Tag Archive | "Success"

New lineup has Royals streaking

The Royals are suddenly red hot, winners of seven of their last eight games.

KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals rounds first as he celebrates his game-winning single in the 10th inning during a game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on June 12, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 3-2. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Eric Hosmer

Kansas City just completed a six-game winning streak and a change in the lineup may have been a catalyst for the recent surge.

Frustrated by a lack of success on offense and in the standings, manager Ned Yost reportedly sought help from the Royals front office in putting together an optimal lineup. After crunching the numbers, it turned out that Salvador Perez, an excellent contact hitter, was the choice for the three-spot.

“We sit down every day and talk about it,” Yost said. “I get a lineup from the stat guys every day. I have never used it in its entirety but I use some of it. I consult with the coaches and we look at matchups and a few other things to construct our lineup.”

Yost tried out the new lineup, which also included moving Eric Hosmer into the second spot, and the Royals achieved immediate success.

After a June 4th loss to the Twins, in which Perez hit seventh, Yost decided it was time to make the switch.

Alex Gordon would lead off, followed by Hosmer and Perez. Alcides Escobar, who spent much of the season at the top of the lineup would be slotted in the ninth spot, providing the bottom of the order with more speed.

The Royals proceeded to win their next six. In his first game in the three-hole, Perez went 2-3 with two runs and an RBI, leading the Royals to a 4-1 win over Minnesota.

After eight games in the three-spot, Perez is hitting .367 with 11 hits, 1 HR and 7 RBI in 30 at-bats. He has at least one hit in each of those eight games.

Hosmer, meanwhile, has four multi-hit games over the past eight, with two hits on Wednesday including the game-winning single in the bottom of the tenth to beat the Tigers.

On May 25, Perez, dealing with the passing of his grandmother, was placed on the bereavement list. The talented catcher missed nine games and the Royals dropped seven of those nine.

Upon his return, Perez and the new-look lineup helped produce the longest win streak of the season for the Royals.

The offense, however, is not without its faults. There is still a glaring lack of power, ranking dead last in baseball in home runs.

While Perez and Hosmer may not be an answer in the power department (only 3 combined HR on the year), they both have been hitting for average and are clearly thriving in the reshuffled batting order.

How long Yost will stick with his new lineup may depend on whether the Royals stay hot but, so far, the results have been too good to mess with.

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Yahoo: The St. Louis Cardinals Need a Clear-Cut Closer

The St. Louis Cardinals were dealt a blow as they broke spring training camp in 2013. Their closer, Jason Motte, was injured. The early weeks of the season unveiled that the injury was not getting better and, pending a re-evaluation, Motte may require season ending surgery.

MitchellBoggs

Compounding the issue, Mitchell Boggs proved to be ineffective after inheriting the role and showcased an inability to nail down the all-important 27th out. The bullpen in St. Louis has proven to be loaded with outstanding arms leading up to the 9th inning but decidedly bare of arms capable of truly closing games.

There are options, some of which have been explored, some of which have been rumored, and some of which are a bit outside the box.

Edward Mujica - The obvious option, primarily because of his recent success in the role for the team. Mujica successfully closed down all three games in the recent series against the Washington Nationals and seems to be settling into the role quite well. His success in that role could calm the bullpen inefficiencies and keep the Cardinals from reaching for answers in other locations.

Read about the other options available to the Cardinals over at Yahoo.

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To Start Or To Relieve: Wade Davis

James Shields was the “big name” in the Shields/Wade Davis trade, but the success or failure of the trade hinges on Davis. Shields is the Kansas City Royals’ ace, but he’s a free agent after the 2014 season. Whether he pitches well or not, it’s likely he’s gone after two years. However, Davis is under team control until 2016. The Royals believe Shields will improve the team now. As for Davis, the Royals believe he will develop into a two or three starter and be a part of the starting rotation the next few seasons.

wadedavis2013springtraining

This spring, the Royals plan to give Davis every chance to make the starting rotation as their 3-4-5 starter. From 2009-2011, Davis started 64 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. But last year, Davis stayed in the bullpen, appearing in 54 games. During Spring Training, the Rays gave Davis a shot as their fifth starter, but he lost out to Jeff Niemann. And when Niemann went down with a broken ankle, the Rays promoted Alex Cobb to the starting rotation, leaving Davis in the bullpen.

So is Davis a better starter, or a better reliever? Let’s see what the stats say:

Year ERA G GS IP ER WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2009 3.72 6 6 36.1 15 1.266 8.2 0.5 3.2 8.9 2.77
2010 4.07 29 29 168.0 76 1.351 8.8 1.3 3.3 6.1 1.82
2011 4.45 29 29 184.0 91 1.375 9.3 1.1 3.1 5.1 1.67
2012 2.43 54 0 70.1 19 1.095 6.1 0.6 3.7 11.1 3.00
4 Yrs 3.94 118 64 458.2 201 1.315 8.6 1.1 3.3 6.7 2.04
162 Game Avg. 3.94 44 24 171 75 1.315 8.6 1.1 3.3 6.7 2.04
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/20/2013.

Davis prefers a starting role, but his stats say he’s a better reliever. He had a much lower ERA, and over nine innings gave up fewer hits and struck out more batters. However, he did walk more batters over nine innings, which isn’t good if you’re a reliever. And with the Rays talented starting rotation last year, Davis stayed in the bullpen.

But how does Davis as a starter compare to the 2012 Royals starting rotation? Here’s the stats of the top five Royals starters:

Rk ERA G GS IP ER WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
1 Bruce Chen* 5.07 34 34 191.2 108 1.367 10.1 1.5 2.2 6.6 2.98
2 Luke Hochevar 5.73 32 32 185.1 118 1.419 9.8 1.3 3.0 7.0 2.36
3 Luis Mendoza 4.23 30 25 166.0 78 1.416 9.5 0.8 3.2 5.6 1.76
4 Jeremy Guthrie 3.16 14 14 91.0 32 1.132 8.3 0.9 1.9 5.5 2.95
5 Will Smith* 5.32 16 16 89.2 53 1.606 11.1 1.2 3.3 5.9 1.79
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/20/2013.

If you take Davis’ worst year, 2011, he had a better ERA than the Royals rotation, save Jeremy Guthrie and Luis Mendoza. The Royals rotation had more SO/9 than the 2011 Davis and except for Mendoza and Will Smith, the Royals rotation had a better BB/9 ratio than the 2011 Davis. If Davis was in the Royals starting rotation last year, he would likely be the number three starter behind Guthrie and Mendoza.

So what does this mean? Well, Davis is a good middle of the rotation starter, but is a better reliever. If Bruce Chen and Mendoza regress, Luke Hochevar pitches like Luke Hochevar and Davis pitches like he did in 2010, he’ll be in the starting rotation. But if Chen, Mendoza or Hochevar have a great Spring Training, Davis might end up in the bullpen.

But that’s not likely, despite what happens this spring. The Royals will give Davis every opportunity to make the starting rotation, just to show the Shields/Davis trade wasn’t a bust like some Royals fans and pundits think it is. If Shields and Davis are starters, the trade doesn’t look bad. The team got two quality starters to improve their rotation. But if Shields is a starter and Davis is a reliever, then the trade looks like the Royals got an ace for only two years and another bullpen arm in an already strong bullpen. Not bad, but not that good either.

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Salvador Perez Is Coming Back

While throwing to rookie Salvador Perez in the second half of 2011, Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar had his most consistent run of success in his career.

Luke Hochevar has been an enigma for most of his career. Early on, he was mostly bad with a few starts here and there that showed the ability that the Royals saw when they drafted him 1st overall in the 2006 amateur draft. Over the years, the good starts became a little more frequent, with a few outstanding performances thrown in. But when he was bad, he was really bad. It wasn’t until the second half of last season that Hochevar began to show some consistency. He still had some great starts, but his off-days were average instead of horrendous. They say that a pitcher should be judged on how he performs on his worst day, rather than on his best day. Hochevar’s worst days became much better in the 2nd half of 2011, which gave Royals fans much hope for him to continue this trend in 2012. Unfortunately, it was not to be. On April 13 for the Royals home opener, Hochevar gave up 7 runs in the top of the 1st inning which would be the beginning of one of the most horrific stretches of pitching for a starting pitcher in recent American history. His ERA currently sits at 7.02 for the season while pitching to Humberto Quintero in all 8 of his starts this season.

Salvador Perez was called up by the Royals last August and started his first game at Catcher on August 10. He caught each of Hochevar’s last 7 starts of the season. During this stretch he threw 45 2/3 innings and gave up 22 runs for a 4.34 ERA. In the first start he gave up 5 runs, so if you take out that one, assuming he was getting acclimated to having a new catcher behind the plate, the ERA is lowered to 4.17. Now, while an ERA over 4.00 will not win Hochevar any Cy Young awards, Royals fans would undoubtedly be pleased if he could provide numbers like this on a consistent basis.

While it may be a stretch to try and make this correlation, it cannot be discounted that if Hochevar can experience some success once Salvador Perez returns, that he will be the one common denominator. It cannot be understated how important consistency at the Catcher position is to the success of a pitching staff. And while Royals fans have seen pitching coaches come and go, and starting pitchers displaying maddening levels of inconsistency, perhaps it is the game of musical chairs that the Royals have played at the Catcher position over the last several years that is most responsible for this. Time will tell. Perez is due back in a couple weeks. Hopefully he can help Hochevar “turn the corner” one more time.

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Kyle Lohse Revisited

Back in February I discussed St Louis Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, and how his ability to command his curve ball might define his season.  Lohse just finished April 4-0 for the Cardinals; how is his curve ball working for him?

Through five starts Lohse’s velocity on all his pitches is within .5 MPH of what he was throwing last year, except with his change-up; interestingly that’s up 1 MPH from 2011.  He is also throwing all his pitches with roughly the same frequency as in 2011 with two notable exceptions.  Lohse’s change-up usage is down ~5% from his 2011 numbers, and his slider usage is up over 7%.

Has it made much difference?  That is unclear so far.  Lohse’s walk rate per 9 innings is down slightly as compared to 2011 (1.6 now, 2.0 last season), and his strike out rate is up a commensurate amount (5.7 now from 5.3 a year ago), but that could just be noise in the statistics.

Ok, so let’s look at his isolated pitch values.  The wCH value is currently 2.0, the lowest it has been in April since 2008.  On the other hand, his wSL value of 4.2 is the highest it has been as a Cardinal. Lohse’s slider has been a devastating pitch in 2012.  His fastball hasn’t been half bad, either.  Last season his April wFB value of 8.0 was more than twice as good as it had been in his Cardinal tenure.  This year’s number of 4.2 is half that personal best, but it is also the second-best value he’s had as a Cardinal.  Now Lohse’s fastball is a valuable pitch because it sets up all his off-speed stuff, but it has never been an out pitch for him.  It would be exciting if he’s able to maintain that quality with his fastball throughout this season.

Lohse’s curve ball has not been a good pitch so far this year, just like it has not been that good in April in all his years in St Louis.  So far it would appear the curve ball is not what’s driving Lohse’s success; it’s his slider that’s making him one of the NL’s best pitchers in 2012.

One caveat to all this discussion.  Lohse is 14-2 in April as a Cardinal, by far his best month of the season; and April is the only month in which Lohse is over .500 in his career.  Early season success does not guarantee full season success, as his injury-plagued 2009 would suggest.  Lohse is pitching great so far, helping to lead St Louis to the second-best record in the league after one month of play.

Mike Metzger is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He also blogs about the Padres.  Follow him on Twitter @metzgermg.

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Will Jake Westbrook Slide

The St. Louis Cardinals got Jake Westbrook at the 2010 trade deadline, and he performed well enough down the stretch to earn a 2-year contract with a mutual option on a third year.  Last season he did not perform like the 2010 stretch Westbrook, though to be fair he did pitch to his career averages.  What do we want to to see from Jake in 2012?  More 2010 Westbrook, and less 2011 Westbrook, of course.  How does he get there?

Westbrook historically allows a lot of base runners.  Last year he allowed at least a runner per inning in his victories, and in his no-decisions and losses it was closer to 2 runners per inning.  If Jake was not on his game it was obvious early; he only threw 43 innings in his 9 losses, and allowed almost as many hits, walks, and HR as he did in the 75 innings he threw during his 12 victories.  Opposing hitters hammered him to the tune of a .368 BABIP in games he lost; in his wins, his BABIP was 100 points lower.

OK, if he pitches to less contact he’ll be more successful in 2012, right?  It’s not that simple.  In his 2011 losses, his K/9 was actually higher than in his wins (5.2 to 4.7), and in his no-decisions it was even higher.  The year before they were virtually identical (5.3 to 5.5), although again his K/9 in no-decisions was higher.  Striking out more hitters so there are fewer balls in play does not seem to be a key to Westbrook’s success.

So what can he change in order to return closer to his 2010 Cardinal form?  Take a look at his Fangraphs page, specifically the pitch type section, for a possible answer.  After the trade to St Louis Westbrook essentially ditched his cutter.  He threw a fastball more frequently, threw his slider marginally more frequently, and threw his change-up marginally less frequently than he had while with Cleveland earlier in the year.  In 2011, he threw his fastball slightly less frequently and his change-up with the same frequency as he had the second half of 2010.  He made two major changes:  he threw fewer sliders than in any year since 2007, and he threw more cutters than in any season ever.*

One has to wonder why the drastic change.  Arm trouble?  Inability to get a feel for the pitch that persisted most of the season?  A lack of feel would make sense, because his slider got hammered (based on Fangraphs linear weights) throughout 2011 and no sane pitcher would consistently throw a pitch they knew could cause whiplash while watching it leave the home plate area.

It would seem the key to Westbrook’s success is his slider.  It has been a crucial pitch for him throughout his career and had served him well up to last season.  As we prepare for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training 2012, we need to watch Westbrook’s progress with his slider.  If he has a feel for it, look for 2010-type performances this season, with 2011 game play a distant (and hopefully rapidly fading) memory.  If he can’t find it again, maybe we can get Roy Oswalt back on the phone.

*Some of the change in fastball/cutter percentage may be due to refinement in the pitch f/x systems ability to detect the difference, however the change in how often he threw a slider cannot be explained away by a measurement software change.

Mike Metzger is a baseball writer based out of San Diego.  He also blogs about the PadresFollow him on Twitter.

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Catching A Winner

The Royals of 2012 will be young.  With veterans sprinkled throughout the roster the Royals will be able to find their club house leader. But who will step up and be the leader on the field.  That responsibility could be placed on the shoulders of up and coming catcher Salvador Perez.

One of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season was not only the call up but the success of young catching prospect.  A player who by all accounts has shown in the past that defensively he has what it takes to be a premiere catcher for a long time in the Major Leagues.  But his offense was lacking.  Lacking is the only attribute that cannot describe the short season that Perez had last year. He showed that he had the ability to drive the ball to all fields, which at such a young age is nothing but positive. Yes it was a small sample size, but let’s look at what could have been in Perez had played a full season.

Seeing that he would have had around 500 at-bats in a full season here is what his stat sheet would have consisted of in 2011.

At-Bats: 500
Runs:68
Hits:166
Doubles:27
Home Runs:10
RBI:71
Strikeouts:68
Average: .332
Slugging Percentage: .470

If this were true, saying that he overachieved would have been an understatement.  Now although this would be wonderful production from behind the plate, Perez cannot be expected to put up these kinds of numbers for a full season.  He will digress, but his intangibles are what make him such a great commodity to have on this year’s ball club.

His knowledge of the game and how to handle his pitchers will be crucial if the Royals want to make a run for the division title in 2012.  Knowing what pitches to call, when to call them, and when to take a little risk with his battery mate.

Defensively, he just has to stay consistent.  One problem with players today is if they have a little trouble at the plate their defense will show their frustrations. But a leader has to be able to forget when things are not going his way with the bat and just play the game.  This will be the biggest test for Perez in 2012 because he will surely go through the growing pains of any young player. His response to adversity is what will put him on a “captain of the team” like pedestal.

With all this being said here are some projections for the Royal’s young Venezuelan catcher in the 2012 season.

At-Bats: 485
Runs:65
Hits:138
Doubles:24
Home Runs:15
RBI:66
Strikeouts:74
Average: .285
Slugging Percentage: .443

If Perez can produce these kinds of numbers at the plate, add in his stellar defense behind the plate, and step into the leadership role in the 2012 season the Royals could have a truly valuable piece to their puzzle for future success in Kansas City.

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Going To WAR On The Trades Of The GMDM Era- Part 1: 2006

By most accounts, “The Process”, as Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore has often referred to his vision for the Royals, can be broken down into 3 phases. Phase One would be the rebuilding of the farm system. There is no denying that phase is complete. The second phase is transitioning the talent in the farm system to the Big League roster. Most would agree that this phase is mostly complete as well. The third and final phase to “The Process”, would be to identify the missing pieces and fill those gaps via free agency and trade. The Royals are just beginning to enter this phase now. Since Dayton Moore took over his post as Royals GM in June 2006, the trades that he has pulled off have drawn mixed reviews. So as he and his staff embark on Phase Three of “The Process”, it is important that we review the history of the Royals trades in the Dayton Moore era, so as to help predict the success of the recent and future trades that will be made by this regime.

We will use the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) statistic to determine the positive or negative impact of each trade. For those unfamiliar with this statistic, it is defined as: A single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add. In fairness, we will only take into consideration the production that each player the Royals traded FOR had with the Royals, and each player the Royals traded had with the team they traded that player to. So while this study does have some flaws, it will provide a pretty good snapshot as to how Dayton has fared in the trade department.

In the first of this multi-part column, we examine the trades that took place in 2006:

June 20, 2006: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays traded Fernando Cortez and Joey Gathright to the Kansas City Royals for J.P. Howell.

Before Dayton even had time to pick out the furniture in his new office, he decided to go shopping for a=n athletic, speedy center-fielder. Enter Joey Gathright and somebody named Fernando Cortez, and exit J.P. Howell.

Howell: 3.2 WAR since Trade with Rays(06-11)

Gathright: 0.9 WAR with Royals(06-08)

Cortez: 0.1 WAR with Royals (2007)

Rays win trade by 2.2 WAR

July 19, 2006: The New York Mets traded Jeff Keppinger to the Kansas City Royals for Ruben Gotay.

Keppinger has been a useful starting major leaguer for a number of years, and it is easy to forget that he was even a Royal. And there surely have been plenty of times since July 19,2006 that Royals fans would have much rather seen him patrolling 2nd base rather than whoever they had out there. Unfortunately, for the 3 months he was a Royal, he did prety much nothing

Gotay: 0.2 WAR with Mets (2007)

Keppinger: -0.1 WAR with Royals (2006)

Mets win trade by 0.3 WAR

July 24, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Mike MacDougal to the Chicago White Sox for Tyler Lumsden (minors) and Dan Cortes.

Mac the 9th didn’t really do much after leaving the Royals. But at least he actually played for the team that traded for him, unlike the 2 gentlemen the Royals got in return.

MacDougal: 0.4 WAR with White Sox (2006-2009)

Lumsden: 0.0 WAR (never made majors)

Cortes: 0.0 WAR (never made majors with Royals before being shipped to Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt)

White Sox win trade by 0.4 WAR

July 25, 2006: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Blake Johnson (minors), Julio Pimentel (minors), Odalis Perez and cash to the Kansas City Royals for Elmer Dessens.

Dessens had been a mediocre at best reliever for the Royals for the first part of 2006, so the fact that they were able to flip him prior to the deadline for a serviceable former all-star starting pitcher like Perez, makes this the first decent trade of the DMGM era.

Dessens: 0.1 WAR with Dodgers (2006)

Johnson: 0.0 WAR (never made majors)

Pimentel: 0.0 WAR (never made majors)

Perez: 1.0 WAR with Royals (2006-2007)

Royals win trade by 0.9 WAR

July 25, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Tony Graffanino to the Milwaukee Brewers for Jorge De La Rosa.

This is an interesting one. Because if you consider what De La Rosa has been able, when healthy, to do since leaving the Royals then this one without question swings in the Royals favor. However, during De La Rosa’s tenure wiht the Royals, he was one of the most frustrating to watch and at times ineffective pitchers to wear a Royals uniform.

Graffanino: 1.9 WAR with Brewers (2006-2007)

De La Rosa: 0.8 WAR with Royals (2006-2007)

Brewers win trade by 1.1 WAR

July 31, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Matt Stairs to the Texas Rangers for Jose Diaz.

This turned out to be pretty equal trade in terms of Suck for Suck.

Stairs: -0.3 WAR with Rangers (88 plate appearances in 2006 before being shipped off to Detroit for the remainder of the season)

Diaz: -0.2 WAR with Royals (6.2 innings in 2006)

Royals win trade by 0.1 WAR

July 31, 2006: The Colorado Rockies traded Scott Dohmann and Ryan Shealy to the Kansas City Royals for Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista.

Royals fans should remember this one quite well. Affeldt was a maddening pitcher for the Royals. I will never be able to hear about a pitcher having blisters on his throwing hand again without thinking of Jeremy Affeldt. Affeldt has since put it together to become a very effective left-handed reliever, but it didn’t happen with the Rockies. Bautista was supposed to have this “electric stuff” that he just needed to harness. Well, it never happened with the Royals, or anywhere else for that matter. And in Shealy, the word was that the Royals had finally found their 1B of the future and could begin taking the pressure off of Mike Sweeney. And…who is Scott Dohmann again? Whoops…

Affeldt: -0.3 with Rockies (2006-2007)

Bautista: -1.1 with Rockies (2006-2007)

Shealy: 0.2 WAR with Royals (2006-2008)

Dohmann: -0.6 WAR with Royals (2006)

In aggregate, both teams essentially added less than replacement talent with this trade,but in this study, the Royals came out on top.

Royals win trade by 1.0 WAR

December 6, 2006: The New York Mets traded Brian Bannister to the Kansas City Royals for Ambiorix Burgos.

For awhile, this trade was the crown jewel trade of the Dayton Moore era. Bannister immediately arrived in Kansas City and settled in as a steady starting pitcher and finishing 3rd in the Rookie of the Year balloting, while Burgos soon encountered legal issues in his native Dominican Republic and never played again.

Burgos: 0.1 WAR with Mets (2007)

Bannister: 2.8 WAR with Royals (2007-2010)

Royals win trade by 2.7 WAR

December 16, 2006: The Kansas City Royals traded Andy Sisco to the Chicago White Sox for Ross Gload.

It is hard to imagine why Kenny Williams was so interested in taking all of the ineffective relievers off of the Royals’ hands. This should have been a good trade. And for one year it was. But when “Gloady” as Buddy Bell liked to call him, is getting 418 plate appearances in a season and starting 95 games at 1st Base, that says a lot more about your team than it does about a steady utility player like Ross Gload.

Sisco: -0.3 WAR with White Sox (2007)

Gload: -1.4 WAR with Royals (2007-2008)

White Sox win trade by 1.3 WAR

So what does this tell us? Other than the fact that the Royals did quite a bit of exchanging of “junk” with other teams in 2006, Dayton Moore came out slightly on the short end of his trades in by -0.6 WAR, based on this study. The big ones were the J.P. Howell trade, which he lost, and the Brian Bannister trade, which he won.

Next week, we analyze the trades made in 2007…

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Cardinal Success In Game 5s And Game 7s

As we prepare for the finale of this exciting series, and its marquee Game 5 matchup of two former Cy Young Award winners, let us take a walk down memory lane, and look at the Cardinal history in Game 7s (and Game 5 for the NLDS).

St Louis is the preeminent franchise in the National League, second only to the Yankees in terms of World Series wins. All that success means the team has had multiple occasions to play a one game, winner-take-all contest. For example, the Cardinals played seven consecutive World Series Game 7s from 1946 to 1987. How did they fare in those opportunities?

The Early Years (1926-1967)

Their first World Series appearance went seven games. The Cardinals won that game, which ended with my personal favorite game-ending play for any World Series, namely Babe Ruth getting thrown out trying to steal second. Can you imagine the amount of ink, hot air, and bandwidth that would be consumed dissecting that decision if it happened in 2006 instead of 1926?

Having started well, the Cardinals kept rolling. They defeated the Philadelphia A’s to win the Fall Classic in 1931, and took out Detroit in Tiger Stadium to win the Series three years later. Enos Slaughter’s mad dash home secured the 1946 title in front of the home town fans, and Bob Gibson wrestled those mighty Yankees into submission 18 years later in front of those same fans. The Boston Globe learned the price of publishing a great headline prematurely (‘Lonborg and Champagne’), as Gibson extended Cardinal dominance and Boston angst with a 1967 Game 7 win at Fenway.

So six Game 7s had come and gone, and the Cardinals had won all six. They were invincible when all the chips were down. No one wanted to play them in those situations, no matter where the game was to be contested.

The Desert of Futility (1968-2001)

Was it Curt Flood’s slip? Was it Lou Brock getting thrown out at the plate two games earlier? Was it the law of averages finally catching up to them? Probably some combination of the three. The Detroit Tigers, led by Denny McLain, beat St Louis at home in that 1968 Game 7. After that, Cardinal dominance in Game 7s ceased. They continued to win the Game 7s played at home, clinching the World Series against Milwaukee, defeating both Los Angeles and San Francisco in the LCS.

But on the road they were hapless. The Cardinals blew a 3-1 series lead in 1985, dropping Game 7 in Kansas City. They blew a 3-2 lead two years later, losing to the Twins in the Homer Dome. Then, when they returned to the post-season 10 years later, even their home mojo disappeared. They blew another 3-1 lead, getting embarrassed by the Atlanta Braves and losing the NLCS for the first time. Finally, to conclude their first best-of-five playoff series that went the distance, they lost a heartbreaker in the Arizona desert.

Return to Normalcy (2002-present)

They needed a great play or seminal moment to change their luck. They got one, and it occurred in a Game 7. The Cardinals played their next winner-take-all game to close out the 2004 NLCS against Houston. The Astros looked poised to take complete control of the game when with two on and one out, Brad Ausmus hit a fliner into the left-center field gap. Jim Edmonds ran it down, making a spectacular diving catch to keep the runners at their respective bases. St Louis went on to win the game and the National League.

They played another Game 7 two years later, and thanks to a Yadier Molina HR in the top of the ninth, St Louis beat the Mets 3-1 at Shea. It marked the first time since the 1967 World Series the Cardinals had won a Game 7 on the road.

Summation

Over 85 years of playoff baseball, the Cardinals have played 15 Game 7s and 1 Game 5. They are 7-1 as a franchise at home in those games, and 4-4 on the road. In comparison, the Philadelphia Phillies have never played a Game 7. They have played 2 Game 5s, winning the first, beating the Astros in extra innings to win the NL in 1980. But, they lost the second, to the Dodgers a year later* in the same situation.

What does it all mean? No Phillie on the current roster has ever played in a Game 5/7 for that franchise. The Cardinals have 4 men left from the 2006 playoff run: Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and … Chris Carpenter, tonight’s starter. Additionally, tradition here has to favor St Louis. Plus, the veterans who played in those games of yore – men like Lou Brock, Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Willie McGee, even Stan Musial – keep that tradition alive by being a part of the locker room during spring training, and passing that tradition on to the current generation.

Everyone looks for even the slightest edge in games like this. Only in games like this can intangibles play a role. Experience and tradition favor the Cardinals. That has to count for something. It might be the last straw they need to break the Phillies back.

* Editor’s Note: It should be noted that this game five in Phillies history in 1981 was the first ever division series. This series was mandated by the players strike that year.

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Naturally Speaking: Dwyer Realizing His Full Potential

Just when this season looked like a bust for Northwest Arkansas pitcher Chris Dwyer, he sets a record for K’s in his latest of several excellent outings.

Photo courtesy of John Owen

Dwyer struck out 10 Arkansas Travelers in just six innings last Friday, tying a Naturals record. It was the latest of his victories in four consecutive outings. After languishing for the first three months of the season, Dwyer has suddenly become a killer.

Less than a month ago, Dwyer looked anything like the 83rd best prospect in America. In fact on July 20 he had plummeted to a 2-9 record with an embarrassing 6.96 ERA. He probably wouldn’t have ranked as the 83rd best prospect in the state of Arkansas at that moment.

But something seems to have clicked. In his last four starts he has pitched at least six innings in each outing, and has surrendered more than one earned run only once. His strikeout totals in those four starts: 5,9,5,10.

Dwyer took his lumps earlier in the summer, but he allowed the experience to make him better.

“Obviously you’re going to have some rough outings, but you just have to learn from that,” said Dwyer. “You just have to stick with it and work on it between starts.”

Dwyer said even when he was struggling it wasn’t because his stuff was lacking. “It’s more walks than getting hit hard,” Dwyer said about his poor performances. “Getting behind in the count hurts. When you’re down 3-0 or 3-1, you just can’t really get to your best pitches.”

Dwyer believes his curveball is his best pitch. He said when he isn’t locating his fastball as well as he’d like, it limits the effectiveness of his curve.

“For me it’s so important to get my fastball down and command it – not getting it up or out of the zone,” Dwyer said.

“The fastball is the key to everyone’s game. Once you command that, then you can work off that. I try to get to my curveball. So once I command my fastball I can use my curve more.”

Dwyer’s success might have the Royals top brass considering giving him a late-season promotion to Omaha. But the 21-year-old Bostonian isn’t waiting by the phone.

“I don’t really worry about that. If it happens, it happens. I just stay focused on the season here, focused on the playoffs. Whatever they want to do is up to them.

Dwyer said his team is motivated by the prospect of making the playoffs and competing for a second consecutive Texas League crown. The Royals have placed high value on letting prospects experience minor-league postseason battles. So it seems likely that Dwyer will stay with Northwest Arkansas through the end of the season.

Dwyer is well aware of his status as a top-ranked prospect, and he acknowledges that brings added pressure to the game. But he said it is important that he not place unrealistic expectations on himself.

“I try not to pay attention (to the hype),” Dwyer said.” My job is to go out and take the ball every fifth day, throw strikes, and do my best. If you think about that other stuff, it just gets in your head. I just try to do my best every day.”

Dwyer does, however, acknowledge that he’s enjoyed being one of several Royals prospects garnering national attention.

“It is fun, and I try to enjoy it, but obviously going out and getting a win for your team is the most important thing.”

Dwyer has seen several of his peers move up the organizational ladder, even some who have graduated to the big leagues. He says that is both fun and motivational.

“It’s fun to be a part of a group, moving up together. We root for each other, see each other every day, practicing and playing the games. And hopefully, someday, we can do it for Kansas City.”

One player who moved up recently garnered particular praise from Dwyer – catcher Salvador Perez, now the everyday catcher at Omaha.

“He’s an unreal catcher,” Dwyer said of his former teammate. “He just gets it and he understands the hitters and he just knows how to catch. It’s awesome, being that young and that good. He deserves every opportunity he’s getting, and hopefully, someday soon, he’ll be up there catching for the Royals.”

Dwyer said Perez is the total package defensively, with a bat that’s improving.

“He’s smart and he has got a really good arm, and he’s big, and he’s good with his glove. He’s just got everything.

“He’s starting to really hit – he’s hitting better this year than he ever has. So if you get a hitting catcher with that defensive ability it’s just awesome.”

Dwyer may soon throw to his friend Perez again, be it in Omaha this year or next, or quite possibly in KC next season. But it didn’t look like that would happen anytime soon, if ever, just a month ago. Dwyer’s rebound from bust to phenom is one of many things giving Royals fans hope for the future.

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