July 23-25 – Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals


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The St. Louis Cardinals (59-37)  continue their first home stand of the second half as they host the Philadelphia Phillies  (49-50) for three games.   The Cardinals still hold the best record in the National League, but their lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a mere 1 1/2 games.  Although they just lost two of their three games to the third place Cincinnati Reds, the Pirates continue keeping pressure on the Cardinals.  The Cardinals are looking to join the Boston Red Sox in the 60 win club.

With just over one week left before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies ownership have some difficult decisions to make.  They currently trail the Atlanta Braves by seven games, who are in the middle of a four game series with the Mets in New York.  They also trail the Cincinnati Reds by seven games for the second wild card spot.   But that does not automatically make them a seller.  Since there are no teams between the Braves and Phillies, a hot or cold week from either team could make this a close race.

cliff-lee-phillies

Could Cliff Lee be St. Louis Bound ?

There have been rumors of other team’s interest in Michael Young, suggesting that the Phillies might use this opportunity to retool their aging roster.  If that is the case, two names have been linked to the Cardinals – left handed starter Cliff Lee and right handed reliever Jonathon Papelbon.  Whether there are serious discussions happening or this is just fan speculation, it makes for a very interesting three games in St. Louis.

 

How they got here

The Cardinals started the second half with a three game home series against the struggling San Diego Padres.  While they won two of the three games, there was something of a discomfort about how they won.

Jake Westbrook kept the Padres off the scoreboard through the first six innings, but a 6-0 and later 9-3 blowout turned into a save opportunity for Edward Mujica when both Carlos Martinez and Fernando Salas were ineffective.  On the fun side, Jake Westbrook was an offensive juggernaut, helping his own cause with a three hit night.

Lance Lynn continued his second half woes in the second game of the series as he lasted just five innings, giving up 4 runs in the process.   Lynn would take the loss in the game, his fourth over his last five starts.  He remains an enigma in the Cardinals rotation, causing some fans to call for his reassignment to the bullpen.

Adam Wainwright

We never get tired of this

The most uncomfortable of the games was the Sunday afternoon finale.  Adam Wainwright battled eight innings, allowing just a pair of runs.  Wainwright seemed to be in trouble all afternoon, but showed fans the difference between a good and great pitcher as he stranded runner after runner.  Allen Craig saved the game for Edward Mujica as he made a spectacular catch on a fly ball that would have surely given the Padres a lead.  Cardinals fans remember a similar catch in Game Seven of the 2011 World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies squandered a great opportunity as the Braves lost two of three games to the ailing Chicago White Sox.  They would do similarly to the New York Mets, outslugging them 13-8 in the first game, but falling short in the next two, 5-4 and 5-0.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, they will not face the Phillies two tough lefties, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  Conversely, the Phillies get to skip Adam Wainwright, who is putting together a Cy Young type of season.

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, July 23 – 7:15pm CDT

Shelby Miller (9-6, 2.92)  vs Jonathon Pettibone (5-3, 3.89)

If you want to catch a brief glimpse into the future of these two franchises, this will be the game for you.  Each team will send an impressive 22 year old to the mound.   Shelby Miller put himself into Rookie of the Year consideration with a dominating start to the season, but has struggled in his last few starts.  Even then, he is sporting a sub-3 ERA, which is currently third among Cardinals starters.  Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, reworked the starting rotation just before the All Star Game break to give Miller some extra rest.

The Cardinals need to take Jonathon Pettibone very seriously.  He did not have the flashy start to the season as Miller, but he has been very dependable in hist last 5 starts.  Although he has not gone deep in them, he has kept the Phillies in the game.

This will be the first time that Miller has faced the Phillies.  It will also be the same for Pettibone and the Cardinals.  Given how much trouble the Cardinals seem to have with new pitchers, this game is too close to call.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, PHL 17, MLB.tv (out of market)

Note: This is the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day

Wednesday, July 24 – 7:15pm CDT

Jake Westbrook (6-4, 2.88) vs John Lannan (2-3, 3.76)

Westbrook is 4-3 in his seven starts since missing a month with elbow soreness.  His 4.04 ERA over that period is somewhat misleading as 10 of the 22 runs allowed came in a pair of road losses at Houston and Oakland.  He has fared much better in his last three starts, pitching into the seventh inning in all three.  While fans may still be anxious with him on the mound, Westbrook is doing exactly what the Cardinals need from their veteran right hander.

Although John Lannan has been something of an enigma this season, alternating good outings with getting rocked, his last two starts before the All Star break were nothing short of spectacular.  He would pitch eight innings in both, allowing just a single run on eight hits.

With Matt Holliday on the disabled list, the Phillies would seem to have the advantage here as the Cardinals can be vulnerable to left handed pitching.  But Jake Westbrook as been lights out at home and give the Cardinals the advantage.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)

Thursday, July 25 – 6:15pm CDT

Lance Lynn (11-5, 4.13) vs Kyle Kendrick (9-6, 3.94)

While you try not to place too much importance on a single game, this one might have some serious trade deadline implications.  For the second year in a row, Lance Lynn has been magnificent in the first half.  A couple of rough outings recently are giving fans some reason to think he could be a second half fader.  Another weak outing here could be all it takes to get the front office to make a move, and Lynn heading back to the bullpen.

Kendrick is in his seventh season with the Phillies and has grown into a dependable albeit not overly flashy starter.  This year he seems to be getting deeper into games, throwing two complete games already with one of them being a shutout

Lance Lynn makes this one too close to call.  The wild card here is that Kendrick nearly always follows a rough outing with a good one.    He gave up 6 runs in 5 2/3 innings in his last start, but the Phillies still won the game.  You will just have to watch this one as all predictions have gone out the window.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CSN, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)

Who’s Hot

Entering this season, the Cardinals have three of the top four batting averages in the National League.  Yadier Molina (.336) is the top spot, but Allen Craig (.332) is closing in at second.  Matt Carpenter (.325) is fourth.

Delmon Young is the second hottest hitter in the National League right now, going 7-13 since the All Star break.  His slash line of .538 / .538 / .632 is dizzying.

Ben Revere has been the Phillies best hitter, but is currently on the disabled list.

While not as hot as Delmon Young, Matt Carpenter is tearing up the National League, not in just the last few days, but the entire season.   Since the break, the Cardinals second baseman is 5-11 with 3 runs batted in and scoring 3 runs himself.  He is the catalyst at the top of the Cardinals batting order and is quietly putting himself in the discussion for MVP.

Chase Utley and David Freese are also starting to warm up, Ultey having the more productive start to the second half with a pair of home runs and 6 RBIs.

Has there every been a time when Allen Craig was not hot ?

Who’s Not

While he is still leading the league in hitting, Yadier Molina has cooled off, hitting only .250 over the last month.

Pete Kozma continues to hit just enough to keep his job, but that may be in jeopardy soon.   While he is hitting .237 for the year, he is only hitting .160 over the last month.  Daniel Descalso has been getting some starts at short, suggesting that we might see a Descalso/Kozma platoon until things improve.  Ryan Jackson is still hitting around .300 in Memphis (AAA) and patiently waiting for a phone call.

Carlos Ruiz and Micheal Young have cooled off significantly in the last week.  Ruiz is 1 for his last 9 and Young is 2 for his last 10.

Injuries – Philadelphia

Mike Adams (RHP) – 60 day DL.  He has multiple tears in his right shoulder and will likely miss the rest of the season.

Roy Halladay (RHP) – 60 day DL.  Had surgery on his shoulder in May and has just started throwing from the mound.  He may be back some time in late August.

Jeremy Horst (LHP) – 15 day DL.  Left elbow strain and is likely out for the season.

Ryan Howard (1B) – 15 day DL.  Injuries continue to plague the St. Louis native.  This time it is his left knee.  No timetable for his return, but a follow up examination this week may give some indications when to expect him back.

Ben Revere (OF) – 15 day DL.  He recently underwent surgery to repair his fractured right foot.  He might be back in late August, but mid-September is more likely.

Michael Stutes (RHP) – 15 day DL.  Stutes has tendinitis in his right biceps.  He is scheduled to begin throwing some time this week, but no timetable has been set on his return.

Injuries – St. Louis

Rafael Furcal (SS) – 60 day DL.  Furcal had Tommy John surgery in March 13 and is out for the season.

Jason Motte (RHP) – 60 day DL.  The Cardinals hard throwing closer had Tommy John surgery in May and is out for the remainder of the season.

Jaime Garcia (LHP) – 60 day DL.  Garcia had shoulder surgery on May 24 to repair the rotator cuff of his throwing shoulder.  He is out for the remainder of the season.

John Gast (LHP) – 15 day DL.  Gast suffered a strain of his left lat during his second start with the Cardinals.  There is still no timetable set for his return.

Chris Carpenter (RHP) has experienced a setback following his second start in the minors last Saturday.  He has temporarily shut down his rehab activities, which puts a possible August return in jeopardy.

Matt Holliday (OF) – 15 day DL.  Holliday suffered a right hamstring strain while running out a ground ball on July 11.   He has resumed running and is reported to be free of pain.  He will not be eligible to come off the disabled list during this series, but is expected to be activated during the Braves weekend series.

Bob Netherton  is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and United Cardinal Bloggers. His work can be found at On the Outside Corner, a mostly historical blog about the St. Louis Cardinals.  You can also find Bob on Twitter at @CardinalTales.

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Posted in 2013 Season, Bird's Eye View | Leave a comment

The Best Kept Secrets in the Farm System – Part 2


Yesterday, we took a look at the progress Tyler Lyons has made since being optioned back to Memphis. With a challenging six weeks ahead for the Cardinals, largely against divisional rivals, his return to St. Louis is looking more and more likely. With the non-waiver trade deadline just over a week away, the possibility also exists that Lyons, or any of the young pitchers we’ve enjoyed watching debut this year, may be heading on to another team.

Before we get upset over the loss of a Keith Butler or Joe Kelly, it might be a good idea to get to know some of the young players that will be taking their places.

1. Zach Petrick (RHP) – Springfield.

Oh, if there is ever a feel good story to match that of Brock Peterson, who made his major league debut last night, it is Zach Petrick. Zach is the younger brother of former Cubs pitcher, Billy Petrick. Billy was a third round draft choice for the Cubs in 2002, and made it to the big leagues in 2007, appearing in 8 games. Shame on them for letting the younger Petrick get away.

Zach Petrick pitched for the University of Northwest Ohio and apparently slipped by the scouts who were looking for talent elsewhere. Disappointed and getting ready to try out for a local independent league team, Petrick finally got the call that he waited for on draft day, and he would soon find himself with the Cardinals rookie team in Johnson City.  Credit Petrick’s college coach, Kory Hartman, for working the phones for his young pitcher, as well as Cardinals scout, Brian Hopkins, for returning his call.  You can read the entire story here.

His first six appearances for Johnson City would come out of the bullpen, and he was sensational.  In 11 innings of work, he would pick up a pair of wins while holding the opposition to a .184 batting average.   More impressive were his 17 strikeouts to just 3 walks.  Petrick would actually hit more batters (4) than walk.

That prompted a move into the rotation where Petrick would show that he could get through a lineup multiple times.   In 7 starts, he would pick up 3 more wins without a loss, striking out 33 in 35 2/3 innings.  Opponents were held to a .198 batting average, and his 2.27 ERA would be tops among all the Johnson City starters.

Petrick would begin the 2013 season with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cardinals Low-A affiliate.  That would last just two months as Petrick dominated the league.  In 24 appearances, all in relief, Petrick would pick up another win to go with 7 saves.   As in Johnson City, his strikeouts (46 in 34 innings) and walks (just 8) were impressive.  The 0.79 ERA was just eye popping, so it was no surprise when he was promoted to Palm Beach at the end of May.

Over the next two weeks, Petrick would appear in 5 games, all in relief.  In those 10 innings, he would give up 6 hits, allow 2 runs (both unearned).  He would strike out 11 to go with just 1 walk.   That prompted another move into the rotation, and his results were even better.  Including one 4 inning start to get him stretched out, Petrick would pick up 3 more wins without a loss.  In 23 1/3 innings, he allow 2 runs, 1 earned, on 15 hits, 2 walks and 21 strikeouts.

If this is beginning to sound a little bit like the Trevor Rosenthal story last year, you would be right.

Following a dominating 7 1/3 inning 1 hit game against Bradenton, Petrick would be promoted to Springfield (AA).  On July 16, he would make his AA debut, and it was nothing short of sensational.  Over six innings, he would hold the division leading Arkansas Travelers (LAA) to just 1 run on 4 hits.  He would allow one walk while striking out 8.   He would record his tenth win as a professional, and has yet to take a loss.  Not a bad first year for the young right hander.

If you are looking for some type of comparison for Zach Petrick, think Seth Maness with a bit better velocity.   He throws a fastball, slider, change up and can spot every one of them for strikes.  His fastball does have a lot of movement, but it looks like it is going exactly where he wants it to go.   While he does not appear to be overpowering, he seems to confound opposing hitters with regularity.

2. Lee Stoppleman (LHP) – Springfield

Has there been a better name for a future closer than Stoppleman ?  That may be what we are looking at with this big hard throwing left hander.

StopplemanStoppleman was a 24th round draft selection last year.  Like many players drafted out of college, those extra years of development allow for a faster path through the minor league system.  That path was sped up even more, thanks to a series of injuries in St. Louis in late May.  They created a huge void in the both the Springfield rotation and bullpen, and Lee Stoppleman was one of the pitchers called on to fill it.  While some of the others have struggled with their rapid advancement, Stoppleman has been brilliant.

There is so much to like about this big lefty.  Stoppleman throws hard and he throws strikes.   In 21 appearances with Springfield, he has given up runs on just three of those outings.  Opponents are hitting just .153 against him.   He is also averaging a strikeout per inning (22/22), which is a metric that many like to use when spotting potential major league pitching talent.  His control is not as good as some of the other pitchers, but 11 walks to go with those 22 strikeouts isn’t bad, especially when combined with that .153 batting average against.  In a few shorts weeks of work, he has gone from curious newcomer in the bullpen to the key late inning setup man for Deryk Hooker or Kevin Thomas.

While it is still a bit too early to call this one, Lee Stoppleman could be another Kevin Siegrist.  Take those two names together, and don’t be surprised when Marc Rzepczynski is traded some time in the next ten days.

3. Tim Cooney (LHP) – Springfield

In 2011, the Memphis Redbirds (AAA) had just five left handed pitchers on the roster.   For the entire year.  They were Rich Rundles, Ron Mahay, Raul Valdes, Nick Additon and Nick Greenwood.  Neither Mahay nor Valdes lasted more than a few appearances and Rich Rundles was not invited back and is now pitching in one of the independent leagues.    While that sounds bad, the lower levels of the farm system were in even worse shape.

Turn the calendar ahead 2 years, and the Cardinals seem to be loaded with lefties, and very good ones at that.  This 22 year old lefty was drafted in the third round in 2012 out of Wake Forest.   As with Lee Stoppleman, Cooney made a rapid advancement through the farm system and was part of the same group of promotions that included Stoppleman and another left hander, Ryan Sherriff.

In 12 appearances with Springfield, Cooney has thrown 73 innings.  That’s just over 6 innings per start – check 1.   Of those 12 starts, he’s only been roughed up in two of them – accounting for 13 of the 28 earned runs he’s allowed.   He has also recorded 73 strikeouts (there’s that magic number again – 1 K/IP) and given up only 13 walks.  Check 2 and 3.

But lets take a closer look at his last three starts.

Date Opponent W/L IP R H BB K
July 6 San Antonio W 6 2/3 1 4 1 6
July 6 NW Arkansas W 5 2/3 0 7 2 9
July 6 Arkansas W 7 1 5 0 6
Total 3-0 19 1/3 2 16 3 21

It seems as if Mr. Cooney has caught up with the Texas League.   He has become something of Springfield’s answer to Tyler Lyons, and is just as much fun to watch.

4. David Popkins (OF) – Palm Beach

If the Cardinals had been lacking left handed pitching in the farm system, speedy switch hitting outfielders have been an absolute wasteland.  While they aren’t exactly downing in them right now, David Popkins might be an indication that there may be more coming.

Popkins was free agent signing following the 2012 draft, where the now 23 year old had been playing with the University of California in Davis.    He has spent most of the 2013 season in Palm Beach, and might be the hottest hitter right now in the minor league system.

Popkins got off to a slow start with the Cardinals, hitting just .217 at the end of May.  Since then, he is hitting .390 with 12 doubles,  3 triples,  5 home runs  and 23 RBIs.   That is pretty impressive performance when you consider that the Florida State League is very pitcher friendly.

One other note about Popkins, he is a very streaky hitter.  He has two hitting streaks of 13 games and another one at 9 games.  Since June 1, there haven’t been many 0-fers.

Popkins is 6-10 in stolen base attempts, which might not seem like much.  But it is a step in the right direction.

5. Cory Jones (RHP) – Peoria

JonesIf there was ever a baseball player that just looks like a pitcher, it is Cory Jones.  He’s a big right hander (6ft 5in, 225) that throws in the mid 90s, and can dial it up to 97 mph on occasion.   He also has a heavy curve to go with that.  That should conjure up an image of Mitchell Boggs, and that might not be too far off.

Jones was on his way to Oregon from the College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita, Ca) when the Cardinals drafted him in the fifth round last year.   The now 21 year old signed, and is now tearing up the Midwest League for Peoria.    In 8 starts for the Chiefs, Jones has won 6 and lost just 1.  He is also going deep in his starts, pitching at least six innings in all but his first start.   He currently has a 1.21 ERA and opponents are hitting just .188 against him.

If there is a concern, it is that he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, especially for a big power arm.  That tends to make his control appear to be worse than it is.   Fortunately, the strikeouts rate is getting better over his last couple of starts.

Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at some other hidden gems down in the Cardinals farm system.  Until then, I encourage all of you to take a look at John Nagel’s outstanding blog, Cardinals Farm.  John and his contributors, Corey Rudd and Joe Schwartz, do an excellent job keeping up with the young players in all levels of the minor leagues.

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Tyler Lyons – The Best Kept Secret in the Farm System


lyons2Just days after Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list with elbow soreness, Jamie Garcia’s shoulder finally gave out and his 2013 season would come to an end.  This was on May 17, and the bulk of the regular season was still ahead of the Cardinals.  Not just any season, one that was shaping up to be quite a battle for the NL Central title.   Thus began the Parade of Pitching Prospects as hurler after hurler made their major league debuts.

Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez had already made their debuts, replacing the ineffective Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs in the bullpen.  Rzepczynski seems to have recovered from his early season troubles and is still pitching in Memphis.  Mitchell Boggs is now with the Colorado Rockies AA affiliate in Tulsa.

Over the next few weeks, we would see major league debuts from John Gast, Tyler Lyons, Michael Blazek, Michael Wacha, Keith Butler and Kevin Siegrist.   At this time, only Siegrist is on the active roster.  John Gast is still on the disabled list and the others are in Memphis.   For the moment.

What had once seemed like an endless supply of young pitching prospects had suddenly run out.  The ripple effect was seen throughout the Cardinals minor league farm system, as pitchers were promoted quickly to fill the voids.  In many cases, young pitchers were called on to mature quickly and face competition that was just a little above their level.  Some, like left handed starter Tim Cooney and former-starter-now-closer Deryk Hooker in Springfield, have risen to that challenge and been very impressive.  None have been better than Tyler Lyons, and that includes Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez.

lyons3Many of us will remember different things about Tyler Lyons short time in the major leagues.  His first two starts were as good as anybody we have seen in the last half century, both 7 inning affairs where he gave up just a single run.  He would win both games, allowing just 6 hits in those 14 innings, striking out 9 while walking just 2.   Some may scoff at his opponents, the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres, but that does a great disservice to not only Lyons, but two rosters full of professional baseball players.

The calendar then turned to June and Lyons successful run had come to an end, just about as quickly as it began.  The Cardinals would lose his next four starts, prompting a roster change before the month was over.  Some will remember just that and perhaps come to some wrong conclusions about Lyons performance.   Let’s take a closer look.

June 2 – San Francisco at St. Louis

A pair of second inning singles led to an early Giants run, but a big inning was prevented when Lyons got Gregor Blanco to ground into a double play.  That would score the run, but it also cleared the bases in front of the pitcher.  Chad Gaudin struck out.

In the next inning, a two out double by Buster Posey led to the Giants second run of the game.  That would come on the next batter when Hunter Pence ripped an RBI double of his own.  Once again, Tyler Lyons ended the inning with a strike out, this time Brett Pill was the victim.

Thanks to David Freese, the Cardinals would get those runs back in the fouth inning, when the fan favorite launched a 2 run homer.

Lyons got into trouble in the seventh inning, and it came rather quickly.  Since the Pence double in the third, Lyons had faced the minimum number of batters.  Both hits he allowed were erased in double plays.   With one out in the seventh inning, Brandon Crawford singled and Gregor Blanco drew a walk.

That was it for Mike Matheny and he made a pitching change, opting for the veteran, Randy Choate.  With Seth Maness also warming in the bullpen, Choate might not have been the best choice.   Pinch hitter Brandon Belt rips a double into the left center field gap and both base runners score.  Seth Maness would then come into the game and retire the next two batters.

Lyons would take the loss, but had pitched as well as in his previous two starts.

June 8 – St. Louis at Cincinnati

Tyler Lyons would face Mat Latos in this Saturday evening battle between NL Central foes.   Through the first five innings, it was Lyons that out-pitched Latos,  although the final box score makes it look the other way around.   At this point in the game, the score was tied at two runs each.  The two Reds runs came on solo home runs by Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco.

Let’s take a quick stop here and review.  Lyons 2 losses are due to a Buster Posey double and pair of solo home runs in Great America Ballpark (the home run launching pad of the National League).  This is not the complete meltdown of a young pitcher – this is just baseball.

A pair of doubles by Derrick Robinson and Joey Votto (yeah, he’s pretty good too) would give the Reds a 3-2 lead, one that they would not surrender.  Once again, the bullpen did not help Lyons, and he would earn his second hard luck loss on the season.

June 16 – St. Louis at Miami

Things are starting to unravel for the young Cardinals pitcher, but a closer look suggests it might not be as bad as some remember.

The Marlins jumped all over Lyons early, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning.  That set the tone for what would turn out to be one rough inning after another.  Although it first appeared as if Lyons turned things around, the Marlins scored two more runs in the fourth inning, and again in the fifth.  In both cases, Lyons was one pitch away from getting out of trouble.

At 93 pitches, Mike Matheny took Lyons out of the game in the sixth inning, replacing him him Joe Kelly.   Lyons final like looks awful – 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks.  His ERA is now soaring from an eye-popping 1.29 on Memorial Day to 4.65.   It would not stop there.

June 23 – Texas at St. Louis

This would be Lyons shortest outing of the year, just 1 2/3 innings.  It would also be the last time we see Lyons pitching in St. Louis – at least for now.   As with the previous game, the line score looks terrible, but a closer look shows that one at-bat did Lyons in – a 2 out walk to the pitcher.  An American League pitcher.   An American League pitcher with a .000 batting average over five major league seasons.   If Lyons retires Derek Holland, the Rangers have just one run and this game may end much differently.   But he didn’t, and they scored 4 runs before the inning was over.

Once again, Joe Kelly takes over, this time throwing 5 scoreless innings in relief.   Kelly’s performance in this game earned him a spot in rotation, and Lyons would soon be optioned back to Memphis.

But that’s not the end to the Tyler Lyons story.

Instead of sulking or thinking about what may have been, Tyler Lyons has quietly gone about his business in Memphis, working on those very things that got him in trouble with the Cardinals.  Although a quick look at his major league stats might suggest otherwise, this is not a case of a pitcher that can’t retire major league hitters. Instead,  it is just a young and inexperienced pitcher losing focus while trying to retire the last out of the inning, and not limiting the damage that had been done.  Lyons is hardly the first pitcher to go through this.  And he won’t be the last.

Let’s take a look at his starts since returning to Memphis in late June.

Date Outcome Innings Hits Runs Walks Strikeouts
June 25 W 7 1 0 0 4
July 1 ND 7 2 0 2 9
July 7 W 8 2 3 1 9
July 12 ND 5 2/3 3 2 2 5
July 19 W 6 6 1 2 6

Let’s add that up, shall we.   In 5 starts since being sent back down to Memphis, Lyons has thrown 33 2/3 innings, allowing 6 runs (1.60 ERA) on 14 hits.   He has given up 7 walks to go with 33 strikeouts.   Opponents are batting just .124 against him, and slugging (if you can call it that) .212.

Over that same period, Carlos Martinez has 3 starts with a slightly lower ERA at 1.40, but has given up nearly as many hits (13) in half the innings, same number of walks and fewer strikeouts.   Michael Wacha also has 3 starts, going 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA.

Tyler Lyons

As impressive as both Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez have been, the ace of the Memphis staff right now is Tyler Lyons.  He has limited the damage when opponents start getting hits, and he is going deep into his starts.  With a brutal six week schedule ahead, with just one travel day and a double header, don’t be surprised if we see Tyler Lyons making an occasional spot start.  Or maybe more.   Right now, he might be the best kept secret in all of the Cardinals farm system.

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Yasiel Puig and the All Star Game


Over the last month of the season, the most exciting player in either of the Major Leagues is the young Dodgers outfielder, Yasiel Puig.   At this moment, the 22 year old has played in 35 games and is hitting .394 with 8 doubles, 1 triple, 8 home runs and 19 runs batted in.   He is also 5 for 8 in stolen base attempts.   I almost feel bad pointing out that at his current pace, he will strike out more than 175 times in a full season.

puig

There is certainly a lot to like about Yasiel Puig.  In addition to his production, he plays the game hard, much as last year’s phenom from Washington, Bryce Harper.  He runs, he hits, he makes good defensive plays. In a recent game in Denver, he ran hard into a wall, shook it off, and continued playing.  In a word, Puig plays the game the “right” way.  An occasional bat flip may rub fans the wrong way, but the biggest thing leading to Puig fatigue is a ridiculous preoccupation by the national media.  It does make one wonder if Puig would even be noticed if he were playing in Kansas City, Houston or Minnesota.  Maybe not.  We certainly would not be getting scrolling Puig updates on the national broadcasts.

So why was there so much controversy when he was included in the last player voting for the 2013 All Star Game ?

That is a very good question.  To answer that, we need to ask ourselves what we think the All Star Game is today.

Is the All Star Game an exhibition game or competitive ?

The All Star Game began 80 years ago as a mid-season exhibition game where fans could see all of the great players of the day in one place, on one diamond, playing in the same game.   That was long before the Internet and cable TV, where you can now watch not only every major league game played, but all AA and AAA games as well.  On some nights, you can even enjoy live broadcasts from lower levels of the minors as well as some international leagues.   Today, there is no mystique in watching Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera play, we can see them whenever we want.

The game is no longer a pure exhibition game either.  Hoping to prevent another debacle like in game in 2002, which ended in a tie when both teams ran out of pitchers, it now decides home field advantage in the World Series.  The idea is both teams will have some incentive to win the game, thus producing a more exciting game for the fans to watch.

Is an All Star Game invitation based on best performance ?

That is an answer left to each individual voter, and there is no rule here.  Some will sort the players by position, in order of increasing WAR, and then argue endlessly on whether oWAR or dWAR should be used to break ties, or even if WAR is a useful metric in the first place.  Edwin Starr had something to say about that, but he was hardly a baseball statistician.

When taken in the aggregate, you are left with no other conclusion than an invitation is purely a popularity contest.  You hope that at least the players and manager are using some reasoning, but 15 minutes on Twitter or Facebook will tell you that a lot of fans vote just for players on their favorite team, names they have heard before, or the player with the best hair or booty.

Does that make it wrong that it is a popularity contest ?  Absolutely not.   But fans getting upset that their player wasn’t selected or is a backup should really chill out.  All that says is the other guy is more popular.  Nothing more, and nothing less.

Should it be based on the first half performance alone or career ?

There are no hard rules about this either.  You would hope that first half performance in the current season would have a significant impact on how fans cast their votes, but what about the final year of a future hall of famer like Ozzie Smith or Ken Griffey, Jr ? Over the course of the All Star Game history, many players have earned their invitations  because of a long and dignified career.

Perhaps a good example of this is second base for the National League between Matt Carpenter and Brandon Phillips.  Some of my Cardinals buddies will probably take exception to the dignified part of the comparison, but let’s carry on anyway.

Phillips is currently hitting .264 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs.  That is actually pretty close to his career average.   Carpenter, on the other hand, is hitting .322 with 9 home runs and 42 RBIs (mostly from the top of the batting order).  Carpenter also leads the league with 70 runs scored and 27 doubles.  His .322 batting average is currently fifth in the National League.  Phillips does not lead the league in any offensive category.

If you are a fan of WAR, Phillips is sitting at 1.6, where Carpenter is eighth among National League position players at 3.8.  The only Cardinals with a higher WAR is not Yadier Molina (3.7), but Adam Wainwright (4.6).

Yet, Phillips won the fan vote and will be starting at second base.  Is that wrong ?  Not necessarily, as long as you remember this is a popularity contest and don’t take it too seriously.  Phillips is 3 time gold glove winner and now a 3 time All Star.  The media also loves him because of his controversial behavior.  But he is not the best second baseman in the National League.  That would be Matt Carpenter, and not by just a little bit.   Phillips has the advantage of his years in the game, and that beat Carpenter’s outstanding performance.

The same thing happened in the National League outfield.  Carlos Gomez and Andrew McCutchen are having far better seasons than any of the other outfielders, but will both play backup.  Carlos Beltran, while having an excellent 2013, has the benefit of playing in several markets (New York, Houston, St. Louis, Kansas City, and maybe San Francisco – not so sure Frisco helps him here).  Bryce Harper has the benefit of the national media pounding his name in our heads at every opportunity, yet Starling Marte is having a much better season and won’t even be invited to the game.

Again, none of this is wrong.  It just points out that popular opinion does not always agree with the attempts at objectively analyzing the game.

So what does this have to do with Yasiel Puig ?

The answers to the three questions above should tell you exactly how you feel about whether or not Puig should be invited to the All Star Game.  Instead of trying to argue one way or the other, let me suggest that there is a very simple solution to this dilemma.

The game itself has become something of a yawner, not quite as comical as the NHL All Star Game, but it is far from engaging baseball.   It used to be in the days before free agency, but not today.  The last player vote was thrown in as a way to keep fans salivating over a process that has also become a giant yawner.   Major League Baseball has embraced social media and now included votes from Twitter hashtags.  Really ?  OK.

Am I the only one shaking my head at this absurdity ?

Let’s turn that last player voting into something different.  Instead of a random set of overlooked players (who chooses them anyway), why not pick from a list of first year players that have been called up since the start of the season ?   This would have been perfect for Puig this year and Bryce Harper in 2012.   Openly acknowledge and embrace the idea that each team will have a future star on the roster, some young player that has captured our imagination in some way, but doesn’t have the season long credentials to warrant consideration in the first voting.

We have the futures game, but that is different. Those rosters are made up from a random set of players from all over the minor leagues.   Instead of a futures game, and All Rookie All Star Game would be awesome, but lets take baby steps first and start here.

If the league would consider this for future games, there would be no more controversy over whether Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper “deserve” to be in the game – there would be a place specifically for players like them.   And maybe they can spice up a game that has become more bland than the oatmeal I used to eat for breakfast as a kid.

Posted in 2013 Season | Leave a comment

Thank You, Albert Pujols


The St. Louis Cardinals will soon be in Anaheim for a three game series with the Angels.   Unlike most inter-league series, this one should be off the charts in terms of interest for Cardinals fans as it will be the first time we have had a chance to see Albert Pujols on the other side of the field.   Perhaps it is best that this confrontation will be made far from place where Pujols etched his name in the history books, because it gives us a chance to look back and put some things in perspectives.

Pujols1 When Pujols eventually returns to St. Louis, I hope that fans remember the 11 years he played for the Cardinals.  In those 11 seasons, he accumulated 2,073 hits, 445 home runs, 1,329 RBIs.  His career slash line while in St. Louis was a ridiculous .328 / .420 / .617.  That adds up to a career OPS of 1.027 (or perhaps more significant, an OPS+ of 170, comparing to that of his peers).

Albert Pujols was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2001, only the sixth Cardinal to win that award (Wally Moon, Bill Virdon, Bake McBride, Vince Coleman and Todd Worrell).  Pujols was also a 3 time MVP, tying Stan Musial for the most in Cardinals history.  Perhaps if the baseball writers had the same anti-PED indignation they seem to have now, Pujols might have had three or four more to go with the those that he actually won.  He also represented the Cardinals at the All Star Game in nine of his eleven seasons, but none were as memorable as when the mid-summer exhibition took place in St. Louis in 2009.  For a week, Pujols was the honorable ambassador from St. Louis to the rest of the sporting world, and he did that with dignity, class and pride.  Cardinals fans should remember this.

Pujols was not the most gifted defender when he began his career, but worked tirelessly to improve.  He did exactly that, becoming one of the best at his final position of first base.   He eventually won two Gold Glove awards, and might have been deserving of a few more.

Of course, Cardinals fans should know all of this and more.  They should not need to be reminded about the Pujols Family Foundation and all the good things they are doing for families that have children with Down’s Syndrome.  Even though Pujols wears different uniform these days, the foundation bearing his name is still very active in the St. Louis area.

But it is impossible to forget the events in early December, 2011.  The few weeks of drama with Matt Holliday’s free agent signing in 2010 was nothing compared to the years of speculation surrounding where Pujols would end up.  In each post-season clinching game, an extra moment was taken during Pujols final at-bat, wondering if it was the last one we would see in St. Louis.  Unfortunately, that would happen on October 28, 2011.  Perhaps a sign of what was to about to come, it would be a strike out and not some memorable game winning home run.

But even that final plate apperance should be completely forgotten as it took place at the end of an historic season, one that Cardinals fans will not soon forget.  Joining the 1964 Cardinals in the Hall of Overachievers Fame, the Pujols led team won their 11th World Championship, not on the back of one player, but on a seemingly endless series of big moments from just about every player on the roster.  Instead of that final strikeouts, we should remember him scoring the sixth run in Game Six, while waiving in Lance Berkman with the tying run.  If the Rangers don’t walk Pujols in the tenth inning, maybe he would have been the game winning hero instead of David Freese.   And who can forget Game Three, with Pujols going 5-6 with 3 home runs and 6 RBIs ?

When Cardinals fans finally get a chance to see Albert Pujols , either this week in Anaheim or when the Angels make their next trip to St. Louis , I hope they remember the eleven years when he was arguably the best player in the game.   That is something that Angels fans have yet to see from Pujols, but perhaps they will at some point.  I hope Cardinals fans remember him celebrating an NL Championship in 2004 and a pair of World Championships in 2006 and 2011, and not so much the day he put on the Angels uniform for the first time.

Some fans will blame Pujols for the contract he signed with the Los Angeles Angels, projecting our disappointment on him as greed, or perhaps worse.  Sure, some of us were disappointed when we learned he would not finish out his career as Stan Musial did, playing for just the Cardinals.  In truth, Pujols is not the bad guy here as he is just working within the system currently governing the sport in which he earns a living.  Instead of hating Pujols, turn that frustration in the direction of the league office, players union and ownership that has created this monstrosity.

Or, perhaps even more constructively, applaud the current ownership of the Cardinals for not mortgaging the future of the franchise on just one player for the sole purposes of merchandizing.

It took a lot of courage from both parties – the front office for allowing Pujols to get away, and Pujols himself for walking away from a fan base that he had built over the last decade.

Should I get the chance to see Pujols again, even wearing the Angels uniform, I will give him a standing ovation and applaud until my hands have no more feeling.   His eleven seasons in St. Louis deserve that treatment from every fan.    1,705 games where he gave us something to cheer about more than makes up for those few days of disappointment after learning Pujols would end his career in Los Angeles.  Spend the time and energy cheering for Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams and those amazing young arms.  When you get the chance, reward Pujols one more time for all that he did to lead the team that means so much to us.   Don’t let the disappointments over his free agency signing send a black cloud over one of the greatest chapters in Cardinals history.

Pujols2

We still love you, Meng!

Posted in 2013 Season, General History | Leave a comment

Birds Eye View: June 3-6 – Arizona Diamondbacks at St. Louis Cardinals


Birds Eye View HeaderThe St. Louis Cardinals (37-19, +2.5 games)  will conclude their NL West home stand with a four games series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (32-24, +3 games).  These two teams met to open the season in Arizona, with the Diamondbacks taking the series, 2 games to 1.  The difference was a long 16 inning slugfest that featured three blown saves from Cardinals relievers (Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs) before Fernando Salas gave up the winning run.

How they got here

The Cardinals entered this series with the best record in the major leagues.  After surviving something of a challenging April, they took advantage of a long home stand in May and ran their record on the month to 20-7.  The key to the Cardinals success has been timely two out hitting, overcoming injuries and some sensational pitching.  Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and Micheal Wacha all made their major league debuts in May.  Michael Blazek was called up but has yet to appear in a game.  Keith Butler made his debut on June 1.  All of them have been sensational, and a big part of the Cardinals success so far.

On the offensive side of the game, Matt Carpenter is making a solid case for an All Star appearance.  Yadier Molina continues to get better on both sides of the game and making a strong case for early season MVP honors.  Carlos Beltran is starting to heat up, creating an intriguing off season conundrum for the Cardinals front office.  Perhaps most important, David Freese looks like he might finally be breaking out of his slump.

Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks enter this series playing old school baseball with a lot of young players.  Injuries and some poor performance have pressed some new faces into action, most notably Didi Gregorius, part of an off season three team trade with Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Didi Gregorius

Gerardo Parra is a solid leadoff hitter and leads the league in doubles.  He also leads the league in caught stealing, which should play to the Cardinals advantage with Yadier Molina behind the plate.  Paul Goldschmidt is really turning into a nice offensive producer for the Diamondbacks, something akin to the Cardinals Allen Craig.

While the Cardinals starters are getting a lot of recent attention, the Diamondbacks have a good collection of young arms that are pitching better than their record.  Fortunately for the Cardinals, they will miss lefty Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.06 ERA).

If there is a weakness in the Diamondbacks batting order, they do strike out with regularity (Goldschmidt is on pace for 170+).   That favors the Cardinals pitchers, who have three of the top ten strikeout leaders in the National League.

Both teams also come into this series, victims of some odd weather.  A double header on Saturday without a day off creates a problem for Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny.  Instead of going with Shelby Miller on short rest, Joe Kelly will get his first start of 2013.  He had been slated to get the start on Friday night, if the game had started on time.  The weather somewhat helps the Diamonbacks, with an extra off day, but an injury to Brandon McCarthy creates a bit void in their rotation.  Tyler Skaggs will get the start in McCarthy’s place.  He was very impressive in his last start against the Texas Rangers.

There is a small black cloud hanging over the Cardinals heading into this series.  On Sunday, Yadier Molina was ejected from the game after he threw his batting helmet to the ground in frustration of a close play at first base.  The merits of the ejection can be debated, but he has also been suspended for one game for bumping into one of the umpires following the ejection.  Molina has appealed the ruling, but is expected to serve it some time during this series.

On paper, this matchup should favor the Cardinals, just slightly.  We have learned that games are actually played on the field and not on paper, so anything can happen.  There are some intriguing matchups that should make for a very exciting series.  Both teams expect to see post-season play, so this could be a precursor to another interesting playoff series.

Probable Pitchers

Monday, June 3 – 7:15pm CDT

Lance Lynn (7-1, 2.91 ERA)  vs Trevor Cahill (3-5, 2.88 ERA)

The opening game will feature two big horses.  Lance Lynn is quietly becoming a solid inning eater in the rotation.  He is still averaging a bit over a strikeout per inning, and not getting into trouble with walks.  The big difference so far this season is Lynn’s ability to keep the ball in the ballpark.  That is letting him see the seventh inning with greater regularity.

Trevor Cahill is also turning into a nice inning eater on the Diamondbacks rotation.  His control is not as good as Lynn’s and is giving up more hits while striking out about half as many.

The difference in this game may come down to run support, something that Lance Lynn gets in buckets while Cahill can’t buy enough.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB.tv (out of market)

Tuesday, June 4 – 7:15pm CDT

Michael Wacha (0-0. 1.29 ERA) vs Tyler Skaggs (1-0. 0.00 ERA)

Round two of Wacha-mania will hit Busch Stadium as young right hander for the Cardinals makes his second major league start.  It is hard to imagine it going any better than his debut a week ago, but good bullpen perforamance could go a long way to making that happen.   The big right hander has lived up to expectations so far, dazzling fans with a video game changeup.

Cardinals fans should not take this game lightly as Tyler Skaggs was sensational in his first start of the year, throwing 6 scoreless innings in Texas, striking out nine.  If the Cardinals are patient, they may be able to take advantage of his inexperience. If not, Skaggs is exactly the kind of pitcher that can shut down the Cardinals offensive machine.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)

Wednesday, June 5 – 7:15pm CDT

Joe Kelly (0-2, 6.75 ERA) vs Wade Miley (3-5, 5.01 ERA)

Joe Kelly will make his first start of the 2013 season, after struggling as a long reliever in the bullpen.  Kelly has been something of an enigma after an impressive rookie season.  He can still throw the ball by just about anybody, and doesn’t get into trouble with walks, but is giving up nearly 2 hits per inning.  Perhaps a long outing is just what Kelly needs to get some confidence and get his game back.

Speaking of impressive rookies, Wade Miley was runner up in Rookie of the Year voting, winning 16 games last season.  This year has been a struggle so far for the big lefty.  He is having trouble with the long ball and is giving up twice the number of walks as last year.  That’s not a good combination for winning close games.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)

Thursday, June 6 – 7:15pm

Shelby Miller (6-3, 1.82 ERA) vs Ian Kennedy (3-3, 4.74 ERA)

There was a time, not too long ago, when Ian Kennedy was one of the most feared right handers in the National League.  Since winning 21 games in 2011, his strikeout rate is down and walk rate is increasing.  Not much, but it is a trend.   As with Wade Miley, he is also having trouble with the long ball, surrendering over one per 9 innings pitched.  The Cardinals have traditionally hit Kennedy well and have put up a huge number of runs.

For the Cardinals, Shelby Miller has had a most impressive start to his rookie season, certainly one worthy of consideration for Rookie of the Year honors.  The most impressive thing about Miller has been his ability to grind out a win when he doesn’t have his best pitches working, something you typically see in a veteran pitcher.  When he is on, nobody is any better.

Who’s Hot

Basically the entire Cardinals roster.  Mike Matheny can run out a daily lineup with four batters hitting over .300, led by Yadier Molina’s league leading .350.

Allen Craig continues to drive in runs by the truck load, in spite of not hitting the ball out of the ballpark.  His ability to hit with runners in scoring position is mind boggling.

Carlos Beltran is starting to hit the ball with some serious authority, leading the team with 13 home runs.

Matt Carpenter continues to amaze at the top of the Cardinals batting order, leading the league in both doubles and runs scored.  He is quietly becoming one of the best second baseman in the National League.

David Freese has hit safely in 12 consecutive games, hitting .357 with 3 home runs and 13 RBIs over that stretch.  He’s managed to raise his season batting average from .209 to .265.

For the Diamondbacks, Paul Goldschmidt is leading the league in RBIs.  While his home runs came in bunches earlier in May, he continues to drive in runs at a frightening pace.  He is hitting .400 over the last week.

Heath Bell is 9 out of 10 in save opportunities since taking over closer duties from the injured JJ Putz.

Who’s Not

Martin Prado is off to a slow start, hitting 40 points below his career average.

Cliff Pennington, part of the Heath Bell deal, is flirting with the Mendoza line and has lost the starting job at shortstop to Didi Gregorius.

Matt Holliday is hitting .154 with 7 strikeouts over the last week.  2 of his 4 hits were home runs, but the big left fielder is struggling at the plate.

Injuries

Rafael Furcal, Jason Motte and Jaime Garcia are out for the season.

Chris Carpenter has started throwing to batters and may be heading off to one of the minor league teams soon to start a rehab program.

Jake Westbrook has been sent down to Springfield to begin his rehab assignment and is expected to return to the big club soon.

John Gast and Fernando Salas are on the disabled list, with no timetable on their return.

Aaron Hill, Adam Eaton and Eric Chavez are all on the disabled list for Arizona.  Two of these were veterans that were expected to help balance out Kirk Gibson’s young squad.

Pitcher, Daniel Hudson is gone for the season.  Closer JJ Putz and starter Brandon McCarthy are also on the disabled list and won’t be activated for this series.

Bob Netherton  is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and United Cardinal Bloggers. His work can be found at On the Outside Corner, a mostly historical blog about the St. Louis Cardinals.  You can also find Bob on Twitter at @CardinalTales.

Posted in 2013 Season, United Cardinals Bloggers | Leave a comment

Progressive Game Blog – May 4, 2013: The Fifth Inning


For the last five years, members of the United Cardinal Bloggers participate in a progressive game blog, with each writer sharing their perspectives on an inning of a game.  This year, we will look at a Saturday afternoon game between the Cardinals and Brewers from May 4.

We take over from our friend, Bill Ivie  at I70-baseball , as the game moves into the fifth inning.    As expected, this has turned into something of a pitchers duel, and the innings are starting to move by rather quickly.  Both starters struggled in the early going, Adam Wainwright in the first inning and Yovani Gallardo moments later in the second.  A three run homer by Jon Jay and two run shot by Jean Segura account for all of the runs in the game.  So far.

Both teams will be turning over the lineup card in this inning.  Due up for the Cardinals in the top of the inning are Pete Kozma, Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter.

Pete Kozma (0-1, ground out) swings at the first pitch and grounds out.

Adam Wainwright (0-1, strike out), currently second in career home runs among active players (6), works the count on Gallardo, but eventually flies out harmlessly to center field.

That brings Matt Carpenter (0-2, fly out, line out) to the plate.  After throwing curve balls for strikes, and fastballs just off the plate, Gallardo strikes out Carpenter looking with a fastball right at the knees.

Yovani Gallardo ends the inning at 69 pitches.

Coming up to bat for the Brewers, Yovani Gallardo, Norichika Aoki and Jean Segura.  If anybody gets on, Ryan Braun.

Gallardo (0-1, fly out) is the current home run leader among active pitchers (12), but does not add to that total as Wainwright strikes him out looking with one of his trademark curveballs.  In the shadows from the late afternoon sun, that was an exceptionally nasty pitch.

Norichika Aoki (1-1, single, hbp, run) slaps a single to center, Ichiro style.  For the Brewers, that would be the first hit since the first inning.

Jean Segura (1-2, home run, double play) smokes a single up the middle, with Aoki taking second base on the play.

With the tying run now in scoring position, Ryan Braun (0-2, strikeout, ground out) steps up to the plate. Braun works the count full, and then Wainwright throws a 93 mph fastball right past the Brewers slugger for a strikeout.  He is now one pitch away from getting out of this jam.

Make that two pitches, as Yuniesky Betancourt (1-2, single, fly out) hits Wainwright’s second pitch, his 78th of the game, up the middle and Pete Kozma easily makes the play, throwing Betancourt out to end the inning.

The inning ends with the Cardinals leading Milwaukee, 3-2.  For the sixth inning, we hand control over to Wes Keane at Keene on MLB.  But before we do, it is worth looking back at that first inning and the play Pete Kozma made to end it.  As the innings go by, that play becomes more and more significant.

Posted in 2013 Season, United Cardinals Bloggers | 3 Comments

Birds Eye View: April 22-24 – St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals


The St. Louis Cardinals (10-8, 1/2 game back)  conclude their East Coast road trip with a three games series against the Washington Nationals (10-8, 3 games back).  The last time these two teams met was in the 2012 National League Divisional Series, with the Cardinals coming from behind to win a thrilling game five.   The Cardinals hope to repeat some of that magic while the Nationals want to show that was just a step in the development of  a perennial contender.

How they got here

After losing their opening series in Arizona, the Cardinals won their next three series (San Francisco, Cincinnati and Milwaukee) and then split the last two, including a fortunate rainout in Pittsburgh.  The Cardinals are winning on the strength of their starting pitching and timely, if inconsistent, hitting.   In fact, the starters have been so good, and the Cardinals ability to hit with runners in scoring position so frequent that neither of these is really sustainable.   It has been fun to watch, but not a good indicator of what to expect each game.

Fortunately, there is another aspect of the Cardinals game which is not expected to continue, and that is the lack of success in the bullpen.  Manager, Mike Matheny, continues to have trouble finding the magic sequence of relievers in the absence of  closer, Jason Motte, leading many to speculate about a trade or possible minor league promotion.

Washington enters this series feasting on weaker teams (Miami and Chicago White Sox) while struggling with teams at the top of the division (Atlanta, New York Mets, Cincinnati).  Starting pitching has been something of a tale of extremes as well, either being very good (Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg) or quite the opposite (Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez).

Rafael Soriano

Rafael Soriano

As with the Cardinals, the Nationals bullpen has been inconsistent. Over the winter, Washington added some depth by signing former Yankees and Rays closer, Rafael Soriano.  That move allows manager, Davey Johnson, to use both Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen in the important setup role, giving them a very formidable late inning bullpen.  Unfortunately, all three have struggled so far this season.    The Nationals bullpen is also heavily biased to the right side, having only one left handed reliever, Zach Duke.  That is somewhat offset by having a pair of lefties in the starting rotation, but does play into the strength of the Cardinals bench in the late innings.

Unlike the Cardinals, the heart of the Washington batting order is getting it done, with Bryce Harper leading the charge (.369 / .31 / .738, 3 doubles, 7 home runs, 14 RBIs).  If there is a weakness, some of the big Washington bats can be prone to strike out, and the Cardinals pitchers are 4th in the NL in strikeouts.  Washington will face the top 3 strikeout pitchers in Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia.

On paper, this matchup should favor the Cardinals, just slightly.  We have learned that games are actually played on the field and not on paper, so anything can happen.  There are some intriguing matchups that should make for a very exciting series.  Both teams expect to see post-season play, so this could be a precursor to another interesting playoff series.

Probable Pitchers

Monday, April 22 – 6:05pm CDT

Shelby Miller (2-1, 1.96 ERA) vs Dan Haren (1-2, 8.10 ERA)

Could we ask for a better matchup to start this series ?

Former Cardinals prospect, Dan Haren, looks to turn around a rough start to his 2013 season.  He has not made it past the fifth inning in any of his previous three starts.  Haren has been around the plate, but not fooling opposing hitters, who are averaging 2 hits per inning.  Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina have hit Haren in the past, and 2 of Matt Holliday’s six hits have left the ballpark.

Shelby Miller has been impressive so far in his rookie season.  He has shown an impressive fastball with late movement.  His curveball is much improved and has gotten him out of a few early season jams.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB.tv (out of market)

Tuesday, April 23 – 6:05pm CDT

Adam Wainwright (3-1. 2.48 ERA) vs Ross Detwiler (1-0. 0.90 ERA)

For the Cardinals, Adam Wainwright is looking every bit like the pre-Tommy John Cy Young candidate we saw in 2009 and 2010, and them some.  The velocity has returned to his fastball, and he is able to get his cutter over for strikes.  Do we even have to mention the curveball ?

On the other side of the diamond, St. Louis native, Ross Detwiler has been exceptional.  He should be 3-0 on the season, with his bullpen costing him a pair of wins.  The big lefty should easily handle the left side of the Cardinals batting order.   The Cardinals have gotten exactly two extra base hits off Detwiler in his brief career.

This has the makings of a 2-1 game, played in under two hours.  Which means that it will be another of those 10-8 slugfests that goes on well into the night.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)

Wednesday, April 24 – 12:05pm CDT

Jaime Garcia (1-1, 3.22 ERA) vs Stephen Strasburg (1-3, 2.96 ERA)

After a brilliant start to the season (7IP, 3h, no runs), Strasburg has run into a bit of trouble.  Pitch count has forced an early exit in his last three starts (all losses), and he has been hit hard, giving up 3 home runs in his last two.  He is still Stephen Strasburg and capable of going out there and throwing a 2 or 3 hitter, so Cardinals batters need to be patient.  Strasburg has only allowed two hits to players on the current roster, both to Matt Holliday.

Garcia has been the exact opposite of Strasburg, pitching brilliantly in three of his four starts.  The last, well, the less we talk about it, the better.  Garcia has had trouble in Washington, and tends to pitch better at night than during the day.  Not a good combination.   To make matters a bit worse, the current roster of Nationals looks like Murderer’s Row against Garcia.

This could be a very interesting and entertaining game.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, MLB.tv (out of market)

Who’s Hot

Bryce Harper is on fire.  Whether you like him or not, you have to marvel at the start of his sophomore season.  He is hitting for average and power, and doing so consistently.  Jaime Garcia has held him in check, but he has torched Adam Wainwright.  But that was last year, this is a different Adam Wainwright.  That game two matchup should be the highlight of the series.

In limited action, young slugger Matt Adams is dwarfing Harpers’s numbers with a slash line of .542 /  .593 / 1.043.  And no, that last number is not an OPS (on base percentage plus slugging), that is his actual slugging percentage.  Those ridiculous numbers beg the question – why is he not getting more playing time ?   The answer is simple, Carlos Beltran is heating up and while struggling, Allen Craig is still delivering with men on base.

Yadier Molina is the only consistent bat in the Cardinals lineup, going 9-20 on this road trip (.450).

Carlos Beltran is beginning to overcome a slow start to the 2013 season.  His batting average is rising and the power is coming back.  He hit 3 home runs in Philadelphia, giving him 4 on the season.

The entire Cardinals starting rotation.  Blistering hot.  The rain washed away one bad outing by Jake Westbrook, and he turned that one around in his next start.  Jaime Garcia was not as fortunate in Philadelphia, but has only had the one bad outing.

Who’s Not

Either bullpen.  Rafael Soriano is 6 for 7 in save opportunities, but has been hit hard to start the season.  He is beginning to settle down, which is a good thing for the Nationals.   Edward Mujica is the lone bright spot in an otherwise inconsistent Cardinals bullpen.  Mike Matheny continues to scramble,  hoping to find a closer.

Matt Holliday – even though he leads the team with 12 RBIs, his .246 / .368 / .421 slash line has to improve if the Cardinals hope to keep pace with the Reds in the NL Central.  We know that Holliday is a slow starter to the season, so we should see him heating up in the coming weeks.   At least, for now, he is getting clutch hits with runners in scoring position.

Allen Craig is the same story, able to get key hits to drive in runs, but little else.

Jon Jay is having a brutal start to the season, hitting only .208.  If that does not improve, expect to see Shane Robinson getting more starts in center field.

Daniel Descalso is hitting below the Mendoza line, at .182.

Danny Espinoza is also under the Mendoza line, hitting just .170.  That could open the door for Steve Lombardozzi, who has been good in limited playing time.

Ryan Zimmerman (on the disabled list) – a .670 OPS is not cutting it for a player they expect to drive in 100 runs or more.  Right now, he has more strikeouts (14) than base hits (12).  He has hit Adam Wainwright and Fernando Salas in the past, but the rest of the Cardinals pitchers have handled him with ease.

Injuries

The Cardinals currently have three players on the disabled list: Chris Carpenter(p), Rafael Furcal(ss) and Jason Motte(p).  Two of the three are out for the season, with no timetable on the return of Motte.

The Nationals also have three players on the disabled list: Christian Garcia(p), Ryan Zimmerman(3b) and Wilson Ramos(c).   Only Garcia is eligible to be activated, but he has just started his throwing program and is not expected to be back until next month.

Bob Netherton  is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and United Cardinal Bloggers. His work can be found at On the Outside Corner, a mostly historical blog about the St. Louis Cardinals.  You can also find Bob on Twitter at @CardinalTales.

Posted in 2012 Season | 3 Comments

2012 United Cardinal Bloggers Award Ballot


As we look to close out the 2012 season, the United Cardinal Bloggers have one more task to complete – the annual awards.  This is always a fun project because you get a chance to pat some of your peers on the back for their efforts.  That is always a good thing to do.

Player of the Year: Yadier Molina

Yadi should run away with this, except  that he would probably throw himself out in doing so.  I had read this one completely wrong last winter, assuming that once Albert Pujols left, Molina would play out his final year and head for greener pastures in free agency.  Bzzzt.  Not only did he sign a nice extension, one that is good for both sides, but he went out and had a career year.  Player of the year, indeed.

Pitcher of the Year: Kyle Lohse 

There is no secret that I am a big Kyle Lohse fan.  While in St. Louis, he matured and became the pitcher that Minnesota, Philadelphia and Cincinnati all wish he had been while on their roster.  He became the “go to” starter, something of an unheralded ace of the staff.   He should be rewarded handsomely for his performance while in St. Louis in the winter free agency season and it will be sad to see him go.

Game of the Year: Game 5 of the NLDS. 

There was a game, a long time ago, where my dad had gotten frustrated with the way the Cardinals had played and we left the stadium early.  The Pirates had a seemingly insurmountable lead.  There was no way the Cardinals could come back and make a game of it.  I did get a chance to listen to the end of the game, at home on the radio, and the Cardinals did come back and win.   That made such an impact on me, that I rarely leave or turn off a game to this day.

I am hoping that Game Five of the NLDS will have that same impact to a new generation of Cardinals fans.  It was an unbelievable game to watch.

Performance of the Year: Shelby Miller’s First Start

I know that Cincinnati was just playing out the end of their season and looking forward to the NLDS, but what Miller showed in his first start should give Cardinals fans a lot to look forward to.  It will also make the offseason feel just a bit longer as we look forward to seeing more of that in 2013.

Surprise Player of the Year:  Jon Jay

As the season got under way, I thought there was zero chance that Jay would play center field all season long.  The improvement in his defense was most unexpected.  His play in the field saved many a game, and he became something of a solid leadoff hitter.  I still would rather see Adron Chambers getting the playing time, but Jon Jay turned me into a serious fan in 2012.

Disappointing Player of the Year: Marc Rzepczynski

This is a real tough one because he didn’t pitch that badly, but he gets the nod as the other candidates were injured and get something of a pass.  Rzepczynski wasn’t bad,  just inconsistent.   I hope that he gets it all figured out over the winter and returns to his 2011 form.   I suspect that he will.

Rookie of the Year: Trevor Rosenthal

It has been a long time since I can remember a young pitcher coming up with as much firepower and maturity as Rosenthal demonstrated this season.  I can’t wait to see him pitch next year, either in the bullpen in St. Louis or being stretched out as a starter down in Memphis.  If you don’t subscribe to Milb.TV, next year might be a real good time to start.

Acquisition of the Year: Edward Mujica

I may be going against the majority on this one, but as good as Carlos Beltran was, and he was very good, it was the acquisition of Mujica that settled down the Cardinals bullpen and set up a run for the first Play-in game.  Without Mujica, I don’t think the Cardinals make it to the playoffs.  I’m not so sure the same is true about Beltran.

Most Anticipated Cardinal: Carlos Martinez

As much as I would like to vote for Eric Fornataro (and he might get some UCB Rookie of the Year votes in 2014), Carlos Martinez was dazzling at the end of the season for Springfield.  I can’t wait to see him pitch in Memphis next year and St. Louis the following spring.

Best Individual Blog: Retrosimba

Assuming that Daniel will be getting a lot of support from the rest of the UCB community, and hopefully from our readers as well, I will take this opportunity to recognize Mark Tomasik’s excellent work at Retrosimba.  I am a big fan of the history of this game and team, and nobody does a better job at finding and passing on the long lost stories than Mark.    It was a genuine pleasure meeting Mark at the UCB Weekend in September and learning how he goes about his writing.  Keep up the good work.

Best Team Blog: Pitchers Hit Eighth

This is always a tough one as there are so many great team blogs.  PH8 has the perfect balance of humor and information, always good to provoke a thought or two.

Best Media Blog: Birdland

Best Rookie Blog: Keene on MLB

It is always great to see new contributors join the UCB, and we had several great ones start up this year.  Wes gets the nod here because individual blogs are especially hard to keep going after the initial enthusiasm wears down.

Post of the Year:  No vote.

Best UCB Project: UCB Weekend

While not a project, exactly, the high point of the season is surely when the UCB members and friends descend on the restaurant formerly known as Pujols 5 for an evening of socialization.  It only gets better when we meet up at the ballpark the following day.

Long live the UCB Weekend!

Most Optimistic Blog: Cardinal Diamond Diaries and Aaron Miles Fastball

I want to split my vote in this category because the three ladies at Aaron Miles Fastball do a great job of getting out fun content and need to be recognized for getting it done.   Whether it is game recaps or “Love Letters to”, their posts are always on the positive side and never carry even a hint of doom or gloom.  Well done, ladies.  Keep up the great work.

At the same time, I want to send some encouragement to the ladies at Cardinals Diamond Diaries and let them know that we truly miss their content.  Even though the posts were less frequent in 2012, they were still among my favorite to read.

Best UCB Podcast: Conversations with C70

From the opening “you are listening to my daddy’s show” to the closing moments, this is a genuinely fun podcast.  Daniel does a great job inviting interesting guests and then giving them the time to tell their stories.

Best UCB Twitter: Dennis @gr33nazn and Marilyn @marilyncolor

There are so many fun twitter buddies and it is impossible to pick just one.   If you haven’t spent an evening tweeting during a Cardinals game, you are missing a real tweet.  And yes, I am sorry, but that was just too good of a pun to pass up.

Dennis Lawson is one of the best to follow, always keeping things loose and fun.  Whether it is another epic rant or a top 10 (or more) reasons posting, Dennis does twitter the way it was meant to be done – enjoyably.  Even his doom and gloom postings have a wit that keeps it light, although I think we saw the best of this on Bonfyre at the end of the season.  But make no mistake, should the need arise, you will get a great technical analysis of some event,  as good you will find anywhere.

My other twitter buddy that does it right is Marilyn Green.   She never gets too excited when things too well, and more important, never jumps ship when they don’t.  I love the honesty she brings to the social network and there are many a night when I have been glad to see her voice of reason filling the timeline.  I’m also a big fan of her contributions at Redbird Rants.

These are my votes.  What are some of yours ?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Posted in 2012 Season, United Cardinals Bloggers | 3 Comments

It’s 1968 All Over Again


Congratulations to the Detroit Tigers for an impressive four game sweep of the New York Yankees to earn their 11th American League Championship. With the Cardinals just one win away from their 19th NL Pennant, it begs the obvious question, is this a rematch of 2006 ?

For the Cardinals, no.  While we had a lot of fun comparing the 2011 Cardinals to the plucky bunch from 1964, the current roster of Redbirds reminds me of the 1968 team.   There are a few important differences, but the similarities are amazingly scary.

Starting pitching

Pitcher Age Wins Losses ERA ERA+
Bob Gibson 32 22 9 1.12 258
Nelson Briles 24 19 11 2.81 103
Ray Washburn 30 14 8 2.26 129
Steve Carlton 23 13 11 2.99 97
Larry Jaster 24 9 13 3.51 83

It is OK to take a couple of minutes and admire  Bob Gibson’s 1968 performance.  I know that I have, many times.

Let’s look at the 2012 starters.

Pitcher Age Wins Losses ERA ERA+
Kyle Lohse 33 16 3 2.86 134
Adam Wainwright 30 14 13 3.94 97
Lance Lynn 25 18 7 3.78 102
Jake Westbrook 34 13 11 3.97 97
Jaime Garcia 25 7 7 3.92 98
Joe Kelly 24 5 7 3.53 109

No, the 2012 team did not have a Bob Gibson in the rotation, at least not during the regular season, but there are two scary parallels.

Kyle Lohse and Ray Washburn were both healthy and turned in career years.  It should also be noted that both started their careers as flame throwers, Washburn being in an elite group, but injuries and maturity helped transform them into sneaky finesse pitchers, and success followed.  For Washburn, this  was the first time since 1962 that he was healthy for the full season.  Lohse’s injury troubles were in 2009 and 2010.  Both were the unfortunate benefactor of lack of runs and each could easily have won 21 or 22 games.  Their league adjusted ERA (ERA+) shows just how well they pitched.

Perhaps even more scary is the Lance Lynn/Joe Kelly and Nelson Briles comparison.  If you were not old enough to remember Briles, his pitching motion was nearly identical to that of Joe Kelly.  An abbreviated windup (courtesy of pitching coach, Billy Moffat) and then a violent delivery with him falling off the mound,  hard to the first base side.  Briles got off to a quick start, as did Lance Lynn, but was much more consistent, like Kelly.   If Kelly had started the season with the Cardinals, and had gotten the run support that Lynn received through much of the season, he would be the one with the 18-7 record, or better.

It should also be noted that one of the most exciting arms, Dick Hughes, blew out his shoulder in spring training.  The hard throwing right hander was co-Rookie of the Year in 1967, albeit at age 29.  The Cardinals had exceptionally high expectations for Hughes, and it was a big blow when his injury ended his career.   He did pitch through the injury, and was surprisingly effective.

As I’ve written about several times previously, Jaime Garcia reminds me a lot of Larry Jaster.  Their respective lines from 1968 and 2012 help support that claim.  Garcia missed some time to a lingering shoulder injury.  For Jaster, the league was beginning to figure out his fastball.

Steve Carlton and Adam Wainwright ?  Ignore that they threw from different sides, and that’s a fair comparison.  Lefty was a bit younger, but it was very apparent, even at this point in his career, he was something special.  He was the ace-in-waiting behind one of the greatest right handers in Cardinals history.  That baton has already been passed in the current generation of pitchers.   Gibson, Carlton, Washburn, Briles  vs Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse and Kelly/Lynn.  That even makes Rod Serling drop his cigarette and smile.

Ah, but that’s nothing compared to the bullpens.

Relief Pitchers

Pitcher Age Wins Losses ERA ERA+
Joe Hoerner 31 8 2 1.47 199
Ron Willis 24 2 3 3.39 86
Wayne Granger 24 4 2 2.25 130
Dick Hughes 30 2 2 3.53 83
Mel Nelson 32 2 1 2.91 101
Pitcher Age Wins Losses ERA ERA+
Jason Motte 30 4 5 2.86 140
Mitchell Boggs 28 4 1 2.21 174
Edward Mujica 28 0 0 1.03 379
Marc Rzepczynski 26 1 3 4.24 91
Trevor Rosenthal 22 0 2 2.78 140
Fernando Salas 27 1 4 4.30 90

As good as the 1968 Cardinals rotation was, a big part of their success was a lights-out bullpen.  If a starter left the game early, the bullpen just did not cough up a lead.  There was little turnover in the pen and the 1-2 punch were the veteran lefty, Joe Hoerner, and a young hard throwing righty side armer, Ron Willis.  A mid season callup of Wayne Granger added a much needed spark. Mel Nelson was the non-closer lefty and the injured Dick Hughes pitched when he could.

On paper, the 2012 bullpen was anything but dependable.  Until the Edward Mujica trade at the non-waiver deadline, the relief core was something of a revolving door.  JC Romero, Scott Linebrink, Brian Fuentes, Maikel Cleto, Brandon Dickson, Chuckie Fick, Eduardo Sanchez, Sam Freeman and Barret Browning all made a stop in the pen before things settled down.   Once Mujica showed up in St. Louis, the bullpen went from weak link to the heart-and-soul of the team.  As with Wayne Granger in 1968, the hard throwing Trevor Rosenthal provided a much needed spark in the pen, lighting up radar guns and thrilling Cardinals fans in every appearance.

Hoerner + Boggs were the Mujica, Boggs and Motte of the ’68 team.  Wayne Granger and Trevor Rosenthal were the young guns.  Mel Nelson and Marc Rzepczynski were the lefties and Dick Hughes and Fernando Salas were the inconsistent righties.

If that were not enough, Shelby Miller and Mike Torrez were both top pitching prospects that made a few key appearances.  Both were impressive and looked like future stars.

Starting 8

Both reigning champions were returning with the bulk of their lineup in tact.  The notable exception is the loss of Albert Pujols in the off season.  The combination of Lance Berkman and Allen Craig made up for most of that loss, and the addition of veteran Carlos Beltran mode than covered what remained.  And then some.

Let’s take a look at the other positions, and some these are even more spooky than with the pitchers.

Catcher

Player Age HR RBI AVG OPS+
Tim McCarver 26 5 48 .253 94
Yadier Molina 29 22 76 .315 137

It was a bit of a down year for Tim McCarver, but he provided a ton of offensive production while calling a brilliant game.  Much of the credit for the Cardinals pitching success needs to be given to McCarver’s game plan.  If there was such a thing as BAMF in the 60s, McCarver had plenty.

The big differences between McCarver and Molina are on the defensive side of the game.  McCarver was a plus defender with a good arm, Molina is an elite defender and among the best to ever play the position.

Second Base

Player Age HR RBI AVG OPS+
Julian Javier 31 4 52 .260 92
Daniel Descalso 25 4 26 .227 72

Lessee, how about a slide defender with a good arm that doesn’t hit for high average, but has a knack of getting key hits.  If a pitcher makes a mistake, he has enough pop in his bat to hurt him.  Which one is that ?  Both of them.   The difference here is that Descalso got off to a poor start to the 2012 season.   His second half numbers are very close to Javier’s.   Descalso also has a strong enough arm and just enough range to be able to play shortstop.   Javier was the second best at his position, playing in the shadow of Bill Mazeroski for most of his career.  If not for the Pirates Hall of Famer, Javier’s shelf would be full of Golden Gloves.

Shortstop

Player Age HR RBI AVG OPS+
Dal Maxvill 29 1 24 .253 91
Pete Kozma 24 2 14 .333 157

I will make this as simple as I can.  Pete Kozma is this generation’s Dal Maxvill.  Period.  Both were slick defenders with exceptional arms.   Neither hit for high average (Kozma’s is helped by a small sample size) but had some unbelievable key hits.  Both were patient at the plate, taking walks ahead of the pitcher or a pinch hitter.  If a pitcher made a mistake, both could make the ball leave the park.  Just.

If you consider that Maxvill is currently fourth in career dWAR (defensive Wins Above Replacement), the thought of Kozma backing up  Rafael Furcal next year should give you some comfort.  Don’t forget about Ryan Jackson – an extra year in Memphis should help the youngster develop his offense.

3rd Base

Player Age HR RBI AVG OPS+
Mike Shannon 28 15 79 .266 113
David Freese 29 20 79 .293 129

A hometown player who was key to a Cardinals World Series win.   Gap to gap power but can send the baseball out of the deepest part of the ballpark if a pitcher is not careful.   He plays the game hard, so much so that you worry about a season ending injury at any moment.

Hard to tell which one that describes, right ?   Because they are the same player.

Right Field

Player Age HR RBI AVG OPS+
Roger Maris 33 5 45 .255 105
Carlos Beltran 35 32 97 .269 128

Two exceptionally classy players that are nearing the end of an impressive career.  The wear and tear of his early years have finally caught up to Maris, and this would be last time we had the pleasure of watching him play the game.   It was both a sad and happy time.

I don’t think we can say enough about Beltran’s contributions to the 2012 ball club.  Like Maris in 1967, or Lance Berkman in 2011,  Beltran was the final piece to the championship puzzle.  Fortunately for Cardinals fans, Beltran is signed through next season, and there is an exciting corner outfielder in the minor leagues that should be ready after that.

Center Field

Player Age HR RBI AVG OPS+
Curt Flood 30 5 60 .301 113
Jon Jay 27 4 40 .305 113

Let me do this one in a photo.

Look familiar ?  Joe Kelly thinks so.   What do you think ?

Hmmm.

While it is unfair to compare Jay to one of the greatest defensive center fielders in baseball history, Jon Jay has significantly improved his fielding.   As our friend Mark Tomasik points out on his blog, Jay is sneaking up on Curt Flood’s error-less streak.

Both were dependable hitters at the top of the batting order.  Mostly singles hitters, Flood had the benefit of hitting behind Lou Brock, who would frequently steal bases while Flood patiently took pitches.

Left Field

Player Age HR RBI AVG OPS+
Lou Brock 29 6 51 .279 124
Matt Holliday 32 27 102 .295 138

At first you might squint in disbelief.  While totally mismatched in body mass and foot speed, the two players are eerily similar otherwise.  Both were iffy defenders – Brock made up with his speed, Holliday his bat.  Brock hit leadoff for most of his career, but had he batted lower, his RBI totals would look more like Matt Holliday.   Holliday hit the ball harder, but Brock could turn on an inside fastball just as quickly.   And finally, both could go on brutal prolonged slumps, but when they got hot, could carry the team for weeks at a time.

The Bench

Bobby Tolan was a speedy young player that could play some awesome defense.  On the bases, he was a complete terror to the other team.  Adron Chambers, anybody ?

The one thing the ’68 Cardinals did not have was a Matt Carpenter coming off the bench.  They had some good utility players in Ed Speizio and Phil Gagliano, but neither had the consistent offensive production of Carpenter.

The Differences

While the similarities are impressive, there were a few key differences in the two teams.

Mike Matheny is a new manager and basically learning how to manage the season as it unfolded.  He did surround himself with some great coaching talent, which helped, but it does not replace actual experience.   In 1968, Red Schoendienst was in his fourth season as manager, had been a coach under Johnny Keane’s World Series Championship in 1964, had already won a title on his own, and has more Cardinals DNA in his genes than anybody else on the planet.

While the ’68 Cardinals did struggle offensively, they were very good at grinding out close games.   They were 15-8 in extra inning games, thanks to that exceptional bullpen.   Because of that bullpen, they were able to steal a base, move a runner over and manufacture a run at an important point in the game.   That was a big part of the 97 team wins.   The 2012 team may be the best offense a Cardinal manager ever penciled in a lineup card, but their inconsistency,  especially in the middle of the season, is why they had to earn their way into the playoffs through the second wildcard.   The 1968 team steamrolled to an NL Pennant.  The 2012 Cardinals are one win away by scratching, clawing and just refusing to lose.

Their biggest weakness of the 1968 Cardinals was against left handed pitching.  Their lineup was balanced (Javier had a reverse split, so should be considered a lefty) and could be neutralized by a southpaw.  That would play out in the World Series as Micky Lolich would go 3-0 and win the World Series MVP.  The 2012 Cardinals are mostly a right handed lineup, particularly in the heart of the order, and tore up left handers.   Sadly, the 2012 Tigers are going to throw some wickedly talented righties at whomever advances to the Fall Classic.

The other big difference between the two is the middle defense.  Curt Flood and Dal Maxvill would win Gold Gloves and Julian Javier would have if he had hit a bit better.  Molina should win a Gold Glove in 2012 and Jon Jay should be at least in the conversation.  While much improved over the 2011 team, the 2012 team has a long way to go before being compared to that world class defense the 68 team fielded every day.

The Final Chapter

We know how the ’68 season ended.  A rare defensive miscue by Curt Flood on a Jim Northrup triple to left center field in Game Seven gave the series to the Tigers.   That doesn’t mean that the 2012 season will end the same way.   There is still one more win to record before that is even a consideration.

Posted in 2012 Season, General History | 1 Comment