Monthly Archives: March 2011

UCB Project: American League Central

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I will skip that one as I head around baseball. Last night I touched on the AL East and today I will tackle the AL Central.

Last season the Minnesota Twins took the division lead in mid-August and then cruised their way to the title, only to lose to the Yankees in the playoffs. Aagain.

As far as the division has historically gone, there wasn’t much change in that either. For the last few years, the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers have had their time at the top while the Indians and the Royals find themselves as nearly perennial cellar dwellers. But will that change in 2011? We shall see.

5. Kansas City Royals (69-93)
For the Royals, that isn’t likely to change this year. However, the future is looking bright. It was an offseason that saw them deal away their ace pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner Zach Grienke to the Brewers for a haul of prospects. The Royals are very young, with second baseman Mike Aviles as the team’s oldest player and he just turned 30 a week ago.

While they have a glut of prospects in their system getting ready to come up, they aren’t quite ready for prime time this season. Though I do expect them to make some noise, I don’t see them with the pitching staff to contend regularly or even compete to be .500. With Grienke gone, they’ve lost their stopper. They added Jeff Francis to add a veteran voice to the rotation, but Francis is coming off a rough year in Colorado and historically he’s always pitched better in Coors Field than he has anywhere else.

What they need to answer is whether or not their potential success can turn into actual success over the coming seasons. That’s something that the Royals have tried and failed on before, hopefully for Royals fans they will get a shot in the arm in the coming years.

4. Cleveland Indians (76-86)
The Indians didn’t really lose anyone during the offseason, yet added some depth, so they should improve in 2011. That said, they still don’t have a team that is worthy of contending in this division. Grady Sizemore is injured, though coming back early in the season, and entering what is likely his final season in Cleveland. Carlos Santana proved himself to be a capable catcher last season and Shin-Soo Choo could be one of the most underrated players in the major leagues.

In their rotation, they have five solid (if not spectacular) starters. Fausto Carmona has the potential and has shown it, but can he be their ace? That’s always the question with young pitchers. The team does have a solid closer, though, with former Cardinals reliever Chris Perez getting the ninth inning call. So if the Indians do take a lead into the ninth inning, if Perez can repeat his success from last season they should be able to pull out the victory.

Cleveland is still working on their rebuilding, but really not. they have a lot of the pieces they need to contend, but they aren’t complete. I don’t expect them to contend for the division, not with the shape of the other teams ahead of them.

3. Detroit Tigers (87-75)
Detroit made some solid signings in the offseason as they bring in Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit. They also signed Brad Penny who, if he can stay healthy, could be a valuable addition to that starting rotation.

The Tigers are once again a very capable team and could make another playoff run this season. That will require a healthy year from Brad Penny, the successful conversion from reliever to starter for Phil Coke, and Max Scherzer finally reaching his potential. Should that be done, the Tigers will definitely challenge for the division title.

Their question mark will be how Miguel Cabrera responds. After spending the 2009-2010 offseason in rehab for alcohol abuse and staying clean through the 2010 season, Cabrera was cited for suspicion of drunk driving before spring training this year. Can Cabrera hit the Tigers to wins while battling his personal issues? It’s easier for young players, and Cabrera is reaching the point where he isn’t young in baseball years anymore.

2. Chicago White Sox (88-74)
To me, the White Sox and the Tigers are two very comparable teams. They added Adam Dunn in the offseason and his legitimate power threat in the middle of their lineup should definitely boost the offense. With Paul Konerko coming back to play again and if some of their young talent in the lineup continues to improve they can be the division champs.

Their question mark seems to be in the pitching staff. Jake Peavy is back after having shoulder surgery last season. He will need to return as a top half of the rotation starter to help out John Danks and Mark Buerhle. In the bullpen, longtime closer Bobby Jenks is gone and their setup guy, Matt Thornton, will get the chance to be the closer. New signing Jesse Crain is expected to take Thornton’s role. While Thornton put up better numbers than Jenks did last season, can Thornton take the pressure of being the closer? White Sox fans are hoping yes.

1. Minnesota Twins (90-72)
I expect it to be a very close three-team race once again for this season’s AL Central crown. The Twins were depleted in free agency as they lost a total of 7 players to free agency, most of those from the bullpen. Luckily, the major players will be back for the Twins and that is good news. Their rotation remains intact and Justin Morneau‘s return should be a boost for the offense.

I see two major questions for the Twins entering the season. Their bullpen will be juggled around between new signings and young talent. Joe Nathan makes his return after receiving Tommy John surgery last spring. How the players adjust to their new roles on the club will be key for the Twins.

Then you also have the infield defense. Going into 2011, the infield combination has not played very much together. Morneau spent most of last year on the DL after sustaining a concussion, Japanese player Tsuyoshi Nishioka is expected to play second base with Alexi Casilla at short and Danny Valencia at third. How quickly they adjust and learn each other will be important for the team’s early success.

UCB Project: American League East

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week will be preview week at Redbird Dugout. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I will skip that one this week. Today I will take a look at the American League East. Then each other division through Thursday and then review and predict the post-season on Friday. So new content every day this week!

In thinking about this division, I thought it’d be pretty easy. While the top-2 are basically expected to be the top-2, the other three teams in the AL East are capable of finishing in any order. So this can be an easily proven to be wrong. Many of the teams in the AL East are trying to play a lot of young players and that can just add to the uncertainty as young players are difficult to predict just how much they will help their team win.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (71-91)
I’ve got the Blue Jays for around 71 wins as they fall to the bottom of the American League East. While the team might be making progress towards a rebuilding efforts, they did absolutely nothing to make their team more competitive now. And actually probably made it less so. With the trade of Vernon Wells to shed salary and sending Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee, the team will definitely lose ground on the numbers they put up last season. Combine that with some young talent getting their chance and their team could be anywhere in the bottom half of this division.

They will once again have a new manager, and the biggest question is whether Jose Bautista can repeat his 54 HR performance of 2010.

4. Baltimore Orioles (76-86)
Baltimore made some moves in the offseason. They brought in several players via trade and spent some money in free agency. They brought in J.J. Hardy from the Twins and Mark Reynolds from the Diamondbacks. They also signed Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, and Kevin Gregg to help shore out the team. The team experienced a boost when Buck Showalter was named the manager, but usually teams experience a small boost when the manager is replaced and it probably won’t push much into this season.

However, with the new bats in the middle of the lineup, the team is much improved over it’s 66 win counterpart from 2010. Their rotation will be the major question of 2011 with the young arms they have. If their pitchers prove themselves and put up solid seasons I could see the Orioles challenging for second-place in the division. But it will take a lot of luck for that to happen, I think fourth place is a solid finish for them.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (82-80)
Tampa is probably one of the toughest teams in the league to predict because they are always cycling in young talent. Young talent is hard to predict because a star player can come out of nowhere and potential stars can always turn to duds on the big stage. That said, I have a special place in my heart for the Rays because I’ve seen most of their players play at Triple-A Durham regularly.

The Rays saw quite a bit of talent leave town this offseason. Most notably was their closer Rafael Soriano and Carl Crawford, each of which signed as free agents with division rivals. There are many good names on the list of departures. However, there are some really interesting names on the list of those who are coming to Tampa this season. Notably, Manny Ramirez, but also Johnny Damon and Kyle Farnsworth.

If Manny is Manny (the good Manny, not the headache Manny) and Damon can at least recapture some of what he’s been in the past, I think the odds are pretty good that the Rays could outplay this prediction.

2. New York Yankees (90-72)
New York is going to have many issues this season. Andy Pettitte announced his retirement and they missed on Cliff Lee. Their biggest issue in 2010 was their rotation and they were unable to do much of anything to improve it in the offseason, despite adding veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

However, they did heavily improve that bullpen with the addition of Rafael Soriano as the primary setup guy and ostensibly, Mariano Rivera‘s replacement-in-waiting. They also added Pedro Feliciano, who was probably one of the best lefty relievers on the market this offseason. The bullpen should not give up many leads, and when you have a big question mark in the pitching rotation

As always the Yankees offense will be jam packed. The Yankees are looking to make the move of Jorge Posada to the full-time DH role this season with the signing of Russell Martin to play catcher for them. It will look like a great deal if he returns to his previous form when he was considered one of the top catchers in baseball.

1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
The Red Sox are probably the most improved team in the AL East, and maybe even the entire American League. They added Carl Crawford to play the outfield while trading for Adrian Gonzalez to fill the first baseman role. Those additions potentially give Boston the best 1-7 hitters in the majors. The Red Sox finished third and missed the playoffs last season, but that should change this year as their team should rebound from injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.

The team also hopes Jarrod Saltalamacchia (yeah, I had to look that spelling up) is capable of being an everyday catcher for them and that he can live up to the promise he showed when he was still with the Braves. They will still have Jason Varitek, while he is not as good as he once was (he’s as good once as he ever was) or so the Red Sox will hope, if he needs to jump into the catcher’s role in a larger role than expected.

The team’s rotation is solid once again as there is no expected changes there. The improvement on the offensive side of the ball should be enough to push them up and over the top of the other teams in their division.

Cardinals Approval Ratings: Introduction

If you’ve been around the United Cardinal Bloggers long enough, I’m sure everyone is aware of the Preseason Approval Ratings that Daniel at C70 at the Bat does during Spring Training. You can find them at the end of several posts or the summary in the sidebar of his page. However, I came up with a way to take it a notch further.

After consulting with Daniel about the idea (because I am basically borrowing the core idea from him), the Cardinals Approval Ratings will appear next week. Basically, I will poll the feelings of whatever Cardinals fans I can get the survey in front of and they will rank their satisfaction with the performance of the player from 0-10. The first will be the calibration to make sure this idea will work and to get a good starting number for each manager or player listed.

This will be something that I repeat in the final week of each month as the season progresses. The end goal will be to track the change in fan perception as the season goes on. Does it remain constant? Does is fluctuate with on field performance? Do recent games impact it more than others?

To me, there are several very interesting things that could be tracked and stated about these. Then each month I will do a wrap-up post where I list the summary of some of the more interesting numbers to emerge from the survey.

The inaugural list, which will probably run from Wednesday of next week until the following Tuesday, will feature Cardinals’ management and most of the players who were in Spring Training. At the bottom it will also have some survey questions that might be part of a future post at Redbird Dugout in the future. I thought it would be an interesting addition to a post to not only be able to mention my feelings, but the general feelings of Cardinals fans.

Look for the survey at the middle of next week. You can follow Redbird Dugout on Twitter or Like us on Facebook and you can get the notification there. Or you can catch the retweet from me on Twitter @jondoble.

We Are Cardinal Nation

So by now, I’m sure everyone is aware that the 2011 Cardinals television commercials have been released online. Remember the old days when you had to watch TV to see commercials?

The new tagline this year is “We Are Cardinal Nation.” Personally, I preferred the “Play like a Cardinal” tagline of the previous couple years.

The ads feature Lance Berkman trying to pick a number, Red Schoendienst showing he’s still got it, Schumaker giving Fredbird advice, Fredbird climbing out of his tree to report to Spring Training, Matt Holliday hitting home runs with a variety of things, Fredbird cranking up the hot dog gun, and the bullpen eating donuts.

Some quick thoughts on a couple of them. On the commercial where Schumaker is giving Fredbird advice on his ‘beaking,’ it made me wonder if he got similar advice from Fredbird last season on how to play second base. Then, in the commercial with Fredbird and the hot dog gun, I’m sure the mascot gained a few fans as he tried to take Tony LaRussa out.

My personal favorite was Berkman’s attempts to pick a number. Adam Wainwright asks Berkman what number he’s going to wear and every one that he chooses has been retired by the team and Wainwright informs him of it. At one point, Berkman seems to grab a number out of thin air, “What about 85?” only to find out that it’s retired too.

A close second would have been the bullpen sharing a box of donuts. Jason Motte comes in and complains that there aren’t any more powdered donuts and Ryan Franklin sprinkles the rosin bag over the donut. Motte takes a bite and says “that’s good.” The commercial would have surpassed the Berkman commercial for me if Motte had said something to the effect of “good save” after taking a bite.

However, I’m sure the commercial with Red Schoendienst will take home the honor of favorite commercial in the voting because Cardinals fans have a sense of the history of the game. It’s one of the reasons I love the Cardinals. They have a storied past and fans that understand and respect it. And as I check the results, it currently has a 10% lead over the Hot Dog Gun commercial.

The noticeable thing to me was that Pujols was not featured in any of the commercials. He puts his arm around Fredbird at the end of the one where Fredbird is climbing out of the tree to report to Spring Training. Makes me think the team is trying to sell the other players rather than Pujols. That, in itself, could have a variety of meanings if we wanted to look into that. However, I’m a little tired of writing about Pujols lately, and I’m sure the majority of the UCB would agree.

All things considered, I love the ads. They are one of the things I look forward to every year that helps signal that the season is right around the corner. I also have a great idea for a commercial for next year. 15 days until the season begins.

What were your favorites?

Monday Quick Hits

Happy Pi Day, everyone. These are the quick hits for Monday, March 14th, 2011.

Lohse dealing, McClellan lays claim, Garcia struggling.

Kyle Lohse may not be the question mark many expected him to be this season. Lohse has performed much better than I expected so far in Spring Training. Through his first 13 innings thrown, he has allowed just 2 runs and 8 hits over his 3 starts. Seeing as he missed most of last season with injury and hasn’t been effective since 2008, this is really good news for Cardinals fans. Hopefully he will be able to carry on this success into the regular season.

While Tony LaRussa claims that Kyle McClellan has yet to lock up the fifth starter’s role, the general expectation is that he does. McClellan is the best performer out of the realistic contenders for the role, allowing just a single earned run over his 7 innings on the mound. Is LaRussa simply trying to continue to motivate McClellan with the statement? Probably. But count me still among the folk that would prefer McClellan to return to his role in the bullpen as quickly as possible. Hopefully he can prove me wrong.

The question mark was supposed to be Lohse, however it’s more and more looking like it could be Jaime Garcia. In his 9 innings this season, he’s allowed 18 hits and 10 earned runs and is the only Cardinals pitcher to allow multiple home runs. Is it regression, the league catching up to him, or just that he’s not honed in yet? Only Garcia knows and only time will tell. If he regresses to fifth starter status, it hurts the Cardinals who were expecting him to be a solid #2 or #3 pitcher for them this season.

Matt Carpenter, trade bait?

Third base prospect Matt Carpenter has made the most of his chances in Spring Training. With expected opening day third baseman David Freese being eased into games by the organization, Carpenter has gotten a chance to get regular at bats. Then, the other day, Tony LaRussa was downright glowing in his statements about Carpenter and his ability, saying that “He’s going to play in the big leagues. When, I don’t know.”

Many Cardinals fans, including myself, give LaRussa a tough time about his lack of belief in the younger players on the roster and making it extremely difficult on them to get a chance and make the most of it. However, LaRussa’s changing sentiment has me wondering why.

With Freese in St. Louis and Zack Cox on the way, the organization seems to have a small back log at the hot corner. That could mean a potential trade for Carpenter who turned himself into a prospect of note last season when he hit .316 with 12 HR and 53 RBI for Springfield. Considering that the team will most likely consider their top prospect Shelby Miller off limits in trade discussions, that would make Carpenter their best trade piece.

It is almost for certain that he will begin the season in Memphis unless something happens to David Freese considering that Carpenter is not as versatile as the other players he is competing for a bench spot with. But he has certainly made himself a name among Cardinal fans as a potential option at third base with his 13-for-30 with 2 HR spring.

Salas looking strong for bullpen spot.

Fernando Salas spent a lot of last season bouncing between Memphis and St. Louis. Through that he became known to Cardinals fans as he made 27 appearances and posted a 3.52 ERA. So far in March, Salas has thrown 7 scoreless innings and allowed just a single hit. For Cardinals pitchers in Spring Training this year, that is the top performance.

The 25 year old right hander is my personal choice to succeed Ryan Franklin as closer of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. In 2008 he was Springfield’s closer and saved 25 games, and in 2010 he spent most of it as Memphis’ closer and saved another 19. So he has experience and success in the closer’s role.

His closest competition would seem to be Bryan Augenstein who has allowed only a single run in his 6 innings this spring and just 2 hits. Augenstein, 24, was a waiver pickup from the Diamondbacks that many people mocked after he debuted last season with a 7.94 ERA in 2 starts and 5 appearances for the Dbacks. He had yet to find success at AA either with a 6.32 ERA over the last two seasons with Reno, the Dbacks AAA affiliate. Seems like it was a solid choice for the Cardinals after all and he could definitely fill the role that Salas played in 2010 as he bounced between Memphis and St. Louis as the team needed another bullpen arm.

Can we trust Lance Berkman in right field?

Call me wary that we signed him originally to play outfield when he hadn’t played regularly since 2004. Then he complained about tenderness in his right elbow after his first spring training game and has been handled with kid gloves as he’s played pretty much only designated hitter.

Having not played the outfield, of course returning there regularly is going to result in some discomfort. The questions are: Would he be playing if it were a regular season game? And how does he handle the potential discomfort during the season?

I believe if it were the regular season he would be playing in the outfield regularly. However, the question of how does he handle that pain or discomfort when he has to play everyday when it comes to batting and throwing out a runner who is trying to advance from first to third on a ball to right field.

March 14th Quick Hits

Happy Pi Day, everyone

Lohse dealing, McClellan lays claim, Garcia struggling.

Kyle Lohse may not be the question mark many expected him to be this season. Lohse has performed much better than I expected so far in Spring Training. Through his first 13 innings thrown, he has allowed just 2 runs and 8 hits over his 3 starts. Seeing as he missed most of last season with injury and hasn’t been effective since 2008, this is really good news for Cardinals fans. Hopefully he will be able to carry on this success into the regular season.

While Tony LaRussa claims that Kyle McClellan has yet to lock up the fifth starter’s role, the general expectation is that he does. McClellan is the best performer out of the realistic contenders for the role, allowing just a single earned run over his 7 innings on the mound. Is LaRussa simply trying to continue to motivate McClellan with the statement? Probably. But count me still among the folk that would prefer McClellan to return to his role in the bullpen as quickly as possible. Hopefully he can prove me wrong.

The question mark was supposed to be Lohse, however it’s more and more looking like it could be Jaime Garcia. In his 9 innings this season, he’s allowed 18 hits and 10 earned runs and is the only Cardinals pitcher to allow multiple home runs. Is it regression, the league catching up to him, or just that he’s not honed in yet? Only Garcia knows and only time will tell. If he regresses to fifth starter status, it hurts the Cardinals who were expecting him to be a solid #2 or #3 pitcher for them this season.

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