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.
Kansas City Royals
72-90, third in the AL Central
"Our Time" was delayed.
With the fruits of a much-vaunted farm system making their way to the big leagues, there were high expectations for Kansas City last year. It seemed quite reasonable that they would be a plus-.500 team with an eye on October. It was, as their marketing department termed it, "our time".
Instead, things went in the fashion that, unfortunately for Royals fans, you have come to expect out of Kansas City. The team was 6-15 after the first month of play and, to add insult to injury, didn't win a home game until May 3. While the team was able to finish in the middle of the division, that might say more about Minnesota and Cleveland than it did about the boys in blue.
So now what? The Royals definitely weren't quiet in the offseason, but will that be enough to get them back to where they thought they should be?
Kansas City is known for its baseball writing and the crew that has answered my call are no exception. First off, we have Brian McGannon, who can be found writing at Royals Kingdom and Tweeting @BrianMcGannon. Following him is Bill Ivie of I70 Baseball, who needs no introduction to Cardinal fans of this site as he's usually writing about the Redbirds, but can switch-hit from time to time. You'll find him on Twitter @poisonwilliam.
To paraphrase Mr. Twain, reports of the Cardinals' offensive demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The activation of Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter (or the pitching staff of the Royals) seemed to give this team a spark this weekend. After scoring only seven runs in the entire Detroit series, they had topped that by the second inning Friday night en route to a series sweep when they scored a total of 30 runs. Life was good this weekend, so let's take a look.
Hero: You can kinda take your pick when the offense piles up 17 hits, but I'll go with Carlos Beltran, who "only" had two hits, but drove in four when both of those were two-run doubles.
Goat: This kinda game doesn't lend itself to much of a Goat, so I'll go with Fernando Salas, just because he allowed a run in his only inning. It didn't make a difference in the final score, but everyone else was just so good.
Notes: Joe Kelly got his first major league win basically by not messing anything up. When you are given a 10-1 lead, it's tough to be too bad out there. No home runs in this game, which is pretty noteworthy given that many runs. David Freese and Matt Holliday both had three hits as well.
Hero: Matt Holliday. Four hits, including a double, and two RBI. Holliday had a wonderful weekend and has pushed his season numbers up to a level we expect out of him.
Goat: Tony Cruz. Again, a solid effort by almost everyone makes this tough, but Cruz did go 0-4, even though he scored a run.
Notes: If there was any doubt that Adam Wainwright was back, I think we can eliminate it. This was his third straight game of seven innings and two or fewer runs. It's a wonderful thing to see. Allen Craig went deep, the first home run since the Sunday before for the team. The team's 1-6 hitters all had at least two base knocks.
Hero: You wouldn't think I'd be singling out a middle reliever in a game that the Cards put up 11 runs, but Marc Rzepczynski made sure that there was a win to write about. He came in with the tying run at second base and nobody out and got two quick outs. He'd have gotten out of the inning had Mike Moustakas not hit against an exaggerated shift, as he grounded right to where the shortstop should have been. Great work out of a guy that's been sporadic at times this year.
Goat: Lance Lynn. Staked to 3-0 and 5-2 leads, Lynn couldn't hold them for long. That's two starts in a row that have been problematic for Lynn, seeing his ERA rise almost a full run, and that's not escaped the Cards' attention.
Notes: Craig had another couple of hits, which put his struggles in Detroit further behind him. Beltran only had one hit, but it was a big three-run homer that got the Cards going in the first. Yadier Molina also put one out of the park as well. Along with Scrabble, Eduardo Sanchez got a big out to keep the game in the Cards' favor.
It's probably significant that Daniel Descalso started yesterday versus a left-hander instead of Tyler Greene. In fact, Descalso was left in there against lefty Tim Collins late instead of being pinch-hit for, and he came through with an RBI single. It looks like Nick's hat-eating might be put on pause and Tyler Greene might have run himself out of chances in the organization. Then again, it could be that he'll be back in there if Descalso struggles over the next week or so. I would still think second base is a position John Mozeliak is at least keeping in mind as he works on his trade possibilities.
Chris Perez has come out and said the Cards use stuff to get a grip on the ball. Well, Perez just said that they used substances, while Chris Carpenter and Wainwright explained that it's more rosin and sunscreen to keep a grip on the ball. On the one hand (no pun intended), that makes sense because the last thing you want if you are a batter is the ball leaving Carpenter or Wainwright's hand too early and flying straight at your head. On the other, I'd like to know if this is a fairly unwritten but widespread thing or more localized on the Cardinals. It doesn't sound like cheating, not like pine tar and scuffing the ball is, but I'd feel better about it if it wasn't just a team-specific issue. We'll see if more comes out about this in the coming days, though with Waino and Carp talking so openly about it, it can't be that big of a deal.
Speaking of Carpenter, he faced live hitters Friday and that went very well, so much so that he'll do it again today. If that goes well (and no reason to think it won't), he could be in line to start his minor league rehab starts. The timetable seems to have him back in St. Louis shortly after the All-Star Break. If so, that helps out immensely, as the Cards will have a fresh Carpenter for the home stretch.
Cards just two games out after all their struggles in May and June. If this offensive resurgence sticks and if the pitching continues to go well, the continued health of this club should give them an edge as they push into July and August. Keeping it close is the goal right now and it could be the Reds have had their chance to put this team away and weren't able to close the door.
Remember that one game series in Miami that started this season so many weeks ago? The Cards get a chance to visit the new Marlins park again starting tonight for a regular type of visit. Jake Westbrook is on the mound for the Cards. The numbers:
Some pretty decent historical numbers for Westbrook. Nobody's just tattooed him, though Hanley Ramirez has gone yard off of him. Ramirez isn't having his best season, but he's still showing his power so that's something to be careful of.
We'll quickly find out if this weekend's offensive explosion was due more from the health of the Cardinal players or the weakness of the Royals' staff. First up from the Marlins' stable of arms is Ricky Nolasco. His history against the Redbirds:
The Cards have actually done a lot of damage against him, especially Holliday and Beltran. Perhaps the bats can keep their heat going this evening after all. A strong showing tonight would be a welcome continuation of a trend, as the Cards haven't lost on Monday since the middle of May. (Granted, they had a couple of Mondays off in that stretch, but it still counts.) Look forward to seeing this offense continue!
Another day, another frustrating interleague experience.
The Cards have played 12 games now against the American League. In that span, they are 5-7, which is fairly fitting considering that this team has sat around .500 for quite some time. It's not that they've been getting blown out--a number of these games could have easily gone the other way--it's that there's really no offense going on.
Thirty-four runs in those dozen games, which is bad enough as it is (2.83 runs per game), but 10 of those came last Saturday against the Royals. Toss that out and you are looking at 24 over 11, which is 2.18 runs per game. It's a testament to the starting pitching that they've been doing as well as they have. They could have easily gone 2-10 during this span and have fallen completely out of the NL Central race.
Befitting the paragraph above, Thursday's Hero has to be Kyle Lohse. Lohse made one mistake--a hanging pitch that Prince Fielder put into the next county--but otherwise threw a masterful game. Four hits, one run, four strikeouts over seven innings? That should be a winning line score with this theoretical offense. Instead, it's a tough no-decision.
Rafael Furcal got two hits, but it was a missed sign that was his biggest "contribution". Daniel Descalso took off on a hit-and-run but Furcal, who was still showing bunt, never moved the bat. Descalso was out by a country mile and, when the rest of the inning unfolded into one that the Cards pushed across a run, that turned out to be a huge mistake.
Still, the Goat has to go to Victor Marte. It wasn't his fault that he was in that situation and, indeed, he's usually been able to handle it. But after getting one out in the 10th, he gave up two hits and hit a batter to load the bases, then allowed the game-winning single on the first pitch to Quintin Berry. Even the two outs he got in the ninth to keep the game tied were big blasts that might have left other ballparks, at least according to the KMOX broadcast team that I was listening to at the time.
Furcal had two hits and the bottom of the lineup had three, but the middle of the order was completely punchless. Carlos Beltran walked twice, but his small hitting streak came to an end. Matt Holliday drove in the only run on a sacrifice fly. That was it for three through six. On those kinda days, well, odds are you aren't winning unless you have a guy hitting eighth who just goes off.
Right now, nobody's going off. We tend to have these discussions about the home-run centricity of the offense and Bernie Miklasz talks about that today as well as the yucky running stats. Nothing is clicking at all at the moment, which is causing some terrible days and nights at the yard. Can things get better? Surely. However, it's almost like last year, needing that big shakeup to get people focused. What John Mozeliak can do this year for an encore, though, is pretty hard to see.
It's a tough time right now, as those parallels to 2010 just keep getting stronger. At least in '10 the Cards stayed close enough to take the lead back in August for a little while. If they can stay that close again, I like their chances. I'm just not sure how easily they can stay that close.
Second half of the home-and-home series with the Royals opens tomorrow night with Joe Kelly going against Vin Mazzaro. Kelly took on these guys in his last start, so this will be the first team that will be seeing him for the second time. Cards get another whack at Mazzaro, who has the following lines after seeing the Redbirds last weekend as well:
Holliday looks like he should be ready to go and it'll be interesting to see if Tyler Greene gets a start based on these small numbers. Also, while nothing's been officially determined, I'm expecting Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay to be activated sometime this weekend; Carpenter might be available for tomorrow's game.
Hopefully St. Louis can go across the state and put together some wins to finish up interleague play. We can hope, at least!
Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of the passing of Darryl Kile. I'll have a memorial post up sometime during the day, so please check back for that as well. If you missed it earlier, below is a post about Josh Hancock that I think is worth reading as well. Have a great weekend!
Before I get into starting a recap of the last almost week and a half, I want to again thank those that took the time to put up quality work here at my blog while I was vacationing. I read through a number of them the few times I had wifi or cell service and appreciated the time and quality that those posts represented. I am in your debt, my friends.
Now, to the games. Unlike last year, when the Cards didn't win while I was on the wrong side of the Mississippi, this year the club was able to win a few games. However, for the most part, they did it by dominating on the mound and squeaking by at the plate, indicating that there is something still wrong with this team. The win one/lose one mentality doesn't help either. Let's take a look after the jump.
I'm safely back in Arkansas and look forward to taking up the blogging reins soon, perhaps tomorrow. Lots of stuff to cover! Until then, though, Rodney and Ryan had a bit of trouble getting their post up and so I didn't want you to be deprived. Enjoy, even if it's a bit late now!
I want to thank Daniel for allowing us the opportunity to do a guest post here. I've enjoyed reading everyone else's to this point. I was at Thursday night's game, so I was unable to come up with an early morning post for Friday. We are SaintLouisSports, and you can find us at www.saintlouissports.com.
After completing the series with the White Sox, I came to the realization that no matter what happened during that season; both teams had to be elated that they were not the Chicago Cubs. Regardless, after going to the game Thursday night, I also garnered a little more respect for White Sox fans. They were very congenial during their stay last night in Baseball Heaven. The several I spoke to were very knowledgeable regarding their team, and the game of baseball. Unfortunately, the more I go to Busch Stadium, the less I can stay about Cardinals fans. Sure, there are a ton of great Cardinals fans, and I know many of them. But more and more, fans are leaving the game way early. Last night, several groups from our section elected to leave at the start of the 8th inning. Come on guys! Let's move on to the next series:
The Cardinals wrap up a nine game home stand this weekend with three games against the Kansas City Royals. St. Louis is 3-3 on the home stand to this point. The Cardinals are tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for second place in the National League Central, while Kansas City is six games back, and in fourth place within the American League Central. The Cardinals are coming off winning two out of three to the Chicago White Sox at home, while Kansas City swept the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend.
The Royals have scored 234 runs and allowed 261 on the season. For St. Louis, they are totaled 314 runs, while also allowing 261. Kansas City actually plays better on the road, then they do at home. The Royals have won 16 of 30 at home. St. Louis is also 16-14 when playing at home.
The top offensive player for the Royals has been Billy Butler. Butler is batting just shy of .300 on the season, and has blasted 11 homeruns and drove in 37 runs. The Royals closer Jonathan Broxton has recorded 15 saves on the season. St. Louis will look to get Carlos Beltran back, after he missed the game on Thursday. Kansas City is where Beltran started his Major League Baseball career.
Here are the pitching match-ups for the weekend series between the two teams from Missouri:
Vin Mazzaro against Kyle Lohse on Friday night. Bruce Chen against Joe Kelly on Saturday afternoon. Luis Mendoza against Adam Wainwright on Sunday afternoon. Go Cardinals! Again - thank you Daniel for allowing us to post in your absence!
An intrastate rivalry renews this weekend as the Royals and Cardinals meet up in St. Louis for their annual I-70 series in interleague play.
Last year, the Cardinals took four of six games over two series. This year, both teams find themselves looking much differently than last season.
The Cardinals, of course, lost Albert Pujols from their 2011 World Series winning team. Pujols has destroyed the Royals over the years to the tune of a 1.166 OPS over 254 plate appearances. Lance Berkman, who's on the shelf after right knee surgery, has roughed up Kansas City as well. Longtime Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has since retired.
The Royals christened the 2012 season as "Our Time" in hopes that their collection of young talent from a vaunted minor league system would put the team in contention (or close to it). While May and June have shown improvement overall, a 12 game losing streak in the first two weeks of the season stunted the Royals right away. Had they gone just 3-9 over that streak, they'd be a game under .500 and hope would be abundant in Kansas City.
St. Louis comes into the series after winning one of three against the Indians and two of three against the White Sox. Carlos Beltran was particularly solid, collecting ten hits in the two interleague series including three homers. Beltran, we all remember, came up as a former first round draft pick of the Royals.
The Royals are .500 in early interleague play so far as well, though in two very different series. At Pittsburgh, in an effort to include both Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer in the lineup, manager Ned Yost put Hosmer in right field (where he'd only played a few innings this spring) and Butler at first. The move shifted right fielder Jeff Francoeur into center field, and the shifting around resulted in misplays and errors that cost the Royals runs. They were swept in a dismal series. Against the Brewers at home, though, they pulled off their first series sweep of the year, including two walk off wins.
Game 1: KC - Vin Mazzaro (2-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. STL - Kyle Lohse (6-1, 2.90 ERA) Game 2: KC - Bruce Chen (5-6, 4.44 ERA) vs. STL - Joe Kelly (0-0, 1.80 ERA) Game 3: KC - Luis Mendoza (2-3, 4.89 ERA) vs. STL - Adam Wainwright (5-7, 4.75)
The Royals starting rotation has been a mess. Jonathan Sanchez has been ineffective after the Royals made him their key offseason acquisition and only recently returned from the disabled list. Luke Hochevar has nearly been run out of town, and Danny Duffy was shut down and recently underwent Tommy John surgery. Felipe Paulino is on the disabled list, too, but he's been the best starter the Royals have had this year. Ten different Royals have started games this season.
Mazzaro will probably never get past his 14 run outing against Cleveland in May 2011, but he's been effective as a fill in this year. Bruce Chen is as close to an ace as the Royals have at the moment. Luis Mendoza is coming off a start against the Brewers where he was no-hitting Milwaukee for the first six innings before letting runners on and getting pulled.
ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 22: Kyle Lohse #26 of the St. Louis Cardinals (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
The Cardinals won't send Lance Lynn to the hill in the series, but he's been a beast for St. Louis. Kyle Lohse is coming off 7.2 scoreless innings against the Indians. Joe Kelly threw five innings in his major league debut, giving up just one run. Adam Wainwright is coming off a lost 2011, but he tossed seven innings against the White Sox, giving up just two runs.
Kansas City has struggled on offense lately, scoring just 20 runs in their last eight games. They've had issues with runners on base all year, either giving up outs on steal attempts or just letting opportunities slip away. The series win over Milwaukee may be an emotional charge to wake up the bats, and some slumping stars have turned things around recently. Eric Hosmer is hitting .300/.383/.550 in June and hit his eighth homer on Thursday night. Alex Gordon was moved back into the leadoff spot on May 27 and has started there every game since and he's reached base at least once in every game.
The Cardinals have had similar struggles recently, scoring just 12 runs in their last six games, though a five run game in their win over the White Sox on Thursday may be enough to boost them as well. David Freese has hit in four straight and has three homers this month.
If pressed to give a prediction, I can't shake my Royals fandom and optimism - though they sure test it with odd transactions and on-field decisions. I think they take two out of three (though their rotation can implode at any moment, so a three game sweep at the hands of the Cards wouldn't be surprising to hardly any Royals fan.)
Guest writer Michael Engel is the editor of Kings of Kauffman, a Royals blog on the FanSided Network of Sports Blogs.
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.
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.
Kansas City Royals
71-91, fourth in the AL Central
While the big leap forward didn't happen last season, it still is probably the best time to be a Royal fan since the mid-80s. Not only is there young talent already on the roster and more coming up from the farm, but there's also a little thing called the All-Star Game happening in Kansas City this summer.
It's been a long time since we could say "Royals fan" and not either laugh or feel sympathy. Those that we'll hear from today would likely say it's been a long time coming.
Apparently, I'm just not supposed to be on the wrong side of the Mississippi when it's baseball season. The Cards went out and dropped the seven games I missed while spending time in Ohio, yet won two dramatic ones when I was back ensconced in my home this weekend. Let's do the wrapup of the last half of the week, then get into some of the more current topics. Remember, I didn't watch much of any of these games (even this weekend was sporadic) so if I'm completely off base, be sure to let me know in the comments.
Hero: Jon Jay. Two of the team's three hits, and since nobody walked in the game, it was pretty much all that the Cards could muster.
Goat: Ryan Franklin. Kyle McClellan didn't pitch all that well, but Franklin made sure there was no rally to be had, completely blowing up with four earned in his inning and a third.
Notes: McClellan had some defensive problems behind him, including two errors from Albert Pujols at third base, and was limited in his pitch count in his first start off the disabled list. Hopefully he'll be stronger tomorrow against the Phillies.
Hero: Yadier Molina. His home run in the ninth gave the team some hope, pushing it to extra innings.
Goat: Fernando Salas. Salas gave up the game-losing long ball. While Danny Espinosa has a number of homers this year, he's a guy that you probably should be able to get when the game is on the line.
Notes: The team rallied, which was nice to see. Homers by Pujols and Molina erased the deficit, but they never could get over the top. A strong game from Matt Holliday as well in his first game back from the land of the injured.
Hero: Lance Berkman. Only one hit, but a big one as he drove in three of the four runs.
Goat: Albert Pujols. No hits for Albert (though he drew a walk) and had the error that allowed the go-ahead run to score.
Notes: Tough game for Chris Carpenter to lose, apparently. Lots of raves over how he pitched, but he did allow 10 hits. I know one of the major tenants of modern sabermetrics is that a pitcher has no control of where the ball is hit or if it falls for a hit, but still, that's a lot of dinks and dribblers. Still, I didn't see that one and it may have been that he was much more effective than the stat line indicates.
Hero: Matt Holliday. Game winning home run in the eighth will do that for a guy.
Goat: Jake Westbrook. There wasn't an obvious goat in this one. Westbrook did well, but that last home run to Alex Gordon almost added to the losing streak.
Notes: Great work by Colby Rasmus to get on base in the eighth against a lefty. Good night for Ryan Theriot as well, with two hits in the leadoff slot. Bullpen did a very solid job as well, with Salas coming in and locking things down.
Hero: Skip Schumaker. Game winning home run in the ninth will do that for a guy.
Goat: Fernando Salas. Giving up a game tying home run to Alcides Escobar? I know Escobar's been hot, but he's not a home run hitter. Salas couldn't hit his target at all in that at-bat and finally paid the price.
Notes: Pujols was having a stellar day until he had to leave (and we'll get to that). Andrew Brown had a nice day also, with a couple of hits and two RBI. Jaime Garcia was inefficient, though he left with a lead. The problem is he left with one out in the sixth, which left a lot of innings for the bullpen. I want to talk some more about the pitching, but that may have to wait until tomorrow's post.
In the last week, there have been a lot of roster moves. To sum them up, besides the activations of McClellan and Holliday, Tyler Greene, Mark Hamilton, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter have been sent down to Memphis, while Maikel Cleto and Pete Kozma have come back up. The Cards are back to the 13 pitcher roster makeup, but with the starters not going deep in games, it's more of a necessity now that it was last time.
Now we get to the really big story. Pujols left yesterday's game with a wrist injury after being run into by Wilson Betemit. I didn't see that play, being out at my parents and following the US Open with my father, but noted on the box score that Pujols had gone out of the game. As Bernie Miklasz writes, it was a very scary moment. I'm sure so many people flashed back to Scott Rolen and Hee Seop Choi and we know how bad that situation was. Right now, the positive news is that it looks like it's just a sprain, though there will be more evaluation done today to see how severe it is.
The Cards are in a better position to replace Pujols's production than in some years, with Holliday continuing to hit and having Berkman slide into the first base slot. That said, Pujols has brought the mystique back, causing pitchers to focus on how they are pitching and who they want to beat them. A little bit of that swagger, that intimidation, is gone without Pujols.
You hope it's a mild thing, where he can miss the Philadelphia series and have no lingering effects. Even a 15-day DL stint would be better than him playing through it with sapped power and the potential for a long-term issue. However, it's not broken, so we have to be thankful for that and hope the team can come together and play good baseball for however long he's off the field.
Speaking of injured players (which we've done a lot this season), it looks like the Cards may be getting a bit healthy. David Freese will be playing for Memphis starting tonight and Nick Punto will be playing in Springfield this week. Both hope to be ready next Monday and could really help out the team, especially if Pujols is out for an extended period of time. It'd be nice to see this team at fairly full strength, wouldn't it?
Off-day today, so we'll take a look at the opener of the Philly series tomorrow. Thanks to all of those that so capably filled in while I was gone and I hope you aren't disappointed by the downgrade in quality today!