesota)

National League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Appy Astros (Houston)
Blog Red Machine (Cincinnati)
Cincinnati Reds Blog (Cincinnati)
Dugger Sports (Philadelphia)
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Fungoes (St. Louis)
Misc. Baseball (History)
The Next Level Ballplayer (Other)
North Side Notch (Pittsburgh)
Phils Baseball (Philadelphia)
Rockies Woman (Colorado)
22 Gigantes (San Francisco)
Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? (Pittsburgh)

Prior Winners: 2010: Josh Hamilton, Texas; Joey Votto, Cincinnati
2009: Joe Mauer, Minnesota; Albert Pujols, St. Louis

The official website of the BBA is located atbaseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com. The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba. For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

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Verlander Unanimous Selection For Walter Johnson Award

You can debate whether Justin Verlander should be win the “best player in the league” award. There was no debate on if he’d win the “best pitcher” version.

The Detroit Tiger ace was an unanimous selection for the Walter Johnson Award, given out by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Verlander was the top name on all 21 ballots, easily outdistancing Los Angeles of Anaheim starter Jered Weaver. Weaver was a distant second, 80 points behind Verlander. New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia came in third.

On the National League side, results were a little bit closer. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw beat out Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay 137-112. Kershaw received 15 first place nods, while Halladay garnered eight. Halladay’s teammate, Cliff Lee, finished in the show position.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Justin Verlander, Detroit (21) 147
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles of Anaheim 67
CC Sabathia, New York 58
James Shields, Tampa Bay 40
Dan Haren, Los Angeles of Anaheim 20
CJ Wilson, Texas 9
Josh Beckett, Boston 6
Ricky Romero, Toronto 5
Felix Hernandez, Seattle 2
Doug Fister, Detroit 1
Brandon McCarthy, Oakland 1
David Price, Tampa Bay 1

National League
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles (15) 137
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (8) 112
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia 69
Ian Kennedy, Arizona 38
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia 9
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco 7
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco 7
Matt Cain, San Francisco 3
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta 3
Dillon Gee, New York 2
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco 2
Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati 1
Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta 1

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of this writing, the organization consists of 316 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into “chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted. The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split between the two leagues.

Chapters generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot. Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Notably, though the Alliance’s awards come out well before their official counterparts, the BBA selections have matched those of the Baseball Writers of America in all but two instances in the past two years. This, of course, does not include the Goose Gossage Award that is exclusive to the BBA.

Ballots are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated on a 7-4-3-2-1 point scale for first through fith place. In the interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots. Chapter affiliation is in parenthesis. Those chapters that decided on the group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Baltimore Sports and Life (Baltimore)
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
Camden Crazies (Baltimore)
Contract Year (Oakland)*
Detroit Tigers Scorecard Blog (Detroit)
500 Level Fan (Toronto)
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Infield Fly (Toronto)
Lady At The Bat (New York)
Misc. Baseball (History)
North Dakota Twins Fan (Minnesota)
Old English D (Detroit)
The Rays Rant (Tampa Bay)
Seattle Mariners Musings (Seattle)
Seedlings To Stars (Other)
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Twins Trivia (Minnesota)

National League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Appy Astros (Houston)
Bernie’s Crew (Milwaukee)*
Blog Red Machine (Cincinnati)
Cincinnati Reds Blog (Cincinnati)
C70 At The Bat (St. Louis)
Dugger Sports (Philadelphia)
The Eddie Kranepool Society (New York)
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Misc. Baseball (History)
North Side Notch (Pittsburgh)
Padres Trail (San Diego)
Phils Baseball (Philadelphia)
Pitchers Hit Eighth (St. Louis)
Prose and Ivy (Chicago)*
Raise The Jolly Roger (Pittsburgh)
Rockies Woman (Colorado)
22 Gigantes (San Francisco)
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)

Prior Winners:

2010: Felix Hernadez, Seattle; Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
2009: Zack Greinke, Kansas City; Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
The official website of the BBA is located atbaseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com. The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba. For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

Posted in Cardinals, RoyalsComments (0)

Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Carpenter’s Gem

The unrelenting pace of the postseason schedule only gave the Cardinals about 41 hours to enjoy Chris Carpenter’s performance in game five of the NL Division Series before they had another game to play on Sunday.

For everyone else, however, we get to savor the beauty of that game for a long time, remembering where we watched one of the greatest performances in MLB postseason history.

Two men in particular were glued to the television to watch the battle between Carpenter and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay to decide which team would advance to the NL Championship Series. Tim Wilken, now the scouting director of the Chicago Cubs, had that same position with the Blue Jays in the 1990s and was responsible for the team selecting both Carpenter and Halladay in the first round of the 1993 and 1995 drafts. Danny Cox met both pitchers about the same time while he was finishing his major-league career with the Blue Jays. Cox also had the distinction of being the last Cardinals’ pitcher to throw a shutout in the postseason, in game seven of the 1987 NLCS against the Giants.

Wilken watched the game with some other Cubs personnel at The Bonfire, a restaurant in Scottsdale,Ariz., while Cox was watching at his home in Freeburg,Ill. Neither will soon forget Carpenter’s 1-0 win over Halladay, his good friend and former teammate in the first game they have ever pitched against each other.

“That was a pretty darn good game,” said Wilken, “probably better than you could have expected. Needless to say it was a wonderful evening. Wow.

“It was two warriors and two wonderful human beings. Unbelievable.”

Cox had a similar reaction, especially with his personal knowledge of what each pitcher was feeling to be on the mound in a win-or-go home environment.

“That was a fun game to watch,” Cox said. “The thing about it was after Carpenter lost game two, a lot of things had to happen just for there to be a game five. That also happened to me. I lost game four, and we had to get the series to game seven for me to pitch again.

“When it happens it’s almost surreal. I’m sure he was thinking that he had a second chance, and now it was payback time. He wanted to redeem himself, and it worked out just like it did for me.”

Cox did not quite have the same pressure as Carpenter in his game 24 years ago, however. He was at home, starting against Atlee Hammaker, and was staked to a 4-0 lead in the second inning, thanks in large measure to a three-run homer by Jose Oquendo. He then cruised to a 6-0 victory.

“I had a little more to work with than Carpenter,” Cox said. “He’s like an Eveready battery out there. He just keeps going, and he always has the same face and the same demeanor.”

Wilken said he was a little worried about Carpenter before the game, wondering if his sub-par performance in game two was a sign that the wear and tear of the regular season was getting to the 36-year-old pitcher, who did pitch the most innings in the National League this season.

“In the back of my mind I was hoping it would be a good game,” Wilken said.

It turned out that Wilken did not need to worry. How good was this game? Here are just a few reasons why it will long be remembered:

*It was only the third time in MLB postseason history that a pitcher won the clinching game of a series with a 1-0 complete game victory. Ralph Terry of the Yankees did it against the Giants in game seven of the 1962 World Series and Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings for the Twins in beating the Braves in game seven of the 1991 World Series.

*Carpenter became the third pitcher in postseason history to throw a shutout, allowing three hits or less, in a clinching game. The other two were Johnny Kucks of the Yankees in game seven of the 1956 World Series, and Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers in game seven of the 1965 World Series.

*It was only the third complete game shutout ever pitched by a Cardinals pitcher in a clinching game in the postseason, joining games by Dizzy Dean in the 1934 World Series and Cox.

*It was the 42nd 1-0 game in MLB postseason history, but was only the second time the Cardinals won a game 1-0 in their 190 postseason games. That was game six of the 1987 NLCS versus the Giants, when John Tudor, Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley combined on the shutout.

*Carpenter had made 339 starts in his career before this game, including the regular season and postseason, and he had never won a 1-0 complete game.

*It was the first time the Phillies had lost a 1-0 game in their home stadium in three years.

It was a pretty special night indeed. Said Cardinal manager Tony La Russa, “I think he (Carpenter) will remember that forever, and so will the Cardinals’ fans.”

One of the men Wilken was watching the game with was Randy Bush, the interim general manager of the Cubs who happened to be on the Twins team in 1991 when Morris out-dueled John Smoltz.

“We were talking about and it and Randy said that in that game, Tom Kelly, the Twins manager, had gone over to Jack during the game and said ‘Hell of a job,’ and Jack had a few adjectives and said, ‘I’m not done yet.’ I kind of had the feeling that if Tony had said something to Chris, he might have had the similar words to say,” Wilken said.

“You could see the determination in Chris’ face. The way relieving takes place today it was so much fun to watch a complete game and see how well Roy pitched. If you throw out his first seven or eight pitches, that’s a 0-0 game. For some reason the start of games has always been a little tough for Roy. It was unbelievable. I don’t see how it could get much better than that.”

Wilken knows that Carpenter, Halladay and former Cardinal pitcher Pat Hentgen, also a former teammate and close friend, likely will get together a few weeks from now on a fishing trip. This game certainly will come up, and probably the first thing Carpenter will want to talk about was his eighth-inning single off Halladay.

“I am sure that will come up,” Wilken said. “If Chris doesn’t bring it up I’m sure Pat will.

“It was a wonderful evening as far as being a viewer. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to know both of these gentlemen, and I say that with great respect. They are both wonderful human beings. I haven’t seen Chris for a while, and hopefully will run into him somewhere. I can’t say enough about both of them. Hopefully Chris Will Carry that torch all the way through the World Series.”

Drop by Rob Rains Stl Sports Page and read his thoughts on Ryan Howard, the Busch Squirrel and news around the league by clicking here.

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (0)

One More Time

It has been a running theme for 2011, that’s for sure.

One more game. One more time. Backs against the wall. Here come the Cardinals.

After a thrilling night in Busch Stadium that seen the underdog Cardinals once again show the Phillies that they were not afraid of one of the “four aces”, game five will go back to Philadelphia and see two former teammates and current aces of their respective staffs square off for National League supremacy.

The Cardinals may have benefited from the appearance of the local Busch Stadium wildlife during game four, with antics being provided by a squirrel who has now made consecutive appearances in the LDS. More likely, the team benefited from the young man the fans call Batman, David Freese, who established himself in the lineup in game four.

A local boy who grew up in the St. Louis area, Freese became the first St. Louis native to hit a post season home run since the man that was announced as a finalist for the Ford C. Frick Award early that day, Mike Shannon. Freese’s two-run, sixth inning homer capped off a night that had already seen him drive in two runs with a double just two innings before. The four runs would be enough, though it was Lance Berkman’s RBI double that plated the Cardinals’ first run in the first inning. That play featured one of the most bizarre looking outfield plays in a long time with Shane Victorino falling down as he went to throw the ball back in from deep right center field. Victorino fell at the track and the ball rolled harmlessly away further towards the fence. Berkman moved to third on the error before being stranded.

Game five may not see the same amount of scoring, however.

Roy Halladay. That name strikes fear in Major League Baseball players across the country. The man can be dominant to the point of perfection. His previous start in this series showcased his talent in the form of the most retired batters consecutively in a post season game since Don Larsen through a World Series complete game. Not only did he decimate the Cardinals lineup after they put up a strong first inning, but he did it during a night start in game one, so the guys couldn’t even complain that it was the shadows that kept them from performing.

Drop by Baseball Digest and take a look at my article there concerning the epic pitching matchup that is brewing in the NLDS. Click here to read that article.

Chris Carpenter. A bulldog pitcher that reminds this writer of Orel Hershiser in his prime, he takes the mound and commands the field like very few pitchers of this generation. Coming off one of his worst starts to a season in 2011, he got strong down the stretch and was rewarded with a two year extension to his contract during the month of September (surprisingly enough, he was able to negotiate and sign that deal without any distraction to the team). This season was a down year for the Cardinal ace, but he prepares to show the rest of the league why with 11 wins he is still considered this team’s ace. He pitched on three days rest for the first time in his career in his only start in this series and it was not pretty. He comes back for game five with full rest.

With the win in game four, the Cardinals continue their prowess of winning games on “get away” days, or days that the team will board a flight after the game. Game five will give them the opportunity to continue on the new tradition of “Happy Flight” should they be able to solve Roy Halladay and put themselves back into the League Championship Series.

I wonder if there are squirrels in Citizen’s Bank Ballpark?

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 Cardinals, FeaturedComments (1)

Cards Take The Fans For A Ride

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

The season's hopes are on the shoulders of EJax

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

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

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

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

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

Who says you cannot be romantic about this game?

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Blueprint For Beating The Phillies

Not many expected the St. Louis Cardinals to make the 2011 postseason when it was learned that Adam Wainwright was out for the year. This team looked rough early on; in the first game of the year they experienced defensive lapses and a blown save, two bad traits that would follow the team all season. Albert Pujols had a down year. Colby Rasmus got traded. Some players spent extended time on the disabled list; others were gone for shorter but more numerous stretches. The Cards set a record for hitting into double plays. Based on perception alone, this is not a playoff team.

And yet, there they sit in Philadelphia awaiting their chance to take the field for Game 1 of the National League Division Series Saturday afternoon. Now what?

The NL Central’s playoff representation has been nothing short of abysmal since Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge to end the 2006 World Series. Every Central Division winner since has been swept in the first round. The only team to win one game was the 2008 Wild Card Milwaukee Brewers. But that’s all they won—one game.

This year the Comedy Central once again sends two representatives to the postseason. And the Cardinals have a tough task ahead of them. The Philadelphia Phillies do not screw around in the playoffs; just ask the Cincinnati Reds. The number of people outside of a 100-mile radius of St. Louis picking the Cards to win this series is infinitely low. But if an 83-win division winning team that almost missed the playoffs can be labeled the underdog in every series they play and come out World Champions, then a team 10 ½ games out that goes on a 23-9 run to end the year and win the Wild Card can certainly beat a “better” team in a best of five series. And here’s how:

1. Swing Easy at the Plate. Yes, Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds in Game 1 last year. Who cares? That was last year, and that was not this team. Don’t try to hit a 10-run homer with every swing of the bat. Relax. He is hittable, and so are Lee and Hamels. And the Cardinals just happen to be the best hitting team in the league.

2. Cardinal Pitchers: Keep the Ball Down. The Phillies have some mashers on their team: Howard. Utley. Victorino. Pence. Ibanez. Mayberry. Ruiz. The list goes on and on. And their stadium doesn’t help; Citizens Bank Park is a bandbox. Ground balls, ground balls, ground balls. Luckily that is already the Cardinal pitching philosophy; if they can stick to it they will have a better chance at winning, especially in Philly.

3. Catch the ball. Misplays in the field can no longer be tolerated, and they were a big problem for the 2011 Cardinals. Remember the circus sideshow that was the 2006 Detroit Tigers in the World Series? Their biggest problem was throwing the ball. And it cost them the championship.

4. Hold Late Leads. This one kind of ties the previous two points together, because a lot of the Cardinals’ 2011 losses came as a result of late game shenanigans. Kyle McClellan has been left off the roster for this series, so one experienced presence is already missing. Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, and especially Jason Motte: It’s your time to shine.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Mistakes. Part of what got the Cardinals to this point was their resilience. Lose your ace? No problem. Lose your closer? Someone stepped up. Manager has shingles? Kept pushing. Injuries and slumps? Picked themselves up and played through it. Bad loss at the worst possible time? Came back with a win when they needed it. This team has thrived on adversity all year, so why even try to play perfect baseball now? Does such a thing even exist? Ride the momentum and have fun with it. They’re not supposed to be there, and now that they are they’re not supposed to win. So go show them.

It all seems oversimplified but the postseason really is a different kind of monster. Weird stuff happens. Can the Cardinals knock off the Phillies? Sure they can. Will they? Who knows? But the first team to get three wins advances, games still have nine innings, and each inning has three outs per side. Each day it is once again time to go win a baseball game.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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