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Chatting With The Opposition

Posted on April 12, 2013 at 8:45 AM
When you do a series like Playing Pepper long enough, you get to know some of the bloggers and, as such, you realize that when your teams play each other, it's a great chance for some varied content.  Old-time readers of this blog will remember that when the Cards and Astros would get together, James at Astros County and I would usually try to do something, whether it was writing for the other blog or answering questions.

Sadly, Houston is no longer with us.  Oh, they will tell you that they just "moved to the American League" but we all know that's just a euphemism, like taking your dog to the farm.  With the Astros hopefully resting in peace, we're going to hopefully take that interaction and move it to another team.

Nick from The Brewers Bar posed a few questions to me about this Cardinals/Brewers series that starts this evening and I returned the favor.  You'll find my answers over at his site this afternoon, but until then, enjoy the insight from the opposition about this weekend!

C70: What's going on with the Brewer bullpen?  If there's a lead in the seventh, what's the progression plan for the Brewers?

BB: The Brewers bullpen is the Brewers bullpen.  The Brewers have had trouble for years trying to establish a reliable group of relievers and most of the time it doesn't work out well.  They've gone through so many closers in recent years (Derek Turnblow, Eric Gagne, Trevor Hoffman, Solomon Torres, etc.), it's ridiculous.  2011 was really an anomaly.  The Brewers front office has failed to find the right mix...or the guys have just not performed on the field.  Sadly, this year has started out with the Mr. Hyde part of the bullpen showing its ugly mug.  John Axford has been shaky at best, but I also don't understand why manager Ron Roenicke has been using him so often and for more than one inning at a time, AND in non-save situations even when he was still the closer.  The rest of the bullpen has been spotty as well.  Newcomer and ex-Nationals pitcher Michael Gonzalez has been bad, but again, I fell he's been misused by Roenicke.  Basically when the guy who was supposed to be your closer has an ERA over 24.00, you're in a lot of trouble.  A blown lead by the bullpen is probably the worst way to lose in baseball, and when the bullpen situation has fans guessing about the manager's competence, it's a festering wound.  Going forward it's hard to tell what the plan is, other than maybe tinkering to see who can be the most consistent in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.  Whatever happens, I don't think Brewers fans' collective sanity can withstand another bullpen debacle a la 2012.

C70: How's Ryan Braun? I know he dealt with some nagging injuries earlier in the week.  Stats don't seem to show it's bothered him, though.

BB: As for Ryan Braun, it was definitely rough having him miss some games vs. the Diamondbacks with a stiff neck and whatever else, but I guess as long as he heals up so that he can play the majority of the year, no biggie.  Braun misses games from time to time but overall seems to play most of the time whether he's hurting or not.  He seems a little rusty at the plate but I expect him to heat up.  He's the team leader and they need his offense sorely.  It's clear that without Braun this team can't put enough runs on the board most of the time. 

C70: Is this a small sample size or are the Brewers likely to be this bad for an extended period of time?

BB: It's really, really hard to say.  I think most realistic Brewers fans knew this team could be a train wreck if things didn't fall their way, and we're seeing that side of the team so far.  The Brewers don't often seem to start off the first few weeks of the season well.  The question will be how they rebound from this.  They've played some teams with some real firepower (Rockies, D-backs) and couldn't hang.  They need to get the offense rolling to compete; it was one of the top offenses in MLB last year.  They are depending on simply outslugging opponents.  Unless the pitching can correct itself, I'm afraid the Brewers are capable of being even worse than they've been so far.

C70: What are your initial impressions of our old friend Kyle Lohse?

BB: Kyle Lohse has been pretty good.  I've enjoyed watching him so far in that he's very self-contained and clearly knows what he's doing on the mound.  I saw him some with the Twins way back in the day and then of course with St. Louis.  Compared to his Twins days, I think Lohse has really matured and figured out what he needs to do to get outs and keep the team in the game.  Considering how weak the Brewers rotation would be without him, I'm happy to have him on board but of course the fat contract and the loss of a draft pick was a bitter pill to swallow to acquire him.  I lobbied all offseason for the Brewers to bring in SOMEONE with significant MLB experience to mentor their young guys.  Everyone was so hopeful for the young dudes and all their potential (Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta, and others), but there was no backup plan in case things didn't work out.  As a Brewers fan it's hard not to think the front office is sort of eyeing 2014 rather than this year for a real playoff push.  They would vehemently deny that, though.  The Brewers need to keep the fans happy.

C70: How much is the loss of Aramis Ramirez going to hurt the team in the short-term?

BB: The loss of Aramis Ramirez (and hopefully it's very short term) is rough.  Ramirez has infamously started slowly out of the gate in terms of hitting over the years but he was doing pretty well this year, and then of course was among the injured for the Brewers.  I was doubtful about him until about June last year; then I started seeing that he really does put up the big numbers.  He hit .300 last year, had 27 homers, 50 doubles and 105 RBI.  He's absolutely crucial.  We need him to come back and once again be the cleanup hitter who made us forget about Prince Fielder.

C70: What are your predictions about this weekend's series?

BB: For this weekend, I hate to say it but I think we're looking at a Cardinals sweep or at least two out of three against Milwaukee.  This series at least features some of the better starting pitching the Brewers offer, but having to face Wainwright and Garcia is never fun.  I'm sure this Miller kid will be no treat either.  The Brewers haven't played particularly well in St. Louis over the years and I'm thinking they'll be lucky to get out of Busch with one victory.  I hope I'm wrong!  The Brewers could use some of the sunny side of life (and baseball).

BBA Award Season: My Ballot

Posted on October 12, 2012 at 8:40 AM
(Main entry, dealing with yesterday's game and tonight's do-or-die, is below.)

As most regular readers know, this blog is part of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  Conceived as a way to get bloggers to interact with each other and use each other as resources, we also vote on our own postseason awards.  After a dustup with the baseball writers, we've given them our our names which, in my opinion, sound better anyway.

In the past, chapters have voted in a couple of different ways.  The St. Louis Chapter, of which I'm the head of, has usually passed out the ballots and let certain blogs vote on certain awards.  This year, though, there's been a change in how the BBA does the voting and all blogs can vote on all awards.

So below is my ballot for each of the NL awards, presented without comment but with the caveat that occasionally my Cardinal bias does shine through.  Being that they are the only team I really focus, it's not a great surprise.

Connie Mack Award (best manager)
1) Davey Johnson
2) Dusty Baker
3) Mike Matheny

Willie Mays Award (best rookie)
1) Wade Miley
2) Bryce Harper
3) Wilton Roserio

Goose Gossage Award (best reliever)
1) Craig Kimbrel
2) Aroldis Chapman
3) Jason Motte

Walter Johnson Award (best pitcher)
1) Clayton Kershaw
2) Kyle Lohse
3) R.A. Dickey
4) Matt Cain
5) Johnny Cueto

Stan Musial Award (best player)
1) Yadier Molina
2) Buster Posey
3) Ryan Braun
4) Andrew McCutchen
5) Jay Bruce
6) Aaron Hill
7) Carlos Beltran
8) Jason Heyward
9) Matt Holliday
10) Giancarlo Stanton

Saying Goodbye: A Q&A With Astros County

Posted on September 18, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Tonight, the Houston Astros come into Busch Stadium for the last series as members of the NL Central.  While the rivalry may have faded some in the past few years, there was nothing like Astros-Cardinals games for most of the last decade.  The teams swapped the top spot and it seemed like there was always a race between the two.  We all remember the playoff series of 2004 and 2005, but it was the late push by the Astros (and slump by the Cardinals) that almost kept the Redbirds out of the playoffs in 2006.

While the rivalry was intense, for the most part it was professional.  It was hard to hate players like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman.  Carlos Beltran did his best to dismantle the Cards by himself, but for the most part there was never the animosity against him that there was against players like Brandon Phillips from the fan base.  Brandon Backe excepted, the two teams got along and respected each other.

One of the great members of the Houston blogosphere is Astros County.  James and I have gotten to know each other via emails and projects over the past few years.  When I started up the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, James was one of the first members.  Search this site and you'll find many mentions of the site, including a couple of years ago when we tried to do something each time the two teams met.  We'll miss having James on the NL Central season preview show and interacting with him regularly.  (Of course, we'll still have Twitter: you can find him @AstrosCounty.)

To commemorate the last two series between Houston and St. Louis as rivals, James and I have dusted off the old playbook.  He'll be posting a Q&A with me on his site during this series (edit: it's up now) and next week we'll mark the last series in a different way.  (Stay tuned!)

For now, though, keep reading to find out his thoughts on Houston's move to the American League and just exactly when the Astros may rise again.
  Continue Reading

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Selects New President

Posted on July 13, 2012 at 3:23 PM
Many of you know that I started up the Baseball Bloggers Alliance a few years ago.  I finally realized that I had too many plates in the air and so started looking for a replacement.  We've found one and it's a familiar name for most of you.  I look forward to seeing what the BBA does under his watch!



Bill Ivie replaces founder in top slot

July 13, 2012--The Baseball Bloggers Alliance, the top organization of baseball bloggers, today announced that after a polling of the membership, Bill Ivie would replace Daniel Shoptaw as the president of the group.

Ivie, who writes at I70 Baseball and Full Spectrum Baseball, is no stranger to large groups, having been an assignment editor at Baseball Digest in the past, as well as an active member of the United Cardinal Bloggers.  Ivie also is the organizer of Ivie League Productions, under which label the BBA has its weekly show, BBA Baseball Talk featuring David Mitchell.  Ivie's voice can be heard weekly on Gateway To Baseball Heaven, as part of the Seamheads Podcasting Network.

"It is an honor and a pleasure to accept this position.  Daniel Shoptaw has done an amazing job cultivating this group and I look forward to working with everyone involved to help the organization grow and move forward consistently."

Shoptaw was the founder of the BBA, starting the group in the fall of 2009 and watching it grow to hundreds of members.  Born out of a couple of personal projects, the Alliance quickly expanded to cover every MLB team and also included blogs with more of a general baseball approach or those that covered a specific aspect of the game, such as fantasy baseball or minor league baseball.

For his part, Shoptaw still plans to be involved with the organization but will focus more of his time on other projects, such as his blog C70 At The Bat and its related podcast Conversations With C70, his leadership of the United Cardinal Bloggers, and his weekly appearances on Gateway To Baseball Heaven.

Shoptaw stated, "It was time to move on.  I appreciate all the members of the BBA and what they have done to strengthen this organization.  It truly is a world-class collection of talent and I'm proud to know all of them.  I've known Bill for a long time and I know that he will provide extreme amounts of energy and leadership in this role.  I look forward to seeing what the next few years hold for the Alliance!"

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance can be found on Facebook, on Twitter, or can be reached via email at

BBA: Walter Johnson Ballot

Posted on October 17, 2011 at 3:37 PM
As you know, or you should if you've read the blog for any length of time, besides the United Cardinal Bloggers I have another blogging group that I'm involved in, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  I head up the whole organization as well as the St. Louis Chapter, so it's fairly important that I participate in things when I'm supposed to.

One of the great things we do in the BBA (besides getting to know other bloggers such as those that have participated in the Know Your Enemy feature recently) is vote for postseason awards.  The Baseball Writers of America got on us the first year we did this, so we modified and named the awards after great players in the past.  I've been neglectful of getting the press releases posted here, but will do that soon so you can see who has received our Connie Mack Award (best manager), Willie Mays Award (top rookie) and Goose Gossage Award (top reliever).

Today, though, I'm tasked with submitting one of the ballots for the St. Louis Chapter for our Walter Johnson Award, which, as you may imagine, relates to the best pitcher in the league.  With the Cardinals doing this wonderful post-season run, I've not had the time to sit down and write out a detailed post, so you are getting the ballot with my initial impressions.  Feel free to disagree and check back to see who actually received the top slot when the rest of the BBA's votes are counted.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

To make my selections, I listed out a few names, then picked a few categories to see how these players were in relation to one another.  For various reasons, I selected wins, strikeouts, K/BB ratio, WHIP, defense-independent ERA and average game score.  Seemed to be a tolerable blend of the old and the new and, hey, it's my ballot.

In all of these categories, Kershaw ranked no lower than third in the National League and was first in four of them.  The Dodgers had Kershaw and Matt Kemp, both serious contenders for major awards, and yet weren't able to ever really challenge for the NL West.  That tells you just how bad the rest of that team was!

2. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

Even knowing how well Kershaw had done this year (and in spite of the soft spot I have for Kershaw since he led my fantasy team to a title), I half-expected to have Halladay's name at the top of my ballot.  If we were able to count the postseason, especially after that 1-0 duel he had with Chris Carpenter, I just might.

Halladay was the only one out of my short list to finish on top of more than one of those categories (besides Kershaw, of course) and had his worst finish in WHIP at fourth in the National League.  Yeah, I think I'd take him on my team.

3. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

I think the Rangers are a favorite in the World Series right now, but if they still had Lee, they'd be an overwhelming choice.  Lee hit a couple of rough spots this year (including walking five in a start against St. Louis) but he had two different stretches where he went 30 innings without a run.  He finished no lower than fourth (wins) in any of my categories and gets a bonus for being an Arkansas boy.

4. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

How again did the Cardinals beat the Phillies?  With three possible contenders for the best pitcher award, that shows just how tough that NLDS was.  Hamels wasn't quite as strong as the top three guys on this ballot, finishing second in only one category and as low as tenth in another one (strikeouts) but his overall performace as pretty special and deserves recognition.

5. Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy led the Diamondbacks into the playoffs and that was no mean feat.  He also tied with Kershaw with 21 wins, which about five years ago would have gotten him the Cy Young Award, I think.  Nowadays, though, voters look past the wins to see how you won, why maybe someone else didn't win.  

Wins is the only category of mine that Kennedy led in and in no other category was he higher than fifth in the league.  He sunk to 14th in DIPS and eighth in strikeout ratio, meaning that, to me, he had a very good season, but not necessarily a great one.

Agree?  Disagree?  We've got comments below.  Feel free to use them!

Know Your Enemy 3: World Series Edition

Posted on October 17, 2011 at 2:11 PM
I'm so glad that we've been able to continue this recurring feature through yet another round of playoffs!  This time, I pigeonholed Steve from World Series 41, Rangers Fan 1 (yeah, that title is going to have to be modified now!) and asked him some questions about the American League entry in the World Series.  You can follow Steve on Twitter at RangersBlogger if you want to get the perspective from the other side after this series.  You should find my answers to his questions up on his site soon and, after the jump, he'll give us the scoop.  Continue Reading

Know Your Enemy 2: NLCS Edition

Posted on October 9, 2011 at 12:37 AM
I'm doing my best to cover all the bases in getting ready for the NLCS.  Not only did I sit down with Jim Breen of Bernie's Crew for the podcast (which you can listen to here), but also I exchanged questions with Jaymes Langrehr of Brewers Bar.  He also posed some questions to me, which should be up on his blog soon.  For now, though, take a glimpse at what Jaymes is thinking about when it comes to this series.  By the way, you can follow both of these guys on Twitter--Jim is BerniesCrew, Jaymes BrewersBar--so you can keep a pulse on the other side during the series.

C70: Let's talk about your NLDS. Were there any surprises--good or bad? 

BB: I'd say there were plenty of surprises, which you're always going to get in a high-stakes short series. I wouldn't have expected Yuniesky Betancourt to have as big of a series as he did (5-for-18, with a double, triple, and a go-ahead RBI in Game 5). I wouldn't have expected Carlos Gomez to get on base in extra innings considering he posted a .276 OBP this year. I wasn't expecting John Axford to blow a save (although it was going to happen sooner or later), let alone one in which he only made one mistake on the double by Parra. Going back further in the series, I didn't expect Shaun Marcum to get roughed up like he did in Phoenix. 

A lot of unexpected things happened, but that's why it was such an entertaining series. I would've remembered it as one of the best postseason series I've seen even if the Brewers had lost Game 5. 

C70: How is the team looking going into the NLCS? Any concerns? 

BB: Rickie Weeks didn't hit well in the NLDS, and save for a mammoth home run in the season's closing days, hasn't hit for much power at all since coming back from his severe ankle sprain. He's still not running all that well, and his lateral movement defensively still seems iffy at best. Still, Weeks at 80% is still better than the other options the team has, especially if Jerry Hairston keeps starting at third base. 

I am a little concerned about Marcum and Randy Wolf after their poor starts in the LDS, but both were prone to random bad outings during the season, too. It's hard to make too much of one-start sample sizes, but it was odd to see Marcum throw so few changeups in his start when he threw them about 25% of the time during the season. 

Oddly enough, I'm not all that worried about a rookie manager having to face off against Tony La Russa with a trip to the World Series on the line. I've been critical of some of the things Ron Roenicke does, but for the most part, he's done a very good job of keeping a level head and making sure his players don't play tight. He could have had a quicker hook with Marcum and Wolf in Arizona, but he handled Game 5 just about as well as anyone could have. 

C70: Which projected pitching matchup do you think favors the Brewers the most? Which one worries you the most? 

BB: I think I like the Game 1 matchup best for the Brewers, with Zack Greinke going against either Jaime Garcia or Kyle Lohse (I thought I had seen it will be Garcia, but apparently nothing is decided yet?). Greinke is hard to beat period, but in Milwaukee he's been something else, and Garcia has had his troubles on the road. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I am definitely not looking forward to facing Chris Carpenter as the series shifts to St. Louis. If the Cardinals can get out of Milwaukee with the series tied at 1, I think they have a very good chance of taking control of the series in Game 3. 

C70: What do you think the odds are that any of the regular season "bad blood" rears up during the series? 

BB: I really wanted to see this matchup because of all the emotions involved. I'm not rooting for a fight, but the added tension adds to the drama of the series. I think a lot of people are expecting something to happen, but I would think both managers are making it clear that the best way to retaliate is by beating the other team on the field. Neither team can afford ejections or suspensions of key players at this point, so I think things could actualyl be remarkably calm. Of course, that could all go out the window depending on which player is getting plunked. 

C70: We know the rotation is strong (save for Randy Wolf's last start) and the offense is good. How is the bullpen looking right now? 

BB: Game 5-induced stomach ulcers notwithstanding, I still really like the Brewers' bullpen. It almost seems as though if the Brewers can get through 6 innings with the lead, they have the game well in hand -- Takashi Saito and/or LaTroy Hawkins can take the 7th, Francisco Rodriguez can take the 8th, and John Axford can take the 9th. Kameron Loe is a groundball machine, while Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson are very serviceable long men in a postseason bullpen. It still feels weird to say after all these years, but the bullpen shouldn't be a problem for the Brewers. 

C70: What are your expectations for this series? 

BB: Lots of emotion from both sides, but nothing will be decided in the first couple games. I'd be surprised if it takes less than 6 games to decide it, considering just how evenly matched these teams are. I can't even begin to imagine the excitement/nervousness in Milwaukee if things got to a Game 7. 

From the Brewers' perspective, things are set up nicely for a run at the World Series with Philadelphia out on the NL side and New York and Tampa gone in the AL. I like their chances. Still, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cardinals walk away with the pennant. I saw a comparison elsewhere relating this series to the NFC Championship game between the Packers and Bears, except the Brewers were playing the role of the Bears -- division champions, homefield advantage, and vocally confident. The Cardinals are a bit more like the Packers of last year -- nearly decimated by injuries, snuck into the playoffs as a wildcard after another team choked (the Giants losing to Philly to let Green Bay in), but a team that get absurdly hot at the right time and seems to have everything breaking their way. That's a comparison that makes a Wisconsin sports fan nervous. 

No matter what happens, though, this is going to be a memorable series for both sides, and something that will build the rivalry. As much as Brewers fans hate the Cubs, there hasn't really ever been anything like this in that rivalry.

My appreciation to Jaymes for taking the time to answer these questions.  This should be a fun week!

Know Your Enemy

Posted on October 2, 2011 at 12:00 AM
I will have more to say about Game 1 of the NLDS either tomorrow or Monday, but for right now I want to bring you a chance to learn about the Phillies from a person that follows them.  Max of Fire Eric Bruntlett is the Membership Secretary of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and a diehard fan of the Philadelphia persuasion.  He and I exchanged some questions before the series started.  You can see my responses to his over here (along with our old friend Bill Ivie), while his answers to mine are below.

C70: What's the pulse of the Philadelphia fanbase? Are they expecting a walkover? 

FEB: Some of the fan base seems like they would be disappointed by anything less than a sweep. However, I think that's too arrogant. Obviously, the Cardinals are the biggest underdogs in these series, but they're not the 2010 Cincinnati Reds that the Phillies swept last year. The Cardinals offense is more balanced, and the Reds didn't have a Chris Carpenter-type starter who could at least salvage one game with a shutdown performance. Not to mention, expecting a sweep leaves no room for error, only room for disappointment. Better to expect to lose a game and be pleasantly surprised than expect a sweep and be disappointed. 

C70: Is there any one player that worries you more than the rest of the Cardinal team? 

FEB: Aside from the obvious Albert Pujols-Matt Holliday-Lance Berkman fearsome trio, that Yadier Molina has put up the best offensive numbers of his career does worry me, especially considering last year's sharp decline. He was the NL's starting catcher last year, despite a truly abysmal .223/.301/.294 slash line, but the difference between his second half of the season and that first half was a very impressive .092/.067/.111. Still though, I figured it was merely regression to the mean and his awful first half was evened out by an over-his-head second half. However, this season, Molina put up numbers on par with those from the All-Star break on last year and set career highs in nearly every offensive category. He's already an above-average catcher defensively, and only helped to further the separation between him and Carlos Ruiz with his offense. 

C70: Do you put any stock into the series from mid-September, when the Cards won three of four in Citizens Bank Park? 

FEB: Offensively, no, I don't. The second game, when the Phillies won and clinched the NL East division, was the only of the four in which they had their full starting line-up, the same one that will be used in this series. Game 1 had first baseman Ryan Howard and left fielder Raul Ibanez out. Game 3, when I believe the team to have started putting on the cruise control, also the first game of their 8-game losing streak, gave Howard and catcher Ruiz the night off, and Howard also sat out Game 4. 

What I do put stock in is the starting pitching. Game 2 featured Roy Oswalt continuing to make great progress from a long injury that kept him out into August. 5 hits and 7 strikeouts through 7 innings was instrumental in reminding Phillies fans both why he was acquired in July 2010 and why he is the clear choice for fourth starter over rookie Vance Worley. Meanwhile, in Game 3, Hamels, except for two mistake pitches, was similarly masterful. One was a first-inning home run to deep left-center by Allen Craig, the other a sixth-inning homer just inside the left field line by Pujols, accounting for all four runs allowed by Hamels. Take away those, Hamels likely would've fared better than Oswalt - also 7 innings and also 5 hits, but 9 strikeouts - and likely would have pitched longer as well. Hamels's innings got him 16 fewer pitches, despite the homers. 

Unfortunately, Hamels has an unusual propensity for giving up the long ball. That game was the fourth in a streak of six consecutive games in September allowing a home run to end the season, the longest of his career. Surprisingly, that was the sole game of the month at home, in which he has allowed a long ball in just five of fifteen starts, despite the widely-held belief that Citizens Bank Park is a bandbox. On the road, he's allowed a homer in ten of seventeen. Of course, Hamels will start Game 3 of this series in St. Louis, so that may all be rendered moot. 

C70: What could reasonably go wrong in this series for the Phillies? What concerns do you have, if any? 

FEB: It is certainly difficult to imagine the Phillies losing this series, but of course, nothing is impossible. My main concern is Murphy's Law, "everything that can go wrong will go wrong." The young Phillies bullpen that is largely new to big roles in playoff baseball will blow a couple leads and the offense won't be able to come back. The offense continues the trend of being shut down by former teammates, this time Kyle Lohse, who beats Roy Halladay in a very close pitcher's duel and sets the tone for the series. Chris Carpenter wins a similar match-up over Cliff Lee in game 2 and the Phillies are on the road on the brink of a sweep. The phases of the moon determine that Raul Ibanez will go into a slump. The effects of injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will continue to manifest themselves and the rest of the lineup will not be able to overcome them. But while it is now apparent that the purpose of this question was to make me paranoid, I will continue to pray to BaseBa'al that not all of those things happen. 

C70: Is anything short of a World Series title acceptable among the majority of the fans?

FEB: Unfortunately, for most fans, no, but I guess that's the downside to having the best 162-game team by a wide margin. I would obviously prefer the best regular season record 100% of the time, regardless of post-season expectations. As has been proven many times, the best team actually rarely wins the World Series. There's so much more luck and variance that plays in. But no one remembers the best regular season team even a couple years later, while most fans can reel off every World Series champion of the past ten years or so. 

C70: Who is the hottest hitter on the team at the moment? Who do you want up with the game on the line? 

FEB: No one is coming into this series on a tear, likely as a result of clinching so early, then losing eight in a row. Of hitters with 50+ September plate appearances, the highest batting average was just .317 (Hunter Pence), Ryan Howard's .417 OBP led the team, and Pence also led in slugging, at .548. I suppose either of them would be preferred in a crucial situation. Both of Howard's September strikeout and walk rates were improvements over his season totals, 25% vs. 26.7% K-rates, and walk rates of 16.7% compared to 11.7%. Swinging at junk in the dirt is usually I fear the most from Howard in a big spot, so, despite a small jump, is still a good sign for me. Meanwhile, Pence was by far better with the Phillies than he was in Houston, improving in nearly every category and does inspire confidence. 

If the Phillies are in a spot in which they need a big hit from the bench, John Mayberry, Jr. would certainly be the first player to look at, unless Charlie Manuel plays the platoons and starts him against lefties. He's hitting .095 points better (.306 vs. .211) and OPS'ing a whopping .368 points better (.953 vs. .585) against them this season. Since he was called back up to the big club on July 5, 25 of his 49 hits have come for extra bases. Mayberry is the best hitter on the team when it comes to making the most of his hits

C70: We know about the rotation, but what is the state of the Phillies bullpen right now? 

FEB: The bullpen is in a very interesting position right now. This series, it consists of Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, Brad Lidge, Vance Worley, Kyle Kendrick, and Joe Blanton. Worley, a rookie, and Kendrick was successful in their starting roles, filling in for the injured Oswalt and Blanton, while Blanton experienced moderate success in 7 September innings in his return. Bastardo pitched more than 25 innings for the first time in his career (58), and used the opportunity to break out as a great setup man. He had one of the lowest opponent batting averages for a reliever ever (.144) and that he did that in his third Major League season at the age of 25 is incredible. He has run into some troubles of late, but it seems that's as a result of having never pitched this much before, and appears to be back on track now. 

Stutes is another rookie of the bullpen. He had a 3.63 ERA in 62 innings in his first ever season. He hit a bump in the road in August to the tune of a 5.84 ERA, but brought it back down to 3.00 last month. Behind injuries to Lidge and Jose Contreras, Madson broke out as a dominating closer, previously standing out as one of the top-tier set-up men and among the most underrated relievers in baseball. In 60.2 innings, he accumulated 32 saves and an ERA of 2.37. In his return from injury, Lidge had a 1.40 ERA in 19.1 innings. 

The most encouraging part of the bullpen is their ability to dominate. Five of the seven have SO/9 rates of 8 or better: Bastardo, 10.9; Lidge, 10.7; Madson, 9.2; Stutes, 8.4; and Worley, 8.1. On the other hand, only Bllanton, Madson, and Kendrick walk 2.5 batters per nine innings or better (2.0, 2.4, 2.4, respectively). If I were to rank them by confidence, Madson is easily first, followed by the close second-tier of Worley, Bastardo, and Stutes, then Lidge fairly sizably over Blanton and Kendrick. 

C70: Can we have Brad Lidge always pitch to Albert Pujols with the game on the line? 

FEB: That's fine by me, so long as it's not Game 5. Lidge has yet to allow a home run this season, only four extra-base hits, all doubles. Small sample size alert, but this is the lowest opponent slugging percentage of his career, save his 48-for-48 save 2008 season. I've been anticipating Lidge winning a rematch between the two of them, anyway.

My thanks to Max for his input on this series.  So far, his confidence in the Phillies is well-placed, but we'll have to see how things look tomorrow evening.

Q & A With Astros County

Posted on September 26, 2011 at 2:52 PM
One of the great aspects of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is getting to know other bloggers that follow other teams.  One of those is James from Astros County.  Long-time readers of this blog recognize the name and the site, as James has participated in pre-season UCB Radio Hour roundtables as well as different projects when the Cardinals and Astros have gotten together.

James and I haven't worked together much since Opening Day, so he was gracious enough to take the time and answer a few questions in advance of the biggest Cards/Astros series in quite some time.  I answered some for him as well, so head over to his site soon and see what I had to say.

After the jump, we'll talk about his expectations about this series and whether someone could detour Wandy Rodriguez from the ballpark tonight.
  Continue Reading

BBA: 2011 National League All-Stars

Posted on June 25, 2011 at 11:25 PM
As part of the continually growing Baseball Bloggers Alliance, one of my responsibilities is to do an All-Star ballot.  I'm going to stick with the National League, because as little as I know about non-Cardinal teams, I know even less about those strangers who play with extra players.

I also want to clarify something.  I've often said that I have no problem with the fan voting, even if they make egregious "errors".  I believe that it's the fans' game.  The fans give so much to baseball, between their money, their time, and their passion and it seems to me that if they want to see a guy that is well past his prime but still is a "name" play, more power to them.  The managers get to make up the rest of the roster and, heck, those reserves usually play more anyway.  The problem with the All-Star Game is the ridiculous idea of making it count.  It's an exhibition, pure and simple.

So this philosophy will influence my voting somewhat as well.  I will often take the player that his having the better year, but there are some players that I want to see there and, darn it, that's where my vote is going to go.

After the jump, my picks for the game out in Arizona in a couple of weeks.
  Continue Reading





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Rick Ankiel 83.9%
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