Tagged: Braves

Unlikely hero in extras

So after taking 2 of 3 from Houston, it was time to see if the Cardinals could take their recent success to Atlanta, and beat a tougher team and a tougher pitcher in Tim Hudson.  The Cards sent their ace, Chris Carpenter, to the mound to do the job.

Big surprise: once again we did not get Carp a win.  Are there any other teams who have sent their #1 guy to the mound 6 times and still haven’t gotten a win for him?  He’s pitched well.  There was one game where he let it get out of control, giving up 8 runs over 4 innings.  But besides that, he has gone deep into games, getting out of jams and deserving a win.  But every game either the Cardinal bats or the bullpen have conspired against him.

Last night, it was the bats.  For all the talk of bullpen trouble, they actually held their own.  Sanchez was again impressive.  I could watch that guy pitch all day.  There was unnecessary drama in the 9th.  The tying run was once again at the plate with a runner on.  And he flew out to Matt Holliday who made a pretty decent over the shoulder catch on the warning track, just shy of home run distance.  The drama has probably given me ulcers, but I’ve grown to accept that may just be the way it is with the Cardinals.  And as long as they win, I probably won’t complain (too loudly) and last night they were able to win.  Combine that with the Reds loss and it was a pretty good night.  Unfortunately, the Cubs won.

After a night when the big boys ripped the cover off the ball, it was not so big guys making the noise last night.  Yadier and Descalso each had an RBI to knot the game at 2-2 and after the Braves homered to make it 3-2, Descalso hit a sac fly to again tie the game at 3-3 in the 9th inning.  Then it went to extras where things got interesting.  You figure the 10th inning is where they have to make it happen.  They have Pujols, Holliday, Berkman coming up that inning.  Back to back to back jacks, perhaps?  Nope.  They go down easy, 3 up, 3 down.

But in the 11th inning, the Cardinals start to make some noise.  With 2 runners (via a HBP and walk) and 2 out, Nick Punto steps to the plate.  Punto was brought to St. Louis to be an all-around utility guy, because he’s decent with his glove.  Not because of his extraordinary bat.  In fact, going into this at-bat, he’s already 0-5 on the night, hitting .160 for the season.  But on some nights the cards fall just right.  (No pun intended.)  Normally, Theriot would be leading off and in this spot and not Punto, but he was recovering from rib cage soreness.  But the stars aligned and Punto ripped the ball down the right field line for a 2 RBI triple.  And that would be the game. 5-3 Redbirds.

I really do feel bad for Carp.  I know they always talk about team wins rather than personal wins, blah, blah, blah.  But it has to be bad on the morale to go out their game after game and not be able to secure the win.  And Carpenter is equally responsible for their win last night because he kept the game close despite a couple bad breaks.  One that jumps to mind was the play in the 7th inning.  Berkman made a decent throw to try and get the base runner at 3rd and instead hit him in the back.  Nothing you can do about that.  But it meant runners on 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out.  So they walk Chipper to load the bases and face Brian McCann.  Carp induces the double play and they get out of that inning that could have been a lot more damaging.

Speaking of that Berkman throw, it would have been nice to see him throw a runner out.  The Cardinals have not had one outfield assist this year.  Not one.  I mentioned before how bad the Cardinal defense is.  This is just a team that is more offense than defense, which has not usually been typical of Cardinal clubs.  I mean, when Edmonds was in the outfield, he would have had several assists this year, not to mention many runners being scared to go on him.  But I do have to give it up for Nick Punto.  He did make a nice play last night.  And with the lack of quality defense has a whole, it’s nice to see the occasional great play.

I’ve been watching the 76 second Reebok recaps of the games.  Sometimes they will include home runs or game winning doubles, but mostly it’s just great defense packed into 76 seconds, which I love.  I watched probably a week’s worth last night.  And not one Cardinal play was on there.  That should tell you something about Cardinal defense.

The only other scary moment of the game was when Gerald Laird got hit in the head in the 9th inning with a bat.  I mean he got hit hard.  So hard that he fell over and looked pretty dazed.  Molina was already out of the game, so if Laird had to come out, it would have called for an emergency catcher situation, which the announcers were saying was Daniel Descalso.  That would have been interesting to say the least.  I had to be the emergency catcher one time on my college softball team.  It was a lot of fun, but I also wasn’t catching a 97 MPH Jason Motte fastball.

So after a horrendous beginning, the Cardinals now have won 5 series in a row.  A win today or tomorrow would give them 6.  They aren’t dominating teams and sweeping them, but that’s okay.  If you win every series, you have yourself a championship.  It’s just one series at a time.  And that seems to be the way the Cardinals are handling it.  And while you have guys like Schumaker and Craig out, or Freese sitting, you need to see guys like Descalso and Punto deliver.  One thing in common of all championship teams is that they don’t just look to their 3-4-5 guys to get it done.  Production comes from surprising places at times and it comes from up and down the lineup.  For maybe the first time this year, I believe the Cardinals really do have a shot to play in October and to play well.  They have this way of rising to the occasion when everyone has doubted them.  Hopefully they can keep it going today.

Takin’ down the chop,
Tiffany

It’s a good thing we have offense

This is not the first time this season, we have seen the Cardinal offense errupt.  Normally, it is over 9 innings and not in one, but nonetheless, when these guys are clicking, it’s clear what they can do.  And that’s good because our pitching is shaky at times, especially the relief pitching, as well as our defense.

The defense is actually painful to watch at times.  The Cardinals have the fourth highest number of errors in the NL and the only teams that have poor are sub .500 teams.  Over the years the Cardinals have been known for outstanding defense.  In the 80s you had the Wizard and even more recently, guys like Edmonds and Rolen were just fun to watch.  Rolen was a vacuum at 3rd base.  Not only did he make the routine plays with ease, but he made the ridiculously hard plays look easy.  Edmonds had a flair all his own, laying out to catch fly ball after fly ball or hopping the fence to rob a home run.

These days the defense is abysmal at best.  Only Yadier’s cannon is exempt.  With the rest of them, if they make the routine plays I’m happy because that doesn’t always happen.  And spectacular plays are certainly few and far between.  Most of our outfielders aren’t going to be throwing runners out at the plate and our infield has struggled to catch anything hit sharply.

This combined with a not so strong effort from the bullpen last night again allowed a last place Houston team to feel like they had a shot to win, even as the Cardinals led by 6 runs in the late innings.  And indeed they did.  For the second day in a row, the ‘Stros had the tying run at the plate.  Fortunately, after a wild pitch by Salas, backup catcher Laird dove over home plate as Hunter Pence raced home, just in time to get the inning ending out.  If it wasn’t for that, who know what would have happened that inning?

Of course for the Cardinals the big inning was the 6th inning, where they put up 9 runs on 9 hits and 1 walk.  Most remarkably, all of the hits, minus Berkman’s home run, were singles.  Small ball at its best.  In that inning, 4 players (Freese, Pujols, Holliday and Berkman) each had 2 hits.

Overall, the Cardinals scored 11 runs on 15 hits.  Lance Berkman had quite the game against his old team, as I mentioned here that he probably would.  The only two extra base hits of the game, a double and a home run, belonged to Berkman.  He went 4 for 5 with 5 RBIs, heavily contributing to that powerful middle of the order lineup.  The 3-4-5 guys went a total of 8 for 14 with 8 RBIs.  And that’s what these guys are paid to do.  To continue to go after opposing pitchers, unrelenting hit after hit.  Many people have questioned the contract of Matt Holliday, but I think he has showed himself worthy of every penny.  He hasn’t had the career of Albert, of course, but he has proven himself quite valuable and a much more affordable price.  And you can’t say enough about Berkman.  He was gambled on, in the offseason and Cardinal fans everywhere are so glad he was.  He has continued to rake and has now hopped to 2nd in the NL in average, behind none other than?  Matt Holliday.

In today’s game, it would be nice to finally get Chris Carpenter a win.  It’s an unfair world where Carp is 0-2 and Kyle McClellan is 4-0.  The biggest reason for that, of course, is run support.  Carp has only allowed more than 2 runs, in one of 5 starts this season.  But his teammates have not returned the favor.  He has the worst run support on the Cardinals staff and the 11th worst in the NL.  On the other hand McClellan has the 6th best run support in the NL, at a crazy 9.10.

Taking on the Braves,
Tiffany

Redemption

In 2000, the Cardinals won the Central Division and was paired against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.  Cardinals manger, Tony LaRussa made a surprising move, opting to start rookie pitching sensation, Rick Ankiel in Game 1 of that series, rather than established starter Daryl Kile.  In the 3rd inning, millions of Cardinal fans watched Ankiel implode on the mound.  Ball after ball sailed over the catcher to the backstop as suddenly Rick Ankiel could no longer find the strikezone.  He ended up walking 4 guys, throwing several wild pitches, allowing 4 runs to score.

Ankiel and Cardinal fans alike called it a fluke.  And because the Redbirds advanced to the NLCS, it seemed like nothing more than an answer to future trivia questions.  But in the NLCS, Ankiel again could not find the strikezone against the New York Mets.  He was booted after only 20 pitches when 20% of his pitches again found their way to the backstop.

This time the Cardinals would not advance, as the Mets went on to take the series and advance to the World Series.

Flash forward to 2010.

This time Ankiel is a name known to all baseball fans.  But he’s no longer known as a hard throwing kid in his rookie season, sporting highlighted blonde hair.  He’s a griseled veteran, who has transformed himself into an outfielder with an elite arm.  He worked himself back to the Majors, as a potential offensive threat as well.  He did well with the Cardinals until there was no room for him any longer.  He spent some of the season, playing with the going-nowhere Kansas City Royals before being traded to Atlanta.

How interesting it is that Rick is back in the postseason, playing for the very team that he first fell apart against.  But this time he has stepped up to the challenge.  Not only has he been successful, he has been the hero.  In game 2, Ankiel hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning.

Redemption indeed.

Congrats Rick,
Tiffany

Individual Awards, part 3 (Rookie of the Year)

So far I’ve looked at the Cardinals chances of bring home the MVP and the Cy Young in order to ease my pain as I watch the Cardinals lose game after game.  Tonight, I will look at the final of the big 3 individual awards: Rookie of the Year.

The Cardinal contender in this category is Jaime Garcia.

Garcia, of course, is a pitcher.  Therein lies the interesting thing about this award.  In the MVP, we compared hitters to hitters and in the Cy Young, pitchers to pitchers.  And all of the other likely candidates besides Garcia are hitters.  Still, we will try and make a good analysis of this award.

The NL has a lot of great talent this year.  In fact, there are many names, I won’t go into detail about, like Stanton, Colvin, Castro, Desmond, among others.  I’m going to look at the top 3 hitters contending for this award, plus Garcia.

First, the hitters.  They are: Jason Heyward (Braves), Gaby Sanchez (Marlins) and Buster Posey (Giants).  The stats break down like this:

Sanchez     139 games    .283 / .350 / .470      19 HR        81 RBI
Heyward     132 games    .286 / .401 / .475      18 HR        71 RBI
Posey           97 games    .324 / .373 / .522      15 HR        62 RBI

There are obviously a lot of other numbers too, but all of that will still point to the same thing.  Sanchez and Heyward have played the entire year, while Boster Posey was called up at the end of May.  Clearly, Posey has the better average, but is it fair to compare his 364 at-bats against the other guys who have around 500 at-bats?

Sanchez’ Marlins aren’t going anywhere, but that’s not why I wouldn’t give him this award.  I think Heyward and Sanchez are pretty similar, but I give the edge to Heyward.  I think he’s the overall better player, and has really delivered in the 2nd half for an Atlanta team dreaming of October.

It is a tough call between Heyward and Posey though.  Both of these guys are good.  And 80% of the time, I would give the award to the guy who has done the tough work of the 162 game grind that is baseball.  But Posey may be that one exception to the rule.  This is not just a guy with good numbers.  This is a guy who has encompassed exactly what a catcher should be.  He came in to replace Bengie Molina (not an easy task) and started playing like a seasoned veteran.  He has led this team as a catcher, handling the pitching staff with ease.  He has come through in the clutch many times.  But if you want to talk numbers, let’s talk numbers.  In all of those less at-bats, he is still only 3 homers and 9 RBis shy of Heyward.

So while I think you can make a case for either guy and I wouldn’t think it a travesty, if one guy got picked over the other, if it were my vote, I would cast it for Buster Posey.

So now, what about Garcia?

How do you compare his line with Posey’s?  Obviously, you can’t.  What you can do is look at what kind of numbers rookies need to have to get the ROY.  It varies year to year, but at least we can get a ballpark.  The last NL pitcher to win the award was Dontrelle Willis in 2003.  But we have a couple more recent examples.

Last year JA Happ got 2nd in the vote and in 2006, Justin Verlander received the award for the AL.  (Huston Street won it as a pitcher in 2005, but as a closer, which is a whole other dynamic.)  Let’s look at Garcia compared with Verlander and Happ.

Jaime Garcia          28 GS   163.1 IP      13-8      2.70      132 K       64 BB
JA Happ                 23 GS    166.0 IP     12-4      2.93      119 K       56 BB
Verlander               30 GS    186.0 IP     17-9      3.63      123 K       60 BB

His initial numbers are better than Happ’s, but of course Happ only got 2nd place.  Verlander had an amazing 17 wins, but his ERA was astronomical.  And Garcia kills them both in strikeouts.

The other question is, will Garcia pitch again this year?  He has skipped two starts for “fatigue.”  This is the most innings he has ever pitched and it’s catching up with him.  Now that the Cardinals are out of it, management might feel it’s best to shut him down for the rest of the year.  Garcia wants to pitch again, but they will be careful with the valuable southpaw.

Garcia’s number are great.  But in a year, where there are many different worthwhile candidates, I don’t see the voters giving it to a rookie with his numbers.  But if he pitches again (or even twice more) and adds 1-2 more wins and lowers his ERA even more, I think he forces the voters to take him seriously for the award.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.  What’s your take?  Who do you like for NL Rookie of the Year?  Is there a guy on your team not getting enough love because he’s playing a non-contender?

The youngster has game,
Tiffany

Individual Awards, part 2 (Cy Young)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have given up hope on the season and have begun to look at the Cardinals chances in the big 3 individual awards.  I already covered MVP and now will look at Cy Young.

The contender here for the Redbirds is Adam Wainwright.  Many feel he was robbed in 2009 from the award and he definitely is putting up Cy Young caliber numbers this year.  The problem is that the NL is STACKED with pitching in a year that many have called, “The Year of the Pitcher.”  This is a year that has been filled with no-no’s galore, perfect games, (that’s right, plural) and all kinds of crazy pitching feats.

I personally believe that the only real competition for Wainwright is Roy Halladay.  But let’s go ahead and look at a few of the dark horses that could garner some 1st or 2nd place votes.  They are: Tim Hudson, Mat Latos and Ubaldo Jimenez.

First, we will compare where they stand in the traditional triple crown pitching categories.

Triple Crown Pitching
Wainwright      2.50 ERA (4th),   18 wins (1st), 199 K (4th)
Halladay          2.44 ERA (3rd),  18 wins (1st),  201 K (2nd)
Hudson           2.62  ERA (5th),  15 wins (4th), 122 K (34th)
Latos               2.43  ERA (2nd), 14 wins (7th), 174 K (11th)
Jimenez          2.75  ERA (7th),  18 wins (1st),  186 K (6th)

Wainwright and Halladay are the only two pitchers in the top 5 of all of these categories, which will probably go a long way with voters.  And for those who are still obsessed with wins (I am not one of them), if one of these current 18 game winners (Waino, Halladay and Jimenez) gets to 20 wins, that might appeal to some of the voters.

Then, there are other factors that we have to look at when discussing the best pitcher this year.  There’s the often-debated WHIP stat.

WHIP
Wainwright       1.05 WHIP (3rd)
Halladay           1.05 WHIP (3rd)
Hudson             1.13 WHIP (11th)
Latos                 0.99 WHIP (1st)
Jimenez            1.15 WHIP (14th)

But I think more importantly are these 3 stats.  Complete games, shutouts and innings pitched.  A guy that can eat up a lot of innings, while maintaining a low ERA is invaluable to a club.  And this is where the five guys stack up.  I call these the ‘endurance and domination categories.’

Endurance and Domination
Wainwright      5 CG,  2 SHO, 216.1 IP (2nd)
Halladay          8 CG,  3 SHO, 228.2 IP (1st)
Hudson           1 CG,  0 SHO, 203.0 IP (5th)
Latos              1 CG,  1 SHO, 166.2 IP (35th)
Jimenez         4 CG,  2 SHO, 196.1 IP (9th)

Other factors
As I said before, it could come down to which guy gets to 20 wins.  It’s
up for grabs.  Any of these guys could have already been there and
several of them will have a few more chances to hit that mark before the
season end.  I don’t think 20 wins is the end-all, be-all, but Wainwright and Halladay are ridiculous close this year.  Some voters might seek to right a wrong from last year by giving Wainwright the award this year, that he finished 3rd for last year.  Other votes might look at Halladay’s career and say that Doc deserves the award.  It can be hard to predict.

The Verdict
As it stands right now, I give Halladay the award by a smidge.  Right now, Halladay edges out Wainwright in ERA and strikeouts (both by the slimmest of margins) and they are tied in wins.  He has pitched more innings, throwing an incredible 8 complete games, 3 of them shutouts.  Thought it shouldn’t be a factor, he has also thrown a perfect game this year.  Don’t think that his perfecto won’t be on the minds of some voters, when comparing two guys who are literally a hair’s breadth apart.

But that’s if the season ended today.  If Wainwright could string a couple of good starts together, he could inch ahead in the race.  Here’s hoping for that.

Looking for Wainwright to finish strong,
Tiffany

Eat more chicken

I have one piece of advice to the Cardinals: Eat more chicken.  Zaxbys chicken to be exact.  Rasmus is a Georgia native, born a couple hours south of where the Braves call home and decided to pick up some chicken before the game, giving some to Wainwright to eat as well.

Watch video here.

Wainwright’s took a little bit longer than Rasmus’ to take effect, but in the end, both guys were key components of the Cardinals’ thrashing of the Atlanta Braves.  There isn’t an Zaxby’s in Missouri, but I’m willing to have it shipped to the Cards for the rest of the season if that’s what it takes.  Who’s in with me?

Though in order for the chicken to work today, LaRussa has to be willing to play Rasmus against a lefty.  Something he has been reluctant to do, which irritates the crap out of me, as I expressed in my previous post.

Eating chicken for lunch,
Tiffany