Tag Archive | "Skipper"

Royals Weekly Rundown

After a strong start to 2013, the Kansas City Royals ended last week losing a three in a row to the injury plagued New York Yankees.  The Royals finished the week losing six of seven and find themselves two games behind the first place Indians with a record of 18-16.

In the first edition of Royals Weekend Rundown, let’s recap the week that was shall we?

Spring Training 2009 vs texas

Best of the Week:  Alex Gordon

Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer deserve some credit for getting the monkey off their backs and belting their first home runs of the season (Moustakas hit three this week).  This still doesn’t top Gordon’s monstrous week in which he slugged three homers, scored five runs, drove in eight, and hit .393.

Ned Yost made perhaps his best move as Royals skipper by moving Gordon to the three-hole to generate more run production.  Right now he’s hitting .400 with a 1.108 OPS in that spot.

While the production is over a small sample size, its a testament to Gordon’s growth as a ballplayer and the Royal’s patience the last few years.  Look at the numbers from the two halves of his career to date:

2007-2010:  .244 Avg. / 45 HR / 161 RBI / .320 OBP / .404 SLG

2011-2013:  .301 Avg. / 43 HR / 187 RBI / .365 OBP / .482 SLG

Gordon has gone from the brink of receiving the dreaded “bust” and demotion to making a name for himself as a cornerstone player for the club.  If he keeps this up for another two months, I would be shocked if he isn’t selected to his first All Star team.

Worst of the Week:  Billy Butler and Alcides Escobar

One could argue that this should go to the entire Royals offense except for the aforementioned Alex Gordon.  The team hit an abysmal .233 this week averaging around four runs per game.

While Escobar and Butler don’t deserve all the blame, they stand out because they hit first and fourth in the order respectively and hit a combined .105 (6-for-57) this week.  No need to worry, I expect both will bounce back soon in the next couple weeks against weaker pitching.

The Road Ahead:  Go West Young Men…

Monday night marks the first of a 10-game road West Coast road trip starting in Anaheim against the soul-searching Angels.  The Halos begin the series with a record of 14-23 and have at least found some rhythm on offense.  However, their pitching staff is still a mess.  Kansas City will face Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, and Barry Enright who are a combined 1-10 and could help the Royals heat up.  After the three game stint in Anaheim, the Royals head to Oakland for a three game set with the A’s.

Probable Pitchers vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:

Monday at 9:05 CT:  Luis Mendoza (0-2, 6.38 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (0-6, 5.66 ERA)

Tuesday at 9:05 CT:  Jeremy Guthrie (5-0, 2.28 ERA) vs. Jason Vargas (1-3, 4.26 ERA)

Wednesday at 9:05 CT:  Wade Davis (2-3, 5.86 ERA) vs. Barry Enright (0-1, 11.37 ERA)

Follow Adam Rozwadowski on Twitter @adam_roz

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The Winter Months

November is the saddest month, at least for baseball fans. Come December the Winter Meetings start up, and along with that comes the excitement of free agent and trade activity that keeps us all occupied. If your team finished its business early January can still be hard to sit through. However January usually still brings plenty of hot stove discussion.

November, though. November is just painful. There’s a holding pattern all across Major League Baseball. Teams begin organizing their off season priorities much like an NFL team sets up their War Room before the draft. GMs and managers are deciding who they would like to bring in for 2012…and who they can ship out.

There is still arbitration and tracking who has filed for free agency. Of course there is also the awards cycle that peaks just enough interest to get the average fan frustrated that it is still over 90 days until Spring Training. But by and large November is one mean cold-hearted, unforgiving month for baseball fans.

It’s an odd November this year for Cardinal Nation, though, as we actually have something real to consider, something foreign over the last 16 years. The Cardinal brain trust is sifting through resumes (well maybe a bit more due diligence than that) to determine who will take the helm as skipper of the Redbirds for the next 5-10 years.

Tougher still many are being forced to sit idly by as Albert Pujols decides which team will have the honor of making him worth over a quarter of a billion dollars. Fun stuff for fans.

Luckily February brings spring training and the promise of summer. Of course there is also the delusional optimism that comes with every team having a fresh start. Making even Cubs fans into believers for the next month or two.

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Whiteyball To TLR

I enjoy this time of year as a writer. Part of the reason for that is the United Cardinal Bloggers and their Roundtable project.

The project itself is interesting. One person asks a question and, this year, 30 writers from around the internet chime in with their opinions. All of the responses get gathered and posted onto one of the United Cardinal Blogger sites. Anytime you get that many opinions, you come up with some great material, some fun debate, and every once in a while another idea comes up.

I credit this year’s roundtable for this article.

Throughout the many discussions I have heard about Tony LaRussa over the last week, it seems that most of the fans out there have a large amount of respect for the man, even if they did not necessarily like him a whole lot. What I hear quite often, however, is how fans were not sure if he was the right man because of his complete opposite approach to the game from former skipper Whitey Herzog.

Fans remember The White Rat fondly and rightfully so. The decade of the 1980′s were a remarkable one for St. Louis. In his tenure, Herzog put three new pennants firmly in place in St. Louis and followed one up with a World Championship. Herzog’s has a spot on the wall for the Cardinals and a spot in most fan’s hearts.

The problem is, as much as we would all like to forget the time period between them, Tony LaRussa did not take over the team from Whitey Herzog. Whitey resigned from the Cardinals in 1990 and LaRussa took his position at the helm to start the 1996 season. Between them, as most of us know, whether we want to admit it or not, was Joe Torre.

Torre took over as skipper for the Cardinals with 58 games left in the 1990 season. In September of 1989, the Cardinals laid to rest one of their greatest fans. August “Gussie” Anheuser Busch Jr, who was instrumental in buying and keeping the franchise in St. Louis, had finally reached the end of his 90 year old life.

When 1990 rolled around, the ownership of the franchise had lost interest in owning a baseball club and it became apparent on the field. Free agents were not being attracted to the team, the goal had become very business oriented, and Torre was the figurehead that most fans seen as the problem.

The years that Torre was in charge would see the Cardinals finish second in their division one time and then never finish above third place again. Amazingly, Torre was able to produce a 351-354 record in his tenure with the team, playing the game with very little star power outside of shortstop Ozzie Smith. That’s not to say that the team did not have some quality players, but our friends at Baseball Reference list the top player in each of Torre’s years as follows: Willie McGee (1990), Ozzie Smith (1991), Bob Tewksbury (1992), Greg Jefferies (1993), Mark Whiten (1994), and Brian Jordan (1995). Not exactly the best players in the league at any point.

Torre was a good baseball man with a strong history in the game that was stuck with an ownership group that would not put the right pieces on the field for him to manage. His first full year in charge of the team they would finish 84-78 and in second place, the best finish of his tenure. He would be the first manager in St. Louis with at least five years as their manager to not make the World Series since Branch Rickey ran the team from 1919 to 1925.

We have since watched Joe Torre move on and accomplish great things in New York and perform adequately in Los Angeles before taking a position with Major League Baseball. We know he is a good manager and a capable baseball mind.

The brewery sold the franchise to a group of investors prior to the 1996 season. Torre had been released the year before and the new ownership group brought in manager Tony LaRussa to lead the team, which immediately made the playoffs that season. Brian Jordan was once again the best player on the team that season, but a transition was starting to happen under the new leadership. The ownership would invest in the ballclub and LaRussa would lead them.

Joe Torre was simply a victim of circumstance. A guy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is a shame that his time is all but forgotten because of it.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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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.

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Tony LaRussa Rumor Killer: White Sox Hire Manager

Just before the end of the regular season, the manager shuffle began and the Chicago White Sox released Ozzie Guillen from his contract. The following day, the Miami Marlins announced that the outspoken manager would join their franchise. The rumor mills fired up immediately.

Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals skipper for the past 15 years, started his managerial career on the south side of Chicago. His relationship with the ownership of the franchise has remained strong and speculation quickly came up wondering if LaRussa would like to finish his career where it all began.

LaRussa will reach a milestone next year, reaching second on the all time wins list for managers. It was a fair assumption to think he would like to do that wearing the uniform of the team that gave him a shot all those years ago. LaRussa has stated publicly, however, that he feels he only has a few years left of managing and he does not feel that it would be fair to join a new club if he could not give them four years or more. For the first time in a very long time, in my opinion, there is a large amount of confidence that LaRussa will return to the Cardinals next season.

The White Sox have agreed to terms, though not yet disclosed, with Robin Ventura, their former all star thirdbaseman, to manage the club.

Ventura last played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004 and finished his career with a .297 batting average, 294 home runs and 1182 runs batted in. He spent some of the most productive years of his career with the White Sox, though his best year would come as a member of the New York Mets in 1999.

Ventura’s best two years

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1996 28 CHW 158 674 586 96 168 31 2 34 105 1 3 78 81 .287 .368 .520 .888
1999 31 NYM 161 671 588 88 177 38 0 32 120 1 1 74 109 .301 .379 .529 .908
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/6/2011.

Ventura has no managerial experience, but served last season as special advisor to director of player development Buddy Bell. Ventura had this to say about joining the team:

“When I rejoined the White Sox this June, I said this was my baseball home and that part of me never left the White Sox organization. My family and I are thrilled to be returning to Chicago. Managing a Major League Baseball team is a tremendous honor. It’s also an opportunity and a challenge.

“I am excited to begin my career as a manager surrounded by former teammates, staff, media and White Sox fans I know very well. I already am looking forward to talking to our players, to this offseason and to getting things underway at spring training next February.”

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Cardinals Split In Philly, Home Cooking In Order

The end of the regular season was one of the most exciting in history for the Cardinals and the post-season seems to be living up to the hype.

I have been covering the NLDS between the Cardinals and Phillies for Baseball Digest. You can read my in depth thoughts on the series daily at that site or by clicking here.

The Phillies set out to send a message in game one of the series, and they did just that, beating the Cardinals easily despite an early lead provided by a three run blast from the Big Puma himself, Lance Berkman.

Game two seemed to be everything the Cardinals needed it to be. Chris Carpenter struggled in three innings of work in his first every start on short rest in his career. After spotting the Phillies four runs with Cliff Lee on the mound, the Redbirds went to work and overcame the deficit to win the game 5-4.

The series now shifts to St. Louis for games three and four and has the Cardinals looking to do the exact thing that skipper Tony LaRussa preaches, just win two out of three.

In order to do that, the Cardinals will turn to their home field advantage pitcher, Jaime Garcia. It is time for St. Louis fans to come out in droves and join the Honkin’ For Jaime bandwagon. The Cardinals lefty is much better at home this season and has the opportunity to put the Cards in the driver’s seat for this series.

The Cardinals quest for 11 in ’11 continues on Tuesday night on TBS at 5 p.m. CDT.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Rough Start, Strong Finish For Soria

The 2011 season did not start the way Joakim Soria wanted it to.

Soria

Through April and May, he gave up 16 earned runs over 23 innings. He was 3-3 with 5 blown saves in 12 opportunities.

Nearly every Royals fan was calling for his removal from the closer role (or the entire team, in some cases). There was talk about trading him before his value went any lower, converting him to a starter, or possibly even demoting him.

Many said his career was over and that the Royals needed to start fresh with the younger, more exciting Aaron Crow.

Well, Ned Yost did end up giving Crow the closer role.

However, he made it clear that it wasn’t permanent and that he wanted Soria to work some things out as a middle reliever until he felt more comfortable on the mound.

He ended up pitching 5 scoreless innings in 3 games as a middle reliever, which was good enough for the Royals’ skipper.

Yost immediately gave Soria back the title as closer, which turned out to be one of his best decisions of the year.

Since that point, Soria only has 2 blown saves while giving up 11 earned runs in 35.1 innings. He has also had 41 strikeouts compared to 7 walks in that same time period.

These numbers might seem completely inaccurate to most Royals fans because it feels like he has been much worse over the past three and a half months.

The main reason for this is because his two blown saves since the 1st of June were the two most heartbreaking losses for the Royals in that span.

The first of the two came on July 30th against the Indians. The Royals gave Soria the ball with a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 9th. He gave up a sacrifice fly to tie the game and a walk-off 3-run bomb by Matt LaPorta to end it.

Then came the Tampa Bay Rays game on August 10th. No Royals fan will forget this one, so there isn’t a need to go into great detail. Crow and Soria gave up 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th to lose 8-7. It was the epitome of a heartbreaker for the Royals and their fans.

Other than those two games, Soria has been almost lights out. It’s hard for fans to see it, but he is back to his old self.

Wanting a trade or a role change for Soria needs to come to a stop. His first two months of this year were horrendous to say the least, but he has definitely regained his form.

Other than perhaps Greg Holland, Soria has been the most consistent pitcher for the Royals this year.

He is still the leader of the Royals’ bullpen and should continue to be as they make their push in the next couple of years.

A good closer is tough to come by, and the Royals have one in Soria.

It’d be a shame to mess that up as they get closer to becoming a real contender.

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Garcia’s Endurance Raises Questions About Future

Let me take you back to the rubber-game of the first I-70 Series this season. The Cardinals sent Jaime Garcia and his 1.68 ERA to the hill in the bottom of the 6th inning with the game and the series in hand. The Cardinals had jumped out to a 7-2 lead in Kansas City, and the team was in cruise-control. The Cardinals’ oft-criticized manager, Tony LaRussa, made a number of questionable decisions that day, including bringing Tyler Greene into the game as a defensive replacement for Allen Craig. Not only was Craig 2 for 2 with a homerun and 2 RBIs in the game, but Greene also made a crucial error, letting an infield pop-up fall to give the Royals a run. I wrote a full article about the game here on i70baseball.com back in May.

Garcia Tired

Though I stand behind most of my criticism in that article, I must offer my apologies to the Cardinals’ manager on my questioning of one decision: taking Jaime Garcia out of the game early.

At the time it seemed ridiculous. Garcia’s 84th and final pitch was crushed over the right field fence to make the game 7-3, and La Russa went immediately to the bullpen. 84 pitches. That’s it. Asking Brian Tallet, Trevor Miller, Ryan Franklin, and Miguel Batista to protect a 4-run lead for four full innings seems as crazy then as it does now, but I understand why the skipper did what he did.

LaRussa was saving Garcia for another day, or really any day in the second-half of the season. Since joining the Cardinals’ rotation last season, Jaime Garcia has hit the ground running from Opening Day through June, but something happens to the Cardinals’ lefty as the dog days of summer wear on. The numbers paint an interesting picture.

2010 2011 2010 2011
ERA in April: 1.04 2.08 Innings: 26 30.1
ERA in May: 1.53 4.23 Innings: 35.1 38.1
ERA in June: 4.50 3.44 Innings: 26 36.2
ERA in July: 2.51 2.51 Innings: 28.2 32.1
ERA in Aug: 2.53 6.84 Innings: 30.2 26.1
ERA in Sept: 5.94 —- Innings: 16.2 —–

Perhaps a more telling stat is this: in 13 career starts in August or September, Garcia has failed to pitch at least 6 innings 8 times. He’s pitched more than 7 innings just once. Since the trade deadline this year, he’s made it to the 6th inning just once in five tries.

The Cardinals know Chris Carpenter’s clock is ticking, and by handing Jaime a $27 million contract, they’ve established him as the team’s future #2 starter behind Adam Wainwright (or at least a #3 starter). The Cardinals him down early last season, and they’re skipping at least one of his starts this season. The Cardinals may be out of the race at this point, but there’s still plenty of things to watch for as the season winds down. And one of, if not the top things should be Garcia’s ability to handle the workload in September. Because if he can’t handle September, how will he handle October down the road?

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Under The Radar: Has Franklin Effectively Been Cut By The Cardinals?

Haven’t heard much complaining about Cardinals’ demoted reliever Ryan Franklin in a while? There’s a reason for that. No, he hasn’t been leading a remarkable resurgence on the mound. In fact, he hasn’t taken the mound at all since May 1st.

Two weeks ago, I raised the question, “Will Tony La Russa do the right thing when it comes to his personnel options in the bullpen?” Basically I questioned whether the Cardinals’ skipper would keep Ryan Franklin on the team despite his 8.86 ERA and send a promising young arm like Eduardo Sanchez or Fernando Salas back to AAA when Brian Tallet and/or Brian Augenstein came off the disabled list.

While we haven’t gotten an “official” answer to that question yet, it seems pretty clear now what La Russa’s answer will be. It’s been a good run, Mr. Franklin. By all accounts, Ryan Franklin is a great person and teammate and no one likes to see a good guy end his career like this. But the bottom line is he just can’t be trusted to get hitters out anymore. Disagree? The Cardinals’ manager doesn’t. Ryan Franklin hasn’t been trusted to take the mound since giving up the winning run in the bottom of the 9th in Atlanta a week and a half ago. Interestingly enough, every game since then has been decided by 3 runs or less (the lone exception was a 4-0 loss to the Brewers, but that game was 1-0 heading into the 9th).

In the past 2 ½ weeks, Franklin has taken the mound twice: Once with a 6-0 lead in the 8th where he gave up 2 hits on just 4 pitches and was yanked, and again in the aforementioned game in Atlanta where he was essentially La Russa’s only remaining option.

Pretty soon Brian Tallet will be coming off the disabled list, and when he does, look for Ryan Franklin to be designated for assignment. What other choice does the Cardinals’ management have now? Every other active reliever has an ERA below 3.25…and Franklin’s ERA is more than 2 ½ times higher. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong this season. Franklin followed up an All-Star appearance in 2009 by saving all but 2 of his save opportunities in 2010. I suppose a reasonable guess is that Mother Nature, and consequently every hitter in the National League, has caught up with the 38 year old right-hander.

When the obituary of Ryan Franklin’s baseball career is written… it will highlight the fact that before his downfall in 2011, he managed to save 65 of 72 games in the previous two seasons. Not bad for a 5th starter turned middle reliever in his mid 30s.

Mr. Franklin, Cardinals Nation wishes you well on all your future endeavors. When the dust settles, most fans will look back on your career fondly.

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2011 Key Player: Colby Rasmus

There are very few players on the Cardinals 2011 roster that will look for breakout type seasons. David Freese will be the only position player that the team looks to for that type of production. Colby Rasmus does not need a breakout season, he simply needs to continue his climb in production from year’s past.

Colby Rasmus has been a frustrating and talented player for this organization. He has been the player that everyone was talking about as he climbed the ladder through the minor leagues. He was a “five tool player” that would be the heir apparent to the center field throne as Jim Edmonds left.

At times, Colby has not disappointed. He has shown discipline at the plate, good instincts in the field, and the power that everyone hopped would materialize. At others times, he has frustrated everyone around him. He has been un-coachable, distracted in the field, and lost at the plate. Most of it has been described as youth. Some have hoped that he has out grown it. In 2011, the Cardinals need him to prove that he has.

Last year seen a public debacle between Tony LaRussa and Colby Rasmus. A behind closed doors meeting became public knowledge when the skipper mentioned the instance in front of the press. Tony was fed up with Rasmus. Rasmus was frustrated with his manager. The young man wanted to be traded out of St. Louis.

The problem is, the Cardinals need young, cost controlled players for the future of the franchise if they are to afford the mammoth deal that Albert Pujols will command. Colby fits the bill for a few more seasons and can produce to the level of being a cornerstone of the organization. At times, John Mozeliak has mentioned his center fielder as a player the team was building around.

Colby simply needs to improve at his normal pace this year. Fifteen to twenty home runs and eighty runs batted in will be more than sufficient from the young man. His patience needs to be there, his confidence needs to settle in, and his defense needs to be what everyone expects from him. As a “Key Player” for the 2011 team, he simply needs to continue doing what he does and settle in to his role.

Ultimately, I would like to see Colby hitting in the number two spot in the order, providing the now famous “damage from the two-hole“. Currently, it is projected that Colby will his sixth behind the trio of Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman. Predicting where anyone will hit in a Tony LaRussa lineup is futile at best, but Colby simply needs to show the patience and delivery that he can produce offensively.

Defensively, I would like to see Colby show that he has overcome whatever it was that he struggle with last year. Word out of Spring Training is that Colby has spent a lot of time in fielding and throwing drills and we all hope it pays dividends. He shows good instincts in the field and, assuming he can capitalize on them, should be able to find himself as one of the top center fielders in the National League this season.

It will not take a break out year from the young man, but consistency from his position can give the Cardinals the edge they need for 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.

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