Tag Archives: David Freese

Cards take Game 1

What elbow problems? Chris Carpenter silenced the doubters who suggested that his elbow injury might limit his ability to shut down the high powered Texas Rangers offense on Wednesday night. When it was all said and done, Carpenter allowed just 5 hits and walked 1 over 6 innings. Two runs were all that the Rangers managed to put on the board, those on a one runner on mistake that Mike Napoli crushed in the top of the 5th.

The tone of the night was set early. Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the game. Kinsler, one of the two 30-30 guys this season, was caught by Yadier Molina after Elvis Andrus whiffed on an attempted hit-and-run. And it didn’t even look like Molina tried. It seemed effortless.

The Cardinals offense got the action going in the bottom of the 4th. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had his moments, but was mostly inconsistent from the mound. That was illustrated by a pitch that bounced well before the plate and hit Albert Pujols in the shin. Then Matt Holliday doubled to give Lance Berkman an RBI opportunity in his second plate appearance of the World Series. With men on second and third, Berkman singled to right field allowing Pujols and Holliday to score easily. 2-0 Cardinals.

The Rangers answered quickly in the top of the 5th. Adrian Beltre singled to right field himself. Then a mistake to Mike Napoli was parked in the right field bleachers. That quickly evened it up, 2-2.

It was Allen Craig, pinch hitting for Chris Carpenter with two out in the bottom of the 6th, that broke up the tie game. David Freese hit a one-out double and then Nick Punto was walked to put men on first and second with the pitcher’s spot due up. This was to make Tony LaRussa pull Carpenter and go to the bullpen. The gamble is, of course, that the pinch hitter does nothing.

Tony LaRussa went with the hook and sent Allen Craig up to the plate with two outs in a tie game in the World Series. No problem with pinch hitting or coming off the bench or the pressure situation, Craig hit a line drive down the line that Nelson Cruz nearly caught with a slide. The ball bounced out of Cruz’s glove, allowing Freese to come around to score the go-ahead run. The Cardinals were now up 3-2 with 9 outs remaining, as us UCBers on Twitter have taken to tracking games by.

With Carpenter out of the game, LaRussa called upon Fernando Salas for his first choice out of the bullpen. While Adrian Beltre grounded out to start the inning off, Salas quickly found himself in trouble with a Nelson Cruz single and a Mike Napoli walk. Was the bullpen starting to show it’s first cracks from it’s heavy use in the National League Championship Series? That was the question at the forefront of Cardinals’ fans minds as LaRussa made the walk out to the mound to bring in left hander Marc Rzepczynski to face the left handed David Murphy.

In a counter move, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington went to his bench with Craig Gentry, a right handed hitter to eliminate the lefty-lefty matchup. It didn’t matter. Rzepczynski would use 7 pitches and strike out Gentry and Esteban German who pinch hit for Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando.

To start the 8th inning, in came Octavio Dotel. He got Ian Kinsler to ground out and then struck out Elvis Andrus before Tony trotted back out to the mound with another change. In came left hander Arthur Rhodes, in his first World Series (ironically matched up between the two teams he played for this year), to face Josh Hamilton. He got Hamilton to fly out to center field and we were on to the 9th. Three outs remained between the Cardinals and a Game 1 win and early lead in the World Series.

In came the pitcher who just happens to typically come in in the 9th inning of games when it’s a save situation, Jason Motte. Some teams would call him the closer. Motte slammed the door shut on the Rangers, keeping his impressive streak of playoff performance alive. Motte has faced 25 batters over 8 innings of work this post-season and has allowed just 1 base runner.

Carpenter becomes the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a quality start in the playoffs since himself. That would be that complete game shutout that he hurled in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series against Philadelphia.

There was some debate about whether Ron Washington managed his game properly or whether he was trying to out-manage LaRussa. Personally, I think Washington managed the game well. The worst part of it was really that he took a few gambles that didn’t pay off.

First, running on Molina in the top of the first was a huge gamble. It can be a huge momentum turner but, while Kinsler has some speed and steals bases at a better than 86% clip, if you mess the play up you end up turning the tables. In the end, Chris Carpenter gets out of lead off hit and the St. Louis crowd explodes.

Second, walking Nick Punto in the 6th was designed to get Chris Carpenter out of the game. Now, granted Punto did hit .350 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position this season, but I think you need to go after him. For one, you can be sure you’re getting only a base-hit if he gets a hit, after all he’s only hit 14 home runs in 11 major league seasons. Making the Cardinals bullpen work is one of the keys to the series for me for the Rangers, but with Allen Craig being the first man off the bench in those situations, I don’t (intentionally) walk Punto to force that. Especially when Carpenter wasn’t all that sharp tonight. Plus, you may have seen a pinch hitter anyway if Punto had reached.

The third is one that many others have questioned, using Esteban German to pinch hit with two on and two out in the 7th rather than Yorvit Torrealba. While Torrealba hit just .256 against left handed pitchers like Rzepczynski, German (who has hit .292 against left handed pitchers in his career) hadn’t taken at at bat since September 25th. I think Washington made the right decision there. You have to expect that each player on your bench can equally perform to their averages whenever you want to use them.

Trying to take the crowd out of it early and trying to get the Cardinals to use their bullpen, both are things that you’ve got to do to win while on the road. You hope you can catch a reliever on a bad night and capitalize on a mistake. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it didn’t work out for them.

Winning Game 1 puts the Cardinals at a huge advantage as far as history shows. In 13 of the 16 World Series’ in the Wild Card era, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series. When the home team wins Game 1, they’ve won the series every year since 1993. Good news for the Cardinals, but while history shows it will be a difficult road for the Rangers, it’s never over until it’s over.

Game 2 will matchup the Rangers’ Colby Lewis against the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.

Lewis is 1-1 in two postseason starts for the Rangers this season. He threw six one-hit innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-3 win, unfortunately that hit was a solo home run. Against the Detroit Tigers just over a week ago, he allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings in a 5-2 loss. In the final two months of the season, Lewis was 4-2 with a 5.23 ERA, which could bode well for the Cardinals.

Only 5 current Cardinals have faced Lewis before. Lance Berkman has 13 plate appearances against him, hitting just twice. Gerald Laird is 3-for-8, Nick Punto is 0-for-1, Ryan Theriot is 2-for-2, and Albert Pujols is 1-for-1.

Garcia is 0-2 in three starts for the Cardinals in the playoffs. He allowed just 1 run in 4.2 innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, a game the Cardinals won, but was given a quick hook when the fifth inning began shaping up like that of Game 1 where Prince Fielder hit a go-ahead home run off of him. The advantage for Garcia is that he will be pitching at home, where he is a much more confident pitcher. Garcia finished the season off going 3-2 with a 4.58 ERA in the final two months of the season.

Only 2 current Rangers have faced Garcia before. Coincidentally, their two backup catchers. Matt Treanor, who was just added to the roster for the World Series is 1-for-4 against Garcia with 3 strikeouts. Yorvit Torrealba is 0-for-2.

The question for Garcia and the Cardinals is how will he handle the Rangers. According to ESPN’s Team Stats, the Rangers led the league with a .282 batting average against left handed pitchers and were second in slugging percentage at .459. Garcia also struggles against left handed hitters, allowing them to hit .308 with a .418 slugging percentage. The Rangers have a premier left handed hitter in Josh Hamilton. They also have David Murphy who has had a great postseason so far.

This is the game that I predicted to be a slugfest. Unfortunately, I think the Rangers are better suited for that type of game and will win Game 2, taking us to Arlington tied up at 1 game a piece.

The game is once again scheduled for an 8:05 pm Eastern start on FOX.

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Looking at 2012: Part 3

It’s tomorrow! Well, maybe not. I’m continuing the “Looking at 2012″ series that I began nearly three weeks ago before life got crazy for me. In part one, I overviewed the Cardinals biggest question and some of the decisions that they’ll have to make in the offseason. In part two, I talked about players with contract options and what I think the Cardinals will do and ought to do with them. Now in part three, I will talk about some of the young talent that we expect to contribute to the 2012 Cardinals.

We can start with the two that we already expect to be starting everyday for the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. Those would be David Freese and Jon Jay.

Despite a couple injuries as a result of being hit by pitches, Freese stayed healthy this season. Freese has surpassed last year’s appearances and he has managed to duplicate his batting average, small drop in his on base percentage, but he is hitting for more power which provides some interest for the Cardinals going into next season if he can continue developing. It’s very possible that Freese turns into a guy who will flirt with .300 and hit 20 home runs a season. In today’s MLB that’s a pretty good player. Only 24 players in the majors have hit more than 20 home runs this season. Only one of which is a third baseman. Looking at the stats, Freese could potentially slot in as one of the top-5 third basemen in the major leagues next season.

Meanwhile Jon Jay has proved himself capable of playing everyday for the Cardinals. After going into a slump immediately following the trade of Colby Rasmus, much like he’d done in 2010 when the Cardinals dealt Ryan Ludwick to play him everyday. There was question whether he could handle that. He has, as he has hit .309 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. A decrease in his OBP has me a little concerned, but he’s gotten over the initial hump of the pressure and has become the player in that position we expected him to be when the Cardinals decided they could trade Colby Rasmus.

The other two guys that deserve consideration are Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso.

Allen Craig has been a polarizing player for Cardinals fans. Many look at his minor league statistics and see a guy who consistently hit .300 with 20 HRs over the last few years. He’s a hitter without a position, but provides solid enough defense in the outfield or at first base. Originally drafted as a short stop, he could also become an interesting candidate at second base going into next season. This season, though missing a large part of the season thanks to a broken knee cap, he played a pivotal role through the first injury to Matt Holliday and was poised to do it again before he got injured. Now he’s looking like the regular left fielder until Holliday returns from his hand injury, if he even does. His stats show a capable player, and I don’t think there’s any reason that he can’t turn into that .300, 25 HR guy that he’s been in the minor leagues. He just needs a place to play and that’s easier said than done.

The other is Daniel Descalso who has played a key role through the season. “Mr. Late & Close” became his nickname as he hits .373 with a .413 on base percentage in Late & Close situations. With a man on 3rd and 2 outs, Descalso hits .357. He has a laser gun for an arm too and has proven himself the perfect guy to spell David Freese at third base and is a solid utility guy around the infield for the team. Personally, I think Descalso could be the solution at short stop for the future. While it’s true that he has a handful of errors there during his small number of chances this season, to me, those seem more like errors that are simply due to inexperience at the position rather than actual inability. He has the potential to be just as good, if not better, than Brendan Ryan, and those who know me know that I am a huge Brendan Ryan supporter.

After looking at the offense, the bullpen is full of young contributors. Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Marc Rzepczynski and Lance Lynn lead the field there.

Fernando Salas closed in 2008 in Springfield, closed in 2010 in Memphis, and earned the closer’s role in St. Louis in 2011. He continued to prove himself a solid closer, but got a little homer happy during the summer which led Tony LaRussa to experiment with Jason Motte in the closer’s role in September. However, that likely has more to do with Motte’s hot streak than Salas’ troubles. While many fans talked about bringing in an established closer through the summer, Salas’ numbers were better than all considered for most of it. He has shown that he is a one inning pitcher though. When I looked the other day, he had roughly a 1.80 ERA in his first inning of an appearance but beyond that he had a nearly 8.00 ERA. Certainly not pretty.

Eduardo Sanchez was another pitcher that provided Cardinals fans with excitement earlier this season while the team was struggling to find reliable bullpen arms. With his wicked slider, Sanchez was fooling major league hitters for two months before going down with what was initially termed shoulder fatigue. After an abbreviated rehab assignment, he hit the disabled list again. He’s rejoined the Cardinals now, but it’s unlikely that he will get a chance down the stretch. The issue with Sanchez was that eventually major league hitters realized that he couldn’t consistently throw the slider for a called strike, so they laid off it and got him into some trouble near the end of his time. With a chance to hit spring training as an expected contender for the 2012 bullpen, Sanchez should be able to work on that slider and figure out what he needs to do. He’s probably the most exciting pitcher the Cardinals have and I think many agree with me that he has the best pure stuff in the bullpen.

Marc Rzepczynski was acquired in the Colby Rasmus trade and provides something that the Cardinals haven’t been able to produce: a quality left handed reliever. However, there is also the potential that he could jump to the rotation eventually as both the Blue Jays and the Cardinals consider him starting material. However, the rotation is set for next year and that means that Rzepczynski is back in the ‘pen for 2012. While Zep has been good this season for the Cardinals, he hasn’t been as dominating, but that could be attributed to being used more often as a regular reliever under LaRussa than he was in Toronto.

Finally, Lance Lynn was a starter for Memphis and Tony LaRussa has said that he has the stuff to be a starter in the major leagues. However, when he was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen he made it his own. He quickly became one of the best pitchers that the Cardinals had in the bullpen and solidified an 8th inning role. That was until an apparent oblique injury. There is no reason to expect that Lance Lynn cannot assume a major role in the 2012 bullpen again.

Now the lesser known guys.

Tony Cruz is definitely someone I can see being a contributor to the 2012 team. He spent a lot of time in St. Louis over the summer, and could be the guy that takes the backup catcher job and potentially position himself to be the successor to Yadier Molina. It’s big that he and Carpenter were paired together a few times over the summer too, with Cruz behind the plate. It would be a cheap way to fill that role and save a few bucks as they attempt to spend to keep some of the starting level talent on the team.

Adron Chambers and Andrew Brown should be putting their names in the hat as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Chambers’ advantage is that he can play all three outfield positions. Brown’s advantage is that he is right handed and has more power. So it really depends which average the Cardinals would like to go, defense and speed with Chambers or right handed and power with Brown. Both are on the cusp of being ready and if we’re looking at a Holliday/Jay/Craig outfield next season, you know that there will be some at bats available in the outfield.

There aren’t a huge number of young guys who I expect to contribute next season. Just those who really made a small mark this season. There is a little bit of a talent gap in the Cardinals minor league system, in my opinion, for about the next year or so. This creates a fairly large question for the Cardinals as they potentially have to deal with injury questions in 2012. Who gets the call to absorb the impact?

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Why all this bad blood all of a sudden?

This afternoon I was doing my daily trips around the internet reading articles on the Cardinals. I’ve wondered over the last week as I’ve read many places that the Cardinals might now be the most hated MLB franchise. I just have to ask how? I can think of a handful of teams right off that bat more deserving of generic fan hate than the Cardinals. Is it jealousy? Is it the fact that the Cardinals are always in the mix?

Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch had an interesting note about something Brewers’ catcher Jonathan Lucroy said before the game last night to a Milwaukee radio station. I felt compelled to put my two cents in. Here’s the quote from Lucroy that Bernie writes in his article.

“There’s always something when we play the Cardinals. I know that as a player we’re all kind of tired of LaRussa’s antics. This is what he does. He does that to try and play mind games with you. And he wants to get you all mad and angry and get distracted. That’s just what he does. That’s how he plays the game. Same thing with the scoreboard thing. He is just doing it to try and get any advantage he can. And for us, we’re all just kind of tired of it. He intentionally hit Braun after we unintentionally hit Pujols. So take that as whatever you think it means. That’s just the way he is. We’re not really worried about it. We don’t really care.”

In case you were unaware, during the Cardinals’ series last weekend in Milwaukee, there were a couple issues that created some interesting storylines. Continue reading

Why not Mark Buehrle?

The most popular question that seems to be coming out of the Colby Rasmus to the White Sox rumors seems to be:

Why not Mark Buehrle?

Why not Mark Buehrle, indeed. The 32 year old pitcher has 155 wins and a 3.82 ERA over his 12 seasons in the big leagues. He has thrown 200 or more innings in 10 of those, and is on pace to do it again. The fewest games he’s started when he’s been on the roster all year is 30 games. Not to mention he grew up a Cardinals fan and lives near St. Louis.

Buehrle has often spoken of his desire to play for the Cardinals before his playing days are over. He has 10/5 rights as a veteran player for the White Sox, but fans ask, wouldn’t he waive them for the Cardinals?

He probably would, and most Cardinals fans would prefer that option to Edwin Jackson, I know I would. But it ends up being the cost factor that would have the Cardinals backing out of a potential deal for Buehrle.

As it turns out, Buehrle has an option for 2012 that kicks in if he is traded. That option adds up to $16 million total. He gets an extra $1 million this year for being traded and $15 million the next year as his salary.

After the trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers, John Mozeliak was asked why the Cardinals weren’t in on the player popularly known as “K-Rod.” Mozeliak said that Rodriguez’s $17.5 million option would have handcuffed the team financially next year. So if, Rodriguez’s $17.5 million option will handcuff the team, so will Buehrle $15 million one.

Time for some number crunching to see just how true this statement turns out being. Continue reading

Pujols out approximately six weeks

Last night in the sixth inning, a Pete Kozma throw drifted away from first base. After catching it and tagging the runner, Albert Pujols collapsed in pain.

My first reaction at the time was that it reminded me of the type of hit my favorite player, Scott Rolen, took a couple times. He wasn’t the same player for years. Thankfully, it’s not the same injury.

The verdict? Pujols will miss approximately six weeks with a broken bone just above his left wrist.

So where does this leave the Cardinals as they now have to consider a month and a half without the man who has been the best player in baseball over the last decade?

For many fans, their eyes are on the basement as they contemplate a life without the best player in baseball. How can the Cardinals even come close to contending without the team’s game changer? Teams and pitchers alter their approach to the Cardinals lineup because of Pujols’ appearance in it. Now they don’t have to worry about it and as a result, the lineup becomes easier to get through.

While I won’t deny that the Cardinals lineup is easier without Pujols sitting in the #3 spot, the season is far from over.

During Albert Pujols’ career he has had two other DL stints. Ironically, both took place in June. But during those times, the Cardinals teams of 2006 and 2008 each carried on. The 2006 team going 8-7 and the 2008 team going 6-7. That’s a combined 14-14 and hardly something that would kill the chances of either team.

From April 10th to May 29th, the Cardinals posted a 30-16 record in 46 games while Pujols hit .272 with a .338 OBP, 7 HR and 24 RBI. In the 19 games since, the Cardinals are 8-11 while Pujols has hit .343 with a .439 OBP, 9 HR, and 17 RBI. I may catch some flack for this statement, but Albert Pujols isn’t the reason the Cardinals win games.

What’s the common thread? Matt Holliday. That first 46 game span began when Holliday returned from his first DL stint and it ends right before he goes for his second (I didn’t even realize that when I pulled the numbers out for the previous paragraph). Holliday hit .336 with 4 HR and 29 RBI over that 46 game span. Since he returned to the lineup after his second DL stint, the Cardinals have gone 2-2 and Holliday is hitting .417 with already a pair of homers (one of which was a game winner) and 4 RBI.

It’s easy to sit there and pack it in and declare the season over with this news. But the season is far from over. This team has some resilience and has held off injuries before. Fox Sports Midwest had a graphic during a recent game that showed the Cardinals played roughly .750 baseball with one of Pujols, Holliday, or Berkman out of the lineup but were just .500 with all three of them. Of course, Albert’s played every game so far this season.

The Cardinals success over the next six weeks will depend on the bit players stepping it up a little bit and coming through with key hits. It will also depend on the pitching staff keeping us in games. If they can, we have enough offense, even without Pujols to win ballgames.

The injury has relatively good timing. He will hopefully be back in the first week of August and will be manning his first base position in time for the stretch run. He also has a history of coming off the disabled list strong, hitting .372 in 2006 and .378 in 2008 in the 10 games after coming off the DL.

Additionally, the Cardinals aren’t playing a very tough schedule of teams. While we haven’t faced Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa, and the New York Mets yet, the rest of the schedule through the end of July we are 18-10 (.643) against so far this season. Those other teams also have a combined winning percentage of .487, so the Cardinals really only need to be about league average to walk out of this stretch to walk away above .500.

They also play 20 of the next 35 games at home, which can be beneficial.

We also have David Freese and Nick Punto close to coming back off the disabled list. Punto’s rehab assignment began last night with Double-A Springfield and Freese begins his tonight with Triple-A Memphis. Having Freese’s bat back in the lineup and having Punto’s excellent glove back as an option should help this team immensely.

So while having Pujols on the DL and not in the lineup will hurt the team for obvious reasons, it is far from time to call the season over. The next month and a half will tell the story, but I think the Cardinals can and will absorb the loss and still be in contention when he returns.

And a side note, many are also wondering whether this is going to impact Albert Pujols’ contract negotations. The answer is probably not. It depends on what Albert does after he returns to the club. If he’s the same old Albert Pujols, then it won’t. If he struggles like several other high profile players who have come back from wrist injuries, then it might take a little off. He’s still the big name and he still catches people’s eyes. But a slow finish to the season (combined with what has been a fairly slow start) might discourage some teams from opening the wallet as far as they had before.

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Pujols out approximately six weeks

Last night in the sixth inning, a Pete Kozma throw drifted away from first base. After catching it and tagging the runner, Albert Pujols collapsed in pain.

My first reaction at the time was that it reminded me of the type of hit my favorite player, Scott Rolen, took a couple times. He wasn’t the same player for years. Thankfully, it’s not the same injury.

The verdict? Pujols will miss approximately six weeks with a broken bone just above his left wrist.

So where does this leave the Cardinals as they now have to consider a month and a half without the man who has been the best player in baseball over the last decade?

For many fans, their eyes are on the basement as they contemplate a life without the best player in baseball. How can the Cardinals even come close to contending without the team’s game changer? Teams and pitchers alter their approach to the Cardinals lineup because of Pujols’ appearance in it. Now they don’t have to worry about it and as a result, the lineup becomes easier to get through.

While I won’t deny that the Cardinals lineup is easier without Pujols sitting in the #3 spot, the season is far from over.
Continue reading