Thursday, September 30, 2004

Playoff Pitching Parings

While it's impossible to predict who the Cardinals will be playing in the first round, it is still interesting to look at the teams that the Cards may be facing next week and see what the pitching match-ups look like.

First, we know the Cards won't be facing the Astros or the Cubs next week. On a side note, the Astros could be in an interesting situation. Oswalt is slated to start on Saturday, and Clemens has volunteered to go on Sunday on 3 days rest if needed (I'm sure it took Phil Garner about a second to accept that offer.) If Clemens is in fact needed on Sunday, that's going to force Houston to start someone other than Clemens or Oswalt in game 1 of the playoffs, or worse yet for them - a 1 or 2 game regular season playoff with the Cubs and/or Giants. Of course, considering where they were 6 weeks ago, I doubt they'll complain.

So, the first round is still going to be either the Giants or Dodgers.

Dodgers

Right now, I think I would put money on Los Angeles meeting the Cards in the first round, simply because the Astros have the easiest schedule remaining in the Wild Card race. The Dodgers could still pass the Braves for the #2 seed, but will have to gain 2.5 games over their next 4. What does the Dodger rotation look like?

Yesterday - Odalis Perez (3.25 ERA)
Today - Jose Lima (4.19 ERA)
Friday - Jeff Weaver (4.01 ERA)
Saturday - Edwin Jackson (6.75 ERA)
Sunday - Kaz Ishii (4.69 ERA)

Since they have a magic number of 2 to clinch the West, it looks as if Perez is their Game 1 starter. After Perez, however, their rotation matches up very similarly to the Cardinals. 3 guys that aren't dominating anyone, but aren't horrible either. Kaz Ishii has had some of his starts taken by Wilson Alvarez (4.17 ERA) due to inconsistency, so you could see him getting a start as well. In general, though, if the Cards could get a win off of Perez the series should be theirs. (Of course, Dodgers fans are probably saying the same thing about the Cards and Marquis.)

Giants

The Giants post-season rotation is harder to estimate. Currently, their rotation looks like this.

Yesterday - Noah Lowry (3.82 ERA)
Today - Jerome Williams (4.41 ERA)
Friday - Kirk Rueter (4.81 ERA)
Saturday - Brett Tomko (4.19 ERA)
Sunday - Jason Schmidt (3.29 ERA)

Of course, Schmidt is the "wild card", if you will. If the Giants have clinched by Sunday, he won't be starting. If they haven't clinched, he'll be going with the season on the line. And if they finish the season in a tie? They'll get to depend on Noah Lowry and/or Jerome Williams to win regular season playoff game(s). That's not pretty.

As close as the Wild Card race is, I suspect that Schmidt will have to pitch on Sunday. If he pitches on Sunday, he would be hard pressed to pitch more than 1 game in the NLDS, which hampers the Giants by quite a bit. One way he could pitch more than 1 game would be to pitch on 3 days rest twice, which may not be a good idea in the first place. Another way would be if the Giants finish the season in a 3 way tie, then manage to win the Wild Card anyway. I am not sure what the NLDS schedule would look like if that were to happen, but my guess is that Schmidt might be able to start Game 2 on 4 days rest, then game 5 on 3 days rest. But that's asking a lot of this team, in my opinion.

Park Factors

If we adjust the top 4 starters for each team for park factors, we can get a little better idea of how they compare to one another. Once again, I'm using my elementary method, which simply assumes that half of each player's starts came on the road, and that overall those were neutral parks. Using a combination of adjusted ERA's and some educated guesses from the information above, here are the potential match-ups next week.

Game 1

Odalis Perez (3.41) or Noah Lowry (3.72) vs Matt Morris (4.71)

Game 2

Jeff Weaver (4.20) or Brett Tomko (4.08) vs Woody Williams (4.33)

Game 3

Jose Lima (4.39) or Jason Schmidt (3.20) vs Jason Marquis (3.79)

Game 4

Wilson Alvarez (4.38) or Jerome Williams (4.29) vs Jeff Suppan (4.31)

Game 5

Odalis Perez (3.41) or Noah Lowry (3.72) vs Matt Morris (4.71)

Conclusion

So, what do we know after doing all of that? Basically, the Cardinals need Matt Morris to have his A game, not his C game (which is of no surprise to anyone, I'm sure.) Even if he doesn't, though, the match-ups the Cardinals (might) have against the Dodgers in the other 3 games are still pretty favorable. And if the Giants only get one start out of Schmidt? The Cardinals chances against the Giants look very good.


Left Brain / Right Brain

For the 2nd night in a row, I enjoyed the Cardinal game, getting to see most of it on TV. With 2 outs in the 9th and the tying run at the plate, however, my emotions went up and down over the course of about one second.

"What is he doing swinging at the first pitch?"

"He just tied the game!"

"Man, they lost!"

And I was down about the loss for a few minutes. Then, the two sides of my brain started conflicting with one another.

Left Brain - Scott Rolen looked good, including a home run off of Roger Clemens

Right Brain - But the Cardinals lost!

Left Brain - It was good to see Steve Kline getting some work, and doing so effectively

Right Brain - But why didn't La Russa bring him in to face Berkman in the 7th?

Left Brain - It wouldn't have mattered, the Astros were already up by one.

Right Brain - And why did La Russa allow Suppan to pitch to Bagwell with the game tied?

Left Brain - It was obvious that Suppan wasn't supposed to give him anything to hit - he just left a pitch over the plate.

Right Brain - But the Cards were swept!

Left Brain - That should have been expected with Clemens starting and the Cardinal lineup featuring Anderson, Taguchi, and Cedeno hitting at the top of the order.

Right Brain - At least this makes things harder on the Cubs.

Left Brain - At least this makes things harder on the Cubs.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Must Win?

Well, in a word - no.

I get the feeling that St. Louis fans, in general, are getting very, very nervous about the playoffs. And for the most part, I can understand that. With a loss last night, the Cards have now dropped 4 consecutive series against teams that may (or may not) be in the playoffs. Consider the following, though:

  1. 3 of the 4 series were on the road
  2. None of the 4 series featured the regular starting lineup
  3. If the Cards win tonight, they will not have been swept in said series'
Item three is one of the reasons why I call tonight a "must win", even though a better term would be "I'd like to win." Not only would a win tonight avoid a Cardinal sweep during the month of September, it would also give the Cardinals a .500 or better record against every team they've played this season, assuming they can split with Milwaukee over the weekend. (Currently the Cardinals are 8-9 against the Astros in 2004.) There is just something about that that sounds good.

In general, I enjoyed last night's game. The pitching was great, especially the bullpen once again. Scott Rolen looked good in the field, and even drove a ball to the warning track in one of his at-bats. And Reggie Sanders was called out at the plate when he was obviously safe, thus costing the Cards a run, which is a lot in a 2-1 loss.

The Cards will have their work cut out for them if they are to win tonight, of course. Roger Clemens is taking the hill, and the Cards have had problems with him all season (He's 2-0 over 3 starts with a 1.31 ERA). Of course, the Cards are sending the road warrior himself to the mound. No, not Mel Gibson, but Jeff Suppan who is 10-0 with a 3.20 ERA away from Busch this season. Fluky. And according to Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, Suppan is the likely game 4 starter in the playoffs.

So, while a win would take care of the items I listed above, it would also do something else - provide a bit of relief to the growing crowd of nay-sayers. If the Cards could beat a team fighting for their lives, doing so against the potential Cy Young winner, on the road, with Jeff Suppan picking up his 11th road win? Well, I'd like to think that it would ease the minds of some people by a little.



Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Wild Card

Down the stretch they come. The Cubs have a 1 game lead over the Giants, 1.5 over the Astros. The Cubs and Giants each have 6 games left, while the Astros have 5. Basically, the schedules shake out like this:

Cubs vs Reds (3), vs Braves (3)
Giants at Padres (3), at Dodgers (3)
Astros vs Cardinals (2), vs Rockies (3)

The Cubs are still the favorites accoring to the odds - they have a 79% chance of winning it according to Baseball-Prospectus - but is that realistic?

Consider this. If the Cubs win the wild card, they will play the Braves in the first round. General wisdom is that the Braves have nothing to play for this weekend, since they will have their playoff seed clinched. But who do you think the Braves would rather play in the first round - the Cubs or the Dodgers? I suspect that the Braves wouldn't really want to play the Cubs in the first round, thus giving them an incentive to play to win this weekend.

The experts also cite the Giant's tougher schedule in making things tough for their playoff chances. However, if the Giants don't win the Wild Card, the Dodgers have to play the Cardinals in the first round. While I doubt that the Dodgers would intentionally tank games, what is to stop them from resting their regulars very heavily, thus giving the Giants an edge and helping the Dodgers get an easier first round opponent?

Monte Carlo analysis is great, but it doesn't take resting regulars or playoff seeding advantages into consideration.

Updates

I realize that I am only regurgitating information that can be found elsewhere on the web. However, since I had posted about Matt Morris having another start skipped last night - several people brought it up last night on the broadcast, including Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch as well as Al Hrabosky - I thought I should acknowledge the fact that this may have been incorrect.

Morris

Matt Morris is now slated to start on Thursday, which is a good sign. In fact, the rotation currently shapes up as (according to the Post-Dispatch):

Tuesday - Dan Haren
Wednesday - Jeff Suppan
Thursday - Matt Morris
Friday - unknown
Saturday - Jason Marquis
Sunday - unknown

I suspect that there was confusion last night when Tony told someone that there would be 3 more "bullpen starts." Someone did the math and assumed that they were skipping Morris, when in fact they are simply giving the starters extra days off.

Tony Womack

His hand was bruised, not broken, and Womack says that if tonight were a playoff game, he'd be playing. That's a good sign.

Steve Kline

Kline threw in the bullpen each of the last 2 days, and plans on getting into some games over the weekend. If Kline has been pitching through this finger injury for the last several months, as some reports have suggested, then it's possible that he will be as effective as he was before the groin injury.

Chris Carpenter

It now sounds as if it is highly unlikely for him to pitch in the NLDS. I still think he's done for the year, but I am not an expert, nor privy to any inside information.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Up's and Down's

As encouraging as the weekend series was, the opposite can be said of today's game. Baseball is kind of funny that way. 4 hours ago, things were looking up. Right now, things aren't quite as rosy in Redbird land.

  • As mentioned in the last post - what is up with Matt Morris? Is he hurt or not?
  • Woody Willims, a starter the Cards need if Carpenter and Morris are out, was shelled against a playoff caliber team.
  • Tony Womack was hit by a pitch, potentially in the hand or the wrist. Details on the injury are pending, but it doesn't look good at this moment.

OK, let's take a deep breath. I am usually an upbeat, positive guy. However, my posts as of late have been very "glass half empty." Let's take a look at these items one at a time.

Morris - well, I talked about that a little earlier. If he is in fact hurt, let's just hope that they don't include him on the playoff roster. Dan Haren starting over Morris isn't the end of the world if it comes to that, as he's only had 1 bad start all year. It just happens that the one start that was bad was beyond bad - it was horrible. On the season, he has a 4.76 ERA. Since the All-Star break, however, he has a 2.75 ERA. As a starter - ignoring the Cubs start - Haren is 2-0 with a 2.69 ERA over 3 starts.

Williams - tonight was his first loss since August 18th. On top of that, he was getting squeezed a little early in this start. While that isn't an excuse to give up 8 earned runs over 3 innings, it did factor in. If Woody needed to get a bad start out of his system, I would rather see it tonight than next week.

Womack - Before the season started, I may have actually wished for a season ending injury to Womack. I'm not trying to be mean, just brutally honest. I never liked Womack the player, as he had never shown the ability to get on base. This year, Womack has literally had a career year, posting a .348 OBP. The downgrade from Womack to Luna (308 OBP) or Anderson (271 OBP) is pretty major, if he is out for the year. However, if he is done - well, wouldn't you rather see him go down over Rolen, Pujols, Edmonds, Walker, or even Renteria? (Not that we can pick who does and doesn't get hurt, but come on - Cardinal fans knew the annual playoff injury was coming.)

Listening to tonights Cardinal broadcast, you would think that the team was just eliminated from the playoffs. I want this team to be 100% healthy for the playoffs as well, don't get me wrong. However, the team is deep. If all of the above guys are out, along with Steve Kline, the row is going to be a lot harder to hoe than it would have been. But don't hang your head, fellow fans. October is still going to be fun, and the Cards are still the team to beat in the NL as far as I'm concerned.

"Bullpen Starts"

I'm sitting here, watching the Cards getting shelled early in Houston. While I'm not too concerned about the game - the Cards still have time, the game doesn't matter, etc - a topic of discussion during the game has me a bit concerned.

According to the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast, the Cardinals are going to have two - yes two - so-called "bullpen starts" over their last 6 games (after tonight.) Two? One for Chris Carpenter, I can understand (even though I'm not sure why Haren isn't starting.) But two? Apparently, the 2nd one will be in the slot that should be occupied by Matt Morris.

What?

Let's review. Morris' last start was against Milwaukee a week ago tonight, in which he only threw 78 pitches over 5 innings. He was pulled early, so we were told, by design. His next start, Saturday in Colorado, was going to be skipped to keep him fresh. Considering the numbers that Matt has been putting up this season on 6 days rest, or in starts following outings of 100 pitches or less - fatigue seemed like something he was probably dealing with. I didn't mind a skipped start, especially in Coors Field.

But now he's being skipped again? With Carpenter already unlikely to pitch in the first round of the playoffs, how can the Cards skip Morris, thus having him pitch in the NLDS with a minimum of 14 days of rest? Are they for real? Is he hurt and they just don't want to say?

Color me confused.

On a brief positive note - Scott Rolen appears to be ready to start on Tuesday night, getting 2 or 3 at-bats over the next few games as he eases back into his regular role.

Oswalt Pitching Hurt

Tonight's starter for the Astros, Roy Oswalt, is going to be working through some pain tonight according to the Houston Chronicle If you scroll down to the bottom of that article, you'll see:

Roy Oswalt, who will take the mound tonight against the Cardinals hoping to become the National League's first 19-game winner this season, hasn't decided how he will combat the pain in his left Intercostal muscle.

Oswalt has taken two cortisone shots this year, the last being in the final week of August. Doctors don't recommend taking cortisone shots less than six weeks apart, which is why Oswalt took an injection of tordol before his start Wednesday.

Oswalt lost that game 5-1 to the Giants, giving up 10 hits and five runs over 5 2/3 innings.

"I just have to pitch," said Oswalt, who has started a team-high 33 games and has thrown a team-high 223 innings.

He and NL Cy Young Award favorite Roger Clemens, 42, are the only Astros pitchers who have remained in the rotation all year.

Barring complications, Oswalt has two more starts in the regular season. A victory today would tie his career high, which he set in 2002.

"We're going to do something (to alleviate the pain in his side)," he said. "We'll do something for sure. I don't know if it will be the same (tordol). I don't know."

While I respect a guy wanting to help his team win, you have to be concerned about the long term effects of a pitcher taking the mound with the effects of pain killers in his arm.


Monday Morning Quarterback

I have to say, I've never been a big fan of the NFL. My high school was so small that we didn't have a football team. My family, as I have mentioned before, weren't big sports fans either. Once the football Cardinals moved to Arizona, my exposure to football was left at next to nothing. These days I will watch the occasional game, but usually not until the baseball playoffs are over.

Which, of course, makes my drive to work on Monday mornings a bit boring. I usually enjoy listening to sports radio on my drive in, but the day after the Rams play, it' s a bit pointless on my part. So, for those of you like me - and I know there aren't many of you - here is a small review of a team that plays the game that I actually have interest in.

The Cardinals rolled into Colorado this weekend with a few things of interest. Namely, how many wins can the 2004 Cards put on the table, and how does the health of the team look heading into the playoffs?

First, the win total. The Cards headed into the weekend with 100 wins, looking to move in on the team record of 106, set by the 1942 Redbirds. Of course, playing in Colorado is never an easy feat. This may or may not come as a surprise to many of you, but the Coloardo Rockies have a 57-49 record against the Cardinals over their team history. Pretty good for a team that has only had 4 winning seasons over an 11 year history. The biggest reason for this record is that the Cardinals have never really been successful in Colorado. Over that time span, the Cards are 24-31 in Denver and had only won the season road series 5 out of 11 seasons. Since the beginning of the 2000 season, it gets even worse. The Cardinals were 6-10 at Colorado heading into this weekend's play this decade (whatever it's called). There is just something about playing in that thin air that the Cardinals have not dealt well with.

With that in mind, I personally was hoping to see the Cards take 2 out of 3 from a weak club. It was great to see the Cardinals actually pull off the sweep on the road in a place where they historically haven't played well. The sweep gave the Cardinals a 5 game winning streak, 8 wins out of their last 10 games, and 9 out of their last 12. That's back to the pace that we had grown accustomed to, even if the last 10 games have come against weak opponents. With 103 wins in the bag, the Cardinals are in good shape to win 107 on the season.

The other thing on many minds heading into the weekend was the state of the Cardinal pitching staff. With Carpenter looking less and less likely to pitch in the first round (minimally), the Redbird faithful are going to have to hang their hopes on the likes of Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis, both of which have struggled as of late. This weekend should have soothed some of those fears by a bit, as each starter pitched 7 or more innings, with Suppan only giving up 3 earned runs, Marquis 2. If they can get the job done in Coors Field, where teams score (on average) 40.8% more runs per game, then they have the potential to be just as or more effective in parks such as Dodger Stadium, Turner Field, SBC Park, or Wrigley Field.

On the series as a whole, the Cardinals only gave up 13 runs, 12 earned. Of those 13 runs, 5 of them (38.5%) were given up by Rick Ankiel. I can't say that I'm too worried about that, considering that he didn't give up a walk or a wild pitch. And despite the success of everyone else, Coors Field is a strange place to pitch - especially for a pitcher with a tough curve ball, who essentially can't use it (see Darryl Kile as a Rockie starter for a good example.) Overall, the Cards bullpen this weekend pitched 12.1 innings (including 9 innings in the "bullpen game"), giving up 7 earned runs. A 5.12 ERA isn't great, but as was already mentioned, Ankiel was responsible for the bulk of that. All-in-all, the bullpen was solid, and look to be rounding into good shape come the playoffs.

Finally, the health of Scott Rolen is still of concern. However, according to the broadcast yesterday, Rolen is coming around. He's been taking batting practice for about a week, and is additionally taking fielding practice as of late. It sounds as if Rolen will in fact be taking the field at some point this week, which should have him in good shape for a week from tomorrow. Having this big lead has been a great blessing in regard to having on of the team's 3 MVP candidates ready to dispose of their first victim in the playoffs.

Things left to watch this week

  • The return of Scott Rolen (when, and how good does he look)
  • The return of Steve Kline (when, how good does he look, should he be on the playoff roster)
  • The health of Chris Carpenter (will he be back? This is going to seem like a repeat of Scott Rolen in the 2002 NLCS, I think.)
  • How many wins can the Cards get?
  • Who will they be playing next week?
  • Can Albert hit 50 home runs?
  • Can Izzy save 50 games?
Stay Tuned...


Friday, September 24, 2004

More Carpenter vs. Penny

Today's Post-Dispatch article, along with a Brad Penny blurb from Yahoo.

Here are the important sections from each.

Chris Carpenter -
Paletta found that Carpenter is experiencing nerve irritation rather than a muscle tear.
Brad Penny -
...underwent an electromyography on Thursday which confirmed that he has irritation in a nerve in his right arm.

The Cardinals are saying that Carpenter won't throw again before late next week at best, still holding out hope for playoff starts. Meanwhile, the Dodgers - another team with post-season aspirations - have shut down Penny for the next 2 to 3 months. This despite him taking off six weeks initially to rest the arm.

End result? While we can't be certain how severe the Carpenter injury is, Cardinal fans probably shouldn't bank on the team's #1 starter being available in the post-season.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

100 Wins

For just the 7th time in team history, and the first time in 19 years, the Cardinals have had a 100 win season. Yes - there are college sophomores that weren't alive the last time the Cards reached the century mark.

Of the previous 6 Cardinal squads to reach 100 wins, 3 of them "only" won 101 games. The other three teams won 105 games twice, and 106 once. With 10 games remaining, 105 wins is the absolute minimum number I see this team finishing with. Consider the schedule.

3 @ Colorado
3 @ Houston
4 vs Milwaukee

Considering how brutal Colorado and Milwaukee have been lately, and that the Astros may be eliminated by next week, the Cardinals have a great shot at 107 wins, depending on the return of Rolen and the rest required for the rest of the team.

As a side note, Izzy recorded his 45th save today. It's not impossible to imagine him reaching 50 saves at this point. Not bad for a closer that isn't "dominant."

Good News and Bad News

First, the good news. Looks like Rolen is getting back on his feet (both literally and figuratively.) We have seen that Rolen is able to play through pain, as he actually has been for most of this season. I suspect that he will in fact be ready to go come October 5th, and even if that means Rolen at 80%, he's still better than just about any other 3rd baseman in the playoffs.

Then, the bad news.

The Cardinals still sound as if they have a guarded optimism about Carpenter being able to pitch in the NLDS. However, this injury sounds very similar to the one suffered by Brad Penny of the Dodgers. If you look at the injury status of Penny over the last few weeks, the beginnings are a little too familiar.

Aug 08, 2004 - 9:36 pm
Brad Penny left today's game in the first inning with an apparent arm injury.

Aug 08, 2004 - 9:36 pm
The Dodgers are calling Brad Penny's injury a strained right biceps. He'll undergo an MRI tomorrow.

Aug 10, 2004 - 7:38 am
An MRI revealed a stretched nerve in Brad Penny's biceps and the right-hander will miss just one start, ESPN's Peter Gammons reports.

Aug 15, 2004 - 9:33 pm
Dodgers placed RHP Brad Penny on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right biceps.

Aug 24, 2004 - 7:07 pm
The Dodgers acknowledged for the first time that Brad Penny is not likely to rejoin the starting rotation until well into September.

Aug 27, 2004 - 9:48 am
Brad Penny played catch for five minutes yesterday. He said he felt no pain, but did notice "a slight amount" of restriction in his arm movement and lingering numbness in the forearm.

Penny had his first start last night since August 8th. In that start, he had to leave the game in the 4th inning, and is now doubtful to pitch again this year. Hopefully, Carpenter's injury isn't as severe as Penny's. If it is, the Cardinals could be looking at Jeff Suppan in the rotation throughout the playoffs.

Personally, I think Rolen is more important to this team than Carpenter. While I would like to see Carpenter in the rotation, I think Rolen's offense and defense day in and day out is more helpful to the Cardinals winning series' than Carpenter getting a start or two. Hopefully, however, the Redbirds will have both available in the post-season.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

You knew this was coming

Well, we've been hearing it since the pre-season. "The Cardinals don't have enough starting pitching to win." In fact, during the pre-season, I specifically remember John Kruk saying the Cardinals had "Morris, Williams, and pray for rain" as a rotation.

Of course, the Cardinals have been vindicated in the regular season....sort of. The experts still insist that the Cardinals don't have the ace they need to win in the playoffs. And of course, you know the trendy prediction coming up for the playoffs is going to be to see the Cardinals lose, and the Cubs (if they make it) winning it all. That will be the sexy pick. And let the games begin.

This morning I stumbled across an article on Yahoo.com written by Steve Wilstein which can be found here. In this article, Steve points out that "In a five-game series, teams need an ace who can win games No. 1 and 5, and somebody else who can carry them to another victory." I guess he missed the 2002 NLDS, where the Cardinals swept the defending World Champions despite having to face both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling on the road.

He also claims that "In a seven-game series, they need at least two aces who can give them a shot at winning four games by themselves." The Marlins had a hot Josh Beckett last year, and that would be nice. But was Brad Penny an ace last year and I just missed it? He was 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA in the World Series despite just going 14-10 with a 4.13 ERA in the regular season.

The 2002 Anaheim Angels are another example of a team that won it all despite not having the "needed" two dominate starters. Jarrod Washburn was great in the regular season, going 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA. Of course, in the World Series he went 0-2 with a 9.31 ERA - and his team still won it all.

Another point he raises is "In both series, they need bullpens that will choke off rallies and protect slim leads." As I pointed out in another article, the Cardinals bullpen has the lowest OPS allowed in the NL. The threat of not having Kline hurts, but doesn't end the dominant nature of this year's Cardinal bullpen.

Would I like to have a Randy Johnson availible to start 3 games in a best of 7? Well, duh! Who wouldn't? Is it a must? Of course not! When you have the best offense in the league, the best defense in the league, the best bullpen in the league, and an above average rotation? You're going to win games. Even if the experts don't agree, because we all know - "pitching wins championships." Even if it doesn't always hold true.

Not what I wanted to hear


From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"I'd say the tendon is more of a problem now than the groin," Weinberg said. "His groin is improving."

Weinberg called Kline's condition a partially torn flexor tendon. A pending free agent, Kline has experienced problems with the finger the past two seasons, but a magnetic resonance imaging test recently found that the tendon is about 70 percent torn. The condition is considered serious enough that it could jeopardize the durable Kline's availability for the first playoff round.

Tuesday's throwing was put off when Kline arrived at Miller Park with the digit swollen, painful and difficult to bend. Kline tossed on Monday but said he later had excruciating pain.

"It feels heavy," Kline said. "After a couple pitches it starts to feel a little better, (but) it feels like I have no control over the ball when I throw. That's not something you want to be dealing with this close to the playoffs."


Sounds to me as if Kline is a long-shot for at least the NLDS, if not the playoffs. Ankiel or Flores?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Pick your Poison

As of today, it looks as if the Cardinals are most likely to play either the Dodgers or the Giants in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, the Braves only have a 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers for the #2 seed, and it isn't out of the question that the Dodgers could overtake them. But considering that the Dodgers have a tougher schedule, let's assume for now that the NL East winner can hang onto the #2 seed, regardless as to if we're talking about LA or SF. Which team would you rather play?

Head to Head

The Cardinals went 4-2 against the Dodgers, 3-3 against the Giants. While that's not much of a sample size, it at least tells us that the Cardinals should be favored to win against either team, with anything being possible.

Offense

The Cardinals and the Giants are the top 2 run scoring teams in the NL, with the Dodgers having scored the 9th most. In regard to team OPS, St. Louis is 1st at 806, San Francisco 3rd at 793, and Los Angeles 8th at 762. The Cardinals have the edge, with the Giants right behind.

Pitching

Right now the Cardinals have the best ERA in the NL at 3.69, with the Dodgers 4th at 3.94, the Giants 15th at 4.38. In regard to OPS allowed, the Cardinals once again lead the NL at 707, with the Dodgers 4th at 721, Giants 16th at 757. Despite recent struggles, the Cardinals are still arguably the top pitching staff in the NL, with the Dodgers right behind.

Defense

This is harder to measure, but we can at least get a feel for the better defending teams. The Dodgers have the best fielding percentage at .988, with the Cardinals 6th at .985, Giants 8th at .984. Of course, since the difference between .988 and .984 is 4 errors over 1000 chances, we do not see much seperation between the three teams using that metric.

If we introduce range factor into the discussion, the Cardinals are 2nd in the NL at 38.4, the Giants 4th at 37.8, and the Dodgers 9th at 37.3. The Cardinals make more putouts and assists per 9 innings than either the Giants or the Dodgers, but that could be due to a staff that strikes out out fewer batters.

In order to get one more stat for fielding, let's look at zone rating. The Dodgers lead the NL at .865, the Cardinals are 2nd at .859, and the Giants are 15th at .833. Combining all three stats to paint a picture, I think we can gather that all three teams are solid defensively, with the Cardinals probably the best, the Dodgers 2nd, and the Giants 3rd (potentially a distant 3rd based on zone rating).

Park Factors

Of course - we all know that both the Dodgers and the Giants play in parks that favor pitchers, so their offensive numbers are devalued, while their pitching numbers are made to look better than reality. Is this the case in 2004?

Using ESPN's park factor stats, I found something interesting - SBC Park is not pitcher friendly this year! If you look at the park factors for runs scored, home runs, and hits, you see the following.


Runs HR Hits
Busch .933 (19th) .790 (27th) 1.000 (13th)
Dodger .914 (23rd) 1.055 (12th) .972 (20th)
SBC 1.064 (10th) .885 (23rd) 1.071 (7th)


To read the above table, you simply read the value under a column and compare it to the league average, which would be 1.000. So, Busch stadium has had 6.7% fewer runs scored in it's games than the league average (19th in the majors), while SBC park has had 6.4% more runs scored than the average (10th in the majors).

So, according to this table, Cardinal hitters are actually at a disadvantage this year in the home run department, making the numbers Pujols and Edmonds are putting up even more impressive. SBC park is still hard to get home runs in, but in regard to overall scoring the park is actually hitter friendly. And Dodger stadium, as usual, is hard to score runs in, but not so hard to hit home runs in. If we adjust runs scored and runs allowed based on the above information, we can get a better comparison between the three teams.

Runs Scored

To adjust runs scored values, we will assume that half of all runs scored were on the road, and thus in a neutral park. This isn't exactly fair, since NL West teams play more games in Colorado, but it can at least give us a bit of an adjustment taking park factors into account.

Cardinals 396*1.067+396 = 818
Giants 393.5/1.064+393.5 = 763
Dodgers 353*1.086+353 = 736

When you adjust for park factor, the Giants offense doesn't look nearly as impressive as that of the Cardinals. And while the Dodgers look a little better, they still don't stack up very nicely.

Runs Allowed

Cardinals 300.5*1.067+300.5 = 621
Dodgers 308*1.086+308 = 642
Giants 363/1.064+363 = 704

This data provides for quite a bit more seperation between the Giants and the other two potential playoff opponents.

Overall

Simply comparing the Giants and Dodgers, we see that the Giants have the best offense, with the Dodgers leading in pitching and defense. In head to head games, the Cardinals had slightly better success with the Dodgers, but only by the tune of one game.

Personally, I think the Cardinals match up well with either of these teams. In all honesty, I think that the Cardinals would be better of playing the Giants in the NLDS, even though I know many Redbird fans who are frightened of Jason Schmidt and Barry Bonds in a short series. While we know that either or both of them could dominate over a 5 game set, they are human.

Cardinal hitters held Bonds to .167/.318/.500 - 818 OPS over 21 plate appearances. The potential for the Cards to carry Kline, King, and Ankiel in the playoffs would further help them get favorable match-ups with the heavily padded one. As far as Jason Schmidt goes - has anyone else noticed that he has a 1-2 record in September with a 6.26 ERA? He could be wearing down.

So yes - if I were chosing, I think I would take the Giants. Do they scare me in a 5 game series? To be honest, the Pittsburgh Pirates would scare me in a best of 5 series if my life were on the line. But all things considered, I think the Cardinals match up very will with San Francisco.


Clinch Notes

I wasn't able to watch the entire game last night, but did get to see the bottom of the 9th, along with the post-game celebration. Here are a few random notes from what I saw.

Matt Morris only threw 78 pitches last night, and apparently that was by design. Not only that, but the Cards are planning on skipping his next start. Last Tuesday, Brian at Redbird Nation posted this little stat:

Previous Start IN ER ERA
<> 100 pitches 91 64 6.33

I further saw a stat showing that Morris is better on 5 days rest as opposed to 4 days rest. Looks to me as if the Cardinals will in fact be starting Morris in the post-season, but will probably be certain to keep an eye on the pitch count, and ensure that he gets plenty of time between starts. That may in fact open up an occasional Suppan start in the playoffs.

In the Post-Dispatch this morning, Tony LaRussa says it's "60-40" that Chris Carpenter will pitch in the first round of the playoffs. 60-40? When pressed a little further, he said that sounds more pessimistic than it is, and that he would be surprised if he didn't pitch in the first round. That still makes me a bit nervous, though.

Scott Rolen in a post-game interview (with Champaign in his eyes) said that doctors haven't cleared him to jog yet, which is less than encouraging. He says he can hit, and that he can field for the most part, but running is the problem. But at the same time, he says he thinks he'll be able to play by the end of the road trip and be ready for October.

Edgar Renteria talked on camera last night, which is apparently a rare occasion, as he is not comfortable speaking English. In the brief interview, he mentioned that he hopes a deal is done for next year, and that he would like to finish his career with St. Louis. Even though those are the things players are supposed to say, he sounded as if he was sincere.

In a similar conversation, Reggie Sanders said he would also like to finish his career in St. Louis, and Jason Marquis mentioned that he hopes to pitch in St. Louis for a long time and bring championships to the city. I like to hear that out of key members of the team.

All in all, it was a fun night. The injuries to Carpenter and Rolen have me a bit concerned, but I think the Cardinals are in a position to rest those guys more than they might require if the division was in play. And even if we have the same concerns in 2 weeks, the team is still formidable without those guys.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Upon Further Review

Looking over the just completed home stand, I noticed that the Cardinals looked as if they played ok - on paper.

Offense

The Cardinals hit .268/.349/.402 on the home stand, good for a 751 OPS. That's almost on par with their season averages of .277/.344/.462, 806 OPS, with the letdown being associated with a lack of power. The Cardinals also stole 6 bases, while only being thrown out twice on the week.

Pitching

The Cardinals had a 2.48 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over the last 6 games. Their season averages are 3.69 and 1.24. If you break it down a bit more, the rotation had a 3.73 ERA, while the bullpen was awesome with a 0.78 ERA over 23.1 innings. The only blemishes on the staff were Jason Marquis and his 5.87 ERA over 1 start, and Jeff Suppan and his 6.00 ERA over 2 starts.

So - the Cards got solid offense, even though it was a bit under their season totals. That is to be expected, considering that one of their MVP candidates was on the bench the entire week. The Cardinals also got pretty good pitching, especially out of the pen. The rotation was ok, getting a quality start out of both Woody and Morris, but with Suppan and Marquis letting the team down.

Why the 3-3 record? I think the biggest culprit is the defense. The Cardinals gave up 8 unearned runs this week thanks to 7 errors. 5 of those unearned runs were given up on Tuesday, and in fact ended up costing the Cardinals the game. (Well, maybe it did - if the Astros were not leading by as many runs, Clemens may have gone deeper in the game, changing the outcome.) The other 3 unearned runs came on Thursday, a game in which the Cards lost by 5.

How do 7 errors and 8 unearned runs over 6 games stack up on the season? Overall, the Cardinals have played 148 games, committing 87 errors and 51 unearned runs. In other words, the Cardinals on the week:

Played 4% of 2004 games
Committed 8% of 2004 errors
Allowed 16% of 2004 unearned runs

So despite outscoring opponents by a score of 26-22, the Cards only went 3-3.

How are the Cards looking down the stretch? Well, not as good as we would like. However, I will suggest that the bullpen is looking very tough, which is crucial in the post-season. I will also point out that Jeff Suppan isn't likely to get a start in the playoffs at this point, let alone 2 over a 6 game period. And the defense is only going to get better as Rolen comes back. I think we'll all feel better, though, if the Cards could put together a solid road trip, winning at least 7 games and taking 2 out of 3 from Houston.

Not so fast!

So the Cardinals didn't quite pull it off yesterday. (Technically, they have clinched a tie with the Cubs, and have the best record head-to-head, so they actually have clinched.) And considering that the Cubs are playing a double header today, the odds are good that the Cards will have clinched the division outright before their game in Milwaukee starts tonight. But nonetheless, the Cards dropped a game to an inferior team yesterday with a chance to celebrate at home, which put Tony in a cranky mood after the game.

All things considered, the team is still in great shape. They have 97 wins with 14 games remaining, and just 3 of those games are against winning teams. However, there are plenty of things to make us all just a bit uncomfortable right now.

  1. Steve Kline - will he be able to come back in the next 2 weeks, and when he does come back will he get enough work to be sharp in the playoffs?
  2. Scott Rolen - his 3 game injury turned into a week, and has now turned into another week. The Cards need his glove at 3rd, and his bat hitting 4th. Is he going to be back and 100% in the playoffs?
  3. Chris Carpenter had to leave Saturday's game early and will miss at least 1 start down the stretch. Not the kind of thing you want to see in mid-September out of your #1 starter.
You can add to those three obvious concerns the fact that the Cards have only won 4 of their last 12 games. The team that seemed to be able to win games from pure determination has been struggling in September. I will blame the slump partially on the lack of Rolen, partially on boredom with the regular season, and partially on the fact that it's next to impossible to play .750 ball for more than the 3+ months that the Cardinals did it.

So, yes - Tony is frustrated, the players are frustrated, and Cards fans are nervous. Of course, it's not over yet. The Cardinals should still finish the season with 104 to 107 wins, thus still having a shot at the team record. And although they are in a 4-8 slump, 9 of those games came against potential playoff games. They haven't been swept during that stretch, even though half of those games came on the West coast.

And their are other positives as well. Rolen getting to sit out for approximately 2 weeks may give him the benefit of being fresh in October, assuming he gets to play enough down the stretch to get his timing back. Reyes, Flores, and Ankiel have all been dominant in limited work, providing the Cards with options should Kline not make it back, or during the Tavarez suspension (if it ever takes place.)

So take heart, Cardinal fans. As crummy as the Birds have played recently, they have plenty of time to get things going again over the next 2 weeks. They were due for a bit of a slump, anyway, and I would rather see it now than in the first round of the playoffs.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Clinching it

It looks like the Cardinals have a great shot at clinching the division today (Sunday.) While the Cards have been struggling a bit over the last 11 games, it doesn't take anything away from the fun of clinching the division as far as I'm concerned.

The last time I got to sit at home and watch the Cardinals wrap up a division crown was 1985. As I mentioned before, I grew up in a small town in Southeast Missouri, approximately 160 miles south of the city of St. Louis. Back when I was growing up, cable TV was still a new thing, and we did not even have the option of cable in our home. All we had was a good old-fashioned antenna, which my dad had mounted on top of a tower. This tower normally stood about 15 feet high, but had the ability to go up to as high as 30 or 35 feet if one were to manually lift the tower and brace it at a different elevation.

At normal height, we could receive the 3 networks; CBS out of Cape Girardeau, MO, NBC out of Paducah, KY, and ABC out of Harrisburg, IL. If we turned the antenna just right, we could get an additional ABC affiliate out of Jonesboro, AR, but since the programming was almost identical to the Harrisburg version, we usually didn't bother. However - if you were to raise the antenna to its highest setting, turn the antenna just right, and the weather were to cooperate? Well, you could pick up KPLR out of St. Louis.

I should mention that my dad wasn't a huge sports fan (and still isn't for that matter.) He would pay marginal attention to the St. Louis Cardinals (both football and baseball), but not to the extent that you and I do. However, when the Cardinals were getting ready to clinch in 1985, even my dad was interested enough to go outside during the day and get the tower lifted up so that we could actually pick up KPLR. The reception was black and white and extremely snowy, but we didn't care. We could see just enough to follow the game. The fact that we had to listen to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon on the radio for the play by play didn't take anything away from the fun (and on hindsight, probably added to it.)

In 1985, as I recall, the Cardinals didn't clinch it the first night their magic number was 1, so we had to tune in again the following night, making the fun last even longer. The fact that my dad was interested in this game made me realize that it was something special. Add to that the fact that I had only been to one professional game in my lifetime, and that I was lucky to see 10 games a season on TV and you can imagine how much fun that was for me. Every time the Cardinals get close to clinching, I am reminded of those fun times in 1985, and will always think back on them in the future.

In 1987 I was in high school with a busier schedule, so I was not home the night the Cardinals clinched, even though my dad once again went through the routine of 1985. In 1996, as well as 2000, 2001, and 2002, I was living in the Chicago area, and thus did not get to watch the Cards clinch, other than on Sportscenter.

But here we are in 2004, and I now live back in the St. Louis area. I have cable TV, and even if I didn't, I wouldn't have to raise my antenna to pick up the game. It's a beautiful day outside, and even though I should be outside enjoying it, I am parked in front of my TV, typing up this article. Between the great memories going through my mind and the fact that I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy this for almost 20 years, I am having a blast!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Cards in the "Naughties"

What exactly is this decade called, anyway? Life was much easier when you knew what period you were living in. "I was a child of the sixties." " Man, I loved the eighties!" Children growing up today may suffer from an identity crisis as they try to tell people when they grew up. "I remember the Oh'Oh's like they were yesterday." Not quite the same, huh?

Anyway, we tend to group history into various, bite size portions as we look back on things, and one of the ways we do so is by grouping together ten year sets, aka decades. Cardinal fans especially seem to have a tendency to do this, and for good reason.


1940's - 4 Pennants, 3 World Championships
1950's - Nothing
1960's - 3 Pennants, 2 World Championships
1970's - Nothing
1980's - 3 Pennants, 1 World Championship
1990's - Nothing (at least, no Pennant despite a close call in 1996.)


This trend would suggest that this is our decade, right? (We'll ignore the fact that the trend above would indicate 0 World Championships in the "Naughties", or that the events of 1942 actually don't have any impact on the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals.)


So, how have the Cardinals been thus far in the 2000's? This article will be a work in progress,
but today is a good day to get things started. Listed below are teams from 2000 through today (September 14th, 2004).

Rank Team Wins
1 New York (A) 476
2 Oakland 476
3 Atlanta 470
4 St. Louis 464
5 San Francisco 461

Not too shabby, huh? 4th most wins in baseball in this decade, 2nd most in the NL. St. Louis will likely not out-play Atlanta by 6 games over the next 20, but they should stay ahead of San Francisco in these standings. Just for fun, let' s look at the NL Central standings over this time.

Rank (Wins) Team Wins GB
4 St. Louis 464 -
12 Houston 414 50
18 Chicago (N) 385 79
22 Cincinnati 364 100
25 Pittsburgh 344 120
28 Milwaukee 327 137

Next time you get harassed by a Cub fan, let them know that the Cubbies are 79 games behind the Cardinals for the decade. Now, back to the Cardinals vs. the rest of baseball. How about number of playoff appearances?

Rank (Wins) Team Wins Playoffs
1 New York (A) 476 4
2 Oakland 476 4
3 Atlanta 470 4
4 St. Louis 464 3
5 San Francisco 461 3
6 Seattle 446 2
9 Minnesota 421 2
13 Arizona 402 2

Once again, not too bad. St. Louis has had the 2nd most playoff appearances in the NL for the decade, tied with the Giants. In fact, the Cardinals are one of just 4 NL teams to have multiple appearances in the post-season over the last 4 years, and will up that total by another appearance this year. How about teams to make it to the LCS?

Rank (Wins) Team Wins LCS
1
4
New York (A)
St. Louis
476
464
3
2
6 Seattle 446 2
3 Atlanta 470 1
5 San Francisco 461 1
7 Boston 441 1
9 Minnesota 421 1
11 Anaheim 415 1
13 Arizona 402 1
14 Florida 400 1
18 Chicago (N) 385 1
19 New York (N) 379 1

St. Louis is the only team in the NL to appear in the LCS more than once this decade. This table also points out that a total of 12 teams have made it to the LCS over the past 4 years, including a team that was almost contracted a couple of years back. Lack of parity? Anyway, on to the pennant winners.

Rank (Wins) Team Wins Pennant
1 New York (A) 476 3
5 San Francisco 461 1
11 Anaheim 415 1
13 Arizona 402 1
14 Florida 400 1
19 New York (N) 379 1

This is the table in which you start to see that winning it all doesn't have anything to do with long term success. Three teams this decade have managed to win the pennant in their league in their lone playoff appearance. Of those teams, the New York Mets actually have fewer total wins (379) than the average (395) and the median (392.) Finally, the whole enchilada.

Rank (Wins) Team Wins WS
1 New York (A) 476 1
11 Anaheim 415 1
13 Arizona 402 1
14 Florida 400 1

Obviously, the Cardinals are lacking in the last two categories listed. While I admit that I would have liked to have seen the World Series back in St. Louis by now - especially in 2002 after the passing of Jack Buck and Darryl Kile - I will also say right now that I am in the camp that firmly believes that winning in the playoffs is based in part on luck or hot streaks and not merely the best talent. (That's not to say that the above teams have been lucky, so much to say that the best team doesn't always win in a best of 5 or 7 game series.) And while a recent World Series title would have been great, which would you rather be right now - a fan of the Cardinals or the Diamondbacks? That World Championship was a blast, I'm sure, but the D-Backs are horrible right now, with no sign of getting things back together in the near future due to their 2001 "spend and burn" approach to getting a ring.

Looking at the above information, how do the Cardinals rank for this decade? Regular season, they're the creame of the crop. To have the 4th most wins in baseball over a span of close to 5 years is very impressive - especially if we were to factor in payrolls and city size (which I plan to do after the regular season.) In regard to the playoffs, the Cardinals have still been one of the most successful teams in the post-season, reaching the LCS more than any other team in the Senior circuit. Where the Cards fall short is in making it to and capturing the big stage.

Right now, the Cardinals have 20 games left in the regular season before beginning their next October campaign to win it all. Personally, I like the Cardinals against any team in the NL, and think this team has a great shot of going all the way. As impressive as this team has been this season, though, keep in mind the bigger picture. If the Cardinals do go all the way this year, they will not only be the best team in baseball in 2004, they will be the best team in the NL so far this decade, if not the best in all of major league baseball.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Win Shares

With another day off, I thought it might be a nice time to look at the win shares totals in the National League.

You can find win shares on the internet at http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/stats/

This site is not only a good resource for win shares, but contains some great baseball blogs. I highly recommend this site for great information. As I write this report today, all stats are updated through games on Thursday, September 9th.

How do the Cards stack up compared to everyone else?

Bonds - 47
Rolen - 36
Pujols - 35
Edmonds - 34

Wow! Three players very closely packed in Rolen, Pujols, and Edmonds. Of course, if you've paid attention to this team this season, you may have expected as much. But those guys are putting up some incredible win share totals. Bill James, the creator of the stat, cites that a season with 40 win shares is of MVP caliber. Heading into this weekend's play, the Cardinals three headed monster was on pace for:

Rolen - 42
Pujols - 41
Edmonds - 40

In other words - 3 guys putting up legitimate MVP seasons on the same team. I do not know if that's ever been done before. Some more research on my part is in order.

Of course, using win shares as a measure of MVP, Barry Bonds is far and above everyone else. I realize that some people are tired of him, some think only a player on a playoff team should win, etc. But face it, folks - the guy is awesome, and truly deserves the award again this year. But, there are plenty of people around the league, including fans at Dodger stadium, that think the real MVP this year is Adrian Beltre. To be sure, the guy is having a fantasic year. From a win shares standpoint, however, he doesn't stack up as well as some might think.

5th - Mark Loretta, 31
6th - Adrian Beltre, 30
7th - Bobby Abreu, 30
8th - Sean Casey, 29
9th - JD Drew, 28

Beltre is near the top, but on par with Mark Loretta and Bobby Abreau - and I doubt you've heard anyone mention them as MVP candidates this season. As solid as Beltre has been, entering play over the weekend he was worth 2 fewer wins than Scott Rolen (3 win shares = 1 win). I understand the arguments for Beltre, but don't agree with them.

Over the weekend, Jim Tracy was quoted as saying that he thought Beltre might win the gold glove this season. Is that warrented? Let's look at defensive win shares for NL 3rd basemen.

Scott Rolen - 5.4
Adrian Beltre - 5.1
Mike Lowell - 4.1
Tony Batista - 4.0

Everyone else is at 3.9 or less. Rolen and Beltre have been head and shoulders above everyone else in this category. I see the gold glove argument as similar to the MVP - Rolen deserves it more than Beltre, but Beltre is no slouch.

Along the same lines, I've heard some suggest that Rolen deserves the MVP this year because of his glove. Is he the best defensive player among MVP candidates? Let's look at some more defensive win share totals.

Jim Edmonds - 6.2
Mark Loretta - 6.0
Scott Rolen - 5.4
Adrian Beltre - 5.1

Rolen is among the leaders, but believe it or not, Jim Edmonds has been more valuable with the glove this year. And while I don't think that Mark Loretta is an MVP candidate, I think he should be right up there, so he is listed as well.

How does Edmonds stack up among NL outfielders in defensive win shares?

Andruw Jones - 6.8
Jim Edmonds - 6.2
Corey Patterson - 4.9 (didn't see that coming)
Mike Cameron - 4.7

Everyone else is 4.5 or lower. Looks like Edmonds can expect another gold glove for his mantle this year, which really is of no surprise.

Finally, a look at the rest of the Cardinal team. Most valuable starting pitchers?

Marquis - 14
Carpenter - 11
Williams - 8
Suppan - 8
Morris - 7

Marquis only ranks higher than Carpenter on this list because he has 0.6 win shares with his bat, as opposed to the negative 2.4 win shares Carpenter has batting. In fact, Marquis is the only pitcher on the Cardinal staff who's batting totals help his win shares rather than hurt it. I don't think the above rankings will surprise any of you, as Morris has been the least reliable starting pitcher all season long for the Cards.

There are plenty of other things you can look at using win shares, but I just wanted to give you a taste.






Weekend Recap

It wasn't a great weekend for Cardinal baseball, but it wasn't a lost cause either. Even though the Cardinals experienced their first losing road trip of the season (2-4), they avoided their longest losing streak by winning on Sunday, not having lost more than 3 in a row all season.

While I would have liked to have won one of the two series on the Left Coast, it's not the end of the world. If you're going to have a 2-4 week, you would prefer for it to happen against two potential playoff teams, on the road, on the West Coast. Neither team swept them, and the Cardinals still finished the season with 4-2 records against both teams. Added to all of that, the Cardinals did not have a game during the entire road trip with all cylinders firing, as Walker sat out all of three games, Rolen parts or all of the other three.

Let's take a closer look at the weekend series specifically in a little more detail.

Offense

Cardinals - .298/.365/.500 - 865 OPS
Dodgers - .294/.357/.510 - 867 OPS

You can't get much more even than that over a three game span. The Dodgers numbers are helped by a 4 home run night on Friday, along with 3 hit batsman on Saturday (two of which were of the Fernando Vina type, in my opinion.) But nonetheless, both teams put together a good offensive series.

Starting Pitching

Cardinals - 16.1 innings, 6.63 ERA, 16 K's, 5 BB's
Dodgers - 13 innings, 9.69 ERA, 9 K's, 3 BB's

As bad as the Cardinal starters were, they were better than their counterparts. I'd like to think that the Marquis start on Friday night was a fluke, considering that he had found out that he was a daddy earlier in the evening.

Relief Pitching

Cardinals - 8.2 innings, 4.14 ERA, 7 K's, 2 BB's
Dodgers - 14 innings, 2.57 ERA, 9 K's, 7 BB's

Here was where the Dodgers were able to make up the difference in this series, in my mind. Despite working 14 innings over 3 days, the Dodgers bullpen got the job done. The lack of strikeouts and large number of walks suggests that they may not have been as dominant as one would like, however. And the fact that the Cardinals got 2 hits including a home run plus a walk off of Gagne on Friday should give them something to build upon.

Defense

It's hard to look at defensive numbers over a 3 game series and get anything meaningful from it. I will say that both teams made 3 errors, which is unusual for the best 2 defesive teams in the NL. I would like to think that Scott Rolen at third would have helped the defense a little, but it likely wouldn't have made a difference in this series.

All in all, it was a pretty decent weekend, all three games decided by one run. The Cardinals could have won all three, could have dropped all three. In other words, it was a good example of playoff baseball, between two teams that will be in the mix in 3 weeks. And while it's easy to be down about dropping 2 series in a row, I don't think it's quite time to be predicting the death of the Cardinals in 2004. Look at the weekend that just closed as a preview of the type of games we will get to enjoy in the not too distant future (but with a different outcome, hopefully).


Friday, September 10, 2004

Post-Season Rotation

Everyone seems to be talking about the Cards playoff rotation, especially after Morris' start on Wednesday. (I've never seen a guy go from completely dominant to completely horrible in 5 days.) Is Morris going to be someone that can be counted on in October? Should he be in the rotation? Should he even be on the roster? All questions that I don't know the answer to. What's more, I don't think he will get enough starts between now and the beginning of the playoffs to answer this question in my mind.

If, however, we ignore the erratic pitching of Matt Morris - what should the Cards do? They have an outside shot at 4 starters with 17 wins each! Now, I'm not here to claim that wins are a great measure of a pitcher. With that being said, however, Morris is going to be considered for the playoff rotation by LaRussa because, among other things:

  1. He has playoff experience
  2. He could end the season leading the team in wins (and losses, but I digress)
  3. He's been with the team the longest of any starter, and Tony rewards veteran players
Rather than try to figure out which starters deserve to be in the rotation more, let's look at which starter might be best suited for relief.

Using ESPN's sortable stats, I looked up the OPS allowed for all Cardinals starting pitchers in 2004, including Dan Haren. However, we shouldn't stop there. You can further break down the OPS allowed to just look at the first 3 innings of work during a start. After all, one would expect a starting pitcher to be used in long relief situations, but no more than 2 or 3 innings at a time. Listed below are starters, number of starts, AVG/OBP/SLG, and OPS for the first 3 innings of a start.

Haren - 3 Starts, .200/.278/.267, 544 OPS
Carpenter - 26, .237/.292/.367, 659
Suppan - 27, .254/.317/.389, 706
Woody - 27, .281/.335/.438, 773
Marquis - 27, .277/.348/.446, 794
Morris - 29, .303/.343/.511, 854

A few comments on the above numbers. Dan Haren, who's bullpen numbers already look outstanding, looks even better if you look at his first 3 innings of work. He only allows a 544 OPS over the first 3 innings, but a 1250 OPS in innings 4-6, 1833 in innings 7 and beyond (only 3 at-bats). While I have no problem with Haren getting a shot at the rotation next year, he really might be a good bullpen pitcher in the future.

Carpenter gets off to a strong start, and doesn't let up much after that (677 OPS allowed on the season.)

Woody, Marquis, and Morris all start of a little shaky before settling in during the later innings. This is obviously the case with Matt Morris, who's early inning numbers are severely skewed by some of his more horrible outings. San Diego, San Francisco, and Chicago come to mind (all potential playoff teams to boot.)

The one guy that stands out in this scenario to me is Jeff Suppan. Suppan allows a 706 OPS in the first 3 innings of each start, with his numbers drifting up slightly over the course of the game (734 OPS allowed overall).

What can we take away from this? Well, in my opinion you don't want Marquis or Woody in the bullpen. They don't seem to hit their stride until the 4th inning and on. Besides - it's hard to argue against those two, along with Carpenter, in the rotation. That leaves Jeff Suppan vs. Matt Morris, in my opinion. Simply looking at their numbers in the first 3 innings of play, Jeff Suppan looks to be the pitcher of choice out of the pen. He does his best work during those innings, and if he knew he was only going to throw 2 or 3 innings in a night, he might be able to pitch a bit more effectively (which could be said for all starters, of course.)

As far as Matt Morris goes - well, do you want a guy coming in out of the pen who allows an 854 OPS over his first 3 innings of starts? "But Robb," you say. "Why in the heck would I want Morris starting a game and pitching for 6 innings or more if I don't trust him to come in out of the pen?" Well, my logic may be flawed, but it goes like this.

If you use Morris in relief, you don't know what you're going to get. He could be great for an inning or two, could get shelled quicker than you can blink. With that being the case, you would only trust him to pitch in mop-up situations. And if you were only going to use him in a mop-up role anyway, you would probably rather see someone else like Haren or Ankiel in the pen in the first place.

If you start Morris, however, there is a big upside. You could get a start out of him similar to the one we saw a week ago today, which was the 3rd best game score start of 2004 behind Randy Johnson's no-hitter and Jason Schimdt's one hitter. And if he stinks? Keep a short leash on him, and have - how convenient! - Jeff Suppan in the bullpen, ready to work 3 innings after Morris implodes. Suppan should be able to get the team into the late innings, where the rest of the pen could take over.

So, to round things out let's take a look at where Suppan would fit into the bullpen, looking at the overall OPS allowed of the relievers compared with his numbers over the first 3 innings.

King - 542
Ankiel - 583 (1 inning)
Isringhausen - 584
Calero - 585
Kline - 585
Haren - 617 (relief only)
Tavarez - 618
Suppan - 706
Eldred - 783

Only 7 of those 9 guys will be on the post-season roster. I suspect that Ankiel will only be in if Kline is out, and that Haren will only be in due to an injury to another right hander. That would leave Suppan in the bullpen, available to start in emergency situations, and basically taking a little work away from Eldred. Seems like a good situation to me. Of course, I would have plenty of Rolaids on hand in any Matt Morris start, and be praying that Tony would have someone warming up on a hair trigger.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Power Rankings

I have recommended the Diamond-Mind weblog to many people. I especially enjoy their power rankings, which come out roughly once a month. Keep in mind when you look these over that DMB was one of the few outlets that actually picked the Cards to win the NL Central. Of course, the Cards are playing better than they or anyone else expected.

DMB Power Rankings

Here are the specific comments on the Cardinals, who are ranked 1st for the 3rd time in a row.
1. St. Louis Cardinals (previously 1st, 92-44, +194 runs, +433 TBW) -- Looking like the odds-on favorite to advance to the World Series and perhaps win it all. Now 38-11 since the All-star break. The offense, which was projected to be the league's second-best, has exceeded our forecast by 30 runs. We figured the pitching would be just good enough to allow the Cards to win the division in a close race, but they've allowed fewer runs than any other NL team and 81 fewer than we projected to this point. The staff, helped by a good defense, is in the top three in both starter or reliever ERA.


I would also like to point out something that Tom brought up in his Cubs comments:

Before the acquisition of Nomar Garciaparra, opponents compiled an in-play batting average of .289 against the Cubs. Since then, it has been 28 points worse. No one fielder can account for a shift of that magnitude, so I'm not suggesting that Nomar is the sole reason for this change. He may be part of the problem, but the pitchers, the other fielders, park effects, and luck are also involved.

Not only have the Cubs allowed more unearned runs since Nomar, but they have allowed a higher average on balls in play. It will be interesting to see if the defensive trend continues.

Off-Day

I hate losing and I hate off-days in the schedule. Having an off-day that follows both a game loss and a series loss? I really hate that.

Of course, it could be worse. The Cards didn't have Larry Walker for the series, many regulars got time off on Wednesday, they were road games (where it's supposed to be harder to win), and the Cards still won the season series 4-2. And, of course, we could be fans of the Cubs.

The Cubs, as you know, just lost two in a row to the horrible Expos. Yesterday, they got waxed 6-0 despite Gred Maddux going for the North Siders against Scott Downs, who had an ERA over 7.00. They get to suffer through an off-day after a loss, a series loss, and jumping from 1st in the Wildcard race to 3rd. Yikes.

Which brings to mind the Nomar trade. I will be honest - that was a pretty good trade for the Cubs. They did not give up a lot of talent, and Nomar was a nice upgrade for them offensively at shortstop. It was a bit of a gamble, since he is a free agent after this season. If they miss the playoffs and he leaves, it will blow up in their faces. But for now - it was still a good move.

As soon as the Cubbies picked up Nomar, many people (I'm looking in your general direction Jeff Gordon) picked the Cubs to be the team to beat in October. While I liked the deal, I thought that was a bit extreme. Once Larry Walker was added to the Cards roster, I knew that shouldn't be the case. I didn't, however, expect the Cubs to fall so completely flat. Let's compare the Cubs and Cards since August 1st to help put things into perspective.

On August 1st, the Cubs trailed St. Louis by 10 games in the standings. Since that time, they've fallen back another 7.5 games. In other words, the Cardinals have almost outplayed the Cubs more post-Nomar as they did pre-Nomar.

Cubs: 16-12 August, 2-2 September
Cards: 21-7 August, 6-2 September

Offensively, the Cubs have been fine. In fact, they have been hitting the ball at a level very similar to that of the Cardinals (ignoring park effects, strength of schedule, etc.)

August
Cubs - 157 Runs, .280/.332/.490, 822 OPS
Cards - 149 Runs, .278/.358/.469, 827 OPS

September
Cubs - 17 Runs, .220/.323/.428, 751 OPS
Cards - 37 Runs, .235/.306/.450, 756 OPS

Very similar. That would suggest that Nomar has in fact helped out the offense.

Why have the Cardinals been better? Pitching and defense. (I know, I know - the Cubs have better pitching than the Cardinals because the experts say it's true.) Since Nomar doesn't pitch, this article will focus on the defensive aspect of the Cubs problems as of late.

August
Cubs - 141 Runs allowed, 16 Unearned (0.6 per game)
Cards - 100 Runs allowed, 9 Unearned (0.3 per game)

September
Cubs - 15 Runs allowed, 4 Unearned (1 per game)
Cards - 29 Runs Allowed, 4 Unearned (0.5 per game)

Now, I don't expect either the Cubs or the Cardinals to continue to post error rates shown during the limited time of September play. But in doing this little look through the numbers, I did find it interesting that the Cubs are allowing more unearned runs since Nomar. When you break it down by month:

April .09 Unearned runs per game
May .11
June .33
July .22
August .57
September 1.00

Interestingly enough, before Nomar, the Cubs had allowed 20 unearned runs over 104 games. Since Nomar, they have allowed another 20 unearned runs over just 32 games.

Pre-Nomar - 0.19 Unearned runs per game
Post-Nomar - 0.63 Unearned runs per game

Am I suggesting that Nomar Garciaparra at shortstop is costing the Cubs approximately 0.4 runs per game due to his defense? Well, no. If you look at the individual fielding stats of Nomar compared with the other guys that have played the position this season for Chicago, you'll see that they are very similar. With that being said - the Cubs are obviously not playing as well with the gloves now as they were the first 2/3 of the season.

Clubhouse chemistry? Choking under pressure? Does CUBS once again stand for "Completely Useless By September?" I don't know. What I do know is a few things.

A. The Cubs would be tough in the playoffs, but they are not the team to beat in October

B. The Cubs are playing worse defense since the Nomar acquisition, regardless as to if it is his fault or not.

C. At this point, Cubs fans have to be hoping their team can even make it to post-season play




Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Comments

I accidentally had turned off the ability for comments to be added to my blog. This mistake has been corrected, and I encourage anyone to chime in with comments and/or discussion.

Robb

In Game Update (9-8)

So Taguchi is starting today and leading off. I don't mind Taguchi getting playing time down the stretch, because I'm hoping he re-gains his splits against left handed pitchers.

2004

vs Left - .250/.280/.329, 609 OPS, 76 at-bats
vs Right - .313/.338/.469, 807 OPS, 64 at-bats

2002-2003

vs Left - .324/.390/.486, 876 OPS, 37 at-bats
vs Right - .250/.294/.500, 794 OPS, 32 at-bats

Of course, when you note that his 876 OPS over the last two years was only over 37 at-bats, I think we can safely say that his 2004 numbers are probably more of an indicator of what we can expect. And what is that? Well, we shouldn't expect So to contribute much with his bat against left handed pitchers.

Of course - how many days off do you expect Edmonds, Walker, or Sanders to want/need in October?

Walker and Ankiel

Well, I think we might be able to put to rest the two concerns I brought up yesterday morning. Let’s talk about them in the same order.

According to the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast of last night’s game, Larry Walker feels as if he will be ready to play on Friday. What’s more, the team said that if Tuesday’s game had been in the playoffs, Larry would have been in the lineup. Having a 16 and a half game lead (which grew to 17 and a half yesterday) has its advantages.

Second – and more interesting to me – was Rick Ankiel’s appearance last night. For the second night in a row, I stayed up way past my bedtime in the hopes of seeing Mr. Ankiel’s first outing in more than three years. Personally, I was not disappointed. As you have probably read by now, he pitched a shutout inning, giving up 1 hit, and throwing 12 strikes among his 15 pitches. Considering that the ump had a very tight strike zone last night (for both teams), that feat might be even better than it sounds. The hit that Ankiel gave up barely made it out of the infield – and it was the only ball that did. According to the FSN radar gun, Ankiel hit 94 with one of his fastballs, and 92 with several others. His curve appeared to be “flatter” to me than it was the last time I saw him pitch on TV (2000), but I could be mistaken.

When Ankiel left the game after his inning, it was great to see the team waiting for him in the dugout, ready to give him high fives and welcome him back to the team (again.) I personally found it a little interesting that the first two guys waiting for him at the steps were Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker. While I am not convinced that team chemistry is vital to winning, it is great to see a group of guys that get along so well.

So, while I’m not ready to say that Ankiel is 100% cured – well, how can you not be excited? He’s now had at least one successful outing in A, AA, AAA, and the majors. His fastball is back, and he’s throwing strikes. If he can keep it up over the next 3+ weeks, he will give the Cardinals the luxury of a backup plan in case Kline doesn’t get healthy, as well as a low cost option for the rotation next year in the event that Williams and/or Morris aren’t back.


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Team Wins

Despite the disappointing loss last night, the Cardinals are still on an astounding roll. Through last night's game, the Cards are on pace to win 108 games on the season. (Actually, 108.9, but since you can win 0.9 games....). Looking at the schedule, the Cardinals have 25 games remaining. Of those 25 games, 11 are against teams with a winning record, while the other 14 are against teams below .500. While the schedule does look as if the Cards could do a little better than the 16-9 required to reach 108 wins, we all know that the regulars are going to get a bit of rest as well. So for now, let's assume the Cards can in fact reach that win total.

Only 10 teams in major league history have won 108 or more games in a season. Most everyone is familiar with the 2001 Mariners (116 wins) and the 1998 Yankees (114 wins). Other than those two teams, the most recent to do so was the 1986 pond scum Mets with 108 wins.

If the Redbirds can get just a bit hotter - and that may be asking a lot after the 3 month run they've enjoyed - then they could reach some more rare territory in the 110 win club. That has only been done 5 times in major league history, with the most recent NL team to do so being the 1909 Pirates, winning exactly 110. The full rundown of these teams is:

Mariners, 2001, 116 wins
Cubs, 1906, 116 wins
Yankees, 1998, 114 wins
Indians, 1954, 111 wins
Pirates, 1909, 110 wins

Interesting to note that out of those 5 teams only 2 won the World Series with 2 others losing the World Series, and 1 not making it there at all. As a matter of fact, if you look at teams that won 103 or more games in the history of baseball, the odds of winning the World Series may not be as high as you would expect. 41 teams have won that many games. Of those 41 teams:

16 Won the World Series (39%)
16 Lost the World Series (39%)
5 Made the Playoffs, Missed the WS (12.2%)
4 Missed the Playoffs (9.8%)

Of course, we don't have to worry about the Cards getting knocked out of first place by the Cubs at this point. Once teams with 103 or more wins entered post-season play, the odds of winning it all get slightly better.

Winning the World Series - 43.2%
Losing the World Series - 43.2%
Missing the World Series - 13.5%

These aren't really odds, since League Championship series and Division play are very recent developments on the grand scheme of things. It's much more likely in 2004 to get knocked out of the playoffs than it was in 1993 when there was no Division Series, and it was impossible to miss the World Series before 1969 if you won the pennant. Setting that aside, however, if the Cards enter the playoffs with a (historically) 86.4% chance of going to the Series? Well, I'll take those odds.

In Cardinal history, the most wins by a team is 106 by the 1942 Cards, who won the World Series. If this year's version can just go 14-11, they'll match that mark. It's hard to imagine them not doing it at this point.

So, as Brian pointed out recently at Redbird Nation, enjoy this season - it could be the greatest regular season in Cardinal history, and likely will be the best one that all of us will see in our lifetimes.