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.
Tampa Bay Rays
90-72, third in the AL East
You know it's a tough division when 90 wins keeps you out of the playoffs. When Oakland made their final push, it knocked Texas into a wild-card slot and Tampa Bay home for the winter. The favorite "little team that could" couldn't in 2012, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
The 2013 landscape looks a little different in the AL West. Toronto has remade their team, while the traditional powers of New York and Boston seem vulnerable. Where does this small-market team with big-market results fit into this maelstrom? To find out, I asked the Playing Pepper questions to Yossi Feins. Yossi writes the blog The Rays Rant and is on Twitter @TheRaysRanter.
Stay tuned to find out about trade possibilities and the next big thing coming out of Tampa!
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!
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.
Tampa Bay Rays
91-71, second in the AL East, lost in four games to Texas in the ALDS
The only team that could really understand what the Cardinals went through last September was Tampa Bay, who made their own "storming the hill" move to make Game 162 such a meaningful occurrence. Unfortunately, Evan Longoria's home run that sent them into the postseason didn't give them as much of a push as the Redbirds, as they bowed out quickly.
With another year of seasoning for some of these players and another wild card to give them a chance at October, there has to be a large sense of optimism around Rays camp. With that in mind, I talked to Yossi Feins, who writes for The Rays Rant, and Sarah Tyson, of the Aerys Sports blog Cowbell Clankers. You can find Yossi on Twitter at TheRaysRanter and Sarah at SarahSeesSports. We talked about the phenom and the disappointment, so keep reading to see what these two have to say!
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.
Tony La Russa pulled out another of his sleight of hand tricks today, stating that Chris Carpenterwould be the Game 2 starter in Philadelphia, sending Carpenter out just three days after throwing a complete game shutout.
There's no doubt Tony has his reasons. We talked this morning about Jaime Garcia and how he does much better at home, ruling him out of the first couple of games. It seemed fairly obvious, then, that Edwin Jackson would be the much better choice to go in the second game, until this announcement. As you've probably heard, Carpenter has never--never, mind you--gone on three days' rest in his career.
Josh from Pitchers Hit Eighth and I were chatting on Google Talk this afternoon and he brought up a point that I hadn't considered, namely that Jackson is more of a fly ball pitcher. I recall him going to extremes with that in one of his last starts, as balls continued to fly deeper and deeper, but stay in the ballpark. With Philadelphia's bandbox, those balls would be much more likely to soar over the wall.
However, I wanted to see if that was actually true. Pulling up his Baseball Reference page, I note that he has been a bit more likely to give up the longball since moving to the National League and that his strikeout rate has decreased. His GB/FB is 0.64 and his HR/FB% is at 6%, higher than it has been in his last couple of teams. How much of these numbers are skewed due to the beating he took in Milwaukee, I don't know, but that does have to be considered. Nevertheless, it does look like he'd be an ill fit for Philadelphia. He did not pitch in Citizens Bank Park this season and in his one career game there, he gave up five runs in five innings.
I also think this is a good way for TLR to keep the pressure off of Kyle Lohse. We know that he likes to do that (look at the disastrous attempt back in 2000 with using Darryl Kile as a decoy for Rick Ankiel) and he loves to get the focus on him so that the players can do their jobs without concern. People are talking about Carpenter and whether this decision is the right one. They aren't talking about Lohse having to go up against Roy Halladay.
With Lohse and Carpenter, the latter of which treats 100 pitch games are like warmups, going in enemy territory it does seem like the best way for the Cards to steal a game there and have a chance to win it at home. I'm a little worried that TLR is getting too cute with things and that these kind of moves have a tendency on backfiring, but I understand the logic and it's worth a shot.
Also, per the discussion earlier today, TLR has said that Jake Westbrook will be on the postseason roster, so you can probably go ahead and cross off Eduardo Sanchez, which is too bad because I really think he could make a difference.
Quick plug before I wrap this: you can hear my thoughts on the upcoming series and some on the season that's past on this Popblerd podcast. Garrett and I have known each other for a couple of years, as internet people know each other at least, and it was good to sit down and talk to him about the squad. I hope to have him on my podcast sometime this winter so we can have a chat about the San Francisco squad.
Before the 2006 postseason, I remember looking at the path the Cardinals were going to take and thinking that they really had a legitimate shot. I felt like they could get past San Diego, in part because they always did. I looked at the Mets and thought that the Cards had the pitching edge in that series because Pedro Martinez was unavailable. I looked at Detroit and again thought the Cards had the edge because of their pitching and how they were playing, having everyone healthy and ready to go.
I look at this 2011 postseason and, while they don't necessarily have all the edges that the 2006 squad had, I really do like their chances. Getting past Philadelphia will be tough, but it's a team that the Cards have beaten in the regular season so I don't think there will be as much of an intimidation factor as there might be with some other teams. Couple that with a fairly experienced squad and I think they can beat Philadelphia in five.
I'm not sure who wins in the Arizona/Milwaukee series, but I think the Cardinals can hang with either of them. The Cards went 4-3 against Arizona and 9-9 against Milwaukee. Arizona has a big top two of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy, but the Cards can counter those and have been able to get to those guys as well. As for Milwaukee, a matchup against them in the NLCS would be epic. You know it'd go seven games and all the stops would get pulled out. The Cards have proven they can beat their aces (though Yovani Gallardo can give them fits) and the Brewers have done damage against the Cards. Again, I'm not saying that the Cards would definitely win against either of those teams, but I think there's a legitimate case to be made that they could.
Finally, you get to the World Series, and I don't think any team that makes it that far out of the AL doesn't have their own weaknesses. The Tigers can't throw Justin Verlander every night. The Yankees drop off after CC Sabathia. I'm not sold on the Rangers pitching (and, being that the Rays are now beating the Rangers 6-0 in a game that their ace started, there seems to be a reason) and the Rays....well, now, the Rays might make for an interesting time. They have good pitching and a solid offense to go along with it. Just on the face of it, I think Tampa Bay will be the toughest team the AL can send to the Series.
I know it's optimistic, I know it's red-colored glasses, but if the Cards can get past Philadelphia (which, admittedly, is a tough but possible chore), I really like their chances. However, as the players say, we've got to take it one game at a time. And that game is tomorrow afternoon. Go Cards!
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!
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.
Tampa Bay (96-66, 1 GA and first in the AL East; lost in ALDS)
The turnaround from outhouse to penthouse continued last season for the Rays, proving that '09 wasn't a fluke. They were able to take the AL East title from the Yanks on the last day, capping off a great season. Cliff Lee proved to be too much for them in the short opening series, but still there was little shame in their 2010 outing.
Can it continue, though? In the offseason they started shedding pieces of that team that had been so successful and there's not a lot of room for missteps in the AL East. To that end, I talked with Ben Ice of Rays Colored Glasses about what to expect out of these Rays. You can follow Ben on Twitter to keep up with what is coming out of Tampa during the regular season.
Ben has been writing about sports since 2003 and is a four time finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writer Association awards. He is the founder and former Managing Partner of RotoExperts, one of the fastest growing fantasy sports sites in the industry, and has recently joined the FanSided team to blog about his favorite baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Stick around as we talk a little about replacing a Rays legend.
The Cardinals got their first look at their Opening Day starter yesterday. They have to hope that it was his evil twin that showed up.
Actually, Adam Wainwright's outing wasn't all that bad. Two earned runs in two innings, with a walk and a strikeout. Still, three runs total and five hits isn't exactly what you want to see, but--everybody together now--it is early. Wainwright has plenty of time to shake of the rust and get back to what we expect out of him.
The pitching wasn't great yesterday, but we've seen much worse. Blake Hawksworth gave up three in three innings, but it's hard to tell from the box score just how well he pitched. The pitchers got betrayed somewhat by Tyler Greene, who had two errors, one of which led to two unearned runs surrendered by Jason Motte, who also struck out two.
Speaking of strikeouts, nice to see Trever Miller strike out the side. Having a lefty who can do that could be very useful during the season.
It was a grudge game in some regards, as Miller, of course, pitched for the Rays last year and now was pitching against them, while Adam Kennedy, very recently of the Cardinals, was wearing the green/teal of Tampa Bay and batting leadoff against the Cardinals. Kennedy, who still isn't real happy with Tony LaRussa, got two base knocks off of Wainwright. Probably a little fired up, don't you think?
Offensively, Brian Barton continued to make his presence known with a triple and a stolen base. Nick Stavinova came in and got a couple of hits off the bench and Rick Ankiel had a two for three day.
Cards take their 3-2-1 record into today's game against the Mets. The lineup will be:
As the players start getting themselves ready for another season, I
thought it'd be a good idea to do the same. I contacted a blogger for
each major league team and posted them five questions. This is the
result.You can find the tentative schedule of teams here and today's main post is right here.
The Rays shocked the world last year, not only winning the very tough AL East but fighting all the way to the World Series before falling to the Phillies.
Most people knew that the Rays were starting to develop a young, dangerous team, but to pass the large payrolls of the Yankees and Red Sox was quite an accomplishment. It also begs the question: can they do it again?
I got in touch with Erik of DRaysBay and asked him about a repeat and if the Price is right.
First off, John Mozeliak shot down the Burnett idea, which isn't terribly surprising given since the team doesn't really want to deal out too many long-term contracts right now. Especially with one that may have some injury issues. I know the talk is that they don't want to limit their flexibility with Carp, Wainwright and Lohse all signed long-term, but you'd have to think that continuity is fine if everyone is healthy and good. It worked for the Braves in the '90s, didn't it?
Moving an outfielder is still on the priority list, but it looks like it won't be Ryan Ludwick. Which makes sense in a lot of ways, mostly because every other outfielder in the system, it seems like, is a left-handed batter. Problem is, like BrewCards noted in yesterday's comment thread, there are just so many questions around everyone else that it'll be tough to get adequate talent back for them. I don't believe they'll move Rasmus (unless completely overwhelmed), people have to decide if Schumaker is for real and they can live with the lack of power, Ankiel is a free agent after this season, and Chris Duncan is coming back from injury.
Apparently the braintrust is rethinking the closer position as well. Either they aren't convinced Perez and Motte can handle it even with a year of seasoning or they want to keep their options open now that the closer market seems to be coming back to them. Getting a FA closer on a two-year deal (if they could) might open trade possibilities next offseason.
Adam Kennedy looks to be the starter next season at second base. When you look at his numbers, they really weren't as bad as everyone seems to have in their head. While an Orlando Hudson would be an improvement, there really isn't any way to get him if Kennedy is still on the roster, and there doesn't seem to be any mechanism for getting him off of it that works for the Cardinals. He'll be a free agent, so maybe we'll finally get to see what the Cardinals were looking for two years ago.
Strauss talks today at noon from Vegas, so I'm sure he'll elaborate even more on these points then.
Apparently the Cardinals have been looking at Scott Downs from the Blue Jays and have considered sending either Ankiel or Joe Mather to the Braves. A quick glance at Downs looks interesting, especially his last two seasons. He's been playing in a tough division as well, so moving to the NL Central might even help. I'm a little surprised the Cards would move Ankiel, especially for someone like Mike Gonzalez, but they've got to clear a spot somehow. Looks like he'll be a popular chip, with the Yanks, Rays and Giants all asking about him. (Isn't he a little young to be a Giant?)
In fact, the rumor of Ankiel for Ian Kennedy is a little intriguing. Kennedy, who was actually drafted by the Cardinals in 2003 but didn't sign, has been a top prospect for a while in the Yankee organization. And, while we all know that Yankee prospects have a heck of a hype machine, his minor league numbers backed a lot of that up. He struggled this year in the majors, but he will turn 24 next week and still has a long way to go before he hits his prime. He'd be a long term committment, but a cheap one. If that's an offer out there, I think (even though I'm a huge Ankiel fan and would hate to see him go) that Mo should take it.
A reminder that the special edition of the United Cardinal Bloggers Radio Hour will be coming to you tomorrow night at 10:00 Central time. Yours truly is scheduled to be a guest in the first hour.