Game 43 Notes: Cardinals 2, Phillies 1

Jaime Garcia picks up no decision for the fourth time this season as he baffled the Phillies and held them to just 5 runs. Meanwhile Lance Berkman provided the walk off hit as I turned to my brother and said, “If we don’t score in this inning (that started with bases loaded, none out) we deserve to lose.” Luckily, we didn’t deserve to lose.
  • Jaime Garcia is having an incredible run. In his last three starts he has thrown 24 innings and allowed just 2 runs, only one of which was earned. That puts his ERA at 0.38 over his last three starts and 1.20 in May. Needless to say, he is in the zone right now and hopefully he can keep it up. What’s more impressive than Garcia’s 5-0 record and his sparkly ERA? The fact that he left two of those four no-decisions with the lead and has left no game while being behind this season. Tonight was also the first game that Garcia scored a no-decision in that the team won.
  • Albert Pujols‘ streak now at 22 games since his last home run. Or 21 if you don’t count the game he pinch hit and was walked in. However you put it, 22 is his career high mark set in 2007. During that “slump” he hit .327 with a .475 OBP. This one? Just .289 with a .357 OBP. The good news, if you can say that it is, is that Pujols hit .351 with 8 HR in the 20 games after his career high homerless streak. So we’re waiting for that point, I guess. He did go 3-for-5 tonight.
  • Fernando Salas picked up another perfect inning of relief tonight, quietly getting the job done. He came away with the win for his troubles. Salas has allowed runs in just two of his relief appearances this season and has had 4 appearances with a total of 4.1 innings since he last allowed a run.
  • Brian Tallet made his first relief appearance tonight for Quad Cities. He struck out 5 over 2 innings. Roster decisions will need to be made shortly as he looks like he’s sharp, which he’s been able to throw so it’s really no surprise. With Skip Schumaker about to head out for his rehab assignments, it will be interesting to see what massaging management tries to do with the roster. Do we carry 13 pitchers and send two position players to Memphis?

Hero of the Game: Is there really a debate here? Jaime Garcia. (8.0 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 K)

Zero of the Game: I would have to go with Matt Holliday tonight. Why? He had his chance in the 9th to win the game and dribbled a double play chance at the short stop. The reason it wasn’t is that Philadelphia decided not to get fancy and just took the lead runner. (0-for-5, 5 LOB)

Game 42 Notes: Cardinals 3, Phillies 1

The Cardinals successfully christened by new television as Jake Westbrook out-dueled Cliff Lee in a surprising pitcher’s duel against Philadelphia tonight on ESPN.
  • After his worst start of the season, Jake Westbrook turned in one of his best. He went 7 innings and allowed just 4 hits and 3 walks while holding Philadelphia to just the one run in the top of the second. Westbrook, who moves to 3-3 on the season, has not had much to write home about this season as he has struggled in general. His ERA is now down to 6.07, much more respectable than the 6.92 he began the game tonight with.
  • Albert Pujols made his first start at third base since October 13, 2002, in the NLCS against the Giants. Apparently Pujols volunteered to play the position to give Tony LaRussa more lineup versatility against the left handed Cliff Lee. That allowed LaRussa to shuffle the lineup and play Nick Punto, potentially the best defensive infielder the Cardinals have, at second and Allen Craig in right field.
  • With another 0-for-4 performance, Albert Pujols posted his 14th game without a hit this season. He also extended his homer-less drought to 20 games, just two shy of tying his career high.
  • Fernando Salas, according to Derrick Goold on Twitter, turned in the first perfect inning for a save by a Cardinals reliever so far this season. That says something about our bullpen, I think. Also why the Cardinals are second in the major leagues in blown saves. 
  • Last note, is it just me or did Tony LaRussa look a ton better today. The week off did him well.

Hero of the Game: Jake Westbrook. (7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 1 ER, 1 K)

Zero of the Game: Allen Craig. Despite the shuffle to put him in the lineup, he goes 0-for-4 and left 6 guys on base tonight. I’m high on Craig, but that’s just bad. (0-for-4, 1 K, 6 LOB)

Game Notes: Games 29 through 41

It’s been a 6-6 run for the Cardinals while I’ve been gone and it’s been quite the busy one for the Cardinals. For one, Joe Pettini is the acting manager on this road trip while Tony LaRussa has been out dealing with his viral issues. I know I’ve been heavily critical of Tony in the past, but I wish him a speedy recovery so he can be back on the bench so I can continue to be critical of him.

Some of my thoughts on the last two weeks of Cardinals’ baseball.

  1. The Cardinals will definitely have a major decision on their hands when Brian Tallet and Skip Schumaker are ready for their return to the lineup. Likely both will take a quick trip through the minor leagues while the team decides what to do. Do you send Fernando Salas or Eduardo Sanchez down the minors because they are the junior members of the bullpen, or do you consider doing something with Ryan Franklin?

    While many Cardinals fans will instantly say that we need to DFA Franklin as soon as possible, I highly doubt the team will do that. However, I will be the first to admit that I’ve been wrong about a few things. Tony and Mo have surprised me with their moves, and just as I thought I was successfully getting into their heads.

    Salas and Sanchez have options. Obviously the coaches’ like Sanchez. Salas has pitched well too. So where does that leave Ryan Franklin, his $3.5 million salary, and his 9.88 ERA? Who knows. While I realize what Franklin has done for us, I give him the opportunity to pitch in the minors for the Cardinals to see if he can’t get it back, but also the opportunity to walk and potentially find another opportunity. Tough call, and I am glad that I’m not the one that has to make it.
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  2. Swept by the Reds? Say it ain’t so. Chris Carpenter got slaughtered today as he allowed 7 earned runs over 6 and a third innings. Three errors in the series by the Cardinals as poor defensive play was once again the team’s hallmark. Ironically, the Reds committed four errors, which reminds me that the Reds’ offense was much more efficient last year on capitalizing on mistakes. The Cardinals’ offense has lacked this in recent years.

    While some of my Cardinals fan brethren are ready to pack it in after one bad series, claiming the Cardinals did a good job masquerading as contenders, these are really the same issues that the team has had all year. Nothing new is popping up. I think it was in the movie Glory Road where the coach says that the best players make the routine plays over and over and over again. That’s where this team needs to get. Don’t be flashy, don’t be fancy, just get the job done. 9 times out of 10, that’s enough.
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  3. Jaime Garcia is a beast. One start he’s perfect through 4 innings, and the next he’s perfect through 8 and a third. I had some worry about a sophomore slump as the league caught up to him, but Jaime is proving that he has the potential to be one of the premiere left handed pitchers in the major leagues. The thoughts of pairing him up with Adam Wainwright as twin-aces again is highly tantalizing.
    .
  4. Allen Craig played second base? That’s what I see and read about. I found it interesting to note that Craig was drafted a short stop. While he only played three games at the position in 2006 before being moved to third base, he at least has a capable glove. Which pretty much translates around the infield. If he doesn’t have the arm for third base, second base would be a good solution. Obviously, though, he’ll need innings at the position to truly be ready to play it. Inexperience reared it’s head, but not as badly as I expected. Could he potentially make a play to play more games at second base? I’d actually like to see that. He has the biggest bat of anyone on that bench or currently playing second base. It’d be a way to get it in the lineup.
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  5. Albert Pujols is still hitting just .266 after today’s game. That’s not too far off the magic .300 number though. What is concerning to me is that, now at 19 games he is in the fourth longest homeless drought of his career. In 2007 he had droughts of 22 (his longest) and 20 games. In 2009 he added one that was 21 games long. In each of those three instances, he had a hot streak right after he broke out of the streak. So is a power slump signaling his getting closer to being right? Who knows. I guess we’ll find out.

Where have I gone?

Fear not Cardinals fans, I will be back. Over the last couple weeks I have gone through examinations and relocation. In Cubs-fan speak, I took tests and moved (Yeah, that was sort of harsh, Reds fans maybe?). Anyway, I will be back shortly for a few weeks with my typical Cardinals discussion and thoughts shared here. Then I will get married and miss about a week. I am, however, working on getting a third member of our beloved Redbird Dugout team who can help me shoulder the load that week and perhaps in the future.

Thank you to all who participated in April’s Cardinals Approval Ratings. I will get those posts up as soon as I can. There were some interesting and not all too surprising changes that I am excited to discuss.

I apparently have the hosting duties of Wednesday night’s UCB Radio Hour. That means I need to put a show together and some co-hosts. I need to work on that. But you can also check it out at 9:30 Cardinals time at Blog Talk Radio on Wednesday nights, where the best of the UCB (and me from time to time) tackle Cardinals baseball and any related topics.

I’ve got some notes over the last two weeks that I will likely share in a big recap post as well as I try to get back into the swing of things in my recapping and commentating. I’m going to be renaming “Game Recap” to “Game Notes” where I simply share my three thoughts on things that I saw in the game or trends I see developing with the team. All other news outlets give game recaps, and I think Game Notes better describes what I am trying to do. Share those things that I saw.

Just thought I would give everyone an update as the blog has gone silent for the last week and a half, about my absence and what I have planned in the future. As always, thank you for reading.

Cardinals Young Pups Report – April

After a little hiatus due to a busy schedule I am back to update you on what is going good in the Cardinals Farm System. I will make this a monthly post to keep everyone updated on the latest and greatest from our Young Pups! Let’s jump right in…

The Good

Eduardo Sanchez/Fernando Salas – It was about the time that these 2 guys got called up that our bullpen got much more stabilized. Coincendence? I don’t think so. These guys have been used in critical spots (men on, setup and closer situations). All they have done is come through just about every time. I will also say this once again (been saying it for a year and a half)…Eduardo Sanchez is our closer of the future and the future might not be that far away which is remarkable for a TLR run team. Sanchez has a dynamite FB that runs in the mid-90s with a wipeout SL. He definitely have a closer mentality as well…if you haven’t seen him on the mound make it a point to soon!

Adam Ottavino (Memphis) - Still holding out hope Ottavino can provide us value at the MLB level (probably as a reliever/AKA Boggs) or a nice trading chip. He has 4 starts and hasn’t went deep in any and has walked way too many guys. But he also has a K/IP and has less than a 2 ERA. He also has a respectable WHIP (1.33) for having so many BB (15 in 23IP) which is indicating he is not giving up many hits. I think he could be another power arm in the bullpen.

Ryan Jackson (Springfield) – Do we finally have a legit SS prospect in our system? Not sure I am ready to give him that label but he is extremely interesting at bare minimum. The book on him coming out of Univ of Miami a few years back was his D at SS was MLB ready right then (and yes it is extremely legit – he is SOOOO SMOOTH!) but concerns that he would never hit with wood. Some gave him an Adam Everett label. Well he is showing the ability to hit the past year+. At Springfield he is hitting over .320 with a respectable .854 OPS for a SS and an OBP of roughly .400. You add the fact that he is a legit GG caliber defender and I am asking “Where do I sign up?”!!

Matt Adams (Springfield) – Man-O-Man has he had a terrific first 5 weeks of the season for Springfield. To me he is the April MVP of our Farm System. His rankings in the system to date: 4th in AVG, 1st in H, HR and RBI’s and 2nd in SLG. That’s making things happen! Problem is he is a 1B so he won’t see more than a Sept taste this year. But if he keeps this up he will at minimum be a good trading chip…and heaven forbid we don’t sign Pujols he would be in the discussion as our 2012 1B. Thats optimistic but he is turning heads right now for sure!

Tommy Pham (Springfield) – After a really slow start he is scorching hot the last 2+ weeks. He is in the athletic mold of DJ Tools was being talking about a few years ago…lets hope he doesn’t fall off like Jones. He provides an intriguing level of power and speed with good D in the OF. Keep an eye on him this year.

Nick Additon/Scott Schneider (Springfield) – Both starters are at least intriguing from a prospect standpoint. They have both got off to great statistical starts. Additon has a WHIP of 0.76 and an ERA under 3. He is also striking out close to a batter an inning. Schneider is right behind him with a WHIP just under 1.10 with an ERA under 3…not as attractive of a K ratio though. Not sure either projects as anymore than a back of the rotation type of ceiling but no one is telling them this!

Palm Beach Staff Minus John Gast and Justin Smith – Yes this includes the already famous Shelby Miller. But it also includes Mikel Cleto (acquired from the M’s for Brendan Ryan), Eric Fornataro and Joe Kelly. Out of this group Miller has the worst ERA! Miller and Cleto are strikeout pitchers and their stats are showing that…Miller especially. If I lived in Palm Beach I would try to go see as many games as possible with this staff.

Oscar Taveras (Quad Cities) – What if I told you we had a guys hitting closer to .600 with an OPS of over 1.5 in our system? His name is Oscar Taveras…now with that said he only has 22 AB’s due to an injury (that he just came back from) but this just gives you a glimpse of his talent. Some would say he is the best position player prospect in our system…well he might be in everyone’s mind after this year.

Trevor Rosenthal/Jordan Swagerty (Quad Cities) – If you don’t know these 2 names then you better get to know them in fast order. Rosenthal is a power pitchers that has enough talent to be mentioned with the likes of Miller and Carlos Martinez in our system. He might not be quite as good as either but if you are in the same sentence as those 2…well you get my drift! Swagerty being converted to a starter from closing games at ASU as panned out well so far. I was skeptical so I am excited to date he is proving me wrong.

Justin Wright (Quad Cities) – Anytime you have a 2:1 K/IP ratio you must be mentioned! Definitely walking too many hitters but it appears each outting he has lowered his number of walks which is a good sign.

Other Notes:

  • Zack Cox is fairing fine in Palm Beach but he is showing absolutely no power (3 doubles and no 3B or HR). Its still early but something to keep an eye on
  • Carlos Martinez has not been assigned to a team…speculation is he will either go to Johnson City or Batavia which has not opened the season or announced rostes yet
  • Adron Chambers, Bryan Anderson and Pete Kozma are not fairly very well in Memphis at the moment
  • Lance Lynn has been avg at best so far in Memphis
  • Audry Perez has done fine but nothing outstanding at Palm Beach. My pick for our next solid C in the Bigs
  • Deryk Hooker and Seth Blair have been BRUTAL so far!

Offense for Defense, good idea?

With April now successfully in the books for the St. Louis Cardinals, we can now try to determine whether our offseason moves were truly a success. Those moves, highly discussed and debated by all Cardinals’ fans as we tried to determine whether the team was better off with Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman rather than Brendan Ryan and Ryan Ludwick.

The team made the moves during the offseason, saying that they intended to focus on improving the offense and were going to let the defense, more or less, take care of itself. Brendan Ryan was one of the top defensive short stops in the league and Ryan Ludwick was certainly no slouch, with or without the bat, during his time with St. Louis. Meanwhile the team brought in Ryan Theriot, who had been moved to second base by each of his previous two teams, and then Lance Berkman, the former division rival who hadn’t played outfield regularly in a few years.

Ultimately in an analysis of a few different metrics back in December, I ultimately came to the conclusion that based on 2010 performance, we were a draw.

So where do we stand after one month of play?

THE OFFENSE

At the end of April 2011, St. Louis was leading the major leagues in batting average (.295), on base percentage (.362), and runs scored (141). They were first in the national league in slugging percentage (.452) despite being just ninth in home runs (27).

At the end of April 2010, St. Louis was 17th in the majors in batting average (.255), 14th in on base percentage (.335), 13th in slugging percentage (.421), 16th in runs scored (105), and 5th in home runs (28).

We played 27 games in April 2011 (I’m including the one game we played in March) and we played 23 games in April 2010. That means St. Louis averaged 4.6 runs per game in April 2010 while they are now averaging 5.2 runs per game. That’s just over an extra run every two games from that switch. However, we are not hitting home runs at the same pace we had been, averaging just 1.0 HR per game so far this year while averaging 1.2 HR per game last April.

There is no doubt that the offense has been incredibly hot this April, especially on the road where they are currently averaging 6.8 runs per game, while just 3.4 runs per game at home. They’ve scored half as often at home. Certainly this can be attributed some to the stagnant offense during the first home stand of the season. But they were only at 4.3 on their second home stand. It will be interesting to see what the offense can produce during this next home stand that starts this evening against Florida.

After one month, it appears that the offense has improved. At this point, by 0.6 runs per game. However, can the team keep that up after they get a chance to cool down a bit? That remains to be seen.

THE DEFENSE

Defensive metrics are very difficult to interpret. To one scorer it might be an error, to another ruled a hit. It depends whether you’re the home team or the away team. So that does put a bit of a question, but obviously misplayed balls are traditionally errors and so that’s what we’ll go with.

At the end of April 2011, St. Louis had committed 23 errors in 27 games, that’s 0.9 errors per game. In April 2010, they committed just 12 errors in 23 games, that’s 0.5 errors per game.

So as we suspected, the defense has declined. However, there are more to errors than just simply errors. The real key is whether or not those errors led to runs being scored. For that, we need to look at pitching statistics.

At the end of April 2011, St. Louis had allowed 16 unearned runs in 27 games, for 0.6 unearned runs per game. Compare that to April 2010 where St. Louis allowed just 10 unearned runs in 23 games, for 0.4 unearned runs per game.

By looking at just runs as a result of errors, it appears that they are only allowing 0.2 extra unearned runs per game. But one must also note that we had a better pitching staff in April 2010 than we did in April 2011. So let’s dive a little deeper into that, shall we?

THE PITCHING

So the pitching staff. Obviously suffering a bit from the loss of Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery, the pitching staff is still a formidable one.

Last April, Wainwright and the rest of the Cardinals pitching staff led the major leagues with a 2.65 ERA despite only having the fifth best opponents batting average (.235). The team was allowing 3.2 runs per game against them.

This year, the Wainwright-less Cardinals staff is 7th in ERA at 3.28 while sporting only the 16th best opponents batting average (.250). When you factor unearned runs, they are allowed 3.9 runs per game against them.

Obviously not having Adam Wainwright hurts the Cardinals pitching staff in this situation. Might they be able to pitch out of more jams if they had him? Probably. Over the last two years, Wainwright was on the mound for just more than 10% of the Cardinals’ unearned runs (13 of 129). That compares to 12.4% for Carpenter and 11.6% for Lohse. Last year, Garcia was on the mound for 23% of the team’s unearned runs.

What does all that mean? I think the conclusion that you can draw from it is that typically, Adam Wainwright is one of the best at pitching around unearned runners on the Cardinals’ pitching staff. However, at just a couple unearned runs better than Carpenter, it’s safe to say that there would be very little effect on the number of unearned runners allowed to score.

THE RESULT

Well, we know that so far the offense has been better by 0.6 runs per game. The defensive errors are resulting in an extra 0.2 runs per game and that provides us a net gain of 0.4 runs per game.

But when you consider that the team is allowing 0.6 runs per game extra, that gives us a push.

It will be very difficult for this team to come out on the positive side of this sort of analysis. You cannot depend on the offense to continue to score over 5 runs a game and hit just under .300 all year long. However, hopefully you can also depend on the defense improving as the players get more comfortable and more into the routine of the season.

It should be very interesting to keep our eyes on as the season rolls along.