Around the NL Central

Take a look at the NL Central standings and you are likely to do a double-take. The Reds in fourth? Where are the Pirates? First? Quick! Someone check hell! It’s got to be frozen over.

No, it’s very much the way it is. An injury plagued Cardinals team and a solid Brewers team are being topped right now by a very young and very good Pirates team. Nobody expected this from them this year, but most give the credit to their manager Clint Hurdle.

It was Hurdle that brought the 2007 Colorado Rockies to the World Series with a plethora of young talent. Names like Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki. They weren’t well known at the time, but have become household names for baseball fans, and Cardinals fans have gotten very familiar with Mr. Holliday these days.

It was Hurdle that has brought considerable improvement to the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. So much improvement, myself and other UCB writers had them penciled into the cellar of the NL Central once again, contending with the Astros for the honor of bringing up the rear. However, young teams are always tough to predict. On one hand they have talent and could break out, on the other they could just continue in their ways. I was one of the few to say that the Pirates had the ability to go with the division as I labelled them my darkhorse candidate for the playoffs this year. It’s been an amazing story, but not what I’m talking about today.

The point of today’s article is a look at the top teams in the NL Central. Basically, those that still have a chance, and figure what they need to do in order to continue to contend down the stretch. Do they need to make a trade? Should they? That’s what I’m going to look at. [click to continue…]

Has the time come for Colby Rasmus?

Much like Jaime Garcia, who the St. Louis Cardinals are announcing a 4 year extension with today, Colby Rasmus will be arbitration eligible at the end of the season. Yet Garcia is about to enjoy security while Rasmus’ future is anything but secure.

The touted 5-tool center fielder was drafted in the first round of 2005’s MLB draft. He hit well through the minors and became the fifth best prospect in baseball in the 2008 Baseball America Top-100 list. In 2009, he moved up to third. But as of now, he’s looking more like a bust than a boon.

According to Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are reconsidering their stance of trading Colby Rasmus. Last year, he was a player that the team was interested in retaining. And why not, Rasmus enjoyed a fairly breakthrough season last year. He hit .276 with 23 HR and 66 RBI. It was a good improvement over his rookie season, and despite the rumors of Rasmus asking for a trade, he stayed a Cardinal.

The 2011 season started out well for Rasmus. He lit up the world in April as he got a chance to hit in the #2 slot in from of Albert Pujols. Being the hitter in front of Pujols, he would always get something around the strike zone to hit because the last thing you want to do is walk the guy who hits in front of the best hitter in baseball (or was before this season, but that’s another story altogether).

His defense was much improved too, with many recognizing a renewed focus in the outfield at the start of the season. He was making good decisions, taking good routes, and making good throws. Something he has struggled with. [click to continue…]

Garcia’s extension and other notes

The big rumor out of St. Louis right now has nothing to do with potential trades, but rather retaining one of our own. No, not Albert Pujols. It seems that reports are circulating that the Cardinals and 25 year old left handed starter Jaime Garcia are closing on an four year extension.

Garcia was drafted in 2005 by the Cardinals and won the fifth starter’s role in spring training in 2010 after coming back from Tommy John surgery. He posted a 2.70 ERA over 28 starts and 163 innings. He also finished third in rookie of the year voting.

With Garcia being a potential “Super Two” during the offseason, one of a handful of players with more than two but less than three years of MLB service time who become arbitration eligible a year earlier. The four year deal would buy out his four years of arbitration and offer him two option years, according to the rumor. Something I’ve expected to happen this offseason, and very similar to the deal proposed to Adam Wainwright when he hit his arbitration years.

The rumored cost of the contract is a 4 year, $27.5 million deal with two option years. That puts the average annual value of the contract at $6.875 million per year. With the type of pitcher Garcia seems to be evolving into, this looks like a stellar deal for both the Cardinals and Garcia. The Cardinals lock up one of the top young pitchers in the game through the 2015 seasons and Garcia doesn’t have to worry about pitching for his next contract. [click to continue…]

Cardinals’ Approval Ratings: June

After missing May due to life circumstances (it was mid-June before I even thought about them), the Cardinals’ Approval Ratings are back with the June numbers.

The Cardinals’ June swoon leaves me really wishing I had results from May so that I could really have an accurate look at how badly it hurt peoples’ numbers.

The Cardinals wrapped up the month of June having gone 11-15. The offense scored 114 runs in 26 games in the month of June. That’s an average of 4.4 runs per game and that puts them in a tie with the Dodgers for 9th in the major leagues. On the other hand, the Cardinals had the worst pitching staff in the majors, allowing 132 runs in those 26 games, that’s 5.1 runs per game. Their team ERA of 4.72 was 29th of 30 teams, only beating out Toronto.

On the offensive side of the baseball, Lance Berkman took over the role of the highest rated Cardinal, though he dropped from a 9.4 to a 9.3 rating. Matt Holliday dropped from a 9.8 in April to an 8.6 at the end of June. The biggest drop in the starting lineup was Colby Rasmus tumbling 1.4 points to a 6.8, reflecting his struggles over the last two months. The biggest jump was Yadier Molina who recovered his losses over the first month to receive an 8.1 rating at the end of June. Skip Schumaker jumped 1.3 points himself, vaulting himself to a 7.4 rating.
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Dickson gets the call

After the news of Ryan Franklin‘s release settled yesterday, the question of who would replace him on the active roster began to get asked.

I assumed that it would be Bryan Augenstein, since he is already on the 40 man roster. Rather, the Cardinals decided to add Brandon Dickson to the roster according to a Joe Strauss tweet.

Dickson, 26, was a non-drafted free agent that signed with the Cardinals in 2006. After going 11-8 with a 3.26 ERA for Memphis last year, he got his first shot at major league hitters during this season’s Spring Training.

Once there, he struggled. In 9 innings this spring, he allowed 12 hits, issued 3 walks, and was tagged for 6 earned runs. That’s good for a 6.00 ERA and opposing hitters were teeing off at a .316 average against him.

Dickson was returned to Memphis again this year where he got off to a rough start. In April and May he had 10 starts and posted a 1-6 record and a 4.60 ERA. However, since the beginning of June, he is 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 5 starts and a relief apperance. He allowed fewer than 2 earned runs in 4 of those 5 starts.

Through his years in the minor leagues, Dickson has made just 9 relief appearances over the last two years. He has spent most of his time as a starter. Which, with the Cardinals saying that Lance Lynn will get an opportunity to be a regular member of the bullpen, rather than the long reliever, Dickson can fill that role and eat innings if the need arises.  It should be interesting to watch how he performs.

He will become the eighth Cardinal to make his major league debut this year. Also the 11th Cardinal to get the call from the minor leagues this season. The Cardinals are also 43-38 and just a game out in the NL Central. Not to shabby for a team who was listed as the 7th worst minor league system before the season started.

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