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.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Bigger Surprise: Orioles or Athletics?

Not much was expected out of the Oakland Athletics or the Baltimore Orioles this season. Last year, the A's won 77 games and the Orioles only won 69 games. Now, the A's have 76 wins, only 1 win away from matching last year's total. The Orioles currently have 74 wins, which is already 5 more than they had in 2011. Right now, both teams are the American League wild card leaders. They are also within striking distance of first place in their respective divisions. The Orioles are only 2 games back of the Yankees, and the Athletics are 3 games back of the Rangers. Oakland is also 5.5 games ahead of the Angels, which I don't think that even the most hardcore A's fan thought would happen coming into September.

I didn't think the Athletics had a chance this year in the AL West. The Rangers were coming off back to back World Series appearances, and the Angels had made a big offseason splash signing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. In fact, I was wondering what the hell Billy Beane was doing. He traded three All Star pitchers in Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey this offseason. Beane just signed Cahill and Gonzalez to long term extensions in the last year.

I've been critical of Beane and Moneyball since it seems like he's constantly wheeling and dealing. He's traded Matt Holliday, Dan Haren, Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, among many others in recent years. He then traded the trio of All Star pitchers I mentioned earlier. However, this year he found a good mix. Bailey brought over Josh Reddick from the Red Sox, and he's had a good year hitting 28 home runs so far. Cahill brought over All Star reliever Ryan Cook, starter Jarrod Parker, and reserve outfielder Colin Cowgill. Gonzalez brought over starter Tommy Milone, new catcher Derek Norris, plus a couple of pitching prospects.

Last year's offense was really bad for the Athletics. This year, only second baseman Jemile Weeks and outfielder Coco Crisp start from last years team. They've added Stephen Drew, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, and Jonny Gomes since then. They signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and brought up first baseman Chris Carter to take over for weak hitting Daric Barton. They also signed Bartolo Colon, which was going good until he was suspended for PEDs. The pitchers are vastly different from last year, with only Brandon McCarthy, Grant Balfour, and Brett Anderson playing big roles on this year's team. Anderson recently came back from Tommy John surgery. I didn't expect the A's to stay in the race, but it's September now, and they are in the wild card lead.

The Orioles were another team not expected to do much this year. But they already have more wins now than they did for all of last year. The Orioles have actually allowed 35 more runs than they have scored this year. But, they have been terrific in one run games, going 24-7. They are pretty much of opposite of the Cardinals this year. The Orioles are also coming off a 18-9 August.

I thought the Orioles had a good core of players in Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, and Nick Markakis. Chris Davis has also had a big year for them. They have had a lot of players come in and out this season, with a total of 51 players making an appearance this year. One addition was veteran slugger Jim Thome. This will likely be Thome's last season, and having his leadership has helped this team out. Baltimore's pitching is what I thought would hold them back, but its been decent enough to win games. Their bullpen has been great, led by closer Jim Johnson, setupmen Darren O'Day, and Troy Patton.

Ten pitchers have made a start for the Orioles this year. New additions Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel have been their best pitchers this year, but Hammel has been hurt. Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta pitched badly enough to be demoted, and Brian Matusz was moved to the bullpen. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez pitched well after replacing those guys, and Zack Britton has looked better this year. Joe Saunders was recently traded for, and Randy Wolf was signed, giving them two more options for the rotation. It's not a great staff by no means, but it's been good enough to win games.

There is still a month to go, but this would be the AL wild card game if the season ended today. Manager Bob Melvin and Buck Showalter have done a terrific job with their ballclubs. I don't think too many people expected the O's and A's to be better than the Red Sox and Angels at this point in the season.