Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cardinal Offense - Good Enough to win the NL?

While I was working on my preview for the Cardinals/Rockies series, I compared a couple of statistical metrics to see how the teams stacked up against each other, specifically UZR (defense), FIP (pitching), and wOBA (hitting). The Cardinals came up as solidly middle of the pack defensively (expected), top 15% in pitching (also expected), and lower half offensively (19th in MLB).

What? A Cardinal team featuring Albert Pujols and adding Matt Holliday couldn’t be in the bottom half of MLB offensively, could it? Had to be a mistake.

SO I looked a little deeper. For the 2009 season, and looking just at the NL this time, the Cardinals rank 8th in wOBA, 10th in OBP, and 5th in ISO. How does that stack up against the other potential playoff teams in the NL?

wOBA: 1st – PHI, 2nd – COL, 3rd – LA, 6th – ATL, 8th – STL.
OBP: 1st – LA, 2nd – COL, 5th – ATL, 8th – PHI, 10th – STL.
ISO: 1st – PHI, 2nd – COL, 5th – STL, 10th – ATL, 11th – LA.

Most Cardinal followers have spent a little time talking about the pitching dominance, but a lot of time talking about how much the lineup has improved since Holliday joined the club (and to a lesser extent, Lugo; DeRosa hasn’t hit well since coming over). But by the numbers, the Cardinals haven’t really improved since adding Holliday to the lineup:

Cardinals in June (pre-Holliday):
10th in wOBA (COL -1, PHI – 6, ATL – 12, LA – 13)
10th in OBP (COL – 1, PHI – 9, ATL – 11, LA – 13)
4th in ISO (COL – 1, PHI – 3, ATL – 9, LA – 12)

Cardinals in August (only complete Holliday month with data):
10th in wOBA (COL – 3, ATL – 5, PHI – 6, LA – 12)
9th in OBP (COL – 3, ATL – 4, LA – 10, PHI – 13)
12th in ISO (PHI – 1, COL – 2, LA – 9, ATL – 11)

The biggest surprise here is how Holliday has had minimal impact on the team’s overall success getting guys on base, and how his addition has not enhanced the lineup's isolated power numbers (given the big drop in ISO statistically), although granted that may be a reflection of Ludwick’s power outage and Albert’s cooling off period.

But what it does show is a season-long issue with getting guys on and hitting for extra bases. This team’s offense is spectacularly average in the NL, even as currently constructed. We’ve recently been reminded of that, given how they’ve struggled to win against quality pitching. So that offense ranked 19th in MLB I discovered in the preview post wasn’t an error – they struggle with the bat in their hands.

What does this imply for the playoffs?

Looking at the last 4 NL Champs, here’s how their numbers stacked up in each category.

2008 (PHI) – 3rd in wOBA, 7th in OBP, 1st in ISO.
2007 (COL) – 2nd in wOBA, 1st in OBP, 8th in ISO
2006 (STL) – 1st in wOBA, 4th in OBP, 2nd in ISO
2005 (HOU) – 11th in wOBA, 13th in OBP, 9th in ISO
(by comparison, the 05 Cardinals ranked 4th, tied for 2nd, and 8th, respectively)

Three of the last 4 NL Champs led the league in one of these 3 categories, and those years each pennant-winner was in the top 3 in wOBA. What happened in 2005? Houston arguably had better pitching, and pitched better in the NLCS than St Louis did (read: Roy Oswalt).

However, based solely on the ability to put guys on and drive the ball throughout the lineup, the best bets on winning the NL appear to be Colorado, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and St Louis, in that order. Should they make the playoffs, Atlanta would be ranked between LA and STL.

We’ll take a look at Cardinal pitching versus all these staffs, to see if their pitching can mitigate this disadvantage, tomorrow.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cardinals stop slide, clinch NL Central

Way back on March 11, in a United Cardinal Blogger roundtable, I made the following predictions:

Cardinals finish 90-72 and win the wild card. Albert Pujols hits 50 HR. Todd Wellemeyer wins 20 games and the Cy Young.

Well some predictions are better than others. Wellemeyer certainly won't win 20. The Cy Young Award may well go to a Cardinal, but it will be Wainwright or Carpenter. Albert could still hit 50 HR. The Cardinals didn't win the wild card.

But they have won 90 games. Most of us wouldn't have believed it possible, especially since most experts picked St Louis to finish behind the Cubs and Brewers this season, but with their 90th victory, they've also qualified for the playoffs . . . . as NL Central Champions.

Would they have won the division without DeRosa, Lugo, and Holliday? Possible, but the division race certainly would have been closer than it turned out to be.

Congratulations are in order for the organization for making it to the post-season for the first time since winning it all in 2006. Now let's work on avoiding Colorado in the first round, OK?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Series Preview - Colorado

In what could be a playoff preview, St Louis travels to the Continental Divide to play the Rockies. No, not the mountain range. St Louis has not beaten Colorado this season in 4 tries (all on the banks of the Mississippi).

I had hoped to not need a preview this weekend, that the Cardinals would have clinched by now. It looked like the Cardinals would clinch last night, But thanks to Jeff Baker’s ninth inning stomach punch (heroics?), the magic number remains at one.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 89-64, 1st NL Central, magic number – 1. The Cardinals clubbed a moribund Houston franchise to start this road trip, winning 2 of 3. However, Bud Norris still proved nettlesome, and they were unable to clinch in Houston.

Colorado: 86-67, 2nd NL West, 6 games behind Los Angeles. Lead in the NL Wild Card, 3.5 games in front of Atlanta. Magic number – 7. Colorado has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2009 season. After a historic finish to the 2007 season and a NL pennant, they regressed back to the team they had been from 2001-2006, finishing 14 games under .500. A managerial change early this season led to clearly defined roles for the starting 8, and the team responded by jumping into the pennant race. In their most recent series, they lost 2 of 3 at home to San Diego. They swept 4 from St Louis earlier this season, Of course, the Cardinal team that got swept is not the Cardinal taking the field now.

Colorado isn’t a very good defensive team (based on team UZR – they rank 17th, 3 places behind St Louis), but they are pitching well (based on team FIP – they rank 5th, Cardinals rank 2nd), and they can hit (based on team wOBA – they rank 6th, Cardinals rank 19th).

Friday and Saturday’s games could well be the matchups for Games 1 and 2 of a playoff series.

Pitching match-ups

26 September: Carpenter vs Aaron Cook (10-6, 4.47).
Cook is a home-grown Colorado guy (drafted by the club in 1997) and a steadying influence on the rotation. Sentiment in the clubhouse and by Rockie management could well lead to his selection as a Game 1 starter for the playoffs, assuming his shoulder is fine. And his shoulder may not be fine. This will be his first start in over a month (since August 21, to be exact). He is a pitch-to-contact guy (3.7 K/9), so although he’s returning from an injury, he could get deep into the game if the Cardinals are impatient. I would expect he’ll be on a pitch count and probably won’t go more than 6 innings anyway. How will he pitch? That is a large unknown.

He went 8 innings against the Cardinals on June 6 (a 10-1 Colorado win). That is his only win against St Louis in 7 career starts. Of the Cardinals who will play tonight that have had more than 10 PA against him, AP has had the most success (3-9, 2 BB). Glaus has 2 HR in 11 AB off Cook, but I doubt we’ll see him given his own shoulder injury.

Carpenter will make his third attempt to win his 17th game. After getting lit up by Atlanta he threw 8 shutout innings at Chicago last Saturday. He currently leads the NL in ERA. Carpenter has never lost to the Rockies, but he hasn’t faced them since 7/25/06, which is also his only career start in Colorado. No current Rockie is slugging over .600 against him (the closest is Jason Giambi at .579).

27 September: Wainwright vs Ubaldo Jimenez (14-11, 3.47). Thanks to the Yankees/Red Sox ‘Love In’ sure to be televised by Fox Saturday, most of the country will miss this match-up, which is too bad, because it’s a doozy. Some prognosticators think Jimenez has the best stuff of any NL starter that may pitch in the 2009 playoffs, and given the other guys on playoff teams (our 2, Hamels/Lee/Pedro in Philly, Lincecum/Cain in SF, etc), that’s high praise. Larry Borowsky also recently called Jimenez the Rockies’ best pure pitcher. He averages 8K’s per game, has cut his walks by one per game this season from his career average, might allow a HR every 2 games, and has been downright nasty since 1 August (2.73 ERA, 61 K in 69.1 innings, OPS against of .599). He throws his fastball 2/3 of the time and it averages 96 MPH. He also employs a plus slider and change-up, and occasionally flips a curveball up there.

The Cardinals do not enjoy hitting against this guy (83 team PA: .236/.317/.292). No current Cardinal has homered off him. You’d think with that kind of dominance he’d have never lost to St Louis. However, in this series’ Statistical Oddity, Jimenez is only 1-1 career against them (and the Rockies are 1-2 against St Louis when he starts). His lone win came on June 7 this year.

Wainwright may well be the best pitcher in the NL right now (Lincecum is battling a nagging back injury). He currently leads the majors in wins, and the NL in innings and batters faced (although those facts don’t support my ‘best pitcher’ claim, they’re true nonetheless). He faced Colorado on 5 June, losing to De La Rosa 11-4. He actually trailed 2-1 after 6, but the Rockies exploded for 9 runs in the seventh in an ugly inning for the Cardinal bullpen (both Reyes and Motte gave up 3 ER without retiring a hitter).

The Cardinals have lost Wainwright’s last 2 starts after winning the previous 7. Adam has started 3 games against the Rockies (1-1 overall), one in Coors. Only Garrett Atkins has more than 10 PA against him (3-11, no XBH), although in 69 total PA by the roster they’ve put up a .219/.275/.634 line against him.

28 September: Lohse vs Jorge De La Rosa (15-9, 4.42). After starting the season 0-6, De La Rosa has turned into the most reliable Rockie starter, winning 15 of his last 18 decisions. That said, his particulars aren’t exactly awe inspiring. 4 walks per 9 innings, 16 HR in 122 1/3 innings, OPS against of .771. His FIP isn’t bad (3.99), but he’s definitely beatable. A big part of his success is the Rockies averaging over 7 runs per game in the ones he starts.

De La Rosa is 2-1 in 5 career starts against St Louis. He has not lost to the Cardinals at Coors; granted, it’s only one start, but he did beat Lohse that day. Only AP has more than 10 PA against De La Rosa, and he’s put up a .273/.400/.636 line against him. As a team, in 70 PA they’re hitting .350/.429/.700. Pujols, Molina, Ludwick, Glaus, and DeRosa have all homered off Jorge.

Lohse was tough against the Astros this week. Various press organizations reported he started favoring his forearm and had changed his delivery slightly, but that he had fixed it between his Astro start and his previous one. The results certainly spoke to a better Lohse than we’d seen in other recent outings. Lohse hasn’t faced the Rockies since May of 08, and hasn’t had much success against them in his career (his teams are 2-3 overall against Colorado when he starts). Todd Helton has hit him hard – 15 PA, .417/.533/.833. Giambi also has more than 10 PA, but a lot less success (.182/.250/.455). As a team, in 98 career PA, the Rockies have put up .277/.361/.506.

Prognosis/prediction. The Cardinals will clinch this weekend, either by a win or the Giants beating Chicago. Knowing the competitor LaRussa is, they won’t take any of these games off, because of Colorado’s status as a potential first round opponent, the impact these games will have on the wild card chase, and because the Cardinals still could end up with home field throughout the NL playoffs. Expect the Cardinals to win tonight. Expect tomorrow’s game to come down to who has the better bullpen (Morales for Colorado is reeeeally shaky right now, BTW.). Sunday? I’ll pick the Rockies to win just because I have a hunch. Cards can take 2 of 3.

Go Cards!

Programming note: Once the Cardinals clinch, there will be no series previews posted until the playoffs start.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good For Your Soul

I guess after enduring a tough homestand, the best thing is to go visit a team who's season has fallen apart. No one would argue this visit to Houston hasn't been a tonic for Cardinal hitters. They hung 6 runs on Wandy and 6 more on last night's starter Bazardo en route to easy wins both nights.

Their offense getting in gear is going to be important for their next series, as Colorado is playing well and is also putting up runs. Yes, they're currently playing San Diego, and hung 11 on the Padres last night, but San Diego has played better overall since the All Star break (33-31) than the .409 pace they were on before July 12. Also that series could be a preview of the NLDS, so best foot forward, as they say.

Before we all breathe a collective sigh of relief that the offense has returned - let's not forget the Cardinals have beaten up on teams under .500 (currently 62-33 against them, or a .652 pace), but are under .500 themselves against teams with winning records (27-30; they were 26-25 heading into the last homestand). So while the offensive resurgence is encouraging, I'd really like to see it continue this weekend against a playoff-caliber team.

I predicted the Cardinals would clinch in Houston, and that can still happen. However, it will require them to beat a guy (Bud Norris) who mystified them in August, and get some help from a Milwaukee team that's been beaten up as badly by the Cubs the last two days as St Louis has mauled Houston. Former Notre Dame WR Jeff Samardzija will start today for the Cubs against Chris Narveson. Samardzija got killed by the Phillies on August 12 (3 1/3, 7 ER) in his only other start of 2009. Former Cardinal farmhand Narveson has been better - in his 2 previous starts, he's thrown 8 innings allowing 3 ER. Milwaukee won both those games, although he didn't figure in either decision.

So, the magic number stands at 2. Another easy one - #2 is retired, last worn by Red Schoendienst. Back in the day, major league organizations would hold open try-outs for aspiring baseball players in the local area of the team. Red was discovered at one of these events, and debuted with the Cardinals in 1945. He eventually played 19 seasons in the Majors, most with St Louis, but he spent some time with the NY Giants and Milwaukee Braves towards the end of his career. Bob Keely wore 2 before Schoendienst. He appeared in one game in 1944 and one in 1945; he had one at bat in the majors (1945), and didn't reach base. He died in 2001.

The big news yesterday was the voiding of Wagner Mateo's contract by the Cardinals. His signing had been a big deal, both because he was a high-value prospect, and because it represented a splashy entry by the Cardinals into the Carribean player market. A $3.1 million contract to a 19-year old will turn some heads, to be sure. Not sure what voiding the contract will do, but most of it will probably be negative. Not that I fault the Cardinals for doing this; part of the conditions was that Mateo had to pass a physical, and he didn't. I'm going to assume the results of his physical (apparently taken in July) were known to the organization before now, and they've been trying to decide what to do since.

One other thing: The Post-Dispatch report implies the injury wasn't disclosed prior to Mateo signing the contract. It's always bad policy to withhold information from an employer, especially if it has large potential to come out anyway. In a physical game, why would you try to hide an injury? Makes no sense. The USN has a cute little saying, "never be the senior man with bad news". The idea is to pass the data up the chain of command so the leadership knows about problems early and can work to fix them. When something bad happens and someone tries to cover it up, it invariably blows up much worse than it would have had that individual come clean to start.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sometimes you just don't have it

We all were shocked recently when Carp gave up 6 runs with 2 outs to Atlanta - something he hadn't done since his early years in Toronto. Last night something similar happened to Wandy Rodriguez. He couldn't control his breaking ball, and the Cardinals were able to hammer him.

The three first inning runs all came after Rodriguez retired the first 2 Cardinals. AP won't admit it - he's too much of a professional - but I'm sure he's aware of how Wandy's handcuffed him through the years (also because knuckleheads like me keep pointing it out), and the double had to be somewhat satisfying (Pujols finished 1-3 off Wandy). By the time Houston put a runner on the game was essentially over.

Two other big things out of this game:

- Mark DeRosa looked comfortable at the plate. Then again, DeRosa loves hitting at Minute Maid Park. He's hit more HR there than any ballpark he hasn't called home. If I was in the Astro front office, I might consider trying to sign him in the off-season. I thought during the Sunday night game that DeRosa had found his stroke (as I mentioned yesterday, and also why I thought the sac bunt in the ninth was a dumb play); this line in Derrick Goold's post game wrap seems to confirm that:

As Lohse altered his mechanics to compensate for his forearm, so too did DeRosa adjust his swing to protect the wrist. He tripled Friday and said that was the breakthrough swing.
If he's re-discovered his stroke, this truly becomes a fearsome lineup.

- The other is Lohse's good outing. He's been fighting his mechanics ever since getting hit by a pitch waaaay back in April. I didn't realize going into this game he hadn't won a start on the road. Lohse appeared to get both monkeys off his back in this start. Now, the Astros are not very good, so a dose of caution is still in order; if Kyle can continue making strong starts like last night's from now until the end of the season, Cardinals pitching picks up some much needed flexibility and depth. Again, they become much more dangerous in the playoffs.

One other thing - the CBS Sports game recap headline refers to the Astros as the 'fading Astros'. Are they really fading at this point? They'd been completely eliminated from the playoff chase before this series started. Wouldn't 'faded' be more accurate? 'Sunk'? 'Imploded'?

Chicago clobbered Braden Looper and the Brewers last night, 10-5, so St Louis was only able to lower their magic number by one. Magic Number Watch now stands at 3. #3 has recently been a middle infielder number, much like #4 was. As you know, currently Khalil Greene wears the number. I doubt Khalil will look back fondly at his time in St Louis from a baseball perspective, but the team seems to be giving him all the support he needs to deal with his anxiety disorder, so he should remember the team as one that tried to help. Recent past wearers of 3 include Cesar Izturis (2008), Miguel Cairo (2007), and Edgar Renteria (1999-2004).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Series Preview - Houston

Programming note: Once the Cardinals clinch, there will be no series previews posted until the playoffs start.

The Cardinals face Houston for the final time in 2009. They travel to the home of Mission Control for a 3-game set, and look to clinch the division.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 87-63, 1st NL Central, 10 games ahead of Chicago. St Louis salvaged some dignity on the last homestand by taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs, but still endured a 3-6 stay in St Louis. St Louis was swept in their previous trip to Houston in July.

Houston: 70-79, 4th NL Central. Houston has been eliminated from the divisional race, their loss yesterday knocked them out of the Wild Card chase. They’ve lost 7 in a row. They’ve shut Oswalt down for the season due to hip and back pain. Since St Louis’ magic number is 4, they can’t alter the final standings in the NL Central, they can only hope to delay the inevitable.

Pitching match-ups

21 September: Pineiro vs Wandy Rodriguez (13-10, 2.77).
Easily the best matchup of the series. Rodriguez has been the Astros best pitcher in 2009. He hasn’t pitched with much luck against St Louis this season, based on won/loss record (1-2, team record of 1-3 when he starts), but he’s pitched very well in those games (2.25 ERA, 0.791 WHIP, 19 K). In September he’s given up 3 ER in 20 innings, and opponents have an OPS of .510 against him.

Wandy’s the guy that’s given AP fits (4-28, 2B, no HR), but Holliday’s solved him pretty well (5-16, 2 HR). DeRosa and Glaus have also homered off him. Ludwick has struck out 10 times in 26 PA against him.

Pineiro dueled Ted Lilly to a draw on Friday night, and hopes to keep his solid pitching going. Joel’s 2-0 against Houston this season.

22 September: Lohse vs Yorman Bazardo (0-1, 8.50). Bazardo was called up in August when Doug Brocail went on the DL. Bazardo throws a fastball, slider, and changeup, and has thrown only 46 major league innings in parts of 4 seasons in the majors (with 3 different clubs, no less). This year, he’s appeared in 7 games, making 3 starts. In those 3 starts he’s been blistered – he’s made it through the 5th inning only once, and in his 11 2/3 start innings, he’s walked 9 while striking out 3. He also doesn’t miss many bats – hitters make contact 86% of the time when they swing at a pitch he’s thrown. Now, he’s never faced St Louis, so of course he’ll throw 6 shutout innings.

Lohse returns to the rotation after being skipped on Friday. He’s 5-5 career against Houston, with a 2.86 ERA. He’s 1-1 against them this year. All eyes will watch this start intently, hoping he can right himself and pitch better than his recent history.

23 September: Smoltz vs Bud Norris (5-3, 5.07). Remember Bud Norris? He threw 7 shutout innings in St Louis on 2 August, allowing 2 hits, for his first Major League win. He followed that a brief period of getting torched, but has settled down somewhat in September (17 IP, 4 ER, 4 BB, 21 K, 3 HR allowed). Houston lost his last start, but had won his pervious two.

Smoltz pitched well on Friday in a no-decision effort. He has pitched well against Houston based on his career ERA (2.98), and he’s 16-13 overall. Hhis team has won the last 3 times he’s started against the Astros, but he hasn’t faced them since the last day of the 2006 season, a game you might remember (as that Astro loss clinched the NL Central for the Cardinals). Not to mention those 3 starts were in 1999, 2005, and the aforementioned 2006 game.

Three current Astros have stepped in at least 10 times against him, and all have OBP of 400 or higher (Aaron Boone, Geoff Blum, Kazuo Matsui). Only Matsui is a starter.

Prognosis/prediction. One tough matchup, one guy they’ve never seen, and one guy who handcuffed them in August. Houston’s lost seven straight. Meanwhile, Chicago goes to Milwaukee. The Cardinals should win 2 of 3 in this series and clinch the division.

Go Cards!

Update 1449: Cecil Cooper has been fired as Astros manager. I have no idea how this will affect their play.

Not the way it could have ended

Ended up watching the last 6 innings or so of last night's Cardinal/Cub game after getting home. Didn't quite end like we wanted it to.

- The Cardinal ninth baffled me. Not the Holliday call - he was clearly out of the base line and that was the correct call by the second base umpire. But after Schumaker reaches on a single, why use DeRosa to bunt him over? DeRosa had tagged the ball his previous 2 at bats (an RBI double to tie the score, and a flyball to left that Scales had to jump up to catch). Everyone knew if Lugo made it to second with one out the Cubs would walk Pujols (which they did), so that play effectively removed AP from the game.

Now folks will argue that, with Holliday on deck, this isn't as serious a tactical error as it was before the end of July, and there may be some truth to that; but for as well as Holliday has played since joining the Cardinals, he isn't the best hitter on the club. Pujols still is. I want Pujols swinging the bat in that situation.

As it turned out, Holliday got hit by a pitch, so the bases were loaded for Ludwick. Who promptly grounded into the double play. I don't know who Dan selected a the goat (I haven't looked at his post yet today), but he probably gave Goat to Mitchell Boggs; Ludwick deserves it more.

- I didn't know So Taguchi was in the Cub chain. I thought he retired after last season. Nice to see you, So.

In Memoriam of Fire Joe Morgan, some dumb things said last night during the broadcast:

- JM, when LaRussa pulled Adam Wainwright from the game: I'm disappointed he took him out there. I think you have to let him try to get the win and get to 20 wins.

Couple of things here. (a) Wainwright had already thrown 102 pitches on a hot night. Seemed appropriate to take him out after 7. (b) I know it would be nice from a milestone perspective to see Adam win 20, and I know lots of people put too much weight in the wins statistic that clearly doesn't measure pitching performance as it once did. Not to mention the fact that the Cardinals are going to the playoffs. Wainwright's now thrown 219 innings and faced 909 hitters, most in the NL. THE POINT IS TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES, NOT REACH SOME MEANINGLESS MILESTONE. LaRussa made the right decision.

- Jon Miller, in the eighth, when the Cubs had runners on with 1 out: The Cardinals can't afford to give up more runs here if they want to win.

To this my wife responded 'That is the point stupid!'. I got nothing to add there.

- JM, in the eighth, referring to Skip Schumaker: Why is he hitting leadoff? He only has 2 stolen bases all year.

He's right, Schu has only 2 steals this year (and has been caught twice). This is classic Joe Morgan. In his day the leadoff hitter was a stolen base threat, no matter what his success rate. There can't be any possible other measuring stick for selecting a leadoff hitter, can there Joe? Except the whole point of leading off the game is to get on base so your #2-5 hitters can drive you in. Scoring runs is the object of the game, right? Score more than the other guy? Then the goal is to get on base. Schumaker has the highest OBP of any Cardinal not named Pujols. Perhaps THAT'S why LaRussa has him hitting leadoff.

At any rate, the Cardinals magic number remains at 4 going into Houston. There'll be a preview up later, but with the back end of the Cub rotation starting the first 2 games in Milwaukee, I'm hopeful the Brewers can take the first two; if St Louis wins 2 of 3 from Houston, that'll do it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Well those two games have lived up to their billing

What a way to start the weekend. Two tense games decided in the last at bat. Chicago led in one and tied the other in the top of the ninth, only to lose both.

I'm reminded of the climatic scene in The Patriot, after the Continental Army turns to flee:

Cornwallis: "Reserve into the Center."
Brit Lieutenant (quizzically): "But Sir, you've taken the field."
Cornwallis: "Now we shall take their spirits. Send the entire army over that hill and crush them. It ends today!"

Unfortunately it won't end today. Even if Wainwright beats Zambrano, the magic number will still be 2, so the Cardinals will have to clinch on the road. However, sweeping the Cubs, well, that would be a nice way to put a cherry on what's been a lousy homestand.

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 4

Eliminate Rivals:
- Milwaukee: 1 (beat Houston 7-2)
- Houston: ELIMINATED (lost to Milwaukee)
- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh: ELIMINATED

This will be the last 'eliminate rivals' item, seeing as they're all out as of today.

Who wore the number last: After Friday's win, the number stood at 6.

#6 - Do I really need to remind you, readers of THIS SITE, who wore that number last? The last guy to wear 6 before Musial? Stu Martin (1940). He was a reserve infielder who played 6 seasons for St Louis (1936-1940), then was sold by the Cardinals to the Pirates after the 1940 season. He played 2 years for Pittsburgh, then one for the Cubs. He died in 1997.

#4 - For a while, it seemed 4 would be worn by the Cardinal second basemen. However, currently Yadier Molina wears the number, and has since 2006. Before him Einar Diaz had it (2005), then Tony Womack (2004), then Fernando Vina.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How much do I hate Fox Sports? Let me count the ways.

Cardinals are up 1-0 in the ninth. Meanwhile, LA is killing SF to the tune of 9-1. Three guesses as to which game the San Diego area is watching (and the first 2 don't count).

Update: Franklin blew the save. Dodgers up 10-1. Urge to kill rising.

Update #2: Ryan knocks in the winning run. You wouldn't know it since San Diego is still watching the Dodgers (now up 11-1). All Fox Game Breaks today have featured the Tigers/Twins game. Maybe a giant meteor will strike the Fox corporate offices.

Series Preview - Chicago Cubs

Author's note: This preview was actually finished 3 days ago. I intended to post it yesterday, but got distracted with official Navy duties. Shame on me. Anyway, for your reading pleasure.

Next we welcome the Chicago Cubs to the program; the Cubs make their last appearance in St Louis for 2009, and close out the homestand. The Cardinals have one 8 of the previous 13 meetings, and look to win the season series outright for the first time since 2004.

Last chance to heckle these Cubs. Odds are the team will look different in 2010 (good bye, Milton Bradley? Alfonso Soriano? Zambrano?)

Current snapshot

St Louis: 85-62, 1st in NL Central, 9 games ahead of Chicago (8 on the loss side). After hammering the league in August, the Cardinals have slipped into a funk, aided by some quality opposing pitching. They’ve currently lost 5 of 6, all at home, their worst stretch at home since June 3-8. The unsettled situation for #4 and #5 starters is a problem for the balance of the regular season, but may be moot for the playoffs, assuming Smoltz becomes the #4 starter for any 7-game series they get to.

Chicago: 75-70, 2rd in NL Central, 9 games behind. Cubs hold the 8th best record in the NL, trailing Colorado by 7 games in the Wild Card; they have a better shot at winning the Wild Card than the Division. At the end, with the season basically over, they’ve finally gotten hot, having won 6 of their last 9. Chicago’s troubles have been well documented. The Milton Bradley disaster (.260/.380/.762, 12 HR 39 RBI for $10 million). The Alfonso Soriano abomination. Injuries hammering the pitching staff. Carlos Marmol walking at least a hitter an inning. Kevin Gregg ineffective as the closer. And so on. This is a proud team, and I would think they intend to plant a seed for next season by playing hard and trying to take the series (yeah you’re better now, but wait until next year).

Pitching match-ups

18 September: Ted Lilly (12-8, 3.05) vs Smoltz
. Left-handed Ted Lilly always seems to give the Cardinals trouble; perhaps that’s because he’s 7-3 in 13 starts against them. Lilly has started two games against the Redbirds in 2009, losing to Pineiro 3-0 on May 19th in St Louis, and winning 5-2 on July 11th (beating Thompson). What drives his success against St Louis is a microcosm of why he’s successful in general – high strikeout rate, 4:1 K/BB ratio, low BABIP (.278), FIP of 3.81. He does tend to give up a lot of HR, though (22 this season), but has found ways to minimize the damage, as summarized in this commentary.

Lots of Cardinals have at least 10 plate appearances against him – in fact, most of the starting 8 (Pujols, Molina, Ludwick, Ryan, Schumaker, DeRosa). As a group, these players are hitting .179 against him. Pujols (2), and Molina/Glaus/Lugo/Ankiel/DeRosa (1 each) have homered off Lilly.

I applaud the Cardinals for not starting Lohse in this game. Smoltz missed his last start with the shoulder issue; I doubt the 10 days off completely healed his shoulder, but the time should have had some recuperative effect for him. Smoltz has had a lot of success against the Cubs (15-5, 3.33 ERA in 39 appearances of which 29 were starts), so that bodes well. He is 0-1 in St Louis this season. Smoltz has a big-game pitcher reputation he earned based on his body of post-season work with Atlanta. With the Cardinals reeling right now, they need a big effort from him Friday.

Statistical Oddity: For all the time Smoltz has been in the NL, only 4 current Cubs have faced him: Lee (.763 OPS, 1 HR), Ramirez (1.218 OPS, 2 HR), Miles (.533 OPS, 3 RBI), and Bradley (.250 OPS, 3 K).

19 September: Ryan Dempster (10-8, 3.84) vs Carpenter. Dempster turned a 17-win season into a 4 year/$52 million deal last November, and other than suffering the year’s stupidest on-field injury, he’s pitched essentially as he did last year. His major indicators are on his career marks, except for his BB/9 which sits at 3.2, matching last year’s career low rate, and his HR allowed, currently 19 (the most he’s allowed since 2002).

He’s faced St Louis a lot in his career, mostly as a reliever; as a starter he’s 4-5, 4.75 ERA in 14 career starts. He’s opposed the Cardinals three times this season; the team is 1-2 in those starts (Dempster: 0-1, 4.26 ERA, 1.263 WHIP, 6.16K/9, 1.85 K/BB).

Lots of Cardinals have had lots of PA against him, led by Ludwick, LaRue, and Lugo, who all have at least a .900 OPS against him. Lugo is also tied with AP for the most HR off Dempster (2) of the 2009 Redbirds.

The off-day allows LaRussa to shuffle his rotation, and he’s taking advantage of it by starting Carpenter Saturday. It gives Carp an extra day of rest from his Sunday start against Florida, which can only help the right-hander. Carpenter is 9-3 career against the small Bears, 3-1 against them in St Louis, and 2-0 this season. Chris relinquished the league ERA lead to Lincecum on Sunday, he remains 2nd in WHIP (to Dan Haren – still irritated by the Mulder trade) and 5th in K/BB ratio (Haren, Vasquez, Pineiro, Lincecum).

Ramirez, Lee,and Bradley have homered off him in their careers. Current Cubs are hitting .304 against Carp, with a .743 OPS

Statistical Oddity II: Of the current Cubs with 10 PA vs Carpenter, Carlos Zambrano leads in OPS (1.300). Insert ‘small sample size’ derision here.

20 September: Carlos Zambrano (8-6, 3.94) vs Wainwright. The Completely and Utterly Crazy Big Z returns to the hill. He last faced the Redbirds in Lohse’s return to the rotation (July 12), which was also the first game of a doubleheader and the last day of games before the All-Star Break. Zambrano broke his recent string of suckiness against St Louis in that game, allowing only 3 ER in 5 IP and getting the win. In his previous 3 starts he’d surrendered at least 7 ER. CAUE Big Z hasn’t been the rock #1 this season Cub fans have come to expect, and arguably Lilly (and possibly Dempster) have passed him as the #1 and #2 starters in the rotation, but he still presents a tough matchup for the Cardinals.

AP has 5 HR and an .862 OPS off the big guy, but Ludwick has really enjoyed stepping into the box when Zambrano’s on the mound (7-11, 2 HR, 1.847 OPS).

Zambrano has won his last 4 starts in St Louis, and has an 8-inning scoreless streak going at Busch.

Wainwright throws one pretty good (at least, to me watching the replay) pitch that Uggla hits out, and loses 2-1. Tough. He tries for win #19 on Sunday (which should be the ESPN Sunday night tilt as well). Wainwright has manhandled the Cubs this season; personally he’s 3-0 against them, and the team is 4-0 against the Cubs when he starts. His last start was also 12 July, when he threw 8 innings allowing 2 runs. That game also happened to be on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.

Adam hasn’t had much luck facing Zambrano in his career. This will be the 4th time they’ve hooked up, and Z holds a 2-1 edge. Adam did win the last time, a year ago almost to the day (19 Sep 08 in Chicago). Six Cub starters have at least 12 PA against him: Lee (.660 OPS), Ramirez (1.074 OPS, 4 2B, HR), Theriot (.604 OPS), Fukudome (a Fukudome sighting! .800 OPS, HR), Fontenot (.715 OPS), and Soto (.962 OPS).

Prognosis/prediction. The Cardinals need this series. They can put away the Cubs with a sweep. The pitching matchups should be dynamite. Cardinal struggles at the plate against good pitching is concerning, but I think they’ll generate just enough offense to pull it out. I also think LaRussa will pull out all the managerial stops too.

Cardinals win 2 of 3.

Magic Number for Division Title: 8. Predicted Magic Number PM 9/20: 4.

Go Cards!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

UCB Stuff and magic numbers

We had a great show last night discussing the Cardinals. Dan (C70 at the Bat) and I were joined by Josh from Redbirds Row. We were also able, through some technical expertise by Dan, to play parts of my interview with :Larry Borowsky on the show. You can listen to both via the Real Audio player right over there ===>.

Last night's show is the first file, Larry's interview is the one right below it.

Tomorrow the UCB will be doing its first group project in a while, this one focused on prospects. We will present our opinions on the top 7 prospects currently in the Cardinals system. You can find a central list of the blogs participating at the UCB website.

On to serious business:

Magic Number Watch

Clinch Division: 9 (Cubs lost to Milwaukee 9-5)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Milwaukee: 3
- Houston: 2 (lost to Cincinnati 6-5)
- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh: ELIMINATED

The Cardinals are finally 'single-digit midgets'. I noticed I've been slacking on the last player to wear the number list, so here's a few catch up ones:

#11 - no one's worn the number since the end of the 1998 season. Oddly, 3 guys wore the number that year, starting with Royce Clayton, who held it until being traded to Texas at the deadline for Fernando Tatis. Luis Ordaz wore it next for a while, then worked out a number trade with Tatis; Fernando finished the year wearing 11. Ordaz broke camp in 1999 and then spent most of the year in AAA. He was traded to the Diamondbacks after the 1999 season.

#10 - Obviously Tony LaRussa's held the number since becoming the manager in 1996, and his reasons for selecting it are now widely known. The guy before LaRussa with it was the unremarkable Ramon Caraballo, who played 34 games at #10 in 1995, posting a .202./.269/.323 line as a back-up second baseman. Caraballo was released after the season, and signed by the Boston Red Sox, but he never played in the majors again.

#9 - Is retired. Enos Slaughter holds the honor. His HOF page/plaque is here. His stats can also be viewed here.

Update 3:25 PM: Milwaukee beat Chicago 7-4 today. Magic number is now 8. #8 is currently Troy Glaus.

Holliday Blues

Well it's been an ugly homestand so far, no?

Dropping 5 of 6 to Atlanta/Florida will cause most to reflect a little bit on what went wrong. St Louis certainly should have won 1 more game (Saturday's 7-6 loss), but Franklin had some issues. They could have taken two more (Friday's 1-0 and Tuesday's 2-1 decision) with a bit more timely hitting.

Let's focus on the hitting for a bit.

Cardinal hitters haven't been lighting up the scoreboard this homestand. Here are some numbers for you to chew on (BA/OPS):

Holliday - .231/.567
Pujols - .381/.921
Schumaker - .455/.975
Ryan - .333/.762
DeRosa - .136/.356
Rasmus - .273/.727
Ludwick - .222/.556
Lugo - .250/.724
Ankiel - .273/.545
Molina - .313/.764

Lots of guys struggling on the homestand.

Ankiel's been in essentially a season-long funk, so no new news there. Ludwick's OPS peaked on 25 July (.850) and he's been in a gentle, but steady, decline since (.689 OPS with 11 XBH since).The DeRosa struggles aren't a surprise, because of the wrist issue he's been fighting through since coming over from Cleveland.

Holliday's struggles, however, are a bit of a eye-catcher. There is some anecdotal evidence Holliday's pressing, given the way he's reacting after chasing bad balls, and some non-clutchiness in key situations (his bases loaded at bats in the 6th on Tuesday and 9th yesterday stand out).

He's not being patient on this homestand: 0 walks in 27 PA. Since coming to the Cardinals, he's walked in about 11% of his plate appearances (17 + 4 intentional in 212 PA), which would place him 30th in the league or in the top 10% of NL hitters. Why has he abandoned that part of his game this homestand? He's struck out 34 times in those PA, or just over 16% of the time (which, if he kept it up over a full season, would make him the second toughest guy in the NL to strike out behind AP), but it's ticked up on this homestand to 26%; and the 7 strikeouts represent 20% of his half-season total with St Louis.

Why the lack of patience? True the Cardinals have faced better pitching in the last 6 games than they have for a while, but that shouldn't cause Holliday to throw pitch selection to the winds. He could be pressing with Ludwick hitting behind him, due to Ryan's own slump; he's struck out 3 times in the 3 games Ludwick's hit 5th, but 4 times with Rasmus behind him, so that doesn't seem to be the reason either. What is true is in the 3 games Ludwick's hit 5th, the Cardinals have scored 3 runs total, and 2 of those runs came well after the game was decided.

His XBH have dried up - 2 (both doubles) on the homestand. There are, to my mind, two possible causes for this. Again the good pitching argument. The other could be his knees. I know, I know - small sample size blah blah blah. But he hasn't hit the ball with authority since tripping over the bag in Milwaukee, so you wonder what he actually did to the knee, and if he's having trouble pivoting around it. If I had access to game tapes for the last two weeks, state of the art video analysys equipment, and no need to work I would examine his swings and make a definitive assessment, but out here in the real world that's not possible.

I don't have a solution - I point it out as something to watch.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hair on Fire Wednesday

Busy today, so we'll keep it short. If time permits, I'll post again later today.

Cards lost 2-1 to the rookie lefty. Figures. Lots of LOB again.

Magic Number Watch.

Clinch Division: 10 (Cubs won 12-5)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Houston: 3 (lost to Philly 5-4)
- Milwaukee: 3 (lost to Cubs 12-5)
- Cincinnati: ELIMINATED
- Pittsburgh: ELIMINATED

Finally, my turn to host the UCB radio hour comes up again tonight. Dan and I will discuss all things Cardinal. Also, we hope to play portions or all of an interview I did with Larry Boroswky (formerly of Viva El Birdos) this weekend. Should be good! Look forward to hearing from you!

If you have any questions you'd like to ask us, and can't make the show, just leave them in the comments. We'll get to them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cards win despite Wellemeyer

We didn't learn anything new last night. Wellemeyer v.2008 is merely a passing memory, replaced by Wellemeyer v. 2009, who sucks. I didn't think it would be possible to see Todd's ERA go up last night, but he exceeded expectations and did just that.

In fairness, he hasn't pitched at all really since 30 July, so I was expecting a lack of command and early fatigue, figuring he'd be out of the game after 5 at the most. But Wellemeyer didn't really walk anyone (1 in his 4 innings), and his first pitch command better than expected (21 batters faced, 5 1-0 counts, 13 0-1 counts (10 of those were strike one looking), 3 hitters put the first pitch in play). He also only had four 3-ball counts last night, and all four were within the first 6 hitters he faced.

Not pitching from behind early in the count, not a lot of deep counts - what happened? Sounds like he was wild in the strike zone, or in other words, left a lot of pitches up and out over the plate. Wellemeyer had 4 swinging strikes all night - by the same two hitters (1 in each of Uggla's at bats, 2 in the same Cameron Maybin at bat). Other pitches Marlins swung at were either fouled off or put in play. That's wild in the strike zone.

LaRussa refused to speculate as to when Wellemeyer's next appearance would be, which based on his performance is a valid position.

The problem is, now the Cardinals are showing some cracks at the back end of the rotation. Wellemeyer hasn't been right all year, Lohse hasn't been right since getting hit by a pitch, Smoltz has shoulder tendinitis. So where does the team go from here? Hawksworth has nailed down a slot in the bullpen as the 6th/7th inning guy, so he's not an option. Boggs? Possible as the #4 guy, but that still leaves a hole at #5.

Do we dare give a start to Thompson?

I will say this, having a 9.5 game lead is a huge luxury right now. I'd not want to face these kinds of decisions only leading by 2 or 3 games.

And a quick word about Lohse. The PD is reporting today he had discomfort during and after his Saturday start, although an MRI he had Sunday was 'unexceptional'. Lohse still has 3 years remaining on a $41 million contract. Here's a radical thought: shut down Lohse for the season. He's ineffective and hasn't been able to heal - why risk more damage?

The Cardinals face a rookie left-hander today. Let's hope the offensive explosion from yesterday keeps going.

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 10 (Cubs beat Milwaukee 2-0)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Houston: 4 (lost to Cincinnati 3-1)
- Milwaukee: 4 (lost to Cubs)
- Cincinnati: ELIMINATED
- Pittsburgh: ELIMINATED

Monday, September 14, 2009

Series Preview - Florida

The Florida Marlins are the last NL team to make an appearance at Neo-Busch. The Cardinals took 2 of 3 in Florida in June.

This will be fans’ only opportunity to see the guy likely to mount the most serious challenge to Pujols’ MVP chase – Hanley Ramirez.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 84-60, 1st in NL Central, 9.5 games ahead of Chicago (8 on the loss side). After a month plus of .800 ball, the Cardinals were swept by Atlanta over the weekend. It was unrealistic to expect the team to continue playing at that high level, but 3 straight losses at home still stings. It’s their longest losing streak since mid-July.

Florida: 76-67, 2rd in NL East, 6.5 games behind Philadelphia. Florida also trails the Colorado Rockies by 4.5 games in the Wild Card chase. They have been playing good baseball since the All-Star break (30-23), and after treading water in August (14-14) they have won 8 of 12 in September. They have a lot of good pitchers, but are only 9th in the National League in pitching (as measured by ERA); if you’re a fan of FIP, they move up to 6th in the league. They’re also 10th in the NL in WHIP.

Pitching match-ups

14 September: Ricky Nolasco (11-8, 5.23) vs Todd Wellemeyer (7-9, 5.62).
Nolasco has that high ERA, but he strikes out 4 times as many guys as he walks and has posted a FIP of 3.52 this season. He is prone to the long ball (20), which ties him for 18th in the NL with such luminaries as Jeff Suppan and Johan Santana. He has not faced the Cardinals this season. He’s faced St Louis 4 times in his career, the last time almost a year ago (5 Sep 08). He’s only got one decision in those outings (a loss way back in 2006), and the team is 1-2 in those starts (his first appearance was in relief).

As you may have seen reported here and elsewhere, John Smoltz was scheduled to start this game, but will be skipped due to shoulder tendonitis. LaRussa has decided to hand the ball to Todd Wellemeyer. Wellemeyer’s only worked 3 major league innings since July 30th, so at least he’ll be well rested. Todd’s last start was 26 July at Philadelphia, where he went 5 2/3 allowing 5 ER and lost 9-2.

Focus on the positive. The Cardinals have won his last 3 starts against the Marlins. He’s unbeaten against them at Neo-Busch (1 start, but hey, we’re being positive). He faced them on June 11, allowing 5 ER in 6 innings (no decision, that’s not a loss – positive). He’s manhandled Hanley Ramirez in his career (1-6, 2 BB).

Two guys he won’t want to see in the lineup are Dan Uggla (4-7, HR, 2 RBI) and Ross Gload (2-4, 2 HR)

15 September: Sean West (6-5, 4.81) vs Wainwright (18-7,2.59). Sean is a 23-year old left-handed rookie who made his ML debut on 23 May. Fastball/slider/changeup are his pitches; he averages 91 on the fastball, 81 on the slider, and 83 on the change. He has a FIP of 4.56, meaning his ERA is pretty accurate. West has won his last 2 decisions, and the Marlins have won his last 4 starts, but he hasn’t survived the fifth in either of his September starts. Both of those starts were on the road (at Washington and Houston). This will be both his first start against the Cardinals and in St Louis.

Wainwright looks to continue marching towards his first 20-win season. Wainwright has never lost to the Marlins (2-0), and the Cardinals have never lost a game in which he appeared (5-0, including 3 Adam starts). He beat the Marlins on 10 June; it wasn’t his best effort (7 IP, 4 ER), but the Cardinals hung 13 runs on the Marlin staff that night so it didn’t really matter. Jeremy Hermida has had the most success (5-12, HR) of the 4 Marlins with at least 10 PA against him.

16 September: Josh Johnson (14-4, 3.06) vs Pineiro. Johnson is easily the ace of this staff. His 166 K’s is good enough for 11th in the league. He’s only surrendered 13 HR this season, and is barely allowing a runner an inning (1.110). He also sports a 3.10 FIP. Johnson has a heavy fastball that averages 95, which he throws 2/3 of the time. He also throws an 87 MPH slider about a quarter of the time, and occasionally flips an 88 MPH curveball up there.

He started the 9 June game that Florida eventually won 4-3, going 7 innings and allowing the 3 runs. He has only 1 other start against St Louis, which is also his only start in St Louis (lost 3-1 to Wainwright on 7 Sept 08).

Only Julio Lugo has more than 10 PA against him. Expanding the dataset to look at guys with 5+ PA, we find he’s handled AP (1-6, although the 1 is a HR), but Rick Ankiel has had success (3-4 with a double), which makes sense based on how good a fastball hitter Ankiel is.

I thought Pineiro was showing signs of fatigue, based on his 4.56 ERA over his last 7 starts. Then he goes out and gives up 1 ER in 7 innings (with 7 strikeouts) on Friday night. So much for that theory. Pineiro hopes to extend that dominance to this game. He has only started 1 game against Florida, which he won 4-2 on 11 Aug 08. All but 2 Marlins have 5 PA or less against him; Ramirez is 2-2.

Prognosis/prediction. This could be another tough series, but Marlin pitching isn’t as good as Brave pitching was. The Cardinals should handle Nolasco, might struggle against the lefty West, and Johnson/Pineiro is a toss-up. I’ll predict St Louis wins 2 of 3, but really it could easily go the other way.

Magic Number for Division Title: 11. Predicted Magic Number PM 9/13: 8.

Go Cards!

That Was Less Fun Than Expected

Going into the Atlanta series, I thought their pitching could cause the Cardinals some trouble. I even went pessimistic with my predictions, saying Atlanta could win 2 of 3. But I didn't expect to get swept.

Not much to say about Friday's game. Pineiro was good, but Jurrjens was better. I remember thinking when Detroit decided to traid Jurrjens away for Renteria that the Braves had done quite well; Jurrjens looked good as a rookie in 2007, and was going to improve. He hasn't become the #2 starter I expected, yet, but he's only 23 years old, so it's not like he's over the hill or anything.

Saturday? Just frustrating. I've become so inured to the Cardinals not being on the Fox game of the week that I don't even look at the listings anymore, I just assume we'll get to watch the Mets or Yankees or Red Sox or some lousy game pitting two west coast teams. So I was somewhat surprised to turn the game on in the bottom of the fourth and see the Cardinals on. They were down 4-2 at that point.

Not seeing that it was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and that the kids had decided to take a nap (or at least remain in their respective rooms being quiet), I dozed for most of the next hour. Somehow I managed to wake up for the bottom half of each inning and watch the Cardinals strand 10000 runners on base through 8 innings.

And what a bizarre bottom of the eighth. Notwithstanding Franklin's blown save in the ninth, the Cardinals should have blown the game open in the eighth - Atlanta tried to hand them that game. First, though, proper kudos need to be given to Mark DeRosa. He caught a break on the passed ball, because McCann had a play on him at second if he doesn't double clutch the throw. The steal of third was genius. It also led the the rest of the inning; because of the steal, Bobby Cox brought the infield in, which meant that Molina's line drive was too hot for Escobar instead of an out and DeRosa was able to score the tying run.

Then the ridiculous started. Jones let's a ball get through the 5-hole. A blown flip on a double play grounder from Schumaker. A flat out miss of a tag on Schumaker going down the line, followed by LaRoche not throwing back down to second to try and get the out, giving the Cardinals the lead. AP walked intentionally. Too bad Holliday couldn't drive the final nail home, especially in light of how the ninth inning went.

I think we should be concerned about Franklin. I know he said all the right things about the extended layoff and he wasn't sharp, and he did buckle down after McCann's double gave Atlanta the lead again. Franklin not being right reshuffles the entire bullpen, and makes our shaky right-handed set-up problem that much worse. Let's hope his renewed concentration after the double is a sign of how he will pitch the rest of the season.

I have no idea what happened to Carpenter yesterday, but oof - that hurt. And Vasquez was as tough as expected on the Cardinals. Let's just move on.

I'll have a preview up later today on the Florida series (although it's already posted over at CardsClubhouse). Their pitching isn't quite the caliber of Atlanta's over the weekend, but they are starting Nolasco, a lefty rookie (first-time lefties typically make life difficult for St Louis), and Josh Johnson, so it won't get that much easier.

On to other news:

Magic Number Watch

Clinch Division: 11 (Cubs won 2 of 3 from Cincinnati)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Houston: 6 (took 2 of 3 from Pittsburgh)
- Milwaukee: 6 (swept Arizona)
- Cincinnati: ELIMINATED (lost 2 of 3 to Chicago)
- Pittsburgh: ELIMINATED

UCB Fantasy Baseball Playoffs:

You may remember me, a long time ago, mentioning that several Cardinal bloggers had bandied together to form a Head-to-head fantasy baseball league. I haven't talked much about it, because my draft was soo bad I ended up with no power at all to speak of from the 5 outfielders I was playing, and I spent most of the first half of the year fighting to get out of 1oth place in a 12-team league. But, since week 9, something changed with the team; I don't know if it was Derrek Lee remembering he doesn't suck, or the acquisitions of Michael Cuddyer and the Melky Cabrera, or the fact that my pitching staff (Oswalt, Carpenter, Lackey, Greinke, Blanton) have pitched their butts off. But I haven't lost a week since Week 8 (with 2 ties). It doesn't hurt having 2 Cy Young candidates in the rotation.

Also, I got smoked by the two best teams in the league the first time through, and returned the favor the second time; I was the first team in the league to hang a loss on the best team in the division (capably managed by Pip over at Fungoes), which led to a flurry of activity by him on the waiver wire (at least, that's the story I'm sticking with).

Anyway, I didn't want to jinx it. But I managed to climb out of the second division and finish third overall in the league, behind the aforementioned Fungoes and Matt Leach, who blogs for Not too shabby.

I faced off against Dan over at C70 at the bat, and despite a horrendous week from my pitching, I managed to survive, winning 5-3-2. Next up? Leach's team. I got him the last time when my team was hot, so we'll see how things go this time around. No matter what, however, I won't finish worse than 4th in the playoffs, and that's cool. We came a long way, baby.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Series Preview - Atlanta

The Cardinals invite Atlanta in for their annual appearance at the stadium. St Louis took 2 of 3 from the Braves in April.

Again with the weird scheduling. Atlanta and Florida are the only remaining NL teams not to visit St Louis in 2009, but both will appear in town over the next week.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 84-57, 1st in NL Central, 11.5 games ahead of Chicago (10 on the loss side). St Louis returns from a 5-1 road trip, which saw Carpenter dominate, Pujols turn white hot, and Holliday skin his knees.

Atlanta: 72-68, 3rd in NL East, 8 games behind Philadelphia. Atlanta continues to have a pulse in the Wild Card as well, but they trail Colorado by 8.5 games, and there are three other teams they need to hurdle to get in. The Braves are a sub-500 team in regulation (62-63), but 9-5 when the game is shortened or extended. They also limp into St Louis having lost 6 of their last 7.

Pitching match-ups

11 September: Jair Jurrjens (10-10, 2.93) vs Pineiro.
This is a rematch of the 27 April game, won by the Cardinals 3-2. Jurrjens went six that day, allowing 2 ER on 6 hits, striking out 2 and walking 2. Jurrjens is an ace in waiting. Atlanta acquired him from Detroit after the 2007 season for Edgar Renteria. Fastball, change-up, slider are his pitches, and he mainly throws the fastball and changeup. Jurrjens has pitched better than his 10-10 record would indicate. He strikes out about 6 hitters a game, twice as many as he walks, has a BABIP of .278 this hear and a FIP of 3.79. Jurrjens is 0-2 lifetime against St Louis in 2 career starts.

Atlanta has lost his last 3 starts, and scored a total of 4 runs in those games.

Pineiro has started to wobble a little bit since his dominating July. His ERA over his last 7 starts is 4.56, and he’s allowed an OPS of .709. In his first twenty 2009 starts, his ERA was 2.84 and the allowed OPS was .635. I think this is cause for concern. He’s also allowed a HR in 4 of his last 6 games, after allowing 3 in his first 21.

Joel is 1-1, 6.75 in 6 career appearances (3 starts) against Atlanta.

12 September: Tim Hudson (1-0, 2.19) vs Lohse. Hudson is back after Tommy John surgery, and has made 2 starts so far. He has a 3-2, 4.74 career mark in 6 starts against St Louis; his last start was August 25, 2007 in St Louis, and he lost that day 5-4. He throws everything but the kitchen sink, but features the fastball and a cutter (they account for 75% of his pitches). Of the rest, he throws the curveball/split finger/change with about equal frequency (7% or so). Of guys with 10 or more Plate Appearances against him, AP has had the most success (.412/.588/1.062). You probably could have guessed that.

This is a huge start for Lohse and the Cardinals. With the Smoltz ceiling returning to normal (around 5 IP, around 3 ER), and Pineiro starting to struggle, the Cardinals need Lohse to return to form. This will be his first start since 21 August in San Diego. We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope he’s finally well. Depending on Pineiro’s start, of course, which will determine who’s available in the bullpen Saturday, I’d be surprised if Lohse went more than 5 innings.

Lohse is 2-1, 4.15 career against Atlanta in 6 total starts. There are a couple of Braves that have mandhandled him (min 10 PA): Chipper Jones (.556/.667/1.111), Ryan Church (.462/.500/.769), and Garrett Anderson, perhaps surprisingly (.360/.407/.600)

13 September: Javier Vasquez (12-9, 3.06) vs Carpenter. I believe this is ESPN’s Sunday night game, and should be a good one; too bad most of the country will be staring at Chicago/Green Bay on NBC. Vasquez is the seasoned vet on this staff, having started his ML career in 1994 with the Expos. He was acquired by Atlanta from the White Sox for 4 prospects last off-season. He’s a fastball/slider/curveball pitcher, but he’s throwing fewer fastballs and more curves this season than previously, and his curveball is a weapon (if I’m reading his pitch type values correctly). He is 0-1 this year against St Louis, victimized by three consecutive two-out singles in the sixth that scored 3 runs and erased a 3-2 Braves lead.

He’s had very little career success against the Cardinals, going 2-7 with a 4.21 ERA in 10 starts. He has two complete games against St Louis. Four Cardinals have more than 10 plate appearances against him: AP (.412/.412/1.118), DeRosa (.320/.393/.833), Lugo (.267/.313/.733), and Glaus (.214/.313/.813)

Statistical Oddity. Vasquez’s three longest starts (by innings) against St Louis, and both of his complete games, were in a losing effort.

Carpenter had a dominating start against Milwaukee. Some think it may not his best start this season, much less by a Cardinal (the principal difference is walks issued). Great topic to debate. Carpenter didn’t pitch against Atlanta in April – that series happened while he was on the DL. He has a winning career mark against them at 2-1, but he’s given up 18 ER, and 4 HR, in 29 2/3 innings pitched. The only NL team that’s given him more trouble is Philadelphia.

That said, the Cardinals have won the last 5 games he’s started against Atlanta, although he’s only made one start opposing the Braves since 2006 (30 July 08), and he only threw 4 innings that day – it was his first start since Opening Day 2007. Only Garrett Anderson and Nate McLouth have more than 10 plate appearances against them. McLouth is hitting a robust .083; Anderson has had slightly more success (2 doubles, HR, .846 OPS).

Prognosis/prediction. This could be a tough series. The Braves starters are solid. With Lohse trying to find his way, Pineiro struggling a little bit, and Holliday slightly nicked up, the Cardinals could struggle. Carpenter and AP being white hot will help. We’ll err on the side of caution and say St Louis drops 2 of three this weekend.

Predicted Magic Number PM 9/13: 10.

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 12 (Cubs off yesterday)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Houston - 7 (lost to Atlanta 9-7)
- Milwaukee - 6 (off yesterday)
- Cincinnati - 2 (lost to Colorado 5-1)
- Pittsburgh - ELIMINATED

An Easy Date to Remember

I've never understood how some people have trouble remembering dates for major events in their life. If it was life-changing, if it was important, if it evokes a pleasant memory, one would think that would be an easy date to hold on to, to attach to whatever memory you keep.

That said, some dates are easier to remember than others.

Today is the third anniversary of me starting this little ol' blog. I started it because it the 2006 Cardinals were turning into the 1964 Phillies, and I wanted to comment, but also because I'd long talked about doing a blog, and my wife finally said 'put up or shut up'. Be careful what you wish for, honey.

It's also the eighth anniversary of this.

Photo downloaded from Fox News

Which makes it easy to remember for me.

When I was a kid, my parents used to talk about how they remembered where they were the day Kennedy was shot, and what a reality-altering event that was for their generation. I never quite understood that sentiment until 9/11/01.

I don't remember every detail of that day, but I do remember where I was and what I was doing - underway on USS HELENA (SSN-725), in the middle of a Tactical Readiness Evaluation.

SSN-725 returning from a successful deployment (undated)

You probably remember waking up that morning and staring, transfixed, at the television set while the events in New York/DC/PA unfolded. Now imagine being more than 12 miles off the coast, with no media connectivity, getting information sporadically. We new something was amiss when we came up to talk with folks ashore in preparation for the morning's exercise and there was no one on the other end of the circuit. This was followed, in the next few hours, by our exercise being cancelled and the DEFCON being raised to the highest level anyone of us (including the Captain and Commodore of our squadron, who was on board) had ever seen.

Tension abounded. What the hell had happened?

Peacemeal reporting went like this: A Cessna crashed into the World Trade Center. Then we were told it was a learjet. Then, a passenger plane and both towers were down. This was the raw data coming straight out of the radio room to control, where I was.

Once the full impact of the attack was realized on board, there wasn't a lot of anger. But there was a lot of excitement. Why? Because based on our operational condition, we expected to be one of the first boats sent West to respond. Which meant we could do something about those attacks, bring the fight to the people who had attacked the US and killed so many. Those '9-11 LETS ROLL' stickers/shirts you might remember coming out right after the attacks? That's how we felt. The Squadron Torpedoman stopped me in Middle Level and said "Two words: Parking. Lot." Well, that would have been a bit of an overresponse, but it succinctly captured the mood. Let's Roll.

Flags are at half-mast today to remember the victims of the attack. For me, it is another reminder of how the world has changed since that day, and how many of my comrades in arms have given their lives defending this country these past eight years, so there isn't a repeat of 9/11/01. Remember all of them today.

And if you see a man/woman in uniform today, they may appear to be walking a little taller, their jaw set, moving with more purpose than usual. Because we remember too. We may have joined before 9/11, but the task put before us since that morning is the reason we serve, and the reason we fight.

We'll return to the Cardinals tomorrow.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Albert Rides Shotgun For The Wagonmaker

Busy day today - AM loaded with meetings, awards and evaluations to finalize, so this will be short. I present the first ever Stan Musial's Stance haiku game summary:

Pujols twice
Wainwright resurgent
Closing on Autumn

Magic Number Watch

Clinch Division: 12 (Cubs beat Pittsburgh 8-5)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Houston : 8 (beat Atlanta 2-1)
- Milwaukee: 6
- Cincinnati: 3 (lost to Colorado 4-3)
- Pittsburgh: ELIMINATED

Other news: Holliday has an owie, DeRosa to have off-season surgery on his wrist. From the sound of it, Holliday won't miss any time, although he will be investing in bacitracin and dance lessons. DeRosa's off-season surgery has been hinted at for a while, so that's no surprise. Let's hope he gets the procedure done early in the off-season so he's ready to go come spring training (in other words, don't pull a Glaus).

Off-day today, Atlanta over the weekend.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

How Badly Did We Need a Holliday?

Apparently, pretty badly.

Statistics are interesting because they can highlight trends or factoids not normally made plain to the casual fan (i.e., me). Here's my current favorite one: St Louis is 31-11 since acquiring Holliday from the A's. Here's a close second, although it qualifies more as a factoid: the Cardinals have not lost ground in the Central since taking over the outright lead in the division on August 7. Of course, it hasn't hurt they've gone 24-6 over that stretch (.800 baseball).

Trevor Hoffman is one of the best closers in baseball who, as a mostly San Diego resident, I've had the pleasure of watching pitch for most of his career. His fastball isn't what it once was (most forget he used to routinely hit 92-95 with it before the arm surgery), but that change up is still devastating. That said, he is susceptible to the long ball, which Holliday provided last night. The loss won't affect Hoffman - one doesn't accumulate 584 saves without knowing how to put a bad outing behind one - but the win will affect the Cardinals, who rightfully believe they are never out of a game, and are becoming more and more comfortable with the idea they don't need to rely solely on AP to deliver in high-leverage situations.

I'm hope the Cardinals don't face Manny Parra again this season. I may have to create the Manny Parra Effect to describe what happens to Redbird bats when he pitches or is scheduled to pitch. How else to explain a guy who's 2-1, sub-2.4 ERA against STL and 8-9, 7.49 against everyone else? Even when he leaves the game early (neck spasms, day-to-day), the Cardinals can't solve Brewer pitching.

Cardinals look to win the series today.

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 13 (Cubs beat Pirates 9-4)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Milwaukee - 8
- Houston - 8 (Lost to Atlanta 2-1)
- Cincinnati - 5 (Lost to Colorado 3-1)
- Pittsburgh - ELIMINATED

Current Cardinal Brendan Ryan sports #13. Before him the immortal Sidney Ponson stretched the number across his prodigious backside (2006).

Other news:

- Cardinals are reportedly very interested in bringing Mark DeRosa back for next year. Money quote:

"Recognizing where we are, the thought is we'll talk about it and that we're still hopeful that he's someone we could sign and bring back," Mozeliak said. "He's a very valuable person to this club."

Given his reputation as a leader on whatever club he plays for (as reported in various media stories about what's wrong with the Cubs, as well as ancedotal conversations with people having insight into the Cubs locker room), I view this as a good move.

- Rasmus is suffering from a sore heel/achillies tendon. This sounds like plantar fascitis to me. Granted, I'm not a doctor, and the media reporting on his injury is probably purposefully vague, but left heel/foot pain and a sore achillies plagued me earlier this year; when I went to the podiatrist, he diagnosed plantar fascitis, and prescribed shoe inserts (which, incidentally, have helped). So I'm willing to bet that's Rasmus' problem too. It didn't bother me when I was hitting, but it did when I pushed off to chase flyballs, etc, in the OF.

- Lohse to rotation, Boggs to bullpen. Came up in the comments yesterday. Boggs pitched much better his last time out against Pittsburgh, and was serviceable in his previous start vs Milwaukee, so he's not being shifted due to a lack of performance. I think LaRussa wants to see Lohse pitch to determine his availability and effectiveness going into the playoffs. This is a sensible and rational move. A healthy Lohse, pitching like he did last season and in April 09, is a big asset and a dangerous #3/4 starter - more so than anyone else the Cardinals can run out there, including Smoltz (more on him in a moment). The team needs to know what they've got with Lohse going forward in 2009. I think Lohse will make 4 starts the rest of the year and then we'll see what the team does in the playoffs.

- Smoltz's line yesterday - 5 IP, 3 ER, 0 BB, 7 K. We talked earlier about his first two starts being aided by the weak lineups he was facing. Against a good hitting team his last 2 starts, he's given up 3 ER in each start (it just happened to be the same team). This is the level of performance we should expect to get from a John Smoltz start at this point in his career. The problem is each of his starts taxes the bullpen, in that they need to get up to 12 outs.

Now granted, the Cardinals have thrown the fewest relief innings in the NL this season (372.0 -next lowest is San Francisco at 386.2), so bullpen burnout isn't as serious an issue as it may be for the Dodgers, but in the short series playoff format, burning out the pen in one game can hamstring LaRussa for subsequent games, and potentially bring on unfavorable matchups or cost the team a game. So I believe Smoltz will be used exclusively in relief once the post season starts, even if Lohse remains lousy these next 3 weeks.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Mid-Series Review - Milwaukee

We just played these guys last week, so generating another preview seemed silly.

Especially since two of the pitching matchups are the same (Carp vs Bush, Smoltz/Parra).

So, we'll just talk about Wainwright vs Suppan.

Suppan (6-8, 4.97) has had a tough year, but has been tough on the Cardinals. In his three starts against them this year he's 1-1 (team 2-1) . Jeff has been positively awful at home this season (2-6, 6.19); he's made 12 starts in Milwaukee and thrown 64 total innings, meaning he averages 5 1/3 innings a start. He's also pitched worse since the All-Star Break, allowing over 2 baserunners an inning, walking a ton of guys, and an HR an game. Hard to believe he's only 34.

Wainwright turned in his shortest outing since April 11, and gave up the most runs he's allowed since June 21 at Kansas City (5 ER). His next start after the KC game he went 7, allowed 2 ER and lost to Minnesota. I would expect him to rebound from his Pittsburgh start and get back to the form he's shown these past 2 months. Wainwright is 10-1 on the road this year (13 starts), is 2-1 against Milwaukee this season (both wins in Miller Park), and is 4-3 with a 2.28 ERA career against the Brewers.


I remember, not so long ago, ESPN broadcast baseball games all day on Labor Day. In fact, I remember watching the Cardinals/Astros game on Labor Day 1996, which was (a) a great game, (b) a game the Cardinals won, and (c) when I knew the Cardinals would win the NL Central that year.

Thanks to the first weekend of CollegeFootball now extending from Friday to Monday, as sponsors continue to grovel at the altar of Ba'al - WHOOPS, I mean The Almighty Dollar - there was no baseball on TV today locally. Except Padres/Giants. Whoopee.

So I'm limited to seeing the score crawl across the screen. 3-0 Cardinals doesn't tell one much, other than the Cards won. Then the line comes up - 'Carpenter - CG, H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 10 K' - and I think, wow. That's fantastic, and will certainly help my UCB Fantasy League team in the playoffs (sorry Dan, it's not your year).

In an unrelated story, Carlos Pena breaking two fingers today pretty much ends my chances of winning my work rotisserie league. I was in second, and closing, going into today. CC Sabathia pitches for the team I'm chasing. Coincidence? I think not!

I read the game summary, and was floored. 99 pitches? Two balls hit OUT OF THE INFIELD the entire game against him? My gosh, that's incredible. Carpenter has thrown only one other 1-hitter, a memorable game against his original team, the Blue Jays. He had a certain motivation in that game - he was healthy, Toronto kinda gave up on him - and he dominated them. This game? Carpenter proved, again, how good he is this season.

I just wish I could have seen it.

And again, people who think Lincecum is a slam-dunk to win the Cy Young in 2009 aren't really paying attention. That's no disrespect to Tim Lincecum, but an acknowledgement of how good Chris Carpenter has been this year.

So, the Cards inch closer to their first playoff appearance since winning the whole thing 3 years ago. Let's go to the tote board:

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 14 (Cubs beat Pittsburgh 4-2)

Eliminate Rivals:
- Milwaukee: 10
- Houston: 10 (Beat Philadelphia 4-3)
- Cincinnati: 7 (Lost to Colorado 4-3)
- Pittsburgh: ELIMINATED

I've adjusted my numbers from the last post due to a math error on my part. Based on these new numbers, the Cubs victory over Pittsburgh eliminates the Pirates from the divisional race. But, we have a nice parting gift: they're still alive for the Wild Card.

Smoltz vs Manny Parra tomorrow. Parra's pitched better against St Louis then he has vs the rest of the league, and the Brewers beat Smoltz in his last start.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Cardinals rest everybody, push Pirates to the brink

You know LaRussa sat everyone when AP is available to pinch hit in the tenth inning. And AP said all the right things at the post-game conference after launching the winning HR deep into the Pittsburgh night. But you know that blast came with an extra amount of satisfaction for him, given that Capps had hit him with a pitch the last time they faced each other.

Although the Cardinals rested most of their regulars, that shouldn't take away from the effort 'Der' Olhendorf turned in yesterday. Without the error in the sixth inning, he might have won this game 1-0. Four hits and 11 K's over eight innings is a fantastic effort. I knew he had pitched well in his previous 2 starts at home, but I didn't go far enough back to realize how dominant he'd been at home this season.

And give Mitchell Boggs credit. For a guy most talking heads (and the Cardinals in-dugout staff, from all indications) thought didn't have it to get deep into games, Boggs' seven inning effort was at least an indication he may have what it takes to stay at the ML level in the rotation. His Washington start was servicable, this one was better.

Cards go for the sweep today. LA won last night, so St Louis also remains tied for best record in the league (81-56).

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 17 (Cubs won yesterday 5-3).

Eliminate Rivals:
- Milwaukee - 13 (lost 3-2 to San Francisco)
- Houston - 13 (beat Philadelphia 5-4)
- Cincinnati - 10 (beat Atlanta 3-1)
- Pittsburgh - 2

17 is Dizzy Dean's number. View his statistics here. His HOF plaque can be seen here.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cardinals swamp Pirates, tie for best record in NL

Well Adam Wainwright didn't burnish his Cy Young credentials last night, but given his sustained superior performance these past 2 months, I think he's due a hiccup, don't you?

He did notch his ML leading 17th win which, given the way the voting tends to go, may have helped his case out anyway.

Thanks to the Padres shutting out LA 2-0, and the Phillies being shut out by Houston 7-0, St Louis passed Philadelphia and is even with LA for best record in the league, with 26 games to go.

Magic Number Watch:

Clinch Division: 18

Eliminate Rivals:
- Milwaukee - 15
- Houston - 14
- Cincinnati - 11
- Pittsburgh - 4

New feature: I will highlight the last Cardinal to wear the uniform number of their magic number each day. Would you believe no Cardinal has worn #18 in 13 years? The last - Luis Alicea, for the 1996 NL Central Champs. It was his last year as a Cardinal. He played for another six years, all in the AL (1 with the Angels, 3 with Texas, the last 2 with KC). Alicea is currently the first base coach for the NY Mets.

Finally, my long month of travel is over, so I should be at the computer more often as the season winds up to the 2009 Playoffs. If you've missed my distinctive writing style, fear not: the nonsense and sarcasm will be front and center these next few weeks.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Series Preview - Pittsburgh

Three items before we get into the preview:

1. Congratulations to Chris Carpenter on being named NL Pitcher of the Month for August. In 6 starts he averaged just over 7 innings a start, had a WHIP of 1.000, a SO/BB ratio of 5.40, and an OPS against of .591. Truly dominant.

How does that compare to the Wagonmaker? 6 starts, averaged just under 7 innings a start, WHIP 0.9113, SO/BB ratio of 7.25, OPS against of .548.

What about Lincecum? 6 starts, just over 7 innings a start, WHIP of 1.007, SO/BB ratio of 2.79, OPS against of .513.

Anyone telling you the NL Cy Young award is a slam-dunk for Lincecum just isn't paying attention to how well Carpenter/Wainwright are pitching right now.

2. The AP wire report on today's Cardinal game says Manny Parra is 3-1 against St Louis this season. Here's what's true: Parra has started 4 games against the Cardinals. Here's what's not: He was 1-1 (with a ND that the Brewers lost) in the previous 3 starts. So he's now 2-1 against St Louis. AP regrets the error.

3. Smoltz went 6 today and gave up 4 ER. I saw that crawl across the ticker and thought, well, that's about what we should have expected. I didn't realize until reading the game summary he was a botched double play, and then one bad pitch, away from winning that game. So perhaps Smoltz is back as a starter. That's great news.

On to the preview:

The Cardinals return to Pittsburgh for a three-game set. St Louis has won 8 of the 12 meetings this season, taking 4 of 6 at home and at PNC Park. Should the Redbirds sweep this series, they will (a) assure Pittsburgh of yet another losing season (their 18th straight), and (b) eliminate the Pirates from the NL Central race.

Mostly well-known tidbit: Pittsburgh has been horrendous on the road (18-48 going into Wednesday night’s action) but pretty good at home (35-29). In fact, their home record is 6th best in the League, behind SF, STL, LA, the Cubs, and Colorado.

Also, when did teams quit playing 4-game series over Labor Day? Is this a memory from a previous life, or was the Sunday before Labor Day always a travel day?

Finally, the Pirates must hate when the Cardinals come calling; this is the third time this year they’ll play the Cardinals while in the middle of a long losing streak (currently at 7 and counting).

Current snapshot

St Louis: 78-56, 1st in NL Central, 10.5 games ahead of Chicago (9 on the loss side). St Louis just finished a 7-2 homestand, they own the biggest divisional lead in baseball, and only the Yankees have a higher probability of making the playoffs at this point (99.8 to 99.1), and that Holliday trade? Yeah that’s worked out pretty well.

Pittsburgh: 53-79, last in NL Central, 25 games back. Hey, at least this time around their lineup hasn’t undergone a drastic makeover since the last time the Cardinals played them. Not much to celebrate in Pittsburgh these days, but they did look positively frisky against the Phillies last week. Must have been a maximum effort, since they’ve lost 7 straight since…

Pitching match-ups

4 September: Wainwright vs Kevin “Don’t Call Me Bo” Hart (4-4, 4.34). Hart was acquired by the Pirates in the Grabow/Gorzelanny trade. He was 3-1 when the Pirates got him, and then, possibly depressed by going from a team with a legendary record of futility to a team taking a dump on its proud legacy, forgot how to pitch. Hart has been awful as a Pirate. ERA of 6.04, people reach base against him 40% of the time, OPS of .917, 4 HR allowed in 5 games (after allowing 3 in his 8 with the Cubs), and so on. He’s thrown a total of 4 innings against the Cardinals in his career; 4 hits, 2 BB, 5 K’s, and 1 ER overall. No starts against St Louis, and his most recent appearance was in a mop-up role during a 12-6 Cardinal beat-down of Chicago last 19 September (that was Zambrano getting the early shower).

5 September: Boggs vs Ross ”Der” Ohlendorf (11-9, 4.17). The name Ohlendorf is definitely German, but I have no idea what it means. Ohlendorf leads the Pirates in wins, but is 7th in the NL allowing HR (23 this season). He has 3 starts against St Louis this season, and is 1-2, but his lone win was at home on May 13 by a 5-2 count. Those are also the sum total of appearances against the Redbirds he’s made in his career. He allows about 1 in every 3 baserunners to reach, and teams are slugging .788 against him.

Even Mitchell Boggs couldn’t derail the current Cardinal hot streak. He beat Washington on Saturday 9-4, thanks to the Cardinals staking him to an early 7-2 lead. Boggs has started twice against Pittsburgh this season; he didn’t get out of the fifth in either appearance, but the Cardinals won both games.

Statistical Oddity: In each start against the Pirates he faced exactly 21 hitters and left with a 2-run lead. He had the same number of pitches called strikes (13) in each start. Spooky.

6 September: Pineiro vs Paul “Mahalo” Maholm (7-8, 4.67). Maholm is 1-1 against St Louis this year, pitching into the seventh both starts, so he should pitch better than his statistics say he will. His last two starts at home against the NL were superlative, allowing 1 ER in each (7 2/3 and 7 innings respectively), but got hit hard his last road start in Cincinnati (4 ER in 5 IP, loss). However, he’s become prone to the long ball, allowing at least 1 HR in 6 of his 9 starts since the All-Star Break (or put another way, he’s allowed 14 HR this season but 9 since the break). So he might be competitive, but I’d expect some Cardinal to find the seats against him.

I thought Pineiro was due for a bad start, and expected it to be against the Brewers; he did allow 4 runs, but got the win anyway. His season has been one of streaks; 4 wins to start, then lost 9 of 11 decisions, and has now won 8 straight decisions (including his last 5 starts). Can he continue to win? Against this team, probably. He lost to a completely different Pirates team on May 17 (5-2), but beat this version 7-3 on August 9th.

Prognosis/prediction. We are better than this AAAA team. Cardinals should sweep.

Magic Number for Division Title: 20.

Go Cards!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Series Preview - Milwaukee

The Cardinals have 30 games left and will play almost a third of those against Milwaukee. St Louis concludes this homestand with a series against the Brewers. This will be the first series against the Brewers since July 7-9.

Milwaukee leads the season series 5-4.

Today's Tidbit: 1 September is the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, which set off World War II. When the war ended, the Germans and Polish negotiated a cease fire, but no peace treaty was signed until German Re-unification happened.

See? Didn't know that did you? And you thought this was just a baseball blog.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 77-55, 1st in NL Central, 10.5 games ahead of Chicago (9 on the loss side). St Louis has won 4 of 5 on the homestand after sweeping the Nationals over the weekend. They’ve won 14 of 17 overall and are currently the hottest team in baseball. They trail Philadelphia by 2 games for the best record in the league.

Milwaukee: 64-66, 3rd in NL Central, 12 games back (11 on the loss side). Milwaukee is, for all practical purposes, out of the playoff race. They recently put several of their veterans through waivers, including Trevor Hoffman. They followed up being swept by the Reds with sweeping from Pittsburgh.

Pitching match-ups

1 September: Piniero vs Braden Looper (11-6, 4.88).
Looper has the best winning percentage and second best ERA of the Brewer starters. Still, I don’t think he’d call this one of his better years. He’s surrendered 32 home runs this season, worst in baseball; he’s allowing two HR per game. He faced the Cardinals on 18 May, winning 8-4. annan is listed as the Nationals ace on Baseball Reference. He has a 4.72 FIP in 160 innings this season. Lannan features a high-80s fastball he throws 2/3 of the time, and a smattering of off-speed pitches he throws about evenly (slider, curveball, changeup). Looks like his changeup might be his best pitch, but he only throws it about 10% of the time. He’s 0-2 career against St Louis, but based on his ERA (2.84) he’s pitched well in those games.

Pineiro looks to win his 14th game of the season. He beat Milwaukee 5-1 on 9 July (game described later in the Manny Parra section) and is 2-0 career against the Brewers.

2 September: Dave Bush (3-5, 5.88) vs Carpenter. Dave Bush has not faced the Cardinals in 2009. For his career he’s 2-4 with a 6.06 ERA in 6 career starts, including an 0-2, 7.50 mark at Neo-Busch. He came back off the DL on 27 August to start against the Reds; he didn’t survive the fifth and lost 8-5. In fact, the last time he pitched into the sixth inning was June 4.

Chris Carpenter? Carp has won 10 of his last 12 starts, and the only reason he hasn’t won 12 of 12 is because the bullpen blew two leads late against the Astros. He’ll go for his 15th win on Wednesday. Milwaukee is one of the few teams to give him trouble throughout his career; he’s only 2-3 with a pedestrian 4.37 ERA against them in seven starts. His only start against them was on 7 May; he threw 8 shutout innings against Yovani Gallardo and got a no decision (that game ended 1-0 Milwaukee in extras)

3 September: Manny Parra (9-10,6.66) vs Smoltz. Manny Parra’s last start against the Cardinals was a gem – 7 innings pitched, one hit, left with a 1-0 lead. This, based on his season to that date, was an anomaly. Parra has a world of talent but has been battered this season by the NL. The Cardinals came back to win that game 5-1; AP doubled in the go-ahead run, and Ludwick followed with a 3-run bomb to seal it. That comeback led to some hilarity on the Brewer airwaves; after the HR Bob Uecker started exhorting Brewer fans not togive up (as fans started streaming for the exits), saying ‘there’s a lot of baseball left, folks’ among other things. When he realized it was futile, he launched into a long discussion of Cardinal greats, guys he had played with or watched, making calling the game secondary. I guess it’s only hilarious if you were a Cardinal fan listening to the broadcast.

Manny is 1-1 in his other 2 starts this season against the Cardinals, but his win was at Neo-Busch on 17 May. For his career he’s made 4 starts at the stadium, and that decision is the only one he’s gotten.

This is the start where Smoltz proves if his previous two efforts were a realistic presentation of his current ability, or driven by the weak lineups he faced.

Prognosis/prediction. Sometimes you don’t want a day off, especially when you’re rolling along. The Cardinals are rolling along. Based on the way they have pitched since the All-Star Break, the pitching match-ups heavily favor the Cardinals, but the Brewers can still mash, and they always rise to the occasion when they face the Cardinals.

Cards drop the first game, then win the next 2 to take the series.

Go Cards!