Friday, December 21, 2012

Blue Jays Rising

                          Thole and Dickey will be heading North

Right now, Vegas has the Blue Jays as the favorite to win the 2013 World Series. The Blue Jays haven't had this high of expectations in 20 years when they won back to back championships in 1992 and 1993. They haven't been terrible since their World Series days, but they've been average to mediocre since. Toronto has also been stuck in the American League East, a division which the Red Sox and Yankees have dominated since then. Those two teams have won 7 World Series since the Blue Jays last won one. However, the Red Sox finished in last place in 2012 after collapsing down the stretch the previous season. The Yankees won the division last year, but they have the oldest roster in the league. Almost all of the Yanks key players will be over 30 next year, some close to 40.

There is an opening at the top of the AL East with not as strong Yankee and Red Sox teams. It's still a tough division though. The Orioles made their first postseason in 15 years last season. The Rays have made 3 out of the last 5 postseasons, and should contend again next year. The Jays were probably the most excited team about the second wild card last year, but their pitching collapsed on them last year. Toronto used 12 different starters and 34 pitchers total last season. Their team ERA was 4.64, 11th in the American League.

The Jays made some big moves to upgrade their rotation. They added Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a monster trade with the Marlins. This week, they traded for 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. Dickey will bring his knuckleball to Toronto, and was given a 2 year, $25 million extension.

Dickey, Buehrle, and Johnson have made 7 All Star teams between the trio. Johnson won the National League ERA crown in 2010, but missed much of 2011. Johnson did pitch 191.1 innings last year, but had a 3.81 ERA. Buehrle is one of the most dependable starters in the league, pitching over 200 innings and winning over 10 games for the last 12 seasons. Buehrle was part of the 2005 White Sox championship team and has won the last 4 Gold Gloves. Dickey had a career year last season, winning 20 games and leading the NL with 230 strikeouts.

To fill out the last two rotation spots, the Jays have Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison to pick from. Romero was an All Star in 2011 and had a 2.92 ERA that season. Last year, Romero's ERA jumped nearly 3 runs to 5.77. The Jays hope that was an aberration. Morrow pitched a no-hitter last season, but was limited to 124.2 innings. Morrow could also move into the bullpen and could be a closer candidate if Casey Janssen falters. Drabek and Hutchison are young pitchers who pitched under 100 innings last season.

Toronto also added Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Thole, Maicer Izturis, and Melky Cabrera this offseason. The Jays offense is led by right fielder Jose Bautista and  1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion hit a career high 42 home runs in 2012, and had a career year last season. Encarnacion might be another late bloomer like Bautista, or he could be a fluke. It was his 8th season in the big leagues and he finally lived up to his vast potential. Bautista missed the last two months due to injury, and that's when the Jays crumbled.

After Bautista went down, the Jays young hitters fell off. J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie, and Colby Rasmus all fell into slumps afterwards. Toronto will need those three hitters to have good seasons next year. They signed Cabrera, who was off to a career year last year before his PED suspension. He could take over at left field, although young speedster Anthony Gose will fight for playing time there. Cabrera could also DH, with Encarnacion moving to first base.

Toronto only won 73 games last year, there worst showing since 2004. They should be much improved for next season, but will it be enough to put them ahead in the division? It would be a major dissapointment if the Jays don't contend next year. I think with a much improved rotation and addition of a impact player like Reyes, they should be the favorite to win the AL East next year. But, there is some questions about this club. Their bullpen was shaky last year, and they'll need their younger players to step up offensively. The AL East is still a tough division as well. I don't know if I would say Toronto is a World Series favorite, but I think they should be a playoff team next year.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Hamilton Cashes In With the Halos

         Hamilton will be joining forces with Pujols and the big money Angels next year

New York, Boston, and sometimes Philadelphia have been the big spenders in the last decade or so, but the city of Los Angeles has been the place were the big stars have been going the last couple of years. Earlier this week, the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a record contract for a right handed pitcher. The Angels were trying to re-sign Greinke after trading for him midseason. Since they lost out on Greinke, they moved in on the biggest name out there, Josh Hamilton. Surprisingly, Hamilton signed a deal with the Rangers archrival for 5 years and $125 million.

The feeling in Texas has to be as bad or worse as it was in St. Louis last year when Albert Pujols left for Anaheim. Even worse for Rangers fans, they have to see Hamilton 18 times a year whereas Cardinal fans only see Pujols every few years. The Rangers weren't willing to give Hamilton more than a three years, but it was thought that Hamilton would get 6 or 7. He ended up getting 5, but will make more per year on average than Pujols will.

Hamilton is a great player when healthy, but is injury prone. Last year, Hamilton played in 148 games, the second highest total in his career. Two seasons he's been limited to under 100 games in 2007 and 2009. Hamilton's  MVP season in 2010, he only played in 133 games. Hamilton set a career high with 43 home runs last year, but fell into a deep slump later in the year. There are also concerns about Hamilton re-lapsing, and  his mental makeup. Hamilton played lackadaisical in the stretch run last year, dropping a flyball during a pivotal game against Oakland.

Still, a team with Pujols, Hamilton, and Mike Trout is a team to be reckoned with. Pujols is a three time MVP, and Hamilton won it in 2010. Trout finished 2nd this year and will certainly be a perennial MVP candidate. They also will feature Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick in their lineup. They finished 3rd in the American League in runs scored last year, and are a good bet to lead the league next year.

 The Angels outfield is crowded now with Hamilton, Trout, Trumbo, Vernon Wells, and Peter Bourjos in it. Wells came over in a trade from the Blue Jays a couple years back and has been awful with the Halos. In two seasons, Wells has a .222 batting average and a .258 on base percentage. Wells is owed $21 million for the next two seasons, and the Angels are likely stuck with him. However, he's blocking younger, better players. It's also a albratross of a contract and it's unlikely they will release him.

Wells will likely play some DH, but Kendrys Morales is their regular DH and a better hitter. Bourjos is a terrific defensive outfielder, and led the league in triples in 2011. Bourjos won't be playing center since Trout is there, and that leaves the corner OF spots. Those are occupied by Hamilton and Trumbo, with Wells also getting some of the playing time. Bourjos was relegated to defensive replacement and pinch runner last season, and could be traded. It's also possible that Trumbo is moved to third base, although he's shaky defensively there. Alberto Callaspo was their primary 3B last year, but is average at best offensively and could be moved to a utility role.

Most likely, the Angels will trade either Trumbo or Bourjos. They could be traded for a third baseman or a starting pitcher. I have a hard time believing they will part with Trumbo. Trumbo hit 32 home runs last year, and the Angels now have 4 guys who hit over 30 last year(Trumbo, Trout, Pujols, Hamilton). Here's a look at the Angels projected lineup next year, assuming they don't make anymore moves.

CF Mike Trout
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Albert Pujols
RF Josh Hamilton
3B Mark Trumbo
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Vernon Wells
C Chris Ianetta/Hank Conger
SS Erick Aybar

Maicer Izturis
Alberto Callaspo
Peter Bourjos

We know that the Angels will score a lot of runs next year, but how will their pitching be? They had a shaky bullpen, and they led the AL with 47 blown saves the past two seasons. They have also traded Ervin Santana, declined Dan Haren's option, and lost Greinke to free agency. However, they have added four pitchers this offseason. They traded reliever Jordan Walden to the Braves for starter Tommy Hanson, and added starter Joe Blanton, lefty reliever Sean Burnett, and closer Ryan Madson via free agency. These guys aren't stars, but they are solid pitchers.

Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson head the Angels rotation, and will be followed by Hanson, Blanton, and probably Garret Richards. Weaver won 20 games last year, and is one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the bullpen, they retain Ernesto Freiri, Scott Downs, and Kevin Jepsen. Burnett adds a second lefty, and Madson ends the bullen by committee approach of last year.

With the Rangers late season collapse and with Los Angeles signing Hamilton away from them, the Angels are the likely favorites in the AL West next year. That was the case this time last year, but the small budget Oakland Athletics ended up beating out both Texas and LA. The Angels have an impressive team on paper, but they still have to play the games. I wouldn't start printing out World Series tickets just yet. There will be a lot of pressure on this team to perform and manager Mike Scioscia knows it. If they miss the playoffs again next year, Scioscia and GM Jerry DiPoto might lose their jobs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dodgers and Royals Upgrade Pitching

         Zack Greinke moves crosstown after signing big deal with Dodgers

The Dodgers made a couple of big moves this past weekend. They signed Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu after posting a $25 million posting fee to the Korean leagues to negotiate with him. Ryu was then signed to a 6 year, $36 million contract. Ryu is a 25 year old left hander, and had a 2.80 ERA in 1238 innings in the Korean leagues. The Dodgers have had many Korean and Japanese pitchers pitch for them in the last couple of decades including Hideo Nomo, Chan Ho Park, Kaz Ishii, and Hong-Chi Kuo.

Zack Greinke also agreed to a six year, $147 million deal this weekend. It is a record deal for a right handed pitcher, and the second biggest deal for a pitcher in history after CC Sabathia's deal. Greinke also can opt-out of his deal after three years if he chooses. Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award and has struck out over 200 batters 3 out of the 4 last seasons. Last season, Greinke went 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 212.1 innings for the Brewers and Angels.

Greinke may be the highest paid right handed pitcher in baseball, but I don't think he's the best. I think he will pitch well in Dodger Stadium, but there is a lot of pressure for him to perform now. The Dodgers had some bad luck 13 years ago when they signed Kevin Brown to the first $100 million contract. Brown had a couple of dominant seasons for them, but was injury prone the rest of the contract and was dealt away to the Yankees later. Brown was also in his mid-30's when he signed the deal compared to Greinke being 29.

The Dodgers now have a surplus of starting pitching. They are led by ace left hander Clayton Kershaw, who won the 2011 NL Cy Young Award. Kershaw has led the NL in ERA and WHIP the past two seasons and will likely be offered a big extension soon. Kershaw will be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. Kershaw and Greinke is a one of the best pitching duos in the league, and might remind Dodger fans of Orel Hershiser/Fernando Valenzeula, Don Sutton/Tommy John, and even Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale. After that, the Dodgers still have Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, and newly acquired Hyun-Jin Ryu. They also still have Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, who were both injured at season's end. It's possible the Dodgers could put one or two of these guys on the market.

Another team who has been busy is the Kansas City Royals. They already signed Jeremy Guthrie to a three year deal and traded for Angels right hander Ervin Santana. Sunday night they made a big splash making a deal with the Rays. They traded for James Shields and Wade Davis, giving up prospects OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, and 3B Patrick Leonard. Myers is a highly rated prospect and hit 37 home runs in the minors last season. Odorizzi was part of the Greinke deal with the Brewers two years ago. Tampa Bay got some good players in return as well, but the Royals desperately needed to upgrade their pitching.

Bruce Chen has been the Royals top starter the last two seasons. When Bruce Chen is your top starter, you know your team is in trouble. 2006 #1 pick Luke Hochevar took a huge step back in 2012, posting a 5.73 ERA. Hochevar may end up as a bust, and is not guaranteed a rotation spot next year. Journeyman Luis Mendoza was one of the Royals best starters last year, but could move to the bullpen next year. The Royals see alot of promise from lefty Danny Duffy, who will be coming back from Tommy John surgery next year. It looks like the Royals rotation will consist of Shields, Davis, Santana, Guthrie, and either Chen or Mendoza til Duffy gets back.

The Royals have a pretty decent bullpen in Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, and Aaron Crow as setup guys and Greg Holland as their closer. They traded Jonathon Broxton at the trading deadline last year. Former closer Joakim Soria missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, and signed with the Rangers earlier this month. With an improved rotation and some rising talent on offense, the Royals could be a much improved team next year. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have developed into really good players. Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Salvador Perez look like they will be pretty good players as well. The AL Central is the weakest division in baseball, and the Tigers won it winning only 88 games. I still think the Tigers are the class of the division, but the Royals might be able to make a run next year.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Steroids and the Hall of Fame


                                    McGwire and Bonds talking in 2001

In a month, one of the most interesting Hall of Fame elections is going to be annnounced. There are some holdovers on the ballot with no steroid connections like Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Don Mattingly, and Dale Murphy. Morris got almost 67% of the vote last year and will only be on the ballot one more time if he don't get in this year. Raines has been gaining support, and considering he was one of the game's best players in the 80's, may eventually get in. Smith is around 50%, and since he's no longer the alltime saves leader, his case isn't as strong as it once was.

More recent retirees like Bernie Williams, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff are also returning on this year's ballot. Martinez got the highest support last year with 36.5%, and there has never been any steroid/PED connection to any of these players. This is the third time on the ballot for Jeff Bagwell, who I thought was a surefire Hall of Famer when he retired. Bagwell only got 41% his first year, and jumped up to 56% last year. There is no evidence of Bagwell juicing, but is he being punished for his big build and the generation he played in? I don't know for sure if Bagwell didn't juice, but its also unfair to punish him without any evidence of it considering most of his career there wasn't rules against it.

Also returning to the ballot this year is Mark McGwire and Rafeal Palmeiro, two 500 home run hitters. McGwire admitted to using steroids almost 3 years ago after declining to discuss it in front of Congress years before that. Palmeiro failed a PED test soon after obtaining his 3000th hit. While these guys both put up unbelievable numbers, their steroid use has clearly hurt them with the HOF voters. Raffy is on the ballot for the third time, and only got 12.6% last year. Big Mac will be on the ballot for the 7th time, and the best showing he did was in 2010 when he got 23.7%. Palmeiro was always considered to be a second tier star when he played despite his impressive career numbers, and only made 4 All Star teams in 20 seasons. McGwire was also considered to be a one dimensional slugger who walked alot during much of his career. That been said, 10 years ago they both were considered to be likely Hall of Famers when they were eligible.

This year, there are many big name first time eligible players on the ballot. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, David Wells, Kenny Lofton, and Steve Finley will all appear on the ballot for the first time this year. Finley and Wells were very good players, but not HOF worthy in my opinion. Lofton is a notch below the Hall of Fame as well. That still leaves six players that have very impressive career resumes. Schilling isn't likely to be a first ballot guy, but his postseason heroics could put him over the hump someday. Biggio has no connection to PED's and is in the 3000 hit club. I would say Biggio is the most likely candidate to get in from that bunch this year.

Piazza has never been connected to steroids, but some writers seem to think he might of used them. I wouldn't be surprised either way, but with no evidence against him, it's similar to what's happening to Bagwell. Piazza is clearly the best offensive catcher in baseball history and should be a slam dunk choice. I've heard a lot of people in baseball call Ivan Rodriguez a future Hall of Famer, and there is more steroid innuendo to Rodriguez than Piazza. Rodriguez was named in Jose Canseco's book and there are rumors he failed a test in 2003. There was no punishment in 2003, and baseball agreed to only start punishing people for PED's if over 5% of the players failed those tests. Obviously, they did. However, Rodriguez never failed any tests since then, and its not certain if he did in 2003. Piazza never failed any tests either, and should get treated the same in my opinion.

That leaves Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa. None of these three players have admitted to steroid use, nor did they fail any tests after baseball started testing. That been said, I think all three of them used steroids during their careers. Clemens flat out denied using, and Bonds said he never knowlingly used steroids. When they played all kinds of players were using steroids, even bench players like FP Santangelo and Manny Alexander were named on the Mitchell Report.

Sosa has the weakest case of the three, although he did hit over 600 home runs during his career and won the 1998 MVP. I'm not sure when he started taking steroids, but I'm pretty sure it happened before the 1998 home run chase. Would Sosa of put up HOF numbers without using steroids? That's a question that's impossible to answer.

Clemens and Bonds both put up Hall of Fame resumes before their alleged juicing started. Most people think these guys started using PED's in the late 90's to extend their careers and compete with the many other players who were using. Still, Bonds was considered the best player in the game and Clemens the best pitcher long before they used a syringe. Bonds won 3 out of 4 MVP's in the early 90's and was a five tool player back then. Clemens won at least 3 Cy Young Awards before any PED allegations happened. While both of these guys were jerks during their careers, it's impossible to deny their greatness. Bonds is the only 7 time MVP, and Clemens is the only 7 time Cy Young winner in baseball history.

Cooperstown isn't a church though. There are racists, drunks, cheaters, drug users, and violent people in the Hall of Fame now. I know many of the writers want to keep the Hall pure of steroid users, but someday that line will be crossed. If a steroid user gets in, should Pete Rose and Joe Jackson get in? I've always thought both players should get in despite their breaking of the gambling rules. I also think there are some steroid users that should get in someday as well. There is no dispute that steroids helped players out, but leaving great players out of the Hall of Fame from the steroid era leaves a hole in the history.

In the next few years, there will be many impressive candidates on the ballot. In 2014, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, and Luis Gonzalez will be on the ballot. In 2015, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Gary Sheffield will join them. in 2016, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner will be on the ballot for the first time. Someday in the future admitted steroid users like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez will be on the ballot.

I also think getting steroids out of the game is a good thing. It's a different style of game than it was 10 years ago, and the power numbers aren't as ridiculous as they once were.Instead of relying on rumors and innuendo, there is a testing program that proves rather players used or not. However, I do think its unfair to punish players of the past who may or may not of used in a different time in baseball history. Some guys like Piazza and Bagwell are being punished by voters who have no proof of PED usage.

There is little chance that Bonds or Clemens make the Hall this year. The Associated Press polled 112 HOF voters, which is about one-fifth of the overall voters. Bonds only got around 45%, Clemens 43%, and Sosa 18%. There are many voters who will flat out refuse to vote for any player who has steroid connections. What are they going to do when someone who did use steroids at some point during their career makes the Hall of Fame? It will happen someday, if it hasn't already happened. Is it fair to punish players for something that wasn't against the rules for most of their careers? Should there be a seperate wing or a asterisk on their Hall of Fame plaques if they make it? It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 5-10 years.

                   Clemens/Piazza bat throwing incident during the 2000 World Series

Monday, November 19, 2012

Marlins Gut Their Team, Again

                                          Toronto bound

When the Marlins spend money, what usually happens next is they look for a way to dump those contracts. They went out and signed manager Jim Leyland, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, and Alex Fernandez before the 1997 season. They already had veterans Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Robb Nen, and Gary Sheffield, and up and coming players like Edgar Renteria, Livan Hernandez, and Charles Johnson. They won the 1997 World Series, but within a couple of years, all those players were traded away. They lost 108 games the next season after gutting their championship team.

In 2003, the Marlins had a group of talented players entering their prime. They changed managers mid-season and under Jack McKeon they went on a second half surge. They won the wild card and upset the Giants, Cubs, and Yankees to win their second World Series. Yet, after the season they didn't re-sign Pudge Rodriguez and traded away Derrek Lee. A few years later, they either traded or didnt' re-sign Luis Castillo, Juan Pierre, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, Brad Penny, and many others. They entered the 2006 season with a 15 million dollar payroll, with only Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis remaining from their 2003 team. Two years later, they traded both players to the Tigers for practically nothing. The big prospects from that trade(Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller) did little with the Marlins, and Cabrera just won the Triple Crown and MVP this past season.

Marlins ownership then decided to sign Hanley Ramirez to a long term deal during the 2008 season. After the 2009 season, MLB Players Association and Commissioner Bud Selig forced the Marlins to spend more of their money. The Marlins were due to open Marlins Park in 2012 and they had received $300 million in revenue sharing in the last 10 years. The Marlins then signed Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco to contract extensions. They still traded away Dan Uggla a season later after signing free agent catcher John Buck. The prior offseason, the Marlins said they would change their ways and keep a higher payroll. The went on a spending binge and got a new manager in Ozzie Guillen. They went out and acquired Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Zambrano. The Fish were expected to contend this year, but they were a flop.

Maybe it was a bad mix of players, or that manager Guillen wasn't a good fit, or it could of been that ownership didn't give this team a fair chance to succeed. They traded away Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Edward Mujica, Gaby Sanchez, Anibal Sanchez, and Omar Infante at the deadline this year. Guillen was fired weeks after the season ended, and Heath Bell was traded away to Arizona after a disastrous season. Then last week, the Marlins announced they would be trading Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to the Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, Henderson Alvarez, and 4 minor leaguers. The Marlins heavily backloaded the Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell deals and traded them all after 1 season.

The Marlins have now shed $236 million in future contracts since July. Some of the players they recieved back could be good players like pitchers Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi. But, the Marlins have said for years they needed a new stadium to be competitive. Now that they have it, they still are cheapskates. Giancarlo Stanton is now the face of the franchise and is a a enormous talent, but he wasn't happy about the trades and I can't blame him. Stanton tweeted after the Fish-Jays megadeal, "Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain and Simple." I doubt the Marlins will pony up the money for Stanton when he's eligible for free agency either.

Jeffrey Loria is one of the worst owners in professional sports, if not the worst. He bought the Montreal Expos in late 1999, and is somewhat responsible for the extinction of baseball in Montreal. He wanted more money for English broadcasts of the team in 2000, and ended up having no English broadcasts available. The Quebec government had a deal for a new stadium for the Expos, but Loria wanted them to spend more money. The proposed Labatt Park never became a reality because of Loria's greed. He then sold the Expos to MLB before the 2002 season, and bought the Marlins from John Henry for a discount rate. Henry went on to buy the Red Sox.

Despite winning the 2003 World Series, Loria would not keep that team together. He dumped salary and explored moving the team during 2005 and 2006. Loria was then able to work out a sweetheart deal with Miami to build a new stadium. The city of Miami and Miami-Dade County agreed to pick up 80% of the $634 million costs of the new ballpark. Loria isn't as rich as some big league owners, but he has a net worth of $500 million. Loria is also a big recipient of revenue sharing along with the corporate welfare picked up by the city of Miami. Yet, he has not held up his end of the bargain in trying to field a competitive team.

The latest trade with Toronto is under review from Bud Selig. He is angered about the deal since he helped Loria secure the stadium deal. Still, Selig is likely to approve the deal. There is talk that he could strip the Marlins of the 2015 All Star Game now. The Marlins will have a tough time recruiting free agents to Miami now because of this. There was not a no-trade clause in the Reyes, Buehrle, or Bell deals, but Loria assured Reyes that he would not be traded. Loria only cares about making money, and isn't all that interested in winning and has alienated Marlins fans. It would be for the best interests of the Marlins franchise, their fans, and baseball if he sold the team.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Teams Going With Younger Managers

Walt Weiss: Former Rockies shortstop becomes manager

Last year, two teams hired managers without previous managerial experience. The White Sox hired Robin Ventura after Ozzie Guillen left to go to the Marlins. While Ventura hadn't even been a coach at the major league level, the White Sox nearly made the playoffs this year. Guillen wore out his welcome in the South Side and Ventura's style was a good change for them. After the Cardinals won the World Series last year, future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa retired. After interviewing several candidates, GM John Mozeliak decided to go with his special assistant and former Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny. There were some questions since Matheny had no prior experience. However, Matheny did a terrific job and nearly got the Redbirds back into the World Series this year.

This year, there has been 6 managerial openings. The Indians fired Manny Acta, and ended up going with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Cleveland almost went with former All Star catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., but decided on Francona instead. Alomar Jr. will be Cleveland's bench coach, though. The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine after one disastrous season, and worked out a deal to bring Toronto's manager John Farrell to Boston. Farrell had been a pitching coach previously with the Red Sox. Toronto still doesn't have a manager yet. They have interviewed Alomar Jr. and Tim Wallach, but its rumored they want someone with previous experience.

The Astros have lost 100 games two years in a row, and will be moving to the American League next year. They went with 40 year old Nationals coach Bo Porter to be their manager. Porter briefly played in the big leagues at the turn of the century, and was a journeyman minor leaguer. He has held a variety of minor and major league coaching jobs since retiring as a player. The Astros are in sorry shape, and Porter will have his work cut out for him in Houston.

The Marlins signed Guillen to a four year contract after luring him from the White Sox last year. Miami spent a bunch of money in the offseason, acquiring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano, and Heath Bell. However, Miami had a dissapointing year and finished in last place. Hanley Ramirez, Gaby Sanchez, Anibal Sanchez, and Omar Infante were traded in July in a fire sale. Guillen also made negative headlines praising Fidel Castro and said he gets wasted on every road trip. The Marlins decided to go a different route, and went with former catcher Mike Redmond. Redmond played for over 10 years in the big leagues, and was a member of the 2003 World Champion Marlins team. Redmond had been managing in the Blue Jays farm system the last two years. Jim Leyland and Jack McKeon both highly recommended Redmond as a manager.

Jim Tracy resigned as Rockies manager after a frustrating last place finish. Colorado did a search, and considered bench coach Tom Runnels and even Jason Giambi to be manager. However, they went with former shortstop Walt Weiss. Weiss played with the Rockies from 1994 to 1997. He also played with the Athletics, Marlins, and Braves. Weiss was the 1988 AL Rookie of the Year, and part of the Athletics 1989 World Champions. However, Weiss has only managed at the high school level and was a special assistant to GM Dan O'Dowd last season. Weiss did play for La Russa and Bobby Cox during his career, so I imagined he learned a few things from them.

Also, the Nationals have brought back Davey Johnson for one more season. The Nationals made the playoffs for the first time since 1981 when they were the Expos this past season. Johnson is 70 years old and the oldest manager in the game right now. Johnson will retire at the end of the 2013 season and move into a consultant's role. Johnson has led 4 different teams into the playoffs, including the Mets, Reds, Orioles, along with the Nats.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cardinals Should Trade for Elvis Andrus

Elvis Andrus and Matt Holliday - 2011 World Series Game 6 - Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals
                Elvis Andrus avoiding a Matt Holliday slide in the 2011 World Series

The Texas Rangers have the luxury of having two outstanding shortstops in their organization. In the big leagues, they have Elvis Andrus. He took over as Rangers shortstop at age 20 in 2009, moving Michael Young to third base. Andrus is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and a big part of their two World Series teams. Andrus hit for a career high .286 in 2012, and set a career high in doubles, RBIs, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. Andrus is just entering his prime and is still only 24 years old.

Texas also has the top rated shortstop prospect in the game in Jurickson Profar. The Rangers signed him out of Curacao in 2009, and he was a Little League World Champion in 2004. Before the 2012 season, Profar was rated the #7 prospect in baseball, barely after he turned 19. Profar will turn 20 next February, but he may be ready for the big leagues. Profar homered in his first major league at bat this past September, and made an appearance for the Rangers in their wild card game loss.

What will the Rangers do with Profar? They recently signed second baseman Ian Kinsler to a long term extension, so moving to second is out of the question. They also have third baseman Adrian Beltre signed for several more years, so moving to third isn't going to happen either. They could keep him in Triple A next year, as insurance in case someone gets injured. Or they could trade him for another bat in the outfield or first base. Another possibility is that the Rangers could put Andrus on the market to make room for Profar.

Its not often when a team would consider trading someone like Andrus. But, Andrus is two years away from free agency, and Profar would be six years away. Profar is also 4 and a half years younger than Andrus, and has more power. Like Andrus, Profar steals bases and is an excellent defensive shortstop. Rangers GM Jon Daniels has a good problem to have, but may make a move to address weaker spots in the organization. Josh Hamilton is a free agent, and its quite possible he will depart. The Rangers could be in the market for a big bat, and use either Andrus or Profar as trade bait.

The Cardinals might be a player for one of those two players. Rafael Furcal isn't likely to be ready for opening day, and it would be a miracle for the Cardinals to get 121 games out of him again. Thats the second highest total of games played by Furcal in the last 5 seasons. Furcal is also in the last year of his deal, and is 35 years old. Pete Kozma had a terrific September, and had some big hits for the Cardinals in the playoffs. However, Kozma also had some errors and fielding misplays in the playoffs. Also alarming is that Kozma is just a .236 career hitter in the minor leagues. Its also possible that the Cardinals could stick with a platoon of Kozma and Furcal, but that plan could blow up if Furcal isn't healthy. That would leave Kozma as the main guy, and who knows which version you would be getting. The .236 career minor league hitter, or the .333 September hitter in 72 at bats.

I think the Cardinals should make a major push for either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar. Andrus is the most likely target and its rumored the Rangers might be shopping him. I'm not sure what the Rangers would want for him, but I have a few guesses. I would think they would want one of our bigtime pitching prospects like Shelby Miller or Trevor Rosenthal. But the Rangers have several top pitching prospects of their own. Another guess would be a big bat to replace Josh Hamilton. That could be a number of players, they could want Oscar Tavares, but I would want Profar instead of Andrus if that was the case. They could want Allen Craig, Matt Adams, or Matt Carpenter. I would hate to give up Craig, but it would be worth looking at.

There is one more option, and while not as likely, but is something I would do in a hearbeat. Matt Holliday for Elvis Andrus, straight up. It might sound like a radical idea to some, but I don't think it is. Holliday will be 33 next year, and still has 4 years and a option left on his contract. Holliday is still productive and hit .295, had a .379 on base pct., 27 home runs, and 102 RBIs. Holliday did a good job as the #3 hitter this year, and actually had a better year than the guy he replaced this year, Albert Pujols. However, Holliday set a career high with 132 strikeouts this year. His defense is somewhat shaky, and while he has some big hot streaks, his bat can go cold for long stretches. Holliday always plays hard(just ask Marco Scutaro), but he never seems to get a big hit when you need it.

I don't know if the Rangers would be interested in picking up the rest of Holliday's contract, but they might if Hamilton leaves. They would need a big bat to replace him, and Holliday would be that guy. I also don't know if Holliday would accept a trade to Texas or not. The Cardinals could move Craig to right field, and put Adams or Carpenter at first base. They could also leave Craig at first, and put Carpenter or even Oscar Tavares in left. Its obvious the Cardinals need a shortstop, though and Andrus would fill that void. Andrus is two years away from free agency, and the Cardinals could use the money they save from the Holliday deal to sign Andrus to a long term deal.

The Cardinals should be considering upgrading shortstop this offseason. It looks like they might, I've read a story on them looking at Stephen Drew. I also just read a Bleacher Report story about the Cardinals trading for Elvis Andrus. Middle infield is really the Cardinals only weakness, and shorstop specifically. 2011 top pick Kolten Wong will soon be ready to take over second base, and Matt Carpenter is learning how to play second this offseason, so I'm not as worried about that. Daniel Descalso was overexposed this year, and would be better off as the Cards top utilityman like he was in 2011. Descalso is a scrappy player, takes good at bats, and plays good defense, but is a weak hitter overall.

Shorstop is a position the Cardinals will have to go outside the organization to upgrade. Andrus would be a huge upgrade from what we have. Andrus hits for a .270-.280 average, steals bases(stole over 30 bases in 3 out of 4 big league seasons), and is a defensive wizard. Andrus also wears #1 in Texas, like Ozzie Smith, but would obviously have to change his number in St. Louis. Besides the huge upgrade in defense, he would add some much needed speed to the ballclub. Jon Jay has turned into a stolen base threat, stealing 19 bags this year, but he's pretty much it. Andrus would add a new dimension to the Cardinals with his speed. At age 24, Andrus is young enough where he could be the Cardinals shortstop for years to come. I hope John Mozeliak is looking into acquiring him.

                            Jurickson Profar, the Rangers shortstop prospect

Monday, October 29, 2012

Giants Tame the Tigers

The Giants came from behind to win in both the Division Series and Championship Series, but there was no such drama in the World Series. The Giants swept the Tigers, outscoring them 16-6, and shutting them out in Games 2 and 3. The Giants rallied from a 0-2 deficit to beat the Reds 3 straight in Cincinnati. San Francisco found themselves down 1-3 to the Cardinals, but rallied to win the last 3 games. The Giants hot streak didn't stop in the World Series either, and they won their final 7 playoff games.

A couple of former Oakland A's played a big role in the Giants playoff run this year. Marco Scutaro was acquired from the Rockies in July, and hit .362 with the Giants. Scutaro played good defense as well, won the NLCS MVP, and hit .328 in the postseason. He was getting a lot of key hits this October. Barry Zito went across the bay after the 2006 season, and has been a dissapointment since signing a big contract. Zito was even left off the postseason roster in 2010. Zito had his best year with the Giants, and won 15 games this year. He also won Game 5 of the NLCS in St. Louis, which was a turning point in the series. Zito won Game 1 of the World Series, and was 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 3 starts in the playoffs.

The Giants pitching was great this October. Ryan Vogelsong was 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in 4 starts, and had a good follow up year to his All Star campaign in 2011. Before 2011, Vogey hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2006, toiling in the minors and Japan during that time. Madison Bumgarner had a good regular season, but was bad in his NLCS start. However, he came back in the World Series and pitched a gem. Matt Cain was the Giants ace this year, pitching a perfect game, and starting the All Star game. Cain also won the clinching game of the Division Series, NLCS, and World Series. Tim Lincecum had the worst season of his career, but pitched terrific out of the bullpen in the postseason. If you take out his Game 4 start during the NLCS, Lincecum pitched 13 innings out of the bullpen with a 0.69 ERA.

The Giants closer Brian Wilson went down with an season ending injury in April, and the Giants had to replace their All Star closer. Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez all closed out games this year in Wilson's absence, but Sergio Romo took over as closer down the stretch. Romo has had a ERA under 2 and a WHIP under 1 two straight years. Romo also was dominant in the postseason, saving 4 games.

Like 2010, the Giants didn't have a overwhelming offense. They were 6th in the National League with 718 runs scored. Still, it was a major improvement over the 2011 version, which was dead last in the NL. The 2012 team also scored more runs than their 2010 championship team. They also did this without All Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, who was leading the NL in batting average when he was suspended for PED's. Buster Posey came back from his leg injury, and had a MVP type season. The Kung Fu Panda Pablo Sandoval missed 54 games this year, but had a big October this year. Sandoval only played 6 of 15 games during the 2010 run, but was a middle of the order force this time around. The Kung Fu Panda hit .379 during the playoffs with 6 home runs and 13 RBIs. Sandoval also hit 3 home runs in Game 1 of the World Series, becoming only the fourth player to ever do that, joining Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols. Sandoval hit .500 during the World Series, and was named the MVP of it.

Hunter Pence was also a big pickup for the Giants at the deadline. They got him from the Phillies and he was a inspirational leader for them this October. They needed him as well because Cabrera would be suspended a few weeks later. While the Giants missed Cabrera's bat, Gregor Blanco played great defense in left and stole 26 bases during the season. Angel Pagan played a terrific center field this year, in his first year with the Giants coming over from the Mets in a offseason trade. Homegrown talent Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford played first and short for the Giants this year. Aubrey Huff was relegated to the bench to make room for Belt. Former Cardinal Ryan Theriot was a utilityman for the Giants this year, and has now won back to back World Series with different teams.

The Giants made the right moves this year picking up Pence, Scutaro, and lefty Jose Mijares. GM Brian Sabean made similar moves in 2010, picking up Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, and Javier Lopez for their stretch run then. The Giants didn't win their first World Series in San Francisco until 2010, but have now won 2 out of the last 3 World Series. Yesterday's win was their 7th World Series title in franchise history. They won 5 in New York in 1905, 1921, 1922, 1933, and 1954. The Giants have great pitching, play good defense, get timely hits, steal bases and take the extra base, and play good fundamental baseball. With a core of Sandoval, Posey, Cain, Lincecum, and others they should be contenders for many years.

The Tigers had a terrible World Series after sweeping the Yankees to get there. It was similar to 2006, when they swept the A's and waited the winner of the Cardinals/Mets NLCS which went 7 games. The layoff hurt the Tigers this time around, too. Even with mighty sluggers like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers only batted .159 for the World Series. That is the third worst team average in World Series history, not the kind of leaderboard you want to be on. Justin Verlander was rocked in Game 1, and the Giants never let up after that. The Tigers have now lost the last 2 World Series they've played in, and haven't won it all since 1984.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cardinals Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

                                  Not the scene I expected a few days ago

After the Cardinals won Games 3 and 4 of the NLCS, I thought they were a lock for the World Series. They had a 3-1 lead and were in the driver's seat. Then on Friday, Lance Lynn pitched 3 no hit innings, and fell apart in the 4th inning. Barry Zito shut the Cardinals down. When it went back to San Francisco, the Cardinals didn't show up to play. The Giants outscored us 20-1 in the last 3 games of the NLCS. It was a terrible way to go out, and the Cardinals made a NLCS record 10 errors. The Redbirds luck ran out, and were not able to make a miracalous comeback in Game 7. The Cardinals didn't do themselves any favors either, but the Giants beat us. In fact, the Giants kicked our ass in the last 3 games.

With the exception of Adam Wainwright's start in Game 4 and Kyle Lohse's start in Game 3, the starting pitching was terrible in this series. The other 5 games, the starting pitcher pitched under 5 innnings. Like I mentioned earlier, our defense was very bad during this series. Cardinal hitters only batted .217 during the NLCS. Allen Craig was 3 for 24(.125), David Freese was 5 for 26(.192), Matt Holliday was 5 for 25(.200), Daniel Descalso was 5 for 25(.200), and Jon Jay was 6 for 29(.207). That's not going to get it done. Ryan Vogelsong shut us down twice during this series, and was key for the Giants. Even with Matt Holliday's hard slide into Marco Scutaro, he had a terrific series on defense and offense. Scutaro was 14 for 28(.500) for the series and won the NLCS MVP.

The 2012 NLCS is reminiscient of the 1996 NLCS. The Cardinals had a 3-1 lead on the Braves that year. The Braves rallied back to win that series, outscoring the Cardinals 32-1 in the last 3 games. In Game 7, starter Donovan Osborne was knocked out in the first inning, and the Redbirds lost 15-0. It was as bitter of a defeat as this year's NLCS. 1996 was also Tony LaRussa's first year as Cardinals manager, and this year was Mike Matheny's first year on the job. The Cardinals are in good shape for the future, and Matheny did a good job as a rookie manager. The Cardinals also proved they can win without Albert Pujols this year.

The Tigers and Giants will meet in the World Series this year, and this is the first meeting between the clubs in the Fall Classic. This will be the Detroit Tigers 11th World Series appearance, and they last won it all in 1984. The San Francisco Giants will be making their 19th World Series appearance, which sets a National League record. Previously, they were tied with the Cardinals and Dodgers. The Giants also won the 2010 World Series.

The Tigers are the favorites, but the Giants have proven they can win with their backs against the wall this year. However, with a rotation led by Justin Verlander, along with Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers will be hard to beat. They also have a devastating 3-4 combo of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The Giants have some pretty good pitching as well with Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, but not as good of a offense. The Giants bullpen is probably more solid than the Tigers, and their defense is better. The Tigers are well rested, but that backfired on them in the 2006 World Series against the Cardinals. I think this year's Tigers team is better than the 2006 version, and I think they will win the World Series this year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Redbirds Young Rocket Arms

                       Trevor Rosenthal pitching against the Giants

This postseason, the Cardinals are showing off some young power arms out of the bullpen. Lance Lynn had this role last season, and moved into the rotation this year. Lynn made a relief appearance in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, but was moved into the rotation because of Jaime Garcia's injury. Garcia's injury led to the Cardinals adding 2009 first round pick Shelby Miller to the postseason roster. Miller was impressive in his start against the Reds in the season's final day. He no-hit them for 5 plus innings. He shut the Giants down in his first inning of his postseason debut in Game 2, but ran into trouble in his second inning of work.

Miller had a up and down year in Memphis, but turned it on in the second half. He started using his secondary off speed pitches, instead of using purely fastballs. Miller just turned 22 years old, and is still learning how to pitch. In the same 2009 draft, the Cardinals also drafted Joe Kelly in the third round and Trevor Rosenthal in the 21st round. Kelly has played the biggest role on the 2012 Cardinals, starting 16 games for the Redbirds, and now being a power arm out of the bullpen.

Rosenthal can reach up to 100 mph on his fastball. He also has a very good curveball. He is a valuable weapon out of the bullpen, and should be a very good starter someday. Rosenthal had a 2.78 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings pitched in the big leagues this year. He pitched in Double A Springfield and Triple A Memphis this year before joining the Cardinals. Rosenthal is also from Lee's Summit, Missouri. Rosenthal has also pitched very well in the postseason this year, pitching 4.1 scoreless innings with 7 strikeouts.

The Cardinals should have plenty of arms for years to come. All three of these guys are good enough to be starters and could be All Stars someday. The Cardinals have several more top pitching prospects in the minors. The Cardinals signed Carlos Martinez form the Dominican Republic in 2010, and he was rated baseball's 27th best prospect coming into this season. Martinez just turned 21, and pitched in two levels this year, High A Palm Beach, and Double A Springfield. Martinez had a 2.93 ERA in 104.1 innings pitched in the minors this year. John Gast is the Cardinals top lefthanded starting prospect, and he was a 6th round pick in 2010. Gast dominated Double A, going 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA, but struggled in Springfield, going 9-5 with a 5.10 ERA.

Tyrell Jenkins was the Cardinals supplemental first round pick in 2010, and was baseball's 94th ranked prospect coming into the year. Mike Matheny compared Jenkins to Chris Carpenter in spring training this year. Jenkins is several years away from the big leagues, and struggled in A ball this year. He had a 5.14 ERA in 82.1  innings for Quad Cities this year. He did strikeout 80 batters, but is far from a finished product at 20 years old. The Cardinals spent their number 1 draft pick this year on Michael Wacha from Texas A&M. Wacha reaches the low to mid 90s on his fastball. He had a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings with 40 strikeouts in the minors this year after signing.

Its possible that some of these pitchers won't pan out, but I think the Cardinals will have some very good pitchers coming up in the next few years. Some might pitch out of the bullpen in the majors. I think this year's trio of Kelly, Rosenthal, and Miller will make a big impact on next years club. The three 2009 draft picks are already contributing on this year's club.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Division Series Wrapup, LCS Preview

                Daniel Descalso had a big night on Friday's deciding game

This year might of been the most exciting round of Division Series ever. All four series went a full five games, the first time thats ever happened since the Division Series was introduced in 1995. Obviously, Friday nights deciding Game 5 between the Nats and Cards was a classic. The Cardinals overcame the biggest comeback in a elimination game in postseason history, at one time being down by 6 runs. The previous record was 4, which two teams overcame(Yankees against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS, and the Pirates over the Senators in the 1925 World Series). Ironically, the 1925 Washington Senators lost to the Pirates by a 9-7 score. The Cardinals can never be counted out even when the circumstances look dire.

The Nationals have got to be second guessing the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg for the season. Would they have won with Strasburg pitching? Maybe not, but there chances would of been better. While this was the best season this franchise has ever had, this lost could haunt them for quite some time. They have a young talented team though, and should be contenders again next year.

The Giants made some postseason history themselves on Thursday. They became the first National League team to overcome a 0-2 deficit. Even more impressive, they won all three games on the road in Cincinnati. They are the first team to do that. Buster Posey's grand slam clinched the series win on Thursday, and Matt Cain won the game. Tim Lincecum also pitched out of the bullpen in this series, but could start vs. the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Reds were pretty cocky going into the playoffs, but they choked this series away.

The NLCS will be a match between the last two World Champions. The Cardinals are the defending champions, and the Giants won it all in 2010. This is the first time in NLCS history this has happened, and it is an intriguing matchup. Both teams had to deal with injuries this season The Cardinals lost Rafael Furcal and Lance Berkman for the season, and Chris Carpenter missed most of the year. Carpenter is healthy now, but Jaime Garcia injured his rotator cuff during Game 2 of the NLDS and will miss the rest of the playoffs. This is also the first season of the post Albert Pujols/Tony LaRussa era, but the Redbirds haven't missed a beat. The Giants had to had to deal with Brian Wilson's season ending injury, Melky Cabrera's 50 games suspension(will not play in the playoffs), and a down year from former ace Lincecum. Posey had a big year this year, coming back from his leg injury last year.

The Giants will need their starting pitching to come through for them if they are going to win this series. The Cardinals scored the second most runs in the National League this year, and had 5 players reach th 20 home run plateau this year in David Freese, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Allen Craig. The Redbirds also have a lot of young strong arms in the bullpen in Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller. The Giants do have some threats on offense in Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence. Marco Scutaro was third in the NL in hits this year.

In the American League, the Athletics gave the Tigers all they could handle in the Division Series. Detroit got off to a 2-0 lead, but the A's roared back to tie it with a come from behind win in Game 4. Justin Verlander pitched a complete game shutout to win Game 5, and set a Division Series record with 22 strikeouts. With a rotation of Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez, and a offense led by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers might be the team to beat this year.

The Yankees and the Orioles played in a tough grind it out five game series. Only in Game 1, did a team score more than 3 runs. Every game was close, and went down to the wire. Jim Johnson saved 51 games in the regular season, but blew two games in this series. Alex Rodriguez was benched for the deciding game in favor of Eric Chavez. This series could also be the end of Jim Thome's career, he has hinted at retirement after this season.

The Tigers have already took Game 1 of the ALCS in New York, and the Yankees got some more bad news. Derek Jeter fractured his ankle making a defensive play Saturday night, and will miss the rest of the postseason. Game 3 of this series will feature a great pitching matchup between CC Sabathia and Verlander. The Cardinals and Giants will kick off the NLCS tonight with Lance Lynn taking on Madison Bumgarner.

 The Giants came back to beat the Reds and now will face the defending champion Cardinals

Friday, October 5, 2012

October Baseball is Here

            The Oakland Athletics celebrate a improbable division championship

The most exciting time of year for baseball is back, the postseason. It was an exciting end of the regular season, capped off by Miguel Cabrera winning the first Triple Crown in 45 years. Also, the Orioles and Athletics beat the odds and made the playoffs. The A's pulled the rug from under the Rangers feet and won the AL West. I don't think anyone had Oakland pegged to do much of anything this year, and they win the division over big spending rivals Texas and the Angels. Albert Pujols said he went to the Angels for a chance to win, but will miss out on the postseason this year.

Today at 4 o'clock, the Cardinals will face the Braves in a one game wild card playoff. Kyle Lohse will take the start for the Redbirds, and Kris Medlen will start for the Braves. The Braves have won in 23 straight starts by Medlen, hopefully that trend won't continue today. The Braves also have a dominant back end of the bullpen with Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel was lights out this year, and struck out over 100 batters and had an ERA close to 1.00. Atlanta will also be motivated to win for Chipper Jones, who is in the final season of his Hall of Fame career.

The Cardinals opted to only go with 2 starters for the wild card game roster. Lance Lynn will be the other starter if Lohse gets into trouble. Besides Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and Edward Mujica, the Cardinals went with lefties Scrabble, Sam Freeman, righties Fernando Salas, Trevor Rosenthal, and Joe Kelly. For the bench, Ryan Jackson, Bryan Anderson, and Adron Chambers are on the roster for today's game. The roster can be changed between rounds, and Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright would then be added if they advance.

In the other wild card playoff game, the Orioles will travel to Texas to face the Rangers at 7:30. Joe Saunders will get the start for Baltimore, and Yu Darvish will start for Texas. The Orioles have been a Cinderella story this year, and made their first postseason since 1997 when they had Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson, and Mike Mussina. They almost won the AL East over the Yankees, but fell 2 games short. Texas collapsed down the stretch, and lost the AL West in the season's final day after leading it all year. One has to wonder what kind of pyschological impact that losing a 13 game lead will have on the Rangers. They still have one of the most talented rosters of any playoff team, but they aren't playing good baseball right now.

The Orioles have a knack for winning close games. They were 29-9 in one run games, and 16-2 in extra inning games this year. They also turned it on in the second half despite injuries to Nick Markakis and Jason Hammel. Texas is coming off back to back World Series appearances, but find themselves as the wild card this year after leading the division most of the year. The Rangers have the better team on paper, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Orioles won this game tonight.

The Nationals will face the winner of the Braves/Cardinals game and head to one of those cities to start the Division Series. To fit in the wild card game, baseball went with a 2-3 format, instead of a 2-2-1 format that usually happens in the Division Series. Washington made their first postseason since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos. It's only the second time in frachise history they've made the postseason since they missed out in the 1994 season due to the strike. It's the first time a DC based baseball team has made the postseason since 1933 when the Washington Senators lost to the New York Giants in the World Series that year.

The Giants and Reds will face off in the other Division Series in the National League. Dusty Baker will be going up against his former team. The Giants will start Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner the first two games, but manager Bruce Bochy is undecided on the Game 3 starter. He will have Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito to pick from. The Reds will start Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, and Mat Latos the first three games, and could start no-hit artist Homer Bailey if there is a Game 4.

The Yankees ended up with the American League's best record and will face the winner of the Orioles/Rangers game. Ichiro Suzuki will be making his first postseason appearance since 2001 when he was with the Mariners. The Yankees made the postseason for a record 51st time this year. The next closest would be the Dodgers with 26 and the Cardinals with 25 appearances.

The other Division Series matchup in the American League will be the Tigers vs. the Athletics, a rematch of the 2006 ALCS. The A's have wheeled and dealed every year since, but Billy Beane has finally found a mix of players who won. While not as good as the Orioles, the A's were good in one run games, going 25-8. They were 11-5 in extra inning games. Oakland was 51-25 in the second half, and became only the fifth team ever to comeback from a deficit of 13 games or more. They joined the 1914 Boston Braves, 1951 New York Giants, 1978 New York Yankees, and the 1995 Seattle Mariners. The 14 Braves and 78 Yankees went on to win the World Series. It was a very unexpected division crown for Oakland, who were thought to be one of baseball's worst teams coming into the season. Instead a group of rookies and castoffs came together and manager Bob Melvin did a great job with platoons and bullpen matchups.

The A's could have as many as 12 rookies on their postseason roster. Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and many others played prominent roles on this ballclub. While I think the 2012 Oakland A's are a good story, I think the Tigers will beat them. Detroit will be able to trot out Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Doug Fister, who all have filthy stuff. They have the best 3-4 combo in the league in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

                           NL Wild Card Game Starter Kyle Lohse

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Who Should Win the Awards

                    Cabrera and Verlander: Hitting and Pitching Triple Crown Winners

There should be plenty of debate who should win the awards this year. In the American League, there has been quite a discussion who should be the MVP between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Both players are having terrific seasons. Cabrera is on the verge of becoming the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown. Trout is having a historically great rookie season, and great year regardless. Trout is a five tool player who has made some great home run robbing catches this year. In the National League, there isn't a clear cut MVP candidate. There are numerous guys who could win. Here's who I would vote for.

Gold Gloves
C-Yadier Molina, Matt Weiters
1B-Adam LaRoche, Mark Teixiera
2B-Darwin Barney, Ian Kinsler
SS-Brandon Crawford, Elvis Andrus
3B-Ryan Zimmerman, Adrian Beltre
OF-Jon Jay, Austin Jackson
OF-Michael Bourn, Mike Trout
OF-Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones
P-Mark Buehrle, David Price

Silver Sluggers
C-Buster Posey, Joe Mauer
1B-Allen Craig, Prince Fielder
2B-Aaron Hill, Robinson Cano
SS-Ian Desmond, Derek Jeter
3B-Chase Headley, Miguel Cabrera
OF-Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton
OF-Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout
OF-Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones
P(DH)-Mike Leake, Edwin Encarnacion

Rookie of the Year

National League
1) Wade Miley
2) Bryce Harper
3) Todd Frazier
4) Anthony Rizzo
5) Matt Carpenter

American League
1) Mike Trout
2) Yoenis Cespedes
3) Jarrod Parker
4) Tommy Milone
5) Wei-Yei Chen

Wade Miley has had a terrific rookie year and has won 16 games with a 3.36 ERA. Bryce Harper has been key for the Nats rise this year, but I think Miley has had the best rookie year. Todd Frazier has been a important player for the Reds, who dealt with some injuries this year. His teammate Zack Cozart has had a good year defensively, but he just missed my list. Matt Carpenter has also been a valuable utility guy for the Cardinals. In the American League, Mike Trout is the clear cut winner. He's had a historic rookie year, rating up there with Joe DiMaggio's 1936 season, Fred Lynn's 1975 season, and Albert Pujols' 2001 season. I selected threee A's players, and could of easily selected All Star reliever Ryan Cook as well.

Cy Young Award

National League

1) RA Dickey
2) Gio Gonzalez
3) Johnny Cueto
4) Clayton Kershaw
5) Matt Cain

Clayton Kershaw still has a start left on the season's finale, and he currently leads the NL in ERA and WHIP, and has an outside chance of leading in strikeouts(currently 9 back of RA Dickey). I feel that Dickey has had the best all around year of NL pitchers this year. He won 20 games on a mediocre Mets club, and ranks among the top in all major pitching categories. There are quite a few more worthy candidates I didn't list like relievers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, who have been dominant this year. Kyle Lohse, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Cole Hamels also had really good years.

American League

1) David Price
2) Justin Verlander
3) Jered Weaver
4) Chris Sale
5) Felix Hernandez

Justin Verlander has had an excellent follow up season to his 2011 campaign in which he won the pitching Triple Crown, Cy Young Award, and MVP.  However, I think David Price had a slightly better year. Price led the AL in ERA and Wins, and is in the top ten in every major pitching category. King Felix had another great year pitching for a bad team, and threw a perfect game earlier this year.

Most Valuable Player

National League

1) Ryan Braun
2) Andrew McCutchen
3) Buster Posey
4) Yadier Molina
5) Chase Headley
6) Matt Holliday
7) David Wright
8) Adam LaRoche
9) Craig Kimbrel
10) Aroldis Chapman

There isn't really a clear cut winner in the National League, and reluctantly I put Ryan Braun #1. While there is a feeling that Braun shouldn't win because he got out of his PED suspension on a technicality, he is having the best all around year. He's had a 30/30 year, and leads the NL in home runs and OPS. I thought Andrew McCutchen was a lock for the MVP a month ago, but the Pirates faded. Buster Posey deserves some MVP consideration because's he's carried that team offensively. If Posey's a candidate, then Yadier Molina is as well since he's had a great year with the bat, and is baseball's best defensive catcher. I left off Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman from my Cy Young ballot but included them on the MVP. They have been lights out this year, and there is a reason why both of their teams are making the playoffs. They shut the door in the 9th inning.

American League

1) Miguel Cabrera
2) Mike Trout
3) Josh Hamilton
4) Adrian Beltre
5) Adam Jones
6) Robinson Cano
7) Edwin Encarnacion
8) David Price
9) Justin Verlander
10) Prince Fielder

There are a lot of people who think that Mike Trout should be the MVP this year. He's having a banner year, hitting for average, power, steals bases, and plays outstanding defense. Most years, he would be the MVP. Not this year, though. With a game to go, Miguel Cabrera is likely to become the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. He has a comfortable lead in average and RBIs and has a one HR lead over Josh Hamilton. He also leads the AL in slugging and total bases. Cabrera also lost weight and got in better shape to make the move from first to third base to accomodate Prince Fielder. He isn't going to win a Gold Glove over there, but has been respectable. Cabrera also came on strong in September, helping the Tigers come back to win the AL Central. Trout cooled off a bit in the season's last month, and the Angels just missed out of the playoffs. However, the Angels didn't click until Trout came up. They were scuffling before that, and Albert Pujols was off to the worst start of his career. Still, it would be a travesty not to give the MVP to a Triple Crown winner.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Cardinals Closing In On Playoff Spot

With 3 games to go, the Cardinals have a 2 game lead on the second wild card spot. At 86-73, the Cardinals could clinch tonight with a win and a Dodgers loss. The Redbirds are 10-3 in their last 13 games and just took 2 out of 3 against the Nationals. For the final series of the season the Reds will come to town for a three game set. The Reds are in a chase for the National League's best record and are currently tied with the Nationals with 96 wins. The Dodgers will be playing their archrival Giants to close the season. There is still a chance for the Dodgers to sneak in, but they will need to win at least 2 games and probably sweep the Giants, and the Cardinals would need to get swept for that to happen.

For the Reds series, the Cardinals will start Jaime Garcia Monday, Chris Carpenter on Tuesday, and are still deciding on their starter for Wednesday's season finale. It could be Adam Wainwright, but he won't pitch if the Cardinals have clinched by then. Waino is a candidate to start Friday's wild card playoff game vs. the Braves. Kyle Lohse is also a candidate. The Braves have already announced that Kris Medlen will start for them in the wild card game. Medlen has gone 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts since joining the rotation in the second half. The Braves have won 23 straight starts that Medlen has made.

There will be some decisions to make on the postseason roster as well. For the one game wild card playoff, they could leave a couple of starting pitchers off, so they could add an extra bullpen arm, or a bench player. Teams can change their roster between rounds. Last season, the Cardinals did this between every round. Skip Schumaker, Jake Westbrook, Adron Chambers, Kyle McClellan, and Lance Lynn were among the players moved on and off the roster.

The Cardinals have already announced that Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal will not be able to play in the postseason due to injuries. Jake Westbrook is also done for the year. If the Cards go with 13 position players like they have all season, there will be some debate on who the final bench guys will be. Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker(or Daniel Descalso, depending on who's starting second), and Tony Cruz are locks for the roster. The last two spots are up in the air right now. With Pete Kozma's excellent play this September, Ryan Jackson could find himself off the roster. In the outfield, Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers are the likely candidates to be included on the roster. I think Chambers will get the final spot over Jackson because of his speed.

For the bullpen, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and Edward Mujica are locks. Joe Kelly is likely to be part of the bullpen mix if he isn't asked to start. Trevor Rosenthal can reach up to 100 mph and has done well out of the pen since being promoted, I would think he makes it as well. That leaves two spots up for grabs. A lefty will surely be part of the mix, with Marc Rzepczynski and Sam Freeman competing for that spot. Both could make it, but I doubt they will. Mike Matheny has been going with Freeman over Scrabble the last few weeks, so its possible that it would be Freeman. Fernando Salas has had a up and down season, and he could find himself off the roster. Likely, the final spot could be between Salas and Scrabble. Shelby Miller is also a possibility.

For the playoff rotation, there is some questions as well. Lohse or Wainwright should get the start on Friday's playoff game. If the Cardinals advance, they have plenty of candidates after that. Carpenter will surely be part of the rotation. The last spot could be between Garcia and Lance Lynn. Garcia is lights out at Busch Stadium, but shaky on the road. Lynn has fallen off a bit in the second half and hasn't been as durable. He could start, but could also be a long man out of the bullpen.

The rest of the playoff picture is starting to look clear. The Nats, Reds, Giants, and Braves have clinched in the National League. The Cardinals magic number is 2. In the American League, the Rangers, Yankees, and Orioles have clinched playoff spots. The Orioles and Yankees are tied for the AL East lead. The Tigers have clinched at least a tie for the AL Central title, and Miguel Cabrera is has the lead in all threeTriple Crown categories with three games to go. The Athletics have at least clinched a tie for the second wild card spot. Both the Rays and Angels are three games back. It looks like Albert Pujols will be missing the playoffs in his first season as an Angel.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Miguel Cabrera's Quest for the Triple Crown


With 13 games to go, Miguel Cabrera is making a serious run at the Triple Crown. Currently, he leads the American League in batting average with .333 and RBIs with 130. Cabrera has 41 home runs, which is one home run behind league leader Josh Hamilton. Cabrera has 7 more RBIs than Hamilton, and in batting average Mike Trout is second with a .324 average. Hamilton has been out lately with vision problems, and Trout has cooled off a bit. Cabrera has been on a roll, and the Triple Crown is well within reach for him.

Just how rare is it to win a Triple Crown? Well, it hasn't been done since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it. Only 15 times in baseball history has a hitter won the Triple Crown. Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams(twice), Joe Medwick, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Chuck Klein, Rogers Hornsby(twice), Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Tip O'Niell, and Paul Hines have reached this milestone. O'Niell and Hines did it in the 19th century, and Cobb and Lajoie did it in the deadball era. Medwick, a Cardinal, was the last National League player to win the Triple Crown in 1937.

Its a feat that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Albert Pujols never accomplished. Pujols has led in two legs of the Triple Crown, and has led the league in all three categories in different seasons, but never the same one. Gary Sheffield came close to winning it in 1992, but he broke a finger late in the season. He led the National League in batting average, and was within striking distance of the home run and RBI lead. Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Dick Allen, George Foster, Jim Rice, Mike Schmidt, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker, Bonds, and Pujols have also gave it a good run.

Cabrera has a realistic shot of becoming the first player since Yaz to win the Triple Crown. Cabrera has led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs one each in seperate seasons. Cabrera has been on fire in September, batting .364 with 8 home runs and 21 RBIs. Besides gunning for the Triple Crown, Cabrera is trying to lead his Tigers to the playoffs. They are currently 2 games behind the White Sox for the AL Central.

There are some baseball people who think that Mike Trout should win the AL MVP this year. Not that Trout is a bad candidate, he can do it all, hit for average, power, has great speed, good baserunner, plays Gold Glove level defense, throws well. Its also possible that both Trout and Cabrera miss the postseason, so that might not be the tiebreaker. It wouldn't be the worst MVP pick ever if Trout won it, but Cabrera is on the cusp of doing something historic. It would be a travesty if Cabrera won the Triple Crown, and did not win the MVP.

Chris Carpenter will make his season debut today at Wrigley Field. It will be his first start since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. Hopefully, Carp will provide a boost for the Cardinals on their playoff run. It would be nice to have a battle tested postseason veteran for the playoff rotation.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Managers on the Hot Seat

                         Valentine and Guillen: More Mouthy than Successful

It's getting towards the end of the season, and like every year there will be some managers fired. The Astros already gave the axe to Brad Mills a few weeks ago. Although, no manager would be able to win with the Astros roster. There were two high profile managers hired last offseason, and both their inaguaral seasons have been disasters. The Red Sox Bobby Valentine and the Marlins Ozzie Guillen have made more headlines with their controversial comments than their teams play. Is it possible both could be fired? Maybe. I'll take a look at the most likely places that will have a new manager next year.

Gone..For Sure

Bobby Valentine, Red Sox

It's been a disaster for Bobby V in Boston this year. He's alienated his players, coaches, fans, and the front office. Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and other players were traded because they couldn't get along with him. Last year it was chicken and beer that was the controversy, but Valentine has made himself the controversy this year. He's popped off to a sports talk radio about the teams lackluster play, and he said the Red Sox had the weakest roster in their history. Bobby V should of done some research on some 1920s era post-Babe Ruth teams before making that statement. Apparently, Gonzalez texted ownership that the team couldn't get along with Valentine, and he was traded to the Dodgers soon after. I would be shocked if Valentine was brought back for a second season.

Jim Tracy, Rockies

Right now, the Rockies have a 58-87 record, and are in the basement of the NL West. The Rockies had a poor season last year as well. Troy Tulowitzki has missed most of the year, which isn't helping Tracy's cause. This team also has one of the worst rotations in the league, if not the worst. Tracy has gone with a four man rotation for much of the year, which caused pitching coach Bob Apodaca to resign. The starters typically only go 4 or 5 innings, leaving the bullpen to pick up the rest.

Manny Acta, Indians

Before the All Star break, the Indians were 44-41. Since the All Star break the Tribe has been in a free fall, going 17-45. This is Acta's third season as manager for Cleveland. Attendance has also been down this season, and the second half free fall hasn't helped.

Might Want to Update their Resume

Ozzie Guillen, Marlins

Like Bobby V, Guillen is also in his first season as manager of his new club. He started off the season by making some controversial comments about Fidel Castro. The Marlins spent big in the offseason, adding Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano, and Heath Bell. They expected to be contenders this year, but find themselves in last place. During the season, Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Gaby Sanchez, and Edward Mujica were traded. Bell has been terrible this year and was demoted from the closer role, Zambrano was moved to the bullpen, and Reyes wasn't as good as he was with the Mets. Its possible that Guillen comes back, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was fired.

Ron Gardenhire, Twins

The Twins have only had two managers in the last 25 years with Gardenhire and Tom Kelly. Gardenhire has had a good run in Minnesota, making the postseason 6 times. Unfortunately, Gardenhire has a 6-21 record in the postseason. Gardenhire has been a pretty good manager for the Twins, but the last two seasons they have been terrible. In 2011, they went 63-99, and this year they stand at 60-87, and could finish in last again this year. After a decade and a couple of lackluster seasons, the Twins could go in a different direction next year.

Probably Safe, but a Chance for a Change

Mike Scoiscia, Angels

Scoiscia has been a very good manager in his 13 years with the Angels. However, this season there were big expectations for the club and they have underachieved. They spent big to get Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson in the offseason, rookie phenom Mike Trout came up early in the year, and they traded for Zack Greinke at the deadline. Not only is the Rangers ahead of them in the West, the low budget Athletics are too. The Halos could still get the last wild card spot, but if the season ended today they would be out of the playoffs. Scoiscia could get a mulligan for this, or it could be like Terry Francona with Boston last year.

Joe Girardi, Yankees

On July 18th, the Yankees had a ten game lead on the Orioles. Now, they are clinging on to a one game lead. The Yankees have gone 26-29 since July 18th. The Yankees have an aging club, and have had their fair share of injuries this year. If the Yankees end up not making the playoffs this year, I wonder what would happen. Are George Steinbrenner's sons like his dad? George once fired Buck Showalter(now the Orioles manager) after losing the deciding Game 5 of the 1995 ALCS. He also hired and fired Billy Martin five different times.

Fredi Gonzalez, Braves

Gonzalez was on the hot seat after last season's September collapse. He was unpopular with Braves fans, and if they don't make the playoffs this year, he likely would be gone. Gonzalez made a comment recently after benching Dan Uggla, that he doesn't know if he will be back next year. I don't see a similar collapse happening this year. The Braves have a 6.5 game lead on the Cardinals for the first wild card spot, and it seems pretty likely that they make the playoffs. Its Chipper Jones final year, and I'm sure that motivates this team. They also have their pitching staff in better shape this year than last. Their bullpen isn't wore down, and they have Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Ben Sheets, Paul Maholm, Mike Minor, and Tommy Hanson to pick from in the rotation. Last season, two of their top starters were out in September.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Don't Sleep on the Phillies and Brewers

              Can't Count Out a Team With These Pitchers On It

The Cardinals are hanging on to the second wild card spot for now despite their recent struggles. In their last 4 games, the Cardinals are 4-10. It's looking less likely that the Cardinals can catch the Braves for the first wild card and homefield advantage. Sometimes, their offense has been shut down. Other times, the Cardinals pitching or defense has let them down. The Cardinals will head to Los Angeles this weekend to play a crucial four game series against the Dodgers. The Dodgers are just one game back from the second wild card, but they have stumbled recently. They are 5-10 in their last 15 games, despite adding a ton of talent in the last couple of months. They were flying high earlier in the year before they added Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Brandon League, Josh Beckett, and Adrian Gonzalez.

The Pirates have also faded since winning a 19 inning game against the Redbirds. They are 5-15 since, but are only 2.5 games back from the Cardinals. The Cardinals are looking more like the 2010 version lately than the 2011 version that came on strong in September. That been said, in 2006 the Cardinals played terribly in September and backed into the playoffs with only 83 wins. They went on to win the World Series that year. However, just because the Dodgers and Pirates are playing badly doesn't guarantee a postseason spot. There is 20 games left to go and a couple other teams have re-emerged into the playoff picture.

Last season, the Phillies and Brewers had the best records in the National League with the Phillies winning 102 games and the Brewers winning 96. The Diamondbacks were also a playoff team as well. All three teams are creeping back into the race. The Phillies got back to the .500 mark with last night's win against the Marlins. They are now only 4 games back of the Cards and are 13-4 in their last 17 games. The Brewers have also clawed their way back to a .500 record. They are also at 71-71 and are 4 games back of the Cardinals. The Diamondbacks are one game back of the Phils and Brew Crew.

Stangely, after unloading Jim Thome, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and Joe Blanton, the Phillies have taken off. They are 34-21 in the second half after a dissapointing first half. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard missed half the season, and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee spent some time on the DL. Their offense isn't what it used to be, but with a pitching staff that includes Halladay, Lee, and Cole Hamels, you cannot count them out.

The Brewers might be kicking themselves for unloading Zack Greinke at the deadline. They were well under .500 at the break, and it didn't look like they were going to turn it around. They have been playing good baseball lately, going 13-4 in their last 17 games. Their offense has still been pretty good this year, but their bullpen has been terrible. John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez have both fallen off tremendously from good seasons last year.

While the Brewers and Phillies have some holes, they shouldn't be counted out yet. No one expected the Cardinals to make the playoffs last year at this time. In late August, they were ten games back of the Braves for the wild card, and came back to catch them on the season's final game. The 2007 Rockies rallied back in September and went on a tear to catch the Padres on the season's final game. They beat the Padres in a one game playoff, and ended up in the World Series that year. The 2004 Astros overcame six teams for the wild card after being below .500 in late July. It's not impossible, and the Cardinals are going to have to play better baseball to make the postseason.

   Matt Holliday's game winning run in the 2007 wild card tiebreaker

Monday, September 10, 2012

Jay Growing Into Leadoff Role

Rafael Furcal began the season as the Cardinals leadoff hitter, and he excelled at it in the first couple of months. He started wearing down in midseason and fell into a slump, and was dropped down the order. Now, Furcal is out for the year. Manager Mike Matheny didn't have many other options for the leadoff spot. He tried Skip Schumaker and even Daniel Descalso in that role, but neither did that well. It became obvious that Jon Jay was the best option after Furcal. Jay had primarily been a #2 hitter, or a bottom of the lineup hitter before.

Jay has taken a liking to the leadoff spot, and works the pitcher deep into counts. In 31 games as the Cardinals leadoff hitter, Jay has hit .352 with a .424 on base percentage. Jay had a terrific August, batting .355 for the month. He also hit 12 extra base hits, which was as many as he had for the season before August. Jay started the year off hot, but suffered an injury colliding into the wall in late April. Jay later went on the disabled list, missing most of May and June. Jay slumped in July, only batting .227, but he got it back together in August.

Jay hasn't let up in September, he is batting .441 in 8 games. Jay has also greatly improved his baserunning and became a stolen base threat. This year, he leads the ballclub with 16 steals and he has only been caught 4 times. Jay could become the first Cardinal to steal 20 bases since Cesar Izturis in 2008. Jay wasn't very successful at basestealing in his first two seasons, only going 8 for 19 in stolen base attempts. He has worked at improving that, and could one day steal 30 bases in a season.

Another aspect of Jay's game that has improved is his defense. He has shown more range this year, and has been taking better routes to flyballs than in past seasons. Some people had said he deserves consideration for a Gold Glove. I'm not sure if he'll win over some of the bigger names like Andrew McCutchen and Michael Bourn that patrol center, but he deserves to be in the discussion.

Last year, Jay hit 10 home runs and 24 doubles. His career slugging percentage is .422. I don't think he'll develop much more power, but he looks to be a solid .300 hitter. There's nothing wrong with that, the Cardinals have needed a good leadoff hitter for several seasons. They cleared room for him to play by trading power hitting outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Colby Rasmus in his first two seasons. It looks like Jay might be the Cardinals leadoff hitter for seasons to come. I think Jay could turn into a Shane Victorino type player.

Trevor Rosenthal looked impressive Saturday night pitching out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam. He can reach the high 90s and has filthy stuff. He'll be in the rotation someday for the Cardinals. If the Cardinals make the postseason, he should be on the roster. Shelby Miller made his major league debut last Wednesday, pitching 2 scoreless innings in relief. With Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly to go with Rosenthal and Miller, the Cardinals have plenty of young arms that could start for them next season.