Friday, June 29, 2012

NL West Race Tightens Up

Just a few weeks ago the Dodgers had the best record in baseball. Earlier this week the Giants swept the Dodgers, and yesterday the Giants took a one game lead over the Dodgers. The Dodgers have been in an 1-9 freefall in their last 10 games. The Diamondbacks have also got back in the race, and they are only 4 back of the second place Dodgers, and five back of the first place Giants.

Losing Matt Kemp has been a big loss for the Dodgers. They were 23-13 with him, and only 20-21 without him. Kemp isn't likely to come back until after the All Star break. Andre Ethier also strained his oblique during the Giants series. Ethier is officially day-to-day, but the Dodgers cannot afford to lose him for a long period of time. The rest of the Dodgers offense is pretty weak, and they could use another bat even when Kemp and Ethier are healthy again.

The Dodgers have won this year because of their pitching. Led by Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano, they have the second best ERA in the National League. Chad Billingsley has been up and down this season. Their bullpen has been solid, with Kenley Jansen taking over as closer. Offensively, the Dodgers only rank 11th in the NL in runs scored.

The Giants don't have a mighty offense either. They are slightly ahead of the Dodgers, ranking 10th in the NL in runs scored. Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera have both have good seasons, and are likely All Stars this year. Pablo Sandoval has also came of the disabled list, and provides protection for Posey. Still, the Giants are probably in the market for a bat as well.

Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong have been dominant this season. Cain pitched a perfect game recently, and Bumgarner shut out a powerful Reds team and limited them to one hit. However, Tim Lincecum has been shaky this year. Currently, Lincecum is 3-8 with a 5.60 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. Lincecum did pitch well against the Dodgers a couple of days ago. The Giants need him to revert back to his old self.

The Giants lost Brian Wilson for the year in early April. Santiago Casilla has filled in as closer, and has pitched well. Sergio Romo has also been dominant out of the bullpen, with a 0.83 ERA for the year. Lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt have been sharp as well.

The Giants and Dodgers have similar ballclubs. They both have strong pitching and mediocre offenses. This is one of the classic rivalries in baseball, ranking with the Yankees/Red Sox and Cardinals/Cubs. They have been in many close pennant races against each other, dating back to their New York days. But, there is another club sneaking back into contention. That would be last year's division champion, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D-Backs have underachieved in the first couple of months. Justin Upton, Ryan Roberts and Miguel Montero got off to slow starts. Chris Young and Stephen Drew were injured. Both Young and Drew are healthy now. Roberts(the Tatman) is still slumping, but Upton and Montero have picked it up. Jason Kubel, Aaron Hill, and Paul Goldschmidt are all having good years. Last year's Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra has been moved to fourth outfielder to make room for Kubel. This is the best offensive team in the division when healthy, and they rank 6th in runs right now.

Arizona has gone 15-9 in June, and are now only 5 games behind the Giants. Trevor Cahill and Ian Kennedy have rebounded from slow starts. Lefty Wade Miley is the leading contender for Rookie of the Year. Miley is 9-3 with a 2.19 ERA, so far. Joe Saunders is hurt, and Daniel Hudson has a tear in his UCL and will likely undergo Tommy John surgery. The D-Backs have called up top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to fill in. Bauer was the D-Backs #1 pick last year, and has electric stuff. In the bullpen, setup guys Daniel Hernandez and Brad Ziegler have pitched well. Closer JJ Putz has been inconsistent, and has an ERA north of 5.

It looks like it will be an good race in the National League West this year. The Dodgers now have stable ownership, and will likely make some moves at the deadline. With the Rockies and Padres in terrible shape, its likely that a wild card could come from this division, too. Right now, the Giants have the best record in the National League. The Dodgers are right behind them, and the Diamondbacks are healthy now. It should be an exciting second half for these teams.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who Should Make the All Star Rosters


It's hard to believe that its almost time for the All Star Game, but it is less than two weeks away. I don't agree with some of the fan voting, with the biggest error being Buster Posey leading NL catchers in voting. I'm going to predict who will (and who should) make the All Star team in today's blog.

National League

Starting Lineup
SS Rafael Furcal, STL
CF Andrew McCutchen, PIT
1B Joey Votto, CIN
LF Ryan Braun, MIL
RF Carlos Beltran, STL
3B David Wright, NYM
DH Andre Ethier, LAD
2B Dan Uggla, ATL
C Buster Posey, SF
P R.A. Dickey, NYM

C Carlos Ruiz, PHI
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Bryan LaHair, CHIC
2B Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Jed Lowrie, HOU
3B David Freese, STL
3B Chase Headley, SD
LF Carlos Gonzalez, COL
LF Melky Cabrera, SF
LF Matt Holliday, STL
CF Michael Bourn, ATL
RF Giancarlo Stanton, MIA

Starting Pitchers
RH Matt Cain, SF
RH Stephen Strasburg, WASH
LH Gio Gonzalez, WASH
LH Cole Hamels, PHI
RH James McDonald, PIT
LH Wade Miley, ARZ
RH Zack Greinke, MIL
RH Lance Lynn, STL

Relief Pitchers
RH Craig Kimbrel, ATL
RH Kenley Jansen, LAD
LH Aroldis Chapman, CIN
RH Tyler Clippard, WASH

CF Matt Kemp, LAD

Notes: Matt Kemp has said he will not play in the All Star Game due to injuries. Andrew McCutchen is having a great season, and should start in Kemp's place. Buster Posey has a case to make it as a reserve, but has no business starting over Yadier Molina or Carlos Ruiz. I left off a bunch of worthy pitchers in Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano, Johan Santana, and Johnny Cueto. There are always extra pitchers added though, since pitcher's who pitch the Sunday prior to the game are inelgible to pitch in the All Star Game. I don't think Tony La Russa would pick Cueto anyway, after the kicking incident two years ago that ended Jason LaRue's career.

American League

Starting Lineup
SS Derek Jeter, NYY
2B Robinson Cano, NYY
LF Josh Hamilton, TEX
1B Prince Fielder, DET
RF Jose Bautista, TOR
DH David Ortiz, BOS
3B Adrian Beltre, TEX
CF Curtis Granderson, NYY
C Mike Napoli, TEX
P Justin Verlander, DET

C Joe Mauer, MIN
1B Paul Konerko, CHIWS
2B Jason Kipnis, CLE
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX
SS Elvis Andrus, TEX
3B Miguel Cabrera, DET
3B Mike Moustakas, KC
CF Adam Jones, BAL
RF Josh Reddick, OAK
OF Mike Trout, LAA
UM Mark Trumbo, LAA
DH Edwin Encarnacion, TOR

Starting Pitchers
RH Jake Peavy, CHIWS
LH Chris Sale, CHIWS
LH David Price, TB
RH Felix Hernandez, SEA
RH Jason Hammel, BAL
RH Yu Darvish, TEX
LH CJ Wilson, LAA

Relief Pitchers
RH Joe Nathan, TEX
RH Jim Johnson, BAL
RH Fernando Rodney, TB
RH Chris Perez, CLE
LH Scott Downs, LAA

Notes: In my opinion, Adam Jones should be starting over Curtis Granderson, Paul Konerko instead of Prince Fielder, and either Joe Mauer, AJ Pierzynski, or Matt Wieters over Mike Napoli. I couldn't find a spot for Josh Willingham or Jonathon Broxton, who are both deserving, but play for bad teams.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Look Back at the 2002 Cardinals

                 Darryl Kile meeting with Mike Matheny

2002 was a tragic year for the Cardinals. Hall of Fame outfielder Enos Slaughter died that year, as did 1982 World Series MVP Darrel Porter. Longtime Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck died on June 18, 2002. Four days later in Chicago, pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room at age 33. I remember turning on the game, and Cubs catcher Joe Girardi tearfully announcing that the game had been cancelled.

Kile was one of the most respected members on the Cardinals during this time. Kile revived his career with the Cardinals after struggling with the Rockies for two seasons. Reliever Dave Veres was teammates with him in Colorado, and came to St. Louis in the same trade in late 1999. Kile was also Matt Morris' mentor, and Morris was never the same after Kile's death.

Dave Duncan made some adjustment's to Kile when he came over to St. Louis, and his curveball was effective again after getting out of the thin air of Colorado. Kile won 20 games in 2000, and made his third All Star appearance. In 2001, Kile lowered his ERA to 3.16 and won 16 games. He was the pitcher he was in Houston again. Kile was the Astros' ace before signing a big deal with the Rockies.

This is a type of thing that could have a negative impact on a team. One of their leaders and clubhouse favorites died in midseason. The Cardinals recently took over first place less than a week before Kile's death. The team rallied together after Kile's death and went on a run in the second half. The 2002 Cardinals were a resilient team, and Tony La Russa won his first manager of the year award in St. Louis. He was  credited for keeping the team focused despite the tragedy.

The Cardinals also made some big moves in July, before the trading deadline. They traded valuable utilityman Placido Polanco, reliever Mike Timlin, and 22 year old pitcher Bud Smith(who pitched a no-hitter in 2001) to the Phillies for All Star third baseman Scott Rolen. Rolen was up for free agency after the season, but liked playing in St. Louis and re-signed. Smith never pitched in the big leagues again after the trade. They then traded outfield prospect Coco Crisp to the Indians for left handed starter Chuck Finley.

Rolen added to an already prolific offense. Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, Edgar Renteria, and JD Drew were already mainstays on a team that finished 2nd in the National League in runs scored. Rolen also brought his great defense to St. Louis, and won several Gold Gloves during his time here.

Andy Benes also made a comeback in 2002, after being plagued by injuries the last year and a half. Benes pitched well down the stretch and Finley was a big pickup as well. The Cards were able to make up the loss of the player Kile, but not the person. Woody Williams and Morris also pitched well down the stretch in 2002. Finley and Benes would both end up retiring after the season, but both pitched well in the second half. The Cardinals ended up winning the division by 13 games and won 97 games during the regular season.

In the postseason, the Cardinals swept the defending World Champion Diamondbacks in the Division Series. Unfortunately, Alex Cintron ran into Scott Rolen during the series, and Rolen missed the Championship Series. The Cardinals fell to the Giants in the NLCS in 5 games. It was a dissapointing finish, but a memorable year. Its hard to believe that ten years has passed since then.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Who Should Be the Starting Pitcher for the NL All Stars?


There has been a lot of pitchers in the National League having great years this season. Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Wade Miley, Lance Lynn, Johnny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Johan Santana, James McDonald, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Chris Capuano, and Kyle Lohse have all put up All Star worthy seasons. Brandon Beachy and Ryan Dempster were impressive as well, but they are injured right now. Beachy is likely to have Tommy John surgery since he has a tear in his elbow.

In my opinion, there are three pitchers who have been head and shoulders above everybody else. That would be the Mets R.A Dickey, the Giants Matt Cain, and the Nationals Stephen Strasburg. These three pitchers have been absolutely dominant this year.

R.A. Dickey has revived his career since joining the Mets in 2010. Dickey was a career journeyman before then, and spent a lot of time in the minor leagues. After getting released by the Rangers, Dickey added a knuckleball and perfected it in the minors. At age 37, Dickey is having a career year; leading the National League in ERA, Wins, Winning Pct., WHIP, and shutouts. Dickey is also striking out more batters than he ever has, with his K/9 ratio at 9.4 this year. His career total is 6.0. Dickey recently pitched 32.2 scoreless innings, breaking a Mets franchise record.

Dickey throws a hard knuckleball, topping out at 81 mph. Its much faster than Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, and faster than Charlie Hough or the Niekro brothers ever threw. There is some concern about who will catch him in the All Star game, since a knuckleball is so hard to catch. Buster Posey is leading the vote, and Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz deserve to make it as well. I would think one of those catchers could handle the knuckler for an inning or two. Dickey has pitched two one hitters in a row, and certainly deseves consideration for the start and has put himself on the Cy Young radar.

Just a week ago, Matt Cain pitched a perfect game with 14 strikeouts. It was the second perfecto this year, and only the 22nd of alltime. Tim Lincecum has struggled this year, but Cain has picked up his game. Cain has been the Giants ace this season, and is living up to his big contract extension. Cain is in the top of the leaderboard in about every pitching category this year. Surprisingly, Cain actually had a career losing record coming into this season, but don't let that fool you. Cain has a career 3.28 ERA and has been the victim of poor run support most of his career. This year he's finally getting some run support and is off the best start of his career. He also would be a good choice as the starter for the All Star game.

Stephen Strasburg has been dominant in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Strasburg is leading the National League with 110 strikeouts, and is in the top ten in ERA, WHIP, Wins, and Winning pct. The Nationals have a 165 inning limit on him this year, and he's already halfway there with 84 innings pitched. The Nationals are contenders this year, and will be hard for them to keep him from passing that limit. Strasburg would be a good choice for the starting pitcher, although the Nats don't want him pitching more than an inning in the game.

Right now, I think R.A. Dickey would be the best choice for the NL starting pitcher. He has been unhittable this year, and is having a slightly better year than Strasburg or Cain so far in my opinion. Cain and Strasburg are also deserving, and should both pitch in the game. It would be a nice change of pace to have one of them come in after Dickey. It would fool AL hitters. After doing some research; Dickey would only be the third knuckleballer to start a All Star game, if selected. The other two where Dutch Leonard in 1943 and Bob Purkey in 1961.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tigers Not Living Up to Expectactions


Before the season, the Tigers were thought to be serious contenders for the World Series. They added slugger Prince Fielder to a team that made the ALCS last year. Big things were expected in Detroit this year, but they enter Tuesday with a record of 32-34. That's not as bad as it sounds considering the Tigers are only 2.5 games back from first in a weak division. I thought the Tigers would run away with the AL Central this year, but they haven't played up to their potential.

The Cardinals might be catching the Tigers at the right time. That said, I didn't expect the Cards to have problems with the Royals and Indians. St. Louis has been in a funk the last month and need to get on a roll. Tuesday's matchup should be a good one, Lance Lynn vs. Justin Verlander. After that they face much easier pitchers in Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner.

Last year, the Tigers didn't get hot until the second half after they made a couple of trades, the biggest one in acquiring pitcher Doug Fister. That could happen again this year, although they probably need to make another big trade. They need to shore up second base, right field, and probably need another pitcher or two. This is a team that has great players in Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Justin Verlander, so I'm not counting them out.

Part of the reason the Tigers have struggled is because they have possibly the worst defensive infield in baseball. Cabrera had to move to third base to make room for Fielder. Cabrera hasn't played third since 2008, and had to drop some weight to do so. Cabrera is a better defensive first baseman than Fielder, so the D has suffered over there as well. Jhonny Peralta is better known for his bat than glove, and is a below average defensive shortstop. In the outfield, center fielder Austin Jackson covers a ton of ground and is the Tigers best overall defender. Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young are poor defenders in the outfield, when they play.

Cabrera has been his usual self with the bat this year, and is among league leaders in average, home runs, RBIs, and total bases. Fielder has hit well too, although for not as much power as he did in Milwaukee. Austin Jackson has had a big turnaround at the plate this year, and has done a good job as the Tigers leadoff hitter. Jackson's cut down on strikeouts and has hit and walked more this year. Andy Dirks has also been a pretty good role player for the Tigers this year.

Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta have had down years offensively after having good years last year. Whoever is playing second has been bad as well. Ramon Santiago has been the best hitter of the four who've played there, and he's only batting .228 with a .305 OBP. The other three have hit under the Mendoza line. Delmon Young has been the DH this year in place of the injured Victor Martinez. Young hasn't hit for power or got on base much, and was arrested for assault and a hate crime in New York earlier this year. Boesch has also had a down year from last year. As good as Fielder and Cabrera are, the rest of the team has to step up for them to contend.

Outside of Justin Verlander, the Tigers starting pitching has been suspect. Doug Fister pitches well when healthy, but he has had two seperate stints on the disabled list this year. Rick Porcello hasn't been able to become a solid starter like the Tigers envisioned. He's only 23, but he's in his fourth season and has gotten steadily worse since his rookie year. This year, Porcello has a 5.18 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP. Mizzou alum Max Scherzer is leading the American League in strikeouts per 9 innings. The bad news is that that his ERA and WHIP are around Porcello's level. Scherzer is a strikeout pitcher and hard thrower, but doesn't have the art of pitching down like Verlander. Drew Smyly has done a good job as fifth starter, but is hurt now and has been replaced by rookie Jacob Turner.

Last year, Jose Valverde was one of the best closers in baseball. He made his third All Star team, led the AL with 49 saves, and finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting. This season, Valverde has struggled at times and has been inconsistent. Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel are usually solid relievers, but they've been up and down this year. Joaquin Benoit and Duane Below have pitched well for the Tigers this year, though.The Tigers have had some injuries in the bullpen, and have used 12 different relievers this year. An inconsistent bullpen has led to some Tiger losses this year. As a Cardinal fan, I know quite a bit about that.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cardinals Bullpen Could Use Help

The Cardinals bullpen has been shaky the last month in a half. They started the season out pretty well, but a few relievers have hit a rough patch. Marc Rzepczynski has not been the same pitcher he was last season and opponents have hit .476 off him in June. He was pretty iffy in May as well, allowing a 5.40 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched. Scrabble has even had a tough time getting lefties out recently. Fernando Salas had to be sent to the minors briefly due to ineffectiveness. Salas had a terrific year in 2011, finishing with a 2.28 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 75 innings pitched. Since being recalled, Salas has improved; not allowing a run in 4 innings pitched.

Jason Motte has  had some rough games in the Cardinals recent struggles. He has blown 3 saves this year and lost 3 games. He has a 3.34 ERA coming into Sunday, which is over a run higher than it was in 2010 and 2011. Despite that, Motte has been the Cardinals second best reliever after Mitchell Boggs. Eduardo Sanchez was recalled in May, and has some of the best stuff on the staff. He's been up and down this year, but I would trust him more than most of the relievers currently on the roster.

The Cardinals haven't been able to count on Scrabble to get lefties out lately, and do not have anybody else to fill that role. JC Romero opened up the season as the second lefty, but was terrible and was released in May. Rookie Sam Freeman started the year in Double A and made it to the majors last month to fill in as a second lefty. Freeman hasn't done that great so far, he has a 5.68 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 6.1 innings pitched.

Boggs was Tony La Russa's first choice to take over the closer role from an ineffective Ryan Franklin last year. Boggs blew his first save opportunity and wasn't given a chance to close again, and spent some time in the minors as well. This year, Boggs has improved quite a bit and has a bullpen low 2.48 ERA this season. New manager Mike Matheny has helped rebuild Boggs' confidence this year. Victor Marte wasn't expected to play a big role on this year's Cardinals team, but has been one of Matheny's favorite relievers so far. Marte was Memphis' closer last year and is a 31 year old rookie. Marte has been serviceable, although not overpowering or dominant.

The Cardinals have already used 12 relief pitchers this season, and that doesn't count Scott Linebrink who was injured warming up opening day. Linebrink and Romero have already been released. Kyle McClellan has been on the DL with elbow problems and it is unknown how long he will be out. Brandon Dickson and Chuckie Fick were up briefly before getting sent down. Maikel Cleto will likely join them once someone is ready to return from the DL. Cleto throws hard, but is wild and inconsistent.

The Cardinals biggest need going into the trading deadline is bullpen help. Their bullpen has been blowing games and making Cardinal fans sweat most of the season. I expect some of these guys to turn it around, but help is needed. Depending on Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia's health, its possible a starter may be needed as well. At the minimum, John Mozeliak needs to acquire an effective lefty reliever. He made need a right handed reliever as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Nats are for Real

The Washington Nationals have been terrible franchise since moving from Montreal in 2005. 2005 was actually their best season in DC, and they finished with a .500 record. From 2005 until 2011, the Nationals had a 492-640 record and five last place finishes. They were awful in 2008 and 2009, losing over 100 games both seasons. This franchise hasn't had a winning season since 2003 when they were the Montreal Expos. Last year, the Nationals improved by 11 wins from the previous season and this year they are off to a 36-23 start. With young phenoms like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, things are looking up for the Nats.

The Nats were actually in first place at the All Star break in 2005, but they collapsed down the stretch and ended up in last place. They finished .500, which is about as good as a last place team could be. That team wasn't anywhere near talented as this year's version. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is the only remaining member of that club, and he was only a September call up that year. This years version of the Nats has arguably the best pitching staff in the National League. So far, they lead the NL in ERA and strikeouts.

On offense, the Nats aren't as strong; ranking only 13th in the NL in runs scored. Zimmerman was hurt part of the year, and injuries have hit hard elsewhere. Jayson Werth has been out for over a month and will be out for at least another month. Catcher Wilson Ramos had a good rookie campaign last year, but is out for a couple of months. Mike Morse had a breakout season last year, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 126 runs. He just recently came back from injury.

Still, there are some players on offense that have underperformed. Second baseman Danny Espinosa is thought of highly by scouts, but is in a major sophomore slump this year. Switch hitting Espinosa has good power for a middle infielder, but he needs to cut down on strikeouts. Currently, he leads the National League. Shortstop Ian Desmond got off to a slow start, but he has picked it up in the last month. Utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi spots these guys sometimes, but he is needed in the outfield due to other injuries. Rick Ankiel gives the Nats good defense in center field, however he has a weak bat. Left field has been a mess this year. Morse should solidify that, though.

So far, first baseman Adam LaRoche and rookie outfielder Bryce Harper have been the Nats best hitters. Harper is likely to be a perennial All Star soon, probably not this year due to so outfielders having good years in the National League. Manager Davey Johnson has pushed to get Harper in the big leagues despite his youth. At age 19, Harper leads the team in batting average, on base pct., and slugging pct. Harper is just scratching the surface of his potential right now, and with time will cut down on the rookie mistakes he makes. Zimmerman hasn't turned it on yet this year, and I think he will at some point. The offense will also improve when Werth and Ramos are healthy again.

The key to the Nats success is their pitching. It's damn good, and this team has alot of pitching depth. A couple of years ago, John Lannan was their best starter. Now, he's in Triple A and on the trade block. Stephen Strasburg is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and has been dominant this year. Strasburg is 7-1 with a 2.41 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Strasburg also leads the National League with 92 strikeouts. Lefty Gio Gonzalez was acquired from Oakland in the offseason and is off to a 8-2 start with a 2.35 ERA. Gonzalez is second to Strasburg with 89 strikeouts. Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Edwin Jackson have all been good for the Nats this season as well.

Drew Storen had a great year as closer last year, saving 43 games with a 2.75 ERA. He hasn't pitched yet this year due to injury. However, All Star setup man Tyler Clippard has filled in well for Storen. Hard throwing Henry Rodriguez was tried at closer first, but faltered in that role. Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett both have sub-2.00 ERAs out of the bullpen. This team still has veterans Brad Lidge and Mike Gonzalez on the team, both who have closing experience.

I think the Nats will stay in contention all year due to their pitching. This is probably the most talented team this franchise has fielded since the Expos teams of the mid-90's. I thought they were still a year away from contending this year, but they are loaded with young talent. The National League East is a tough division, but the Nats have a 14-8 record against division opponents. The Phillies have been the beast of the East for the last five years, however they are banged up and struggling. There is an opening in this division this year, and the Nats could take it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lance Lynn Should be an All Star


Where would the Cardinals be this year without Lance Lynn? They might be below .500 right now without him. Lynn is off to a 9-2 start with a 2.66 ERA. Lynn is also 8th in the National League with 74 strikeouts. So far, Lynn has been the Cardinals best pitcher. Adam Wainwright is still finding his way back from Tommy John surgery. Jaime Garcia has hit a rough patch and was recently put on the DL. Jake Westbrook has struggled in the last month. Kyle Lohse has still been pretty solid, but not as good as Lynn.

Lynn has an explosive fastball that reaches 95 mph. Lynn throw five different pitches, a four seam fastball, a two seamer, a cutter, curveball, and a changeup. Lynn is a durable pitcher, and shouldn't run into the problems Kyle McClellan did adjusting to a starting role. Lynn went to Ole Miss and set college records for most strikeouts in a season and a career. The Cardinals drafted Lynn in the first round in 2008 as a compensation pick. Mostly a starter in the minors, Lynn did an excellent job pitching out of the bullpen last season and earned a win in two postseason games.

Entering the season, Lynn was just the fill-in for injured Chris Carpenter. Some fill-in Lynn has turned out to be. Earlier in the year it was assumed that Lynn would return to the bullpen when Carp came back. Well, there is no way the Cardinals are going to send their most successful starter to the bullpen now. Carpenter has taken longer than expected to come back, and probably won't be back until July. Garcia now has a shoulder strain and will miss at least 3 starts, possibly more if doctors say he needs more rest. Brandon Dickson or Joe Kelly will fill in until Carp or Garcia is ready. Kelly has been the Memphis Redbird's best starter this year, but is not on the 40 man roster. Top prospect Shelby Miller has struggled in Triple A so far, and isn't ready for the big leagues just yet.

Yesterday I said that my next post was "Lynn has earned a permanent rotation spot". Well, I'm going to go farther than that. Lynn has earned consideration for the All Star team. There are alot of pitchers in the National League who deserve to be All Stars this year. RA Dickey, Johan Santana, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, James McDonald, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano, Brandon Beachy, Cole Hamels, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Dave Miley, Zack Grienke, and Johnny Cueto have all put up All Star worthy seasons as well. Tony La Russa will be picking the reserves, but he should not feel guilty if he picks Lynn over one of these other guys. Lynn has earned a spot on the All Star roster.

The Cardinals should be set on starting pitching for years to come. Wainwright has been showing signs of being his old self again. Garcia is in the fold until 2016. Carp will likely retire when his deal runs out, Lohse and Westbrook will likely sign elsewhere when their deals run out after this season. Lynn looks like a future ace so far. After that, there is Shelby Miller; who has struggled so far this year. However, Miller dominated Double A last year and is only 21 years old. He was ranked # 8 prospect in all of baseball before the year and it will be a matter of time until he turns it around.

Deeper in the minors, there is more pitching depth. Trevor Rosenthal impressed Cardinals management and Chris Carpenter in spring training this year. So far he has a 2.90 ERA in Double A Springfield and has a explosive fastball himself. Left handed John Gast was promoted from Double A to Triple A this season. Carlos Martinez was ranked #27 prospect before the season, and is currently in High A Palm Beach. Tyrell Jenkins was ranked #94 prospect, and is currently on the DL. Jenkins is only 19 and in A ball right now. Earlier this week, the Cardinals used their first pick in the draft on college pitcher Michael Wacha from Texas A&M. The Cardinals have alot of pitching prospects, which is good because some of them could end up being busts or getting injured.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What if Allen Craig Played a Full Season?

Allen Craig has been a hitting machine since joining the Cardinals in mid-2010. In only 424 plate appearances, Craig has hit .304 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs. His career OBP is .355 and his slugging pct. is .548. The Cardinals haven't been able to find a fulltime position for Craig yet, but wherever they put him he hits. Craig has played all three outfield positions, first base, third base, and even second base since joining the Cardinals.

Part of the reason is because Craig has had to deal with some injuries. He fractured his kneecap in June of last year and missed a couple of months recovering from that. He was able to come back in late August of last year and was a big contributor in the Cardinals World Series run. Craig had to have offseason surgery on his knee and missed the first month of the season. Not long after Craig came off the DL this year, he hurt his hamstring. Despite the layoffs, Craig is off to a .366 start with 7 home runs and 24 RBIs in only 81 plate appearances. Amazingly, Craig is 5th on the team in home runs and 6th in RBIs in limited playing time.

Craig had two pinch hits in the first two games of the World Series that gave the Cardinals the lead. When Matt Holliday injured his hand in Game 6 of the World Series, Craig stepped in. In Game 7, Craig started in left field. Craig responded by hitting a home run, making a terrific catch to rob a home run away from Nelson Cruz, and he caught the final out of the World Series. Craig did all this with a broken knee cap as well.

Eventually, the Cardinals need to find a home for Allen Craig. Coming into the season, the Cardinals were set at every position. However, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, and Lance Berkman have all suffered injuries since. Carlos Beltran and David Freese will need time off as well, since both players have been injured in recent seasons. Berkman has said he's trying to come back in late July, but it might be sometime in August before he does. Matt Adams is most likely in the big leagues to stay, although Craig will get some time at first. It looks like Craig will mostly play the outfield. I would play him at third when Freese needs a day off as well. Craig has played second before, but its not an ideal position for him. Defensively, it would be better to have Tyler Greene or Daniel Descalso play there. But it might be considered at times because Craig's bat is too good to leave out of the lineup.

I would like to see what Craig could do in the big leagues if he got 500-600 at bats in a season. I think he could be a 30 home run, 100 RBI guy. Counting last year's postseason, Craig has hit 26 home runs and 90 RBIs in 471 big league plate appearances. If Craig can avoid injuries, he looks like a future All Star. I'm not sure what position that will be at, but his bat will find a everyday position someday with the Cardinals.

Coming up next: Lance Lynn Has Earned a Permanent Rotation Spot

Monday, June 4, 2012

White Sox Surprising Contenders This Year

                        White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is greeted by designated hitter Adam Dunn and second baseman Gordon Beckham after hitting a three-run homer against the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field on May 27, 2012. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

I expected the Tigers to run away with the AL Central this year. So far, they are 25-29 and 6 games out of first place. The Tigers didn't get going last year until the second half when they pulled away from the rest of the division. That still could happen this year, but they have some problems. The Tigers have a poor defense, but that was expected coming into the year. Their offense hasn't been as strong as expected and they are tied for 8th in the AL in runs scored. Outside of Justin Verlander, their pitching has been mediocre as well. The Tigers still have the talent to win the division, but they need to play much better to do so. They may need to make a trade to fill some voids on the team as well.

Not much was expected out of the White Sox this year. They stripped their team down, hired rookie manager Robin Ventura, and this year was thought to be a rebuilding year. Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Quentin parted ways in the offseason. Besides the Tigers, I thought Indians and Royals were probably better teams coming into the season. Franchise cornerstones Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski still lead the offense, and both players are off to good starts. Dayan Viciedo has stepped in left field and made up for the loss of Carlos Quentin. Jake Peavy has also had a rebound season after years of injury problems. Here's the top five reasons the Pale Hose have been better this year below.

1) Jake Peavy is Jake Peavy again

Peavy was one of the best pitchers in the game with the Padres from 2004 until 2008. He won the NL Cy Young Award in 2007 and the pitching Triple Crown. He was pretty good in 2008 as well, finishing with a 2.85 ERA. However, his innings dropped from 223.1 to 173.2 in 2008 due to injuries. Since then he's barely gotten over the 100 inning mark due to various injuries. This season, Peavy's fully healthy and back to being the pitcher he was in San Diego.

2) Chris Sale is a emerging young pitcher

Left handed Sale was the Sox first round pick in 2010 and was put in the majors almost immediately. Ozzie Guillen used Sale out of the pen his first two seasons. Robin Ventura put him in the rotation this season, and he's rewarded Ventura with a AL best 7 wins and a 2.30 ERA in 66.2 innings. I'm not sure how Sale will handle the increased workload later in the year, but putting him in the rotation seems like the right move.

3) Letting Alejandro De Aza be the regular Center Fielder

De Aza played well in a part time role last season and won the CF job this spring. Alex Rios was allowed to move to his natural right field position and this has improved Chicago's defense as well. De Aza has been a good leadoff hitter for the Sox, hitting .298 with a .380 OBP. De Aza also leads the AL with 13 steals.

4) Improved Performances by Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo

Dunn had a historically bad season in his first season in Chicago last year only batting .159 with 11 home runs. This year, Dunn has been hitting for power and drawing walks again. Dunn still is only hitting .222, but he does have a .376 OBP and a .545 slugging pct., which are in line with his career norms. Viciedo has claimed the left field job after a couple of previous trials in the big leagues.

5) Ventura has done a good job

The White Sox needed a change in leadership. Guillen had wore out his welcome in Chicago and some players were tired of his drama. Ventura has been a more low key, but steady leader of the club. He's given young players a chance to play, and the veterans like him as well.

I'm not sure if the Sox will win the division or not, but they have just as good of a chance as anybody in baseball's weakest division. They have some holes on the team still and some players who are underperforming. Third base is a black hole, and second baseman Gordon Beckham has yet to live up to his potential. Alexi Ramirez is very good defensively at shortstop, but off to a slow start at the plate. Starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd haven't been as sharp as in year's past. Besides his perfect game, Phil Humber has struggled this year. The bullpen has been so-so, with Addison Reed, Hector Santiago, and Matt Thornton all getting shots at closer. However, the Sox could make a move to improve some areas if they stay in contention. Still, this is a weak division and its very possible the Sox could win it.