Tag Archives: Eduardo Sanchez

UCB Project: Top Stories of 2011

This month’s United Cardinal Bloggers project is to break down what we thought the top-5 Cardinals Stories of 2011 were. Albert Pujols‘ departure and the Cardinals winning the World Series will be two very big stories that my fellow bloggers will likely be hitting on today. But those are easy. That’s the low hanging fruit. What really contributed to the Cardinals being there in October and getting their chance to come through and why? That’s what I’m going for.

#5. Adam Wainwright out for the season after Tommy John

Those dreaded words crossed my Twitter feed in February, just three months after I embarked on my Cardinals’ blogging mission. The names “Tommy John” and “Adam Wainwright” were mentioned in the same tweet. And to top everything off, Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak was not feeling optimistic when he talked about Wainwright’s injury. And so we waited with baited breaths wondering how Wainwright’s doctor’s appointment in St. Louis would turn out. Would we lose our ace?

Many looked back to 2007 and 2008. Those were two seasons where we lost Chris Carpenter, then our clear #1 pitcher, for the majority of the season. He made 1 start in 2007 and 4 starts in 2008. The Cardinals finished 3rd in 2007 and 4th in 2008 in the NL Central. Was our season over before it began?

Many fans packed it in and it would have been easy for the Cardinals to dwell on the loss of Wainwright. But they moved on without the ace of their pitching staff determined to compete without him. That determination would come in handy throughout the season. Little did we know it would set the tone for the season. Whether it was Matt Holliday‘s appendix, a moth looking for a new home, Allen Craig‘s knee cap, or Albert Pujols’ wrist, the team was determined to give everything when it would have been very easy to mail it in without their key players. It would have been a good excuse that everyone would have bought. The Cardinals were a team ravaged by injuries all year.

The determination to get over the injury of Wainwright and move forward served the team well. From day one they were being prepared for a difficult season.

#4. The Search for a Closer

For a few years the Cardinals had been relying on Ryan Franklin to be the team’s closer. And I’ve been saying for just as long that Ryan Franklin isn’t a very good closer and we needed some insurance for him because it was simply a matter of time. However, I think the Cardinals were attempting to ride it out at least one more year with Franklin taking the ball in the 9th inning.

But when the season started and Ryan Franklin was ineffective, it threw the entire Cardinals’ bullpen into chaos. First it was Mitchell Boggs who got the 9th inning opportunities. Then he blew one and Eduardo Sanchez got a chance. Then Sanchez struggled to throw his slider for strikes when batters realized they could just take the pitch and Fernando Salas finally got the opportunity.

Salas, the only pitcher near ready to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals who had closing experience. Going into 2011 he was a perfect 44-for-44 in save opportunities between Springfield in 2008 and Memphis is 2010. Why he didn’t get the first opportunity is quite a bit of conjecture, but when the Cardinals needed a stabilizing influence in the 9th inning, they found it in Salas. He got his first save opportunity on April 28th. It was a little exciting with a hit and a walk, but he got the job done. He would save 10 games before blowing his first on June 1st. Over the summer he became a little homer happy, opening the door for Jason Motte who was having a dominant summer.

Jason Motte went from June 26th to September 6th, a span of 34 appearances and 26 1/3 innings, without allowing an earned run. It was enough to get Tony LaRussa to say he wanted to get Motte some time in the 9th inning role, but stopping short of naming Motte the team’s closer. On August 28th he got his first save as the team’s 9th inning man and racked up a total of 9 as the season went on.

#3. Wheeling and Dealing at the Deadline

Colby Rasmus was the future of the franchise. Or so we all thought going into 2011. He had a really good start to the season as well, with many, including myself, thinking that he had finally turned the corner and unlocked that potential. However, it wasn’t long before Rasmus was mired once again in a huge slump at the plate and was making big mistakes in center field. By July, most Cardinals fans were debating the merits of making Jon Jay the team’s starting center fielder. Apparently, so was Tony LaRussa as Jay started getting more and more playing time in center field.

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ GM, had apparently been working on an extension with Rasmus that would have bought out his arbitration years. The team still viewed him as a major part of their future. They denied wanting to trade him, but everyone recognized that Rasmus would be the organization’s largest trading piece.

Despite the rumors of teams like Tampa Bay offering a very good starting pitcher for Rasmus, Mozeliak decided to take an offer that was viewed as lesser of the deals, but it did two very important things for the Cardinals. It filled holes in the rotation and the bullpen, something the other deals didn’t. Mozeliak knew Rasmus was his biggest (and likely only) bullet, he needed to it fix as many problems as possible. It also brought the Cardinals back draft picks for Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel who left for free agency. They also got to keep Marc Rzepczynski, a talented left handed pitcher, something the Cardinals have been unable to produce on their own in recent years.

He wasn’t done. The Cardinals needed to improve the defense at short stop. Their plan to forego offense for defense during the offseason had come around to bite them when Ryan Theriot struggled to field his position as he had in the past. Mozeliak found a partner in the Dodgers who were willing to send them Rafael Furcal. All the Dodgers wanted was Alex Castellanos, and considering the Cardinals were facing a little bit of an outfielder squeeze at the top of their minor league depth charts, he was expendable.

When all was said and done, for the price of Colby Rasmus and Double-A outfielder Alex Castellanos, John Mozeliak filled every hole on the 2011 Cardinals. It was a move that earned him Executive of the Year awards, but the Cardinals still needed help to get to the playoffs.

#2. September and the Hunt for a Cardinal Red October

Despite the additions, the team went just 15-13 in August and fell from half a game back of Milwaukee when the trades were made to 8.5 games back when August drew to a close. But that was mainly because Milwaukee was really good in August, going 21-7. It’s hard to keep up with a team who is that hot.

But the Cardinals would put together an 18-8 September, finishing as one of the hottest teams in baseball as they slipped into the playoffs on the final day of the season, courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies beating the Atlanta Braves. Many would say that the Braves choked up the playoff spot, but when you look at the fact they lost their #1 pitcher for the final two months of the season and their #2 pitcher for the final month, I have a hard time saying that. Where would the Cardinals have been this year if they’d lost Chris Carpenter as well? Nowhere pretty.

It was just what the Cardinals needed to get into the playoffs. As Daniel of C70 at the Bat said Wednesday night on the UCB Radio Hour, if the Braves win two more games anywhere in the season, they go to the playoffs and we don’t have this discussion and the trade of Rasmus seems like a huge mistake. What a kill joy.

#1. The Emergence of David Freese and Allen Craig

My top story of the season has nothing to do with the big names Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman (though Berkman did have an excellent 2011 season, way better than I expected). I attribute a lot of the Cardinals winning this World Series to the unsung heroes of this team. The Cardinals run into the playoffs and to the World Series Championship was a total team effort. There was no singular player’s performance, at least from a player you could expect.

Allen Craig, the subject of my largest sports man-crush right now, only had about 220 plate appearances for the Cardinals this season, but they were MVP quality appearances. His 2.9 WAR over those plate appearances projects out to 8.6 if he gets 650 plate appearances at the same rate. That’s better than some guy named Ryan Braun, who walked home with the National League MVP trophy. He also had RBI in 5 of the 7 games in the World Series. He had the game-winning RBI in game 1. He had a go-ahead RBI in game 2. His first inning home run in game 3 set the tone for the Cardinals. His 8th inning home run in game 6 was crucial to set up David Freese‘s opportunity. And in Game 7, his third inning home run put the Cardinals on top for good. He was definitely a worthy candidate as World Series MVP in my opinion. Well, were it not for this next guy.

It was a situation that all kids dream about. You play with the bat in the backyard and you call out the situation to yourself, “Bottom of the 9th. Game on the Line. Two out. Down to your last strike. You lose the World Series if you don’t get this hit. In comes the pitch…” It’s a triple off the wall to tie up the game! Even more incredible when you come up to bat 2 innings later and hit your first home run of the World Series to win the game in walk-off style to send it to Game 7. Then he goes and gets the game tying runs in the bottom of the 1st just two nights later in Game 7. Yeah, that’s David Freese.

It was the emergence David Freese and Allen Craig that really propelled this team. Your superstars can only do so much. Teams attempt to minimize the impact your superstars have on the game. Having players behind them who will make them pay too, that just makes things sweeter. And that’s what makes a team a winner.

Those are my top-5 stories. What are yours?

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Cardinals sign LHP Romero

In a move that will likely complete the projected bullpen for 2012, the Cardinals have signed LHP J.C. Romero to a one-year deal worth $750,000.

Romero, 35, pitched for the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies last season. However, he spent time in the minor league systems of the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals between those major league stints. Between the two teams he made 36 appearances with a 4.01 ERA. He will likely split the left handed specialist role with Marc Rzepczynski, who the Cardinals acquired via trade last season.

Romero has solid numbers against left handed batters in the last year, holding them to a line of .231/.318/.231. That’s pretty good, not as good as Rzepczynski though, and the Cardinals do have right handed relievers with better numbers against left handed batters, namely Eduardo Sanchez.

He has a reputation of being good against left handed batters, but has a habit of losing his control at times. Needless to say it should be an adventure. However, he is likely the second option out of the bullpen against left handers and the high leverage situations will likely (and hopefully) fall to Rzepczynski.

I think the most missed piece about his acquisition is that it adds another switch hitter to the lineup.

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Happy Trails, Tony La Russa

What a way to go out. For Tony LaRussa, it was probably the best managing job he’s ever done. Over 10 games out in August, rallying to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, beating Philadelphia in 5 games, beating Milwaukee in 6, and then playing what is very likely the best World Series game in history, before clinching his third World Series Championship in Game 7 against the Texas Rangers.

To top it all off, the Monday morning after celebrating the World Series Championship, he decided to call it a career.

33 years

2,728 career wins

3 American League Championships

3 National League Championships

3 World Series Championships

Oh, and 7 NL Central Championships in the last 16 years as the Cardinals’ manager. It’s safe to say that it has been the most successful run in franchise history where the Cardinals were never far from the front.

I wasn’t quick to write this post because I really wanted to take a different angle on it, but I had no idea what I wanted to write. Sure, anyone can reiterate statistics of what the man has done. This year will go down as his greatest managerial performance ever. Perhaps he deserves some credit for it, but I think his desire to retire changed his perspective and I think that had a great impact on exactly how the team developed this season.

In previous seasons it was a complaint of mine and many others that the team played tight. This year, it was the Rangers that looked tight when crunch time came. The Cardinals on the other hand, they were having a good time and enjoying themselves. It was accompanied by performance on the field.

It was an attitude that we saw in the Cardinals down the stretch. And to Tony’s credit, he embraced it.

This team was different than any other team and performed unlike many other teams would have.

In Spring Training the Cardinals lost their ace. Rather than working out away from the team, Adam Wainwright was a fixture on the Cardinals’ bench during home games. He traveled with the team in the playoffs. He became the team’s cheerleader. His job was easy, keep the guys up on the rail cheering their teammates on. Certainly a difference from other teams who failed down the stretch who had allegations of guys hanging out in the clubhouse rather than cheering their teams on.

Injuries slowed the team. The team that ranked near the bottom of minor league farm systems found themselves in great need of it. Guys like Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Fernando Salas, who Cardinals fans knew of, stepped up big when given their opportunity to play. Then there were new guys like Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez who played big roles.

The team had weaknesses. By the end of April, the Cardinals had no closer and no left handed relievers capable of getting reliable outs. By the end of May, we began to wonder if we needed a better defensive short stop and another starting pitcher. At the trade deadline, John Mozeliak went and got them everything they needed.

The team’s persona changed. The addition of Lance Berkman was the big move, in my opinion. He gave the Cardinals a veteran with clout who is the type of leader people think of when they think about a good leader. It was a figure this team had really been missing since Jim Edmonds was traded. When you watched games, he talked it up on the bench with veterans and rookies alike. While Albert Pujols keeps mostly to himself and only a few, Berkman did what was was needed, making some of the younger players feel accepted and relaxed.

If this season doesn’t illustrate that it’s a total organizational effort to create a winning team, I don’t know what does.

To me, the move to retire wasn’t a surprise. He changed through the course of the year. It’s funny how your perspective changes when there’s an end date in mind. And I saw his wife on the post-game coverage on the MLB Network. I can’t remember ever seeing his wife before. He seemed relaxed and enjoying the moment.

LaRussa embraced the change in the team persona and because of that the team excelled. That’s reason enough to give him the credit for it.

I’m not the biggest Tony LaRussa fan, but I sure hope he enjoys retirement. That elephant keeper job sounded like fun.

Cardinals prepare for playoffs

What fans didn’t give up on the Cardinals season? You had a good portion who mailed in the Cardinals’ chances when it was announced that Adam Wainwright was due to have Tommy John surgery. Another portion who called it quits after a sweep by the Dodgers in August left the Cardinals 10 games out of the NL Central race. Yet another who saw the writing on the wall after walking away from a September series with the Brewers 8.5 games out of the Central and 6 games out of the Wild Card.  Then me. Who decided it was all over on September 26th after they lost in extra innings to the Astros.

We all know what happened next.

Injuries plagued the Braves down the stretch as they lost their top two starting pitchers, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, for the month of September. Many call it a choke, but just realize how many fans considered the Cardinals’ chances over when Wainwright was injured. Imagine if we lost Carpenter too.

Game 1 is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 5 o’clock in Philadelphia. Kyle Lohse will be on the mound and he carries a career record of 3-4 with a 3.43 ERA against the Phillies, but all three wins come at Citizen’s Bank Park. Beyond the Cardinals and the Rays, Lohse is best against the Phillies. This season, he’s 1-1 with a 1.76 ERA against the “other” red team. In his only start at Citizen’s Bank Park this year he threw 7.1 innings and was tagged with just 1 unearned run. That was just about two weeks ago.

Game 2 looks to be Chris Carpenter working on just three days rest from his dominating two-hitter against Houston on the final day of the season. The move would set him up to go in Game 5 if need be.

For the Cardinals, you have to think positive about their chances, or at least I do. This season they’ve gone 6-3 against the Phillies, 9-9 against the Brewers (5-1 in last two series’ against them, and 4-3 against the Diamondbacks. So they are .500 or better against each of the other playoff teams in their league. The only other team in the playoffs who can say that is the Tigers.

The Cardinals have some definite question marks with Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal. However, you don’t lose much performance with Allen Craig on the field and defense is priority number one for the Cardinals at short stop, Nick Punto and Daniel Descalso can provide that well enough.

The interesting news today was that Kyle McClellan will likely be left off of the NLDS roster for the Cardinals. The club said that he has been suffering from a condition they called “dead arm.” Also the news that both Edwin Jackson and Jake Westbrook will not only make the roster, but be available in relief. Color me surprised.

Now, I didn’t know that McClellan was having arm issues, but he has been struggling with performance lately. I figured Edwin Jackson was going to get a start. Meanwhile Westbrook has struggled a bit lately and I expected him to be the one left off the roster in favor of a position player.

If I had my way, it would be a position player who brought some speed to the table like Tyler Greene or Adron Chambers. And honestly, having them both would be a benefit to this team. And instead of Westbrook, I’d be bringing along Eduardo Sanchez. I’m much more confident in Sanchez’s ability to get the job done out of the bullpen in a high leverage situation than I am about Jake Westbrook, who would be making his first relief appearance since April 19, 2004.

But, I’m not the manager (though I’d love an opportunity, Mr. Mozeliak give me a call!)

Either way, I’ll be glued to my couch and the TV as I root on the St. Louis Cardinals with everything I have over what I hope will be a prolonged playoff run.

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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Furcal traded to the Cardinals

Rumors circulated all of yesterday, Rafael Furcal was set to be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Finally word became official this morning as the Cardinals announced that the 33 year old switch-hitting short stop was now a member of their team.

Furcal is in his 12th major league season, but 3 of his last 4 seasons have been shortened due to injury. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves and made his debut for them in 2000, winning the NL Rookie of the Year. He spent six seasons in Atlanta before signing with the Dodgers in free agency before the 2006 season.

His season numbers are overwhelming, to say the least. He is hitting .197 with just a .272 OBP. Just what are we getting? Over his last nine games for the Dodgers he is hitting .303 with a .425 OBP.

If he’s healthy and we get more of the last nine games Rafael Furcal, the addition is a great one for the Cardinals that really solidifies the top of the lineup.

If he’s still dealing with a nagging injury or continues to struggle, he’ll provide some additional defense, but LaRussa’s insistency of putting Furcal in the lineup could sink the ship. Mainly, I’m just glad the Cardinals took a chance on acquiring someone who was actually an upgrade over what we already have on the roster. Many of the names floated around on the trade market this season, were not improvements over what the Cardinals already had. Furcal was probably #2 on my wish list to Clint Barmes. Continue reading