All posts by Jon Doble

Spring Training Week #1 Notebook

The Cardinals’ first week of Spring Training games went much better than the previous week. Despite opening up with a 3-8 loss against the Marlins, the Cardinals finished up their first eight days of playing games at 6 wins, 3 losses.

Some quick hits on my thoughts about some things from the first week of games.

Farm hands getting lots of ABs early in Spring Training. Jon Jay, Mark Hamilton, and Allen Craig lead the team in at bats through the first week of Spring Training. Colby Rasmus joins that trio as the only players to score more than 20 at bats. And each of those four are hitting well over .300 which, even though its the first week of Spring Training, makes me feel good that these guys are already well adjusted as they begin warming up for the season.

It’s been interesting watching Hamilton get a few chances to play in the outfield. He is one of 5 Cardinals to have gone deep so far, and the only one with multiple home runs. Could he become a dark horse candidate as a backup outfielder?

Tyler Greene is getting every opportunity to play himself into or out of a roster spot. He hasn’t hit as well as the four guys in front of him with more ABs, but he hasn’t been an embarrassment. For the record, I would be okay with being proven wrong on Greene. Anytime he’d like to prove me wrong, please do.

Matt Carpenter is also getting a chance to play a lot of ball early in Spring Training as David Freese only made his debut today. Carpenter took advantage of it as he is 6-for-16 (.375). He also has 5 RBI, which ties him for second on the team so far.

I’m enjoying the fact that LaRussa is giving the young guys a seemingly legitmate shot this year and the young guys are giving him something to think about. That’s always better than either of the alternatives.

Battle for the fifth starter. Kyle McClellan still appears to be the leader in the clubhouse for the fifth starter role. He strengthened that after a strong appearance in his spring debut, going 3 innings with 2 hits and 3 strikeouts.

Lance Lynn was the early choice as #2 on the list after his strong debut, but his second appearance was much less impressive. Brandon Dickson was also good in his debut while PJ Walters did not help himself.

Those three guys are likely fighting over McClellan’s bullpen role at this point, anyway.

The K-happy Albert Pujols? The good news is that after posting his highest strikeout total since his rookie year, Albert Pujols met 2011 by striking out 3 times in his first 3 at bats. Wait, maybe that wasn’t the good news. Better news is that he hasn’t struck out in the 10 ABs since.

Daniel Descalso blogging. Daniel Descalso has a MLBlog up with a couple posts up. Hopefully the Cardinals’ infielder will continue to blog about his season as it goes. Check it out here.

Some other UCB notes. Check out the February Round Table with all the posts linked at the UCB homepage. Unfortunately I was too busy to participate this month, but there are definitely some good posts there.

“Natural Positions.” I once again read an article describing a player’s “natural position” as short stop while defensive statistics show that they are much better at another position. What makes a position a natural position? And shouldn’t someone’s natural position be whatever position they are best at?

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Three more weeks until Spring Training games are over and we begin anticipating the season opener against San Diego.

Without Wainwright, do Cards have a chance?

By now everyone has read the news. Adam Wainwright has been sent back to St. Louis to have his throwing elbow examined after experiencing some discomfort during a throwing session earlier this week.

According to an article about it at stltoday.com by Derrick Gould, Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak considers it a significant injury and apparently the words “Tommy John” were mentioned. If that were the case, Wainwright is done for the year and we’ll be lucky for him to start the 2012 season on the roster.

But what does that mean for the Cardinals, after all, you don’t lose a 20 game winner and expect to still be competitive do you? Do you?

When I first heard the news I just buried my head in my hands. So much hope for this season just washed away in one fell swoop. The loss of Nick Punto could be absorbed, not so much the team’s ace. My mind flashed back to 2007 and 2008 when we spent both of those seasons without Chris Carpenter.

At the time, Carpenter was our ace. We won 78 games and finished 3rd in 2007 and then won 86 games in 2008 while finishing 4th in the division.

Now, Wainwright is our ace. What can we honestly expect to do without him in 2011?

Well, let’s look at who’s behind him.

Chris Carpenter, 36, is now the staff ace again with Wainwright on the shelf. There are many fans who are unsure how much faith they can place in him after he struggled down the stretch last season. However, he was still 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA, and half of those losses came in September when the entire team was packing it in. Before September, he was 14-5 in 29 starts with a 2.92 ERA. Still ace-type pitching performance. The sheer number of innings he threw, which he hadn’t even come close to since his injury plagued years of 2007 and 2008 can be attributed to some of that fall off at the end of the season.

Jake Westbrook, 33, was signed to a 2 year, $17.5 million deal over the winter. This was after he pitched fantastically over his final 12 starts of the season with St. Louis. He posted a 3.48 ERA and a 4-4 record.

Jaime Garcia, 24, had a spectacular rookie season last year when he went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA. The question mark is that he only threw 163 1/3 innings over 28 starts last year as he was inefficient with his pitch count.

Kyle Lohse, 32, has spent the better part of the last two seasons injured and attempting to return to the rotation. His final numbers last season were 4-8 with a 6.55 ERA through 18 starts. There might be some hope, his best start of the season was his final start of the season against Colorado. It was also Lohse who was staff ace of the 2008 Cardinals rotation while Wainwright and Carpenter both spent time on the DL.

We know what we’re going to get out of Carpenter. A solid 17 or 18 wins with an ERA in the low 3s. I’m pretty sure we can pencil him in for that.

What this season is going to come down to is the following questions:

Will Jaime Garcia take a step up or regress? If Garcia steps up and improves on his 2010 campaign and becomes the pitcher we’re hoping he is, then he can step into that 17 or 18 game winner role as a co-ace with Carpenter. To do this he will have to become more efficient with his pitch count and go deeper into games. However, it’s just as likely that the league finally catches up with him and he struggles in his second season.

Will Westbrook continue pitching like he did last fall? During his time with the Cardinals, Westbrook pitched some of the best baseball of his career. If he can return to the 15 game winner form he was during his heyday with the Indians from 2004-2006, we will be in good shape.

What will Lohse give us? Kyle Lohse is motivated to prove that the last two seasons are not who he is and he is the pitcher the Cardinals saw in 2008 that won 15 games and that earned the $12 million salary he will command each of the next two seasons. If he can return to that form, even closely and give us double-digit wins we’ll be in better shape than we would have been earlier.

Who is our fifth starter? The team says they are looking strictly at internal options right now. That would include Kyle McClellan who seems to be at the top of the list, however, so too would P.J. Walters and Adam Ottavino who all spent time with the big league club last year while the team searched for a fifth starter. However, Memphis starters Lance Lynn and Brandon Dickson could each get their opportunity. So could Ian Snell. But don’t expect to see Shelby Miller on the list any time soon.

Is the season done for the Cardinals? Not yet, it’s why we play the games.

Are we in worse shape than we were when we woke up this morning? Definitely. I don’t think anyone can underestimate the value of Adam Wainwright, who is one of the top pitchers in the league and as I write this I just realized he was my #1 draft pick in fantasy baseball.

But also, we don’t know anything for sure on Wainwright yet. It’s all speculation at this point. Hopefully it’s not bad and after a couple weeks off he will be good to go. Given the information we have though, that’s unlikely.

If we expect that 95 wins will win the NL Central in 2011, with an average of 23 wins from the bullpen (which is the average over the last four seasons), we need 72 wins out of the starting rotation.

Give Carpenter 17, that leaves us 55. Give Garcia and Westbrook each 15, that leaves us 25 for Lohse and the potential fifth starter to win. It’s a tall task, but not competely out of the realm of possibility.

Mostly, it depends just what the other teams in the NL Central that will make it more or less likely for the Cardinals to win the division. The lower the necessary win total to win the NL Central, the more likely the Cardinals are to win the division.

Milwaukee and Cincinnati are going to be the two closest competitors this season. Cincinnati won the division with 92 games last season, but can they do it again? Meanwhile, Milwaukee picked up two guys who were their respective teams’ #1 starters so you have to believe that they’ll be able to hit around 90 wins.

The fewer wins it will take to win the division, the more likely a Cardinals team winning the division title is.

Don’t give up hope, there’s still a chance. A small one, but a chance nonetheless.

NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #4

While Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse, one pitcher I’ve talked about and one I haven’t yet, receive glowing reviews from the media and curse words from their teammates, I move on to Starting Pitcher #4

The Cardinals’ #4 is Jake Westbrook. A pitcher that the Cardinals had long been pursuing and ultimately received as part of the three-team trade that sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego. It was a much needed trade for the Cardinals as they needed to stabilize their starting rotation, but it didn’t have its desired effect as the Cardinals began their free fall shortly after.

Let’s get to it!

6. Bud Norris, Houston (4.92, 9-10 in 27 starts)
Or “Cy Norris” as he gets referred to by Cardinals fans and also spawned a brief “Bud Norris Facts” similar to those of Chuck because of his dominance over the Cardinals. While Bud has found success difficult to find against all teams, he is 5-1 in a 2.27 ERA in 6 starts against the Cardinals.  Norris’ mainstream stats declined from 2009 to 2010, but his ‘peripheral stats’ such as K/9, HR/9, WHIP all improved. That provides Houston some hope as we move into his third season in 2011.

5. Ross Ohlendorf, Pittsburgh (4.07, 1-11 in 21 starts)
Despite being 1-11, Ohlendorf’s ERA was pretty good, so who knows exactly what the story was.  His 2009 season was fairly solid as well, a slightly better ERA while going 11-10. Ohlendorf was fairly successful through his minor league career, but he’s going to have to put up some numbers if he wants to continue to stick around with a major league team.

4. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati (4.46, 4-3 in 19 starts)
When you read about Homer Bailey you think he needs to hurry up and figure things out because he has had four relatively mediocre seasons, far from what was expected from him when he was called up in 2007. Then you look at Bailey’s age and you realize he’s still just 24.  He spent most of 2009 bouncing between Cincinnati and Louisville before making the team in 2010. However, he spent a good deal of the season on the disabled list due to injury before coming back just after mid-season. It was probably overall his best season. The key will be for him to keep improving.

3. Carlos Silva, Chicago (4.22, 10-6 in 21 starts)
Glad I checked. I originally had Gorzelanny as the Cubs’ #4 starter, but come to find out that he was dealt a month ago to Washington. So up goes Carlos Silva to the #4 spot. Dealt for the problem child Milton Bradley it was an exchange for headaches for Seattle and Chicago. Bradley was becoming an issue and Silva had not done anything worthwhile in his two years in Seattle. Silva returned to post a decent season in 2010, but struggled most of the second half with shoulder issues. Is he over them or will they return will be a major factor for the Cubs in 2011.

2. Jake Westbrook, St. Louis (4.22, 10-11 in 33 starts between Cleveland and St. Louis)
The former Cleveland pitcher was in the middle of his comeback season with Cleveland after having Tommy John surgery when he was traded to the Cardinals mid-season. Despite the 4-4 record in 12 starts, Westbrook pitched much better, as his 3.48 ERA will attest. Can the same Westbrook return in 2011? That’s a good question, there’s really no reason that he can’t. Cardinal fans appreciated his statements he made when he signed his new contract with the Cardinals for probably less than he could have made if he’d stuck around in free agency longer. But he wanted to be a Cardinal, and as he said $17.5 million is still a lot of money where he’s from.

1. Randy Wolf, Milwaukee (4.17, 13-12 in 34 starts)
The lefty turned a successful 2009 into a three year deal in Milwaukee, where he was less successful in 2010. While the 34 year old Wolf has bounced around a bit, he has been exceptionally solid as a pitcher. Average, yes, but solid. That’s really what you want out of a #4 starter for Milwaukee, where he was probably listed much higher on the rotation list last year. Perhaps being the #4 will take some of the stress off of him with the additions of Marcum and Grienke and allow him to return to 2009 form. I know Milwaukee would love him to.

The points:

Milwaukee — 55 pts
St. Louis — 52 pts
Cincinnati — 46 pts
Chicago — 41 pts
Pittsburgh — 29 pts
Houston — 29 pts

NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #3

With just six days until the first Spring Training game is played, I need to get a move on. So let’s move this NL Central Preview thread along, as we begin to look at the third starting pitcher.

In 2010, the Cardinals were helped by the breakthrough season of Jaime Garcia who helped solidify a questionable rotation much of last season. Though many ignored him in Rookie of the Year talk, his numbers were good enough to garner him some consideration.

Let’s get a move on as I’m sure you don’t appreciate my ramblings near as much as I do.

6. Brian Burres, Pittsburgh (4.99 ERA, 4-5 in 13 starts)
After the top-2 starters in the Pirates rotation, it’s where it starts to get really iffy as they seem to have three spots in the rotation all up for grabs to whoever pitches best. Burres is just one of those options who made starts in 2010 for the club. He has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with Baltimore, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. His most successful season, was last season with Pittsburgh.

5. Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati (4.31 ERA, 4-3 in 12 starts)
Edinson Volquez spent most of 2010 on the disabled list, but was a nice midseason pick-me-up for the Reds who didn’t even need to trade for him, because they already had. Volquez even started Game 1 of the playoffs for Cincinnati as well, which shows the belief that manager Dusty Baker has in him. His first season in Cincinnati was dazzling as he won 17 games in 2008. Injury shortened his 2009 season, but nothing tells us that he shouldn’t be able to return to that 2008 form and shortly be considered the leader of that Reds bullpen once again.

4. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis (2.70 ERA, 13-8 in 28 starts)
Garcia was the Cardinals’ feel good story of 2010, and they didn’t have much to feel good about either. After being listed for quite awhile on the Cardinals’ top prospect list, he was injured and received Tommy John surgery. Garcia came back better than ever, pitching well for Memphis through the PCL playoffs and in the AAA Championship Game. He was dominant when he was on the mound for St. Louis too, but due to the injury was held to pitch counts and he occasionally had games where he was not very efficient with the pitches he was given. However, both improved as the season went on and he posted an excellent year.

3. Matt Garza, Chicago (3.91 ERA, 15-10 in 32 starts)
Another recent addition to the pitching rich NL Central, Matt Garza spent his 2010 season with Tampa Bay. His last three seasons have been solid pitching performances, though not masterful. But the Cubs won’t be looking for masterful from him. I think they’d be pleased with some solid performances. He was a really good addition to that Cubs lineup as they will be starting their first season under the new ownership.

2. J.A. Happ, Houston (3.40 ERA, 6-4 in 16 starts)
The Astros received J.A. Happ from Philadelphia in the Roy Oswalt trade, and I think that’s a very good move. Happ was one of the best rookie starters of 2009 and has the potential to turn into the type of ace that Roy Oswalt was for a team. Certainly he will be a good starting point for Houston as they look towards rebuilding that franchise from the ground up.

1. Zach Grienke, Milwaukee (4.17 ERA, 10-14 in 33 starts)
It was a tough call to put Grienke at the top considering his 2010 numbers, but I think that was the end result of just being on a team that was not going to be competitive on most nights out, no matter what he did on the mound. What other team has a #3 pitcher capable of winning a Cy Young, or who even has one on the mantle? That’s right, only Milwaukee. The Brewers paid a big price for Grinke as they retooled their rotation.

Almost forgot the points!

Milwaukee — 49 pts
St. Louis — 47 pts
Cincinnati — 43 pts
Chicago — 37 pts
Houston — 28 pts
Pittsburgh — 27 pts

Stan the Man

I was just going to let today pass by without a comment regarding Stan Musial’s receiving of the President Medal of Freedom. Why? Because at 25 years old, I’ve never seen Musial play baseball. Even my father was not much older than a toddler when Stan wrapped up his playing days. So I don’t have any first hand knowledge of the St. Louis legend known as “Stan the Man.”

But I do know statistics, and I do know history.

I know that Musial has a career batting average of .331. I know that he hit 475 HR in his career to go along with 1,951 RBIs. I know that he is a 5-time MVP and 20-time All Star.

I know that in 1945, despite having 3 full seasons under his belt as a major league baseball player, he gave up his profession and joined the United States Navy in January 1945. After the war, he was discharged in March of 1946 and returned to professional baseball without skipping a beat. In 1946, he won the league MVP, leading the league in at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, batting average, and slugging percentage.

It was that 1946 season that earned him his nickname “the Man,’ as the story goes anyway.

He was a part of the 1942, 1944, and 1946 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals as a player. He was a Vice President of the Cardinals as the team won the 1964 World Series. He was the Cardinals’ General Manager for just a single season, 1967 when the Cardinals won their 8th World Series as a franchise, and Musial’s fifth while he was involved with the team.

In 1968, a statue of Stan was erected outside of Busch Stadium. It was moved for proper placement after the building of the new Busch Stadium in 2006.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1969. In 1998 he was listed 10th on the Sporting News’ list of the Top 100 Baseball players.

Though it didn’t exist when he played, sabermetrics reward him for his play as well. He is tied for 11th in Wins Above Replacement with another famous Cardinal, Rogers Hornsby.

Definitely a fitting player to be considered a legend by Cardinals fans. Congratulations on your commendation today, Mr. Musial.

Pujols and his future

This will hopefully be my final Pujols’ contract situation post until free agency begins, but over the last few days as fans, we’ve heard a lot from the media who are reporting from “sources close to the situation.”

And a lot of fans criticize these telling them to name names, or the report is worthless. Personally, I agree that it’d be nice to know names so that we can judge for ourselves just how accurate these sources are supposed to be, but we do have to trust that there is still some modicum of professionalism and integrity in the media. So I trust that the majority of these writers put the sources to the test.

The big news today is that Pujols & Co. have agreed to the Cardinals’ request of putting off the deadline until Wednesday at noon due to Stan Musial’s Medal of Freedom ceremony on Tuesday. They didn’t want Pujols’ contract situation to overshadow it. Pujols & Co. agreed to move the deadline back. Apparently there is a press conference scheduled and everything where Albert will take the stand and talk about how time for negotiations is over.

However, with some of the recent revelations from sources it seems that Pujols & Co. are intent on testing free agency rather than simply signing an extension with the Cardinals. Post-Dispatch writer Derrick Goold tweeted last night that the Cardinals had no chance to sign him this offseason and that they would be heading to free agency.

To me, that confirms my suspicion all along. That Pujols & Co. were going to ask for the big contract and it was up to the Cardinals to match it or let it go to free agency.

But, with the man of integrity that Pujols purports to be, I expected more from him.

Maybe that’s not fair to lay on him, but being the stand-up guy he is made out to be, it would have happened this offseason or he would have come out and said that he was going to check out free agency.

A much better PR plan would have been to come out and say that they just weren’t on the same page with the Cardinals and both sides were interested in going to free agency to set a good market price for his services. At that point he’d make the decision based on where he wanted to be, not necessarily the money offered.

Instead, Cardinals’ fans spent the offseason blasting Mozeliak, DeWitt, and the organization for being “cheap” and not wanting to give Albert what he was worth. They spent it grasping to any sliver of information they could glean from reports, when the big news at Winter Warmup was that there was no news.

Fans appreciate honesty. What they don’t appreciate is bad faith “negotiations.”

So with the recent reports, it seems that the fact they moved the deadline back is only ceremonial. There is virtually a zero percent chance that the deal gets done as Pujols & Co. seem intent to head to free agency to set the price for his services. However, I expect the set value to be much lower than they expect to get. The owners of these teams are good businessmen and have a good knowledge of baseball. They know what he’s worth.