It's that time of year again. When hope is new, the grass smells clean, and people foolishly put down what they think will happen in the baseball season to come. The United Cardinal Bloggers are no different.
Every year we take a crack at these things. Sometimes it goes pretty well--Pittsburgh's late fade last year kept me from nailing them being third and over the .500 mark. Sometimes it goes disastrously--I had Boston winning the AL East last year. Yeah, that was pretty much bad from the get-go.
However, terrible performances don't stop us from trying it again anyway. (Kinda like Mike Matheny continuing to use Victor Marte last year.) So we'll do it again on the same kinda schedule--the entire American League today, then each division in the National League gets a day before wrapping it up on Friday with postseason predictions and awards.
Since we hardly pay attention to the American League--we all know real baseball lets a pitcher hit, don't we?--let's try to make a quick pass through there today. If you want to use these as a guide, odds are you better figure the opposite is really going to happen!
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
93-69, second in the AL East and first AL Wild Card, lost in the NLDS
Every year, there's that team. That team that no one expects to do anything but winds up defying the odds. The team that either overachieves or opens their playoff window. There's always at least one of those teams.
Last year, that team was Baltimore.
A last place team the year before, the Orioles flipped their record and led the AL East for a long portion of the summer. Everyone kept expecting the fade, the return to normal, but it never came.
So which was this, the opening of the window or the one-year wonder?
Every year about this time, the United Cardinal Bloggers take aim at their predictions for the upcoming season. It's a great way to look at the divisions, get a feel for what is going on, and write down picks that you will be trying to scrub from any internet search engine by probably July.
I'm far from an expert, so take all of these picks with a grain of salt. There are few gut picks that don't have a lot of basis in reality, so feel free to take that into consideration when reading them.
Since the American League doesn't really matter as much, we at the UCB just lump it all into one day. So keep reading to see how I pick the divisions to shake out.
One of the beautiful things about being a blogger is that, occasionally, you can stumble into a great situation. That's what has happened to me, as somewhere along the line I've gotten on the University of Nebraska Press's reviewer list, so they will send me free books from time to time to look at and write about. While they aren't often Cardinal-related, they are baseball, and that's all that matters.
The most recent book I was sent (well, there are a few of them, but this is the one I read first) is Pitching, Defense and Three-Run Homers, a review of the 1970 Baltimore Orioles. Now, the '70 Orioles are a bit before my time, but that didn't stop me from diving into what turned out to be a wonderful book about the squad. Mark Armour, who wrote Joe Cronin, another book I got to review and thoroughly enjoyed, and Malcolm Allen do a great job of talking about the players and games from that season.
This is the first in a series of books that are going to be put out about the great teams in baseball history. If the first one is this good, I can't imagine how they'll be when they've figured the process out.
What I really enjoyed about this book was the fact that every player that played on the 1970 Orioles got a biography. Didn't matter if it was a star like Frank Robinson or a scrub that got about three innings in that year. If they wore the uniform, they got a detailed history of their life and, if they were still alive, what they are doing now.
It extended out past just the players, as well. Manager Earl Weaver and his coaching staff gets the full treatment, as do the broadcasters. It's a great look at a group of men that came together for an incredible season.
Interspersed within the sections of autobiographies are pages that give a brief summary of every game, with each paragraph entitled with the headline from the local paper. It lets you see what happened during the dog days of August as well as the beginning and the end of the season. Not just the important games, the rainouts and everything else are listed out so that people can relieve that season a day or a time.
If you are a fan of baseball, this is a great book to pick up. If you are an Orioles fan, especially one that can remember the 1970 team, it's essential.
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad. Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.
69-93, fifth in the AL East
It's a tough time to be an Orioles fan. Perhaps the toughest since the weak sister of St. Louis rolled into Charm City and turned into a juggernaut. I'm reading a book (to review for the site) about the 1970 squad that won the World Series and those kind of days seem to be long gone for the team in orange.
Baltimore has struggled on the field and off. The most notable story about the team in the offseason was the fact that no one wanted to interview for their vacant GM job, a job that ultimately went to Dan Duquette, who had been out of baseball for quite some time.
However tough it is, there are still the loyal faithful that cover and cheer for their team and I've rounded up a couple of them to shed some light on what to expect in 2012.
Chris Stoner covers all things Baltimore, not just the Orioles, at Baltimore Sports and Life. (That could be considered a little redundant--aren't baseball and life interchangable?) If you have other sporting interests in that region, checking out his blog and following him on Twitter at Bmoresportslife would be in your best interest.
Daniel Moroz has been head of the Baltimore BBA chapter for some time now. He pens his thoughts over at Camden Crazies and can be found on Twitter as well, using the handle camdencrazies.
After the jump, these guys will let us know about who will be in the rotation and their expectations for 2012.
As the noise of the fireworks reverberates around my neighborhood, it seems only appropriate to spend the last part of the holiday weekend catching up talking about the all-American sport. Little known fact: The Continental Congress used a home run derby to decide vital points. The Declaration would have started out "King George sucks and is a bully" instead "When in the course of human events" if Thomas Jefferson hadn't raked nine longballs to John Hancock's six.
I've been meaning to catch up all weekend long, with the excitement of the Baltimore sweep then somewhat tempered by the collapses against the Rays. With Albert Pujols making noise and a number of injured guys looking like they'll make an impact soon, it's time to take stock of this team. Recap time!
Goat: Jaime Garcia. A lot of nights, five runs in just over five innings is going to be a problem for this team. Thankfully, they'd built an 8-0 lead and were able to absorb it, but it still points to a strange issue with Garcia.
For his career, Garcia has a 1.74 ERA at home vs. a 4.60 mark on the road. That's not the only indicator that he likes his home cooking, though. His K/BB ratio, his BAA, his home runs allowed, his WHIP all are worse, most of them significantly, when he's not pitching at Busch Stadium, even though the number of innings for home and road are fairly compatible.
What does this mean? Besides the fact that Garcia would start any Game 7 pitched under the Arch but none away from it, I don't know. It's obvious that something is different, though. Perhaps he has trouble with distractions when he's out of his routine. Perhaps there's something about the lighting or the appearance of Busch that works wonders for him. I don't know what it is but it's pretty obvious there's something and Garcia is going to have to figure out what it is and how to change it before he becomes an elite pitcher in this league.
Notes: Another strong night for Jon Jay, who had three hits, drove in three, and could be pressed for playing time soon. (More on that in a bit.) David Freese had two hits as he continues to show that he's not rusty at all, though he did make an error.
Hero: Colby Rasmus. His three-run home run, besides being part of an inning that had just about all of the Rays tossed out of the game, was the key to the game after a troublesome bottom of the eighth for the Cards.
Goat: Lance Lynn. Lynn's been doing pretty well out of the bullpen, but allowed three runs in an inning in this one.
Notes: Nice to see Fernando Salas come out on back-to-back days and have uneventful ninth innings. Perhaps whatever glitch he had in June has been ironed out and the end of games will be a little cleaner. Jake Westbrook also pitched a very solid game, allowing no runs in seven and striking out twice as many as he walked. If he can be more of an innings-eater (and I mean that he pitches good innings), that'll help a lot going forward.
Hero: Lance Berkman. Put the only run on the board with yet another long ball.
Goat: Kyle McClellan. For a while there, McClellan looked pretty good. He put up five straight scoreless innings and went into the sixth leading 1-0. He never saw the end of it, allowing five runs in two-thirds of a frame before Jason Motte put out the uprising with a strikeout.
What exactly does the team do with McClellan? Do they hope this is just a rough patch? Because the numbers aren't looking all that good for McClellan after his strong start. Save for his stellar one run, seven inning outing against the Phillies three starts ago, he's not gotten past the sixth since May 19 and hasn't completed the sixth since 5/24. From his start on the 24th at San Diego until now, he's posted a 5.73 ERA and opponents have an .807 OPS against him. Also, he's only gone 33 innings in those six starts, meaning that the bullpen is always going to be working more than three innings on his days.
Could he bounce back? It's possible, I guess, but I'm not holding my breath. We saw Chris Carpenter have bad results this season, but his underlying numbers were good and it wasn't surprising that he started to return to form. (The fact that he's apparently decided never to give the ball to the bullpen if he doesn't have to is also working for him.) Carpenter also had a long history to point to and give some confidence to a doubtful fan base. McClellan doesn't have that, and the odds are he's not going to turn around now and start going seven or so innings into games on a regular basis.
Notes: Brandon Dickson made his debut and did a fine job, getting Trever Miller out of yet another sticky situation. The Cardinals had plenty of chances here, piling up 10 hits and three walks, but two double plays really took the wind out of their sails.
Hero: Lance Berkman. Folks, if you'd have said that Berkman would have 22 home runs this year, I think every Cardinal fan in the world would have taken it. To have him have that many home runs the week before the All-Star break? Most Cardinal fans would have sat you down and lectured you about the evils of drugs, because you were apparently on something.
It's been the most effective $8 million the Cards have spent in a long, long time. Even if Berkman does nothing in the second half (which I don't expect will happen), you have to give major kudos to John Mozeliak for realizing how well Berkman would do in the right place and that he had a lot left to give.
Goat: Really not sure who to give the Goat to. I'm guessing Kyle Lohse, because he did give up a lot of doubles, but he didn't have the strongest of defenses going behind him, plus Motte allowed one of his inherited runners to score as well. Lohse not getting through the sixth was a problem coming on the heels of McClellan's outing. While that was two games in a row that he left early, the one before was the Baltimore game where he left due to a rain delay. Lohse may be slowing down from his blistering early season pace, but he's still a very effective mid-rotation starter and I think likely to stay that way.
Notes: Brian Tallethas struggled and did again in this game. The biggest thing that he has going for him right now is that there are no other dominant lefties in the organization and Trever Miller has been almost as bad. If Raul Valdes really gets on a roll, though, Tallet could be the next veteran to be an ex-Cardinal.
Hero: Chris Carpenter. Another stellar outing. It's obvious that Carp has dug down and said he's not relinquishing the ball. Since the beginning of June, look at his pitch counts. 118, 92, 124, 124, 132 and 119 tonight. He's thrown two complete games victory, one complete game loss, and left after eight tonight. Whatever has gotten into him, it seems to be working, which is a great thing for Cardinal Nation.
Goat: David Freese. Tough night for Freese, as he ended at least two innings with a runner on base, once with a double play. In a game where runs were at such a premium, that hurt.
Notes: Nice game by Jon Jay, even if he was tossed out trying to steal. That catch he made to rob a home run in the fourth could have been a difference maker, the way it turned out. Two hits by Colby Rasmus, which means he could be getting on the good side of his streaky reputation.
Of course, many of these games have been overshadowed by the fact that it appears that Pujols will be returning not at the beginning of August as so many thought when he went down, but possibly tomorrow, the first day he is eligible to do so. While I really won't believe that one until Twitter lights up tomorrow when the lineup is posted, it definitely sounds like he'll be back before the All-Star Break.
Obviously, this is good news for the Cardinals. I don't think that they are rushing him back, because the problem with the team lately hasn't been the offense. Sure, having Pujols back is a boon and you'd rather go into games with him than without him, but it's not like the Cards are being shut out every other game and they have to have that bat in the lineup. So I don't think it's a pressure situation here, but that he has healed up quickly. (Though, being the machine that he is, it could be that they just welded over the fracture and oiled him up.)
If he thinks he's healthy and, more importantly, the medical community thinks he's healthy, I'm all for getting him back in the game. Not only does that help the team immensely, but it allows him more time to get to that .300/30/100 level that he probably doesn't think about but is nice to see from a fan's point of view.
Also seen at Busch today were Eduardo Sanchez throwing and Gerald Laird catching. I wasn't able to hear what the prognosis on those two were, but it's just great to see the team coming together again. With Pujols back, you figure Jay goes to the bench, deepening that and giving Tony La Russa some options later in the game. Tony Cruz hasn't embarrassed himself at all in the bigs and, even though he'll probably go down when Laird is ready, you know that he'll get another call up when they need help. As for Sanchez, adding him to the eighth with some of the other arms out there should make for a more stable pen. Lots of excitement about the second half of the season!
Cards are sending Berkman, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molinato the All-Star Game. A little different (but understandable) not to see Pujols going and it seems like it's been a while since a Cardinal pitcher hasn't been on the All-Star staff. If Carpenter had gotten this run going a little earlier, he might have been considered.
Cards are up one on Milwaukee, 1.5 on Pittsburgh (that's no typo, Pittsburgh is within two games of first with less than half a season to go) and three on Cincinnati. Tomorrow (or, more likely, today since it's late on Monday night when I'm writing this and you'll probably be reading it Tuesday morning) Garcia gets a home start (thumbs up!) against Edinson Volquez. Here's Garcia versus the Red hitters:
For the most part, he's done all right. He's kept a lot of the major troublemakers in check, which is good. Jonny Gomes has done some damage, but he seems to have fallen out of favor in the Queen City. Then again, with those numbers, he'll probably get the start.
Cards have been able to deal with him fairly well. Volquez has been tough this year if he can get past the first inning, but that first step has been a doozy for him at times. Hopefully the Cards can get to him early and take another game from the Reds!
The Cardinals may have gone out of town, but that doesn't mean out of sight out of mind. There's been plenty to talk about out of this series in Baltimore, so let's quickly look at the last two games before getting into it all.
I think the best thing that we've seen out of both games is great starting pitching. On Tuesday, Kyle Lohse was very strong, going five scoreless innings. If it wasn't for the rain delay that forced him out of the game, I'd give him the Hero tag. As it is, I think you give it to Matt Holliday due to his two hits and his home run. A strong night for David Freese in his return from the disabled list as well, with two hits and a run scored, though he did strike out once.
On the downside, you probably give the Goat to Ryan Franklin. More about him in a bit, but he wrapped his Cardinal career by going 1/3 of an inning and giving up three hits and two runs, including a long ball. Yadier Molina had a rough night as well, going 0-4.
Wednesday night, you can't do anything but give the Hero to Chris Carpenter. A complete game, resting a bullpen that was short members due to release, recent use, or nagging injury. One run over those nine, with five strikeouts and an impressive piece of pitching in the fifth, when he had bases loaded with nobody out and was able to emerge unscathed.
132 pitches, on top of the 250 pitches he threw in his last two outings, does give some pause, though. I feel like Carpenter can handle this, that he's the workhorse, the competitor that will go as far as you need with no ill effects. However, he has had numerous arm injuries in the past. Can that arm hold up? More relevantly (because I don't believe Carpenter is going to be hurt doing this), will he still have the stamina come late August? The Cards have talked in the past about saving bullets. Does Carp just have another clip he can put in?
Just a small shoutout as well to Mark Hamilton. Even the DH has its uses, as Hamilton has gotten a chance to start the last couple of nights. Tuesday night he went 1-4 with an RBI and last night he was 1-3. Perhaps some regular play while the Cardinals are on the East Coast will help him get a bit of a groove. I still think the Cards would be well served to let him start some games at first and put Lance Berkman in the outfield (or even rest Berkman occasionally) to see what they have in Hamilton.
The Goat would go to Yadier Molina for another 0-4 night. Yadi's only hitting .224 in June after his stellar start. The team has used Tony Cruz more than I thought they would once Gerald Laird went down, but either Molina needs a rest or he's averaging out to where you'd expect him to be. Hopefully he can do what he did last year, start the second half of the season fresh and have a strong end of the campaign.
Last night's game was overshadowed somewhat by the news that came out a little before game time, when it was announced that Ryan Franklinhad been released. The waiver-wire guy that quickly became an All-Star closer just as quickly hit the wall and the team had little choice but to part ways with him. They'd done everything they could to keep him around and try to help him out, but nothing was working.
Franklin always did it with smoke and mirrors. If you look back, I was always wondering when the bubble would burst. He got three outs, but they might have been fly balls to the wall or he might do his Jason Isringhausen impression and make things interesting before he'd get the job done. When you walk that wire, eventually you are going to fall off and Franklin did with a vengeance.
I think that in years to come Franklin's reputation in St. Louis will be much better than it was in the last few months. You could even see that yesterday, as many bloggers and Twitter types focused on the good that Franklin had done in St. Louis, which was considerable, instead of the disaster that 2011 has been for him. He most likely will spend his days in Oklahoma, but I could see him being one of those ex-Cards that pops up at various events around St. Louis. Who knows, might even do some TV or radio if he wants to. Whatever the case, he's apparently relieved at the change and hopefully things will be good for him in his post-baseball life.
Interesting side note, at least for me. So far every year, the player or players that wind up as the top Goat on this site aren't back for next season. Troy Glaus was in 2008, didn't return. Rick Ankiel and Todd Wellemeyer in 2009, both were allowed to be free agents. Even last year, when it seemed the curse would be broken, Brendan Ryan then got traded to Seattle. With Franklin's Goat in Tuesday's game, he moved into a first place tie with three others. Apparently this year the jinx didn't wait until the offseason.
It appears that Brandon Dickson is about the only option for the Cardinals, at least internally, to initially fill that roster slot. Bryan Augenstein and Makiel Cleto were both optioned to Memphis and Springfield, respectively, within the last 10 days and as such can't return unless there's an injury, which there's not. Be interesting to see what Dickson can do in the bullpen and if he takes to it like Lance Lynn apparently has.
Have you voted yet? If you didn't see last night's post, click over here to see what you can do for Stan the Man.
Cards finish up in Baltimore tonight. After flipping their rotation because apparently Camden Yards doesn't agree with Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia will go for the sweep against Brian Matusz. As you can imagine, there aren't many reference points for either pitcher against the opposing team. Here's Garcia vs. the Orioles:
Well, at least Punto can tell the club a little about the guy. Scouting reports aren't going to do much for either team tonight. Hopefully Garcia pitches like good Garcia and the offense can get him enough to win!
The Cards are out on the East Coast, doing that whole interleague play thing and matching up with the former St. Louis Browns. Beginning tonight, there will be a couple of familiar faces in the lineup as well.
David Freese and Nick Puntowere activated yesterday, with Pete Kozma and Andrew Brown being sent back to Memphis. I believe that continues to keep the Cardinals at 13 pitchers, but extra bats probably aren't as necessary in American League games since you won't be using pinch-hitters for pitchers. Couple that with the way that the pitching has been going and you won't get an argument from me on that makeup.
No word yet on whether both players will be in the lineup or, if so, where they'll be. You'd expect Freese will be in there, but will they let him DH to continue his recovery or throw him straight into playing third? Likewise, will Punto play second base or will they keep him on the bench? Should see the lineup on Twitter this afternoon and it'll be really interesting how they go about it. I'd like to see them put Freese at third and put Lance Berkman at DH, leaving a chance for Mark Hamilton to get a start. Hamilton's never going to hit unless you let him get a lot of at bats--I'm hearing echos of the argument I heard for Tyler Greene there--and the Cards should at least find out if they have a trade chip in him.
Getting those guys back should help spark the team somewhat. I mean, it's not Adam Wainwright or Albert Pujols returning, but after taking so many hits to the team, it's good to have people coming off the DL instead of going on it. Right now, something is needed to spark this team and hopefully these guys can be it.
Speaking of Wainwright, did you see that he hopes to be on the roster in September and pitch in the postseason? Even though he says it's a "modest goal", you know that it's not going to happen. They could activate him in September, perhaps, and not use him, but there's no way that he'd be on the postseason roster. They aren't going to risk his recovery for the few innings he could give them in October. Still, it's always good to see Wainwright news. Waino comes off as a great guy and I look forward to seeing him back on the mound in 2012.
Not going to be a lot of data points with these two teams not facing each other much, but here's what Kyle Lohse has done against the Orioles:
Gotta figure Derrek Lee is giving some scouting reports during this series, especially on Lohse.
Zach Britton is a young gun that the Orioles are high on. He's not faced anyone currently wearing Cardinal red, however.
We'll see if the Cardinals can snap out of this tailspin and stay in contention in the NL Central. It's hard to believe that there's a possibility they could be tied with Pittsburgh after today's action. Hopefully they can win and avoid that!
Two years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come. Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.
Baltimore Orioles (66-96, 30 GB and fifth in the AL East)
It's been a long time since the glory days of Cal Ripken in the Charm City. Ever since Jeffrey Meier interfered with Tony Tarasco in 1996, things have been on a downhill trajectory. Can the birds reclaim that glorious history of the early part of their existence or are they doomed to become like the team they originated from, the St. Louis Browns?
Last year before the season began, I posed five questions
to a blogger for each team, so as to get to know the rest of baseball. I
focus so heavily on the Cardinals that sometimes the rest of MLB can pass me
by. That went very well, so much so that it spawned not only a postseason
edition but was part of the impetus for the formation of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.
So this year, I've brought Playing Pepper
back, with a little bit of a twist. Instead of five questions, I posed 10
questions, and this year every team got the same set. Plus, tapping into
those BBA connections, I sent them to every blogger representing that team in
We'll try to do two a day in a general alphabetical order, but things may
change depending on responses.
2009 Finish: 64-98, fifth in the AL East
The Orioles have a tough lot in life, living as they do in the AL East.
It's been a long time since they've been able to say they were playing
meaningful baseball down the stretch, much less October. Now, they risk
being overshadowed in their own backyard by the arrival of phenom/franchise
savior Stephen Strasburg in Washington.
However, the Orioles are making strides, led by their own phenom, Matt Wieters. I contacted Daniel of Camden Crazies and posed to him the Playing Pepper Ten.