Tag Archives: Yadier Molina

2012 Preview: Catcher

From Opening Day 2011 to Opening Day 2012, there are only two positions that we know will be the same, Yadier Molina at catcher and Matt Holliday in left field. Of course, saying that I’ve probably doomed them both to disastrous spring training injuries. (knock on wood)

For the 29-year-old Molina, 2011 was a big year. He led the Cardinals in batting average with his .305. For all intents, he had a career year. He set career highs in batting average (.305), slugging percentage (.465), runs (55), hits (145), doubles (32), home runs (14), and RBI (65) among others. He won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove and made his third consecutive All Star Game appearance. Picking up his $7 million option for 2012 was a no brainer for Cardinals management.

In my mind, Molina might be one of the most interesting players to watch this season. He is coming off a career year where he hit nearly double the home runs of his previous career high. Not only did he have home run power, he had gap power, notching 32 doubles as well, up from the 19 doubles he hit in 2010. For a man who is considered as slow as he is, that’s a high number, second on the Cardinals only to the other steady starter, Matt Holliday. That shows some potential that 2011 may end up being more than just a statistical fluke.

Another reason that I find Molina’s 2012 to be interesting is that his best friend on the team, Albert Pujols, has skipped town on his way to Anaheim to play for the Angels to the tune of $240 million over 10 years. How will he react after spending the previous 8 years of his career in Pujols’ shadow, will he step into the waiting spotlight or will he shy away from it?

You also have his impending contract situation, which I’ll address a little later.

Because of Molina’s defensive prowess and game calling reputation, any offense you get from the catcher position while he’s playing is a definite plus. It also means he logs a lot of innings behind the plate, 1150 innings in total last year across 137 games. Despite the fact that he logged 12 more innings in 2 more games than he did in 2010, he was used quite less than he had in previous years this season. If you remember, he was shut down for the final couple weeks of the season with knee issues at the end of 2010.

Despite those problems, Molina has been steady as a rock behind the plate for the Cardinals, notching over 1,000 innings behind the plate in 5 of the last 6 seasons. If the Cardinals are playing baseball, over the last 7 years the odds were pretty good that he was behind the plate as he’s proven himself exceptionally durable thus far.

For the Cardinals in 2012, there is no doubt that Yadier Molina goes in as the incumbent starter. The game is on, however, for the backup catcher role in 2012. Once held down by Jason LaRue and last year by Gerald Laird, the Cardinals under new manager Mike Matheny (to whom Molina was once a backup to) will be having an open competition for the roster spot. The guys who will be matched up in that battle will be Tony Cruz, Bryan Anderson, and free agent signee Koyie Hill.

Tony Cruz, 25, broke out when he got a chance to be the Cardinals backup catcher when Laird went down with a broken finger in May. While Laird was on the disabled list from May 23rd to July 5th, Cruz hit .278 with a .333 OBP over 18 games, 6 of which were starts behind the plate. His versatility was also used by the Cardinals as he made appearances during that time at third base and first base. Until 2009, Cruz had played primarily third base through the minor leagues, notching 130 games there before transitioning to catcher.

Bryan Anderson, 25, has toiled away in the Cardinals minor leagues since being drafted out of Arkansas in the 4th round of the 2005 draft. Since that time he’s played 593 games in the minor leagues and just 15 in St. Louis in 2010. Anderson has been the question mark since he was drafted. Before the 2008 season he was rated the #85 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, and that was after a fairly lackluster year in double-A Springfield. The power that many scouts talked about never developed in the minor leagues and he got off to an ice cold start in Memphis in 2011 while splitting time with Tony Cruz. However, once Cruz made the trip to St. Louis, Anderson regained his stroke and finished up the year with a hitting line of .281/.357/.409.

Despite having gained the approval of new manager Mike Matheny in previous years, which might gain him some favor in the battle for backup catcher, there are still pitchers on the Cardinals’ roster, namely Chris Carpenter and I’ve recently heard Kyle Lohse, who don’t like the way he handles things when he’s behind the plate. That could have a huge impact on the battle if you have two starters in your rotation who don’t like pitching to a particular catcher. However, you could jump him around the rotation to avoid him. He’s worked with Jaime Garcia before when they both played in the minor leagues together and because of his time there, he has caught most of the guys in the bullpen.

Regardless of what happens, Anderson might be happier that this could be his final season with the Cardinals’ organization. Despite solid performances, Anderson has topped out in Memphis the last four years and his trade value is virtually nil. But he now has 6 years of minor league service time, which means he’s a free agent after one more. The Cardinals do still hold one more option on him, so he can be sent back to Memphis without risk of losing him.

The Cardinals also surprised fans by bringing in veteran catcher Koyie Hill, seemingly against their previous statements of letting Anderson and Cruz fight it out for the spot. Hill has spent the last five years with the Cubs and hit .194/.268/.276 with 2 home runs last year in 46 games for the Cubs. He’s never been exceptionally notable at the plate, nor even behind it with a career -0.7 defensive WAR. The move doesn’t really make sense except as a veteran catching option should Molina go down with injury. He would be an exceptionally long shot, but you never know what might happen.

So who do I think will win the backup catcher job in St. Louis. Honestly, I feel it should be Bryan Anderson and just not because I’ve been very high on Anderson the last few years and hate that he hasn’t gotten an opportunity somewhere. The Cardinals will need to figure out where they are going with the catcher’s position beyond this year. Molina is in the option year of his contract and is very likely to command a near $10 million salary in this next deal.

Between the catchers that the Cardinals currently have in the organization, I see Tony Cruz with more of a long-term future with the team than Anderson does. Therefore, I think it’d be better for Cruz’s development to be playing everyday in Memphis than playing once a week in St. Louis. Anderson might get the role simply because Cruz has more of a future with the organization. It wouldn’t be the first time the Cardinals have done something like this. And if Carpenter and Lohse don’t like throwing to Anderson, you have three other starting pitchers who you can pair him with. Or tell them to suck it up.

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Cardinals prepare for free agency

Free agency has technically begun, but it’s not yet open season on them. Players have until Tuesday to negotiate exclusively with their former clubs. Then they hit the open market and can talk to any teams.

The biggest news of the Cardinals’ free agency moves is that the team has exercised the $7 million option to bring back catcher Yadier Molina to the Cardinals next season. Molina, 29, is coming off of his best offensive season. He hit .305 with 14 HR, 65 RBI, and 55 runs scored, all career highs. He also tied a major league record with 9 RBI in a World Series.

While his offense surged, his defense stumbled a bit as he only posted a +0.7 defensive WAR. His career average for dWAR is around a +1.3. He also recorded a +6 runs saved measurement, down from the +16 he saved just last year. While the addition of Gerald Laird to the team was meant to give Molina more time off behind the plate, he still recorded 1,100+ innings behind the plate for the third consecutive year.

Two options remain on the table for the Cardinals to decide. That would be the $12 million option on shortstop Rafael Furcal and a $3.5 million option on relief pitcher Octavio Dotel.

Elias also released their official player rankings that determine compensatory draft picks for free agents. There is no surprise atop that list for the Cardinals.

Albert Pujols received the second highest score, a 95.200 (just shy of C.C. Sabathia), and will be a Type A free agent. Pujols, 31, is coming off a season where he struggled early. His final numbers, .299 batting average, 37 HR, and 99 RBI were just short of keeping his amazing streak of .300-30-100 alive. He posted career lows or near career lows in every category, and yet he’s still the second best free agent on the market, according to Elias. That speaks to the type of player he is and has been.

Joining Albert on the Type A free agent list is Octavio Dotel, on who the Cardinals possess an option. Dotel, 37, posted one of his better halves of a season after being dealt in his career. Finishing his 13th season, Dotel has been traded during the season five times since the 2004 season. Since he came to the Cardinals in exchange for Colby Rasmus, Dotel posted a 3.28 ERA in 24.2 innings and proved to be a stabilizing force in the St. Louis bullpen down the stretch and into the playoffs. His 0.851 WHIP was the lowest of his runs with any team where he pitched more than 10 innings.

On the Type B free agent list the Cardinals have three pending free agents.

The first is Edwin Jackson. Jackson, 28, may have earned himself a big contract with his run down the stretch with St. Louis. In 12 starts for the Cardinals, he posted a 3.58 ERA and a 5-2 record. Down the stretch he was the second best pitcher to Chris Carpenter. He credited Dave Duncan for helping him put all his stuff together during his time with St. Louis. He should be a better pitcher for it as long as he can retain that mindset. With no room in the starting rotation for him, Jackson will be hitting the road with a World Series ring as thanks for the help.

The second is the veteran Arthur Rhodes. At 42, Rhodes has been all over baseball. He posted a 4.85 ERA in 8.2 innings with St. Louis after being released by the Texas Rangers. He also allowed just 1 walk in 8 postseason appearances this season. Rhodes recently said that he was interested in playing two more seasons.

The final free agent on the list is Rafael Furcal. Furcal, 34, is the oft-injured shortstop that the Cardinals traded for at the deadline to shore up their middle infield. Furcal, however, hit just .255 in 50 games with the Cardinals and finished that up by hitting just .195 for the Cardinals in the playoffs. With the premium that it appears teams are willing to pay quality defenders in the middle infield, if Furcal can prove that he is healthy, he could be looking for a decent payday from a team willing to take the chance.

But what does Type A versus Type B versus a regular free agent mean?

In each case a free agent player can be offered arbitration by their ball club. What this does is gives them an opportunity to work together through an arbitrator to determine a fair salary for a player on a one-year deal to return to the club. To qualify for compensatory draft picks, a player has to be offered arbitration by their former club and turn it down to sign with another team.

For a Type A player, if he turns down arbitration to sign with another team, his former team will receive two draft picks, one from the other team and one compensatory “sandwich” pick between the first and second rounds of next season’s Major League Baseball draft.

For a Type B player, if he turns down arbitration to sign with another team, his former team receives one compensatory “sandwich” pick.

I expect the Cardinals to resign Pujols once they agree to a fair market value due to offers from other teams. I expect them to pick up the option of Octavio Dotel and decline the option on Rafael Furcal.

Arbitration will likely be offered to Jackson, Rhodes, and Furcal. The Cardinals can safely assume that Jackson will decline the arbitration offer because he will want to start and the Cardinals already have 5 starters signed for next season. Rafael Furcal may accept, but with his history of injury should come at a discount for the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Arthur Rhodes may accept arbitration and he could get anywhere from $2-4 million.

Now you are prepared as the Cardinals begin to navigate the craziness known as free agency. Not to mention, they’ll have to find a manager too, but more on that coming later today.

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Cardinals are World Series Champions

For the 11th time in their illustrious history, the St. Louis Cardinals can be called World Series Champions. Thankfully, they did it without the type of drama or heroics required in Game 6.

The Texas Rangers got on Chris Carpenter early, putting up two runs in the top of the first. It looked like it was going to be more of the same from the night before. But in the bottom of the first, it was David Freese once again delivering in the clutch with a two-RBI double to tie the game up.

After getting into a little trouble in the top of the second, Carpenter started to settle in, and so did Cardinals fans who have grown accustomed to knowing when Carp has a game under control. When all was said and done, he gave the Cardinals 6 quality innings on the mound, allowing just those two first inning runs. It was exactly what the Cardinals needed.

In the bottom of the 3rd, Allen Craig put the Cardinals on top with his third home run of the World Series and what would end up as his second game-winning hit of the series, bookending the best of 7. His 6th inning single in Game 1 scored David Freese in what put the Cardinals ahead to win that game 3-2.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Cardinals threatened to score once again on Rangers’ starter Matt Harrison. Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal both singled before Skip Schumaker and Carpenter got the final two outs of the inning. However, that was enough for Harrison as the Rangers would head to the bullpen, who would hopefully put the brakes on this Cardinals team.

However, it was anything but, as the game unraveled in the bottom of the 5th and Cardinals fans exhaled then breathed a sigh of relief. The Rangers put Scott Feldman on the mound, but he got into trouble after walking Allen Craig and hitting Albert Pujols with one out. Lance Berkman moved the runners over before the Rangers intentionally walked Freese to load the bases.

Then Yadier Molina drew a walk that scored Allen Craig to give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead. The Rangers then went to the bullpen for C.J. Wilson, their #1 starter to try to stop the bleeding. Wilson may not have been ready and hit Rafael Furcal with his first pitch, scoring Pujols for a 5-2 Cardinals lead before striking out Schumaker.

In the top of the 6th, Nelson Cruz almost broke the postseason record for home runs in a playoff run and reclaimed some momentum for the Rangers with his shot to left field. However, Allen Craig found himself guilty of Grand Theft Homer when he pulled Cruz’s ball back with an excellent defensive play. To me, that was the defining moment of the game that really sucked the air out of the Rangers.

Jason Motte came into the game in the top of the ninth and needed just 11 pitches to work his way through Cruz, Mike Napoli, and David Murphy to close out the Cardinals’ first World Series clincher since 2006.

In the end, David Freese walked away with the World Series MVP trophy, a 2011 Chevrolet Corvette. His finally tally for the World Series featured a .348 batting average, 1 HR, and 7 RBI. He totalled up 21 RBI and 52 total bases in the playoffs, which now stand as postseason records.

However, you could have made a sincere argument for Allen Craig as MVP. Craig drove in the winning run in Game 1, drove in what should have been the winning run in Game 2, hit the game winning home run in Game 7, and hit a critical home run in Game 6 that allowed David Freese to tie up the game in the 9th inning. Certainly a stellar postseason resume for a player who, if all goes well according to Cardinals’ fans, doesn’t even have a guaranteed starting position going into next season.

This season is one that I will never forget. To follow this team virtually all season, all 180 games, was a once in a lifetime experience and to have it end like this? Amazing.

This World Series will probably not top the 2001 World Series on anyone’s list for the greatest World Series ever (mainly due to the Yankees or Red Sox’s lack of involvement), but it has in my opinion. In that series, Arizona headed home on the heels of two consecutive blown saves by their closer Byung-Hyun Kim. They too were down 3 games to 2. They blew out the Yankees in Game 6 before beating the Yankees’ invincable Mariano Rivera in the final inning of Game 7 to win the game and the series.

At the time I was even a Diamondbacks fan. So there’s no fanboyism.

However, this year. The Cardinals made mistakes that cost them Games 4 and 5. The series was prepared to go down as the Cardinals having lost the series to the Rangers rather than the Rangers truly winning it. Those miscues would have doomed any number of teams, but these Cardinals were resilient and fought back. Even when down by three runs late in Game 6, they hadn’t given up. They fought back to tie the game while down to their last strike in both the 9th and the 10th innings. Then on a well hit pitch came away with the winner. Then their ace went onto the mound on three days rest and shut down the Rangers in Game 7.

It’s certainly the best World Series of my lifetime. I can’t speak intelligently about those before.

The question on many people’s minds after the realization that the Cardinals won the World Series was what this means for Albert Pujols’ contract situation. To me, I think it guarantees that Pujols will be back with this club next season. Over the last few years Albert has said he wants to be somewhere that gives him the opportunity to win championships. Well, you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone of that when you walk away from a World Series team that has a pitcher like Adam Wainwright returning to the mound next year.

The risk to his legacy would be too great to simply walk away from St. Louis for more or equal money. If he leaves, he will never be felt in the same vein as the other Cardinals’ greats. The scar of his walking away from a World Series Champion would be too great. Albert is a smart man, and I’m sure he understands that.

For now though, enjoy this championship.

Why? Because the Cardinals will likely be favored to do it all again next season. Which means they’ll probably finish third in the NL Central.

Playing Game 6 Manager

Tony LaRussa has some tough decisions to make about his lineup for tomorrow night’s contest against the Texas Rangers. I’m here to help him make those decisions.

I might not have any major league or minor league experience for that matter, but I have managed my Las Vegas Aces CSFBL team to more playoff berths than any other team in my league since I took over the franchise some 60 seasons ago.

Sometimes it’s easier for us outsiders to generate a lineup like this. Why? Because we don’t have to deal with player egos. We can offer an purely analytical look at the lineup and why it should be a particular way. So without further ado, I hereby present my batting lineup for Game 6 of the World Series.

1. CF Skip Schumaker
Rafael Furcal is hitting .188 with a .233 OBP in the playoffs. I have to ask myself why he is even still leading off for the Cardinals. It just doesn’t make much sense to me to keep your coldest hitter in the lineup in the leadoff spot. It just kills any momentum you could generate at the top of the order.

Ultimately I would choose to go with Skip Schumaker. Schumaker is hitting .500 in the playoffs. Colby Lewis, the pitcher, is the only right handed pitcher that is starting against the Cardinals in this series, so take advantage of Schumaker’s .287 average against right handed pitching this season. That’s in comparison to a .230 from Furcal.

2. LF Matt Holliday
I’ve felt since we acquired Holliday that he should be hitting second in the lineup. Even more so now that Lance Berkman is here to hit cleanup. The situation gets the bat of Matt Holliday into the lineup right from the get go. He and Pujols are guaranteed first inning at bats. Hopefully, Holliday can take advantage and put Lewis and the Rangers in some trouble in the first inning. The idea is to jump on them early and often.

3. 1B Albert Pujols
Say what you will about Pujols, but the man is the best choice for a #3 hitter that the Cardinals currently have right now. I’m not going to move him.

4. RF Lance Berkman
Well, on this one Tony LaRussa agrees with me. But why should Lance Berkman be hitting fourth? The simple fact that he is hitting .389 with a .476 OBP in the World Series. He has been our best hitter over the last 5 games against Texas. He was also the only player to eke out a hit against Derek Holland in the Game 4 gem.

5. 3B David Freese
While Freese has seemingly been put on ice (see what I did there?) in clutch situations, his .313 batting average is still the second best in the World Series for the Cardinals. That makes him a great choice to backup the core 2/3/4 hitters in this lineup.

6. C Yadier Molina
There really isn’t another choice. Offense. Defense. It don’t matter. Yadier Molina is the best catcher on this roster. Oh, and his .294 batting average in the World Series is good for third on the team. The 4/5/6 hitters should definitely be generating some run producing opportunities.

7. SS Daniel Descalso
Okay, here’s where I start to raise eyebrows and get some funny looks. Follow me here. Furcal is hitting .188 in the playoffs and .230 against right handed pitching this season. Meanwhile Descalso is hitting .280 this season against right handed pitching with a .347 OBP.

He is solid defensively at short stop and has the potential to be excellent if he were to get some playing time there, so I don’t think you are giving up that much offense with him out there. Plus, you can always slide him to third and bring in Furcal if you want to shore up the defense later in the game.

8. P Jaime Garcia
There are quite a few people who don’t like to hit the pitcher 8th, but computer models prove that if players hit to their averages, your worst hitter should hit 8th in the lineup. For the Cardinals, that would be Garcia’s .097 batting average.

9. 2B Ryan Theriot
This is one that I go back and forth on. Really I’d be satisfied playing Jon Jay at CF in this spot and moving Schumaker to second or playing Nick Punto. Except here’s my problem with it, Theriot is hitting .320 in the World Series, though he only hit .256 against right handed pitchers this season.

Jon Jay is in the middle of a pronounced slump and Punto has looked silly on some crucial late game at bats, despite his strong numbers.

That’s the 9 guys that I’d run out there as my starting 9 tonight. I doubt that’s what LaRussa does though. With Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweeting that Holliday’s finger is hurting him worse than he’s letting on, we might see Allen Craig out there in Game 6, and Craig has done pretty solid.

With LaRussa’s love of veterans and certain players and consistency, this is the lineup we’re likely to see tomorrow night.

SS Furcal
LF Craig
1B Pujols
RF Berkman
3B Freese
C Molina
2B Punto
CF Jay
P Garcia

But hey, what more could we expect?

Season’s on the line. Let’s go Cards. I’m not ready for the season to end. I want Game 7.

Join me tonight on UCB Radio at a special time as we preview Game 6 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers on BlogTalkRadio. We will be live starting at 7:30 pm Eastern time, 6:30 Cardinals time. You can listen live over the Internet here.


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Mistakes cost the Cardinals Game 5

Stranding runners in scoring position. Bullpen mismanagement. Hit-and-run mistakes. Swinging at bad pitches. Deflected balls. You name a mistake, the Cardinals probably made it on Monday night.

The Texas Rangers weren’t doing anything special. In fact, more than anything, it seemed as if the Cardinals were poised to once again take the series lead. They kept threatening and kept threatening and then hitting themselves out of scoring opportunities. But when all was said and done, the Cardinals and their fans can only shake their heads in disbelief that they gave this game away.

For 7 innings, Chris Carpenter hurled a quality game. The Rangers had mustered two solo home runs, one by Mitch Moreland in the third and one to Adrian Beltre in the sixth. It was enough, though, to cancel out a pair of RBI singles by the Cardinals from the second inning to tie the game up at 2-2.

It was actually the 7th inning where the Cardinals’ issues really started compounding and causing a problem. In the top of the 7th with one out Alexi Ogando walks Allen Craig. With Albert Pujols at the plate, Allen Craig took off running for second. Pujols didn’t swing and Craig was thrown out by Mike Napoli on what was assumed to be a hit-and-run when Craig looked over his shoulder at the plate while he ran towards second.

Now off the hook, Ogando and the Rangers quickly decided to walk Albert Pujols to face Matt Holliday. According to an ESPN account on Twitter, that is the first time anyone has been intentionally walked with nobody on base in World Series history. Holliday capitalized on the opportunity and singled, but ended up on second base on the throw. The Cardinals now had 2nd and 3rd with two out. The Rangers again decided to walk Lance Berkman to face David Freese.

Freese flew out to Josh Hamilton to end the inning, leaving Cardinals fans wondering what happens if Allen Craig stayed at first base.

As Lance Berkman said to MLB.com’s Matthew Leach after the game, “I think the more you let them off the hook, the better they feel about their chances, especially at home. If you’re going to beat a good team at their ballpark, you’ve got to capitalize when you have the opportunity.”

The Cardinals certainly let them off the hood more than once tonight, leaving 12 men on base and going just 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

The game cruised into the 8th inning, still tied up at two runs a piece. In the top of the 8th, the Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina managed to get a single on a ground ball to the short stop. At this point, Rangers’ manager Ron Washington brings in left handed pitcher Darren Oliver to face Skip Schumaker. Not to be outdone, Tony LaRussa pinch hit Ryan Theriot for Schumaker, and then called for a sacrifice bunt.

Theriot successfully converted, but you have to wonder how the lefty-lefty matchup affects a bunt? More on puzzling moves later.

A strikeout from Nick Punto and a ground out by Rafael Furcal and the Cardinals let the Rangers off the hook again.

In the bottom of the 8th, Octavio Dotel came in from the Cardinals’ bullpen to pitch. Dotel allowed a double to Michael Young to lead off the inning before striking out Adrian Beltre. LaRussa then had Dotel intentionally walk Nelson Cruz before making another trip out to the mound.

Marc Rzepczynski was called into the game to replace Dotel to face the lefty David Murphy. Murphy hit a bouncer back up the middle that Rzepczynski caught a piece of while trying to catch, which eliminated any potential play on what otherwise might have been a double-play ball. At this point, the Rangers had the bases loaded with just a single out.

Rzepczynski stayed in the game to face right hander Mike Napoli, only the hottest hitter in major league baseball since July 4th. Why he still hits 8th when his OPS is over 1.100 since that time, I don’t know. Napoli does what everyone was expecting him to do, Rangers and Cardinals fans alike, Napoli drives a ball to right center, doubling to bring home Young and Cruz to make the game 4-2.

At this point Rzepczynski stays in face the left handed Mitch Moreland, ultimately striking him out. The Rangers now have men on 2nd and 3rd with two out.

So Tony LaRussa walks to the mound and signals for the right hander and out trots Lance Lynn from the bullpen. Lynn, however, had been deemed unavailable for this game. Deciding that he wasn’t going to have Lynn pitch to someone because they’d deemed him unavailable, he had Lynn intentionally walk Ian Kinsler before coming back out to the mound to finally call in Jason Motte.

Motte quickly came in and got Elvis Andrus to strike out swinging to end the threat in the 8th inning.

LaRussa said after the game that he wanted Jason Motte to be ready to come in and face Mike Napoli, but that when he called the bullpen they warmed up Rzepczynski and Lynn instead.

Now, common sense would dictate that the bullpen coach, Derek Lilliquist, should know who is available to pitch in a particular game and who isn’t. Right? LaRussa and Duncan claimed after the game that they hadn’t shared that information with Lilliquist before the game, so he didn’t know. I’m sorry, either that’s a severe lack of communication or it’s just plain old incompetence.

And who hears “Motte” and confuses it with “Lynn,” they don’t even sound alike?

With the damage already done, the Cardinals came up in the ninth inning with Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz once again on the mound. And once again erratic.

He led off the inning by hitting Allen Craig with a 78 mph slider. That put the tying run at the plate in Albert Pujols.

Pujols worked Ogando to a 3-2 count. Now with a full count, LaRussa put on the hit-and-run in an attempt to eliminate the opportunity of hitting into a double play, something that Albert Pujols and the Cardinals led the league in this season. After fouling off two pitches, Pujols swung through a 99 mile an hour fastball that was very likely a ball. Not skipping a beat, Napoli threw to second to catch Allen Craig by about four feet for an old fashioned “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out” double play. Once again, letting the Rangers off the hook.

With now two out, the entire complexion of the game has changed from a doable comeback, to a very slim chance. Matt Holliday worked a walk off of Ogando before Lance Berkman struck out swinging to end the top of the ninth, and the game.

Mistakes like this have always been my problem with Tony LaRussa. He gets into these phases where he tries to pull off a genius move, except that it doesn’t work and he ends up managing the Cardinals out of the ballgame. Tonight was definitely one of those nights.

While you can hang it on the offense for , I am left to question why LaRussa makes the moves he does in the bullpen.

With six outs left in the game against the Rangers if the Cardinals can win, LaRussa decides to get fancy with his bullpen and use Dotel, then Rzepczynski, and then Motte. What’s the point in having Fernando Salas, a guy who spent the majority of the season as your closer before being dropped later in the season, if you aren’t going to use him in pressure situations. Salas in the 8th, Motte in the 9th. The system works for every other team in baseball.

Now, you might argue with two left handed hitters that Rzepczynski, the left hander, was the correct person to pitch there. They are both effective against left handed pitchers, but Salas can throw more effectively to both sides of the plate overall. And when you need him for just 3 outs, Salas is extremely reliable.

The Rangers are now up 3 games to 2 and headed to St. Louis, where Wednesday night they will match up in Game 6. It will be a straight rematch of Game 2, Colby Lewis on the mound for the Rangers and Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals. The Cardinals came nearly snuck away with a win in that game, but a late game collapse doomed the Cardinals.

The Cardinals haven’t figured out who will pitch Game 7. In fact, rain might make that even more interesting if Wednesday’s Game 6 is rained out as suggested by local meteorologists. If Game 6 is pushed off and Game 7 gets played on Friday night instead, there would be the potential of bringing Chris Carpenter back on 3 days rest to pitch the final game of the series.

But that still requires the Cardinals to win Game 6 behind Jaime Garcia. A late game mistake that prompted a media firestorm around Albert Pujols cost the Cardinals that game. They’ll have to bring their bats to the party as it’s naive to expect a similar performance out of Jaime Garcia.

Many fans are already ready to write the season off as over. No team has beaten the Rangers twice in a row since the Red Sox did it on August 24th. Because of that, all hope is lost. But many haven’t checked the Cardinals’ record on that. Until last night, they hadn’t been beaten twice in a row by the same team since that day as well.

Streaks are made to be broken.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to call it a season just yet.

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Rangers steal Game 2

As I said after the game on Twitter, I expected the Cardinals to lose this one. Just not the way they did.

By all accounts Jaime Garcia should have been lit up by the Texas Rangers offense that can be easily considered to be the best offensively producing team against left handed pitchers in the entire major leagues this season. Instead, Garcia turned in what was probably his best pitching performance since a two-hit complete game shutout that he threw on May 6th against Milwaukee. It was probably in the top-3 of his pitching performances of the year, and if you consider the circumstances around it, quite possibly the best.

In his 7 innings on the mound, Garcia held the Rangers at bay with just 3 hits and a walk, along with 7 strikeouts.

He issued a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler in the top of the fourth that nearly came around to bite him, but he caught Adrian Beltre swinging on strike 3. In fact, Kinsler, who walked and then made it to third on a single by Michael Young, was the only Rangers player to make it past first base until the 9th inning.

Cardinals fans felt like they had to be watching a replay when in the bottom of the 7th of a tie game, Tony LaRussa brought out Allen Craig to pinch hit. Ron Washington, going with the definition of insanity (repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome), brought out Alexi Ogando who Craig singled off of to drive home the go-ahead run in Game 1. With Freese on third this time and Punto on first after a pair of singles, Craig singled to right field again, scoring Freese for a 1-0 Cardinals lead.

At that moment, I felt like Craig had virtually clinched a shot at World Series MVP, if the Cardinals won the series, in just two at bats. It was going to be tough to beat a guy who was 2-for-2 with 2 game winning RBI.

Fernando Salas struck out Mike Napoli in the Rangers half of the 8th. Then Marc Rzepczynski came out and struck out Yorvit Torrealba (potentially ending the talk that he was the better option in Game 1?) and then faced Esteban German again, who grounded out to Albert Pujols.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Cardinals threatened to add an insurance run to the board. Mike Adams got Jon Jay and Albert Pujols to fly out to start the inning, but Lance Berkman followed that up with a single before Matt Holliday walked. Up to the plate came Daniel Descalso, who had been one of the Cardinals’ best clutch hitters earlier in the season, but Adams got Descalso to ground out to second base.

With the 1-0 game, Tony LaRussa went to Jason Motte once again. Once again back in the no-doubles defense (a throwback to the 2009 NLDS Game 2 where Holliday misplayed a ball that resulted in a Dodgers rally and victory), Ian Kinsler popped one up. It was just out of the reach of Furcal as he ranged back and Holliday was a few steps short of catching it. Had he been playing regular depth, Holliday catches the ball without an issue and we have 1 out in the 9th. Instead, Kinsler is standing on first base.

While the next batter Elvis Andrus looked at bunting, Kinsler took off and stole second base. That took the bunt off and Andrus wasted no time in hitting a line drive to Jon Jay for his own single that put the tying run in Kinsler at third base with no out.

On the same play, Andrus was able to advance to second on the throw after a couple miscues by the Cardinals that have resulted in a bit of a furor about it. Jon Jay’s throw was wide of the plate and Pujols had a chance to cut off the play and keep Kinsler at third and Andrus at first, but he missed the ball and it ended up rolling the rest of the way to Molina. More on the furor later.

That misplay ended up being the key ingredient in the Rangers win.

LaRussa went out to the mound to bring in Arthur Rhodes to replace Motte to face the left handed Josh Hamilton. Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to Schumaker in right field that scored Kinsler and advanced Andrus. 1-1, tie game.

LaRussa went back to the mound to bring in Lance Lynn for his first World Series appearance. It was a good move considering that Lynn is far more of a strikeout threat than Rhodes and you don’t want them hitting the ball and scoring the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Michael Young did. He hit a sacrifice fly to Jon Jay that allowed Andrus to score on the tag up.

Lynn then got Beltre to ground out to third base, but the damage was done and the Rangers were up 2-1 with Molina, Punto, and Schumaker due up in the bottom of the 9th with Berkman and Freese already out of the game.

With Rangers closer Neftali Feliz entering the game with his 100 mph fastball, the Cardinals spent the entire inning struggling. He initially struggled to find his command though, walking Yadier Molina. Watching the inning, I felt that Feliz never really regained his command, but despite that, struck out Nick Punto (who failed twice to bunt) and Skip Schumaker. Feliz would then get Rafael Furcal to fly out to right field to end the game and let the Rangers notch one of their own in the win column.

According to MLB.com, Feliz threw all fastballs in that 9th inning, none slower than 97 miles per hour. He is a true flamethrower.

After two games, the series will head to Texas and the Ballpark in Arlington where it’s now become a Best of 5 and the Rangers have home field advantage. The Rangers are the second best home team in baseball and the Cardinals are the second best road team in baseball. Arlington also happens to be an extremely hitter friendly park, so it’s safe to say that we’ll probably see more offense over the next three games than we have.

Finally, to discuss the aftermath of the play in the top of the 9th. This morning Jeff Passan wrote a piece about Pujols’ leadership after the loss, or lack thereof. Apparently by the time the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse opened up to the media, Pujols had showered and left. So had Berkman, Holliday, and Molina. The four of them leaving their younger teammates to answer questions about what went wrong in a heartbreaking ninth inning collapse.

This experience illustrates exactly what I’ve been saying about Pujols and the Cardinals for the last few years, really since the 2009 season. Pujols is not a leader, well maybe a (9, 1) leader on the managerial grid. He is very much let’s his work ethic and on field performance speak for him. He’s not the type of leader who will help motivate the players around him. There are stars in sports who are great players, and then there are stars in sports who elevate those around them. Pujols is the former. A guy like Peyton Manning is the latter.

But the issue becomes as well, that as long as Pujols is a Cardinal and as long as he is the highest paid and longest tenured player on the roster, nobody is going to potentially step on his toes and step up to take that role. As we heard during the 2006 run to the playoffs, it was Jim Edmonds who stepped up to motivate the team. Edmonds was the veteran, he had the paycheck and the tenure to do it.

The second thing is that there is a seeming divide between the veterans and the younger players. Colby Rasmus was a big illustration of this to me. Pujols was quoted as saying that he’d talked to him maybe 2-3 times the entire time they played together. So basically, what Pujols just said is that he spends at least 162 days a year with 12 guys, they played together for two and a half years (almost 450 games) and they only talked 2-3 times? I know Rasmus keeps to himself, but really?

I have zero problem with Pujols snubbing the media. As many have said as we’ve had fan forum debates on it that the players owe the media nothing unless outlined in Major League Baseball rules.

Where my problem lies is that he left his teammates holding the bag, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard this story about Pujols.

My problem is that you can bet your tail that if Pujols had hit a walk off grand slam that he would have stayed to make sure every reporter’s questions about it got answered while he basked in the glow of success with that trademark grin on his face. On the other hand, when he fails and a misplay by him ultimately costs the Cardinals the game, he cuts out early and leaves his teammates to answer questions about the tough loss.

When you don’t have players who have each other’s backs, you create poison in the locker room. This sort of thing is the #1 reason why I feel the Cardinals have underperformed over the last three years. Team psychology during the season, and even more so the playoffs, is a critical thing. Passan asked a remaining Cardinals’ player about why Pujols left and he shrugged his shoulders and dodged the question about how he felt about it. I have a feeling his response would have been something to the effect of, “It is what it is.”

This kind of thing can be the catalyst that breaks a team. And if it does, that is all on Albert Pujols for hanging his teammates out when he should have been the one to accept his failures and man up to them to set the example for the rest of his teammates. That’s what being a leader and a man is all about.

I hope the team proves me wrong on Saturday night by going out and getting another win.