Tag Archive | "Spark Plug"

Matt Carpenter sets pace for increasingly impressive St. Louis Cardinals team

The St. Louis Cardinals have one of the most balanced attacks in all of Major League Baseball. Their pitching staff leads in earned-run average, the defense has the fewest errors in baseball and the lineup is ranked fourth of the 30 teams, but every power-producing engine needs a spark plug.

MLB Chicago vs St. Louis

For the Cardinals, that’s Matt Carpenter.

Carpenter began the season as a post-Tony La Russa version of Skip Schumaker. Originally a third baseman, manager Mike Matheny wanted him to move to be the starting second baseman in 2013 in a move similar to 2009 when Schumaker, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, moved from the outfield to second base.

Carpenter has committed four errors through 58 of the team’s first 61 games while playing a combination of second base and third base, but he has quickly become an incredibly valuable asset.

Centerfielder Jon Jay began the season as the leadoff hitter, but he struggled to get his season started at the plate (his batting average was .204 in April). Matheny had enough of starting every game with one out, so he moved Jay to the seventh spot in the order May 2 and replaced him in the leadoff spot with Carpenter.

Carpenter was hitting .288 when he became the full-time leadoff hitter, and he’s since gone on a tear. He’s raised his average to .333, including 17 multi-hit games since Matheny moved him to the leadoff spot full time.

His rise to the top of the lineup coincided, not coincidently, with a Cardinals hot streak. The team compiled a 20-7 record in May and has won five of eight games in the first week of June.

They also had baseball’s best batting average (.289) in May, meaning the hitters behind Carpenter also hit well.

Catcher Yadier Molina led the team with a .394 average, but rightfielder Carlos Beltran, third baseman David Freese and shortstop Pete Kozma all hit .267 or better, not to mention Jay’s .284 average and 15 runs batted in, which tied him with Beltran for second most on the team in May.

“I feel like every time I get on there someone drives me in,” Carpenter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after Monday’s 7-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, in which he went 3-for-5 with three runs scored.

In addition, the move down in the order has been as beneficial to Jay as the move up has been for Carpenter. The Cardinals had their cake and ate it, too.

Jay’s batting average improved from .204 May 1 to .286 May 21 before a recent slump that included consecutive hitless two-game series against the Kansas City Royals.

But certainly, the leadoff spot is what makes the rest of the game go. Carpenter gets on base, and Beltran, Molina and Matt Holliday drive him home to establish crucial early leads, which in turn allow pitchers to be more aggressive early in games.

But it all starts with Carpenter, who is quickly putting together one of the most impressive seasons of any Cardinals leadoff hitter since David Eckstein hit .295 with 90 runs scored, eight homeruns, 61 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 2005 on a team that won 100 games.

He’s also tough. Diamondbacks pitchers hit him three times Wednesday, and he came back the next night with four hits in five at-bats.

Carpenter has done exactly what any team needs from a leadoff hitter. He is the ignition that has put the Cardinals on pace toward another historically good record.

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David Freese Cracks Top Ten Right Now

Fans of MLB Network know that they have been subjecting players to “The Shredder” for statistical analysis to determine the top ten players at each position right now.

In an episode of the show, hosted by Brian Kenny, that will air Friday night, i70baseball has learned from an MLB Network executive that St. Louis Cardinal David Freese will indeed be featured as one of the top 10 thirdbaseman in baseball.

Photo Courtesy of/Copyright Erika Lynn

Photo Courtesy of/Copyright Erika Lynn

The “Top Ten Right Now” series is enjoying it’s third incarnation and will feature a Cardinal third baseman for the first time when Freese’s name is revealed.  Sabermetric Godfather Bill James and former Oriole second baseman Bill Ripken will be on hand with Kenny to help analyze The Shredder’s results and provide their own lists for comparison.

Bill James:
“The only thing you like about him really is the bat. He [has] a terrific bat, quick bat, hits the ball hard [to] straightaway center. He’s not a defensive wonder, he’s not a base stealer, but he does hit.”

Freese has garnered some attention since his now famous heroics in the 2011 Post Season.  However, it was 2012 that helped solidify that Freese could be seen as a consistent contributor to the Cardinals roster.   A player that has battled injuries for most of his career, Freese was able to take the field for 144 games last season and show solid production while he was at it.

Bill Ripken:
“When King Albert left and went out to Los Angeles to play with the Angels, here’s one of the guys that picked up the slack.”

He would reach career highs in almost every offensive category, posting a .293/.372/.467 “slash line” while hitting 20 home runs and driving in 79.  He was a spark plug at times for the 2012 team and added much needed depth in the lower part of the lineup.  He would achie his first appearance in the midsummer classic after being voted in as the final roster spot by fans on the heels of a very successful social media campaign for the position.

Brian Kenny:
“Freese has established himself now as a solid contributor to the Cardinals.”

“He’s a player who isn’t great at any one thing, but is above average everywhere and that makes you an excellent player.”

“Last year, [he had] 20 homers, .293 batting average, 57 walks. Just enough power, average and plate selection to add up to sixth in OPS among qualifying third basemen last year.”

Freese’s future looks bright for the team and the team is currently in negotiations with the home town hero to avoid arbitration and possibly secure him to a long term deal.

The show will air at 8pm Central Time on MLB Network, Friday February 8th.

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

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You Got To Know When To Hold ‘Em

Dayton Moore and the Royals management need to pay heed to the advice of The Gambler as the mid-season trade deadline draws near. For as there is a time to fold ‘em, there also comes a time to hold ‘em.

The Royals have perennially been a seller at the deadline, trading off players as they approached free agency. Often the moves were necessary, and occasionally the Royals improved their franchise in the dealings.

But this is a new era in KC, in spite of the team’s dismal record. “The process” isn’t just beginning. It has begun. It’s no longer time to abandon decent major league players for the sake of acquiring cheaper, younger prospects.

Last year the Royals dumped David DeJesus, partly clearing the way for prospects, but also in part simply because they didn’t expect to resign him. The loss of DeJesus, it turns out, hasn’t hurt the team. The current outfield has proven to be the strength of the big league team, while DeJesus has struggled.

The situation with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur is different.

Cabrera, eligible for arbitration after this season, has been a spark plug both offensively and defensively. He might draw some interest from a contending club needing an outfielder.

Francoeur, under a contract with mutual options through next season, has some pop and plays solid defense as well. He could also fetch something on the trade market.

But this revolving door has got to stop, and now is the time. The young players coming up in the system can’t succeed if there is no stability around them.

At some point, the Royals have to start keeping good players, even if they aren’t great players.

So Lorenzo Cain is ready. Can’t the team find him some playing time without dumping Cabrera? Do the Royals really have to clear a path a mile wide just for David Lough to have a shot at the big leagues? So Wil Myers has shown great potential? Does that mean he should be handed a job he’s not even nearly ready for?

Not everyone likes Cabrera and Francoeur. But the fact is, they are still young, talented, experienced players with team-friendly contracts. They are hungry to show they belong in the big leagues. In terms of proven big league players, they came to the Royals as a bargain.

They could both certainly be dumped for pitching prospects, which the team desperately needs. But DeJesus brought a couple of pitching prospects, and look how that turned out. Alberto Callaspo was dealt for pitching prospects. Same result.

It could be argued that Callaspo was blocking Mike Moustakas’ rise to the big club. But what’s wrong with letting Moustakas earn a spot in the show, rather than having the way paved for him?

It would seem that the way to develop a winning team wouldn’t be to have too few good players, but to have too many. Imagine if in two years, the Royals had an outfield rotation of Gordon, Francoeur and Myers on the corners and Cabrera and Cain in center, all under team-friendly contracts. Not only could they have solid defense and speed, with options for platoon, but then they could really trade from a position of strength.

Francoeur recently stated publicly that he would like to stay in KC and help the team develop. A decision on his status isn’t as pressing, as he is under contract for next year. Cabrera might not fetch as much via trade as he is worth in a Royals uniform. He shouldn’t be given away, like DeJesus and Callaspo were.

Should some team come with proven big league starting pitching in return for either of the two outfielders, of course the team should jump without hesitation. But anything short of that, and the Royals should take the old gambler’s advice and hold ‘em.

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